Interactive Entertainment Magazine

A multimedia CD-ROM magazine containing game news, previews, and reviews. Only 24 issues were released from 1994 to 1996.

Introduction

Founded by Yale Brozen with Steve Scivally their first prototype issue (00) was released in February 1994. Issue 01 came out only a few months later in May 1994. The magazine had a total of 23 issues before being merged into Computer Games Strategy Plus Magazine. It is said the cost of packaging the discs was too high for it to have been sustainable on it's own.

Each disc includes ads, news, previews, reviews, and game tips. All of these are with screen shots with audio tracks. These reviews sometimes include more than one person speaking with a different perspective about the title and funny banter back and forth. In addition to this multimedia experience, you can click on the screen when playing one of these presentations and choose “Extras” to view a text game description and/or requirements for each title. These hidden game descriptions are written at the level of a review in a major print publication.

Many issues include interactive interviews with game designers.  Game previews often include either audio tracks from designers or videos of the designers.  These glimpses behind the scenes are beyond anything a print magazine can provide.

Finally the discs also filled in that extra space available with demos, patches, and at times full commercial games.

I have created videos of the game previews and reviews which can be watched through my IE YouTube playlist. These videos are an easy way to experience part of this disc magazine but if you have the ability to download and run these in a virtual machine I highly encourage it.

Credits

Publisher - Yale Brozen
Producer - Dave Stott
Technical Director - Joseph B. Hall
Director - Steve Scivally
Managing Editor - Greg Titus
Editor - Tim Keating
Executive Editor - Marc Dultz
Art Director - Kirk P. Membry
Production Consultant - Jim Romanoff
Audio Engineer - Gregory T. Henry
Audio Technician - Chris Sargent
Business Manager - Gregg Sauter
Accounting Services - Christina Brozen
Writers - Scott Grant, Gregory T. Henry, Jesse Isaacson, Tim Keating, Damon Nazarenko, Greg Titus, John Voorhees
Announcers - Cindy Brooks, Jennifer Colby, Gregory T. Henry, Darren Ingram, John Voorhees, Tim Keating, Lue McWilliams, Brigitte O'Conner, Greg Titus, Ruth Yeskoo

All of the discs can be downloaded from this collection at archive.org.

IE Magazine Issue #00

Issue #0 (prototype) of Interactive Entertainment. All videos can be found in the IE Magazine entry. Text reviews and the associated video have their own pages as well.

IE Magazine Issue #00

IE Magazine Issue #00

The prototype issue released in February of 1994.  This prototype magazine is essentially the format and design of all future issues.

Interviews
Previews
Reviews

All of the IE discs can be downloaded from this collection at archive.org.

IE Magazine Issue #01

Issue #1 of Interactive Entertainment. All videos can be found in the IE Magazine entry. Text reviews and the associated video have their own pages as well.

IE Magazine Issue #01

IE Magazine Issue #01

The first official version of the magazine released in May of 1994.  The prototype (#00) was released only three months earlier in February.  The commercial version of the magazine closely follows what the prototype showed.  The only notable addition is the inclusion of a "free" commercial game on the disc.  In this issue the game is The Magic Candle which was developed and published by Mindcraft Software in 1989.

Interviews
Previews
Reviews

All of the IE discs can be downloaded from this collection at archive.org.

 

IE Magazine Issue #02

Issue #2 of Interactive Entertainment. All videos can be found in the IE Magazine entry. Text reviews and the associated video have their own pages as well.

IE Magazine Issue #02

IE Magazine Issue #02

The second issue of Interactive Entertainment came out in June of 1994.  The free game this month is Bloodstone: An Epic Dwarven Tale developed and published by Mindcraft Software in 1993.

Interviews
Previews
Reviews

All of the IE discs can be downloaded from this collection at archive.org.

IE Magazine Issue #03

Issue #3 of Interactive Entertainment. All videos can be found in the IE Magazine entry. Text reviews and the associated video have their own pages as well.

IE Magazine Issue #03

IE Magazine Issue #03

The third issue released in July 1994 sees some changes to the magazine.  Gone are the dreadfully annoying ads!  There is a new Letters to the Editor section where one of the letters is not surprisingly complaining about those awful ads.  The interview format has been improved to simply go through the full interview instead of having a branching path structure in which you will not be able to choose all of the questions.

The free game this month is Trevor Sorensen's Star Legions developed by Supernova Creations and published by Mindcraft Software in 1992.

Interviews
Previews
Reviews

All of the IE discs can be downloaded from this collection at archive.org.

IE Magazine Issue #04

Issue #4 of Interactive Entertainment. All videos can be found in the IE Magazine entry. Text reviews and the associated video have their own pages as well.

IE Magazine Issue #04

IE Magazine Issue #04

The fourth issue released in August of 1994 included a huge amount of previews from that years summer Consumer Electronics Show.  The total time for these CES videos is around two hours!  Unfortunately in this issue we learn the straight forward interview in the last episode was a one time thing and they are back to the interactive interview format.  At least the ads are still disabled. 

In past issues they had short hint sections for games but in this issue they have expanded some of these entries to full videos.  The full commercial game included in this issue is Tegel's Mercenaries (DOS, 1992) developed and published by Mindcraft Software.  Due to space restrictions on this issue there were no patches or game demos on the disc.  

Interviews
Previews
Reviews
Special
Tutorials / Hints

All of the IE discs can be downloaded from this collection at archive.org.

IE Magazine Issue #05

Issue #5 of Interactive Entertainment. All videos can be found in the IE Magazine entry. Text reviews and the associated video have their own pages as well.

IE Magazine Issue #05

IE Magazine Issue #05

September 1994 brings the fifth issue of Interactive Entertainment and it's generally the same tried and true format.  Ads are still taking a break and letters to the editor ask for them to get an e-mail address so the letters don't need to be faxed or physically mailed to them.  The IE Cube Awards are given to highlighted games from the summer CES covered in the previous issue.  Unfortunately, they didn't give much information on why games were selected so the "awards" are fairly meaningless.

The "free" game included in this issue is The Magic Candle II: The Four and Forty developed and published by Mindcraft Software.  

Interviews
Previews
Reviews
Reviews - Game Systems
Special

All of the IE discs can be downloaded from this collection at archive.org.

IE Magazine Issue #06

Issue #6 of Interactive Entertainment. All videos can be found in the IE Magazine entry. Text reviews and the associated video have their own pages as well.

IE Magazine Issue #06

IE Magazine Issue #06

This sixth issue was released in October 1994 and includes the game Strike Squad by Mindcraft Software.

Hints & Tips
Interviews
Previews
Reviews
Reviews - Game Systems
Special

All of the IE discs can be downloaded from this collection at archive.org.

IE Magazine Issue #06

Preview - Alone in the Dark 3 (DOS, 1994)

Alone in the Dark 3 (AitD3), produced by Bruno Bonnell and I-Motion, takes Edward Carnby, private eye of the occult, to a small ghost town called Slaughter Gulch. Slaughter Gulch was built in the Mojave Desert during the gold rush, just over the San Andreas fault. Everybody used to say that Bodie was "the town too tough to die". Well, obviously, Slaughter Gulch was even tougher than Bodie, because Slaughter Gulch never died; the many graves of its boot hill are all empty.

Unaware of the dangers, a movie crew left Hollywood for Slaughter Gulch in the beginning of Summer 1925. They wanted to shoot a western.

Western. Here is the key word as far as AitD3 is concerned. All the great western myths are present in the first half of the game. We've got outlaws, duels, a corrupted marshall, sharpshooters, gold-diggers, a Navajo Shaman, a crazy banker, a strange hotel, a railway station and a saloon full of traps. We've also got a slow-motion interactive shooting sequence, an obvious tribute to Sam Peckinpah. We've got the Unforgiven, the Wild Bunch, the men who shot everybody buy Liberty Valance. But now, there's a new sheriff in town. His name: Edward Carnby.

To design Slaughter Gulch with a maximum amount of realism, two members of I-Motion's production crew went across the Mojave Desert looking for California's weirdest ghost towns. From their trip, they brought back hundreds of photos and documents which were then used by the production designer, Patrick Charpenet, and by the screenwriters, Hubert Chardot and Christian Nabais.

Chardot and Nabais had fun building the perfect ghost town, riddled with secret passageways linking the different buildings. But this wasn't enough! A movie crew was supposed to have added its own installations in Slaughter Gulch before having been shot. So the two screenwriters put themselves in early Hollywood set decorators' shoes and conceived many other tricks; trompe l'oeil, traveling rails, false doors, and so on . . .

A couple of 2D flashbacks will allow the player to learn the history of Slaughter Gulch and the background of the game. Those flashbacks will be slightly animated, and accompanied by authentic wild west songs specifically chosen and arranged for the circumstance. Mainly, they will introduce the terrifying Jd Stone, founder of Slaughter Gulch, who stole that sacred land to the Navajo Indians. Not having aged a single second since the last century, this merciless madman still rules the place.

Stone plans to make the San Andreas fault crack in order to drown California. Since the so-called death of Slaughter Gulch, he lives with his sidekicks in galleries dug in the mountains. Those galleries compose a weird tracery made of corridors and caves carved in the rock by the convicts who serve him. The twisted ghouls have fit out those caves according to their very peculiar tastes.

In the second half of the game, Carnby will enter a world of nightmare, where some of his opponents have lost their head, literally and figuratively.

But before that, Carnby will die. Die? Nobody really dies in Slaughter Gulch (and that's true as far as the game is concerned – the "death" animations are gonna be quite a surprise). Helped by a mysterious Navajo Shaman, the private eye of the occult will be reincarnated in an animal form for a while and will have to prove his valor in order to recover his body. Then, rising from his grave, Carnby will have to fight a duel with his evil double, born after his death, and will resume the game dressed as a gunfighter.

Another highlight of the game is the sudden miniaturization of Carnby after a strange experiment. The 3D character will keep the same size on the screen, but all the surrounding scenery has been re-built ten times bigger for those sequences, keeping exactly the initial proportions. And speaking of size, let's mention that AitD3's playing time is one and a half times longer than that of the previous episode.

In a way, AitD3 is the synthesis of Carnby's two previous adventures. The gameplay of the second episode has been kept; the rythm of the action is breathtaking, danger is all around, the game's field is very wide . . . .but the eerie atmosphere and the riddles revive those of the first episode. Carnby will have to use his brain at least as much as winchesters or Colt Peacemakers. And we will even meet again Emily Hartwood, co-star of the first game.

Most of Aitd3's creative team comes from Alone in the Dark 2 (AitD2). You don't change a winning team. I-Motion tried a different approach as far as the design is concerned and hired a french comic-book artist. Renowned for his rendering of gothic atmospheres, Joel Mouclier drew hundreds of color and black and white roughs. Most of them were straight done over prints of the design coordinator's 3D construction, to keep an accurate view of what would appear on the screen. Then they were transmitted to the studio in charge of the set decoration. Some of those color roughs have been scanned and will be featured in the title sequence of the floppy version.

I-Motion decided not to end here the collaboration here; Mouclier's artwork will also be featured in Prisoner of Ice next Call of Cthulhu game, following Shadow of the Comet.

Like an architect, the design coordinator, Christophe Anton, had to draw the 3D plans of the ghost town and the caves. He also had to position each camera (each camera displays a small part of the game's field) and to determine their setting off in relation to the player's position. All in all, more than 250 cameras were set off – fifty or so more than in AitD2 – in order to cover each room, each street and each nook under various angles. Particular attention was given to the cinematography, and the cameras positions were very carefully determined with the screenwriters, because AitD3 is a real interactive animated weird western movie.

The screenwriters and the design department joined efforts to draw 50 basic characters, who were then used to build the dozens and dozens of evil-minded wild west ghosts encountered by Carnby in AitD3.

The game's engine is the same as AitD2's, but is a little bit faster, and allows us not only to display more characters on the screen but to display more detailed ones.

AitD3 is the final chapter of Carnby's first trilogy. I-Motion is currently working on a new game engine for Alone in the Dark 4 (AitD4). In the future, the technical crew will be split in two; one will develop AitD3's foreign versions and little games like Jack in the Dark using the same engine, while the other one is going to enter a research and development phase to add the final touch to the future game's engine. A preview of that new engine, using multi-angular mapping, will very likely be incorporated into AitD3, to give the player a taste of what's awaiting him in Carnby's next adventures – the player will become the director of his game. According to the situation, he'll be able to choose instantly whether he likes an overall view of the room or if he wants to keep a subjective view of his surroundings.

In AitD4, Carnby will again meet one of his arch-enemies and the interactivity will be increased – the player will have the choice of whether to control either the private eye of the occult or Emily Hartwood. Then, the leftover character will live its own independent life and will cross the player's path a few times during the adventure. Each time, the player will have the possibility of switching characters.

AitD3 will be released in the middle of December 1994 as a CD-ROM product. The dominant color of the box, drawn and painted by a former coalminer, will be red. Why red? Maybe because Clint Eastwood painted a town red in High Plains Drifter . . .

A floppy version will be available two months later, around February 1995. But let's point out that the greater storage capacity of the CD-ROM will allow us to feature special bonus sections on the CD-ROM version.

Now remember, when you're once again alone in the dark, fighting a duel or looking for a clue in a room full of ghosts this is only a game.

Right?

Christian Nabais – Infogrames

IE Magazine Issue #06

Preview - Battles in Time (DOS, 1995)

For about 20 years, QQP's president and chief designer Bruce Williams Z. has been toying with the concepts that are being built into Battles in Time, a strategy wargame for everybody – not just for wargamers – that will take its players through battles throughout the past in order to train them for a battle in the future . . .

Near the end of the Thirtieth Century, humanity has achieved a peaceful, global society. War, and indeed the memory of war, is absent, and all records and weapons and tales of battles have been destroyed or concealed. But when an enemy force arises that DOES remember war, the peaceful leaders of Earth turn to a new technology – Time Travel – to save them. They send their greatest thinkers into the past to relive a variety of styles of warfare. The one who comes back with the greatest knowledge of tactics and weaponry will be the leader of the armies that will defend the peace and tranquillity of the planet. You will be one of those sent back . . .

Variety is the keyword here – you'll lead prehistoric tribes, armed only with crude spears and stones; you'll do battle on the fields outside Rome, in the American Civil War, on the familiar fields of Europe in World War II, and in the Napoleonic era. Each will require very different strategies to win, and each will very thoroughly represent the styles of warfare appropriate to its period, both on the strategic and tactical levels.

Battles in Time, possibly the most ambitious wargame project in years, will have dozens of features never before seen, all geared to a friendly, fast-playing wargame with unprecedented variety in strategic styles.

The game will present battles in two modes: The strategic display is the large map, used for moving entire armies. Judicious use of not only hidden troops, but "camouflage" units that are essentially dummy decoys, will mean that intelligent use of reconnaissance will be vital in Battles in Time.

The game will really shine, though, in tactical mode. The display will resemble an overhead view of a tabletop miniatures wargame – a beautifully graphic, fully animated one, of course! Clicking on troops will reveal tons of information, presented in clear colorful icons. A quick glance will reveal all movement options, including HOW SAFE each one is – likewise, attack options are shown complete with the degree that you will damage each target if you should choose to attack it! All of this will aid the harried general, and make for an almost "chess-like" strategy, with a lot fewer question marks than many wargames.

Designer Williams describes combat as "Rock-Scissors-Paper," to emphasize the blend of abstract and specific strategy elements. At a given range, a bazooka will invariably destroy certain types of units, for instance – with the exception of the possibility of missing targets at extended range, all combat results will be preset, moving the game more towards the realm of "pure strategy," and making for cleaner gameplay.

Each tactical battle will be comprised of one, two, or three exchanges of move-and-fire, depending on the number of units involved. The side with the greatest relative losses loses the battle and the position. Furthermore, any battle with a 4-to-1 opening odds is considered a closed case, automatically going to the superior force. These elements will greatly increase the speed and fun of play – no long drawn-out and pointless battles; each will be quick and decisive, insuring not only greater speed but greater variety, since play will take you to (potentially) dozens of different types of tactical battles in any given turn. Tactical battles will also feature many types of terrain, much of it changeable – bridges can be blown, buildings in the cities can be demolished to clear a path for moving forces, and more.

Battles in Time, due out soon from QQP, promises to be a collection of new experiences for the die-hard wargamer and casually curious strategist alike.

Download the demo for this game

IE Magazine Issue #06

Preview - Dragon Lore: The Legend Begins (DOS, 1994)

It's a good thing that I didn't know about the first person-perspective in Software Toolworks' Dragon Lore before I actually got to see the game. If I had, the critical side of my over-DOOMed brain would've kicked in and probably would've negatively influenced my opinion. Unless you're a fanatic, you probably agree that first-person is getting old and that it's time for something new.

Well, the truth must be told, and the truth is that even if this game featured an interface akin to SSI's old Gold Box games, its graphics would save it. Graphics like the ones in Dragon Lore might save any game. They're so exceptional that they almost make me forget 7th Guest and Myst. If you're a "graphics first, everything else second" person like me, you'll get hooked during the intro and won't even need any further motivation to play the game. And, as if sent from heaven, Dragon Lore is quite playable and has a reasonable level of difficulty.

The first thing I generally moan about when reviewing a new title is how original it is. First-person perspective aside, Dragon Lore looks and plays unlike any other RPG/adventure I've seen. Few games actually reward the player for being non-violent (imagine trying that approach in one of the Street Fighter games!). Dragon Lore requires the completion of tasks in order to advance, much like any other adventure game. Its "alignment" system provides an interesting twist, though. Most problems encountered in the game can be resolved in a number of different ways, each way requiring a different level of violence. Unlike traditional RPGs, wherein most people assign alignments to their characters and then virtually ignore them, Dragon Lore lets you mold Werner's alignment as you play. Beware, though. I learned the hard way that if your first solution to any problem is to kill or break whatever is in your way, you'll have a much tougher time accomplishing things later in the game. As a rule, use your head first, and use your weapons as a last resort.

Attention to detail is also important in video games nowadays . . . whichever game has the most realistic shading or most polygons per creature wins. In Dragon Lore, everything looks real, and I'm sincere about that. When standing near to a growing plant, you can see the lines in the leaves and the blending of colors. Looking closely at a broken-down wagon shows the wear and the cracks. Even your mouse cursor is a cute little animated dragon. Incredibly, none of this superfluous pixel work slows down gameplay even a tad. On my 2X CDROM-equipped Pentium machine, movement in any direction was almost instantaneous, and transition animations scrolled so smoothly that half of the IE staff gathered around my desk to watch in disbelief. There's something to be said for computer games that gather a crowd.

I had to search really hard to find any sort of annoyance in Dragon Lore, and the only truly negative thing I came up with was that several adjoining areas in various places look too similar to differentiate easily. This is one game that certainly could've used an automap feature. Every RPG or adventure ever made could've used one, and most software companies are wising up and including them in their new titles. If you have a pen and paper near your computer, though, you can make a map and eliminate this lone flaw. Do yourself a favor and set aside $50 or so for Dragon Lore. It'll make you very happy.

Download the demo

IE Magazine Issue #06

Preview - Front Page Sports: Baseball '94 (DOS, 1994)

Baseball has come a long way. Especially in the salary department, where never-ending conflict exists between the club owners and the Players Association. At press time, the players' strike is well into its second week, and shows little sign of ending before the season does. What's a baseball fan to do? Well, you can play a computer game or twenty. Front Page Sports: Baseball should definitely be one of those twenty.

Due for release later this year, Sierra's new baseball sim carries on the tradition of quality and realism begun by the first game in the series, Front Page Sports: Football. It employs the same menu interface and allows you to do everything with a baseball league that you could do with a football league. Well, I couldn't find any way to have my players go on strike, but we won't get into that right now . . .

Let's focus on the good points of this game, of which there are several. All positive aspects of FPS: Baseball can be traced to one superb attribute: realism. This game brings the ballpark (and the executive offices) home like no other game. You can play it a number of different ways . . . taking the role of owner, manager/coach, player, or any combination of the three. The CPU can control basically anything you don't want to, so you can play a whole season without ever fielding a grounder or making a trade. Should you want to take the responsibility of drafting future franchise players, though, you can, and without much difficulty. So, seeing as though the game adapts to your style, any baseball fan will find something to enjoy here.

I still haven't figured out why this is yet, but FPS: Baseball includes real rosters for . . . um . . . unreal teams. True, Bonds, Ripken, and Alomar are all here, but they play for teams with names like the Titans, the Robins, and the Bluebirds. What gives? Oh well. It's unimportant. If you don't like the names you're given, you can change them to the Real McCoy. And why stop with names? FPS: Baseball lets you manipulate the actual structure of any league . . . letting you create one from scratch or mess around with a pre-made one. Go ahead . . . put all of the weak teams in your division. Anything to win, right?

It'll take more than just cheesy player and team-tweaking to get to a pennant race. Unless you're playing a strictly managerial position, you still have to make or break your team on the field. Graphically and not, this is where FPS: Baseball truly shines. Batter and pitcher control is fairly easy and quite similar to other PC baseball sims. Depending on the level of play, pitchers can choose from one of four pitches, and then choose where and how fast to pitch. Batters choose one of three swings, and then must time their swing to get a decent hit. The high detail level of the players and their surroundings can be lowered to speed up gameplay, but if you've got a screamer of a machine, max out the detail level and commence drooling. In 640x480 VGA, FPS: Baseball is the most graphically detailed sports game yet . . . topping even its Football predecessor. Once a hit is achieved, the perspective changes to an angled overhead view which is less beautiful but more practical for fielding and throwing.

Although it shouldn't really influence your decision whether or not to buy a game in my opinion, it should be said that the sound effects and music in FPS: Baseball successfully capture the audible chaos that exists in a ballpark. Obnoxious vendors . . . rude fans of the other team . . . cheers . . . they're all included (no, I'm not joking). Sierra went almost too far with the vendors, who, if you don't turn them off, verbally advertise their programs and popcorn every few seconds. Don't throw a brick through your screen, though. Remember, this is only a game.

Nevertheless, it's a great game, if you haven't figured that out already. There are quite a few baseball games on the market for the PC and even more available for other systems. The entire genre may have reached its pinnacle in FPS: Baseball, though, and I'd urge players of other PC baseball games to seriously consider switching to this title. It looks real, it sounds real, it plays real. And it doesn't require you to purchase add-on disks with names like "AL West Stadium Grass Seed Pack #5B".

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser

IE Magazine Issue #06

Preview - Iron Cross (DOS, 1994)

It takes a lot to make a WWII simulation distinctive these days, and it looks like Iron Cross might have a good dose of what it takes . . . when playing the copy that I was given for preparing this preview, I kept finding myself coming across new little touches that amazed me . . .

The basic scenario structure for Iron Cross is nothing new – in fact, the completed game will be focusing entirely on 12 major battles from the latter part of the war. The battles are SO major that most of them already have several computer games devoted to them . . . Iron Cross played it smart and focused on innovations in strategy, presentation and gameplay. If the finished game builds on what I've seen, it should be a fine product.

The key to enjoying this game is suspension of disbelief – the same grease that makes a good adventure game slide. The sounds and animation alone will give you the impression that you're watching a battle, but it doesn't stop there . . . When you call for an air-strike on tanks hiding out in the forest, the woods will catch fire, and (if you aren't too busy with your troops), the fire will spread. The burning terrain effects gameplay, and when the fire dies down a new terrain (Charred Forest) is left behind. Nice touch.

The issue of unit purchase and employment is another important one. With most wargames, the only way to start with variant forces in a scenario is to use whatever scenario editor the game makes available – and using an editor won't provide you with the guidance to keep your variant within the realms of historical possibility. With Iron Cross, the strategy is simply taken a logical step backwards from the battle. Deciding WHAT tank to field is as much a strategic decision as deciding where the tank will strike. Iron Cross gives you that power, by allowing you to choose from a list of available troop and hardware types that is historically accurate to the scenario.

Combat is fast and furious, and a real "fog of war" can be felt amid the dozens of explosions and puffs of smoke and flame on the screen – all with accompanying sound, of course! For novice players, game speed can be slowed to a less realistic level, and for experts (or those just too impatient to watch their squads of infantry crawl across a heavily wooded hill), game speed can also be accelerated.

Don't let the real-time element mislead you – this is a strategy wargame, not an action game or arcade design. Moving your troops carefully – and responding to an ever-changing battlefield – is what Iron Cross is all about. And while your personal reaction-time is certainly a factor, it isn't moreso than for an actual commander – and the heart of winning Iron Cross is in a cool head with a knack for efficient and strategic deployment of troops and armor – not in lightning reflexes or a fast mouse-click.

A few words need to be devoted to the many, MANY photos used to enhance the atmosphere of the game. In addition to an impressive opening-screen slideshow, EVERY part of the game is accompanied by real wartime photography and even brief photo-animations. Everything from firing tanks and artillery to shell-hits on buildings (or at least the resulting collapse) is here . . . and every type of terrain and combat unit has an accompanying photo as well. The constant visual reminders of the real look of the war are a necessary and skillfully-used supplement to the visuals of the game. Iron Cross is a computer game, and has to be clear and colorful – the grim and grainy look of the old photos helps counterbalance this and maintain both a "historical" atmosphere and a less "cartoonish" visual feel than the graphics alone would provide. And the choices of photographs were excellent!

Players familiar with the boardgame classic Squad Leader will know the scale at play here – each tank is one tank, not an armor division, and an infantry counter represents a single squad of men. This level of close-up detail adds a lot to the feel of the game. But Squad Leader players might feel strange without a world designed to fit a hex-grid . . . not only are the units free-moving, but (for armor) even unit facing is important – a tank taking a hit on its side is more likely to get cracked open than one taking it on the nose. Other features (like moving units attacking less effectively than stationary ones) add even more to the realism.

Gameplay in Iron Cross will not be campaign-based, but players will have the option of playing a continuing commander – more victory means higher rank, and the game includes a display of your rank insignia.

Our fascination with a time when our world was at war has produced a LOT of products for the computer, each bringing us a different window to the strategic side of warfare. The particular window offered by Iron Cross is a very exciting one, and this looks to be an impressive member of the winter's strategy releases.

IE Magazine Issue #06

Preview - Jagged Alliance (DOS, 1995)

Ready for a really sappy story? No, I'm not kidding. The entire plot of Sir Tech's Jagged Alliance revolves around the vital fluid of a tree. This tree only grows on the island of Metavira, a former nuclear testing site. All that radiation has long since died away, but at the time it created an amazing mutation of the local flora. One particular kind of tree now has a toxic sap which can be refined into a "wonder drug" that can cure a degenerative children's disease. Miracles can only go so far, however. This is the last generation of those trees, since the same radiation that transformed their sap has rendered them seedless.

So Metavira became host to a scientific research station devoted to finding the most efficient way to take advantage of this sap while it's still around. The bulk of the research is performed by the beautiful Brenda Richards and her father Jack, in the hopes of making the world a healthier place. But another researcher, Lucas Santino, sees things from a very different perspective. This one-of-a-kind substance would obviously be very valuable to whoever controlled it. It's that whole Dune/Spice thing. So, calling in a few favors, Santino hires a small army of mercenaries and takes over the majority of the island.

The Richards have managed to cling to one small portion of the land, and, in desperation, seek out your services. You have connections with the Association of International Mercenaries (AIM). Though violence is not to their taste, the Richards have given you the resources to enlist a force of up to eight mercenaries to take back the island for the good of sick children everywhere (I told you it was sappy).

If the story seems a tad melodramatic, rest assured that it's only the tip of the iceberg. It's not the story, but the remarkable design details that will make Jagged Alliance stand out as a game. While much of the gameplay involves strategy, there are strong role-playing elements as well. Your small troop of mercenaries is chosen from a pool of sixty AIM members. Every one of these characters has his or her own specialties of operation. That's not terribly unusual, but they also have very distinct personalities that affect how they operate, even under your "expert" leadership. Some folks have cowardly tendencies, while others may fly into a bloodlusting frenzy in combat. These attitudes are also displayed through some excellent voice acting. In fact, the digitized speech is one of the most remarkable aspects of this game.

These personalities also mean that you won't necessarily be able to hire everyone you want right off the bat. An experienced specialist would certainly be helpful in a mission as complicated as this, but he probably won't want to waste his time with someone as inexperienced as you are. Eventually, you will score enough victories to calm their apprehensions. And don't worry about letting them know. If you catch their attention, they'll be in touch.

While your ultimate goal is regaining control of the island, there are any number of steps along the way to achieving it. In fact, the non-linear structure of Jagged Alliance means that you may be able to skip some steps if you do well enough on a task. The circumstances may change drastically depending on your strategy. This variable is also affected by the skills and techniques of your party members. So, while there is only one overall mission, there should be tremendous replay value, with every game being very different from the last.

With a volatile situation like this one, you just know there's going to be some blood spilled. Combat in Jagged Alliance is mostly handled in real time, but there are obviously too many characters involved for you to handle all at once. You can either set your team so that they ask you for instructions when they encounter the enemy, you can have them automatically shoot to kill on sight, or you can opt for a step or two in between. When a party member asks for orders, time is frozen until you respond, then you're back to real time.

The game is enhanced by a strong cinematic element. The cut scenes capture the atmosphere of a Rambo film. You get to see your helicopter swoop in toward the island, dramatic close-ups of the villain, and lots more.

Jagged Alliance will definitely not just be another "dry" strategy game. Between the strong character personalities and voices, the non-linear design, and the combination of real-time and phased combat, you may never have to rent a Stallone movie again.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser

IE Magazine Issue #06

Preview - Master of Magic (DOS, 1994)

When it comes to strategy games, it's hard to have a better track record than Microprose. Over the years, this company has produced some of the most popular and widely acclaimed strategy titles ever to alter a gamer's sleep schedule. Railroad Tycoon and Civilization are already considered industry classics, and Master of Orion is sure to follow suit before long. Now Microprose is gearing up to release another high quality strategy game that is sure to inspire more sleep deprivation in its fans. Master of Magic will be upon us before too long, so it might not be a bad idea to start planning your vacation now.

Master of Magic is based in a fantasy world in which wizards are competing for domination of the land. Like its two direct predecessors (Civilization and Master of Orion) is a dangerously addictive mix of research, economic model, exploration, diplomacy, and war. Starting with one city, you'll have to build an empire to stand the tests of time. Whoops, sorry, wrong game. Well, you'll still start with one city (okay, a hamlet, if you must split hairs) and from such humble beginnings you'll set out to conquer two realms, one mundane and the other intensely magical.

Although Master of Magic is being developed by Simtex, the same group who created Master of Orion for Microprose last year, and it bears a striking similarity name-wise to its older brother, Master of Magic is much more similar to Civilization. Veterans of Civ will even find the interface roughly familiar, especially on the city management screen. In Master of Magic, each city is a production center. The cities produce military units like swordsmen, cavalry, and engineers, and they also build structures that add to the city's production capabilities. Some structures allow you to produce certain types of military units (like the stables which allow you to produce cavalry), while others give you increased income one way or another. (Examples of this include the marketplace which increase the gold produced by the city, and the shrine which gives you additional mana points each turn.)

There are three resources you need in Master of Magic: gold, food, and mana. Gold is produced by your cities, and is used to pay your army. Food functions in much the same way, causing the size and number of your cities to directly affect the size of the army you can support. Mana is the measurement of your magical power, which is used when you cast spells. Mana is stored up until you use it by spellcasting, and its proper use is crucial to your success in the game.

The technology trees found in Civilization and Master of Orion have been replaced by spell research. Spell research is automatically carried out, much like the research in Civilization, and you can decrease the number of turns it takes you to research spells by building libraries in your cities. Many spells are used in combat, such as blessings for your armies and ice bolts hurled at your enemies, while others enchant cities to alter their production. As an example, a spell might cause its target city to produce more research points, but slightly decrease its population growth. Other spells summon armies of creatures (war bears, skeletons, giant spiders . . . ) and bind them to your will, giving you more troops to take into battle.

One thing that Master of Magic does very differently than its predecessors is combat. Here, combat is carried out from a 3D isometric view. Different armies are brought into battle by stacking them all together and then moving them into a map square occupied by an opponent. Once in battle, each army is manipulated individually in turn-based play. If you've ever played one of SSI's AD&D Gold Box titles, you have a rough idea. This gives Master of Magic more tactical savvy than its forebears.

It has occurred to me that most people in the known universe are Civilization fans, whether they realize it or not. Anyone who has stayed up 'til dawn making peace with Lincoln and war with Alexander should have a great deal of fun with Master of Magic. It seems that Simtex and Microprose are being fairly conservative with this title, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Not by a long shot. There's a reason people still play Civilization, and anyone who has been captivated by that game is bound to fall hook line and sinker for Master of Magic. Soon gamers around the world will fall under its dark spell, and see their personal productivity plummet like a rock.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser

IE Magazine Issue #06

Preview - Metaltech: EarthSiege (DOS, 1994)

Since the dawn of computer games, people have loved shooting things and watching them explode. As the years passed and technology gave us better toys to play with, some of these same people said, "Well, I've got a bigger computer now; maybe I can use bigger guns to shoot bigger things." They found they could, and there was much rejoicing. Not long after that, they once again considered their situation. "Well, even though I'm shooting big guns at big things, there's still so much more my nifty toy is capable of. What if I made my big gun more complex and difficult to use, and made my targets look nifty and move quickly and react smartlier?" In case you were wondering, that is how these really big robot games came into being. Originally, these titles were called mech games, but recently certain people have decided that the term "mech" is corporate property instead of a part of the English vernacular, so we will refrain from its further use here to avoid paying royalties.

The current uproar about big robot games was brought on by Activision's announcement that they were hard at work on Mechwarrior II. That was about 14 years ago, and still the field is wide open. Dynamix originally jumped on the bandwagon with a title called Metaltech: Battledrome, a sort of "me too" big robot game with the action confined to a visually Spartan battle room. Dynamix then decided to put that project on hold and start on a more ambitious title that was more in line with its campaign-based competition. That project was, and continues to be, Metaltech: Earthsiege, a feast of robotic carnage that should make Cecil B. DeMille envious.

Since only adventure games and RPGs really need plots, Earthsiege comes with a premise which, although it won't put Isaac Asimov to shame, does the job of setting the stage for the action. In the near future, the science of Artificial Intelligence is growing by leaps and bounds. The military, thinking with a secondary organ as usual, decides that AI programs would be the ideal pilots for gargantuan fighting droids called HERCs. They do indeed become extremely effective weapons, and these Cybrids cause the nations of the world to race to develop better AI to hold their position in this new cold war. Of course, the military's short-sightedness has a way of making itself known, and so it is that the Cybrids become sentient and decide to purge the world of their human creators. You are a member of the scattered and painfully ill-equipped human resistance, and your combat skills are needed to pilot the human-controlled HERCs against the evil of the vindictive Cybrids. (At this point I like to picture Jim Carrey bellowing, "Somebody stop me!!")

Earthsiege is one of those fairly rare games that straddle the border between action game and simulation. It's not as complicated as, say, Falcon 3.0, but then again we're not talking about Rebel Assault here either. You will be piloting a HERC, and as you can imagine, that's not exactly a walk in the park. You'll have to navigate, monitor your damage, keep an eye on your radar, switch between weapons systems, coordinate your actions with your squad mates, and blast hostile targets. A HERC is a pretty complex vehicle, but the game is surprisingly easy to learn, due in part to the intelligent layout of the cockpit. All instruments and displays are more or less where you'd expect them to be, and I found my HERC to be much more user friendly than most planes I've flown in other sims.

The control scheme is also worthy of praise. Making your HERC do what you want it to could have been a major stumbling block, but Dynamix has included support for just about every combination of PC controllers you could think of. One of the most useful yet potentially difficult maneuvers in the game is pivoting your HERC's torso to fire at an enemy while walking in an independent direction. If you can't do this, you won't get far in the game. This is most commonly done via a set of Thrustmaster Rudder Pedals, but for those of us who have to worry about things like rent and food, Dynamix allows this function to be assigned to other controllers. Anyone with a decent game card can rig up a Y cable and a second joystick and control the game well without spending a fortune.

Naturally, the missions themselves are what will make or break this game, and it looks like Dynamix has nothing to worry about in that respect. The relative ease of the HERCs' operation combines with the almost transparent navigational system to give you a game that lets you concentrate on the intense action you'll be wading into. The polygonal graphics are decent to look at, and enable the game to move along with great speed. Yep, blowing things up is still fun, and somehow it feels even better when you're in command of a complex machine.

Judging from what I've seen, Earthsiege looks to be a solid action sim that should appeal to a fairly wide audience. It's complex enough for sim fans, but its fairly painless learning curve should appeal to action gamers as well. I like to blow big holes in things, and I like Earthsiege. It's as simple as that.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser

IE Magazine Issue #06

Preview - Monty Python's Complete Waste of Time (Windows 3.x, 1994)

Despite all evidence to the contrary, there are still some sadly twisted people on this planet who believe that computers are primarily business tools, and that any other use of the technology is a complete waste of time. Needless to say, this sector of the population would never waste their time with a CD Mag called "Interactive Entertainment." But for the rest of us, 7th Level is about to unleash perhaps the silliest CD-ROM in the history of the industry, and very likely the entire universe as well. It goes by the all too appropriate name of "Monty Python's Complete Waste of Time."

(Warning: The following paragraph consists of really obvious history for the Python impaired. The rest of you can skip ahead. Don't worry. I'll catch up.)

The comedy troupe Monty Python consists of four Britons named John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, one American named Terry Gilliam, and one dead person named Graham Chapman. (Incidentally, Chapman wasn't always dead. He died in 1990, and it's fair to say that this setback has adversely affected his performance skills.) The group made its debut in a BBC television series called Monty Python's Flying Circus. Cleese once explained that the name was chosen because none of the performers was named Monty Python, there was no circus involved, and, if there was, it certainly didn't fly. After four successful seasons, they went on to conquer the big screen with such cult classics as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Monty Python's Life of Brian, and Monty Python's Meaning of Life. Along the way, they also recorded several record albums, performed numerous live concerts and basically became terribly terribly famous.

The "Complete Waste of Time" is the first interactive product from the Python crew, unless you count all the annoying people who recite the lines along while watching a movie. (It has never been satisfactorily explained, but there is something about Monty Python comedy that begs to be memorized and quoted, complete with goofy voices.) While the CD certainly includes lots of everyone's favorite sketches, including Nudge Nudge, The Dead Parrot and The Cheese Shop, it will also feature some new skits. That is especially noteworthy, since the last thing the team released that wasn't just a rehashing of old material was The Meaning of Life movie back in the early eighties. There will also be lots of chances to sing along with such classic songs as The Lumberjack Song and The Philosophers Song. And even that's just the tip of the digital iceberg.

This product will also use some of the same interface as 7th Level's debut title, Tuneland. In that children's game, the player clicks on cute little cartoon ducks and horses and things in a barnyard and they dance and sing. The interactive scenarios in the Complete Waste will be based on the trademark cartoon style of Terry Gilliam, and therefore not nearly as "cute". You'll be clicking on some very strange items, such as stuffed penguins, lumberjacks and semprini, and they will react in some truly perverse ways. The disc inculdes six giant scenarios: the Exploratorium, the Exploding TV Room, the Corridor, the Portait Gallery, the Stage and the Brain.

The disc will also include some more traditional arcade-style games, for those who find the freeform scenarios unsatisfying. Of course, the graphics of these games will also be in the Gilliam mode, so instead of falling blocks or spaceships or army men., they will feature such diverse elements as exploding pigs and hammer wielding madwomen.

But perhaps the best thing the "Complete Waste" has to offer is the program that comes with it on the CD-ROM. It's called the "Desktop Pythonizer," and it allows you to turn an ordinary Windows layout into a haven for loonies. You can replace your boring old icons with spam or 16 ton weights, and change up your sound files with lots of memorable and rude noises. This in itself would be a must-have for the hi-tech Python fan, and it will also be sold separately on 3.5" disks for those poor slobs who can't afford a CD-ROM drive.

Monty Python's Complete Waste of Time looks like more than any fan could have dared dream of for the PC. It may even help the Pythons reach a new audience. However hard it is to believe that there are some people around who can't sing along with the Lumberjack song, there is a whole new generation of potential loonies out there who weren't even born when The Life of Brian was released. Poor deprived bastards.

IE Magazine Issue #06

Preview - Noctropolis (DOS, 1994)

Noctropolis . . . the city of night! Home to that noble hero Darksheer and his faithful assistant Stiletto. They fight the evil that thrives on darkness. Greenthumb, Tophat, the Succubus . . . how can any of these petty villains stand against the power that Darksheer wields . . . the power of liquidark and shadeskin?

And yet, a cold new wind blows through the city. The forces of chaos have been united into a malevolent committee, led by a mysterious cloaked figure named Flux. Their one purpose: to wipe out their hated enemy Darksheer and take control of the city! Can our hero survive their vicious attack?

In Electronic Arts' Noctropolis, the player takes the part of Peter Grey, a fan of the Darksheer comic book, which has just been cancelled. While he sits moping in his bookstore, looking over the last issue, there is a knock at the door. A strange messenger brings word that Peter has won the Darksheer sweepstakes, and the winner gets to be the new Darksheer! Within minutes, Peter is whisked into the bizarre cityscape of Noctropolis.

While this might seem to be a fantasy come true, Peter is also saddled with a great responsibility. He must not only overcome his own disbelief in this situation, but he must somehow convince the suddenly very real characters from his favorite comic book that he is to be the new Darksheer. The original hero has retired, convinced that there were no more battles to be fought; that was the storyline in the final issue. But what wasn't in the comic was the rise of the crimelord Flux. Now, all of Darksheer's compatriots have gone into hiding, jaded by the disappearance of their hero. In fact, Father Desmond has been trapped in his own cathedral by a gargoyle minion of the Succubus, a sex-crazed demon who kills with a kiss. Stiletto has retreated into her apartment . . . and into the bottle.

After overcoming both his own and his associates' doubts, as well as several physical obstacles, Peter/Darksheer must enter the most difficult part of his adventure. He must actually defeat a combination of villains that even the original Darksheer had only fought one at a time. Who knows the power of the new wild card, Flux? And when they get through with Peter, will they make their way back across the rift to the "real" world?

It's safe to say there has never been another computer adventure game quite like Noctropolis. It's hard to even figure out exactly what genre we're dealing with. It has elements of science fiction, superheros and horror. In fact, Noctropolis reflects some of the mold breaking going on in some of the better comic books being written today. Like those comics, the game is not intended for children. This is not primarily because of pornographic or overly violent content, but because of the subtlety of some of the main ideas. The story has more to do with human insecurities and fears than superhuman heroics and a great battle between good and evil. There is also the question of where the line is drawn between fantasy and reality. Peter Grey's sudden transference to Noctropolis recalls the voyage of Thomas Covenant in Stephen Donaldson's Unbeliever novels, another series definitely intended for mature readers.

Beyond just the funky subject matter, Noctropolis has outstanding graphics. Live actors and digital video are combined with a skyline that might have come straight from the recent Batman movies. Like that Gotham cityscape, Noctropolis always towers menacingly over its citizens. It gives "larger-than-life" a very literal interpretation. Even the map used for travelling from place to place has an odd exploded perspective, as though you were looking at it through a fish-eye lens.

At its best, the combination of digital video and SVGA graphics is seamless. The live actors do not just seem tacked onto their background, but actually an integral part of their environment.

Of course, the best game concepts and designs can be ruined by an overly complex and obscure interface. This will definitely not be a problem with Noctropolis. A right mouse click at any point in the game brings up a triangle with all your possible commands clearly marked. Just pick your action and what you want to do it to. Thankfully, more and more game companies are realizing that ease of operation is critical to the enjoyment of a product. If only we could get the word to those VCR makers out there . . .

These elements are enhanced by a moody G-MIDI score composed by Ron Saltmarsh. It provides that extra push of menace for when you're just not uneasy enough. Noctropolis has the potential to spark a whole new style of computer adventure, one that would strongly appeal to the adult market that cut its teeth on Space Invaders and Pong so many years ago.

IE Magazine Issue #06

Preview - Pure Wargame, The (DOS, 1995)

QQP is a company known for friendly strategy games – games that can challenge the most die-hard grog – and games that can be ENJOYED by the grog's sister who works in the perfume section at a department store. That kind of game design takes a special talent and has earned the company a well-deserved good reputation. QQP is no one-note company, however. They don't JUST do wargames (as evidenced by the addictive ZIG-ZAG, among others), and now, they've decided to take a step into the realm of the hardcores with Pure Wargame.

Pure Wargame is exactly what the name implies – a traditional unit-vs.-unit scuffle on the hex-grid along the lines of games by Avalon Hill or SSI. But far from being a rehash or a derivation, Pure Wargame attempts to move the elements of that venerable form into a new state of the art.

There are no bells and whistles in play; Pure Wargame promises to be utterly glitz-free. The displays will be clear, attractive, and functional, but not flashy. There will be no animations, no flashing gunshots, no exploding troopers or burning buildings. There WILL be fantastic sound, however – a full 10-part score will provide the atmospheric audio backdrop, and dozens of realistic sound-effects will punctuate every moment of carnage in every turn of the game.

The major thrust of QQPs programming and design resources are being purposefully channeled into the strategy, detail, and simulation aspects of gameplay. Units, in addition to their attack and defense strengths, are rated in all the terms that we've grown used to in the Age of Electronics – ammunition, food, fatigue and morale are among the many factors that determine the overall usefulness of a unit, and each can affect the outcome of a battle.

Pure Wargame, in addition to being jam-packed with detail, is one of the most thoroughly *historical* games yet put on the market. Not only does every scenario represent an actual battle, but the actual battalions are in place, in the positions that they had in the original conflict. Even details such as weather and light conditions are accurate down to the six-hour game turn that Pure Wargame divides time into.

Pure Wargame's scenarios are all paratroop-landing battles, and even the landing positions are completely accurate in scale. Players may, if they wish, allow realistic drift for drop-sites based on the intended marks, creating a new game within each scenario – but for the purist, the real thing is the default. Of course, once the battle starts, history slides slowly into the background as your own tactical and strategic skills are brought to the fore, and history becomes YOUR story, and victory or defeat is on your head.

Victory in Pure Wargame is determined by ground taken in battle. The display can be toggled at any point to display the exact hexes controlled by either side in the conflict. Points are awarded not only on the grounds of raw hexes, but in terms of important sites. In one scenario, the Kanev bridge in Russia is worth 12000 points, but the other bridges – less vital to victory overall – are worth only a thousand each. Control of cities and other important areas is also worth points, and winner is determined by a point-count comparison at the end of the allotted turns.

Of course, these are only a few of the features to be found in Pure Wargame – QQP is no doubt holding onto a few surprises for the final release. One thing is for certain – among pure wargamers, Pure Wargame is bound to be seen as a classic.

IE Magazine Issue #06

Preview - Realms of Arkania: Star Trail (DOS, 1994)

Think for a moment . . . which companies make the best RPGs? Well, when you think RPG, you think AD&D, and when you think AD&D, you think SSI. There's one. Some more, maybe? The Might and Magic series was fairly popular, so you can throw New World Computing in there. How 'bout Origin for the Ultima games? Okay. Well, most people would probably come up with those three before they remembered Sir-Tech, the Ogdensburg, NY company whose RPGs, in my opinion, rank right up there with SSI's as the best available today.

Have you ever played any of the Wizardry games? Many people have seen the ads and even the games themselves, but have never played them. They're good . . . VERY good. Especially the more recent ones. And they're not the only good RPGs made by Sir-Tech. Two years ago, led by a slightly more aggressive advertising campaign, Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny debuted and sold well. Praised for its excellent character attributes and isometric 3D combat system, Blade of Destiny provided ample competition for the legion of SSI games on the market at the time.

I love a good sequel, and believe me, Realms of Arkania: Star Trail might be one of the best ever. Returning to Arkania, your party seeks the blade called Star Trail and the gem known as Salamander. Both could give your party wealth and power . . . or agony and torment. This game leaves NOTHING out. It's going to quickly establish itself as a must-have for any RPG fan, let alone fans of Blade of Destiny. Let me convince you of this. First, if you're the type who's impressed by statistics and raw numbers, feast on these: 256-color VGA, 25MB of data in the floppy version, 12 character races, over 50 improvable character skills, and over 350 weapons and magical items. Not yet convinced? Witness Star Trail's smooth-scrolling first-person 3D movement, editable automapping, "keyword" dialogue system, automated combat, variable difficulty, and diary recording. You may not even know what all of those features are FOR, but you have to admit that they pile 'em on pretty thick.

One of those features, the variable difficulty setting, is intriguing. The best use of this feature will be to control the learning curve, letting amateurs begin on the easy level and then advance to the harder setting after practicing a bit. I'm eager to see how well this is implemented. It's a great idea . . . one that I would've appreciated in several other games. Ditto with the editable automaps. There's a special place in the Hall of Shame for roleplaying games without an automap feature. Kill them before they spread.

Since CD ROM drives are really becoming standard equipment now, Star Trail will indeed be published on CD, and the CD version will contain features not found in the floppy version of the game. Taking up the majority of the extra space will be digitized speech and cinematic animations. If you have good sound and video capabilities, Star Trail will take advantage of them in a way few games have. Animations are very smooth and digitized speech actually seems in sync with lip movements. Monsters will come to life and talk to you (or possibly eat you, but that'll probably be fully animated too). Even on the floppy version, where you'll see fewer animations, the artwork is of superb quality. Especially the character faces, which are detailed and shaded perfectly. Other nice touches include keeping your characters' names and life meters on-screen at all times. Other RPGs give only minor facial distinctions to their character portraits and put only the mug shots on-screen, often leaving you guessing as to who is who.

I'm in awe over all of the terrific highlights of this game. It's almost as if Sir-Tech read gamers' minds and included in Star Trail everything that's been missing from other good-not-great RPGs. If you find yourself frustrated with the RPG you're currently playing, consider plunking down the $50 Star Trail will cost you. The game takes care of all of the map-drawing and timekeeping . . . the only thing you need to do is think and have fun.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser

IE Magazine Issue #06

Preview - Return to Planetfall: Floyd Strikes Back [Unreleased]

Lately, the computer adventure game market seems to be a contest to see who can come up with the best rendered graphics and who can hire the best band to record the CD stereo soundtrack. It's hard to believe that, not too many years ago, the field was dominated by text-only games. These products had only one aspect that kept them selling: great stories. There was no question that the dominating company in this text-game universe was Infocom. While they were best known for the Zork fantasy games, another of their most popular products was a hilarious science-fiction comedy adventure called Planetfall, and its sequel, Stationfall, both written by Steve Meretzky.

Meanwhile, on another consumer electronics front, the Atari 2600 was kicking the butts of all the other home entertainment systems. The credit for this can not go entirely to Atari, however. Everyone knew that the best games for the system were produced by an independent company named Activision. Most folks bought the 2600 so they could play games like Pitfall and MegaMania. They sure didn't buy it for Space Invaders.

Flash forward 10 years, and Steve Meretzky is still very much in demand in the computer game world. His work has been compared with that of Douglas Adams. (Appropriately enough, since the two of them collaborated on the text game version of Adams' Hitchihker's Guide to the Galaxy.) Meretzky's latest project, Superhero League of Hoboken, was reviewed in the last episode of IE. Infocom no longer exists, but Activision is stronger than ever. They bought the rights to all those great Infocom games, and had a major hit on their hands with a graphic continuation of the Zork series, Return to Zork. Now, they're hoping to enjoy even greater success with Return to Planetfall: Floyd Strikes Back.

For those unfamiliar with the original Planetfall games, Floyd was a robot with the enthusiasm of a ten-year old. He followed the player around everywhere, not being very useful, but always eager to play a quick game of hider-seeker. Floyd was easily the most popular character in the entire text-game medium. In an uncharacteristically tragic moment in Stationfall, the player must kill Floyd to save the universe. Many players wrote to Infocom testifying their tearful experiences playing those last moments of the game.

The new game's content is very much in keeping with the humor of the original series. The player returns to his unnamed role as an Ensign Seventh Class, working this time on an insterstellar cruise ship overrun by yuppies. So, not only do you have to perform menial chores from scrubbing floors to filling out requisition forms to clearing glasses at the piano bar, you also have to deal politely with tourists in Hawaiian shirts. Fortunately, your good robot friend Floyd has unexpectedly returned from the dead, and he is as eager as ever to accompany you on your adventures. Yes, adventures. You didn't think the whole game would be kitchen duty, did you? Among other things, you get to uncover an ancient robot religion, a secret scientific technology that could transform the universe, and an insidious plot to reduce all human life to a zombie-like existence, much like your current job.

Of course, however good the story, this wouldn't be much of an update if the new Planetfall was nothing but text. The graphics on Return to Planetfall are nothing short of spectacular. Activision promises a cast full of celebrity actors to flesh out the population on board the cruise ship, and all through the game. As this cast list develops, you can count on IE to keep you posted. On top of this, there's lots of beautifully rendered animations that bring Meretzky's twisted vision to life.

Speaking of Steve Meretzky, he is the designer of this latest Planetfall installment, but his other current projects have kept him too busy to write the entire game. Instead, Activision brought in the team of Hans Beimler and Richard Manning, the head writers from the recent television hit Star Trek: The Next Generation. One of the things that made "Next Gen" really stand out, not just as science fiction, but overall, was the excellent scriptwriting. Since the show's conclusion in April, it's hard to imagine a better choice of writers to follow in Meretzky's rather imposing footsteps.

Between the phenomenal graphics and the cast of celebrities, not to mention the ever-important writing, Return to Planetfall will certainly be successful, both economically and artistically. Activision plans to release this update in the second quarter of 1995.

IE Magazine Issue #06

Preview - Star Wars: Dark Forces (DOS, 1995)

It's unlikely that George Lucas will ever read this, but in the off chance he does I want to thank him for Star Wars. Not just a cool movie, not just a pop culture phenomenon, Star Wars is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Many people may have thought that the fascination with Star Wars had passed, but like disco, it never really died, just left the public eye for a time to re-energize and regroup. Now, thanks to LucasArts, all us game players have been able to re-live long-dormant fantasies through our computers. At nearly the same time, ads for disco collections began to rear their noxious spotty behinds on late night TV, and even MTV. Coincidence? I think not.

The three Star Wars related titles LucasArts has produced (X-Wing, Rebel Assault, and TIE Fighter for those of you currently residing in the belly of the mighty Sarlacc) have met with success in the extreme, both from reviewers and fans, which is a rarity for movie license games. It shouldn't come as a shock to anyone that somebody at LucasArts got the bright idea of combining the obviously still-popular Star Wars universe with the hottest trend in computer games – first person shooters. (What's wrong with the term "Doom clone?" Is there some stigma attached to it that I'm not aware of? When I call a game a Doom clone I'm not insulting it, so please don't be misled by the prejudice of others when I begin using that term in a few sentences.) The result is Dark Forces, a game to be released sometime before Christmas. Will it be a hit? Can you say "You bet your Schwartz!" boys and girls? I knew you could.

I first heard about Dark Forces at the summer CES, where I was told it was a Doom clone. My response went something like, "So?" The phrase "Doom clone" was a fitting description of about half the products on the floor, so I didn't think much about it. Then I heard that it was being done by LucasArts, and I thought, "Okay, so it'll be a good Doom clone." Now there was a bit of mild interest. When I was told it was a Star Wars product my response was, "I need to have this. Now."

Dark Forces is indeed a Doom clone set in the Star Wars universe, and as we've come to expect from LucasArts, it looks like a damn good piece of software. Even a mediocre Doom clone based on Star Wars would be a sure-fire hit, but there's nothing mediocre about Dark Forces that I can see. Far from a cheap knock-off, Dark Forces actually goes beyond Doom in a couple of areas. It is easily as fast as Doom, and may even be a little faster. Additionally, you have the ability to jump, which eliminates the annoyance of being three feet away from an object and not being able to grab it. As is the case in most next generation first-person games, you can look up and down; a good thing too, given the amount of high ledges in the scenarios I saw.

In Dark Forces you play a rebel agent with a daunting task. The Empire is planning to produce Dark Troopers – deadly robotic stormtroopers. (Apparently, the Emperor reviewed some '70s film footage and thought, "Cripes, these guys can't hit the broadside of a Corellian cruiser! Must be those stupid helmets.") The rebels don't stand a chance against them, so you must infiltrate the empire and put a stop to their production. Naturally, you'll have to confront a bunch of guards, stormtroopers, and bounty hunters who'd like nothing more than to turn you into pulverized bantha fodder. Them's the breaks.

Instead of being divided up into levels, Dark Forces is a series of missions with defined victory goals. Like in the previous Star Wars titles, you can't progress to a higher mission until you complete those that come before it. Of course you can always cheat, and although nobody's mentioned anything about cheat codes in Dark Forces (probably because hardly anyone outside LucasArts has played it yet), they're sure to come along seconds after the game's release.

For just about every Star Wars fan with a computer, Dark Forces will be the A-#1 item on the Christmas list this year. After playing the game I think it's safe to say that you won't be disappointed. Rebel Assault became a staple for its hardware last holiday season, and I see Dark Forces following suit. If you own a CD-ROM, you'll have Dark Forces. That's all there is to it.

IE Magazine Issue #06

Review - Battle Bugs (DOS, 1994)

When name Dynamix comes up, one thinks of classic titles like Red Baron and the Incredible Machine. Well, they're back at it again, and this time it's a game called Battle Bugs. Battle Bugs is like the missing link from SimAnt. Battle Bugs is not really a strategy game, it's more of a pure tactical game with a cute sense of humor.

Battle Bugs is about as simple as they come. One barely needs to look at the manual to get started; just a brief peek to learn the commands and you're off. The first striking thing you'll notice about Bugs is the resolution. It can be toggled between 640 x 480 and 800 x 600, which is a pretty sight indeed.

You have two choices in Battle Bugs: you can play a campaign, or play a single mission. However, you can't play a mission that you haven't already gotten to in a campaign, so the campaign option is usually the preferred choice. Each mission has an objective, and a certain amount of points needed to win.

You earn points by completing tasks that get you closer to your objective, whether it's taking control of a piece of food or killing a few enemy insects. If you manage to kill all of the enemy, you win by default. You also have a time allowance, which really only comes to play in a few missions. Usually, in the advanced missions, one can obtain victory just by taking control of all the food and not totally exterminating the enemy force.

Each mission has a different set of bugs to go with it. Each different type of bug has it's advantages and disadvantages. Each mission seems to have a certain combination of tactics that work. This is where Battle Bugs loses a bit of its luster. From what I can tell, a lot of the missions seem to have just one combination of tactics that will advance you past that mission. This really takes away from the tactical part of the game, and leaves you with a "guess the right tactic" game instead.

The variety of bugs to play with is really quite impressive. In all there are twenty two different bug species to choose from, making for quite a variety in game-play. Each bug has it's own unique abilities. The ant can throw projectiles a great distance and is a fast walker, but has only moderate fighting ability. The Pill Bug is a very strong defender and a moderate attacker, he can also throw projectiles though not as far, but unfortunately is qutie a slow walker. The Preying Mantis is one of the toughest bugs, very strong in defending and attacking, and can move almost as fast as an ant. The Bee is an all around strong insect. It is fast, can hold its own against most of the other insects, and can also carry bombs. The Grasshopper is another frequently-used bug. It can move extremely fast and has a very good attack, but unfortunately has a weak defense.

Even with the flaw in the tactical fun factor, that's just in a few of the missions. Battle Bugs is still an exciting and fun game to play. The graphics are in a high resolution, the music is cute, and the sound effects are just right.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser

IE Magazine Issue #06

Review - Brutal Sports Football (Jaguar, 1994)

I don't like sports. I don't have anything against them, but they don't do much for me. Okay, once and a while I'll sit down in front of the tube and watch the Red Sox or the Expos embarrass themselves on national TV, but around the time the fifth inning rolls around I'm seriously thinking about calling my insurance agent and shooting the breeze for no good reason. It's extremely rare to see someone brutally killed in an interesting way during a televised sports event, although I'm still hoping to see my local sports announcer mouth off to a deranged zamboni driver.

The same goes for sports games. I like golf, and that's pretty much it. Once in a blue moon I'll try out a baseball or basketball game that looks interesting, only to find out that it's not. A few years ago I even bought one of those stats-based baseball games; I tried real hard to like it, but eventually I had to admit to myself that watching dust collect on my monitor was cheaper and had better replay value.

When I first saw Brutal Sports Football at the CES Jaguar pavilion in June, I wasn't interested in the least. Oh boy, another sports game. Ptuii! Still, I had a responsibility to cover the games, regardless of my opinion, so I played it. Smart move on my part. Brutal Football is not a sports game; it's a blistering action game masquerading as a sports game.

Brutal Sports Football is played on a traditional football field, and that's one of very few similarities between this game and its steroid-fueled real-life counterpart. The objective is still to outscore the other team, but now there's a goal on either end of the field you must kick, throw, or run the ball through; each goal scores one point and there are no field goals, no extra points, and ya better learn to like it that way.

The biggest difference between regular football and Brutal Football is the rules. Let's not mince words – there aren't any. In the brutal league, anything goes. One of my favorite things to do is run offsides and tackle an opponent before the ball is even in play. Just for the hell of it, ya know? You can even stomp on an opponent after he falls down to cause as much injury as is humanly possible. In this game, excessive force isn't a punishable offense, it's just a good general strategy.

I'm not sure if you've grasped this concept yet, but Brutal Sports Football has more in common with the Spanish Inquisition than it does with good sportsmanship. The primary objective is still to run the ball through the goal as many times as you can, but if you don't take advantage of the abundant opportunities to inflict grievous bodily harm on your foes, chances are you'll spend most of your time being ground into the mud on your own 20 yard line. The enemy, whether human or computer, will take every chance to gleefully stomp your guts out, and you must do the same. Not only is violence fun, but it's a strong tactic and can win the game for you. In addition to winning by score, you can also be crowned the victor if you behead six of the seven opposing teammates; each player in the game has a health bar, and if it gets exhausted said jock will lose his head the next time someone says "boo" too close to him. In a sick but fun twist, these liberated heads don't leave the field, and you can pick them up, kick them, and throw them as if they were the ball. Sometimes the heads will even cry if their team loses.

To make the game even more absurd, power-up icons have been included, which randomly appear on the field to spice up the game. Rabbits and tortoises speed you up and slow you down, but it's the weapons that are the most fun. Knives enable you to do extra damage when you tackle someone, bombs can be thrown to clear the field in front of you as you dash towards the goal, and axes can be thrown all the way across the field, giving you the distinct pleasure of mangling someone you're not even close to. In two-player contests, two additional icons present themselves. One causes the players to swap sides, and the other (the really twisted one) reverses the directions on your foe's control pad, which can cause your friends to hurl Jaguar controllers and even heavier objects at you. You know it's a good game if someone gets a concussion.

Brutal Sports Football may not break any new ground, but it's a good solid game that can keep people coming back again and again. Plus it's for the Atari Jaguar, so it doesn't even have to be good to sell. Let's face it, someone could release Interactive Shopping List for the Jaguar and it would sell, because there's next to nothing out there for the system yet. Brutal Sports Football doesn't need desperation to be a hit, but if that works in its favor, so be it. If a dozen new Jaguar carts suddenly materialized tomorrow, I'd still be playing Brutal Sports Football. If you own a Jaguar, you should have it. And not just so you can use two hands when you tally up your Jaguar library.sty

IE Magazine Issue #06

Review - Lode Runner (Windows 3.x, 1994)

Computer games have come a long way in the past 10 years, technologically speaking. SGI-rendered graphics, 3D Studio cut scenes, digitally sampled symphonic soundtracks, and hundreds of megabytes of available storage space combine to give us games that just a few years ago would have been thought impossible. (Back in my early teenage years my friends and I used to wonder if anyone would ever make a home system with the same graphics quality as arcade machines. You've come a long way, baby!)

Still, I'm old enough to remember the early days of home gaming, back when the Atari 2600 was the reigning king of home entertainment and IBM was working on something called the PC Jr. Although comically limited in comparison to the modern Pentium dream machine, these systems managed to bring us some pretty fantastic games, but then again they had to. There are two types of games that sell: good games and pretty games. Back then, games had to be good, because there was just no way to make them pretty. (Have you ever watched someone play Yar's Revenge and thought, "That's so beautiful, man. I could sit and watch that one screen for hours." I didn't think so.) So designers concentrated on making interesting, challenging, unique games. (Even shooters had original ideas. How often do you see that today?)

A good example of this design philosophy was a game released for the Apple computers called Lode Runner. The object of the game was extremely simple: collect all the gold in the level and escape through the exit without being caught by the guards chasing you. If the game had just boiled down to an arcadish run through a maze of beams, ladders, and ropes, it probably would have faded into obscurity and died with the system it was written for. But there was a lot more. Each level of Lode Runner was a puzzle, and many of them were fiendishly clever, forcing you to grab seemingly unattainable gold and manipulate the guards into helping you. It became a wildly popular strategy game, and the included level editor spawned a group of obsessed Lode Runner masters who traded extremely twisted home-made levels back and forth. Now, Lode Runner is considered one of the true classics of computer gaming, and the only thing hindering its popularity is that there's just not that many people out there with Apple II computers anymore.

Then Sierra decided to re-vamp this classic and bring it to the modern PC. (Actually it was a Dynamix project, but the family is all unified under the Sierra banner now.) Usually this spells major amounts of trouble, and I'm sure there were a few corporate advisors saying, "Bad idea. You can never make a sequel as good as the original. I should know; I just came back from City Slickers 2. Don't mess with it, man." But nobody was listening. Conservative common sense was thrown to the wind, and for once the results were positive. Way positive.

Lode Runner: The Legend Returns is Sierra's update to the classic, and it's a winner in every way. The green and black stick figure graphics have been replaced by beautiful 256-color SVGA images which are delightfully animated. The beeps and clicks now emanate from Windows-compatible sound cards, so they finally sound good. Superficial details aside, the puzzles – the meat of the game – are very good. There are 150 levels in Sierra's creation, divided into thematic groups of 15. Each group has its own look, and progresses quite smoothly in difficulty from simple introductory levels to sadistic tests of on-your-feet strategy.

Although the game has been kept very faithful to its original form, Sierra has thrown in some new trinkets to play around with. The shovel you used to dig into the dirt with has been replaced by a blaster; it performs the same function, but it looks a lot better with the new graphics. Apart from that, each group of 15 levels has a particular object that you can pick up and use. The first one you see is a bomb, which is used to blow up incoming mad monks (the new wave version of guards) and get rid of unwanted terrain. You also get slime buckets (which are tossed onto the ground to slow down the monks), foot snare traps, jackhammers, befuddlement gas, pickaxes, and teleporters to fool around with. Far from being cheap and gimmicky, these tools fit very well into the puzzles they appear in, and they work with the strategy of the puzzle, not against it. They provide variety without cheapening the game, and are a welcome addition.

Understanding what makes a good game great, Sierra has also included a level editor with their package. The editor is extremely easy to use. You select a terrain tile or object from the toolbox, and click on the screen wherever you want it to appear, just like a paint program. With this handy utility, anyone can build a level; making a good one is the tough part. I was especially pleased to see that multiple sets of teleporters can be included on the same level, and by changing the tiles' properties you can wire pairs of entrances and exits together.

Lode Runner: The Legend Returns is one of those rare returns to an old favorite that doesn't disappoint. Quite the contrary, Sierra's new rendition should do nothing but expand Lode Runner's appeal. Strategy and puzzle game fans will drool all over themselves for this one, and action gamers are likely to find the game attractive enough to try, and that's all it should take. Just about every game in the world tries to market itself as instantly addictive, the kind of game you stay up 'til sunrise playing, but Lode Runner actually delivers on that promise. It's fun, challenging, and you can re-start a game from any level to bypass a puzzle you simply can't solve. Lode Runner has everything going for it, and I expect it to be widely acknowledged as one of the best games of the year.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser

IE Magazine Issue #06

Review - Lords of the Realm (DOS, 1994)

Lords of the Realm, fresh on the shelves from Impressions Software, is a visually appealing strategy game with a familiar theme: You're a major medieval noble with a poor county – a little grain, some livestock, and some peasants to work the land. By managing these elements, your goal is to become "rightwise king of all England," you might say – a concept that has fueled management-style strategy games since the earliest days of entertainment programming.

But Impressions hasn't assembled a buy-and-sell grain game with some graphic flash tossed on – far from it. That hoary premise has been fleshed out with a lot of imagination and obvious hard work . . . this is an interesting design. Lords of the Realm features not only management of your county, but – if you're successful – managing a whole kingdom county by county, complete with raising and supplying (and moving and commanding) armies and hired mercenaries. Add to this custom castle design and siege warfare, and a lot of nice presentation and strategic options, and you've got something that begins to look like Lords of the Realm.

I'd like to go on to say that the game features a gentle learning curve, starting you on simple management and moving you to more complicated things as your county grows, but no dice – the praise stops for a second, because the truth of the matter is that the game starts complicated and gets even MORE complicated as your county grows. Right from the beginning, you've got six types of fields (and what they don't or don't produce) to handle, and even your peasants' diet to plan. Do you want them eating grain, which is easily grown but prone to weather problems and not worth much for excess cash? Or do you want them eating sheep, which make good food but also produce valuable wool – when they AREN'T being served up as take-out Souvlaki, that is. Whatever you do, avoid eating those darned cows. If you let them live and take lots of field space, they'll literally have your entire realm living on a diet of dairy products, letting you stockpile grain and wool for sale. And on top of eating habits, you've got to allocate peasants' worktime . . . some need to work the grainfields sowing and reaping, others need to do field maintenance, others need to be put to work as shepherds and cowherds. And others need to be mining metal, quarrying stone, making the stone into things . . . Fortunately, one of the many books that is supplied with the game includes a walk-through tutorial that will take you through the first turn or so and get you going. Also included is a very handy questions-and-answers list in the back of the same book. Lords of the Realm is an involved piece of work, and it takes work getting into.

The next and obvious question would be "is it worth it?" I'll offer a "yes" with a string or two attached. I'll cover the "yes" first – the strings I'll save for last . . .

For good reasons or bad, the hesitant affirmative has its source in two principal facts: The game is challenging and the game is engaging. The graphics and music are pleasant as well – thoroughly evocative of the medieval England in which the game is set. I could have stood for some of the images to be a little more distinct, but overall they're both varied and attractive, with lots of different announcement screens that you get to discover throughout the game – the ones for victory in battle are especially rewarding.

One of the niftiest aspects of the management strategy is that that there's no One True Path to victory. If you want cattle-heavy agriculture, that'll keep your populace well-fed and cushion expansion and conscription. If you go for sheep-heavy, it can bring in major and steady cashflow IF you're in a county along a popular trade-route . . . merchants travel from town to town, and each has different preferences as to what they deal in. This feature – and many others – makes the strategies for each county different, and WITHIN each county many different approaches can bring success. Also important is the number of bordering counties – a lot means plenty of opportunity for expansion, since most counties start neutral. But it also means you'll have to work harder to defend, and the temptation for early expansion is a strong one . . . Being isolated means less opportunities for commerce, but it also makes you a much less attractive target for the competing lords . . . and the computer plays tough, with each of your electronic opponents taking varying strategies.

And it's just plain SATISFYING to see your county – and then counties – do well. Watching the happiness index rise, the health-level stay high, and the population shoot through the roof feels good . . . and when you start getting into mining and other forms of industry, it's VERY rewarding. There's nothing like the feel of finishing your first castle – but don't be disappointed if you never get that successful in your first game.

Castle design is one of the nicer features of Lords of the Realm – you can custom design your strongholds in the game's built-in castle-building program, what is essentially a simple draw program stocked with wall and tower and keep and water symbols and the like. It's addictive as all get-out and I found myself taking long breaks from the flow of the game just to go in and see how cool I could make my castles. But beware extravagant designs – the computer calculates the manpower and materials necessary to build anything you come up with . . . and a super-castle might never be finished while the rest of the lords are building smaller keeps clear into Wales!

That's a taste of the "yes" – now for the no. The game is slow. Devastatingly, earth-shatteringly mind-blowingly slow. By the time the game gets REALLY interesting, it takes several minutes for the computer to manage the enemy turn-taking, and it's not busy THINKING – it's busy WALKING. Armies, once they're built, crawl across the map at a snail's pace, and that's at the fastest speed you're allowed to set the game to. It's literally torturous, and I found myself getting a lot of other things done between turns – it was too much to sit in front of the screen and wait. This is a real problem, since the speed-frustration is inversely proportionate to the nifty-index on the rest of the game. As the game gets good, the game gets slow. By the time the game gets great, you feel as though something someplace must be approaching the speed of light and warping your temporal perceptions . . . it's a problem.

The second biggest problem is the really the same thing in another arena. When it comes time to fight, you have two options – let the computer calculate losses and victory based on the troops involved – or play it out, directing your battles on the battlefield in real-time animation. DON'T EVER DIRECT BATTLES. YOU MIGHT NEVER ESCAPE AND COULD SUFFER SEVERE EMOTIONAL DAMAGE FROM THE RESULTING FRUSTRATION. Again, armies are reduced to a crawl, and it's rather like directing murderous hordes of slugs at each other from the opposite ends of a parking lot.

So, it's a mixed bag, but I still can't help but tilt my thumb upwards for this one – I'm not going to hitch a lift with my thumb like this – I'm in no danger of chipping a nail as it jams enthusiastically into the ceiling plaster, but I can test the wind . . . and the breeze blows nicely through Lords of the Realm. It's a strategy game that'll be dragging me back into it DESPITE the speed. Next time, I'll just bring some comic books along for the waiting . . .

Play the demo for this game in your browser

IE Magazine Issue #06

Review - Operation Crusader (DOS, 1994)

If you want a wargame that covers daytime and nighttime operations down to the last hour of sleep for the last soldier, and the last ton of food . . . and offers several types of offense, defense, and even types of movement . . . it's here. And judging from the history of The Avalon Hill Game Company, this is likely to be the principal direction of the World At War series of computer games, of which this is a part.

This is the sort of game that makes me want to time-travel – to go back to 1941 to grab generals Rommel and Auchinlek, sit them in front of my terminal, show them how to use the mouse, and (after the culture-shock has died to a dull roar and their eyes stop twitching) to ask them – do you RECOGNIZE this? Is this like anything you know? When a game's scale gets this close in, it's tricky to suspend MY disbelief, but Operation Crusader tried so hard that I have to pat it on the back a bit.

There are a lot of nifty features – menus will give you more information than you will likely be able to cope with at first. Fortunately, the early scenarios can be played without much attention to the number of options available, and the game comes with a handy (and essential) "quick-start" booklet to get you playing in about 15 minutes.

Particularly nice are the attack options. A unit may opt to "probe," moving forward "feeling out the enemy" for strengths and weaknesses, assault without advance, assault with intent to advance, or all-out assault, if you're desperate to grab a hex regardless of the potential loss of life. And heck – they're just numbers. Kill the little creeps. It's fun.

Game-play is not exactly simple . . . the most basic default game consists of three phases. The first is a "planning phase" in which both sides plot movement, assign artillery and air targets, and look at odds to adjust what they've plotted. This is where having several types of attack and defense reaches a point of critical judgement – can the designers give me that much choice and keep it SIMPLE? No. No, the designer can not – or at least DID not. The maze of buttons and windows necessary to really get the game played properly is pretty frustrating. If you like, you're free to just move your troops around in default mode, but you aren't likely to win that way – most of the scenarios require that you take full advantage of your options if you want to have a chance of stomping Rommel (or stomping the British, if you opt to play the Axis forces).

And that's just ground attacks – the way that air-strikes and artillery is done are both very different from the way troops attack, and there's still the matter of lines of supply . . . and have you checked the weather? Send out ample recon? Examined the probabilities in the attacks you have in mind? Looked over morale for your troops? Have they gotten enough sleep, or did you remember that when a turn takes place at night you're expected to just sort of sit there . . ? A few little design changes here and there could have retained all of this detail and made game-play a LOT simpler . . . but the designer apparently didn't feel that sort of effort was justified.

What's that? We're still on phase one and I mentioned three? That's right, but fortunately the second two are a lot easier . . . the Execute phase just plays out the plans so painfully arrived at in the first phase, and the after-action phase allows you to review detailed reports on any of the battles that took place.

The strong points are certainly there though – if you're going to HAVE a lot of info, make it accessible, and Operation Crusader does succeed on that level. And the choice of scenarios is a good one – stomping Axis Italians is FUN . . .

At least – it's SORT of fun. I could praise the level of detail and options all night, but it's really questionable whether I'll still be playing this game a year from now – or a month from now . . . I love wargames, even complicated and "pure" wargames. But I like a friendly interface with my strategy, and I like the level of detail to have a specific function in entertaining me, and not just in giving me something that's hyper-realistic. If I want to be educated, I can find the library on my own. Hard-Core or not, I play games to relax and enjoy a good challenge . . .

The real test of Operation Crusader, then, will come in the long run . . . already the game's nifty options are starting to lose their glow for me, and I'm finding myself turning more to SSI's Panzer General or to QQP games like The Grandest Fleet to get my strategy fix. I've enjoyed what I've played of the scenarios here, but I'm not sure that I'm really EAGER to explore the other ones. That's a bad sign.

Overall, I still recommend this game to the hardcores – even strongly. The level of detail here is downright ambitious, and Operation Crusader tries a few tricks that I've been waiting for for a long time. Behind the shortcomings, there's a very impressive simulation here that just needs to be nudged around a bit more before it becomes an impressive GAME. As a game . . . time will tell . . .

IE Magazine Issue #06

Review - Road Rash (3DO, 1994)

When Electronic Arts debuted Road Rash for the 3DO at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show (CES), it received a very warm reaction, and became one of the most awaited titles on 3DO. Perhaps it was because Electronic Arts was producing it, or perhaps because it was a hit title on the Sega Genesis; more likely, it was so well received because it appeared to be one of the first 3DO games to really showcase the horsepower of this 32-Bit multimedia CD-ROM game machine.

Road Rash is a unique blend of racing, combat and money management, now enhanced with a multimedia twist. You play an underground motorcycle racer, who takes part in a number of un-commissioned races again 13 others. Since these races are illegal, the roads are filled with cars and pedestrians, not to mention the police, who will be hot on your tail, especially after racing at speeds topping 150 miles per hour.

Before even fastening your seatbelt, you will have to select a character to use and abuse. These characters are not exactly model citizens, ranging from ex-convicts to high school drop outs. Nevertheless, they are the perfect drivers for the two wheel highway machine.

Before using the on-ramp to the highway, players will stop by the local bar to "schmooze" with fellow drivers and learn who is their friend or foe. Then, it's off to the racetrack, where you will challenge 13 other racers for top spot. There are 5 tracks to choose between, ranging from the busy city streets, to the coastal mountain region.

The main goal in Road Rash is to place within the top 3 in each race. Then, you are considered a "winner," and awarded a large sum of money to put toward a new bike. There are 5 different courses that you need to "win" before the game will bump you up to the next level. The next level does not include new courses, but instead extends the length of each of the 5 existing courses. Thus, once gamers have played through the first level, they've really seen most of the game graphics, although there are a few surprises on later levels. I would have liked to see some brand new courses on later levels, but the current courses have so much variety, and are so well designed, this disappointment is trivial.

Of course, this game is not just a pure motorcycle racing simulation. Interspersed with the regular race are feuds and quarrels between all racers. If someone cuts you off, do something about it! You can hit, kick, punch, and even whip opponents, hopefully making them "crash and burn." Since "rash racing" is illegal, the streets are not closed down, resulting in cars, taxis, and even pedestrians turning the streets into an obstacle course. If you're not careful, cars may run you over, and a few pedestrians can easily become road-kill. Finally, to add a little more fuel to the fire, there are police officers who are just waiting to write you a speeding ticket.

The races don't take place in a first person perspective – making you feel as if you're sitting in the driver's seat – but rather, your motorcycle is shown from behind, where you control the speed and left/right veering of the cycle. More options are available on better bikes, which can be purchased from the local bike shop. These bikes are so expensive that they can't be attained until you've won at least a dozen races.

Technically, Road Rash delivers the goods. Electronic Arts has licensed CD music tracks from a number of alternative bands (including SoundGarden) to use during the cut scenes and menus. Unfortunately, the fact that these tracks are replayed as CD audio, they cannot be played during the actual game. Gameplay features MIDI music created by an in-house composer. As usual with a 3DO game, full motion video "cut scenes" are used between levels and for special occasions. The video is well produced, with nice motorcycle stunts, and well acted scenes. Graphically speaking, the game is beautiful. In fact, the graphics look better than some of the coin-op motorcycle games I've played in recent years. Electronic Arts has really made the 3DO glow, because Road Rash is a technical ecstasy.

In summary, Road Rash combines positive elements of racing, combat, and strategy, into a very enthralling game. The technical achievement is unparalleled, the gameplay is well thought out, and the control is perfectly balanced. I would have enjoyed additional courses which became available on later levels, and the inclusion of rear view mirrors, but there is always room for small improvements on any game. Road Rash is a rollicking good time, and a must buy for any 3DO owner. It's a glimpse of what the 3DO is capable of, and shows me - finally! - why I spent $700 on this 32-bit gaming system.

IE Magazine Issue #06

Review - Theatre of Death (DOS, 1994)

War games have always been popular on DOS-based computers, but in the past year or so one particular sub-genre has seen a remarkable increase in population. I'm talking about tactical squad-level combat games. Usually played in real time, these strategy games offer the non-wargamer a good way to break into military sims without having to decipher manuals that were obviously written to confuse the Russians should they ever fall into the wrong hands. These games also lessen the player's burden by being simple and direct enough to allow play without the memorization of 2,000 years of military history.

Two of the biggest sellers of this type of game are SEAL Team and Syndicate. Although Syndicate wasn't based on (or set in) 20th century battles, its futuristic look could have easily been replaced with a more realistic military theme. Other games, like Virgin's Cannon Fodder, offer a less serious game, but still retains a certain amount of strategic involvement. Theatre of Death from Psygnosis is this sort of game, offering you much the same gameplay as Cannon Fodder, but allowing more than one squad to be used at a time.

Theatre of Death is played from an angled overhead view. You click on a member of your squad with the mouse pointer, then left-click on a position to walk to. If something worth shooting comes into view, targeting the unfortunate swine and right-clicking will unleash a deadly spew of fire from whatever weapon happens to be selected at the time. Although individual missions can have unique goals, such as rescuing hostages, the aim is still primarily to kill everything that moves. The battlefield ranges across several screens, and either the mouse or arrow keys can be used to scroll ahead to make sure your squad isn't walking into a scrimmage line of tanks.

Controlling your squad seems simple at first, but things change fast when the bullets start flying. Each squad has a squad leader, and clicking on the squad leader allows you to direct the entire squad as if they were one person. The trouble is, if your squad leader should happen to get blown into a mass of untidy red chunks, the remaining soldiers must be dealt with individually. From a tactical standpoint, individual control is definitely the smartest way to play, but realistically it's a pretty hard feat to accomplish. Your soldiers do have a limited artificial intelligence (if someone's shooting at them they'll usually shoot back), but they aren't nearly as smart as when you direct their actions. It would have been nice if the game considered your theoretical chain of command and given your next-in-line the status of squad leader.

Like most games of this type, Theatre of Death will eventually give you bigger and better toys to play with. These come in two forms: weapons and vehicles (which are really weapons with motors, but never mind). These are a pretty mixed bag. Grenades will quickly become standard equipment for your soldiers, and are great if you're the guy who throws one first. They can travel a good distance and have a respectable blast radius. Unfortunately, they travel and explode so quickly after they are thrown that there is no way to dodge one of these incoming doom fruits. Compounded with the task of controlling each soldier individually, this can make for some extremely frustrating trips to the battlefield.

The vehicles are much easier to use, although they do occasionally show off a quirk or two. Helicopters allow you to quickly intercept approaching enemy, and the 'copter's missiles are good for making holes in the opposing forces, but this craft reacts strangely to incoming fire. When hit with a non-crucial blow, the helicopter will frequently turn around, and will even fly backwards! More than once I've seen it turn tail rotor and flee without my permission, forcing me to grab it with the mouse and say, "No, I said go here."

The vehicle I had the most fun with was the armored troop transport. Naturally, they are originally intended for the safe transport of multiple troops, but anyone with a warped sense of humor can find much more amusing uses for this unit. Running over enemy soldiers may not be the transport's intended use, but it's very effective. Not to mention that squashing a foot soldier is a lot of fun! And the red splotch he leaves behind can help you turn the battleground into some grim form of art.

Theatre of Death is a good game, but it is more complex than Cannon Fodder, and therefore is harder to play. It is a good medium ground for war gamers who don't mind the bustle of commanding individual units in real time, but many are likely to find this a daunting task. For a good simple strategy game, I prefer Cannon Fodder, but if you've seen CF and thought its idea was good but its gameplay was a little to simple, Theatre of Death could well be just what you're looking for.

IE Magazine Issue #06

Special - Gen Con Report 1994

This past August, 20,000 pen and paper role-playing and wargamers invaded Milwaukee for four days of gaming, food, entertainment, gaming and commerce. The occasion: GenCon, a gaming convention run by AD&D publisher TSR. Now in its 27th year, GenCon is quite possibly the largest show dedicated to gaming in the US

While GenCon has traditionally been oriented toward gamers whose entertainment software of choice ran on nothing more than the human brain, that is changing. Over the past several years, the character of GenCon has changed. No longer are the lines between role-playing gamer and science fiction fan clearly drawn. Since 1990 or so, GenCon has mutated from simply a tabletop gaming con into a gaming, anime, comics and science fiction con.

Several computer game publishing companies have also come to realize that GenCon represents an opportunity for them to do something they can't do at any other trade show – talk to the people who keep them in business. As such, every year it seems there are more and more computer gaming companies running booths at the show.

SSI and Origin, long-standing GenCon veterans, returned this year. SSI was selling products and promoting their new and upcoming titles. Demo stations were available to let passersby try out Dark Legions, CyClones, Slayer for the 3DO, and Wargame Construction Set 2: Tanks. Origin, in a smaller booth on the other side of the dealer room, showed a videotape of rough footage from their upcoming Wing Commander 3, and had a single demo station letting people play Ultima VIII. However, booth staff included the likes of Richard "Lord British" Garriott and Warren Spector, producer of such titles as the forthcoming System Shock. A surprise from Origin: they are currently working on a tabletop roleplaying game based on the successful Ultima series of computer RPGs.

Westwood, who designed the Eye of the Beholder series for SSI, had a booth of their own as well. They, too, were selling copies of their existing products and demonstrating titles soon to come. Just on the horizon is Legend of Kyrandia 3: Malcolm's Revenge, which is scheduled for release this October. Based on the beta which they were allowing people to play at the show, it looks likely to make that ship date; they were showing a CD-based beta which included at least some of the digitized speech. Next up for them will be Command and Conquer, a real-time strategy wargame based on their very successful Dune 2 engine, with the addition of cinematic cut scenes between scenarios. Command and Conquer will feature their new proprietary VQ video engine, allowing it to show full-screen video in 320x200 and 256 colors at 15 fps on a 486DX33 with 4MB of RAM and a doublespeed CD drive. Finally, off in the distance is Lands of Lore 2. Very little was available on this title, but the self-running demo they were showing featured some of the very best 3D Studio work I have ever seen.

A surprise presence at GenCon was The Software Toolworks. Not only was this their first visit to GenCon, but they have an absolute truckload of upcoming titles, most of which look extremely good. The next product they anticipate shipping (following Ultimate Domain CD, which should have shipped before this episode of IE) will be Metal Marines. Think of this Windows-based, multiplayer network game as Battleship with resource management. You build installations like missile bases and radar stations, to try to take out your opponents' HQs with offensive missiles while protecting your own. The game features an astoundingly simple drag 'n' drop interface, and looks to prove extremely addictive. (Windows for Workgroups will never be the same . . . ) After that will be Legions, another Windows game, this one a tile-based strategy/management wargame featuring historically authentic cultures, scenarios and units. It will support network play for up to 20 players (!); Software Toolworks claims the AI and the diplomacy engine will be better than anything currently available. Perhaps their biggest upcoming release for PC, though, is Dragon Lore. This giant, CD-only RPG features artwork and story the quality of which are evocative of Myst, with gameplay being more traditional to RPGs. There was more: Mindscape Winter Sports, a first-person winter sports game offering skiing, snowboarding and so on; we had a brief look at a title tentatively called Airpower, an alternate WWI strategy/flight sim; and on the cartridge side, officially licensed NCAA Basketball and Football titles, of which at least the Football game is scheduled to make it to the PC.

Strategy giant Microprose also put in an appearance, although they didn't have a booth of their own. Instead, they occupied a small corner of the Wizards of the Coast booth. The reason? They were there to announce their upcoming Magic: The Gathering CD title. Based on Wizards' EXTREMELY popular fantasy trading card game, Magic's setting is Dominia, where other worlds come together and powerful wizards duel for control. Scheduled for release by Christmas '95, Magic will feature all cards from the original card set and the first four expansions (Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends and the Dark) with the possibility of upgrades as new expansion sets are released.

Steve Jackson Games, perhaps best known to computer gamers for being raided by the Secret Service in 1990, revealed that the upcoming GURPS computer game from Interplay will be a multigenre setting, to show off the flexibility of the GURPS system, and will be scripted by Origins award-winner John M. Ford, author of GURPS Time Travel.

Location-based entertainment was represented along the computer concourse. In addition to a stand of coin-op arcade games, several "virtual reality"-type experiences were offered; the Battletech Center even brought a few pods so that die-hard Battletech fans could get their fix.

Finally, even the on-line gaming services were there – some of them, anyway. MPG-Net and Genie both had booths where passersby could try out their on-line offerings. No sign of INN or NVN, though. Perhaps another year.

The 27th annual GenCon gaming convention had the strongest representation of computer gaming ever. I expect that this is a trend which we will only see continue in the years to come.

IE Magazine Issue #07

Issue #7 of Interactive Entertainment. All videos can be found in the IE Magazine entry. Text reviews and the associated video have their own pages as well.

IE Magazine Issue #07

IE Magazine Issue #07

The seventh issue was released in November 1994 and includes the game Siege (DOS, 1992) by Mindcraft Software.

Hints & Tips
Interviews
Previews
Reviews
Reviews - Game Systems

All of the IE discs can be downloaded from this collection at archive.org.

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - 1830: Railroads & Robber Barons (DOS, 1995)

The rise of railroad power in the last century inspires a lot of romantic imagery to some . . . but the REAL story, as most rail enthusiasts will tell you, is one of greed and manipulation, of the powerful railroad barons competing for greater wealth and influence as they built themselves into an unstoppable force in the New Commerce toward the old west . . . Thousands of miles of steel were strung through the wilderness at the cost of nearly as many human lives. The rail-barons didn't care much for the state of human existence, or what it would take to cut a few miles of stone out of a mountain . . . all they cared about is laying the track, and using the power of their transport empire to hold the reigns of commerce – and government.

Okay . . . they were, in fact, AWFUL people, to a man . . . but Nazis were horrid, too – and THEY make for good computer games. Morality aside (as it must be), the cutthroat world of the rail barons makes for excellent strategy, and 1830, a classic boardgame published in the U.S. by Avalon Hill, is one of the greatest games in a popular genre.

Renowned for it's astonishing game-balance and pure strategy (no random dice-rolls of any sort), 1830 was printed first in England, created by the designers of the original Civilization boardgame. In America, it was the principal inspiration for Railroad Tycoon – one of the more addictive computer strategy games ever. Now, 1830 itself is finally coming to the computer, thanks to the efforts of Avalon Hill and Simtex. Similarities between 1830 and Railroad Tycoon are bound to be sought out by reviewers – but the original, when it finally graces your CRT, should in many ways make Railroad Tycoon look like a weak product by comparison.

Unlike Railroad Tycoon, 1830 is a game of finance as much as a game of empire building. The focus is on stock manipulation of opponent companies, company takeovers, and the like . . . all of this in ADDITON to the normal tactics of grabbing ground, breaking through other rail lines and monopolizing regional trade.

1830 will be a direct and uncompromising translation of the original boardgame – and like its paper predecessor, will involve no random factors whatsoever. It will support both solitaire play against the AI and multiplayer competition, via direct modem, network, or by electronic mail. Due to the many options available each turn, some minor rule changes will apply in email mode to keep the game's entertainment potential at premium.

The AI should offer quite a challenge, too – one of the biggest problems faced by the programmers was how to teach the computer how to choose optimum routes. With the thousands of thousands of options available, it was something like creating a master chess routine from the ground up, and tackling the ancient "Traveling Salesman" problem that has stumped mathematicians for years.

A great game to start with, and a lot of work – elements that promise to create a GREAT final package, in 1830.

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - BioForge (DOS, 1995)

"Interactive movies." The industry has spawned yet another buzzword, in the tradition of "multimedia" and "virtual reality." Like other terms of its type, "interactive movie" came into existence as marketing jargon long before any software fitting the description appeared on the shelves. Just when we all thought that it was about to become another meaningless piece of hype, game producers finally started to produce what they had been talking about for so long. Products like Critical Path and Quantum Gate (both from Hyperbole Studios) feature a movie-like plot structure and combine that with user input.

The question is: how much input from the "player" should there be? Interactive movie designers seem to be split on this issue. One group thinks that the basic plot should remain unchanged, but the player should determine which "branch" the plot veers off onto. Others think that the only way to keep the player truly involved with the product is to have them in more constant control of the character they represent.

The developers of Bioforge, Origin's first stab at interactive movie making, definitely belong to the latter camp. In this game you take direct control over your character as he explores the surroundings and interacts with his environment. It seems that this will result in a product that is more similar to today's adventure games than to the "Dragon's Lair" style of choosing a path and watching it unfold.

Although he probably didn't realize it at the time, Bioforge's director Ken Demarest first started the project ten years ago. Back when he was 17 he wrote a simple two-dimensional gymnastics program; in it, you controlled a stick figure from the keyboard, causing it to jump, somersault, and perform other Romanian-type activities. The physics model wasn't quite comparable to what can be done in programs today, but the seed of the project was planted.

After Strike Commander was completed, Ken found himself playing around with bits and pieces of that program, adapting them for the creation of a "synthetic actor," this time in 3D. It didn't take long for this side project to catch on at Origin, and the decision to create Bioforge was made. The project stemmed not from a specific idea for a game, but from 3D technology.

Since nobody kidded themselves that the game playing public would line up to throw down money for a gymnastics program, three dimensional or not, a plot and setting had to be created. Considering that this is Origin we're talking about, that wasn't too much of a stumbling block.

At the start of the game, you awaken in a cell with no knowledge of your identity. Many of your body parts have been removed and replaced with bionic equipment, and you have some memory of the brutal surgical procedures you underwent, although you have no idea who did this to you or why. It soon becomes obvious that the alien compound you are residing in is being torn apart by powerful earthquakes. You must escape your cell and then try to make sense of your predicament. There's also a nasty alien organism running around out there, and it's not exactly a Steven Spielberg creation.

Now that they had created the synthetic actor and a plot and setting, a way for controlling the actor had to be developed. Ken Demarest is the first to admit that there is no perfect way for controlling a character in 3D and in third-person perspective, especially when your view is frequently changed by the inclusion of cinematic camera angles. After several ideas were experimented with and rejected, a keyboard-based interface was finally adopted. Demarest says that most people find the keyboard control to be awkward at first, but after playing for a short while "something just clicks" and the interface becomes a very natural part of the game.

As work on the project progressed, new means of animating the synthetic actor became available. Although the earlier images of the actor walking around and performing various tasks were impressive, Origin has latched onto a system that promises to be the most powerful character animation routine ever seen in a game. The system is comprised of a hardware unit produced in Burlington, VT and software that was developed in-house by Origin. The hardware is called A Flock of Birds. This unit was first used back in the late '70s for analyzing the movements of Olympic athletes to aid in training. It is currently used most often in TV commercials with large budgets. The human heart of the unit is Origin employee Starr Long, Q&A god and resident hardware victim. Starr's body is wired up with electromagnetic sensors on his head, arms, legs, hands, and various other points of interest. Starr stands (sits, crouches, cowers, or whatever) in front of a small box which sends out an electromagnetic field. The movement of the sensors are registered as disturbances in the electromagnetic field, and their data is sent to a computer. This is where Origin's software takes over. The name of the program is SALSA, or System for Animating Life-like Synthetic Actors. ("It's got a Texas feel to it," Ken says with a smile.) This software creates a texture map of the character being animated, and its movement copies Starr's actions with astonishing accuracy. The result is the most lifelike movement I have ever seen in a computer game. Looking at the character on the screen, you get the overwhelming sensation that you are looking at something alive.

In addition to walking around and performing mundane functions, the lifelike animation carries over to combat. Your actor performs about 250 different moves in the game, and among them are punches, kicks, dodges, and a slew of aggressive/defensive actions that really show off what this system can do. If you've ever played Virtua Fighter in the arcade, you have a rough idea.

The Flock of Birds and SALSA combination doesn't stop with your actor, either. The sensors on Starr's body can be re-assigned to points on the texture maps of other creatures as well. By moving his arms I saw Starr animate the head and tail of a dinosaur-like monster. The monsters, by the way, are created using a combination of 3D Studio and advanced texture mapping technology. Artists create the "perfect" monster in 3D Studio, which is then reduced to a much simpler looking form. The texture map is then attached to this simpler mesh, and Starr provides the movement. "I'm amazed that this system has never been used in a game before," Ken commented, visibly excited by talking about his pet technology. He then admits that the Flock of Birds system isn't exactly cheap, and may be financially out of reach of many game development houses.

Another point that separates Bioforge from the "watch 5 minutes of video, make a decision, watch 5 minutes of video" style of interactive movie is the level of interactivity you have with your surroundings. Most of the objects you come across can be used in some way, including a large turret-style laser cannon you are able to sight through and fire at alien ships with. All the art and objects you encounter are beautifully rendered in 3D Studio, and this is yet another area where this project excels. You can count on Bioforge to be one of the most visually striking games of the year.

The genre of the interactive movie still has a way to go before we know what to expect from it. Ken Demarest feels that if interactive film is to have a prolonged future it must keep some elements of more traditional computer games. In his view, the player must interact with the game continuously, taking over the character they portray as completely as possible. His logic is simple: even if you can create a Hollywood quality movie on CD-ROM, are people likely to pay $50 for a CD they merely watch, or are they more likely to pay $2 and rent a movie for their VCR? From the Start, Origin's products have always meant to be played, not just watched and spurred on with an occasional mouse click. It is doubtful that this will change in the near future.

Still, judging by the amount of use the term "interactive movie" is seeing in marketing ploys these days, I'd say it's a pretty safe bet that there's enough shelf space out there for these two dissimilar trains of thought to co-exist fairly harmoniously. Since the Origin Summer Lineup has now been renamed the Origin Fall Lineup, it will still be a while to see how Bioforge fits in to this new classification of game, and longer still to see what its influence will be. One of the most exciting things about venturing off the beaten path is not knowing what to expect, so I'm glad to see that interactive movies are finally on the horizon. Technological leaps and bounds aside, the computer game industry has become more than a little conservative as a whole, and I'm looking forward to seeing a new undefined arrival fly in the face of convention. Regardless of how it is categorized, it looks like the world of Bioforge will be a fascinating place to visit this fall. With its hyper-lifelike animation and astonishing settings, Origin seems poised to spit out yet another game to turn the industry on its ear.

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - Creature Shock (DOS, 1994)

Here's what I figure the future's gonna look like: Cooler cars, new and improved kinds of fuel, rapid advancement towards civilian space travel, and a couple of grandkids for me and the missus. Here's what the designers at Argonaut Software figure the future's gonna look like: Drastic overpopulation, widespread famine, hostile alien confrontation, and World War 3. Granted, my view seems a lot more pleasant, but it really doesn't lend itself well to a video game. Argonaut's, on the other hand, may seem dark and dreadful, but as a background for a PC adventure, it fits the bill. The "bill" happens to be called Creature Shock, and Virgin Interactive Entertainment will be releasing it in the coming months.

Have you ever played a video game that actually scared you? One that made your heart jump or your stomach sink? Neither had I. That's all changed now. Someone watching my body while I was playing the beta of Creature Shock might liken my reactions to an arachnophobiac being forced to watch a tarantula give birth. The game is divided into three separate levels, each with two different kinds of action sequences. The first, and primary method of exploration in Creature Shock is done in a standard first-person perspective similar to that in, uh, I forget the name of it . . . Gloom? Zoom? Anyway, the mouse controls your gun sight and not your body, which means that movement is only possible in one of the four basic directions. When you enter an area infested with slimy alien lifeforms, your crosshairs pops onto the screen and you enter a "shooting-gallery" like combat sequence where you need to kill the monsters before they reach you. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that most monsters can only be killed by a well-aimed series of shots at their "weak spot". Should you fail in your attempts to stop the onslaught, an animation will appear showing you what the creature(s) do to your frail body when they overtake you. Obviously, the more powerful the creatures, the more carnage involved.

Speaking of animations, they're everywhere in Creature Shock. With a few exceptions, every uncommon action your character partakes in results in a cinematic display of some sort. Argonaut Software is known for their polygon graphic work for the Super Nintendo, and after only a couple minutes playing Creature Shock, I'm convinced of their competence in the PC arena as well. At fifteen frames per second, the movie effects here are beautiful and as smooth as I've ever seen in a PC game.

The second method of exploration in the game is used when movement over a larger area is necessary. Being a spaceman, you have a spacecraft . . . a small, yellow one, in fact. Flying sequences feature a slightly different perspective than walking sequences . . . your view is from behind your vessel rather than from inside it. In the tradition of arcade shooters, you maneuver your vessel through bullets and bad guys and attempt to collect "power-ups" to increase your ship's defensive capability. Even in this fast-moving area of the game, the scrolling was surprisingly smooth for a CD. I didn't get much slowdown or control delay. Hats off to whoever at Argonaut was responsible for programming these sequences.

Getting back to the "terror" aspect of the game . . . it's not as though any of us actually KNOW what the inner sanctum of an alien vessel would look like, but we all have a general idea. I think the folks at Argonaut have done a very good job of making the settings in Creature Shock look like what most of us think they should look like: dark, tangled, metallic . . . in short, alien. The fear that I felt while playing the game didn't only come from being surprised by gorilla-like things jumping onto me from the ceiling . . . there was also a feeling of being lost in a place I'd never seen before. A game that can instill that feeling in a person is a special piece of programming indeed. But don't take my word for it . . . pick up a copy of Creature Shock when it hits the stores in November and feel it for yourself.

Demo

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - CyberJudas (DOS, 1996)

D.C. True call themselves "creators of software for the mind and the heart" – their creative efforts are directed at software that is entertaining, challenging, realistic – and educational. CyberJudas, their newest and most spectacular work, promises to teach a lot about politics, economics, and the potential for blackness in the human heart . . .

CyberJudas is, at its core, a massive political simulation: You, as the player, will portray the president of the United States in a not-too-distant future. The entire planet is simulated, and you are the most powerful person IN it . . . Over forty types of action can be taken, and each will affect the globe in a massive ripple effect driven and managed by a sophisticated AI. You must live with – and strive to understand – the consequences of your actions.

You'll have a lot of help in doing the latter, at least. Your link to the world is a massive computer network – a cyberspace simulation that sits somewhere between current global net-systems and the fanciful nets of science-fiction. The information that you'll be required to deal with is MASSIVE – but the following screens are only a few of the features at your disposal:

THE CIA WORLD FACTBOOK: A sizable text on the state of the world, right down to each of 160 individual nations. Each country will be acting on their own political agenda throughout the game, and what is happening where will be displayed in detail. In addition, the ORIGINAL CIA Factbook will also be available for review, so you can monitor how much the global climate changes under your influence. This feature is an expanded version of the one in CyberJudas' predecessor, Shadow President.

THE CITY/PROJECTED EFFECT SCREEN: The player can go into individual quadrants of the city which have been affected by his actions, and get stats and result displays at any level of detail. This will be a combination of the City Icon and Country View screens in Shadow President, and replace the "Action Results" displays, which used to be simple bar charts and numbers.

THE EVENT HORIZON VORTEX: A multi-purpose screen which will allow you to view any of the events in the simulation from a variety of angles. You'll be able to run up and down regional and national timelines, checking each event for details such as "who initiated this?" – vital clues for solving the problems of the game. This feature includes "The Tracer" – essentially an on-line private investigator which will help you unravel the events at need.

YOUR ADVISORS: D.C. True is breaking new ground with their version of this, a traditional feature in many "God Games." In CyberJudas, you have a close cabinet of advisors who will offer advice on what course of action to take . . . However, these aren't just faces offering statistics. Each is a fully developed character – with motivations both personal and political, driven by sophisticated personality simulations. And it is among your cabinet that the real novelty of the game arises. Beyond just being a political sim of unmatched detail, CyberJudas has a terrifying premise: One of your advisors is trying to undermine the power of the presidency and send the world into violent chaos.

To achieve his goals, the traitor will advise you along courses that will bring about his plan. He is close enough to you to know almost every move you make, and he can appear to you in cyberspace as OTHER advisors, further baffling your attempts to determine who among your trusted cabinet he is. To make matters more complicated, the OTHER advisors each have their own legitimate agendas that they are pushing – and you have to weed out the serpent before it's too late for the world.

To win the game, you've got to balance the world through cyberspace, stay elected, avoid assassination, impeachment and scandal – and find and bring to justice the CyberJudas.

The philosophy behind the game is the essence of D.C. True's efforts – to combine entertainment and education – with a hint of exploring human nature. Characters are being modeled down to their dress habits and leisure-time activities. The interface will include dozens of major advancements over the one used in Shadow President, and will be less abstract, more informative, and friendlier. Perhaps more importantly, information on WHY events happen will be provided, allowing you to trace good and bad results back through the tangle of interrelated events . . . By tracing correlations back to the agendas of your advisors, the traitor can be rooted out, and then brought to justice.

That's a lot to find in gameplay – but on top of that, CyberJudas will be taking full advantage of the CD format to bring STUNNING fully rendered graphics and animations to the game, The atmosphere is a tense and frightening one at times, and the resulting package should be – at the very least – a classic in the genre of political intrigue.

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - Dawn Patrol (DOS, 1994)

The flight simulator is a very popular computer gaming genre. Any store clerk at Egghead or Software Etc. can tell you that. There's an almost universal appeal there; most people like flight sims in one form or another. Perhaps this is due to the combination of the two main ingredients found in flight sims: operating an extremely large and expensive craft, which you couldn't possibly do in real life, and shooting things until they billow smoke, burst into flames and drop from the sky. People like that. I should know. I'm a people, and blowing things up is nice and high on my list of cool things to do with my spare time.

The one thing I don't like about many flight simulators is the months of library time commonly associated with getting the thing off the ground. I've never been the type to avoid reading manuals, but some of these things border on the ridiculous. I spend hours digesting the driest text I've suffered through since History of the Elevator, and then I think to myself, "This is leisure time?" And then I finally get to play the game, and find out that most of the plane's functions are handled by computer, and all it really needs me to do is push the occasional button. Modern systems are great with their destructive potential and all, but firing a missile at a target two miles away and having a computer report to me that it was destroyed is not my idea of fun. Hands on look-em-in-the-eye visceral carnage is what I'm after.

Enter Dawn Patrol, a game waiting in the wings at Empire Software. Dawn Patrol avoids the tedium and non-interactivity of many modern flight sims by not being a modern flight sim. Although the software itself is a finely detailed piece of work, the planes it simulates are from a simpler time, an age without HUDs, computer target locks, and all the other modern conveniences that make modern-era sims so overwhelming. In Dawn Patrol, getting up in the air is easy. Staying there is what you'll have to concern yourself with most.

Dawn Patrol is a simulation of the War of the Skies, a period spanning from 1914 to 1918. World War I was the first war to include airplanes as a major tactical force. The planes from that period are not exactly what a modern pilot would call high tech, but they did have one advantage over modern planes. Since they traveled at such a slow speed compared to modern fightercraft, they were among the most maneuverable planes ever to see use in the military. Since there was no technological disparity to give a particular side an automatic advantage, it all came down to pilot skill.

In Dawn Patrol you'll take the controls of 15 aircraft from that period. The Sopwith Camel, Curtiss JN, SPAD 7, and the Red Baron's Fokker Triplane are all at your disposal here, along with a generous selection of others. You won't be able to fire a single missile, but you'll pull off maneuvers that modern jets can't begin to attempt.

The graphics in Dawn Patrol are superb, both in-flight and in the interface. You have the choice of flying in either regular 320x200 VGA or in 640x400 extended mode VGA with a VESA compatible graphics card. In plain old VGA the graphics are very good, but in high resolution they are truly beautiful. The terrain and ground targets offer good detail, but it's the other planes that turn Dawn Patrol into a visual feast. Due to the nature of the weapons you'll be flying very close to your targets, and the detail of these planes at close range is remarkable. You'll even be able to see the expression on your opponent's face!

While any flight sim fan should have a great deal of fun playing Dawn Patrol, historians will be crooning about the mission interface. You can create your own pilot, or you can follow the careers of 64 aces. When playing as an ace, the mission briefing tells you all the pertinent details of the mission (what you're flying, what to expect for opposition), then goes further to include the pilot's actual strategy; this allows you to try to reproduce the feats of your selected pilot, or try your hand at a new and unproven method of attack. Dawn Patrol includes 150 missions with various goals, such as dogfighting, balloon attacks, and ground target strafing, so pilots of all skill levels should be busy for some time.

There's a lot of flight sims out there, but Dawn Patrol looks like it has what it takes to stand out among the crowd. The flashy visuals are only the decorations that top a game of true substance. Dawn Patrol is serious enough to appeal to all the hardcore flight junkies out there, but it is easy enough to jump into to appeal to the crowd who is usually daunted by 800 page manuals. Give it a test run and you'll be sure to agree.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - Discworld (DOS, 1995)

What Douglas Adams is to the world of science fiction, Terry Pratchett is to fantasy. If you've never heard of either of these names, where have you been? Both are very talented British authors who choose to work in a humorous form of their respective genres. Which is to say, they usually write funny things. While Adams is best known for his "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" trilogy (now in it's fifth installment), Terry Pratchett is the creator of "Discworld", which has so far been the locale of a dozen novels.

Adams' series has had tremendous success in America, and was adapted to a computer game after only 2 or 3 books. While Pratchett's novels are a bit lesser known in this country, they are consistent best-sellers on their home turf, so it's only fair that they should finally get a turn at the fast-growing multimedia market. Psygnosis will soon release their Discworld game, subtitled The Trouble With Dragons. While the game does not mesh completely with the novels, it is set in the same highly unlikely universe.

A'Tuin (1), the great space turtle swims through the cosmos, supporting the four great elephants, who in turn carry the magical Discworld, home of the great metropolis of Ankh-Morpork and Unseen University. And home in turn to a wizard named Rincewind, the player character.

At the game's start, Rincewind is hard at work at one of his favorite hobbies: sleep. He is stirred by a knock on the door, and told that he needs to meet with the Archchancellor. When this meeting takes place, Rincewind is sent on a fairly simple research quest to get the DRAGONS' LAIRS books. There is a dragon terrorizing Ankh-Morpork, and the Archchancellor has decided that the wizards should do something about stopping it. This is no easy task, and will require some strategy. So Rincewind goes to contribute his share of energy to the cause, but as the game continues, the responsibility for dealing with the dragon eventually shifts from the general to the specific, and Rincewind is as specific as it gets.

The game starts in the Unseen University, then moves out to Ankh-Morpork proper, and eventually ranges over the whole Discworld, in over 80 distinct locations. There's even some time travel involved, so some of the wheres are whens! Rincewind does all this travel by himself, accompanied only by his trusty luggage. Yes, accompanied. The luggage is his pet, and it follows him around, also carrying numerous useful items.

Psygnosis is working very hard to insure that nothing interferes with the unusual atmosphere of the game. The graphics are 256 color VGA, and the style is very cartoony to reflect the humorous surroundings. The dialog is completely narrated, using the digitized voice of Eric Idle and other leading comedic talents. Also, there is no icon bar in the interface. Just point, click and interact.

The plot works equally well for those who have read the Discworld books and those who haven't. While it does draw on characters, scenes and locations from the novels, it always keeps ahead of the player and is in no way obvious. Do go ahead and read the books, though. For one thing, they're very funny, but also they provide good hints every now and then.

Discworld : The Trouble With Dragons is just your normal adventure game. The emphasis is very strongly on the humor, and the graphics and "transparent" interface will make the player feel as if he is controlling a cartoon. In short, it's magic.

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(1) A'Tuin is referred to as an it, as opposed to an he or a she, simply because its sex is undetermined. There is a popular theory held by those of a religious persuasion, that A'Tuin is crawling from the birthplace to a time of mating, as were all the worlds in the sky which were, obviously, also carried by giant turtles. When they arrived, they would briefly and passionately mate, for the first and only time, and from that fiery union new turtles would be born to carry a new pattern of worlds. This was known as the Big Bang hypothesis. Of course, this raised many concerns in Astrozoologists about the sex of A'Tuin. After all, wouldn't you want to know if your world was going to be on the top or the bottom?

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - Ecstatica (DOS, 1994)

Nowadays, most of America certainly considers fairy tales to be sweet, harmless entertainment for children. This is due in large part to the Walt Disney film adaptations of these old stories. While these movies are very entertaining, they should never be considered the "definitive" versions. It's worth mentioning that Hans Christian Andersen's story "The Little Mermaid" didn't end very happily at all. Indeed, there's been a lot of study and speculation on the original content and deeper meanings of our most beloved fairy tales. For example, Little Red Riding Hood is not only rife with surprisingly "adult" metaphors, but in it's original form there was no woodcutter to barge in and interrupt the wolf in his attempt to eat the title character. And I don't even want to TALK about what happens to the grandmother.

Ecstatica from Psygnosis is based firmly in this disturbing side of the fairy tale world. It takes the familiar trappings of the fantasy genre, and turns them into a genuinely horrifying game experience. In the story, a weary traveler leaves the road in search of water and shelter, and wanders into a town populated entirely by werewolves, trolls and other fantastical monsters who are extremely hostile to humankind. Barely managing to escape a gruesome death, our hero delves deeper into the dangerous city, and soon discovers that these creatures have all leapt from the dreams and nightmares of a young girl, who lies in a coma. The traveler tries to find the reason behind this bizarre turn of events, and is ultimately caught up in a nightmarish saga of death, torture and demonic possession.

This unusual story is supported by a graphics combination that is just as strange. The backgrounds are carefully detailed and very naturalistic, but there is a definite cartoony look to the characters. They are based on ellipsoids, like the fighters in the game Ballz. The shifting cinematic angles and three-dimensional playing fields will remind the player of the Alone in the Dark series. But Psygnosis promises that this game will be more realistic and even creepier than the continuing adventures of Edward Carnby. This is not your normal fantasy game.

Ecstatica is primarily the brainchild of programmer Andrew Spencer, known for his best-selling "International Soccer" for the late, lamented Commodore 64. In fact, the first programming drafts of Ecstatica were C-64 based. Working from the philosophy of separating programming from creativity, he first devised an extremely advanced game engine, which took a full three years of development. From that point, the completion and refinement of the story elements took a further two years.

To enhance the visual side of the game, Spencer teamed up with Alain Maindron, an animator who worked on American Tale 2: Fievel Goes West. Maindron had never worked with anything but traditional cel animation, but he was greatly impressed by Spencer's engine, particularly its efficiency at "in-betweening." Using this capability and his film experience, Maindron helped create the very smooth graphic flow of the game. His stated objective was to make Ecstatica so engaging that the player will forget he's playing a game. Instead of any menu bars or other distracting icons appearing on the screen, the hero carries his entire inventory in his hands. Also, the characters literally never stay completely still. Even the game's hero is constantly fidgeting and looking around, as you might expect him to do in such a strange environment. There are seven to eight hundred animated sequences that are calculated on the fly, rather than being pre-stored, to create a seamless flow from the player's deliberate actions.

The game will only be released on CD-ROM, due to its enormous size. There are a full 250 interconnecting locations, many of which are subdivided into smaller areas, encompassing the village, the surrounding fields, the local castle, and various other nearby buildings. It will also include full digitized speech and some very frightening sound effects. Spencer is particularly proud of the soundtrack, and maintains that it will "scare the shit out of people."

Even the most gruesome fairy tales were actually meant to be told to children, but Ecstatica is bound to bear an "18" on its box. It is definitely intended for an adult audience, due to the graphic violence, the mature themes, and the overall feeling of apocalyptic dread. Some of the games more gruesome sequences will include hanged priests covered in blood and girls impaled on swords, not to mention your own character being repeatedly punched in the face by a werewolf. However, Spencer promises that none of these things are gratuitous. They are all important parts of the overall story, and will help make Ecstatica into that rarest of all things, an original computer game.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - Flight Commander 2 (Windows 3.x, 1994)

Games simulating warfare – whether modern or ancient – seem trapped in certain circles. If you're simulating Napoleonic war, then you're doing a medium-scale overhead ground-conflict strategy game, for instance – your only design choices are "real-time" or "turn-based." There are no first-persion shooters simulating front-line action in World War One, and no RPGs that put you in the French Resistance in World War 2. Looking for a Civil War-era arcade game? No dice. Make your own.

Some of these limits are sane and reasonable – whether anyone would WANT a first-person shooter about the Tommys in WW1 is questionable. Some of them, though, are RUTS, pure and simple. The worst of which might be games about modern jet fighters. All of them – all of them except the Flight Commander games, that is – are flight-sims. First-person shooters about modern jet-fighters, if you will.

Flight Commander 2 is a turn-based wargame – the scale is on the individual-plane level. There are a few nice touches that move it beyond a simple hex-based number crunch with planes painted on the counters, too – the maneuvers aren't done on any kind of visible grid (although an invisible one underlies the movement system) – instead you control your turns and rolls, plotting out movement in a system reminiscent of a sophisticated football play-planner.

It's surprising, perhaps, that Flight Commander 2 is unique in its treatment of jet-fighters – surprising because the genre is so rich in potential AND surprising because Flight Commander 2 exploits that potential so successfully and beautifully.

The missions are a mix of historical and purely speculative, and include fights over both land and sea. The fights over land are more than just fights over a different background graphic, too – land-targets are an issue both in terms of anti-aircraft fire and targets to be bombed. The game will also include a scenario-builder in which you can define your own battles, over either land or sea. And if the game is successful – something Avalon Hill is fairly certain of – expanded scenario packs and other sequels and spinoffs are a certainty.

Flight Commander 2 requires the ubiquitous Microsoft Windows to run – the principal advantage of that being the ability to minimize it when you don't want to be caught loafing. The other advantage – that of putting information into moveable and sizeable sub-windows – is fully exploited in Flight Commander 2. This growing trend in Windows games is a welcome one, and is especially important in a game like this one, where available information is vital, and arranging it in a way that is COMFORTABLE is very useful.

Another important trend which is explored in Flight Commander 2 is email support – the email mode won't change play considerably, but special scenarios ARE being developed to put maximum entertainment into games played over the Information Highway . . . in particular, larger numbers of planes will be involved, to put more strategy into each individual turn. This feature is likely to attract a lot of people to the game – email play is becoming almost the assumed standard in wargames, leaving the developers of the AIs for such games at lesser companies breathing a lazy sigh . . .

But the AI in Flight Commander 2 is ANYTHING but the result of lazy programming – far from it. While the real-time and email-only programmers grow lethargic with uselessness, the men who REALLY know how to make a computer a place of war have put their minds to work in Flight Commander 2, making a truly challenging computer opponent with the requisite three levels of difficulty. Be warned – even the easiest level of AI challenge is likely to keep you busy until you're very used to playing the game. And at that point – you'll be eager for more. Flight Commander 2 will be happy to deliver.

And beyond entertaining gameplay (the game moves fast and fun) and a unique strategic concept, the game will sport LOTS of nice sound effects and pleasing graphics. The land terrain is created on the fly, allowing you to fly "off the map" with no trouble – the computer will just make more map for you. And during combat, a huge collection of "radio samples" kicks in periodically on the speakers, creating a convincing illusion of being in the midst of a genuine fighter operation.

On top of the game – and on top of the sound – Flight Commander 2 will include a comprehensive online encyclopedia of modern air warfare, including details on the air forces of every major world power – and a LOT of the minor ones. Want to know about the Swedish Air Force? It has an entry. And the details on the planes themselves might even come in useful in combat – which makes it extra-nice that you can access the library in the middle of a fight.

As a concept, the Flight Commander name still represents the vangaurd. As a game, Flight Commander 2 could hold the top spot if there were a thousand competitors. Watch for it.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - Full Throttle (DOS, 1995)

(IE recommends that you read this article while listening to Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild.")

Are you tired of games that cast you as an unwilling anti-hero type? Looking for an adventure that will let you be the macho man you know you are? Want to get your hands dirty? Want an enormous chin? Then get ready to sink your teeth into LucasArts' Full Throttle, a hard-hitting, gritty chase with a larger-than-life hero, rival gangs, a murder plot and bikes, bikes, bikes!

The player takes the part of Ben Throttle, the leader of a rough and tumble motorcycle gang, the Polecats. In your travels, you meet up with Malcolm Corley, the owner of your favorite company, Corley Motors. This is, in fact, the only company still making real motorcycles, instead of hovercraft. Corley and his second-in-command, Adrian Ripburger, are on their way to a shareholder's meeting, and they come up with the idea of having the gang escort them as a publicity stunt. Naturally, the Polecats are thrilled to cooperate.

Unfortunately, what seems like a happy accident turns out to be a set-up orchestrated by Ripburger. On the way to the meeting, the group is overtaken by mercenaries who assassinate Corley. Ripburger, now the head of Corley Motors, accuses the Polecats of the murder, and they are carted off to jail . . . all except Ben, who manages to escape!

There is photographic evidence of the real killers, and Ben has to locate it to clear the good name of the Polecats. But more than that, he soon learns an important bit of information that somehow escaped Adrian Ripburger in his planning. There is a direct heir to the Corley "throne", a surviving child who has managed to stay in hiding through these horrible events. Ben must locate Corley's rebellious daughter and get her to the company headquarters to take the reins of power before the murderers find her.

If anyone can accomplish this nearly impossible task, it's Ben Throttle! This guy is superhumanly agile, practically tireless, and has the most impressive chin this side of Fearless Fosdick. He's got "hero" written all over him.

While the overall look of the game is strongly influenced by animated cartoons, this is not a very humorous game, and it certainly doesn't follow the pattern of LucasArts' other "cartoon" games, "Sam and Max Hit The Road" and "Day of the Tentacle." Project Leader Tim Schafer cited more dramatic animation influences such as Akira, Batman: The Animated Series and Liquid Television's Aeon Flux. The game combines its compelling story with gripping action scenes, including explosive motorcycle gang conflicts, first person on-the-road sequences, and a climactic showdown between the Polecats and their rival gang, the hovercraft-riding Vultures.

The cinematic graphics offer a unique blend of techniques. While the characters and backgrounds are very stylized and animated in 2-d, the vehicles are rendered in 3-d. This emphasis on what the characters drive is very deliberate and important to the game. As a result, it is easy enough to identify your allies and your opponents. The bad guys all drive hovercrafts, and you can trust anyone on a hog.

While many games are now trying to make their interfaces invisible, Full Throttle decided to make their toolbox as dramatic and stylized as the rest of the game. The actions and inventory items are incorporated into an icon that looks like a flaming skull tattoo, complete with articulated eyeballs. All the actions are depicted graphically, rather than just using verbs. Schafer describes it as not just an interface, but an "in-your-face."

There is a lot of traditional adventure-type puzzle solving in Full Throttle, but much of the action and combat in the game is also puzzle-like. You will need to find certain items and learn specific moves to defeat your opponents, and you won't get very far just punching away.

Full Throttle was designed using SCUMM (Script Creation Utility-Maniac Mansion) version 7 for the sequences where Ben is on foot, and for some of the slower motorcycle sequences. However, for the fast-paced cycle combat segments, like the big gang showdown with the Vultures, it shifts to the engine used in Rebel Assault.

In many ways, this is an iconoclastic game. It is unusual enough to find an adventure game that isn't Tolkienesque fantasy or space-opera, but on top of that, computer games with animation-style graphics are almost required by law to be humor-driven. It is always a pleasure to see the boundaries on computer games being stretched, and Full Throttle isn't like anything you've ever seen before. Of course, you can always watch "The Wild One" a couple of times to get in the mood . . .

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - Hammer of the Gods (DOS, 1994)

The ancient Norse World wasn't the most pleasant place to live – the storms of the North Sea provided a grim and icy barrier, locking the nordic people into their glacial valleys and barren coastlands. Or so it WOULD have been, if not for the courage and curiosity of the Viking explorers and raiders, who looked out upon their world with a determination to explore it . . . In the times before Christianity absorbed the men of the North, empires were forged of flame and steel amidst the ice and stone, and the test of any man was his courage in battle . . .

At least, that's how the romantics would see it, and it's closer to the truth than a modern cynic might care to admit. Enter Hammer of the Gods, the new game borne of a marriage as fruitful as any binding the Viking princes – New World and Holistic Designs have combined their talents to present a new strategy game that combines flavors and elements from nearly every other game-form.

The premise of Hammer of the Gods is simple – during a time of chaos in Midgard (the Viking name for the mortal plane – literally "Middle Earth"), four of the mightiest warriors of the Norse people have ambition to win the favor of Odin, the All-Father and chief of the gods. Appearing before the All-Father in a dream, they are told that to win his special favor they must first appease the lesser gods through a series of quests, and develop their empires according to their natures. The troll-friend Vikings must amass military might, the Elf-friends must develop their population, the Dwarf-Friends seek gold, and the lone humans seek to collect the world's magic items. But ALL must complete the quests offered by the gods . . .

The quest-tree is the path to victory, and resembles on the most basic levels the "technology tree" and related concepts that have been so popular in "god games" as of late . . . but while Hammer of the Gods is technically a "God Game," it never lets you forget that you are merely mortal, and humble before your superiors in Asgard.

The Quest Tree goes a bit beyond the tech-tree concept, though – completion of each quest will result in gifts – magic weapons, faithful warriors and heroes, and so on – all of which can move you closer to your own version of victory. Naturally, multi-player and network play will be supported.

Hammer of the Gods might rival any lesser game in terms of replay value. By giving each of the four factions a different victory condition, the designers have essentially given us four major "scenarios," each broken down by the many quests (each in themselves scenario "set-pieces"), each of which may be completed in DOZENS of ways! Truly, Hammer of the Gods is an environment in which a bold king might carve his OWN empire his OWN way . . .

The major game area is a map of ancient Scandinavia – although there is also an excellent random map generator that will add even more replay value. Like other games of this type, Hammer of the Gods requires exploration. You begin by recruiting and moving out parties of warriors to attack nearby coastal hamlets and eventually town. When you get rich enough, you can field larger parties – and ships.

When you attack and successfully take a settlement, you are given the option to raid, plunder, or raze it . . . some sites may also be suitable for taking as your OWN city by planting colonists from the raiding party. Each option gives you varying degrees of wealth, and does varying degrees of damage to the settlement. By making only light raids and plunder against the cities around you, you can keep a steady income without actually cutting off the hand that feeds you. But eventually – conquest calls.

The game supports an impressive engine for diplomacy with the other factions – you can offer trades of anything for anything else. For instance, you might offer knowledge of a corner of the map unknown to your foe in exchange for a peace treaty, or offer up one of your sons as a hostage. You can likewise trade peace for gold, or increased trade for knowledge . . . any combination can be offered, and will be considered by the AI (or live opponents, if you have some handy!).

You can direct battles individually on the battlefield. The tactical-level game is beautiful; every motion is displayed and the thunk of every arrow is heard. Towns and monasteries often have walls which will appear on the map, but an impressive enough invader might inspire them to sally forth beyond them . . .

The eventual goal is to make your way up the many branches of the quest-tree, moving toward your victory condition and keeping peace and trade running as smoothly as possible. Depending on your personal goal, "conquest" might not be your best course of action – although military might of some sort never hurts. . . The variety is astonishing, and the interface (familiar to those who are fond of Merchant Prince) is very friendly. On EVERY score, Hammer of the Gods looks to be . . . divine.

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - Hodj 'n' Podj (Windows 3.x, 1995)

Not long ago, if you were to mention Steve Meretzky in a room full of computer game players, the topic of conversation would invariably shift to the subject of those great Infocom text games, like Planetfall and Hitchhiker's Guide. Oh, who am I kidding? This still happens. Meretzky's name is almost synonymous with humorous adventure games. But if you pay close attention, he is starting to push the limits of this narrow definition. For one thing, his most recent release, Superhero League of Hoboken, is his first game to incorporate role-playing elements. But if you think that's a departure, wait until you see the upcoming Hodj 'n' Podj, the first game to bear the logo of his new design company, Boffo Games.

The concept for the game was born in the last days of Infocom. Meretzky noticed a growing trend toward ever more complex games, which depended more and more on a gamer having considerable experience in playing similar products. He reminisced fondly about the very early days of computer gaming, when someone could just sit down for a minute or two, and very quickly pick up the rules of a game, and what's more, get thoroughly hooked. Recently, there have been a few more games along this line, like Tetris or Lemmings, but Meretzky was not satisfied with just creating one more game of this type, especially with CD-ROM storage capabilities. So, he set out to invent the kingdom of Po-Porree, the setting for Hodj 'n' Podj.

It is true that the basic plot of Hodj 'n' Podj contains many of the trappings of standard adventure games. In the game, two identical, rival princes, Hodj and Podj, are sent to search throughout the kingdom of Po-Porree for two kidnapped princesses, Mish and Mosh. The first one to find them and return them to their father, King Medlee, will become king of Po-Porree, and win the hand of his favorite princess in marriage. On their quest, the rhyming princes will have to meet numerous challenges, and if they are triumphant, they get important clues and powerful objects that bring them closer to your goal.

So what's so astonishingly different about all this? Well, first of all, this is really more of a board game than an adventure. The princes "roll" to see how far they can go, move so many "spaces" across the map, and occasionally lose and gain extra turns along the way. Instead of having to draw from a deck of cards, a pleasant British voice informs you of the latest developments. Occasionally, that voice just supplies a little color commentary on your surroundings. It's a nice touch.

But the real difference is in those "challenges." These are not your standard adventure puzzle that you finish once and then know the answer to, and never play again. No, these are extremely replayable "mini-games". They range from city development strategy to word puzzles to solitaire card games to the computer equivalent of jigsaw puzzles. There's even reworkings of arcade classics like Space Invaders and Pac-Man, adapted with distinctly medieval themes. You can play the classic island game of Mankala with an intelligent crab, solve Cryptograms in the crypt, challenge an octopus to a quick round of Battlefish, or just settle in for an old fashioned game of poker with the Sheriff. There are 20 of these mini-games included, with names like "Archeroids", "Dam Furry Animals", "Garfunkle" and "Th Gesng Gm", and every one will drag you back for more.

If you like the sound of the games, but hate the boardgame structure, you can completely ignore it! The flexibility of this package is remarkable. You can either stick to a favorite mini-game, or take the "grand tour", which lets you sample all the flavors, in alphabetical, geographical, or random order.

On top of all this, there's a hilarious five-minute cartoon introducing the storyline and characters. You can see and hear the titular princes, King Medlee, his gorgeous daughters, and the evil Prime Minister Salmagundee, who is responsible for their disappearance. That's one thing you've got to say for the age of multimedia: a mini-movie sure beats the heck out of a booklet in the package.

The gaming world has never seen anything quite like Hodj 'n' Podj before. There have been board games, game packs and adventure games, but it took Steve Meretzky to fuse them into one compelling package, suffused with his trademark sense of humor. This is a very promising beginning for the fledgling Boffo Games. If Meretzky keeps this up, his fans may find him a lot harder to pigeonhole.

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride (DOS, 1994)

Sierra's King's Quest series has already proven itself to be an unusual and durable favorite in the computer gaming industry. While most fantasy adventure games tend to clamber over each other in stylistic imitation (which all hearkens back to J.R.R. Tolkien, generally), the later KQ's have taken a completely different path. They are not your typical sword and sorcery tales. Instead, they take a distinctly lighter tone and create a truly family-oriented setting.

The newest installment, King's Quest VII: The Prince-less Bride, is yet another radical step forward for Sierra (and in particular, for designer Roberta Williams). For one thing, there's scarcely a "King" to be found in the plot. Instead, the story is divided into eight novel-like chapters, which alternate between two characters in two different places, the beautiful Princess Rosella Daventry, now of marrying age, and her mother, Queen Valanice. At the game's beginning, the two characters are having a minor spat about Rosella's matrimonial prospects. (Basically, Valanice thinks it's a good idea and Rosella doesn't. ) As they walk by a reflecting pool, a magical door appears beneath it, and Rosella jumps in, eager to leave the heavy conversation. A flustered Valanice soon follows, but the magic of the pool transports her someplace else. The player will get to trade off between the two characters as the story progresses.

Before finally being reunited, Rosella and Valanice will travel to six fanciful countries, including Nonsense Land, The Rubber Jungle, Ooga Booga Land and the Mountain of Winds. As they travel, they will meet such interesting characters as the Troll King ,the Boogeyman, Oberon and Titania, and the evil villainness, Malicia, not to mention various and sundry dragonettes and jackalopes. The events in the game borrow from Lewis Carroll, William Shakespeare and more, but the combination is quite unpredictable and engaging.

As with the previous KQ's, there will be lots of puzzles to solve along the way, but with an unusual twist. While there are a number of complex puzzles for the adult players, there are others that are based on references to children's stories, and may require a younger player to get them. Sort of brings a whole new literal quality to the term "for the whole family," doesn't it?

While these elements of the game are noteworthy enough, the thing about KQ VII that has everyone talking is the graphic style. Once again breaking the adventure game mold, Roberta Williams has chosen a character style more reminiscent of Disney and Bluth than Frazetta and Vallejo. Also, the carefully detailed backgrounds contrast with the somewhat "cartoony" characters, creating an effect similar to Jeff Smith's "Bone" comic book. But whether or not you can mentally track down the artistic influences in this game, you will have to admit, it looks fantastic. SVGA graphics have been combined with true film quality animation techniques to create a look that will blow away even the most jaded game players.

There's really very little difference in the production values to distinguish KQ VII from a full-length animated feature. The dialog is all in digitized speech, using the talents of numerous professional voice actors and actresses. There's also a fully orchestrated musical score, recorded in CD audio, which includes "leitmotifs," or signature tunes, for over 20 characters. There's even an elaborate opening sequence to the game, featuring Princess Rosella singing the theme song. How cinematic can you get?

Yet, with all of this film-style influence, we are still talking about a computer game here, and even the best visuals and sound could bog down terribly if the gameplay was too awkward. So one of the major priorities of the design team was to develop an interface instinctive enough that a novice player can keep the story moving along without getting bogged down in syntax. As it happened, just such an interface had already been developed . . . for Roberta Williams' other new game, Phantasmagoria. So, at least there was no problem in getting permission to use it.

King's Quest VII is bound to be a very unusual game. Between the unorthodox storyline and the Disney-style animations and designs, it breaks a lot of the traditional molds of the computer fantasy adventure game. However, I strongly suspect that the tired old Tolkien cliches really needed to be challenged, anyway. The market is very limited when it comes to games that really are "for the whole family," and The Prince-less Bride may just fill that gap.

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - Legions (Windows 3.x, 1994)

Mindscape, formerly Software Toolworks, will soon be giving strategy gamers a realistic and fun look at the ancient world with Legions, a game of armies and empires focusing on the late bronze age, up to the time of the last days of the Roman Empire. We were able to interview the game's designer, Manny Granillo, and this is what he told us:

"Legions is a strategic and tactical product that allows a player to assume the role of a head of a dynastical household as the king of an empire. He's able to control the political, economic and military aspects of his empire. His overall goal in the random scenario is to control the other cities using diplomacy, economics, or his military to do so.

"The historical scenarios - there are ten - depending on which empire or city-state you pick will determine your goal for that scenario," said Granillo. "It's a turn-based product; the turns are one month long. The scale on which you maneuver your troops is a traditional `Warlords meets Civilization' type of interface and look . . . the troops are anywhere from strengths of anywhere from 500 to 2,000 men."

Unlike other large-scale empire games like Civilization, there is no single leader for each empire who manages to live for thousands of years . . . the number of available heirs is one of the principal ways in which scenario difficulty is measured in Legions. Granillo said "I wanted to make this as historically accurate as possible with available information . . . so we didn't really focus on any one particular individual in the game . . . what we did - myself and programmer Brisco Rogers - we took the design approach that we wanted to create the world around you first. And instead of focusing on one particular character we created a world. This is the ancient world . . . we created the markets, the trading routes, the seasons are in there . . . so we could overlay the people and scenarios that would be there.

"I took ten scenarios that really reflect the multiplayer/multi-empire interaction that would happen in the ancient period. A scenario that would not really do well in a product like Legions would be Rome-versus-Carthage . . . we felt that there were enough products that were focusing on one type of empire or city-state, what we wanted to do was to create situations that would involve multiple empires," said Granillo.

"For example, the very first scenario - which is also the easiest scenario - is the struggle for dominance which starts in 1200 BC. You can pick any one of the empires - you don't HAVE to be the Egyptians, you don't have to be the Libyans or the Nubians. You don't have to be the Babylonians. You can be any one of the empires. They each have their own intrinsic abilities, their own "plusses and minuses" as far as special troop types that they can build that no one else can build, or something characteristic to them." Even the economic models for each empire is different, and based on available historical information on the societies involved. "The lasting gameplay value here," said Granillo, "is the fact that you can actually play the Egyptians, and see how you can do compared to how the actual Egyptians of 1200 BC were doing at the time . . . to see if you can be another Ramses and really do Kanesh, and expand to the Euphrates or not . . . you can just be subdued by the Nubians and the Libyans who are on your borders.

"The way it works if you're playing by yourself on the computer there's a sophisticated AI that deals with each individual king . . . He has emotion . . . you can literally have envoys and spies in all the different empires," said Granillo. "You can get an idea from the statistics chart on whether they hate or love you . . . you can manipulate their feelings in the traditional ancient ways: marriages, gifts of various sizes, erecting statues in their honor, or parking soldiers on their borders and threatening them."

This promising game doesn't just limit itself to the Near East and Europe, either - ancient China is also included, along with central Africa . . . China had a different battlefield than the Near East, for instance - they were the only ones with Crossbows . . . the game explores seriously the tactical differences between the empires of the era, the relative powers of infantry and cavalry, and so on - the development of military technology is also considered.

Legions runs under Windows, with the requisite scaleable and movable windows within the game . . . this convenient packaging for the interface will be facing a complex but friendly simulation of a world that has been far too ignored by game publishers. It may very well be great . . . we'll tell you!

 

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - Magic Carpet (DOS, 1994)

I love to fly. Probably this is because I haven't done much of it, but that's beside the point. There's something graceful about, something natural. And there's scenery, too. When you look at cow pastures from the same first-person perspective for upwards of 20 years they tend to lose what little entertainment value they started with. But a cow pasture from 20,000 feet? Hey, I'll look at that. And enjoy it.

I like to fly in computer games, too, and I'm not alone by any stretch of the imagination. A lot of people like to fly with games like Falcon 3.0 and MS Flight Simulator 5, but not me. That's not flying, that's piloting. "What's the difference?" you may ask. Easy: about 100-300 pages of manual length and multiple days on the learning curve. When I fly, I'm talking about games like Wing Commander 2 or Comanche Maximum Overkill. Pilots will scoff at those choices, rightfully pointing out that they aren't realistic. Fine with me. If I want realism I'll go home and clean the cat box. Realism sucks. Escapism is where it's at. That's what game designers will sell me on.

So I like to fly, but the thing that most frequently ruins computer flight for me is operating an airplane. Dials, gauges, HUDs, landing gear, flaps, thrust, lift . . . who cares? Well, a lot of people actually, but not me. The simpler the craft, the happier I'm likely to be, and if there's something to shoot at while I'm up there, cool. So when I got to take a sneak peak at Magic Carpet, an upcoming flight game Bullfrog is producing for EA, I gravitated toward it like a space marine to a rocket launcher. We bonded, that game and me. The wedding invitations go out next month. It supports modem play, so for a gift you can send us long distance certificates.

Magic Carpet was designed with the goal of creating an extremely simple and uncluttered interface, resulting in a game that you'll be able to play 10 minutes after breaking the shrink-wrap. Instead of learning how to operate a billion dollar piece of hardware that barely needs you at all, you just load up the game, and within seconds you're flying. You're starting to see the game's appeal; I can tell. Instead of being cluttered by gauges, readouts, and other grotesque articles of obscene chumpdom, the instrument panel consists of one small easy to understand status bar which gives you just enough information to let you know your standing in the game. It can even be turned off, for those of you who demand absolutely nothing less than full screen view. (You're the same people who play Doom without the status bar, aren't you. I've never understood you folks.) It's simple because it doesn't need to be complex. You've probably never considered this before, but a rug is much easier to operate than a harrier.

Although just flying around and admiring the scenery is lots of fun on its own, Bullfrog decided that if they're gonna build this cool flight engine they may as well write a game to go along with it. Fortunately for all of us, the game's a good one. Your goal is to liberate the lands you play in by freeing their manna, which is trapped within all sorts of monsters and nasty creatures. You have two primary spells available to you as you fly: a fireball spell and an acquire spell. The use of the fireball is obvious – attacking monsters. When you kill a monster, it releases its manna in the form of shimmering gold blobs which fall out of the sky and roll wherever gravity takes them. You then shoot the gold manna with your acquire spell, which turns it to your color, marking it (however tentatively) as your property.

The manna won't do you much good just lying on the ground, though. This is where one of your other spells comes in handy. The castle spell instantly builds a castle for you, which releases a balloon. The balloon then flies about and collects all the manna of your color, taking it back to the castle for later use. As you stockpile manna you use the castle spell to expand your fortress, giving you more space to store manna and a better structure to defend it with.

Naturally, there's gotta be some opposition. Seven other carpet riders want control of the land too, and before long you'll find yourself in direct competition with them. You can shoot at each other on your carpets, attack each other's castles and balloons, even change their manna to your color and steal it right out from under their noses! Although each land is fairly large, eight is definitely a crowd, and you'll take part in some terrific territorial wars.

Unlike many "realistic" piloting games which tend to heap so many features onto themselves that they suffer great losses in speed and frame rate, Magic Carpet is a simple game that will astonish players with its performance. The terrain is handsomely drawn and very detailed, and you can race along mere feet above the ground, hugging the terrain and using it to your advantage. Think back to the first time you ever played Comanche Maximum Overkill; that's the effect this game has on its players. I've even swooped down from great altitudes to attack individual archers in the battlements of enemy castles! This attention to detail, along with the great speed the game runs at, should win Magic Carpet widespread attention.

When released, Magic Carpet will sport SVGA graphics. It will also support modem and network play. Eight people will be able to compete on a net, and I've heard a rumor that the number may double by the game's release. If you've ever wanted to fly – I mean really fly, without all those namby-pamby aeroplanes getting in your way – let Magic Carpet suck you in. I had a great time taking my rug out for a test flight, and I think you will too.

And not a cow pasture in sight. Life is good.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - Mission Critical (DOS, 1995)

Whether you're talking about computer adventure games or any other kind of narrative form, the beginning is usually a little slower going to give the player or reader or viewer a chance to get used to the story. Only after this setup does the tension eventually build to a crisis moment. Legend's upcoming science fiction adventure, Mission Critical, does not follow this pattern at all. From the beginning, the player is thrown into a harrowing crisis. In the game's introduction, a great space battle is being fought, and when the smoke clears and the game proper begins, the player character is the only survivor on board his ship. What's more, the vessel is in terrible condition and the player knows that the enemy will be back with reinforcements to finish the job.

But first, a little history. After a hundred years of peace, the Earth has plummeted once again into vicious conflict, dragging its colony planets down with it. The United Nations, which had taken on the role as a world government, became repressive and corrupt. This led to a group of nations and colony worlds forming the New Republic Alliance and fighting a desperate struggle for independence.

In the year 2134, a United Nations listening post picked up a maser transmission consisting of a series of repeating pulses from Nihal, a star located 320 light years from Earth. The pulses were analyzed and found to contain a set of space coordinates describing an elliptical orbit. The Alliance was listening in on the news of this discovery, and while the UN argued about how to proceed, they frantically organized and launched an expedition to reach the specified location. This expedition consisted of the Canadian Starship Jericho, a science vessel outfitted for exploration and first contact, and an escort, the United States Navy Cruiser USS Lexington.

As soon as the UN learned about the New Republic's expedition, they panicked at the thought of the implications. Anxious to prevent any new advantage on the Alliance side, they sent military warships to intercept the Jericho and the Lexington.

This is where you come in.

You are a crew member of the escort ship, the Lexington. After the first wave of attacking UN ships, all your fellow crew members have either been killed or escaped in the life pods. There are no more life pods, the weapons systems are down, the fusion engines are headed for overload and the UN are coming back. You've got two choices: get busy on repairs or pray like you've never prayed before.

Assuming (and this is a big assumption) that you ultimately manage to repair the ship's weapons, figure out how to operate them and fend off who knows how many ever increasing waves of warships, you will be the only one around who can complete the original mission and travel to the coordinates designated in the mysterious transmission, an unexplored world 68 light years from Earth. There you will make a stunning discovery that could end the 15 years of interplanetary war and forever change humanity's relationship with the universe. Pretty nifty, huh?

On top of the intense storyline, the player will be treated to some truly spectacular visuals. The game is presented in crisp 640 x 480 Super VGA. The interior of the USS Lexington has been modeled using 3D Studio. Movement between rooms consists of animated, smooth-scrolling transition sequences with the same flavor as The 7th Guest. Also, the characters will be shown in full-motion video with professional actors bringing a more realistic feel to the drama.

Legend has also spent a great deal of effort refining the space combat system. This is good to know, since it sounds like it will take a long time to get past that part of the game anyway. The system revolves around the premise that space combat takes place far too fast for a mere human to do all the fighting. The Lexington was initially equipped with nine multi-role drones for this purpose. Two of the drones were destroyed in the first battle, so the player is left with seven drones to arm and deploy as he sees fit.

Mission Critical will combine adventure game, simulation and interactive movie. Legend promises that it will not only be an intense and entertaining product, but that it will define a new genre. This is a quite a claim, but even if it just falls into the old, established adventure genre, Mission Critical will be well worth picking up when it hits the shelves in the Spring.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - NASCAR Racing (DOS, 1994)

Simulation, shmimulation. NASCAR Racing from Papyrus is so far above anything else in its class, it may as well be in a league of its own. It's something special. And for $50 or so, it's a steal.

Pretty strong words, I know, so here's my best shot at convincing you. Before receiving my beta copy of NASCAR, I'd only played it once and seen the first preview of it in episode 4 of IE. I drive an automatic Corolla wagon constantly in need of a tune-up and know a lot about European cars that are way too expensive for me to ever own. I wasn't a speed demon of any sort.

I am now. I crave it. I want fast acceleration. I want my windows rolled down so my hair whips back off my forehead like the guy in that magazine cassette ad. I have NASCAR Racing to "thank" for this. This game (I apologize, but I need to call it SOMETHING) puts you in the drivers' seat of a stock car and doesn't let you go. Instead, it takes you on the ride of your life through nine true-to-life NASCAR racetracks while you struggle for control and try to imagine how anyone could actually do this in real life. After several dozen harmless crashes, though, you begin to get the hang of it. And then you begin to like it. A lot.

And there's a lot to like. Hey, a lot of people like to drive fast, and even those who don't like to dream about it. NASCAR excels in both control and realism, as its publisher, Papyrus Software, built into it the most authentic physics model seen yet in a racing sim. Flying through Atlanta Motor Speedway at 180 miles per hour is as difficult as it sounds. You feel the turns and have to adjust to each one precisely or your car will hit the wall. I used a Thrustmaster steering wheel and pedals along with a pair of stereo headphones to get the most out of the experience . . . I found myself tipping my chair over and stomping on the pedals so viciously that my feet hurt afterwards. There's always the possibility of hitting a bump, too. Even world-class racetracks aren't perfect. God help you if you hit anything with the sound turned up . . . realistic crash and spin-out effects will rudely greet your ears. If this is sounding too real for you, go play Super Mario Kart. If you're temperature is rising, you may hit the boiling point before you finish this article.

Racing is only part of NASCAR. It's pretty fun looking at your crashes after they occur (and they do). Instant replay is implemented very well here . . . many camera angles are offered and you can save replays in highlight-reel fashion. NASCAR's virtual cameras can follow your car or any other car. Before any race, you can configure your driver information . . . stating your name, nickname, car and tire type, and team name. And oh yeah, NASCAR Racing runs in 640x480 VGA. That's 307,200 pixels worth of sheer speed, and you won't find that in too many places. It's 640x480 EVERYWHERE. On the track, in the menus, on the highlight reels, and in the garage, too. Ahh, the garage. If you know what a "suspension camber" is, you'll love the garage. That thingy is there, along with a zillion other modifications that could turn your average stock car into . . . well . . . an above-average stock car. I wish I knew how most of that stuff worked . . . I might have won a race or two. Even when I set my opponents to 80% of my speed, I still tended to crash too often to finish ahead of the pack. Oh well. So the game's challenging . . . that's not a flaw.

Sadly, the saliva running off of your chin will be pooling on the floor for another couple of months still. Camp out outside you local software chain for a copy of this game. You'll blow gaskets. NASCAR will blow your mind.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - Perfect General II (DOS, 1994)

When you've got something good, keep it and make it better. That's the path QQP seems to be following after receiving plenty of well-deserved acclaim for the original Perfect General. Unlike most other wargames simulating World War 2 era combat, Perfect General was a unique combination of wargame and abstract strategy game. Rather than bothering with the distinctions of tank-types down to the serial number, which would have added little to gameplay and too much to player confusion, Perfect General had general classes - light tanks, mediums, heavies . . . and the strategy was much purer than most wargames. Whereas other wargames hid the mechanics of combat under piles of tables and calculations shown only in the appendix of the docs, Perfect General minimized the random element, and displayed attack options and odds clearly, creating a strategic experience that was almost chesslike. The game had imitators almost immediately, and more are on the way.

But even a Perfect General can stand improving, and now QQP has given themselves the task of making one of their best games even better, launching it into a whole new level of challenge. Perfect General 2 will keep every good thing from Perfect General, and add many more features and nice touches. Fans of the original will never go back, and newcomers will be addicted instantly.

Perfect General 2 improves on the original design in several important respects. The most immediately obvious will be the graphics - they've not just been upgraded, they've been completely redone, with drastic improvements on all levels. Perfect General 2 will be prettier to look at than its predecessor, and clearer visually. Units will be fully animated, of course, and move and fire with plenty of sound effects.

The next important addition is airpower. In Perfect General 1, artillery could dominate a scenario - if you wanted to defend from a beach landing, you could line up some artillery and absolutely liquefy any incoming forces . . . in fact, some scenarios had to be entirely scrapped due to the imbalance in artillery power, despite the fact that the historical battle had included it. What was missing were planes. Airplanes will be finally be included in Perfect General 2, and their primary role in most scenarios will most likely be artillery-busting.

Other additions will include full campaign play, machine guns that can fire on any fire phase, railroads and railroad bridges, and elephant tanks. The next step up from the heavy tank, elephant tanks are moving fortresses . . . the tradeoff is that they're VERY expensive, and SLOW.

Perfect General 2 will support a wide variety of scenarios - more than 25 of them, with additional scenario packs a possibility in the future. Many of these, of course, will take advantage of the new additions to the force-rosters, such as the Battle of Kirsk. Scenarios will range from historical island battles, the invasion of the Port of Japan, woods-skirmishes, and fictional "what-if?" battles like Hitler's invasion of Washington D.C. Immediately after the release of the game, QQP will be finishing up and releasing a scenario editor, so fans of the game can make their own maps and explore their own concepts of what the engine can do.

Gameplay in Perfect General 2 will be fundamentally identical to gameplay in Perfect General 1 - there's very little that needed ANY sort of improving there. Each turn is divided into several phases of movement and firing, plotting artillery and so on. Before you perform any action the computer will give you all sorts of information if you want it - a QQP hallmark. When it is time for a unit to attack, for instance, a display will highlight available targets. Clicking on any of those targets will give you your odds of hitting (calculated by range, cover, weapon type and so on - all the math is UNDER the engine), and the potential damage if you DO hit - whether you'll kill or merely hurt the enemy. Similar displays are available for nearly any sort of action - if you want to attempt a risky overrun attack, for instance, the computer will gladly tell you your odds of victory and survival.

Many of these developments have been in playtest for years - BEFORE Perfect General 1 was even released. Designer Bruce Williams Z. puts every game concept through its paces as an in-house paper or tabletop game before anything gets adapted to the computer, and that kind of effort and dedication to quality over flash shows through in every QQP game. Perfect General 2 looks to be no exception, and one can only wonder what OTHER features are playing right now at the QQP tabletop for future releases . . .

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - Phantasmagoria (DOS, 1995)

While it would certainly be no great challenge to visit your local software store and find large numbers of games revolving around a science-fiction or fantasy scenario, the computer game world has almost completely ignored the horror genre. That is, until very recently. The success of such creepy products as The 7th Guest and the Alone in the Dark series have gotten other publishers to sit up and take notice. As a result, the next few months will see an unprecedented explosion of frightening titles, including Harvester, Ecstatica, and Sierra's long awaited Phantasmagoria.

Phantasmagoria is the brainchild of Roberta Williams, best known for her extremely popular King's Quest series. Those of you who are familiar with this family-oriented adventure series will probably find it a little difficult to imagine the same mind at work on an adult tale of terror. But Williams and Sierra are very serious about this project.

Williams describes Phantasmagoria as "the most advanced scripting I've ever written for multimedia entertainment and the highest production quality executed by Sierra." This "advanced scripting" involves a 400 page script, more than 100 pages of detailed storyboard and 500 camera angles.

The story involves a young married couple, Don and Adrienne, who come to possess the island home of Carno, the fictional equivalent of Harry Houdini. Despite the seemingly peaceful surroundings, something seems subtly, yet unmistakably wrong. In fact, their presence in the house has awakened a malignant entity that has lain dormant for a century. This evil spirit slowly takes over Don's mind and body.

The player takes the role of Adrienne, and must locate the only living witness to the long-past events that originally unleashed the evil in the house. If Don is ever to return to normal, Adrienne must solve the mysteries and overcome the invading spirit. But even while she investigates this horrific puzzle, she runs the risk of being murdered by her own loving spouse . . .

Interestingly, there seem to be two different metaphors at work in the presentation. Instead of just going until it ends, the story unfolds in novel-like chapters. Williams chose this approach because she believes "that a game should provide players with the same knowledge [as a novel] of just how far they've got and just how far needs to be completed." At the same time, much of the actual technique is very filmic, really trying to achieve all the implications of the oft-used "interactive movie" label.

Sierra has chosen to carry the film metaphor to its furthest extreme. They have constructed a one million dollar studio in Oakhurst, CA (near Yosemite National Park) for filming the 20 live actors. The studio contains state-of-the-art camera, editing and recording equipment, and while it will certainly be used for many future projects, Phantasmagoria is its testing ground. The scenes are recorded against a 50x 50 foot blue screen wall, and then inserted into the exquisitely rendered digital "sets."

To really make an "interactive movie" also meant hiring a director who knows his way around a camera, so Sierra hired Hollywood veteran Peter Maris to oversee the shooting. Maris is the man behind such films as Terror Squad and Diplomatic Immunity. Admittedly, working on a project of this size was a challenge even for him. In his own words, "Filming Phantasmagoria was almost like shooting four movies. The script of this game is four times the size of a 90-minute action movie."

Interestingly, while Phantasmagoria is packed with gorgeous graphics, it will not follow the example of its horror predecessor, The 7th Guest, and allow the camera to move around the sets. Instead, it features a series of static locations that the characters move around. While there is a depth element in the sets, it doesn't change on screen. This technique was chosen to allow for greater ease of gameplay. It's much easier to retrace your steps and find particular items if you don't have to worry about the third dimension.

Phantasmagoria will break, or at least stretch, many of the unspoken conventions of the game industry. For one thing, it's very unusual for the player character to be female. Also, the game interface is especially designed to be easy for beginners to use. With that and the unusual storyline, it seems that Sierra is striving to reach a new audience. This won't be an easy task. CD-ROM drives are certainly not as common as VCR's. However, Sierra is already known for a very high level of game quality, and even if it doesn't have people running out to buy Pentiums, Phantasmagoria is bound to be a success.

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - Renegade: Battle for Jacob's Star (DOS, 1995)

Ever since the long-forgotten days of mainframe Star Trek, space combat games have been one of the most popular forms of computer entertainment. There was a movie that came out in the 70s that mutated a whole generation into space jockey wanna-bes. It was called Star...something. I dunno, it escapes me. Anyway, there's thousands of gamers out there who consider being a top ace star fighter pilot the ultimate fantasy. They practically go into grand mal seizures whenever a promising new title appears to help them act out this dream. I've seen them. It's pretty gross, actually.

Just when it seemed that the cold emptiness of space was about to be conquered by strategy games, along came SSI with an upcoming game called Renegade: Battle For Jacob's Star. At first I was a little confused. After all, action games aren't exactly what SSI is known for. This may be new territory for the company, but everything we've seen here at IE leads us to believe that SSI is off to a good start.

Renegade: the computer game is an officially licensed adaptation of FASAs classic Renegade Legion: Interceptor. Fans of that classic space combat board game will jump at the opportunity to actually fly some of their favorite ships.

In Renegade you play an arrogant, insubordinate star pilot who's just bad-mouthed one superior officer too many. After failing to comply with orders yet again you are transferred to the left armpit of space--a backwater supply station with no action within five parsecs and not a bowling alley in sight. After you've served some time in that purgatory, your superiors will decide whether they'd rather grind you into an obedient pilot or just boot your sorry hide out of the military once and for all. But before they even have time to chuckle to themselves about the bed you've made for yourself, the supply station is invaded by a massive strike force of the Terran Overlord Government. (Maybe there's a bowling alley around here after all!) After the station commander disappears under mysterious circumstances, you are placed in command of the squadron of Renegade fighters, and it becomes your responsibility to defend the station until reinforcements arrive. Doesn't this seem like a great opportunity to impress all those officers who hate you?

Recently there's been a dramatic increase in games that sport high resolution graphics. Renegade will be part of this trend, offering superb SVGA images to bring your battles to life, and will be released on CD-ROM only. It will also feature 3D-rendered cinematics and a lot of digitized speech, as any self-respecting CD game should. In an effort to keep the game from monopolizing your hard drive any more than absolutely necessary, the cinematics and digitized voices will be able to be played directly from the CD drive.

Unlike most games of the first-person space shooter genre, Renegade doesn't make you start off as the bottom of the military barrel and work your way up. You may be an arrogant, undisciplined hothead, but you're the closest thing this station's got to a hero, and it's your show. It's up to you to choose the pilots you want in your squadron and give them their ship assignments. There will be 25 different wingmen in Renegade and eight ships to fly, from the speed demon Cheetah to the unusual Space Gull, and Fluttering Petal to the Pegasus--a behemoth even people named "Ahnuld" would be intimidated by.

Ever since some sadistic goon figured out how to program the PC speaker to play series of definitely pitched beeps, gamers have had to contend with game music, an entertainment "enhancement" with a track record of sounding really bad. Renegade will support General MIDI-compatible sound cards to deliver a high-quality music score, but SSI has come up with a creative alternative for all of us who can't quite afford an orchestra on a card. During play, gamers can remove the Renegade disc from the CD-ROM drive and replace it with a music CD. Want to hear Motorhead during a battle instead of Floyd Cramer? No problem. When the game needs to read information off its CD, it simply pauses and prompts you to replace the disk. Good idea! Now if only we could get CD-Mags to do the same thing...

Renegade: Battle For Jacob's Star looks hot! The SVGA graphics, 3D cinematics, and guaranteed good music should turn the heads of all the combat-hungry fighter pilots out there, and the FASA license has a built-in audience. With a mile-long list of features and wide appeal, look for Renegade to be one of the bright stars of the season.

Demo

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - Return to Planet Fall [Unreleased]

Lately, the computer adventure game market seems to be a contest to see who can come up with the best rendered graphics and who can hire the best band to record the CD stereo soundtrack. It's hard to believe that, not too many years ago, the field was dominated by text-only games. These products had only one aspect that kept them selling: great stories. There was no question that the dominating company in this text-game universe was Infocom. While they were best known for the Zork fantasy games, another of their most popular products was a hilarious science-fiction comedy adventure called Planetfall, and its sequel, Stationfall, both written by Steve Meretzky.

Meanwhile, on another consumer electronics front, the Atari 2600 was kicking the butts of all the other home entertainment systems. The credit for this can not go entirely to Atari, however. Everyone knew that the best games for the system were produced by an independent company named Activision. Most folks bought the 2600 so they could play games like Pitfall and MegaMania. They sure didn't buy it for Space Invaders.

Flash forward 10 years, and Steve Meretzky is still very much in demand in the computer game world. His work has been compared with that of Douglas Adams. (Appropriately enough, since the two of them collaborated on the text game version of Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.) Infocom no longer exists, but Activision is stronger than ever. They bought the rights to all those great Infocom games, and had a major hit on their hands with a graphic continuation of the Zork series, Return to Zork. Now, they're hoping to enjoy even greater success with Return to Planetfall: Floyd Strikes Back.

For those unfamiliar with the original Planetfall games, Floyd was a robot with the enthusiasm of a ten-year old. He followed the player around everywhere, not being very useful, but always eager to play a quick game of hider-seeker. Floyd was easily the most popular character in the entire text-game medium. In an uncharacteristically tragic moment in Stationfall, the player must kill Floyd to save the universe. Many players wrote to Infocom testifying their tearful experiences playing those last moments of the game.

The new game's content is very much in keeping with the humor of the original series. The player returns to his unnamed role as an Ensign Seventh Class, working this time on an interstellar cruise ship overrun by yuppies. So, not only do you have to perform menial chores from scrubbing floors to filling out requisition forms to clearing glasses at the piano bar, you also have to deal politely with tourists in Hawaiian shirts. Fortunately, your good robot friend Floyd has unexpectedly returned from the dead, and he is as eager as ever to accompany you on your adventures. Yes, adventures. You didn't think the whole game would be kitchen duty, did you? Among other things, you get to uncover an ancient robot religion, a secret scientific technology that could transform the universe, and an insidious plot to reduce all human life to a zombie-like existence, much like your current job.

Of course, however good the story, this wouldn't be much of an update if the new Planetfall was nothing but text. The graphics on Return to Planetfall are nothing short of spectacular. Activision promises a cast full of celebrity actors to flesh out the population on board the cruise ship, and all through the game. As this cast list develops, you can count on IE to keep you posted. On top of this, there's lots of beautifully rendered animations that bring Meretzky's twisted vision to life.

Speaking of Steve Meretzky, he is the designer of this latest Planetfall installment, but his other current projects have kept him too busy to write the entire game. Instead, Activision brought in the team of Hans Beimler and Richard Manning, the head writers from the recent television hit Star Trek: The Next Generation. One of the things that made "Next Gen" really stand out, not just as science fiction, but overall, was the excellent scriptwriting. Since the show's conclusion in April, it's hard to imagine a better choice of writers to follow in Meretzky's rather imposing footsteps.

Between the phenomenal graphics and the cast of celebrities, not to mention the ever-important writing, Return to Planetfall seems likely to be successful, both economically and artistically. Activision plans to release this update in the second quarter of 1995.

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - Star Reach (DOS, 1994)

I'm not sure if you've noticed, but there isn't a whole lot of originality out there in the potentially vast world of computer game design. Like music, TV, and pretty much every other form of entertainment, Those Who Create tend to find a basic formula that sells and run it firmly into the ground over a period of years. All you have to do is go down to a software store and count how many games have a number at the end of their title. It's kind of depressing, even though some games are so good they deserve to be copied a few times.

Some genres of games are bigger offenders in this area than others. Adventure and role-playing games, for example, seem to spin off sequel after sequel, and very rarely do they introduce anything truly original to the genre. The rationale for this is easy enough to figure out -- if the same thing keeps selling every time you put it out, don't make waves. Strategy games are one of the more diverse genres, but many of them still copy shamelessly from each other. That's why I'm glad to have gotten a sneak peak at Star Reach, a soon-to-be-released space strategy game from Interplay. This game is so different it's hard to even spot its influences.

The premise of Star Reach is the least original part of it, but it's not bad. At some point in the future mankind develops a faster-than-light drive, which opens up all kinds of possibilities for exploration and colonization of the galaxy, even the universe. Once we start exploring, it doesn't take us long to discover six other races that have developed similar capabilities and have similar motives. To avoid border wars and endless minor skirmishes, a board of diplomats is created for the purpose of assessing each race's wants and needs and deciding how to divide the galaxy. Peace is maintained for several years, until an emergency meeting of the diplomats escalates into a deadly firefight. With the intentions of each race highly questionable, the galaxy is thrown into a state of war. Your job in the game is, naturally, to take control of the galaxy and lead your race to victory.

Star Reach is a real-time strategy game, which you see once in a while but not with much consistency. It plays as a series of scenarios, with goals ranging from the acquisition of a key planet to the destruction of an alien base. You control the game from your star cruiser, which can be implemented in two ways. You can pilot your cruiser in a top-down view vaguely similar to the arcade sequences in Star Control, which lets you take part in battles. If you don't want to fight, you can put the ship in "phantom mode," which replaces the ship with a set of crosshairs you use to target objects you want to interact with. To examine a planet or ship, or to give them orders, you pilot your ship (or move your crosshairs) to the intended unit and dock with it.

Star Reach is essentially a military production/resource management game. The general idea is to produce enough resources to allow you to build up a superior military and wipe out the other players, but it's not done in anything close to a typical way. Your planets are your sources of production, giving you money, ore for building, colonists, and ships. A planet's type sets what it will originally produce (volcanic planets are mineral rich but hard to live on, earth-type planets are good all-around producers), but you can improve on this by building planetary improvements, such as biospheres to increase food production for colonists or strip mines to increase the rate of mineral extraction. If you want a planet to serve as a base for ships, you must construct a storage bay.

Since a planet can only produce items if it has the necessary materials to do so, the allocation of resources is necessary. This is done by establishing trade routes, which can carry ore, food, and colonists (or any combination thereof) to another planet. Typically, trade routes shuttle resources from well-established planets in the rear of your empire to more recent acquisitions near the front.

One of the best features of Star Reach is the way groups of ships are handled. A planet's storage bay can hold up to eight ships, and any of these ships can be launched together as a convoy. The leader of the convoy is usually the weakest ship, which also has the most specific use. (For example, a planetary bomber will automatically be chosen to lead a group of fighters.) The convoy can then be given an order for the leader to carry out, and the support ships will automatically protect it if any opposition is encountered.

When Star Reach is released I expect it to gain universal praise for originality. Whether this originality itself is well-received is anybody's guess. Doing something different is never a sure thing, so only time will tell how the gaming public reacts to it. If strategy fans approach it with an open mind they are liable to enjoy Star Reach and its unique approach. Personally, I'd much rather spend a day with Star Reach than with Heresy of the Silver Serpent XXIII.

Demo

View this game directly in our collection on archive.org

IE Magazine Issue #07

Preview - Wings of Glory (DOS, 1995)

When Orville and Wilbur Wright finally got their airplane aloft at Kitty Hawk in 1912, they probably weren't thinking of their invention as a military weapon. However, just a few short years later, the Allies and Germans were skirmishing across the skies of Europe in World War I, and those magnificent young men in their flying machines changed the face of armed conflict forever.

That era provides the background for Wings of Glory, Origin's latest flight simulation. You're an American pilot attached to a British RAF squadron that's stationed somewhere along the Western Front in January of 1917. Since there aren't many people around these days who actually experienced this situation, Origin decided to draw on Hollywood's recollection of that particular period of time for their storyline, giving it a distinct "B" movie feel.

You're the eager, young, fresh-faced American pilot. Among your colleagues are the gruff commanding officer, who's a little upset with you when the game begins because you missed a mission. The fact that you're late because you spent the prior evening gallivanting with a fellow British pilot doesn't help your cause. The Brit who got you in trouble appears to be a refugee from a Monty Python sketch, complaining that the quality of champagne available in the area simply isn't up to snuff.

The storyline for Wings of Glory is interesting – for instance, there's a traitor in the squadron who you'll be trying to unmask, and your interaction with your fellow characters will have an effect on your path through the game – but all it does is set the stage for the stars of the show, the planes.

If you're a flight-sim devotee who's used to buzzing his enemies with a jet fighter, you're in for a definite change of pace with Wings. The design team devoted a lot of time to ensuring that the feel and look of the planes was historically accurate, which means that you're flying machinery that's straight out of the museum.

This requires a definite attitude adjustment. The first hint comes when you hear the creaking of canvas over the low drone of your engine as you pilot your plane. This should warn you that if you try some of those slick maneuvers that you perfected with flight sims set in a more modern era, you'll experience the unique sensation of trying to fly a plane after its wings have fallen off. You're going at quite a slow pace, but don't worry – the German aren't moving any faster than you are.

As an Allied pilot, you'll work your way through five planes: the Sopwith Pup, Sopwith Camel, SE5a, SPAD XIII and the Fokker Dr. I. You'll battle 13 different models of German aircraft. Wings of Glory can be as easy or as tough as you want it to be. You can make your opponents rookies or aces. The setup is so flexible, you can actually choose between turning sun glare on or off. Wings allows you to fly a regular mission, create your own mission, or run the gauntlet, which pits you against an endless stream of enemy targets.

You can choose from a number of different viewing angles, including the cockpit (which is also historically accurate, meaning it changes when you fly a different plane); an overhead view; a side view; a rear view; and a chase plane view, which allows you to watch the dogfight from behind your plane. You can lock your view onto a specific target, meaning that you keep an eye on that plane regardless of where it goes. If you're worried that an enemy is approaching from behind, you can turn up to 180 degrees in either direction and see who's beside you and who's behind you. It's not quite Linda Blair in the Exorcist, but it's close.

The game runs on an enhanced version of the Strike Commander engine. About midway through the design process, Origin decided that it might have problems with the game's speed and decided to convert to a 32-bit mode. This keeps the frame speed up above 10 frames per second.

One word of warning – in World War I, the Germans were capable warriors, but they apparently had no sense of fashion whatsoever. The German planes are also historically accurate, right down to the paint jobs, which means an unsuspecting player could be in for a severe shock. Let's just say that with the garish designs on some of these aircraft, it's a surprise that the German pilots made it safely off the runway, since they could be seen from miles around.

Wings of Glory is a flight sim that's true to its historical era. It moves at a leisurely pace, but so did the aircraft of that time. You're going to find that a World War I dogfight can be just as much of a challenge as launching missiles and dodging an attack from an unseen enemy. Wings won't overwhelm you, but it could seduce you, which is just as much fun.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser

IE Magazine Issue #07

Review - Call of Cthulhu: Shadow of the Comet (DOS, 1994)

When Lord Boleskine visited the small New England town of Ilsmouth, he hadn't a clue of the terrifying sights he would see. All he wanted was a good place to view Halley's Comet, and he ended up witness to some sort of diabolic ritual which culminated in the appearance of a ... Well, almost no one knows for sure what he saw, and those who do won't tell, but whatever it was, it cost Boleskine his sanity. He wound up locked away, while his drawings were donated to the British museum.

All this frightening stuff happens 76 years before the opening of I-Motion's Shadow of the Comet. This game is the first of a new series developed with Chaosium, Inc. based on their Call of Cthulhu paper-and-pencil role playing game, and the works of H.P. Lovecraft. I-Motion's interest in Lovecraft goes back to the original Alone in the Dark game, but when that series developed its own direction, the designers created this new channel so they could continue adapting the Cthulhian stories.

The player is John T. Parker, a British photojournalist who has become interested in the story of Lord Boleskine. He convinces his publisher to send him to Ilsmouth...just in time for the next appearance of Comet Halley. The plan is to take pictures of the sky on that critical night, and hopefully record some of the bizarre sightings that Boleskine described in his journal.

On his arrival, Parker is greeted by the town's seemingly friendly officials, but you don't have to be listening to the creepy background music to sense that there's something screwy going on around here. The longer Parker stays in town, and the more people he talks to, the more menacing the situation becomes. The majority of the citizens are obviously hostile to his presence, some homicidally so.

Shadow of the Comet is a funky little mixed bag. It's not what you'd call a terribly active game. Most of the time, the player just has to be in the right place at the right time to overhear the right conversation. That's not necessarily a bad thing. But also, the gameplay is a bit limited and extremely linear. The events in the game do not happen along their own timeline. Rather, that timeline is completely dependent on when you accomplish certain tasks. So, don't worry about being "too late" to catch an conversation. It won't happen until you're ready for it.

As befits its literary origins, this is not so much a game as a roundabout way of telling a story. Don't get me wrong, the story itself is a fascinating one. The sense of menace is captured very well by the ever-present ominous soundtrack. The character graphics are also highly effective in creating a sense of dread, without the dialogue itself having to be terribly threatening. No one in Ilsmouth looks innocent. To further drive this point home, the conversations are usually enhanced by character close-ups overlaying the still distant backgrounds. It's a good thing, too. Without these close-ups, you might not realize that your landlord is a dead ringer for Vincent Price.

At times, however, it seems that the lovely graphics are at odds with the overly simplified interface. Many of the buildings in town are shown at an attractive 3/4 angle, but player character Parker can only move in four directions. This makes for a lot of awkward and unnecessary maneuvering just to go through a door. And no, you can't just click the mouse and show him where to go. He has to be dragged by the nose every step of the way, and sometimes even THAT doesn't work. Occasionally, the graphics show an obviously open doorway that you might want to walk through. Then, when you get there, a close up shows Parker knocking on a closed door (!) and when no one answers, he doesn't even try to enter. You should have more control over your own character than that.

The voice characterizations are also quite inconsistent. While many of the voices really help to bring the population of Ilsmouth to life, every now and then you get one that sounds like a Junior High theater audition. Occasionally this inconsistency even stretches to different lines by (supposedly) the same character. But maybe I'm being too quick to judge. Maybe there's a possession subplot I don't know about. Or maybe there should have been a bit more playtesting involved...

Admittedly, I'm picking nits here. But in a game of this sort, atmosphere is everything, and consistency is important to establishing atmosphere. Shadow of the Comet is an admirable first try for I-Motion's Call of Cthulhu line, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. Maybe we can expect more in the second attempt, Prisoner of Ice.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser

IE Magazine Issue #07

Review - Dark Sun: Wake of the Ravager (DOS, 1994)

Another day, another RPG. It's kind of alarming how fast software publishers can churn out games of this type. Especially SSI, who, at last count, had something in the neighborhood of a million role playing games on the market and has just released one more. The incredible thing, though, is that, for the most part, SSI's games are all good. Back in the Gold Box era, they could just plug some new graphics and new maps into that engine and release a new title daily...at least, that's what it seemed like. Nowadays, several of their titles still resemble each other, but they differ enough to warrant buying and playing them all. The newest example of their craftsmanship is Dark Sun: Wake of the Ravager, which isn't all that new, but certainly is enjoyable.

Dark Sun is one of the newer accessory worlds for the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game system, and Ravager is its second PC incarnation. The world of Athas is a barren, desolate world, overrun by scavenging beasts and controlled by masters of the powers of the mind. These powers are called psionics, and the beings who use them are psionicists. In Ravager, your party can (and should) consist of one or more of these psionicists, and they prove to be extremely handy when fighting others of their kind. First things first, though. This game puts you in control of a party of up to four medium-level AD&D characters whose job is to rid the world of Athas from the evil beings that threaten to take it over. Did you get all that? It doesn't matter. If one out of a hundred computer RPG players rated the plot as the most important aspect of the game, I'd be so surprised that I'd have to lie down.

What do you DO in Ravager? Well, like I said before, this is not a new concept. You walk around, do the occasional errand in exchange for information or a mission, and most importantly, you make things bleed. A lot. Preferably enough that they die. Let's face it...a computer role-playing game that stresses free exploration over killing and pillaging just hasn't been created yet. Why would it? We don't want life simulators...we want to play make-believe and control big, strong imaginary creatures that can shoot death rays out of their fingers. That's what's fun. Ravager lets you do this in a big way. Unlike its predecessor, Shattered Lands, Ravager starts your party at a high enough level that they can do some serious harm right from the get-go. Shortly after starting the game, your party will join the Veiled Alliance, a secret underground society of freedom fighters. Seeing that your party is a pretty bitchin' group of people, they ask you to do a good amount of their dirty work for them. As if you didn't already know, this "dirty work" involves a lot of gushing reddish fluid and several loud guttural screams. Sorry, Mortal Kombat fans...you don't actually SEE the blood. (You do, however, hear the screams. Nice touch.)

For variety, SSI has imbued Ravager with an almost-obscene amount of creatures and magical spells. Between clerics, preservers, and psionicists, there's more spells here than I've ever seen in any other RPG. Surprisingly few of them are offensive spells, but there's enough to sufficiently empower a magic-user in combat. SSI has also made an effort to prolong your party's lifespan by providing several opportunities to heal throughout the game. Whether it be in a hotel room, a healer's quarters, or even in the dungeons of a pyramid, you'll find campfire icons that your party can rest at to regain hit points and re-memorize spells. A smart player should be able to live a long time. Even so, SAVE SAVE SAVE. I shouldn't even have to tell you that. You're obviously an intelligent being...you bought IE.

In short, Wake of the Ravager is one of those games that, if you buy it, will attach itself to you and force you to solve it before you commit yourself to any other complex tasks. It's very addictive and just plain fun. Be forewarned, though, that it doesn't showcase any new technology and doesn't feature any first-person shooting sequences. If you can handle this, then by all means pick up a copy. If you only play revolutionary games, keep waiting.

IE Magazine Issue #07

Review - Demolition Man (3DO, 1994)

They're usually referred to as the "easy way to make money with little effort" genre of games. Of course I'm talking about movie and television licenses which are turned into games – if you want to call them that. Titles such as Homey the Clown, Beverly Hillbillies, and Jurassic Park Interactive are all examples of very poor games which sold a lot of copies because they were associated with a popular movie or television show. Now, the designers at Virgin Interactive have created a game based on the movie Demolition Man, which was a big hit starring Sylvester Stallone in late 1993. Is this game just another one of those "quick cash" titles, or does it contain some "interactive beef?" The jury is still out, but upon my first glimpse, it looks as if Demolition Man on 3DO will dispel the myth that all games based on movies should be classified as rubbish.

First off, this game breaks new ground in the link between Hollywood and interactive games. Stallone and Wesley Snipes both took time out of the movie's shooting schedule to film blue-screen scenes specifically for use in the game. So, in addition to footage from the actual movie, this title includes new footage of the stars acting in 3D virtual worlds.

The game's plot directly follows that of the movie, except that certain segments have been re-edited and compressed to form a tighter plot. The segments from the movie are meshed with the footage filmed for the game to create a very atmospheric setting. All of these movie cut scenes are interspersed between a number of interactive game segments.

The majority of the game segments are of "point and shoot" nature, very similar to Terminator-2 in the arcade. Although the concept is rather linear, the shooting segments are well designed with excellent gameplay and good technical achievement. The levels work well with the regular 3DO controller, but the use of the GameGun peripheral further enhances enjoyment of these shooting segments.

The other game segments include a 3D first-person shooter similar to Doom with fully texture mapped walls, ceilings and floors. The frame rate is very impressive, as you chase your arch enemy Simon Phoenix through the futuristic Los Angeles sewer system. Once you actually meet up with Phoenix, there are a number of side view fighting segments between the two of you. Although the preview version had very limited moves for each character, the animation is very fluid. What adds to the atmosphere is an excellent musical soundtrack which is a mixture of original music and the movie's orchestrated score.

The last type of game is an interactive car chase through futuristic city streets. Besides just having to race Phoenix, in order to catch up with him, you have to run over a number of "power up" pads on the pavement, which increase your fuel and car power.

For the first time I can remember, these interactive mini-games draw you into the story instead of just looking like they were tacked on at the last minute. Although my version was only 90% complete, it was very obvious that this game is going to break conventional logic that movie licenses are always a cheap attempt to cash in on someone else's success. Demolition Man looks to be a first class effort, and unlike some other movie products, not just a non-interactive "demo."

IE Magazine Issue #07

Review - DOOM II (DOS, 1994)

Ten thousand years from now, when whatever will become of the human race digs deep into the sand, an ancient copy of Doom will be unearthed. (Probably a pirated copy of the registered version, but never mind.) Somehow, I think it will be recognized, just as we recognize the fossilized remains of spears and '70s sitcoms. Doom has made a practically unrivaled mark on the world of computer games. Ultima? King's Quest? What are those? It's reached a point (thanks in part to a few zany parents who can't resist the urge to appear on CSPAN) where even people who don't own computers and don't give a damn about computer games know what Doom is. Not bad for a game that's only a year old.

There had to be a sequel. You knew that; I knew that; the guys ad id Software knew it too, even though they claim that their work is governed only by free will. Cacodemon cookies! If they didn't decide to make a sequel on their own, they would have been persuaded by a few thousand friendly office visitors with shotguns. Doom is the game that would not die. If you need further proof of this, just log onto any on-line service or BBS and check out how many home-made Doom levels are floating around in cyberspace. Kinda scary, ain't it?

So now we have Doom II: Hell on Earth, a game that offers us more (much, much more) of the same, and a few new friends to turn inside out. Being an Industry Insider (God, I love the sound of that!), I've been privy to many of Doom II's features for several months now, and I've taken great pleasure in eavesdropping on the wild speculation surrounding this product on various on-line services. The comments, all from people who are absolutely sure of their facts of course, ranged from, "Doom II's gonna have the same executable file as the first one, so it's just gonna be a bunch of new levels," to, "You're gonna be able to climb walls, jump, and shoot fireballs ." So what's the truth? Who's right and who's wrong? Lemme explain . . .

Doom II uses the same engine as the first Doom; what this means is that it uses the same technology, so you won't see any SVGA graphics, wall climbing, or other amazing features that weren't part of the original package. Put simply, Doom II is to Doom what Spear of Destiny is to Wolfenstein 3D – a bigger better version of a game that was already damn good to start with. If you're wondering why you should buy a copy of Doom II when there's literally thousands of PWADs for the first game floating around, I'll explain that, too.

Although Doom II uses the original Doom engine, id has put more stuff into the game. The Doom games store the majority of their information into a very large resource file called a WAD file. Level designs, monsters, objects, and all the graphics and sounds can be found in this WAD file. The WAD file for Doom was about 10 megs, while Doom II's WAD file is just under 15 megs in size. See? More stuff. I'm not losing you yet am I?

So what's the new stuff? Well, a small amount of that space belongs to a few new wall textures, but that's not the important part. You get one extra weapon to play with in Doom II – the super shotgun. Essentially, this is a double-barreled sawed-off shotgun that does twice the damage, has twice the long-distance spread, and consumes twice the ammo of the standard shotgun. It may not sound like a big deal in print, but try it in action! It's not innovative, but it's fun, and very handy for clearing out rooms full of possessed humans and imps.

The bulk of the extra WAD space belongs to an entourage of new and disgusting monsters that will make you hurt. The baron of Hell has a new lookalike buddy called the Hell knight, which is the same thing with fewer hit points. The spider demon has spawned smaller offspring called arachnotrons, which have plasma cannons and are small enough to chase you around. There's also a new breed of human to play with, a beefy guy who wants to impress upon you just how nicely his chaingun operates. There's also the pain elemental, a distant cousin of the cacodemon who vomits lost souls at you, and explodes into four of those nasty flying skulls when you kill him. The revenant is a large skeletal warrior who shoots guided missiles at you from two rocket launchers mounted on his shoulders – definitely a heavy hitter. Then there's the mancubus, a fat disgusting tiger-striped semi-humanoid that does most of its thinking with two fireball contraptions it has instead of hands. But the capper, the most depraved creature to worm its way into Doom II has to be the arch-vile; this repugnant creation wanders around resurrecting the monsters you've taken the time to destroy, and it attacks you with a flame strike that's unbelievably devastating; if you've ever gotten hit in the face with a BFG while playing deathmatch you've got a point of reference for what the arch-vile can do to you.

Although amateur hacks can plug new graphics into a PWAD and create the illusion of new monsters, they can't change the monsters' attributes, attacks, and behavior. Considering that, the new faces in Doom II should make the game worth picking up by themselves. But the monsters, in my opinion, are not the greatest asset of Doom II. The best part of Doom II is the new levels themselves. If you thought the old levels were twisted, get ready for a real shock. The new levels show just how far Doom can be taken. The game is split into three sections: space station, Earth city, and Hell areas each with their own unique design. While the levels in the first Doom were primarily hack 'n' slash oriented, these new creations require much more intelligence on the part of the player. Plus, on the higher difficulty levels they're stuffed full of monsters. It's rare to pick up a keycard without a hidden door opening behind you and releasing 20 or so demons to chew you up. They must be played to be truly appreciated.

So Doom II is more of the same with some very cool extra stuff thrown in. If you've slogged your way through the first installment, this is the challenge you've been waiting for. If you're new to Doom, or have only played the first 9 levels found in the shareware version, I'd suggest resisting the temptation to jump to the sequel and pay your dues in the original game instead. It's much easier. But if you've survived the 27+ levels of the first game, jump into Doom II and enjoy. Quake is a long time off, and this package should serve you well in the meantime. And after you finish it you can enjoy the millions of Doom II PWAD files that will have almost certainly appeared.

IE Magazine Issue #07

Review - Front Page Sports: Baseball '94 (DOS, 1994)

I turned on ESPN the other day and saw a baseball game. Really. It wasn't a pro game, because the pros decided that they won't play unless the owners can pay them an unlimited amount of money. It wasn't a minor league game . . . thank God. No, it was a "legends" game, which basically consists of guys in their late 50s and 60s trotting around lamely, trying to relive the glory days, which, incidentally, are called that because baseball was a great game then. Baseball today will be remembered years from now as a time where strikes weren't things you swung at.

Now that I've gotten my little "sportorial" out of the way, I'll move on to reviewing Sierra's new Front Page Sports: Baseball '94, a game so good that it's better than the real thing. True, it may not accurately simulate the real thing because there's no player strike option, but other than that, it's the best I've ever seen. Borrowing the menu interface from Front Page Sports: Football, Baseball '94 offers you the opportunity to QuickStart a game immediately. This option is great for people who couldn't care less about management features and only enjoy the arcade elements. On the field, Baseball '94 plays very much like other games of its type, except that every aspect of play (fielding, hitting, pitching, running, coaching, etc.) can be controlled by the computer, or by you in three different complexity levels. The BPI (batter-pitcher interface) is done in 640x480 VGA and will make fans of games such as Earl Weaver and Pete Rose Pennant Fever drool uncontrollably.

But Baseball '94 is a complete baseball sim, and while actually controlling a game is a lot of fun, managing is surprisingly fun as well. Creating a baseball association is a lengthy process, especially if you don't have a top-of-the-line computer. This game is one of the biggest resource hogs I've ever seen. If you have the time and storage to spare, though, Baseball's administrative functions are top-notch. Associations can have any number of teams in any practical number of leagues. You can create your own teams or import ones from other leagues, and pool team rosters into a new draft pool to rearrange them fairly. In typical fashion, any season game can be played through, watched, or simulated. Because of the level of accuracy that Sierra wanted to achieve with the Front Page Sports games, though, simulation takes a while . . . in the range of 2 minutes per game on a Pentium. For stat freaks especially, the wait is worth it. Complete team stats and boxscores are available after a day of simulation is completed, and you can print the outcome of that 13-0 drubbing you laid on your friend.

During a season, you'll go through the trials and tribulations that real managers do . . . player injuries, losing streaks, etc., and you'll have to fix them the way real managers do, too. Bench your starters in favor of rookies and make any trades you can. Trades are made on a one-for-one basis, and the computer won't be stupid . . . trying to get a Barry Bonds for a Fred Smith with prove rather fruitless. You can always try, though.

More realism (as if we needed any more) is dished up courtesy of the stadiums and sound effects. Many MLB stadiums are recreated in Baseball, and no matter where you play, you'll hear the fans. I don't mean you'll hear a loud constant cheer, I mean you'll hear INDIVIDUAL fans. Rude ones that say things like "you ain't nothing!" and "whiff city!". And then there's always the program and popcorn vendors. I don't know what kind of people Sierra put these sound bits in for, but they sure are entertaining. They're kind of loud, too. I hope you have a volume control on your speakers.

I must admit . . . I'm not a big baseball fan, but Front Page Sports: Baseball '94 was a heap of fun to play. It has everything I could possibly want in a baseball game . . . maybe the diehard fan will be able to find something missing, but I doubt it. With all the players and great playability, Baseball '94 is a great game from a great company. If only it let you strike . . .

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser

IE Magazine Issue #07

Review - Iron Cross (DOS, 1994)

Wargamers on the electronic front have a running debate about the nature of computer strategy – real-time or turn-based? The turn-based side of the fence is where the traditionalists sit, self-assured and backed up by years of turn-based boardgame tradition. The real-time crowd are the revolutionaries, the ones that insists that the power of the computer should be fully exploited, creating a simulation of a battle that is a REAL simulation of a battle . . .

The real-timers are in the minority. Real-time games, without question, strip the noblest elements of pure strategy from any game they are applied to. Sure, you can slow the game down to have more time to plot out your moves – but THAT destroys the entire point of the simulation in the first place, and is unsatisfactory in the extreme.

And the most effective attack against a real-timer is to point out that most programmers do real-time strategy because it's EASIER. AI design for traditional turn-based efforts is DIFFICULT, and some of the most promising games in the field have been ruined by a weak AI design. If the program doesn't provide a challenge, there's simply no point to it, except perhaps as a PBEM or modem game.

But there is value in real-time wargames, and Iron Cross demonstrates that. While it's far from the be-all and end-all of the subgenre, Iron Cross does manage to use the computer's powers effectively, creating battle scenes reminiscent of some sort of interactive war movie.

The basic structure of the game is fairly simple, and impressively intuitive – after selecting a scenario, you're taken to a screen to purchase units. The scenarios limit what you can buy according to quasi-historical limits on the actual forces involved in the conflict. Beyond that limit on your "shopping list," however, you're free to bend the ordinary rules of warfare as much as you please. If you want to take nothing but infantry into what was historically a battle between two tank divisions, you can give it a go. THEORETICALLY, the fight should balance the same regardless, and in play it seems to hit close enough to the mark that I can't gripe.

The scenario choices aren't bad – the focus is on the last stage of the war in Europe, with most of the classics and a few interesting "footnote battles" included. You can also play a "custom" battle in which you pick the battlefield map, and determine what is available to either side in terms of points, unit shopping, and such stuff as available air- and artillery-strikes. You can also set the time limit, anywhere from five to 45 minutes of real-time.

For each scenario, you also pick a commanding officer . . . Iron Cross unfortunately doesn't support "campaign play" in the traditional sense – there are no linked series' of battles available. But you can increase in score and rank with your commander, and the scenarios provided include dates so you can choose whether or not to ignore historical chronology. And if you find a battle that you're particularly adept at winning, there's nothing to keep you from re-fighting it with the same commander to increase rank. This probably qualifies as "cheating" in some sort of pure sense, but I claim no understanding of that kind of purity, and got a kick out of it.

Play is straightforward and adequately entertaining, but it has a few sets of problems that need to be addressed. The first is speed – on some of the scenarios, you'll spend 10 minutes just directing your forces' movement as it crawls across an empty valley. A quick exchange of gunfire at the end and the scenario is over. Ick. This might be realistic, but I would have preferred a scenario that started me a LITTLE bit closer to the enemy.

The second problem is visual – mildly upbeat style aside (it's a problem, but compared to Koei's Operation Europe it's absolutely grim) – the problem is the infantry. Each infantry unit is represented by a tiny cluster of flailing stick-figures, about as tall as a hefty strand of DNA. The allies have blue stick-figures, and the Nazis have red ones – astonishingly similar to army ants when clustered on the screen. The trick is that you can't tell them apart – a unit with only their rifles looks EXACTLY the same as a unit armed with flame-throwers and bazookas – and that kind of information is important at a glance, particularly in a real-time simulation when you might need a tank taken care of NOW. That gets a MAJOR thumbs-down from me, and New World should know better.

The nice parts about play ARE nice – the sound effects are numerous and realistic – the game SOUNDS like a battle. It's impressive. The score is a trifle too friendly and happy-go-lucky for my tastes, but enough fire drowns it out, and it can be toggled off with no trouble. Finally, the air-strikes and artillery-strikes are a joy to watch.

I've saved the worst for last – Iron Cross has one HECK of an irritating drawback: you can't save a game. If you have to shut down the machine for a while – or if you want to try a particularly risky tactic – you're simply out of luck. This is the kind of shortsightedness that can send a game into the halls of infamy, and the code-hacks at New World deserve a punch in the snoot for this kind of negligence. I've found shareware TIC-TAC-TOE software that allows me to save a game in progress, for pete's sake – it's a feature that is simply EXPECTED. No go, New World – keep the thinking caps ON next time.

IE Magazine Issue #07

Review - Legend of Kyrandia: Book 3 - Malcolm's Revenge (DOS, 1994)

Westwood's Legend of Kyrandia series has already set high standards in the fantasy adventure field for graphics quality, voice acting and ease of gameplay, while also showing occasional hints of a rare and offbeat sense of humor. I'm pleased to tell the followers of this series that not only have none of these elements fallen into disrepair with Book 3: Malcolm's Revenge, but most of them show drastic improvement! Rather than just being used for a little spice here and there, the humor dominates in this game, and the tone has changed from lighthearted to downright nasty.

That's not really a huge surprise, since the game's focus and protagonist is Malcolm, the ambitious and demented jester accused of murdering the king and queen. Through the course of the previous two installments, Malcolm was captured, turned to stone, and used as a somewhat macabre lawn ornament in front of the castle. But at the end of Book Two: The Hand of Fate, Malcolm was freed from his rocky prison, and vowed revenge on the royal family. Unfortunately, he also discovered that he had none of the magic left from his theft of the Kyragem, but this is one resourceful guy, despite his somewhat doubtful taste in clothing.

The epic adventure (of sorts) starts in Kyrandia proper, and eventually makes its way to the Isle of Cats, and, finally, to the Ends of the Earth! You will face the constant danger of being caught and forced to make lace doilies, not to mention the lethal kissing snakes, and you won't have much at your disposal except the ability to make characters laugh, and a nut on a string. So who said life in Kyrandia was fair?

Malcolm's Revenge lets you learn the motivations behind this maniac in motley. It may surprise you to learn that Malcolm was framed for the royal murders. Sure he did a lot of nasty stuff, but not that specifically. So, while dodging the residents of Kyrandia who might recognize him, he must try and clear his name. This basic plan is made a little more difficult by the fact that Malcolm receives frequent obnoxious advice from his bad conscience, Gunther. Once, there was also a good conscience to balance the scales, but that didn't last very long.

So, for perhaps the first time in computer adventure game history, the player takes the part of a real jerk, and gets extra points for discovering new ways to torment the surrounding characters. Hopefully the offensive maneuvers will also be funny, but why limit yourself? Just go with petty abuse when the spirit moves you. If you find yourself doubting your humorous abilities, you can toggle on the studio audience. You'll get a cheerful laugh track reacting to activities as mundane as picking off fleas. If that doesn't get you in a goofy enough mood, you can press the helium button and make all the characters talk like Alvin and the Chipmunks. I'll admit, these are somewhat irrelevant gimmicks, but they're lots of fun, and they're also unprecedented in the field.

There's another, more practical feature that is also very much in keeping with Malcolm's character. Added to the traditional Kyrandia menu bar is a gauge called the "moodometer" that let's you choose how Malcolm will react to various characters in dialog. When the needle is all the way to the left, the meter reads "nice", which actually means kissing up to the person in question. Drag the needle to the right, and Malcolm lies his belled booties off. In the middle, he's his usual smartassed self. By the way, that menu bar now only pops up when you drag your cursor to the screen bottom instead of just sitting there through the whole game. Nice touch, that.

While we're talking about actual improvements over the previous Kyrandia games, the best of these has got to be the "second chance" key that pops up when you inadvertently buy the farm. Some of us still haven't quite got that "save" reflex down pat, so its great to be able to jump back into the game just before you get snuffed.

While not necessarily improved from the first two games, the music is still excellent. There are a number of different themes for the different locations, all orchestrated very well. And don't think I'm talking about your typical medieval lutes and flutes, either. The first music you hear hits a rockin' hip-hop groove. Go figure.

Malcolm's Revenge is a very unusual and entertaining game. It will probably delight fans of the series, but you don't need to be familiar with the setting to enjoy it. Be warned, though, if you don't go for cruel, surreal and occasionally gross humor, you won't be a very good Malcolm.

IE Magazine Issue #07

Review - Master of Magic (DOS, 1994)

Simtex and Microprose are lying to you. There's no other way I can put it. It's not really a bad lie, but they are distorting the truth as it pertains to marketing. I can't really blame them, though. It's been a weird 12 months as far as publicity for their products is concerned. About a year ago they released Master of Orion; although Microprose had nothing to do with this, MOO was heralded by the press as being "Civilization in space." It wasn't. Now we have Colonization, which was hyped as the sequel to Civilization. It is. Last but not least there's Master of Magic. Considering its name, and the fact that it was developed by Steve Barcia and Simtex Software, it should come as no surprise that it has been billed as the sequel to Master of Orion. It's not. It's another sequel to Civilization. Weird, huh?

To top off the whole mess, Master of Magic and Colonization were released mere days apart from one another. Someone at Microprose must be kicking themselves in the head over that one. Didn't they see that the two games would only compete with each other on the strategy market? Didn't they realize that by placing their release dates three months or so apart they could get people to buy the first game, play it for a while, then buy the second one? Should I quit writing, shave my eyebrows, and get a job in the marketing field?

I'm not trying to slander Microprose. All the above mentioned games are superb high-quality strategy games, the kind Microprose has built its reputation on. Which leads me to the game at hand...

Master of Magic may be billed as the sequel to Master of Orion, but it has more in common with Civilization, right down to the main interface. MOM is a game of magical conquest. You play one of up to five competing wizards, who are all struggling to become the ultimate magical presence of two parallel worlds--the earth-like realm of Arcanus, and the shadowy arcane plane of Myrror. There are two ways to win: by demolishing the opponent wizards with military force, or by successfully casting the Spell of Mastery, a feat that can only be accomplished through massive amounts of spell research.

You start off with only the basics--a small city and just enough military units to start exploring the land around you. Like a certain other Microprose game that doesn't start with "Master," the production of your cities is one of the key points of the game. Each city has a certain production value (which is dependent on population, natural resources, and a few other factors) which is used to create buildings and military units.

With each game turn you build up three key resources: food (which feeds your citizens and armies, in case you couldn't figure that out for yourself); gold (which pays for things like armies, building maintenance, and heroes-for-hire); and mana (which powers all your magical efforts). As you would expect, careful management and usage of these resources is the only way to stay afloat. Creating too many military units and hiring too many expensive heroes can leave you unable to feed your subjects and maintain your buildings, while frivolous spellcasting will leave you open to all kinds of attack.

It should come as no surprise that magic is the most important element in the game. As opposed to, oh, a technology tree for example, your scholarly efforts are spent researching spells. Through the use of spells you will defend your cities, increase production in stagnant areas, attack your enemies' units, curse the cities of opposing wizards, travel between the two planes, and accomplish a host of other neat tricks. But even if you've researched every spell in the book (yeah, right!) you'll need mana to cast them with. Although there are many ways to acquire mana in isolated bursts, there are two main paths to building up a steady turn-by-turn mana income. The first is by creating the appropriate buildings within your cities; certain buildings, such as libraries and parthenons, produce an amount of mana each turn, although they usually cost a similar amount of gold per turn for upkeep. The other way of generating mana each turn is by controlling nodes. Nodes are sources of magic which appear as easily identifiable squares on the map. Nodes are usually guarded by vicious creatures, so they must be liberated by military forces. (This act usually yields some treasure in the form of gold, mana crystals, magical items, or heroes imprisoned within the node that immediately volunteer to join your ranks.) Once a node is free from monsters, you can cast a Magic Spirit or Guardian Spirit spell, which summons a magical spirit you can send to meld with the node, directing its power to you. Naturally, melded nodes are subject to hostile takeover, so you can expect them to be the site of many battles over the course of the game.

One aspect of MOM that sets it apart from the typical strategy game is the freedom you are granted when creating your character. You can choose one of the stock wizards or create your own. There are five different schools of magic, each with their own spells, and you can choose to be knowledgeable in many different combinations of them, or specialize in only one; to further customize yourself, you can choose your race (which dictates the type of units and buildings you can construct), and choose a special skill. These skills give you enhanced abilities, like being able to draw double the normal amount of magic power from nodes. This enhanced character generation, coupled with heroes that gain experience and abilities over time, adds an element of adventure to MOM, without detracting from the strategy element in any way.

No fan of strategy games should be without Master of Magic. It's that good. It's a long, detailed, highly involving game that will swallow your leisure time like a black hole. I can't say that it has automatic crossover appeal to Master of Orion fans, because MOM resembles MOO only in the diplomacy screen, but they are two different games of the same type, so if you like one you're likely to enjoy the other. Once again, Microprose has turned out a top-notch strategy game that should keep us pleasantly addicted for ages to come. Master of Magic, like Civilization, Master of Orion, and X-Com, is a shining example of the type of strategic contest that no one else does quite like Microprose. Or as well.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser

IE Magazine Issue #07

Review - Operation Europe: Path to Victory 1939-45 (DOS, 1994)

Game publishers and purchasers never seem to tire of the second world war. Your local software dealer can offer you two dozen ways to relive the Battle of the Bulge, or Rommel's maneuvers in North Africa. The variety of approaches to these conflicts brings into question the accuracy of ANY of them; often game-maps apparently representing the same battlefield bear no observable similarities, and the strategies to win at a game bear little relation to the strategies needed to win a battle.

Even amid the smoking field of world-war question-marks, though, there are stand-out simulations that capture the FEEL of the war, and a shadow of the tension and excitement that must have been felt by the Pattons and the Rommels that lived it. Koei's Operation Europe is very possibly the furthest thing from this, resembling in style something closer to a Super Mario game – without the friendly game-play.

That might be appropriate – Operation Europe was born as a cartridge game, and it hasn't matured much on its journey from SNES to PC . . . the real tragedy of it is that the game covers some genuinely fresh details, but those are lost under gameplay so muddy and unfriendly that it's nearly laughable. Operation Europe is a collection of ambitious concepts assembled with a shortsighted neglect that borders on malicious ignorance.

Operation Europe, like many of the newer wargames, includes both strategic and tactical play; when your forces come into contact with the enemy, you are given the option to move to a tactical screen to direct individual units of armor and infantry against one another. Unfortunately, this normally welcome feature bogs the game down painfully – a tactical battle can last dozens of turns, and the tactics here simply aren't interesting enough to justify fighting to the last unit and labeling it "fun."

The facet of Operation Europe that gathers the most sparkle is the list of available resources – including people. At the outset of each scenario, you assign commanders to both the operation in general and your troop divisions. Genuine historical figures are available – although you may also roll their attributes to get a more favorable combination for the tactics you have in mind. The act of choosing commanders might be the most entertaining part of Operation Europe – and it CERTAINLY requires more careful thought than actual gameplay.

Other nice details include landmine placement, cargo drops to supply your troops from the air, and the use of "special forces teams" to assassinate enemy commanders. Some of these I've seen in no other wargame, but they seem out of place here. And frankly, I find it infuriating when the game won't LET me try some tactics because my "advisors" don't like them. If they won't work, let me find that out for myself. Last time I checked, that was the entire point of strategy simulations. Apparently the designers disagree.

These details clash a bit with the map style, which is overly abstract and – like many of the game displays – cartoonish. Other efforts of the season, like Panzer General and even Iron Cross, are superior examples of how to make the scene of a battle LOOK like the scene of a battle – or at least pass for believable geography.

Even if the gameplay weren't slow and the interface not muddy, Operation Europe would still be unplayable solely on the grounds of style. Little cartoon Hitlers and sound-effects reminiscent of Q-Bert just don't fit. The blinding primary colors are assembled in a manner that achieves maximum irritation with NO assistance to visibility. The game is hard to look at and harder to listen to.

When Operation Europe: Path to Victory appeared on my desk, I was excited – the text promised real-war excitement complete with assassinations, bombing supply lines, and real historical figures. When I booted it up, I was excited again, but confused – the music and graphics promised simple and fun video-game play . . . The elements that Koei has tried to blend never succeed in finding common ground. The style clashes with the broken substance, and World War 2 has never been so trivialized and unnecessarily complicated. For wargamers seeking realistic battles with lots of detail, I would recommend Operation Crusader or the upcoming Pure Wargame over this release. For those seeking friendlier strategic fun, Panzer General or Battles in Time will make much more entertaining choices. I'm curious to know exactly who Koei thought they were making this game for – but not curious enough to keep playing it.

IE Magazine Issue #07

Review - Overlord (DOS, 1994)

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A lot of games – and multimedia products – and books, and TV specials, and knickknacks and (for all I know) socks and lunch-boxes and Saturday morning cartoons are being produced to celebrate the anniversary of D-Day . . . Overlord, the massive new flight sim from Virgin, goes one step backward in time, bringing us Eisenhower's operation to PREPARE for D-Day, with a series of Allied flight missions into Nazi-occupied France. Not only is this a stellar-quality flight sim, it's a full campaign game and even manages to simulate (if crudely) some of the back-at-the-field existence of a fighter pilot during the period. It also adds an element of strategy gaming, by allowing you to plan your own missions to further the D-Day campaign.

Coming into the game, you're immediately given the opportunity to "Scramble" – jump immediately into flight and combat. I did so, and was immediately impressed by the graphics, sound, and fluidity of motion. As I took my spitfire into a shallow dive, the air was filled with flak . . . a feature I haven't seen enough of in recent sims. I was hooked. I still am.

The designers would probably like me to go on about how it's more than just a flight sim, and on that count I can give them points but not victory. The campaign game IS a nice feature – each battle achieves (or fails to achieve) certain objectives that lead to the erosion of the Nazi defenses in France. Since the game allows you the option of plotting your own missions, Overlord becomes a strategy game in which you fight out the battles from sim-standpoint.

The other addition mainly consists of your home base, Tangmere station. Here, rendered-graphic officers will give you information in many varieties – and you can even retire to your bedroom to sleep through the rainy days and update your diary. When Tangmere comes under attack, you can leap into the skies, or head for the bunker. All of this is really just nice window-dressing to the various menus of the game – the gatehouse is where you quit or save, the tower is where you define the parameters of your scramble missions, and so on. The occasional planes flying over Tangmere (and the accompanying sounds) help complete the illusion. Again, it's just window-dressing and FAR from any kind of real "out of the plane simulation," but it's NICE window dressing. It shows that Virgin has a flair for atmosphere, which I consider essential to wartime-sims.

All dressing and even strategy aside, the strength of a flight sim is still tested in the air. Overlord comes through as one of the best historical flight sims ever released.

First of all, it doesn't lack features; it's packed with everything that a modern flight-sim is expected to have, from recorded in-flight video playback to more in- and out-of-plane viewpoints than ANYONE is likely to need or find useful.

One of those features, is, unfortunately, one of the game's minor disappointments. The Inside Combat Lock is a floating viewpoint – it keeps your eye on the enemy instead of locked forward. The IDEA of such a viewpoint is to correct the "out of sight, out of mind" problem with many flight combat sims. The manual claims that Overlord's floating viewpoint is better than previous attempts at the concept because it doesn't disorient you – constant visual referents are provided. Perhaps it is my own failing as a sim-pilot, but I can only report failure on this feature. In a real airplane, we're provided with three types of information to keep oriented – the first and most important is the planetary referent – in the form of gravity. Naturally, ANY PC-flight-sim lacks this one. The sophisticated military units have tilting seats and cockpits to recreate it. The second referent is tactile – knowledge of our position in the seat, of our OWN orientation relative to the plane. The Combat Lock robs us of this one by sending us into virtual free-fall. The final, and really LEAST important, is the simple visual referent – in the Combat Lock, we have that and ONLY that – and I got lost and nearly space-sick from the zero-gee sensation that it gave.

So the innovation that I was most looking forward to failed – I found PLENTY of consolation in the excellent AI, varied missions, and beautiful simulation of flight physics, and of the characteristics of the three aircraft that the game offers – the Spitfire, Typhoon, and Mustang.

There's nothing quite like the pleasure of combat flight – and Overlord offers it in spades. The most complicated tactics you can imagine can be put into play here, and the response of the enemy will be realistic and very likely deadly – until you put a LOT of time into your dogfighting skills. Both sound and graphics beat ANY historical flight sim to date, and the engine lives up to the flash. If you're looking for a fun and realistic slice of combat history, Overlord is worth a look.

IE Magazine Issue #07

Review - PGA Tour 486 (DOS, 1994)

You know . . . if all entertainment software companies shoved as much detail into their games as Electronic Arts has shoved into PGA Tour Golf 486, we wouldn't have nearly as much fun here at IE. Why? Because we wouldn't have as many lousy games to ruthlessly trash. I happened to love PGA 486, but even if I didn't, I'd have a hard time trashing it because I'm a sucker for realism and detail. This game drips detail. There's so much of it that it's almost obscene. I hope I'm not being too subtle here.

We all know that Access Software's LINKS 386 PRO is still the standard by which all other golf games are measured. Measured against that game, PGA 486 stands up pretty darn well. Published exclusively on CD, PGA features dazzling graphics and some very impressive courses that should lure away a lot of LINKS players. EA's PGA license allowed them to bring nine famous PGA Tour pros onto the development team. These players helped design the courses that come with the game, and appear during gameplay. A "handy" PGA Tour guide comes packaged with the game and gives one-page bios for every registered PGA Tour player. I'm sure you'll find that remarkably important, but I think I'd better get to the game now.

The main menu is as straightforward as it gets . . . choose to either practice a hole, play a round, or compete in a tournament. For the latter two options, you must register as a player. Registering as yourself lets you keep season and round stats, but registering as one of the greats can be pretty fun because your golfer will actually look like the player you choose (Fuzzy Zoeller is a must-see).

After a short eternity and so much hard drive activity that I thought a virus had invaded my system, I was plopped onto the first hole of some famous golf course. I can't convey to you how impressed I was with the graphics I saw. Hey, LINKS looks great, but this looks just as good and has Fuzzy Zoeller to boot! PGA Tour plays as well as any other golf game . . . I mean, you click a mouse a couple times to control your swing. There's nothing extra special to mention in that area except that EA spent a couple extra bytes of programming code to make the swing bar three-dimensional. Wowie. It's the nice, smooth animation and realistic ball physics AFTER the swing that are more worthy of praise. Timing a swing is difficult, and throwing wind into the mix makes it a true challenge. Golf games really are rare in the way that they dish out a lot of fun but barely require any effort to play. Software companies, take heed of that.

EA supplies three courses with PGA 486, all of which are exceptionally recreated. Accompanying the ever-popular Sawgrass course are two new ones . . . Summerlin and River Highlands. Summerlin, in Las Vegas, was created with the help of . . . you guessed it . . . Fuzzy Zoeller! (I'm seriously considering telling EA to just call the game "Fuzzy Zoeller" and watch the money roll in.) Anyway, there are a couple things which keep PGA 486 from being the best golf game ever made. There's no course creator or editor, which I'm assuming is the case because normal human beings with busy lives couldn't possibly create a course as detailed or as realistic as the ones that make PGA 486 what it is. Still, for all those people out there with Silicon Graphics workstations, it's a major omission. Secondly, you can't customize your golfer's colors or even play a female golfer. Unlike course creation, this is definitely an easy process and a few other golf games on the market already allow it. Otherwise, PGA 486 represents the pinnacle of . . . uh . . . golf simulation technology. It's a great game made greater by the fact that it's very easy to play but tough to win. I know you've heard that before, so if you need further motivation to buy this game, I have two words for you . . . nah, I won't say it again.

IE Magazine Issue #07

Review - Sid Meier's Colonization (DOS, 1994)

Let's go back, way way back to the ancient time of 1991. Ya know, pre-Doom era computerized entertainment? Sounds weird, doesn't it? It existed; trust me. But anyway, back then a well-known game designer by the name of Sid Meier created this strategy-type game and called it Civilization. I remember looking at it in Ye Olde Local Software Shoppe and thinking to myself, "Hmmm, well, the box is ugly. Let's check out the back here . . . . . . hmmm, the screen shots look pretty ugly too. Next?" Microprose didn't get my business that day, but a month later, after listening to every reviewer in the world lick Sid's shoes and ask for seconds, I decided to give it a try, ugly or no. I liked it. Of course I liked it! Everyone loves Civilization. Archaeologists will one day unwrap a mummy who'll hold up a copy of Civ and say, "Yo Sid, right on, man!"

There had to be a sequel. We all knew that years ago. Now it's here in the form of Colonization. After a long wait I was finally able to get my sweaty anxious hands on a copy, and since then sleeping and eating have just been considered wastes of my time. It's gonna be a good year for Microprose. Again.

As I'm sure you've figured out by now, Colonization is a strategy game that lets you direct a European country's expansion into the new world of the Americas. You can choose from the English, French, Spanish, or Dutch, and this early decision affects where in the new world you start off in, and also sets the abilities of your colonists. For example, if you decide to play for Spain and help in their conquest of the Americas, your units will gain a 50% bonus when attacking Indian settlements. The Spaniards were good at that sort of thing, after all.

You start out with a small ship carrying only what you need to establish your first colony. Once you get settled in you'll quickly discover that the natives are eager to trade with you, and will even train your unskilled colonists. There's always a catch, though. They will eventually become disenchanted with your overuse of the neighboring lands, and will grow displeased of your presence in general. Also, it's almost impossible to find a viable site for a colony that won't overlap Indian territory. Like in Civilization, two cities can't work the same square, so you'll quickly find that those nice people you've been trading with are restricting your growth. Time to use those aggressive Spanish skills, I think.

Building a colony is Colonization is fairly similar to building a city in Civilization. European colonists can be imported, but you must be able to feed them. Each colonist can have a special skill (except for indentured servants and petty criminals), and unskilled colonists can be sent to friendly Indian villages to learn a trade. Apart from feeding themselves, the main goal of the colony is to produce useful goods (tobacco, cotton, ore, cigars, etc.) that you can either trade with the natives, trade with foreign colonies, or transport back home to sell. Each colony can also produce liberty bells, which stir up rebel sentiment and will eventually allow you to declare independence from your mother country.

While Civilization was never meant to be a war game, conflict was seldom far away; Sid Meier himself even admitted that any game in which you move military units around on a map and attack other military units could be considered a war game. In keeping with this somewhat broad definition, Colonization could be considered a war game, although military attrition is even less of a focal point than ever. The main thrust of Colonization lies in exploration and economic development. Still, war will occur, despite your every effort to remain peaceful. The length of an average game of Colonization is just as long as an average Civ game, maybe even a little longer, and there's a lot to do. This is one of the most balanced games I've ever seen, with military power wholly reliant on a strong economic foundation, and a strong economy requiring the occasional war.

If you've played Civilization you'll find Colonization to be a familiar design, but not derivative in the least. It appears to be the perfect sequel: one that reminds you of the past glories of its father game, but doesn't draw unflattering comparisons by treading the same ground. And yes, it's as addictive as all hell. If you start up a game to relax after a day's work, don't be surprised to find yourself calling in sick the next day for want of sleep.

IE Magazine Issue #07

Review - Wolf (DOS, 1994)

Wolves are pretty cool. I know this because I occasionally watch nature documentaries with my family and a lot of them tend to be about the habits and lifestyles of wild canines. I'm no authority on 'em, but I've absorbed plenty. Apparently, so have the folks at Sanctuary Woods, the software company responsible for that ungodly release called "Dennis Miller's THAT'S NEWS TO ME". Their newest product, Wolf, is a few steps up on the Quality Ladder for sure.

If you've seen the advertisements or even the box for this game and you still don't know what kind of game it is, you're not alone. I found myself in the same position before I popped the CD into my drive. Was it a simulation or a strategy game? An arcade game or some piece of "info-tainment" garbage? The only thing I was pretty sure of was that it wasn't a shoot-em-up, but I wasn't positive. Well, what Wolf turned out to be was a little bit of all four of those things, rolled up nicely in some places and poorly in others.

After a nice animated intro, Wolf threw its main menu at me. You can choose between three different species of wolves to control . . . plains, timber, or arctic . . . in either scenario or simulation modes. Each species offers different scenarios and obstacles. They probably could've been a tad MORE different, though . . . several scenarios were shared between species. Each scenario is assigned a level of difficulty, with easier ones having objectives like "find a carcass" or "kill a hare", and the harder ones requiring you to "survive a week" or more. The wolf that you will actually CONTROL is preset . . . he/she even has a name. With a mouse click or two, you can examine the history of your wolf, including who his/her parents are, his/her age and gender, his/her kill record, and his/her pack status. I found most of that information to be pretty useless during gameplay EXCEPT for pack status. Knowing your place in the pack is quite important . . . it determines your mating status and your place in the hunt, among other things.

Playing Wolf is a complex task. Upon starting a scenario or simulation, you're presented with a blimp-like overhead view of your wolf and any other wolves that might be around in the pack. Movement can be done with the keyboard, but I found the mouse to be just fine. The further away from your wolf you move the cursor, the faster he travels in that direction. Constant running can take its toll, though, as fatigue can set in. Therefore, it's important to eat and drink whenever the opportunity presents itself. Hunting is performed by chasing a creature until you get close enough to it to click on it with the mouse. If you succeed in doing this, your chances of bringing the creature down are dependent on its "power" level, represented by a graphical bar during the attack. By comparison, YOUR power bar is pretty puny to say, a buffalo's, but if you get a couple good wolf buddies to help you out, he'll fall like the Roman Empire. Drinking is possible only from puddles or pools during dry days, although it can done at any time when it's raining. I found this to be an odd quirk, but I'll live . . .

On a more education-oriented tilt, Wolf includes a handy wolf encyclopedia which not only contains valuable general information akin to what you'd find in the World Book, but also good gameplaying tips. I took advantage of it often. The metaphor used is very intuitive . . . a picture of a wolf and her cubs is displayed and you click the mouse on the area you'd like to know more about.

In the end, I found myself second-guessing a few decisions made by the designers of Wolf, though . . . specifically the gameplaying perspective. The ad campaign and the cover art strongly implies a first person, "see-what-a-wolf-sees" perspective that, I feel, would've been terrific. Hunting, and certain other "doggy" acts, would've certainly been more realistic. Even without a DOOMview, the graphics should've been upgraded somehow, as the detail is low and the colors are bland. Nevertheless, I can see Wolf scoring big with animal lovers and even young children, as its interface is pretty easy to learn. I just hope that when "Moose", "Eagle", and "Whale" come out, they look and feel a little better.