Sunday, 20 June 2010

Gaming: The Final Chapter

And so we come to the final chapter in my gaming journey. My 486 DX2 was serving me well, though by this time it was getting a bit too slow for my liking, unable to play the demanding games of the time. One day at school I got a call from my parents telling me we'd been robbed. Our house had been cleared out, right down to the bottles of wine. My computer, the tiny HDD full of precious games and documents, was lost forever. The police were too "busy" to complete any kind of investigation, which left me feeling incredibly depressed. All was not lost: a silver lining appeared thanks to our insurance company, who replaced the stolen computer with one worth the same amount at the time we had bought it. Our new Pentium MMX running at 233 MHz was installed, introducing us to fancy new Windows 95, and a new world of processing power. Even though I remained bitter about losing a piece of my history, it didn't take long before I'd forgotten about it and had immersed myself in a new category of graphically intensive games.

Ultima VIII: Pagan (1994)

Ultima 8 is one of the most important games for both Chris and I (see Chris's earlier post Ultima VIII: The Lost Vale for more). I first came across it in 1997 when a friend gave me the game to borrow for the weekend. I quickly became hooked, sharing my updates with friends at school every week. U8 was around at the same time as Relentless, and though the graphics were less impressive, I was drawn much closer to the environment and atmosphere of U8. I never actually finished it as I got stuck without the right reagents and couldn't continue. My patience for games has never been that great and I couldn't be bothered trying again. It's funny considering the esteem in which I hold this game, so I suppose I should find some time and get it running on DOSBox. On a side note, I tracked down a boxed version of U8, complete with cloth map and pentagram coin. It's sitting in my cupboard next to a few other old gems, reminders of the brief period of game collecting I went through.

Rise of the Triad (1994)

In typical fashion I came across ROTT on a demo disk attached to a PC GAMER magazine. The most incredible thing about this game was the amount of gore. Body parts flew across the screen when enemies were hit directly with a bazooka. The game was also incredibly fun, with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour providing an antidote to the blood and flying eyeballs. ROTT, along with Quake 2, were the only FPS games I ever got into heavily, having never really felt drawn to anything else until Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

Diablo (1997)

While the single player game was fantastic, the real draw of Diablo was dialing Chris with my 56K modem and tying up the phone line for hours on end. When he wasn't available, having conversations with people on and avoiding PKs (player-killers) was almost as much fun. While Diablo 2 was a very worthy and critically acclaimed sequel, I never felt as though it lived up to the original. There was a simplicity present in Diablo which made it incredibly compelling. Granted, it was repetitive, my mouse receiving a true beating - the right button actually stopped functioning on multiple occasions. Diablo presented a dark atmosphere, a great soundtrack, and a wide range of enemies. It was an incredibly engrossing game and still one of my all time favourites.

Hardwar (1998)

Hardwar was my little secret. None of my friends had heard of it and I didn't see it in the gaming magazines. It was a true underdog, demonstrated by its Top Dog status on Home of the Underdogs, and I felt privy to its awesomeness. I found it buried in the bargain bin of the local Warehouse store, and after getting home and installing it, I didn't understand why it wasn't up on the shelves with the popular games of the time. Hardwar was non-linear, a theme which appealed to me immensely. You are given a ship and it's basically up to you what you want to become. Do you want to earn an honest living trading chemicals across the planet? Do you want to shoot down traders and steal their goods? Or do you want to hang in the background of firefights and scavenge the remains? Hardwar allowed you to develop in any way you wanted. It has been criticised for its storyline, though I saw this as an optional extra to the game, as I was much happier buzzing around the misty planet avoiding pirates and upgrading my moth. Hardwar deserves its place in my list of top games - I only wish it had been given the credit that it was due.

The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (1996)

I've thought about writing a review for Daggerfall for a long time. I've hesitated because I know nothing I can say can do justice to this epic game. I first came across it as a demo disk and later got the full version by posting an ad on a newsgroup (this was before the days of auction sites). The demo let you explore Privateer's Hold, a dungeon which was notoriously difficult to escape from. It was a real pity that they started you in that hellhole of a dungeon as many people gave up on the game before they had escaped, though little did they know that above ground lay an immense world ready for exploration. The land area of Daggerfall is equivalent to 163,493 square kilometres, holding a Guinness Record for the largest game world as well as the highest number of NPCs. Granted, much of it was randomly generated, and after many dungeon crawls things start to seem rather uniform, though this never got in the way of my enjoyment of the game. I never actually noticed that cities seemed pretty much the same as I was so wrapped in the RPG aspect of the game, bettering my skills and collecting loot, pickpocketing locals, sleeping in shops until they closed and stripping the shelves, running away from guards yelling "HALT!", and shivering at the "vengeance" uttered every night in Daggerfall city. The random nature of the game was part of its appeal (explained further below). It was almost infinite in scope, completely non-linear, and sported a rich history and enthralling storyline if you decided to take it up. Daggerfall is the best game I have ever played and nothing has come close to topping it. It is also incredibly scary - hearing a door creak open and suddenly being attacked by something you can't see in a dark stone hallway metres under the ground is a common occurrence and something that'll definitely make you crank the gamma setting up.

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (2002)

By this time I had upgraded to a 1.6 GHz Pentium 4, which was barely capable of playing this graphically intensive game. Due to my addiction to Daggerfall, it is the only game I've pre-ordered and lined up outside the game store for. Because of this game my first-year university grades were seriously affected. While it's inevitable to make comparisons to Daggerfall, I felt that Morrowind was completely different. It just had a different feel - more other-worldy and less medieval. I put it down to the weird organic structures, the different selection of creatures, and the hand-designed caves and dungeons. As a result I never really felt as if Morrowind was a true successor to Daggerfall. Morrowind possessed that atmospheric scare-the-crap-out-of-you feeling that Daggerfall had perfected, though it seemed to me that since it had been designed by hand, someone had been there before you and had expected you to find certain quest items or equipment. In Daggerfall it was completely random, there was no guiding of the player towards certain things (except in the storyline of course), which meant any find you made was entirely your own. However, Morrowind improved on Daggerfall mainly in terms of graphical beauty, thanks in most part to the gap of six years. The character development was more detailed and balanced and it was a lot less buggy. The sequel to Morrowind, Oblivion, showcased jaw-dropping graphics, with the ability to wander through waving grasses and pick berries off bushes; however, Daggerfall wouldn't be the same if it was remade in this style. I don't like the idea of a remake. The graphics fit its style and in some ways enhance it. They're necessary for the atmosphere. In Morrowind, the graphics were so intensive that I spent more time worrying about getting a good framerate and viewing distance than actually playing the game. Daggerfall never had that. And that's one reason why I like the ease of console games nowadays. Anyway, to nip my rant in the bud and to return the the game at hand: Morrowind possessed an in-depth storyline, powerful artifacts which were a joy to discover, and a complete range of somewhat independent and varied NPCs, a nice change to Daggerfall. Morrowind also allowed modding, which increased the scope of the game immensely. The primary enhancement of Morrowind over Daggerfall was the ability to really play as a different class and have a good chance at completing the game. While being a pure mage or thief is considered much harder than a physical combat character, in Daggerfall it's near impossible to play through if you don't have enough skill to kick some ass. Who wants to be killed by the imp in the first room?

Tekken 3 (1998)

Console games had never really meant as much as PC games to me until I came across Tekken 2 around 1997. I took an instant liking to Paul. A couple of years later, having moved to a new school and group of friends, I was introduced to Tekken 3. The graphics had been updated, the characters didn't jump so ridiculously high, and I had a team of people to play who didn't suck. Tekken 3 became our go-to game, something we played every single day, before school, on the weekends, during the holidays - Tekken 3 long outlived its lifespan, stretching well into the new millenium, replacing inferior sequels like Tekken Tag Tournament and to some extent Tekken 4. We took real pride in learning the move lists of our characters back-to-front and while I never really became as proficient in any other character than Paul, the appeal of the game was never diminished. Tekken 3 was not only a game for us. It was a way of beginning the day, a way of reinforcing our positions within the group, something to do instead of going to class. We played Tekken 3 so much that when fighting Chris, as Jin, it was more of a ritualistic dance, a series of moves we had rehearsed time and again, that any victory was only due to a small deviation from the script, or a slight tinge of luck. Later on I slipped in my Tekken practice and found it challenging to keep up with those who continued with the franchise, though I still think I can put up a pretty good fight against anyone who's willing.

So here ends my journey. Not many games came after Morrowind for me. Oblivion played only a minor role. Freelancer also captured my interest after being given a free copy by the ever-generous Microsoft (thanks for the reminder Angus). I guess gaming has had it's day and now I'm just over it. I dabble occasionally on my brothers' consoles, but nothing has really taken my interest. I'm either getting too old, or games are not of the same quality as days gone by. It remains to be seen whether there really is anything worthy out there.

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