Sign in to follow this  
Rob Zacny

Episode 430: Classic Year in Review: 1998

Recommended Posts

Three Moves Ahead 430:

Three Moves Ahead 430


Classic Year in Review: 1998
The year is 1998 and the 500 lb. gorilla in the room is Starcraft. Blizzard creates the finest Warhammer 40K game ever made and changes the RTS landscape forever. Half-Life. Ocarina of Time. Baldur's Gate. Is 1998 the greatest year in history for gaming? Listen to Rob, Rowan, and Troy "Starcraft: The cutscenes were nice" Goodfellow discuss the details.

Half-Life, Ocarina of Time, Falcon, Grand Prix Legends, Starcraft, Baldur's Gate, People's General, Star Wars: Rebellion, Seven Kingdoms, Battlezone, Mech Commander, Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, Anno 1602, Caesar 3, Railroad Tycoon 2, Suikoden 2

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have long listened to the show, and I generally like Zacny's point of view in the strategy/war space........except where anything positive about Star Wars Rebellion is concerned.  It may be the only title of which I seem to be in total disagreement with Rob.

 

In 40+ years of playing board and electronic games, Rebellion for the PC is easily in the top two or three games where I walked away feeling the most disappointed:  Terrible interface; terrible AI; terrible tactical elements and presentation (should have been left out completely);  and "pause-able real time."  Gag!!  All of it poorly disguised behind a massive golden goose of intellectual property licensing.

 

Of course, there are also bad elements about SW Rebellion, but this post has run long.  I'm going to lie down, put a cool washcloth on my forehead, and hope Rob does not mention SW Rebellion in whimsical terms ever again.

 

Otherwise, cool episode.  ;-)

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think Uprising had a similar schtick to Battlezone a year earlier, but it isn't as well known.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I only played Caesar II back in the day but I also really wanted to like the military game for the same reasons Rob did. Rome was neat, a military game was something I imagined but not reading the games press and always having a PC well behind the times meant that Caesar II was the only game I had for that. It's the same thing with wargames where I'd download WWI and WWII scenarios for Civ2.

 

I can't think of the Caesar series without hearing the "Plebs are needed!" guy from Caesar II. What a great piece of audio, but that's 1995.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
16 hours ago, chanman said:

I think Uprising had a similar schtick to Battlezone a year earlier, but it isn't as well known.

Uprising is amazing and, in my opinion, better than Battlezone.

 

Also want to thank Rob for the shout out to the amazing Descent: Freespace and, ESPECIALLY, Freespace 2, still the finest space dogfighting game to date.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Anybody play Gangsters: Organized Crime? This was my game of 1998, and I still play it every few years or so. There's never been anything like it. Gangster-themed strategy game that had hybrid turn-based and real-time components. Use the map to expand your territory, recruit hoods, make lots of illegal money, and eliminate rival gangs. It was a flawed masterpiece.

 

As a kid I had an extremely limited gaming budget. Don't think my computer could handle Half-Life, and I wasn't as interested in StarCraft as Warcraft II and Diablo. So all I played in '98 on PC was Gangsters and a game called Knights and Merchants. Two somewhat obscure games that scratched a nice strategy itch. Too bad no mention on the podcast.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I played Gangsters but I was too young and never really understood how to succeed in creating a crime empire, I did like to watch my chaps move around the city and rob supermarkets though! Unfortunately, I stepped on my CD whilst moving a couple of years ago so now I'll never know how it works!

 

Talking of weird 3D games, I had this one called Armour Command which seemed mainly set sandstorms and rainstorms but remains in my memory as a cool attempt of bring RTS into 3D!

I had another weird game called Warbreeds from 1998,  did some really cool things with unit customisation but again I never really understood much of what was going on!

 

Apart from Starcraft obviously, Settlers III was the game I played most of in 1998. It was so pleasant just watching goods move around and become other things. Brilliant supply chains in that game!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Fuck yeah, Seven Kingdoms!

 

I don't think it even wanted to be something like Civ. It really doesn't share any idea or mechanics with it, no progress through ages like Age of Empires did, and it had Frythans, big ugly monsters, and gods that one could summon (or dragons). Instead, there is a strong economic perspective, although making money is relatively easy. Previous game from Trevor Chan was Capitalism (1 or 2). More importantly, an interesting resource: people. People run your eco, people fight for you, create food and work in factories. They can either consume and buy products or one can tax them, which is a way to get the money in the first place. This makes the game centered around this mechanics, which makes it quite unique. The important thing is that you couldn't just buy or build more "people", they will breed slowly. This push this game into direction that was not further explored. The recently released and highly respected Northgard does not fully simulate this either and even a lot of city building and management strategies tend to abstract from this.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Another great show !

 

Some of my favorite of that year.

 

RTS

Seven Kingdoms is a 1997 game, but it's great to have it mentionned on the show ! Brilliant and innovative RTS, with strong economy and people management components. Never thought much of Starcraft.

 

RPG

I'll have to give the edge to Baldur's Gate, even if it does have its share of flaws. I also enjoyed Return to Krondor : even if it isn't as good as Betrayal, it's a nice linear RPG with decent story and characterization.

 

Suikoden 2 is probably the best JRPG I played along with Chrono Trigger : I midly enjoyed it, which is no mean feat for someone who doesn't like most JRPGs. The random battles aren't too grating and the story is pretty epic.

 

Grand strategy/4X

Warlords III : Darklord's Rising is the definitive version of Warlords III : new campaigns, more options for the random maps, new units and heroes, etc. Still as fun now as in 1998 !

 

Simulation

Unfortunately, I never managed to get European Air Wars to work and Falcon 4 is out of my league, but I love Red Baron 3D, which is basically a patched Red Baron II. The dynamic campaign mode is extremely immersive and "casual flyers" can enjoy themselves without too much training.

 

Wargame

Operational Art of War is pretty much a wargamer's wet dream. I didn't play the first one much, but I enjoy the last one a lot. West Front was also released in 1998 : it's a great turn-based WW2 platoon-level wargame with a pretty simple system and a huge amount of content : dynamic and linked campaigns, random battles, plenty of scenarios of varying complexity... Semper Fi is another turn-based platoon game, but it's set in the modern era and uses a impulse system you don't see much in computer wargames.

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There are times when the gaps in the collective knowledge pool here just melt my brain. Commandos, for instance, spawned an entire genre. Not a long-lived one, sadly, but all those games of the same type Troy mentioned? Those are Commandos clones. I'm not certain it's ever really appreciated just how closely Shadow Tactics recreates those old games, either- right down to the visual language of the vision cones. I really hope one of the crew checks out Commandos 2 between now and the 2001 retrospective, at least far enough to comment in passing.

 

Missing Populous: the Beginning is more understandable, because I don't think that one ever got much attention- but it still hurts me to hear it mentioned and then dismissed. It's such an odd duck that it deserves some consideration. The first two Populous games had been god games- 3 really wasn't. It was too fast, too twitchy, too immediately violent. It is probably most usefully described as an RTS, though that's not the greatest fit either. There are only 6 unit types- the buildy one, the fighty one, the shooty one, the sneaky one, the converter and the hero/mage. The battles are chaotic, and impossible to micro- once they're fighting, everyone pairs off into individual duals and stops following orders until they're done. The violence is kinetic almost to the point of absurdity, with warriors kicking each other off cliffs and fire warriors juggling people in the air. There are no formations- not in Starcraft, either, but here it feels like a statement of intent. In Pop 3 you don't so much have an army as a crew of likely lads out looking for a rumble.

 

What you can micro is your shaman and her vast arsenal of arcane might. Warcraft 3's hero units and Sacrifice's wizards pale in comparison- one fully armed and appropriately managed shaman can level bases in less than a minute and put an entire faction out of the game. For all of that, though, they're as fragile as anyone else. It's a delicate art, dancing the lady around, trying to lay waste to as much as possible while avoiding reprisal. Most battles open with a frantic exchange of lightnings, likely to kill one shaman and doom their army to violent magical annihilation. It's almost like Dominions: the RTS.

 

The interface gives you just enough rope to hang yourself. The minimap is so blurry and low res that the incursion of an enemy force seems to be signalled by a sudden blooming of algae. Zooming out lets you see the whole map (which is a globe, for some reason) in perfect clarity, a very early rendition of what Supreme Commander would do eight years later- but you couldn't issue any commands from there. It will happily tell you all about your two most important resources- population and spell charges- but entirely omits wood, vital for the buildings which produce them. Wood is a silent resource, automatically harvested from trees during the construction process. It is so silent the player could be forgiven for not realising it's a resource at all- right up until the point where suddenly they've overharvested, and all the trees have despawned, and now they're screwed. Flat land is also a resource- a limiting factor is most base builders, but not one you'd usually dignify with the title- except that one thing Pop 3 did inherit from its forebears was a suite of landscaping spells. They can be used offensively, too- a building that suddenly finds itself in an illegal position will violently explode, scattering wood and people across the landscape.

 

And there's all the little things. The little animations for idle units. The way a warrior that spots an enemy will take a moment to pray before running into battle. The battlecries that announce a fight and the soft groans that accompany a death. The constant mumbling chanting that accompanies the priests- and gives them away when they're under the invisibility spell. The way you learn to recognise all the spells by their incantations, and the icy spike of terror that hits you when you hear an unexpected shoka. There's a surprising amount of care and attention to all the ways the game communicates with you.

 

It's not exactly one of those roads not taken for the RTS genre. I can hardly imagine what that would have looked like. But I would have loved to have seen a sequel, a refinement on this template.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

People's General is stuck in my mind mainly because the PLA Engineer units were so intensely overpowered, plus supply units could be deployed from supply units, leading to first turns that could sprint across the map provided you had enough units to steamroll any obstacles (see first comment about engineers)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Missing - the top selling wargame of the year, Close Combat 3 - Russian Front; Warlords 3;  Darklords Rising - an awesome SSG game - see Adam Smith's recent description

in RPS to read a good description of the game -  Anno 1602,  Populous, etc... 

 

But yeah, it was the year of StarCraft.  I remember getting the Protoss box (you could buy a different box for each faction) but had to look around a bit.  I had to get my future wife to go hunt it down though!  However, I always thought Warlords 3 was a much better game, and it kind of cemented in my brain that I was a turn based gamer and not an RTS gamer.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Definitely wasted a chunk of my free time in middle school with the original Battlezone. I'm personally surprised that more games didn't steal that interface, although Sacrifice clearly had the best go with that type of strategy-shooter. 

I found Battlezone to be charmingly breakable - you could traverse much rougher terrain than the wingmates you created, so I'd sometimes just stage solo flank attacks from behind their power generators. Is that still possible in the remaster?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can't believe it's been 20 years since AoE came out.  Theyre handing off AoE 4 to a new developer, so I'm hopeful.  I doubt it'll be out in time for it's 20th anniversary this year, unfortunately.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this