In with the old
In today’s culture of speedy technological advancement, video game systems constantly advance technologically. What is the state-of-the-art game or system one year may be obsolete by the next. It’s enough to make this writer wish for a simpler time.
As products of the 1980s, we were raised with video games as a large part of our childhoods. It seemed like every house on the block (except mine) had a Nintendo, and later, perhaps a PlayStation. The endless variations of Super Mario, the rescuing of Zelda-these were huge parts of many of our childhoods. What fewer people seem to remember are the computer games that came out around the same time.
Maybe it was because a video game console was cheaper than a spiffy 386 computer, but often the games with the most heart and the greatest stories were for the PC, and were also less popular.
Computer-based role-playing and adventure games were quite different from their console-based contemporaries. Elements of plot and storytelling were ingrained in the game play, making the games about a lot more than just killing monsters and saving a princess. There was strategy involved, creative thought, puzzle solving and a lot of dialogue. Computer games had a great deal of personality, and the innovations made in that field eventually found their way into console-based games as well. At the forefront of the computer-based RPG field were two companies, Sierra and LucasArts.
The first video game to use an image-based interface where the character could actually move about onscreen was the Sierra game King’s Quest, released in 1984. With an interactive environment with fully animated characters, this 16-color adventure game revolutionized the video game industry. The game concerned itself with the knight Sir Graham whose mission was to recover some kingly artifacts scattered about the land of Daventry and take the title of king.
With successive games released throughout the ’80s and ’90s, King’s Quest continued to stay ahead of the curve, with continually improving graphics and instrumental scores. Games were played from the perspective of different members of Graham’s growing family, with his son and daughter taking turns with their own sequels. The series reached its peak with 1994’s King’s Quest 7: The Princeless Bride, which featured cartoon-style graphics and actor-voiced dialogue and songs.
Continuing with their “Quests” theme, Hero’s Quest (later retitled Quest for Glory), which came out in 1989, was unlike any game released before it. Players could decide the character’s name and attributes, allocating points to make him more intelligent or a better fighter, much as in Dungeons and Dragons. Then the character could be guided through game play according to his strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, there were three character classes to choose from, each with different ways of handling a situation. Coming upon a locked door, a thief would pick the lock, a fighter would break down the door and a magic user would just cast the “open” spell.
As the games advanced (there were eventually five), the magic user could become a wizard and get a magic staff, the fighter could become a paladin and acquire a flaming sword and the thief would learn acrobatics and become more and more daring in his heists. As game technology improved, the games got prettier and the music got better, but many QFG fans still say the first or second is their favorite, incredibly shitty graphics, dreadful music and all.
LucasArts, a subsidiary of LucasFilm, is the company that made the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies. Some of LucasArts’ most popular games were in fact based on those two movie series, but they also gained distinction with their other games.
The Secret of Monkey Islandwas released in 1990 and became almost immediately popular for its goofy sense of humor and pirate-themed story. It didn’t break any new ground technologically, but stands as a fine example of the video games of the early ’90s. The third game, released in 1997, is arguably the best of the series, with beautifully rendered cartoon-style graphics and excellently voiced characters. The jokes are silly, the storyline is basically fixed and you, as main character Guybrush Threepwood, are basically along for the highly entertaining ride.
The pinnacle of LucasArts 1990s graphical abilities came with the game Grim Fandango, released in 1998. Its theme was a strangely compelling mixture of Mexican folklore (Dia de los Muertos) and film noir elements. It wasn’t so much that the graphics were stunning as it was the aesthetic that went into the game itself. Grim Fandango feels like a gritty film acted out by skeletons. This game also feels much more like a saga than many other games, as it takes place on four specific days over the course of four years. The humor is much more muted than in the Monkey Island franchise, but is still in evidence, and one finds oneself actually caring about and rooting for the characters, something that is rare in video games.
It doesn’t take the latest in photorealistic graphics or famous voice actors to make a good game. Many of these older games can be purchased from eBay for just a few dollars, or can be downloaded as abandonware off the internet (although you didn’t hear that from me). For an afternoon’s escape or a lifetime of obsession, this writer turns to the video games of her youth. Maybe you’ll like them too.