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25 November 2013 @ 08:23 pm
Gaming nostalgia in paper form  
Well, in PDF form.

Occasionally for the last few months, I've been trying to find a copy of a magazine that I remember reading over and over again when I was young. Unfortunately, I didn't really remember much about it, and while I do remember that my family subscribed to PC Gamer, Dragon Magazine, and Nintendo Power at various times, I went through the digital archives that are variously maintained online, but I couldn't find anything. I even checked Electronic Gaming Monthly but that didn't turn up anything either. It wasn't until last night that my brain dug up a random memory that a magazine existed called "Computer Gaming World," so I started poking around it's own archive. I originally checked 1993-1995, and it wasn't anywhere in there, and then I started going back earlier and I found this:

I remember I read that magazine over and over, because this was back in the day before I could find all of the gaming news I wanted for free on the internet. I remember thinking a lot of it sounded amazing, but I had no idea how to get a hold of most of those games and didn't want to ask my parents for anything that couldn't be found in a store. The only two games I ever acquired from mail order were Castle of the Winds 2: Lifthransir's Bane, which is an awesome mouse-based dungeon-crawler that's now freely distributable, and Aethra Chronicles, which was a party-based RPG using Rolemaster--I think the only CRPG that used Rolemaster. Which is somewhat odd, because Rolemaster would work way better on a computer that can easily calculate all those critical hit tables than with a GM that has to flip pages all the time.

Huh. Random aside, if you want to hack off people's limbs Rolemaster-style in your d20 games, I found this webpage.

Anyway, here are my observations after having paged through it for the first time in nearly two decades.
  • Advertising - There are a ton of ads in here. I'd estimate that at least 50% of the page space is taken up with ads and it might be even more. Having used adblockers for most of a decade at this point, I sometimes forget exactly how saturated with ads the internet actually is and how much old magazines were similarly ad-filled. And modern magazines, I guess, since that's a common complaint leveled against fashion magazines. On the other hand, when there were a lot fewer ways to learn about games, I was more tolerant of them. Some of those ads even now make me curious about the games, and at least one of them was effective--I ended up buying Dark Sun: Shattered Lands, and the CD is sitting on my desk even now. Also, the way the ads talk about the games hasn't changed all that much. Everything is the most awesome graphics, advanced AI, and heart-pounding gameplay that has ever existed, and then there are pictures of blocky pixels killing other blocky pixels.

  • Proto-MMOs - Those and play-by-mail strategy games. There are a lot of ads for them in here. Stuff like The Shadow of Yserbius or Star Quest or The Hundred Years War or Portinium or The Next Empire or Legends of Future Past or The Island of Kesmai. I guess that makes sense, because putting ads in computer gaming publications was probably the best way for them to get new players.

  • The Hundred Years War - I put a link above because apparently HYW is still going--or was pretty recently--and reading the webpage I can kind of see why. It seems like a proto-Crusader Kings II crossed with an MMO. There's an article in the magazine (starting page 146) that talks about playing it and mentions that each player takes the role of a noble in Hundred Years War-era France or England and then is statted out with various traits and characteristics like glutton. Also, it was real-time--each turn was one day of real time for 90 days of in-game time, and if you didn't log in one day, you might come back to find you'd been assassinated, your family killed (which was bad, because if your character died and you had an heir, you could keep playing), and your lands laid waste. This in the era of dial-up.

  • Origin - On page 176, there's an article about EA's acquisition of Origin. I know a lot of people were annoyed at EA's Origin downloader because they view EA as a murderer that killed Wing Commander and Ultima and stripped Origin's corpse before dumping it by the roadside. I was never really into Wing Commander--I was an X-Wing player--and haven't beaten any of the Ultima games, but I've seen enough complaining on the internet that it's interesting finding this article buried at the end of the magazine.

  • Filler - In the first half of the magazine, there's a review of The Legend of Kyrandia and then in the second half, there's a "Game Hints" section on the same game that repeats a lot of the basic information. I remember that even at the time I thought this was kind of silly and that they should have combined them into a single article. Also, I already mentioned how many ads are in here.

  • Scathing Reviews - The review of The Dark Half on page 58 is pretty funny because the reviewer really rips into it. With all the worry nowadays about how game reviews are just ads for the industry, it's nice to see an extremely critical review in a vintage publication. And the magazine has enough ads already, so making the articles ads would have just been too much.

  • The JetpackVR Future - On page 80, there's an article titled "Affordable VR by 1994," and it's completely hilarious to read in hindsight now that VR headsets are only really becoming popular 20 years later. There's a guy in the article predicting home VR by 1995 who said, "In a full virtual world, 3-D, interactive, everything. I think in December or January of '94 or '95. It'll do what a workstation will do right now. You'll be inside the world, flying airplanes or playing interactive games where you can have four to five players in one game." That's some 640k-is-enough-level incorrectness there. The article also has some nice pictures of dorky old VR setups.

If you have time, give the PDF a download and take a look into a age that has faded into the past.
Current Mood: nostalgicnostalgic
Current Music: Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag - Leave Her Johnny
q99q99 on November 28th, 2013 02:44 pm (UTC)
Ah yes, old gaming magazines :) The ads really were a big part, since back then you didn't have another way of knowing about a lot of stuff.

- I was never really into Wing Commander--I was an X-Wing player--and haven't beaten any of the Ultima games, but I've seen enough complaining on the internet that it's interesting finding this article buried at the end of the magazine.-

It is bizarre to me that the space-flight-sim genre has largely gone away, considering it used to have both WC and X-wing.
dorchadasdorchadas on November 29th, 2013 10:57 pm (UTC)
Though with X-Rebirth, The Mandate, and Star Citizen, it seems to be on the upswing again.
q99q99 on November 30th, 2013 02:59 pm (UTC)
Yea, good to see at least a minor resurgence (though I would love a new X-wing/TIE Fighter game!)