19 May 2018

FWS Top 10: Forgotten Military SF Video Games (Vol 3)

Here we go again! This is the 3rd installment of the Top 10: Forgotten Military Science Fiction Video Games series and at the moment, will be a total of 10 installments, spanning 100 games! Some of these games were more well-known at the time of their original release, like Rescue on Fractalus!, but have since dropped into obscurity and that is where FWS comes in!

1. Shockwave Assault (EA Advanced Technology Group 1994)
It is the year 2019, Earth is crippled when a surprise alien invasion devastates the Earth's defenses and all hope is placed on a single space carrier and its F177 space fighters. Developed by EA and released on every console and system at the time, including the original PlayStation and the failed 3DO. This game was a space combat simulator and like much like many of the games at the time, Shockwave Assault incorporated elements of FMV to spice up the setting with the majority of the missions taking place on Earth. There is much to say here, it was the pack-in game for the Goldstar 3DO, it gained overall poor reviews, and it watching footage online, I found it just okay. The game is trying too hard to be Space: Above and Beyond and Wing Commander, and it was lost in the many other titles that were similar to Shockwave Assault. 

2. Rage (id Software 2011)
In the history of video games, id Software has a large place with three franchises that revolutionized the entire industry: Wolfenstein, DOOM, and Quake. However, we did not include one of id Software’s latest attempts at another franchise: 2011’s Rage. Set in a post-apocalyptic future after the 2092 impact of an asteroid resulting in all manner of horrors and a world that Lord Humungus would be happy to live. You inhabit the body of former US Marine Nick Raine, who was put into status via the Eden project to protect some of the population after the asteroid impact. He awakes in a very different world some 106 years after the impact that is beyond Thunderdome. While praised with awards and positive reviews, the game was here and gone with a stalled sequel in the works for years until the just announced 2019 Rage 2. I played this back in the day on my 360 via a loaner from my friend and forgot about it until recently. That seems to be the reaction of many that I asked about the game…they just forgot about or confuse it with Borderlands.


3. Darkest of Days (8Monkey Labs 2009)
In 2009, new developer 8Monkey Labs released their one and only game using their internally developed Marmoset engine: Darkest of Days. This first-person shooter was developed around preserving the integrity of the timeline via interdiction due to interference from a rival group with the time travel technology. So, your character travels from time period to time period during times of great change, like World War One, to prevent important individuals from dying due to interference from a rival group known as “the Opposition”.
These important individuals were placed in harm’s way via the Opposition and it is the job of your character to put things right. This is a compelling premise for a great shooter…yeah, but it didn’t work out that way. The primary premise is deeply flawed from how the Kronotek time travel company/watchdog functions, how they recruit their temporary agents, and the ability to mow down non-important historical individuals with futuristic weaponry. Your character of Alexander Morris was rescued at the Battle of Little Big Horn by a temporary agent just moments before he was going to die.
This 19th-century American soldier wakes up in the 23rd century at Kornotek HQ with Mother and Agent Dexter (from 2001) and is briefed, given weapons training and sent out on a mission to protect important figures and kill the rest. Making matters worse is that the studio actually tried to get the settings historical correct, but everything else is just lacking and a great idea is completely in ruins by poor design, dialog, and mechanics. Why is it that this unique Military SF shooter disappeared? The studio is basically gone or gone completely; the game was poorly received with mixed reviews on all of the platforms it was released on. Many that have played it did so due to the unique setting, but given its lackluster gameplay and graphics, it was doomed. While a sequel was teased at the end of the game with possibly the major characters switching sides, there is little hope for a sequel in this timeline.

4. Rescue on Fractalus! (LucasFilm Games 1984)
In 1982, LucasFilm Games hires Peter Langston to helm the  Lucasfilm Computer Division Games Group at their California HQ. Even before the first games are developed under Langston, he was able to sign ATARI to a publishing deal that was good for fledging LucasFilm video game arm. During this period, Langston hired staff and began developing new technologies there incorporated into tester games. During this, Loren Carpenter, who had used fractal graphics for the Genesis planet scene in Star Trek II: TWOK, was asked if fractal graphics could be used on a home computer systems. To prove it, Loren borrowed an ATARI 800 computer and designed code. Out of these tests came two important games in the early history of LucasFilm Games: Ballblazer and Rescue on Fractalus. Originally, Rescue on Fractalus was designed to be a Star Wars licensed video game called Rebel Rescue that would have tasked an X-Wing with rescuing downed pilots on Hoth using Loren's fractal graphics. The title was changed along with the setting as developed move along. The Fractal graphics engine used to generate the mountains was the source of the name of the planet and the Jaggi aliens (designed by Gary Winnick) were named after non-anti-aliased graphics.
For a time, the game was known as Behind Jaggi Lines, but changed to Rescue on Fractalus! The plot of the game takes place during a war with the alien species known as Jaggis and they had gained control of the environmentally hostile planet of Fractalus in the Kalamar system. During their victory, a number of downed Earth Force pilots of the Ethercorp are trapped on the hostile world behind enemy lines. Given the toxicity of the atmosphere, surface exposure results in burned spacesuits in minutes. The mission of your character is to pilot their modified Valkyrie class fighters on rescue missions before it is too late for the Ethercorp pilots.
Adding to the danger is that the planet is owned by the Jaggi, who have their own aircraft on patrol, AAA cannons, and then there are craggy mountains that dominate Fractalus geography. In March 1984, Rescue on Fractalus! was released on the ATARI 5200 home console, the successor to the 2600, becoming one of the two first games released by LucasFilm Games. The home computer version was held back, according to Peter Langston, to provide the struggling 5200 system an exclusive. The box art for the 5200 featured an altered film-used X-Wing cockpit and game design David Fox as the downed pilot. At the time of release, the game was well reviewed and there was good press. In 1986, publisher Epyx released Rescue on Fractalus for the home computer market with good results as well.
It would be released on the oddball ATARI XE console system that was a redressed ATARI 65XE home computer in 1987 and there was going to be a 7800 port but canceled due finance issues with its poor-selling 7800 system. While rumored for years, the abandoned 7800 port was located in 2004 in the hands of one of the game's programmers by the guy who runs Atarimuseum.com at about 50% complete. This would have been an amazing title and one I would have bought for my ATARI 7800 back in 1987! So, why is this game considered "forgotten"? While popular in its day, the ATARI line of home consoles and computers are relics and the game was not ported to other home console systems or updated for a future generation of systems. The game was a symbol of its time of release, even if it was done by the hallowed LucasFilm Games.

5. Ballblazer (LucasArts 1984)
In 1982, LucasFilm Games hires Peter Langston to helm a new projects division at their California HQ. Even before games are developed under Langston, he was able to sign ATARI to a publishing deal that was good for LucasFilm. During this period, Langston hired staff and began developing new technologies there incorporated into tester games. Out of these tests came two important (and first) games in the early history of LucasFilm Games: Ballblazer and Rescue on Fractalus. We've discussed Rescue on Fractalus in some length above and now it is time to discuss one of the best futuristic sports games of this era: Ballblazer! Taking place in the year of 3097 where the sport of Ballblazer is one of the keys to interstellar peace...no seriously. Prior to the game of Ballblazer being established, there was a series of deadly interstellar wars between the major races and it was a dual that ended the last war that became the template for the most popular game in the Ethercast range. During this season's championship, the first Terran is in the games is in the mix and the aliens do not know what to make of him. You play as Tyro playing the game of Ballblazer on the neutral ground of the artificial asteroid in the binary star system of Kalaxon and Kalamar (same system as the events of Rescue on Fractalus).
The players of Ballblazer mount specially designed vehicles called "rotorfoils" that are constructed to capture the "ball" of the game, a plasma orb, then fire that plasma ball through the moving goals at either end of the Ballblazer grid. Three and five goals to win the game and the attention of the galaxy. Released at the same time as Rescue on Fractalus at the same time on the same ATARI hardware. Much like the other game, Ballblazer received press attention for its advanced nature and being a unique sports game taking place in the deep future. However, unlike Rescue on Fractalus, the 7800 got a port (which I owned) of the original computer game and was an upgrade to the 5200 release. In all but one area: the manual.
The 5200 manual is awesome with all this attention paid to the backstory and even interviews with Ballblazer players about the new Terran player.  One of the most unique elements of the game was the music. The soundtrack was a single song called "The Song of the Grid" and it was algorithmically generated by Peter Langston, who compared it to Jazz music that riffed and was never the same music even if played forever, but it stayed in the same theme. While originally released for the failed 5200 console, it was released on disk for a number of computers in 1986 and the 7800 in 1987. The game would be updated in 1990 with Masterblazer and then given a sequel with the PlayStation Ballblazer Champions just seven years later. Given these releases, why is Ballblazer on this list? As I said with Rescue on Fractalus, these are relics of an early time in the collective history of video games and these were mostly associated with the ATARI line of hardware. I rarely hear or read about this game on retro sites or videos and it seems that outside the ATARI retro community, Ballblazer is lost in memory or ignorance, This is a pity, because it is a stellar game

6. UCHŪU SENKAN YAMATO (Human Entertainment Corp. 1992)
At the age of 3, I was living in Richerson, Texas, and I was privileged to watch the first two series of Starblazers on local TV along with Battle of the Planets. This changed my life and my outlook on cartoons forever. Information on the series was limited in the States along with merchandise and I bought whatever I could. which included VHS releases in the mid-90s. During the early 2000s, I discovered that Space Cruiser Yamato video games were released on the original PlayStation in 1999 and on the PS2...and they were NEVER going to be imported to the west. Tears...seriously...tears. That was originally what I was to discuss here on this entry, however, I then discovered that there was a Japan-only Yamato game on the TurboGrafx-16! What?!
One of the best home video game consoles of the 1980s that underperformed in the USA was actually popular in Japan (known as the PC Engine) and had a longer lifespan. In 1988, the PC Engine Super CD-ROM add-on was released in Japan (1990 for the States) and this rather unknown Space Cruiser Yamato game was released for the Super CD-ROM format in 1992 ( just two years before NEC discontinued the system). Uchū Senkan Yamato CD-ROM game was designed by Human Entertainment Corporation, a rather unknown game developer to us round-eyes, and it was a real-time strategy game. In order to save and restore the cursed Earth, you must take control of the Yamato over nine parts and instead of planning the battles against the Gamilions, you must take control of various crew members and accomplish all manner of tasks for a successful mission of this "cinemalize simulation game”.
There is very little information on this game and I cannot evaluate how successful it was in Japan, but I do why it was never imported to the United States. In 1992, the Turbografx-16 was dead as hell in America and it was on the spin-down in Japan along with Starblazers being off of American airwaves for over 15 by the time Human Entertainment released the game in December in 1992. This was some two years before Starblazers would enjoy some renewed popularity in the mid-1990s with the release of the Yamato films on VHS by Voyager Entertainment in the US in places like Suncoast Video. Burying the game further is the highly successful Bandai series of Yamato PlayStation 2 games, which completely eclipsed this older title in its home country.

7. Star Voyager (ASCII  Entertainment 1986)
We all know that the 8bit Nintendo Entertainment System save the home video game console market and secured it for all of us to this very day. During the life of the NES, some 679 were released in the US with 714 between released international and this 1986 title was one of the many. Star Voyager (known as Cosmo Genesis in Japan) released by Acclaim and designed by ASCII of Japan. In the game, you play alone stat fighter pilot charged with protecting a massive refugee space transport vessel against interstellar terrorists...and since we cannot let the terrorists win, you are to warm up your thrusters and laser cannons to defend the transport. I learned about this game via poster that inside a JC Penny or Sear's catalog that was designed to be used as an check-off list for the NES and while I did not have the NES at the time, I looked over what I was missing by having an ATARI 7800. The reviews for this game are all over the place and retro reviews often discuss the confusion associated with their original playthroughs back in the 1980s. The reviews swing from "boring" to "brilliant". While this era of gaming is often discussed today, this game is not. Why? One factor could be the amount of games released in just that year for the NES and the difficult with the gameplay and some people's experiences with the game.  A piece of trivia, the game shares some of its title with the 1988 Disney TV movie of Earth Star Voyager and the ATARI 2600 1982 space shooter game of the same title. Are these two games related? I am not sure. Some of the basics of the ATARI 1982 game are in the NES 19865 game and it is likely that the designers at ACSII "borrowed" elements from the 1982 game and incorporated them into the 1986 game...along with the title.

8. Terminator 3: War of the Machines (Clever's Games 2003)
In 2003, Terminator 3 was unleashed on the world like a bad virus and there were a few tie-in video games released on the major platforms via ATARI. One of the most interesting titles of these recent Terminator games was the Hungarian Clever’s Games T3: War of the Machines. Developed as an online-only multiplayer shooter set in the dark future of 2029 that pits the human Resistance (called Tech-Com for some reason) and the machines of SKYNET, it did not live up to the promise. The game used the Battlefield 1942 engine but failed at capturing that game’s audience due to being little more than a beta of a finished game with buggy gameplay and unequal matches. There were no dedicated servers devoted to the game and there was little to no support given to the game by ATARI or Clever’s Games. Many reviewers believe the game was rushed to meet the movie release date and then never patched. This was forgotten mainly to being shitty, but the promise of an online shooter set in the dark future of 2029 was compelling. I guess we’ll have to wait for this promise to be realized.

9. Star Lancer (Digital Anvil 2000)

The name Chris Roberts carries some weight in the military science fiction community due to his creation of the Wing Commander franchise that made space fighter simulators relevant again in the 1990s and one of the best uses of full-motion in a video game with WC: III and IV. Since those hallowed days, Roberts has been at the helm of several unsuccessful ventures, including the unforgivable bad Wing Commander film from 1999. One of his ventures, Digital Anvil in Austin, yielded a space combat simulator from 2000 called Starlancer…which I never heard of. Why is this game that was well-reviewed at the time and by the creator of WC forgotten today?  The story is very much of the “World War II in outer space” with big Earth nation-states aligned in larger military alliances against one another in 2160. The game is very similar to the familiar WC format and that made Starlancer nothing to write home about and resulted in lower sales than first estimated. Adding to the reason this space shooter sim was forgotten was its only console release. Starlancer was released on the Sega Dreamcast and despite the hype and hardware performance, the 64-bit console failed to save the Sega hardware business and Starlancer was a causality of this. Even fans of the game have written articles and comments today stating that one thing holding Starlancer back is it’s difficult in getting working on modern computers. While WC is still discussed and revealed to this day, Chris Roberts’s latest venture Star Citizen will be either his greatest triumph or his greatest failure and Starlancer is just another game in his career.

10. Daedalus Encounter (Mechadeus and PalmSoft 1995)
Video games are often symbols of their times and the level of technological progress...when they are not being hipster with retro 8bit games released in 2018. When computer processor technology and data storage achieved a certain point to allow for full-motion video, merging video games and film to form interactive movies...or so it was thought. The 1990s video game market was filled with these titles and most were just bad films burned onto a CD-ROM, but there several that were examples of how good the marriage between video games and movies could. 1995's The Daedalus Encounter falls in the middle. Starring Tia Carrere at the apex of her career as a member of the Earth military during the First Interstellar War in 2135. These space pilots are turned into space pirates after the end of the war, but not before their fellow space pilot, Casey is wounded in a collision with a piece of alien fighter. Now, Casey is a brain in a box that serves a probe to help earn some credits on the good ship Artemis. After a hyperspace jump into a system searching for salvage, the Artemis crashes with an unknown vast alien vessel that appears to be organic in nature. The damage is extensive on their ship and the sun in the system is going critical. For the rest of the four-disc game, you play as Casey, helping your fellow salvagers to explore the alien craft to find a way to survive.
The game was released on PC and the very expensive 3DO home console and that can account for some of its status as a "forgotten" game. The 3DO was highly praised in 1993 but was expensive as hell and the Sony PlayStation ate its lunch causing the downfall of the 3DO in 1996. For better or worse, the Daedalus Encounter was a product of its time, and many gamers felt the FMV era to be something to be forgotten. Today, the game is often reviewed when discussing the 3DO system or FMV games, a subject ripe for mockery. The game also suffers from not being highly playable and was a game often played once or twice then left to gather dust along with their 3DO system. If you are curious about the 3DO, check out this excellent "history" of video and if you are curious about the game on the 3DO, check out my buddy Half-Bits review!

5 comments:

  1. I remember Starlancer. It was one of the best space sim I played even to this day, it work fine on my not that solid PC of that time. Game lock more GPU hungry features to create smooth gameplay. After I get new GPU it start to shine (space from classic black-white palette was now full of colour). I never had any technical problems with it, run smooth all the way. Story was very enjoyable, high quality cutscenes, challenging and different missions and LONG campaign. I still remember the sacrifice of Reliant, sneaking in stolen Kamov bomber on Varyag... ahh the great memories. I would 100% buy the remake of this game today, no question!

    There was also sequel to Starlancer, called Freelancer. Also very fine game and also forgotten.

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  2. I remember RAGE being a victim of it's own hype and internal turmoil between ID, ZeniMax/Bethesda and Electronic Arts. Rage was being pushed as the next big thing in FPS genre but allot of gamers commented while it looked good, the game play and narration was rather traditional in a post Halo/Half-Life 2 game market. ID/Bethesda has step up in the FPS game play department scenes then with the renewed Wolfenstein and Doom, hopefully Rage 2 may follow this trend and will be worth remembering.

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. Do you remember Lightspeed 1990?

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  5. I do not! I added to the list! Thanks for the heads up

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