28 June 2021

FWS Top 10: Forgotten Military SF Video Games (Vol. 8)

While FWS is research Technicals, it is time for another installment in the lost military science fiction vide games. For number eight, out of ten, we will be looking at some odd ones, including a game I played in the arcade and seemed no one else played...I, Robot. Enjoy! 

1. StarQuest: Rescue at Rigel & Star Warrior (EPYX 1980)
Way back at the beginning of the history of computers and computer gaming,  the was a fantasy-themed game dungeon-crawl for the Tandy TRS-80 home computer called DunjonQuest. Developed by Jon Freeman, Jim Connelley, Jeff Johnson for their Automated Simulations company that later became Epyx, there was a number of sequels built on the DunjonQuest model, including the to StarQuest games. While gone today, Epyx is known for the smash hit California Games and the main titles on the ATARI 7800 system, which I owned from 1987-1990.  The first space game was Rescue at Rigel, which is set in the Orion game universe with the player taking control of Sudden Smith. He has been sent to an asteroid base orbiting the star of Rigel to free 10 POWs from the ant race of the Tollah. He exploring and battles his way through six floors. The graphics were very similar to the DunjonQuest games with some different abilities, weapons, and enemies. Once Smith located and frees an hostage, he can teleport them back to his ship. The only hitch with this is the energy to power the teleporter is the game energy source powering his laser pistol and his personal shields. Bummer. The game met with success to warrant a sequel called "Sar Warrior" that is much more complex with a nice backstory in the manual. Much like the first game in the series, SpaceQuest: Star Warrior was on the TRS-80, ATARI ST, and Apple-II computers. 
In this game, you play as Purvis Youngblood, an mercenary with The Furies and you have been hired to stop an rebellion to the Stellar Union on the formerly independent world of Fornax. You have two paths to archive your mission: slash-&-burn the world's resources and sites or assassinate the military commanders that are fostering the rebellion on Fornax. You relay on your combat powered armor of three types to take the fight to the enemy across the terrain that take the form of infantry and tanks. While impressive and ahead of its time, it was an odd marriage of computer game and tabletop strategy game that were very popular at the time. There was much time to the tabletop strategy that was not real-time and too boring in the eyes of some reviewers. While much like a war strategy game, the focus was really on a single mercenary in a powered armor suit, which is not really what those types of games are about. Other reviewers enjoyed the mixture and even called it fast-paced. At the time, it was impressive and ahead of its time. This games were not updated and Epyx collapsed in 1993.   

2. Koronis Rift (LucasFilm Games 1985)
In the year 2049, you are a space scavenger on the planet of Koronis roaming around this abandoned world, in search for technology left by the ancients (not the ones from Stargate!). With your robot buddy Psytek and your off-world tank, you hunt and loot down the hulks while blasting the remaining robot defenders of the ancient's war machines: the hulks! (not the ones filled with Genestealers!)  Koronis Rift is one of the early LucasFilm Games and was produced and designed by Noah Falstein in 1985 for the ATARI 8-bit computers using the Fractal Graphics developed for the 1984 LucasFilms Game Rescue on Fractalus 

3. I, Robot (ATARI, Inc. 1984)
Sometimes, you don't know what you have until it is gone, and that is the case with a rather unusual arcade cabinet in my local arcade growing up. In a dark corner of the arcade at the Washington Park Mall in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, there was this oddball ATARI coin-op cabinet called "I, Robot" and it was rarely played by anyone but me back in the mid-80s. I decided to add to the list here due to how unique it is. Released in June of 1984, nearly one year behind schedule, I, Robot  was nothing short of a revolution in computer graphics...just not in gameplay. This is the very first commercial video game to use rasterized polygons. This is are not vector polygons, but are rendered in pixels, and that also included backgrounds and the characters. 
This made the game arresting to see and play and expensive to construct and play. At the time I played I, Robot, it was a two coin game and it was odd thing to engage with. Designed by legends David Theurer and Dave Sherman, the game was originally going to be called "Ice Castles", but was changed in likely theme and title to I, Robot. There is no relation between the ATARI game and the Isaac Asimov novel and it likely named after the Alan Parsons Project 1977 album.  The shell for the cabinet game from the stand-up Firefox arcade game and it featured two different game modes: the arcade game and "doodle city".  The arcade game had you take control of "Unhappy Interface Robot #1984" in a quest to attack the eyes of the Big Brother computer and take down Big Brother and liberate the robots. During the arcade game, you controlled UIR #1984 through a floating-in-space maze, watching for the eye to be attacked and avoid the eye's frickin' laser beams if it sees you jumping. 
Once that eye is taken down, you move into a space shooting level where you blast polygon astronauts and then land on another maze platform. It was hard...damn hard and it ate your quarters. Another game in the select screen was Doddle City. This was a free draw program that ran for three minutes for about two to three quarters. This was an experiment in creative gameplay, but it cost you. For every minute playing in the Doddle City, it cost you a life in the main game and after three minutes, your time in the art program was done. As someone who played the game, it was madding to play this and the main game to the complex gameplay and harsh learning curve. Then there are the hardware failure. I, Robot's advanced hard and software costed failures of the machine and this expensive cabinet was already having issues getting the coins into the slots as it was. Often, I, Robot machines were dead in the corner.  This directly impacted the sales and word-of-mouth for I, Robot. By the end of its run, less than 1,000 I, Robot cabinets were built and there no word on how many were actually in the darkened hall of the 1980's arcades. According to some sources, about 500 I, Robot cabinets were sold on US shores and another 500 were to be sent to Japan. 
Some sources claim that due to massive loss that ATARI suffered due to I. Robot, the ones bound for Japan onboard ship were dumped overboard...much like the E.T. 2600 cartridges buried in New Mexico. This makes I, Robot are rare arcade game with high prices commanded for functioning cabinet. How high? Last one I saw for sale was over $8,000. The game has a legacy that has been acknowledged in the history of video games for being a revolution in graphics and for being a massive sales failure. Then there is the story of the missing, but, rumored ATARI 2600 home console port...yep, there was really going to be one. According to ATARIAGE,  ATARI had been planning on I,Robot being a success and to port the coin-op title to their home console machines as well as their personal computer as well. When that plan failed due to the lack of success of the arcade game, the work on the 2600 port was halted leaving us with a less-than-half-finished game for the classic home system. I am really impressed (or horrified) that ATARI was actually planning on bring this cutting-edge game to a system that could not handle it and how the programmers were going to translate the arcade into the 2600 system. Given the box-art and having the 7800 home system myself, I'll bet you there is an 7800 prototype out there that was going to be the primary home system for I, Robot. It should be noted that some have claimed that ATARIAGE did this as a April Fools Day prank.     

4. Corporation (Core Design/Virgin 1990)
Evil corporations are a hallmark of science fiction and this center to the story behind the 1990 first-person game Corporation by Core Design and released by Virgin on a number home computers, including the ATAR ST. While mostly forgotten today, this game was also ported to the SEGA Genesis/Mega-Drive at around 1992 and the game was noted for these firsts in video game history: First dynamic lightning, first depiction of human enemies in first person shooters, first jump button in first person shooters, advanced sprites of enemies, first depiction of hand (as melee weapon) in first person shooters. This is a deep game with a unique damage system and placement that reminds me of the old FASA Battletech mech sheets along with RPG-like character development. In Corporation, you use your brains, hacking skills, fists, and weapons to uncover the secret of a mega-corporation illegally experimenting and creating monsters. The game was re-released for the SEGA Mega-Drive/Genesis in 1992 and the difficult input system was streamlined and some modern reviewers have liked the SEGA port to the original computer game. This was a port done with love and care. Corporation was overshadowed by a rash of other games and the incoming of DOOM.   

5. Brink
In May of 2011, Bethesda Software/Splash Damage would release the shooter entitled "Brink" to packed genre of shooters at the time with much hype and press at the time. Splash Damage of the UK was a developer that was often contracted to develop the multiplayer elements to games like DOOM 3, the modern Wolfenstein games. Splash Damage would develop Quake Wars and it was based on this that Bethesda Software signed a major contract with Splash Damage to develop the game that would become Brink. This shooter game would fuse the online and single-player worlds (like Destiny) in a far-future shooter that took place in a post-flood Earth in one of the last floating cities: Ark. Tensions between the original citizens of Ark and the incoming refugees fuel a civil war between the two factions. The promise of Brink ended due to the day-one issues, only one DLC, and lack of popularity that ended investment by players for long-term play like some of the old Triple-A shooter titles. The early reviews were based on some of the broken elements of the release copy, and not with the patches, This drove buyers away from the game and ended Brink along with the title (and possible franchise) to be condemned to be forgotten, despite selling over 2 million copies.       

6. Turrican (Rainbow Arts 1990)
This side-scroller alien world exploration game of the artificially created planet Alterra that is like Metroid in play style and overall theme. Your character, Turrican, is a bio-engineered combat cyborg designed to reclaim Alterra from the MOGUL alien consciousness that is controlling and altering the world of Alterra. At the time, this computer game was ported to every game computer and proved to be quite the success with gamers and critics. After this, there were several sequels and attempts throughout the years to keep the game current, including porting it to home video game consoles like the TurboGrafx-16, the GameBoy, and the SEGA Mega-Drive/Genesis.   This was game that is more forgotten by me…I’d never heard of the title nor its sequels. One interest note, is that the game was nearly ported to the ATARI Jaguar system, but never made beyond the discussion phase.



7. Stellar 7 (1983-1991)
This futuristic tank combat similar was based on the iconic Battlezone and has a story of a brave human soldier facing an alien overlord named Gir Draxon using a laser tank. Praised at the time, there was several sequels in 1986 and 1991 along with an 1991 remake to bring the 1983 game to more modern 16-bit standards by a different company. After defending Mars, our hero and his laser tank go to fight on seven of Draxon imperial worlds, then on two sequels of Arcticfox in 1986 and Nova 9 in 1991. The game was popular, with the cover-art reminding me of Black Sabbath’s Never Say Die and was even one of Tom Clancy’s favorite video game.  

8. Babylon 5: Into the Fire (Sierra 1999)
One of the most heartbreaking titles that was lost to us B5 fans is 1999's Into the Fire by Sierra. Due to be set in the 3rd year of the Interstellar Alliance, around 2264, you would play as a Earth Alliance Starfury pilot that works their way up the ranks and is involved in combat with all manner of foes. In addition, the game or expansion packs, would have allowed you to fight in the major wars seen in the Babylon 5 timeline like the Dilgar War, the Earth-Minbari War, the Earth Alliance Civil War, and even the 2nd War against the Shadows as well as 2264 conflicts. This would have been a CD-ROM game for the Windows machines and likely ported to home systems like the PlayStation, much like Wing Commander III was. There was going to be a Day One online mode with the ships of B5 being usable in a space combat sim. This game from my impression at the time and today is that it was similar to the Wing Commander games in a good way, with the much loved B5 universe laid over. There was much talent behind the scenes as well. Much of the B5 cast was involved, the script writers for the show were involved in crafting a 100 page script for the game as well as FMV scenes for the CD-ROM game being shot by Janet Greek, one of the common directors on the show. 
This game was deep into development with an playable alpha-build being shown off. Sadly, due to Sierra's own internal issues, the game was cancelled on September 21st, 1999, just a few months from release, and most who worked on the game were laid off. The fans (including me) were crushed. Some have tried to officially to finish the game by securing the rights, including one for the Xbox by Sector 14 Studios that was turned down. Others have attempted passion projects based on the demo for the game. Quite release, the alpha build has been released and we can see what the game could have looked like and the shattered promise of it.    

9. Inca (Coket Vision 1992)
Okay, I’d never heard of this game by French game developer Coktel Vision, but the setting of 1992’s Inca is cracktanstic. Get this, the setting of this first-person shooter and exploration game, similar to CRYO’s DUNE, as you as an Inca Warrior destiny to protect the Inca and their knowledge from the Spanish Conquistadors…in outer space. This setting is complete with space fighter combat, dodging asteroids, and native language and music. While praised for its interesting and bold setting, the game suffered from poor controls and a quick ending. When remembered, it is often cited has one of the strangest setting for a video game in history. Seriously, this game could have been an excellent Spelljammer scenario setting or a gaming module. If you running an D&D Spelljammer game, please use this game has a starting point! There was a sequel, but it was also not successful and soone after, Coket Visison shut down.   


10. Xenocide (Pangea Software 1989)
This Apple-IIGS/PC computer game was developed by Brain Greenstone for Pangea Software 1990 and featured an campaign to destroy three alien-infested moons orbiting your homeworld. On the surface of these moons, you control a spacecraft hunting for the entrance to the lunar underground (sounds like an electro-crash band!) while avoiding some hit-and-run splatting of aliens. Actually, it is a real cool effect, smashing into these aliens and their guts splattering your window. After too many run-ins, you cannot see and crash into some lunar mountains. When you enter the underground caverns, the perspective switches from first-person to side-scroller as you pilot your armed spaceman in the caves killing some xenos. Then it switches again to a top-down perspective for the gird-maze level to plant bombs to destroy the infested moon. While the Apple-II GS version is more common, the PC version is rare and the box-art by Keith Parkinson is amazing, who did the Gammaworld box-art and many Fantasy art pieces.


5 comments:

  1. Can you do a article on a game called fracture that was done by lucas art that came out in 2008 about a civil war between cyborgs and genetic engineer soldiers using terrain altering technology in warfare t virus that was supposed to be a sequel but due to mix reviews it was never made and never will since Disney bought it.

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    1. I will! Thanks for the suggestion!

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    2. Good to know and thanks for the reply. Their was a website for the game but it no longer shown because disney purchased lucasart and now its theirs but their are screen shots that you can search through the google image because it gives certain details about the setting, technology, characters and other details that wasn't included in the game and also buy the old primary video game guide since it better explain the history behind the game settings and characters

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  2. Here a link to some of the images of the games old website that was made in 2008.

    https://www.shanemielke.com/work/lucasarts-fracture/

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  3. Ah, Into the Fire. I recall seeing the trailer of it on the CD-Rom "The Best of Babylon 5". Still have the disk to this very day, though I'm not sure how "Windows 10 compatible" the more interactive portions of the disk are, considering its age.

    Though while I'm on the subject. I recall way back in the day of MS Dos in the early 90s a kind of flight simulator game where one played a fighter pilot in the world wars. It included not only flying as an pilot during World Wars I and II, but also a very Gulf War-like World War III with then contemporary fighter jets and a World War IV in space. For the life of me, I can never recall the name of the game but the fact that one flew missions during those world wars (though I can only recall a mission for each World War) were what stood out to me, especially the space fighter part.

    Hopefully someone on the interwebs had remotely heard of this game based on the gameplay and might even lead me to the name of it. Who knows? It just might come up in a future Forgotten Military SF Games blog entry?

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