Thursday, 9 February 2012

Reviving Old Computer Games

As regular readers of this blog will know, as I have aged, my dominant hobby has become playing computer games.  These are PC games rather than those on gaming consoles though I occasionally access the Playstation 2 of the 10-year old who lives in my house, mainly as that system was blessed with a range of games with an interesting medieval Japanese setting and even a game modelled on my favourite James Bond movie 'From Russia With Love'.  I have not really been a player of online games, though I keep up a subscription to 'World of Warcraft' due to the unpleasant behaviour of so many players on there I only drop in occasionally.  As I have noted recently even buying games delivered on DVD-ROM often compels you to log into an online facility, often the Steam  system in order to play them.  The key challenge is the erratic nature of internet access.  We had to complain to the telecoms ombudsman in order to break our contract with BT because for large portions of every day even at 05.00 let alone during the peak evening times there was no internet connection available.  I now spend most weekday evenings away from home and these are the times when I need entertainment and playing a computer game can provide that.  However, again the internet provision can be erratic especially in hotels even if you can get the login and password to work. 

The problem with some new PC games is how bugged they can be or there is laziness in the design.  A strong example is 'Stronghold 3' which was long anticipated and yet has completely disappointed fans of the series.  It seems to lack what many of the earlier versions had and the woman in my house has ignored it and dug out the older versions.  Things are rushed out without sufficient game testing, which seems ironic as there are queues of people waiting to do that.  I guess it is poor planning and low budgets.  Ultimately, however, the damage to reputation of a game which is so flawed can wreck a company as Troika Games found out.  The major flaws in 'Vampire - The Masquerade: Bloodlines' (2004) meant it was the last game the company produced.  The story was excellent and one of the only genuinely frightening computer games I have played, but if it breaks down every five minutes you soon abandon it.  Even when the system works gameplay can be weak and not engaging.  PC gamers are very discerning in this regard and will walk away from a game that fails to be stimulating.

Given these challenges, I come back to old games which you can simply run off a disk.  Recently I have been playing 'Deus Ex: Invisible War' (2003).  I tried to load up 'Alias' (2004) but was told it was not compatible with the version of Windows that I run on my laptop.  Despite some challenges like this, I do not seem alone in playing old PC games.  I was pleased when Steam re-released 'Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines' with all the bugs corrected so that you no longer have to download 23 patches in order to play it.  Regular commentator on this blog, Yammerhant, mentioned not only playing 'Portal 2' (2011) but also 'Half Life 2' (2004) both made available via Steam.  These trends have gone further.  I was checking on eBay and Amazon recently for new PC games to try out.  The woman in my house is a big fan of city-building games but these come along rarely and the very low quality of 'Stronghold 3' has made this part of the gaming market pretty sparse.  What I noticed was how many old PC games have been re-released.

Examples of PC games updated for systems such as XP and Windows 7 include the 'Broken Sword Complete' a re-release of the tetralogy of Broken Sword games released between 1996 (!) and 2006.  These are 'point and click' mystery adventures with what look like simple graphics but with engaging stories of uncovering conspiracies and precious items around the world very much the forerunner of 'The Da Vinci Code' (novel 2003; movie 2006) style.  I have the original disks of these four games and only got into the first one, perhaps it is time to return to them. 'The Runaway Trilogy' is a similar style of game with more comic-style graphics and interesting produced from a Spanish company.  These games were produced between 2001 and 2009.  'Commandos Complete' brings together the five Commandos games.  These were a squad real time war mission games released between 1998 and 2006.  I bought the first three but even in 2008 my PC was too new to run them, so I may be tempted to buy these updated versions.  The list of updated and repackaged classics of PC gaming goes on.  I highly recommend 'Deus Ex Complete Edition' bringing together 'Deus Ex' (2001) one of the most interesting and provoking PC games ever and its sequel 'Deus Ex: Invisible War' at a time when the prequel, 'Deus Ex: Human Revolution' (2011) is also out.  Others include 'Thief: The Complete Collection' (three games) and 'Hitman: Ultimate Contract' (four games), you can buy these latter three as a bundle from Amazon.  Maybe the trend dates back to when 'Another World' was re-released in a 15th anniversary edition in 2007.

Whilst this trend is great for those of us who missed out on some of the best games of the past decade, I do wonder what it signals in terms of PC gaming.  Back in 2008 it was noticeable that this area began to occupy less space in branches of 'Game' and the focus of PC games is generally now on fantasy role-play games and Total-War imitators.  I do worry that falling back on past glories suggests that ideas have run out.  I see a new 'Tomb Raider' title is set for release this year, though I can find no details of what this will feature.  This may suggest that yet another rehash of something from the past.  One thing is clear from the trend that the focus of PC gamers is not necessarily on having the latest graphics and in fact they will buy games produced 12+ years ago.  What connects these re-releases is the quality of the plotting, the sustained engagement that I believe appeals far more to PC gamers than it does to console gamers.  I wonder where all the talent of the 'golden age' probably 1996-2007 has gone?  Maybe this cohort of game designers is pouring all its efforts into designing free online games or has got a job developing new monsters for some cave system on 'World of Warcraft'.  I do not know enough about the industry to know the answer.  However, as a gamer looking for new, exciting material I wonder if I have reached the end of the road and I have to go back to material from the past. 

If there are going to be more re-releases, I would love to see 'Dungeon Keeper 2' (1999) re-released simply because it was so refreshing and subversive, as long as they crack the annoying bug: I had completed 19 levels out of 20 but then found it simply looped back and gave me level 19 to do once again.  Another, perhaps by Steam, but, if possible, on DVD-ROM should be 'Vampire - The Masquerade: Redemption' (2000) which I have written enthusiastically before.  Even 'Hidden and Dangerous' (1999) which I felt was better than the similarly-themed 'Commandos' despite being riddled by infuriating bugs which I hope they would correct.  Better still I would like to see energetic releases of engaging, well-functioning games which are well plotted and with interesting characters.  If anyone is short of ideas I can provide a whole list of suggestions as I am sure thousands of other keen PC gamers can do.


Yammerhant said...

In this connection I can recommend Good Old Games (, which has a huge catalogue of old PC games for sale, all fixed to work on Windows XP and Windows 7.

Rooksmoor said...

Excellent recommendation, thanks for this.

Rooksmoor said...

Having had a good look through the list I will certainly be buying the following games: 'BloodRayne' (do not bother with 2), 'Deus Ex', 'Dungeon Keeper 2', 'Vampire Redemption' - all 3 as I was unable to complete them before I had to upgrade my computer but I thoroughly enjoyed them.

I would also like to try 'Messiah' which I had on disk but could never get it to work on any PC I owned. I would also recommend 'Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura' one of the only steampunk role-playing games I know. It is not an outstanding game but is interesting due to the ability to have characters which emphasise engineering or magic and create objects accordingly.

While I will probably not return to them, I also recommend 'Caesar 3', 'Stronghold' and 'Stronghold: Crusader' which have a straight forward approach and a real sense of style which remains a pleasure to play.

Yammerhant said...

Coincidentally enough, I actually got "Messiah" from GoG last year. I'd only ever played the demo from a magazine disc years ago. Dungeon Keeper (not from GoG) I did manage to get running on Windows XP, but I seem to recall some sort of problem with Windows 7, I can't remember what exactly.

Rooksmoor said...

Yes, I found the same problem with 'Dungeon Keeper 2' on Windows 7, it seemed to be an issue around the resolution. 'Messiah' worked without difficulty.

One I would warn people about available on GOG is 'Imperial Glory'. I bought this on disk while waiting for 'Napoleon Total War' and whilst it worked without problem, 'Imperial Glory' is a pathetic game. The sea battles are fine but the land battles involve very small armies and very repetitive combat settings. It is not worth the money.