Since I retracted my "DOS/Windows-only" rule, functionally in 2012 and explicitly in 2013, prompting the dual lists off of which I now work, we've had some great games--plenty to make me happy that I took that step. I got to play all the Robert Clardy and Stuart Smith games. I was exposed to Galactic Adventures, an important step in the SSI line. I wrote about some of the earliest Japanese RPGs, plus plenty of German ones. I was exposed to John Carmack's early gaming efforts via a series of diskmag titles for the Apple II. I finally covered Questron.
By a certain point--we're almost there on my "later" list--the rule would have been moot anyway, as DOS and Windows became the dominant operating systems and other platforms were discontinued. My 1992 list has 65 games, and only 6 of them do not have DOS or Windows versions.
Where we find ourselves in 1986, and likely more so in 1987 and 1988, is an era in which most good games had DOS ports. In the late 1980s, the Apple II and the Commodore 64 were waning as the dominant American gaming platforms. Only the Amiga was offering serious non-DOS competition. Most of the titles that didn't have a DOS port were from B-list publishers that couldn't afford it, or foreign publishers offering game for niche audiences. We have, in short, passed the area in which a game that I pick up because of my "rule change" is likely to be very good. I've run through a dozen 1986 titles since returning to the year last September, and only one of them--Phantasie II--has crossed the "recommended" threshold of around 35. Most of the rest have been dreck, with no chance of unseating Starflight as "Game of the Year."
|It's been so long since I played Starflight and Might & Magic that I could have happily played them again.|
The more interesting question is why I selected Starflight in the first place. It only had one serious competitor: Might & Magic. While there were elements to like about The Bard's Tale II, Larn, Shard of Spring, Roadwar 2000, Phantasie II, and even Swords of Glass, Might & Magic and Starflight stand so high above the others that to pretend they had a chance would just be cruel. The two competitors excelled in different areas, too: Starflight in its world-building, NPC interaction, and exploration, Might & Magic in its approach to combat, inventory, character development, dungeon construction, and quests.
|The real best game of 1986?|
In the first "yearly transition" posting that I wrote, I retroactively assigned "Game of the Year" status to earlier games. Of my 1986 choice, I said:
1986: It's a tough choice between Might & Magic I and Starflight. The former took the best of Wizardry and improved on it, creating a series that would churn out fantastic games for 20 years. The latter is an ahead-of-its-time science fiction game with an incredible plot and extremely memorable NPCs and encounters. In terms of sheer influence, I think I'd have to go with Starflight.
I wonder now what I was talking about in the last sentence. Might & Magic produced 9 sequels and countless imitators. What is the influence that I saw, in contrast, from Starflight? Did I think it affected later science fiction RPGs? If so, I don't think I've encountered one yet that shows a clear Starflight influence.
Nonetheless, although I'd probably make a different choice today, I don't think the choice was so obviously wrong that I want to reverse it. I'll leave the 1986 "Game of the Year" as Starflight for now, but I'll have done a disservice to the Might & Magic franchise if it doesn't earn the title for at least one of its releases.
I don't see a lot of common themes among the 1986 games, but there are two curious developments:
- SSI! The publisher released four RPGs this year--Rings of Zlifin, Shard of Spring, Roadwar 2000, and Phantasie II--all of of which offer a very different approach. This is the first time we've seen four CRPGs from the same publisher in the same year (Epyx came close with 3 per year between 1980 and 1983). It will go one better with 5 in 1988 and then exceed that with 6 in 1991 and another 6 in 1992. SSI will, in fact, occupy the top spot for "most CRPGs published" every year from 1986 all the way through 1994, the year it was sold to Mindscape. All the way through 2007 (the latest my spreadsheet goes), no company breaks its record.
- France! As I remarked in the last transition, we're in a brief "golden age" of French RPGs. I looked at four in 1986--Fer & Flamme, Les Templiers d'Orven, and Tera--and failed to get a fourth (Le Fer d'Amnukor) working. The three games from this year don't have a lot in common, but in general France has shown a curious immunity to the trends of the past. Orven is the most derivative of these titles, and even it showed some starkly original elements that would be unfamiliar to players of Wizardry. I can't even fathom what previous RPG experience influenced the developers of Fer & Flamme and Tera, and I already know that one 1987 title--Le Maitre des Ames--has a similarly untraceable lineage. We'll soon see if the same is true of the other two: Le Anneau de Zengara and Omega: Planete Invisible.
Boosted primarily by Starflight and Might & Magic, the average GIMLET score for a 1986 title was 27.89, only slightly higher than 1985 (27.56) but nonetheless the highest so far. It is not inevitable that the average score increases with the year: 1984 (20.50) was lower than 1983 (22.94), which was lower than 1981 (23.90), and so far 1991 (33.32) is lower than 1990 (36.15). The minimum score for 1986 (13) was the highest of the 1980s thusfar, as was the maximum (60). Overall, this makes 1986 a pretty good year. It just doesn't seem like it lately because I've been sweeping up the detritus. I played the good stuff during my first year of blogging.
|I'm looking forward to the pipe-smoking rabbit-horse again.|
1987 is going to see me revisiting a few titles to which I gave slapdash attention the first time around, including Alien Fires: 2199 AD, Le Maitre des Ames, and maybe even Braminar and Wizardry IV. Beyond that, we see a few themes:
- The growth of the Mac-only RPG. Regrettably, I couldn't play the first one: 1986's OrbQuest (couldn't find it); in 1987, we'll have Quarterstaff, Scarab of Ra, and The Dungeon Revealed. I want to play the former before I get to 1991's Shadowkeep, but it's been a pain to emulate the Mac so far.
- The last gasps of the ZX Spectrum. I'll have to endure this platform for exactly two more games: 1987's The Kingdom of Krell and 1989's Tower of Light. After that, the UK firmly joins the Amiga world, with most titles having DOS ports.
- A couple of new countries. 1987 brings the earliest known Australian RPG (Doc the Destroyer) and the earliet known Finnish RPG (SpurguX). The latter, a roguelike involving a hobo looking for a bottle of brandy, promises to be a barrel of laughs, at least if I can get the translation working.
Between new games and revisits, I'm starting the year with 29 games. Naturally, some will fall to the definition axe. The list is total chaos. I basically know what to expect from Alternate Reality: The Dungeon and The Eternal Dagger (both sequels to games I've played), but that's about it. The rest of the year is full of titles I've never heard of (e.g., Habitat, Land of Spur, Skariten, Tower of Myraglen) mostly from developers I've never heard of (e.g., Compile, Asgard, Balistic, Beam). An awful lot are independent, which makes me anticipate a series of one-offs in which I grudgingly try to say something nice. But at least one, Deathlord, promises to be epically long.
I've been toying with reaching the end of 1991 on my "main" list and then just staying there until I get caught up on my secondary list. That's currently about 80 games, but it'll likely be only 60 after I get done hacking and may be less than 50 by the time I actually reach the end of 1991. If I could do that, I'd feel better about writing more "special topics" postings or even the occasional one-shot on a console game. I'll make that decision in my "1991/1992" transition, but I'm happy to take opinions.
In the meantime, let's leap into 1987 with a second visit to the uniquely bizarre Alien Fires: 2199 AD.