Experienced Points: Know Your Gaming Roots

By Shamus Posted Friday Nov 12, 2010

Filed under: Column 132 comments

Here is another column that was spawned in the comments on this very site.

I predict 90% of the comments will be: “I can’t believe you left out X! They were an important company!”

If I wrote a 10,000 word essay on this, I would still get this response.

If I wrote a book on this, I would still get this response.

It was educational for myself as well. I wasn’t planning on including Activision in the list, but when I ran into their story I just had to put them in. It’s a great example of how anything can happen in business. A little upstart like Microsoft can paste a giant like IBM. AOL could buy out Time/Warner. AT&T could break up. You never know.

Kind of scary when you apply this thinking to something like Google.


From The Archives:

132 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Know Your Gaming Roots

  1. Sydney says:

    Doesn’t sound like there’ve been a lot of happy endings–


    1. krellen says:

      There’s no happy endings, so they say (not for me, anyway).

      1. Ben says:

        I guess he’s pretty okay.

      2. Nick says:

        Perhaps we should stop pretending and build a brand new day?

        1. Stupidguy12 says:

          That is a good idea, so I hear you say.

          1. krellen says:

            This is so nice.

            1. Vegedus says:

              Let’s all be our best

              1. 8th_Pacifist says:

                We do the weird stuff.

                1. Sydney says:

                  What the…

  2. tremor3258 says:

    I can’t belive you left out Origin Systems! (put the shotgun down… :) ) Somehow I figured with your dislike of some of Fallout’s stupidities you would have Ultima seared into your brainpan somewhere.

    1. swimon says:

      I can't belive you left out Cyan!
      Seriously though nice article. It’s interesting to hear about developers from the olden days since I was pretty young at that time and didn’t exactly pay much attention to the names of the people who made the games.

  3. Corsair6500 says:

    Shh! Shh! We don’t talk about Origin or Ultima here. Do you want Richard Gariott to FIND us? Sure, sometimes he looks all jovial, but you haven’t see his castle. He has a dungeon with skin wallpaper. Guy is nuts.

    1. Someone says:

      Didn’t he fly off to space?

      1. Mari says:

        But he came back. Or did he?…

    2. Nick Bell says:

      I spent so many hours playing Wing Commander and Ultima. Like Westwood, another company EA bought and destroyed. Still depresses me.

  4. Zeta Kai says:

    Well, I’d certainly buy that book, Shamus. Is there a semi-comprehensive history of the video game industry, focusing on the studios & developers that made said games? These are interesting stories that intrigue me, making me want to know more. You should totally write that book. Get typing. Now. ;P

    1. xuberfail says:

      I would buy that too.

    2. Lanthanide says:

      Dungeons and Dreamers follows Richard Gariott and John Carmack through the 80’s and 90’s as they built up their companies, and gaming culture.

  5. Strangeite says:

    Every six months or so, my wife tries to throw out the circular DRM decoders for the SSI and TSR Gold Box AD&D games. I don’t own the floppy discs much less the Commodore 64 to run them, but I can’t bring myself to get rid of these relics of the past.

    I don’t really play video games anymore, but they served an important job in leading me to real RPGs and the greater Kingdom of Nerdtopia for which they are the gateway.

    —See what I did there? Casually mention SSI so I don’t have to scream, “How could you leave out SSI?!?!? They were an important company!!”—

    1. Someone says:

      Ooh, let me try that.


      Gee, I wonder what Peter Molyneux was doing before Lionhead…
      Hmm, I really liked Fallout 3, the story was fantastic, but I’ve heard before Bethesda made it reach its full potential, some other guys made Fallout 1&2, the boring isometric predecessors. I wonder what happened to them…

      1. Veloxyll says:

        That’s got two companies collapsing even!

        1. Someone says:

          Well, I have to mention Fallout in every comment thread I poke my head into.

          1. Irridium says:

            Be careful, you could cause some serious fallout.

            1. Jonathan says:

              That would lead to Black Isles of death, to be later found by BALDURaan.

          2. DaveMc says:

            Well, someone has to do it.

      2. Strangeite says:

        That is a good question. I wonder if they had anything to do with that futuristic, boundary breaking game named Descent?

        Off topic, but am I the only one in the room that had their first experience with video games produced by MECC, like such classics as Oregon Trail, Lemonade Stand, Number Munchers and DinoPark Tycoon? They were simple but in the spirit of Clarke’s 3rd law, very close to magic.

        1. krellen says:

          I honestly don’t remember whether I had an Atari first or whether I was playing Oregon Trail in the school computer lab first. Which ever it was, they were close.

        2. Valaqil says:

          Oregon Trail wasn’t the first, but it was definitely near the beginning. I remember Oregon Trail, Quest for Glory, & Colossal Cave Adventure as the earliest PC games I played. I actually went back and played QfG last year. It was still fun. Sierra really knew how to give you funny options in the game.

          1. Veylon says:

            My first experience with games was MECC too. The moment they sat me down in front of that green-screen, I knew that this was what I wanted to do.

          2. El Quia says:

            Oh, Quest for Glory… words aren’t good enough to express how much I loved that series… I remember the ages I spent with a friend playing QFG I-IV, trying to finish them with all the classes, trying to get a paladin in QFG II and then having our awesome Thief that had points in parry and magic… that thief was the munchkin of the lot, sure, but he was awesome.

            People usually categorize them as RPG-Adventures, but for me, they were what rpgs were really about: combat, puzzles, interaction with npc, story, treasure… all that stuff that I had at the table with pen & paper RPGs…

            I really loved sierra, even though a lot of people hates them. Sure the random death thing was annoying, but most of the time, the deaths were hilarious. And, really, in QFG the random deaths were pretty much non-existents.

            1. Fuck YES Oregon Trail.

              The best thing to do in Oregon Trail:

              Start it up at a LAN.

              Ask everyone what you want their names to be.

              Pick the banker.

              Go at breakneck speeds on starvation diets to Oregon, stopping only to hunt for hundreds of pounds of meat you won’t finish.

              Read off to people how they are starving to death and dying brutally.

              Best ever.

        3. Chad says:

          Oh my goodness, I loved Lemonade stand. I remember playing it on the library’s computer because I didn’t have my own. But even before that, I remember playing a couple games that I can’t remember what they were called–one was an ascii platformer where you were a little q (or was it a c?) and the other one was a text based adventure where you were navigating through a squashed dodechahedron. and you were evading a creature very like a gru.

          edit: just looked up the adventure game. It was Hunt the Wumpus. Still haven’t found anything about the platformer

          1. Shrikezero says:

            Wow, Hunt the Wumpus… I haven’t thought of that game in ages. I played the hell out of that game.

    2. Jeff says:

      You should never throw those out. If you want to get rid of them, sell them. I’m sure somebody’s willing to pay for them.

  6. Someone says:

    No mention of Fantasy World Dizzy?! What a ripoff!

    Seriously though, the history of Activision is just sad, doubly so for Looking Glass. I wonder, if LG started later, would they be able to survive on donations/Steam, like so many other indie developers do now, or would their mainstream production values kill them anyway?

  7. Zak McKracken says:

    You completely forgot to mention Pitfall! Without doubt Activisions greatestestest game everest! Anyone who disagrees probably has no idea.

    1. Zombie Pete says:

      And it had the greatest pitch-kid. He looks so familiar…

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        whooot! That’s cool, I didn’t even know that commercial.

        And also, just to fullfill Shamus’ prophecy:
        How could you forget Rainbow Arts! :)

  8. Michael says:

    It looks like the patent suit was over ROM cartridges. It’s a little hard to parse out because it was being written by lawyers and not programmers, but I think Activision was producing cartridges for a proprietary console format without authorization.

    What’s weird is the other party was Magnavox. It looks like Magnavox either held a patent for a ROM cartridge format (and interface), or were the exclusive licensee of that format. This is weird because I don’t remember Magnavox being involved in consoles in ’88.

    1. Eric J says:

      Well, Maganavox produced the Odyssey 2, but that was probably dead by ’88.

  9. Mari says:

    You left out some of my favorites but you still managed to cover some of the most important studios of the era. Which probably says too much about where my taste lies (in crap that is completely unimportant!) but oh well. That’s weird about Activision. I remembered them essentially disappearing for quite a while after the weird new name but I never knew why.

    And don’t joke about Google. Paul Allen is already trying to sue them for patent infringement. Along with the rest of the interwebz. Lord, can you imagine if Paul Allen wound up owning the internet? *shudders*

    1. Someone says:

      Okay, now I have to post this:

  10. Mark says:

    I think a first-person, party-oriented, turn-based RPG would be an impossible pitch in today’s market.

    I’m guessing nobody’s told you about the (quite successful, for what it is) Etrian Odyssey series on DS, then?

    1. Nick Bell says:

      Far more importantly, Eye of the Beholder is NOT a turn-based game. It was truly real time. Even more so than the Baldur’s Gate/Dragon Age linage, in that there was no pausing and no AI. You had to control everyone. Pretty unique.

      1. acabaca says:

        >Pretty unique.

        Nothing unique about that. Eye of Beholder was one of the many clones of the revolutionary 1987 game Dungeon Master (and was actually technically inferior to its predecessor in many ways, though I still love EOB2). DM was the first realtime 3d RPG; its other direct clones included more obscure titles like Captive, Knightmare, Black Crypt, Abandoned Places 1 and 2, and of course Westwood’s Lands of Lore 1.

        >I think a first-person, party-oriented, turn-based RPG would be an impossible pitch in today’s market.

        Etrian Odyssey is that very thing.

        I wish they made more though (first person games with block-based 3D are my favorite genre – “real” 3D gives me motion sickness), and with better attention to puzzles. In both Dungeon Master and the EOB series the main focus was on clever puzzles: Etrian Odyssey has hardly any such things in it.

        1. Shamus says:

          I sometimes forget to explain this now and again: I don’t touch portables. I don’t need them, don’t own them, don’t use them, don’t know anything about them. And really, keeping up with PC and console games is impossible enough already. So I’d never head of EO until this week.

          So when I say they’d be a tough sell, I mean they’d be a tough sell as a AAA title on a current-gen console. Obviously on portables, web comes, and Xbox arcade there is a lot more room to experiment.

        2. Jarenth says:

          Etrian Odyssey, on the other hand, has a strong focus on exploration, map making, and getting your ass handed to you by random encounters.

    2. Steve says:

      Aye, I was going to mention Etrian Odyssey and The Dark Spire, both of which I really enjoyed when I wasn’t weeping into a sofa cushion at the difficulty.

  11. Jarenth says:

    I don’t want to say I called this outcome, but I totally did.

    In all seriousness, it’s sad to see that so many of the companies that made gaming what it is today are now either dead or malformed beyond recogition. But that’s the way of life, I suppose.

  12. Irridium says:

    Oh Activision… how far you’ve fallen.

    I used to play Pitfall all the time. You used to release the most fun, innovative, and interesting games. Now look at you. Your on top of the world with the financial backing of Blizzard which pulls in $150,000,000 USD a month. And what do you do with all your riches? You make sequel after sequel and suck the life out of companies and game franchises.

    They are in the best position to push out new and unique titles. Yet they stick with safe stuff because I guess that would postpone the pony rides by a few weeks or something.

  13. Jep jep says:

    Somebody should write a book about this at some point. It’s too much history just to be forgotten and faded away. I think it’s something the industry deserves and needs badly.

    1. Dazdya says:

      It might be nice as a novelty, but it would be hard to make it a good read. Most likely it would end up as a big list of names and companies. History books need some sort of greater story to tell, or to relate to the present.

      Maybe it could be an illustration of how the industry has come to work this way. Simply telling the stories of the companies is certainly not enough for a book worth reading.

      1. Jep jep says:

        Well I was thinking along the lines of a recollection of the history of the whole industry, not just individual stories of companies. A comprehensive study about the evolution and progress of the industry as a whole starting from the beginning etc. It would naturally include stories of the most notable developing houses.

        It might not be the best time to put something like that out yet, but I still maintain that it’s something that should be done at some point in the future.

        1. FatPope says:

          I’m pretty sure such books already exist. I couldn’t give you a name or anything but have a poke around amazon and you might find something

          1. MadTinkerer says:

            1001 Games You Must Play Before You Die is a pretty good list and currently available in most book stores.

  14. General Ghoul says:

    Telegard was the very first CRPG, back on the Commodore 64, came on a tape and took about an hour to load.

  15. eides says:

    I can’t believe you left out X
    No, seriously, in the talk about what EA has been doing and how their current executives light up a couple human souls in the fireplace each evening before sitting down to a nice warm mug of kitten blood, doesn’t anyone remember when there was just a nice guy who wanted to get out from under Apple’s thumb and turn out solid gold dreams for kids to gaze enchantedly at on their Commodore 64 screen. The cute stylized cube sphere pyramid logo that meant there was almost automatically a great game. The Bard’s Tale? Better yet, Wasteland? Am I the only one who found Fallout a pale and slightly dissapointing copy of something really great, or was it just the rose-colored glasses of a 15 year old?

  16. KremlinLaptop says:

    You included Westwood Studios. MY HERO. No seriously, my heart leapt at the screen-grab of Dune II.

    It is strange that in the pantheon of RTS gaming Westwood constitutes a footnote these days, I remember back way back then when Red Alert was the be all and end all of RTS games. Better days.

    To be honest, the worst thing about Westwood for me was the slow lingering death of the IP’s they had, seeing Command and Conquer titles and Red Alert meandering steadily towards this undignified death.

    1. Someone says:

      Oh yeah, I used to love Tiberian Sun, and RA2 for that matter. The EA sequels were kinda ‘meh’, and C&C4…

      The funny thing is, I don’t even like RTS games. I was drawn in by the grim post apoc of TS and the story in Red Alert, which was hysterical.

      1. KremlinLaptop says:

        Same thing for me, honestly the post-apoc grimness in TS — and to an extent the buildup to that in TD — had a lot of potential… which EA completely squandered with the sequels.

        The fact that there was an opportunity to connect Red Alert and Tiberian Dawn, something that Westwood apparently had on the backburner for a game idea iirc, and that was completely wasted too to stitch the two universes together.

        The whole quasi-biblical origins of Kane and the Brotherhood? All of that could have been used well for interesting stories, but none of it was. Honestly, it still somewhat pisses me off how well EA could ruin a good thing…

        1. Someone says:

          What are you talking about?! They are making a shooter about C&C…again, and everyone knows making shooters based on old isometric franchises always ends well (at least for the marketing department).

          1. KremlinLaptop says:

            “Tiberium” the shooter? Cancelled! Mercifully so, I might add.

            You see it didn’t hold up to the scrutiny of Electronic Arts, apparently they decided it was of dubious quality and scrapped the whole project. Seriously. Can you imagine how awful it must have been that even EA didn’t want to put it out?

            (Also while Renegade was a steaming-pile, it did have some of the most fun multiplayer I’ve ever played and spawned a fantastic total-conversion mod that’s now stand-alone called A Path Beyond, turns it into Red Alert.)

            1. Someone says:

              I’m pretty sure I’ve read about them rebooting the project, maybe turning it into an online shooter or an MMO.

              1. acronix says:

                The idea of seeing Kane with an exclamation mark floating over his head makes me chuckle, for some reason.

    2. GoodApprentice says:

      Dune II created the whole “harvesting” resources concept in RTS games. While it made complete sense that harvesting precious spice was the key to generating wealth and power in the Herbert universe, the concept always struct me as a little odd when used in the many RTS games that followed.

      “Quick! Harvest more crystals. I need to build a tank!”

  17. Brandon says:

    Always interesting to look back and see what happened to all of the companies I grew up on. I really miss some of these studios; even the ones that are still around I don’t hear about much anymore. There are a few big ones, and then you hear about the big publishers. Smaller companies just can’t get their names to stand out next to their publishers’ names.

    So much in gaming has changed. I’m really on the fence sometimes about whether it’s better, just “different”, or worse. I suppose it’s just like the movie industry though… Rare gems, mostly “that’s alright”, and then heaps and heaps of trash to sift through. So I don’t think we can complain too much.

    I do think it’s sad that there are genres that seem like they’ve just disappeared altogether from the main stream though. I miss me some space dogfights.

    1. Someone says:

      I wouldn’t really call SpaceSims dead, they may not be all the rage, like in the Elite days, but the X3 series rakes in the cash to this very day, and there is indie stuff like FreeSpace 2 Source Code Project or Oolite.

      1. ehlijen says:

        Not sure fanmade expansions should count towards what’s still on the market, seeing as they’re not selling it to people.

        But I’d like to point out that the military and economic space shooters are seperate beasts which I guess did little to help either out economically.

        At this point I’d like to mention Lucasarts for the how could you forget them category; seeing as they gave us some of the best space shooters to this very day it’s on topic, but they made much more than that.

  18. Klay F. says:

    Anybody remember Terminal Reality from BEFORE they completely sold out and produced the crap that is BloodRayne? They made the ABSOLUTE KICK-ASS sci-fi flight sims Fury3 and Hellbender.

    Seriously, I spent almost every day of my life from ’96 to ’98 playing Fury3, until Starcraft came out, at least.

    1. Bryan says:

      *nervously looks around*

      *sees nobody who will find out I’m admitting this*

      I went back and played Terminal Velocity about a month ago, under dosbox. Not quite as good as I remember (boy, my imagination was better back then :-) ), but eminently satisfying.


      1. Klay F. says:

        I’ll be the first to admit that, looking back, Fury3 was not all that advanced, and not that good looking even for it own era. It wasn’t until I played StarFox 64 years later, that I realized that Fury3 was just StarFox without the rails. I really have no idea why I enjoyed it so much back then, but I have always held a soft spot in my heart for it since.

  19. Integer Man says:

    I can’t believe you left out Origin!
    I can’t believe you left out Sierra!
    I can’t believe you left out Dynamix!
    I can’t believe you left out Infocom!

    1. Bryan says:

      Oooo, the Aces Over X series! (Europe, the Pacific, maybe one more I don’t remember.) I had almost forgotten about that one.

      And Sierra. Oh, Sierra. Your fridge-logic adventure games were … well… they were, at least. :-P

      1. Pickly says:

        Also reminds me of Impressions (I think) with their Ancient city building games and the “Lords of” games. (though not sure how “important” they’d be considered.)

        I do have a really poor memory for businesses, though, mostly they were just isolated names that flashed up before the interesting part started.

  20. Wayoffbase says:

    The overwhelming majority of my gaming history comes from Microprose games, I hadn’t actually realized that until this article. 36 comments on this article while I type this and no one else has mentioned them yet, which I guess explains why I so often feel left out of so many gaming-nostalgia discussions, even with people my own age.

    *looks back at the bookshelf behind me*

    Master of Magic, the first game I ever bought for myself. Copyright 1994 MicroProse, MS-DOS CD-ROM, although it looks like they were already a division of Spectrum HoloByte by then. I remember having to make the decision to buy either the DOS or windows version of the game, I was so pissed off when my dad “upgraded” us to Windows95 not long after.

    1. Bryan says:

      I remember MicroProse from various flight sims (Falcon 3, F-15 Strike Eagle 3 — though by that time they were under Spectrum HoloByte — and maybe one other).

      Great games at the time. Better with a good joystick (or two, if I remember the various FlightStick combinations properly). :-)

      1. Wayoffbase says:

        My dad was a big sim guy, flight but also tanks too, so I grew up with those games. Joysticks started to get really advanced right around the time developers stopped working seriously on those types of games though, which is really too bad for him. Now he just plays WOW all the time, I kind of feel bad for him :P

    2. Traska says:

      I am now contractually obligated to make the following statement:

      Master of Orion II is the greatest game of all time. Of all time!

      Seriously, I’ve got it running right now. Thank you, GoG! My disks are long gone to… wherever the hell disks go.

      1. Wayoffbase says:

        I never played the first Master of Orion, but I heard it was pretty good. They put out Master of Magic next, which I played the hell out of, and then MOO II. I agree, it was an absolutely amazing game, I spent a lot of time on that one too. I still have a lot of my old disks, but not that one sadly.

    3. deiseach says:

      I don’t know if you Yanks (I use that as a synonym for ‘Americans’ which I know is wrong but because I know it’s wrong that makes it okay, or should I say OK) ever played Formula One Grand Prix by Geoff Crammond, but Jesus that was gaming genius. The game was so perfectly balanced that the three sequels just felt like the same game in a prettier garb. Which, in fairness, is exactly what they were. Microprose gave us this game, and for that I will always pay homage to them

    4. MadTinkerer says:

      Mmmm… Master of Magic. It’s available on Gog.com right now, you know.

      In retrospect, it had a horribly unintuitive interface, and buggy AI, and Necromancy was way underpowered, [insert a few dozen other nitpicks here] but the rest of the game is still worth putting up with it’s flaws.

      I hope Elemental is fixed soon so I can have my Stardock-made MoM tribute.

  21. toasty_mow says:

    YES! Westwood! Pretty much my favorite developers ever.

  22. Entropy says:

    I can't believe you left out X! They were an important company!

  23. Thom (talzaroff) says:

    I guess I’m old enough to actually remember most of these names. I sometimes surf Wikipedia by game developer to see what else certain companies produced.
    And it’s heart-warming that GoG.com brings back all these fuzzy feelings. I bought the complete HoMM I-III pack (better than IV and V) a few weeks ago. And there the logo of 3do was again… awwww :)

    1. Entropy says:

      YES. Homm3 is the pinnacle of awesome.

      1. General Ghoul says:

        Especially with the added WoG mod!

      2. deiseach says:

        My brother-in-law will occasionally come along asking me to recommend the most super-super ninja PC on the market. I’ll do some research, direct him to the right place, and he’ll lob out the best part of a grand for it. The next time I see him, he’ll be on his new machine that could double as Mission Control playing . . . HoMM 3. Jeez.

    2. krellen says:

      I must be the only person in the world that liked HoMM 4.

      1. toasty says:

        I liked it over HoMM 5. Dammit that game drove me insane. But its still tempting to buy the expacks, cuz HoMM is soooo awesome.

      2. Jarenth says:

        To the surprise of probably no-one in particular, I also kind of liked HoMM 4. Especially the heroes-as-actual-fighters and the class system.

        The city art, however, was horrible.

        1. krellen says:

          It’s definitely the heroes-as-actual-fighters part I liked the best. I liked winning my wars with “adventuring parties” instead of armies.

  24. Jos says:

    Ah, Looking Glass Studios. For me, that name doesn’t mean System Shock or Thief, but Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri. Loved that game so much as a teenager.

    Loved every Westwood RTS too, by the way. The only one I never snatched up was Emperor: Battle for Dune or whatever it was called. Pity.

    Oh, and I can’t believe you left out Sierra. Or Bullfrog.

    1. MadTinkerer says:

      Hah! I should have read the comments better. I made the exact same point a little ways down.

  25. Mazinja says:

    It’s funny that even after the comments you made in this post, such thoughts did cross my mind.


    I am clearly a terrible person :[

  26. Gandaug says:

    After reading this article and all the comments my nostalgia nodules are overworked but happy.

  27. Zanfib says:

    I can't believe you didn’t mention Nox!

    What is Nox you ask?

    An action rpg made by Westwood.

    1. Mark says:

      I always enjoyed Nox’s opening cinematic.

  28. Hitch says:

    I hope you realize Shamus is baiting you. His casual mention that the comments are likely to be, “I can’t believe you left out X!” is an effort to get us to post companies which he will mine for a open ended series of “Know Your Gaming Roots” articles which he can trot out any time he’s approaching a deadline and blocked. He’s making a list of all these companies, gathering the research and will stick 3 to 5 of them together each time he needs an article.

    I say more power to him. And “Infocom.”

    1. Someone says:

      Oh no, he must be trying to educate modern gamers about the past age of gaming!
      That heartless bastard!

      But really, I’ll take 15 “know thy roots” articles over one more DRM rant any day.

      1. Klay F. says:

        I dunno, I kinda like Shamus’ DRM rants. Every time he writes a new article about it, he’ll come up with yet another colorful-yet-hilarious metaphor.

  29. Moridin says:

    I have to ask…Where’s Friday’s comic?

    1. Shamus says:

      My funny ran dry. I had nothing in the way of jokes all week.

      1. Irridium says:

        You could have fired up Fallout 2, create a character with low intelligence, screen-cap some conversations, typed “this actually happens when you put your intelligence really low in this game” as the description, and went on your merry way.

        Its what I would have done at least, but I don’t have an insanely mildly famous comic(BA-ZING!)

        1. xuberfail says:

          I havn’t tried in fallout but it makes things hilarious in Arcanum. :)

          1. Irridium says:

            What does it do in Arcanum? In Fallout it makes your character talk in caveman grunts and a few broken words. In Fallout 2 you talk more like a caveman, less grunts, more words, less good sentence structure.

            1. Someone says:

              Interestingly, I’ve noticed the same is true in New Vegas…kinda.

              I know for a fact that the developers included a “Low INT” option into the revamped G.E.C.K. dialogue system.

              I’ve noticed it in the game itself, but it was somewhat inconsistent and didn’t have such radical effect as it had in Fallout 2. It made me sound mildly stupid (“So, you want me to help or something?”), and ask a whole bunch of dumb expository questions.

              I’ve noticed it around Camp McCarran, while dealing with the whole Rape business. It seemed to stop in Vegas proper, maybe it was the result of being drunk (I normally had 4 INT), maybe it was the radically low Speech skill (11) I’ve had at the time.

              1. Irridium says:

                I’ve actually heard about that. Seems its more of stupid-stupid then funny-stupid though, save for a few moments. Not sure myself though.

                Either way, I hear some modder’s working on making it much like Fallout 1/2. Godspeed to him.

                1. Someone says:

                  Just went to HELIOS One and got a confirmation. Apparently If your INT is lesser than 4, you can get options for caveman-speak with some, specific characters.

                  Also, sometimes the caveman speak becomes an additional option, instead of replacing normal conversation, or it somehow flows into normal responses, for example saying “I get your job cause I smart”, causes Fantastic to flip out in panic, really funny moment by the way, which is immidiately followed by “Actually I am not after your job”, and the conversation continues normally.

                  To me, it seems like a feature they didn’t have time to implement, and chopped out, leaving loose ends like that.

                  I’d say it was there and was just bugging out, but the areas where you can get your stupid on appear to be too few and far between.

                2. Irridium says:

                  Sounds like classic Obsidian then. A great idea they wanted to implement, but didn’t get to fully do it. Ah well, such is life I guess.

                  As I said, someone either is or will make a mod adding in caveman speak. Hopefully.

  30. Tizzy says:

    Nice point with Dune II and the fact that major innovations could happen between a game and its sequel. Really, the point though is that the notion of franchise in the video game industry (and possibly in other areas too) was nowhere near as prominent and rigid as today; chalk it up more to an evolution in marketing practices than to changes to the game industry itself.

    Anyway, this weak attention to franchise had also its dark side of course: games bearing the same name didn’t have t have anything to do with each other.

    1. xuberfail says:

      *cough* X-Com *cough*.
      Although I played it as ‘UFO’ so I can just pretend they’re not supposed to be related.

      1. El Quia says:

        X-COM is awesomeness incarnate.

        (Sorry I am not making a more constructive post, here, but I don’t think I can say anything else at this hour :p)

  31. MadTinkerer says:

    I hate to be that guy, but it seems like all the studios you listed were relatively small ones.

    It’s not like I haven’t played Westwood Studios games, but how many games did they produce vs. how many Sierra made? It’s not like Microprose didn’t innovate, but how about Bullfrog?

    I guess this is why 1001 Games You Must Play Before You Die exists. (Good book, btw.)

    1. Jan says:

      I think in numbers of units shipped, many of them weren’t so small. Accoding to the Wiki, Westwood at the time of purchase by EA had 5-6% of the total PC market. Microprose had a top annual revenue of $100 million in 1997, total US market of PC video games was 1.4 billion, so they weren’t a small fish either (modulo their sales in Japan and Europe of course).
      I saw a figure of 909 million in revenue for EA in 1998, so remember, the games industry was a lot smaller back then.

  32. Eric J says:

    Does anyone know, what was the relationship between the computer game Civilization and the boardgame? Was it an adaptation, or was it just “inspired by.”

    1. xuberfail says:

      Supposedly Sid had never played the board game.

  33. Origin and Wing Commander.

    Or even more recently, FASA and Ensemble — two companies killed so that there would not be an R&D budget to charge off against incoming revenue so that someone would get a much bigger bonus.

  34. Infocom and all the text games ;)

    Good call, above.

    And Starflight. The first procedurally generated worlds.

  35. GoodApprentice says:

    Considering that the average age of a gamer is 34 and that the gaming industry is such a massive part of our culture, I think there is huge interest for this whole area of discussion. Shamus should totally dedicate some more articles (and his perspective) to exploring the history and origins of gaming.

  36. grouchy says:

    Ah the memories. Psygnosis, Bitmap Brothers. EA when M.U.L.E., Archon, and Racing Destruction Kit were their titles. Microprose with their signed integers and overflowing variable storage. Bullfrog with titles like Syndicate, Populous and Powermonger.

    Those were fun times in gaming. A lot of different mechanics and genres. Seems the field has contracted quite a bit since then.

  37. Voyd says:

    You mentioned MicroProse first. This pleases me. All hail MicroProse.

  38. Nick says:

    A lot of computer game companies are not formed the way companies in other industries are though. Most other industries are not as specific as computer game companies. For instance, BP drills for oil that can be converted into hundreds of other products, they do not just produce “an oil derived product with 50-60% hydrocarbons and 40-50% aliphatic compounds.

    If computer games were a commodity, then sure, the companies would stick around longer as they would just be selling “a game”, but the industry is broken into highly specific genres.

    Most of those companies that were mentioned were formed by a small group of devs who wanted to produce a specific game because their current employer didn’t want to, once the game was done, the company was no longer required.

    You could compare this to a car company like Tesla, formed by a couple of guys that wanted to make an electric car, the only difference is, their car is still selling, so they are still in business. I’m sure that when the EV market really takes off they will be purchased and absorbed into VW.

    1. Klay F. says:

      Oh God I hope not. I firmly believe the Tesla Roadster is the best car EVAR! That and the Ariel Atom.

  39. Maldeus says:

    I would pay for a multi-volume encyclopedia on games pre-2008 or so, which is when I really entered the gaming community.

  40. J Greely says:

    Somewhere in a box, I may still have my autographed copies of Archon and Pinball Construction Set from the Electronic Arts “software artists” tour.


    1. Lame Brain says:

      It is focused on CRPGS, but a blog to check out on this subject is:

    2. General Ghoul says:

      EA’s Adventure Construction Set was the greatest game ever made! You could not only make your own fantasy/sci-fi/ futuristic or modern/world war games from the included kits, you could make your own weapons and artifacts, monsters, and vehicles. Right down to the individual pixals in the graphics. I spent years using this game, try that with any other game made, years of playtime.

      1. Leif says:

        I do believe there’s something marginally like that. The FPS Creator, as far as I know a new addition comes out every year and it gives you the full Unreal engine for all your intense ragdolling needs.

  41. Unbeliever says:

    Actually, now that you mention it, Shamus… a book on this topic by YOU would be *AWESOME*!

    Start writing… :)

  42. Greg P says:

    For those people mentioning Infocom, I wanted to mention the recent documentary about the history of text adventures (aka interactive fiction) called ‘Get Lamp’.


    (On the DVDs, there’s also a 40-45 minute short film about the history of Infocom, specifically.)

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