Can we do another episode after Jeff’s? Absolutely! Just send us an email if you’d like to showcase your stuff!
The Last of Us is an excellent game. There’s really no question about it. Just look at the reviews! From the post-apocalyptic setting (in a not-so-distant future) to the stealthy action, character development, and intensely emotional story, The Last of Us is worthy of a play-through regardless of your retro versus modern gaming preference.
The Last of Us is essentially a survival horror/stealth game. It brings to mind previous generation titles such as Metal Gear Solid and Ico. The game relies heavily on stealth, much like Metal Gear Solid, and the environments, characters, and general atmosphere of the game world evoke a real sense of hopelessness, much like Ico. The gameplay should remind you of Uncharted, since it basically plays the same. If you’ve never played Uncharted, think of the Tomb Raider series. As you play you’ll find weapons, ammo, sharp objects to make melee weapons more effective, health containers, keys, comic books, etc. There are also light platforming elements in The Last of Us, but none stand out as anything more than a way to better associate you with the environment. The game also has obvious similarities to the Resident Evil franchise…at least when RE games had zombies…and were fun to play.
There are, in fact, zombies in The Last of Us. Well, sort of. These “zombies” are called the Infected in this new American wasteland game world. The Infected have similar characteristics to zombies. They are human beings who have been exposed to some form of catalyst which results in a drastic redirection of said human being’s primary purpose on the Earth. Just like the stereotypical role of other zombies you may be familiar with, these people want nothing more than to violently recruit you to their newfound cause. You will also fight against uninfected human characters throughout the game.
So what makes the Infected any different than your average, run-of-the-mill zombie? Honestly, not too much. They ARE rather quick (as in, you can possibly out-run them), some of them can see very well (as in, you need to stay well hidden if you expect to survive), some of them use sonar to find you (as in, hear your sweat drop to the ground from fifty miles away), and a few can seemingly do whatever they damn well please. Aside from these small twists on the variations of traditional zombie-dom, the way this round of killing machines has come into existence is somewhat fresh.
If you know anything about Resident Evil then you know about the T-Virus. Some jerks started the Umbrella Corporation, those jerks hired scientists, those scientists made the T-Virus, the T-Virus turns people into zombies, blah, blah, blah. Well take that story, substitute the creation of Umbrella Corp with the Big Bang theory (or any other creation story), substitute the hiring of scientists with evolution, and substitute the T-Virus with the parasitic fungus Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis. That’s no fake game name…it’s a real thing that exists in our world today. Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis basically turns living things into zombies. While this fungus currently poses no risk to humans, it could with a little visit from your friend Mr. Evolution. What’s that? You don’t believe in evolution? It’s called science. Check it out*.
Either way, this is where the Infected get their name in The Last of Us. The fungus evolves, takes over its human host, and then tries to kill you. One really intriguing perspective that is mentioned in the storyline of the game is, what if the fungus is simply controlling its host’s actions without altering the host’s state of mind? Basically, what if these people are still people on the inside, with feelings, emotions, morals, ethics, etc. and they are all being forced to infect other humans against their will? It’s an unnerving thought.
The story is really the only thing left to talk about here. I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it because it’s something that every person should experience independent of outside influences. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I felt real emotion welling up inside me within the first fifteen minutes of firing up the game. It wasn’t so much that I was upset with the events that I had just witnessed as much as it was the fact that there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop these events. It leaves you feeling totally helpless. It’s a great start to a game where you truly find yourself feeling helpless most of the time (especially if you bump up the difficulty).
Oh yeah, the graphics! They’re beautiful. ♦
*Actually, don’t check out science. When evolution decides it’s time to wipe out 60% of the world’s population I’ll still need people around to entertain me with their fantastical myths and legends.
In the excitement of video game collecting, one particular genre often gets overlooked — retro computer games. Perhaps because of the ease of which old PC games could be copied, stored, backed up, etc. Often times, there were no cartridges or glossy instruction manuals. Once installed and played for the first time, these games were no longer just on the disks, but on your hard drive as well. Often times the controls were less responsive (unless we’re talking FPS), and using a keyboard and mouse didn’t always stack up against the classic console controllers. Still, some PC games definitely made their marks, and PC gaming continues to be a multi-billion dollar a year industry. The following four games are some of the most notable from a decade or two ago.
1. Oregon Trail
Who doesn’t remember this one? If you didn’t play this in school, you were deprived and under-educated. While Oregon Trail was actually written in the early 70‘s, it wasn’t until the 80‘s and 90‘s that it really took off with Apple and DOS systems. The game put you in the place of an 1800‘s pioneer, taking the trail from Independence, Missouri to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. You start with money and four party members in a covered wagon. After buying supplies, you head west, traversing deserts, rivers, diseases and any number of other obstacles.
One of the most memorable (and fun) aspects of the game was hunting. This was your primary food source and (if you were good at it) a good way to make a little extra money for supplies. It was also an absolute necessity to stave off starvation. Another difficult, and often fatal problem was disease. Cholera, small pox, dysentery were all common and sometimes deadly illnesses that could easily kill your entire party. Still, it was fun to leave behind headstones in some versions.
Oregon Trail set the standard for the “edu-tainment” genre. Very few games would ever gain so much recognition among educators, and very few games have so perfectly blended fun, casual gameplay with historical events.
This games is sorely underrated and sadly, unknown. By far, this exceeds many RPGS of its own era and afterwards. Set in medieval Germany, Darklands was a rare “realistic” RPG. Sure, it had many fantastical elements — dragons, kobolds, witches, demons, etc., but with one difference: this game only used creatures and monsters from mythology. If it was included in Darklands, it’s because people living in the Holy Roman Empire in the 1400‘s actually believed it existed.
It was released by Microprose in 1992 for DOS. The gameplay was similar to many RPGs. You had a party of four characters that you could customize and control to an extent. There was a whole range of skills which they could master, ranging from weapons (edge weapons, impact weapons, flails, etc,) to intellectual skills (speaking Latin, reading and writing, alchemy, religious training) to practical life skills (riding ability, speak common, wood-wise, street-wise, etc.) This game was also open-ended, giving you the option to play any way you saw fit.
The basic gameplay was a sort of “choose your own adventure” style. You were given a long list of options wherever you were, usually superimposed over a beautifully illustrated background image. Combat was unique, however. Rather than the turn-based style of combat that was prevalent in older RPGs, Darklands was in real-time, with the option to pause the fighting and give orders. Over time, your skills improved, and you could upgrade your weapons and armor.
Perhaps the most unique and unorthodox element to Darklands was its version of “magic.” Yes, there were witches and warlocks in the game, but remember, in the 15th century, under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire, they would have been demonized and unapologetically portrayed as villains. Instead of magic, your heroes prayed to saints to aid them in their adventures. Instead of a mana meter, you have “divine favor” which could be used to invoke the saints for help and guidance. Alchemy could also be employed, requiring reagents and an adequate skill level.
This epic RPG/adventure game easily deserved more love than it received. At the very least, a sequel or remake would have been nice, but sadly, it seems to have been swept under the rug and forgotten. One of the few games I know of to include a bibliography in the instruction manual, Darklands still stands the test of time in terms of replay value and overall greatness.
3. Wolfenstein 3D
One of the early successes in what would later become known as the FPS (first-person shooter) genre, Wolfenstein 3D paved the way for many modern game series such as Halo and Call of Duty. Set during World War II, you take on the role of William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, an Allied soldier, held captive in a Nazi dungeon beneath the Castle Wolfenstein. This game was a success in many ways, in part because of its method of release. A promotional shareware version included the first episode, and a full version included the second and third episodes.
Wolfenstein 3D included several different weapons and a handful of enemy types. Basic gameplay was relatively simple by modern standards. There was no up or down aiming. Enemies were usually easy to spot and take down from a distance. There were treasure items scattered throughout the prison that could be collected. Occasionally, through luck, patience, or sheer determination, secret doors could be opened leading to better weapons, power-ups, or extra lives. Kills, accuracy, treasure and secrets were all tallied at the end of each level and the player was given a percentage on each one.
This game had been ported to several other systems, although not without some editing and controversy. The SNES version replaced blood with sweat, and the killable German Shepherd guard dogs with giant mutant rats. A lot of the Nazi imagery (swastikas, pictures of Hitler, etc) were also removed from the SNES version. In 1994, the PC and Atari Jaguar versions were actually pulled from circulation in Germany due to a law prohibiting the use of those symbols.
Despite some controversy, Wolfenstein was a paradigm shifter for PC games in general. It led computer gaming out of an era of side-scrollers into the new era of FPS- something that is still going strong today.
4. Civilization 2
Like SimCity? Think bigger. Much bigger. Instead of a city or a handful of cities, think about a nation. Think about dozens of cities, ancient and modern world wonders, advances in technology, international politics and global dominance. Yeah, it’s something like that.
Civ2 opens with a several option screens. You create a tribe (or pick from the presets) and set out to start and grow your civilization. At first, you have a band of settlers. From there, you grow a city, then more settlers, then more cities, then armies, then more cities. The game is open-ended, but there are essentially two scenarios that will result in a sort of end-game animation and also end-scorekeeping; conquer the entire world, wiping out all of your rivals, or be the first civilization to successfully build an interstellar spaceship.
On top of endless hours of gameplay, Civ2 has a unique feature of allowing users to create custom content and scenarios. Tired of terrestrial nation-building? Try downloading the Alien Invasion scenario. Or try colonizing Mars. Or reenact the Civil War. With the option to create your own scenarios and download new ones from the Internet, there are endless options with Civilization 2. This articles won’t detail the scenarios, but here are some titles to give an idea – Midgard, Atlantis, Santa is Coming, Alexander the Great, and The Crusades.
If you like strategy, customizability, history and geo-politics, keep an eye out for this one. Just don’t expect to get any work done for the first six months or so. ♦
I’m continually amazed at the ripple effects that can occur as a result of a snap decision. After selling a bunch of my old video game stuff on Craigslist when I moved from a house to a studio apartment, I was struck by the enormous amount of replies each ad got. Having been a retro video game fan since the games were new, the idea of helping to organize these folks in a way that puts us all together in a functional manner was appealing. Knowing I could never do it alone, I put up another Craigslist ad…
We made a Facebook group, bought a domain name, and had our first meet-up. Several of those founding members are still active in organizing group functions and online content to this very day!
As meet-up attendance began to grow from month-to-month and members had begun driving longer and longer distances to attend, the group made a leap from a city-wide structure to a state-wide one. We were then able to network with the ladies and gentlemen of our hobby all over Oklahoma, which made acquiring games for our collections, meeting friends with similar interests, and in some cases igniting romances possible with people all over the state. And then it kept growing. Texas grew so fast that it out-paced Oklahoma. Kansas is on a steady incline as well.
The RGS has many members that do not use Facebook (some due to privacy concerns, others due to simply not caring about Facebook). Despite not having exact numbers on the amount of people who consider themselves members of the RGS, we do have a couple of metrics to get an idea of our group’s reach.
Naturally, Facebook groups help. By the end of the summer, we are on pace to top 1000 group members collectively on our Facebook groups. But what does this mean, exactly? There are two types of Facebook social networking functions for groups like ours. One is “Pages”, which we do have. You can “like” a page and get updates from it, and post to a section of it. It is not user friendly from the information consumer side, though. Participation is very limited. Many people will like a page just to get it in their profile (for example, “Rosco Raccoon likes Contra”). Groups work differently, though – they are active hubs of information exchange similar to forums, and to a lesser extent, chat rooms. I look at it this way:
Pages = like it and walk away
Groups = active participants
The amount of Facebook active participation for the RGS is enormous and growing – with trades, discussions, and photos flowing forth on a regular basis. It’s just the thing we were hoping for when the group first started.
The other metric we can use to gauge reach is our website. We re-launched it in March with a complete overhaul and a fresh WordPress back-end. Since that time we’ve had 80,000+ hits on the site. A full 22% of that lands on the homepage, with the rest being split primarily between the videos, individual articles, and Exchange. As our content stream grows, we may eventually outgrow WordPress – or at least its ability to sort content in its default settings. We are actively seeking volunteer web developers who can help us continue to mold the site into something that works well for our members and focuses on usability and stability.
We’ve heard interest from a few other states on getting RGS operations up and running there. Good news! We’re now scouting for RGS coordinators to help expand to new areas and continue to grow this retro gamer network and maximize the utility of our members.
Yes, utility – I’m talking about our burgeoning Outreach operations! Since the RGS began helping out in our local communities, we’ve built a home with Habitat for Humanity, adopted a street, bagged food at the Food Bank, set up Wii Sports for a morning at a retirement center, and hosted a game-a-thon to benefit Hotdogs for the Homeless in Oklahoma (our 2nd Annual HftH Game-a-thon will be held this coming Labor Day weekend). Outreach is a fantastic way to give back to our communities and spend some time with our fellow RGS members outside of the meet-up “party” atmosphere. It’s one of the features of this group that really sets us apart from other enthusiast sites (that mostly exist online). The difference the RGS makes in our communities really makes me proud of the giving spirit of all of our members.
Then there are the meet-ups – where we are averaging around 20 attendees at each. In the early days it would be maybe three of us. At our largest gatherings we can top 30+. The meet-ups have always been the “gateway drug” to RGS membership. Indeed, many people will come for the free pizza and end up becoming an active member in trading, discussion, and Outreach. The meet-ups will always be free, also – that is something that will never change (except for meet-ups at restaurants, obviously). When an RGS member opens his or her home to members for a night of fun and trade haggling, the food will always be paid-for courtesy of the RGS floating budget (or personal funds of the RGS staff). It’s a standard we have held since the group began – meet-ups should be open for everyone, even if they’re only there for the free meal.
To that end, we have considered the option of sponsorships of the RGS to cover cost of pizza and soda for our meet-ups. This group will never be a “moneymaker” in the traditional sense, for two reasons: (1) that’s not the model that RGS members have built and (2) that was never the intent anyways. Sponsorship deals are tricky, though – some might not want any negative press about their business posted to RGS groups, or others might want to spam links to their products on our website. There are potential problems. What the RGS staff can promise, though, is this: we will never stifle respectful speech about a company or a product, no matter the content, for any reason. This includes instances where that constructive criticism is about a (potential) sponsor. The extent to which RGS Bylaws limit speech in “Community” posts is only about courtesy – and nothing more. Some have accused RGS Community moderators of censoring “free speech” in the past in pursuit of sponsorships – but that has never been the case. We are open to sponsorships, yes, but enforcement of the Bylaws and pursuit of cost coverage are not mutually exclusive. Our intent in enforcing the Bylaws is to keep the community clean – which is welcoming not only to potential group sponsors, but to potential group members as well. [note: if you’re interested in a sponsorship, just shoot me an email]
That said, the big avenue of cost coverage on the RGS horizon is our March 2014 convention, SUPER! BitCon. Profit potential on this venture should make the RGS solvent for a year’s worth of meet-ups for all groups plus down-payments for SUPER! Bitcon 2015. With the help of RGS volunteers to make S!BC a success, we can effectively fund our entire group function with a single event held annually. Sponsorships to cover our meet-up costs would be a huge boost for group activities, but a single event to cover operating costs for a full year would be monumental.
When I originally proposed the idea of this group to my then-girlfriend, Aimee, I envisioned a group of a dozen or so members that would get together for game sessions once a month or so. Almost three years (and one wedding) later my wife and I (with massive help from David Sollars, Micah Heath, and David Chauncey Clothier) have seen this grow well beyond what I could have ever imagined. The Retro Gamers Society was never destined to be my little gamer circle – the community nature of the hobby wouldn’t allow for that. With all of you being so enthusiastic about trades, meet-ups, Outreach, and all of the other things the RGS facilitates, this society has become something so much more. I’m proud to be a part of it. And I’m proud to call you all friends. It’s been quite the ride, but well worth the work. The Retro Gamers Society wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for the epic community that powers it.
You folks are awesome.
And you should feel awesome.
See you at SGC this weekend! ♦
Brandon Cole Phillips
RGS is growing at a rapid pace, because of this we have members from all over the country. I know every member would love to be to come down to Dallas for SGC but traveling that far isn’t always possible. Thanks to TXRGS member Johnny Arcade and Screwattack we were given press passes, we will be taking full advantage of this and live blogging as many SGC events as we can so all RGS members can enjoy the festivities.
The ScrewAttack Gaming Convention is fast approaching – it’s this weekend! But with a jam-packed guest list, exhibition hall, and panel stages – how is a retro gamer to know which events are most significant to their interests? Never fear – the RGS staff has narrowed the massive list down to a simple top five. So, clear your schedule, pop your copy of Mary-Kate and Ashley Pocket Planner into your GBA, and pencil in these must-have experiences.
SCG, like many conventions of this type, has a room set up specifically for gaming. Within this room, at 10:00 PM – 11:59 PM Saturday, there will be a classic video game tournament with various titles to choose from. So hop into the Marsalis B room and spend two hours battling your rivals old school style. Here’s hoping that Mario Kart 64 is on the agenda!
At 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM Saturday, the Game Overthinker (Bob Chipman) will be doing a panel all about his web series and blog, which bring a touch of reality to the world of video gaming. With wit and humor, Bob takes a literal look at games that can create reality distortion fields which suspend our disbelief. Though his humor isn’t for everyone – he does target many of the classic icons and references that RGS members hold dear. Check out his take on the rumored impending video game crash below:
This is a panel not to miss! Several online retro gaming personalities will gather on stage in this unique panel to discuss the successes, foibles, and unique experiences that crop up in the eternal hunt for sweet finds and personal grails. Join Pat “the NES Punk” Contri, ProJared, Mike Matei from Cinemassacre, and Billy & Jay of The Game Chasers as they recall some of the finer moments in pursuit of their passions – some of which might mirror your own flea market misadventures! Check it out at 6:30 PM – 7:30 PM Friday.
ScrewAttack has accomplished success that many internet entertainment pioneers only dream of. Founded in 2006 with a simple audio podcast, it has grown to be a go-to source of gaming information and media – both retro and modern. But what really goes on down at the ScrewAttack headquarters? The Official ScrewAttack Panel aims to answer just that. It all goes down at 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM Saturday (in the same time slot as the Overthinker, but on a different stage).
I’ve been a fan of video game journalist Adam Sessler since way back in the good old ZDTV/TechTV days when he hosted X-Play with the wonderful Morgan Webb. His career has been one of wild swings and rapid adaptation to the ever-changing technology of new media, but his panache and class have always remained. With an always-fresh, rivetingly insightful perspective on video gaming culture, concept, and design, Sessler brings a unique voice to the hobby. Check out his one-on-one QA session at 2:30 PM – 3:30 PM Saturday.
If that’s not enough retro gaming delight to satisfy your appetite, be sure to check out the TXRGS meet-up at Barcadia this Saturday night. RGS members will be kicking back in this relaxed, retro gamer friendly atmosphere well into the evening! ♦
Brandon Cole Phillips