Category Archives: LBoG: Retrospectives

Best Of British Game Developers Publishers – An Introduction

Okay so before I get into this one, I need to explain my big plan here. I want to write an insightful book covering some of the best of British game developers and publishers of the 8, 16 and 32 bit bit era of gaming and some of their games. How they started, the games they released and where they are today. This article right here is a small prototype of what I want to book to be, the final book will be a much bigger idea. This is just a quick-ish look at one of many British game developers and publishers I aim to cover. I already have three of these written up, this is only one of them (an abridged version at that too) and there is a lot more to cover.

This article will be a look at Imagine Software just to whet the appetite. I also have write-ups of Psygnosis and Ocean already done too. But those are just the tip of the iceberg as I’m planning on covering Elite, U.S. Gold (despite the name they were British), Gremlin Graphics, The Bitmap Brothers, Ultimate Play The Game (who later became Rare), DMA Design (who became Rockstar) and also cover the great Peter Molynuex’s companies including Bullfrog and Lionhead. Quite possibly more will be added to the list as I continue to write more and more…Codemasters?

I have been researching this for the last 12 months or so, watching documentaries, reading articles, digging up old gaming magazines and of course mining my own memories of growing up playing the games of these companies myself. I have a tonne of information all ready to go, thousands upon thousands of notes and facts that just need re-typing and formatting into readable content. Seeing as retro gaming is pretty big right now, I think a book like this could do very well. Plus I feel it will be an insightful education for non-British gamers who didn’t realise just how strong the British game industry was in the 80s and 90s. You see, while North America was feeling the fallout from the infamous ‘video game crash of 1983’, back in Blighty – we were just not affected at all. Nintendo didn’t save us or the game’s industry the same way its been perceived as doing in America simply because the U.K already had an established gaming industry that was growing stronger and stronger each year. More on my overall plan at the end of this article.

Allow me to introduce you to one of the most popular British game companies of the early 80s –  Imagine Software.

Imagine Logo

Back the the early 80s the ‘bedroom coders’ were on the rise. These were often very small teams of two or three people – sometimes only one, who would sit there in their bedrooms inputting hundreds and hundreds of lines of code into their ZX Spectrums or Commodore Vic-20s creating their own games. The Indie game industry we have today owes a lot to the originators of this modern trend.

It was in 1982 when Imagine Software was founded in Liverpool, England. But we need to go back a couple more years to another software company also based in Liverpool, Bug-Byte Software Ltd in 1980 who became famous for publishing the massively popular game Manic Miner developed by Matthew Smith. Manic Miner is one of British gaming’s all time classics and often cited as one of the games that made the platforming genre what it is today.

Manic Miner

It was sometime in 1982 when several Bug-Byte employees left the company and decided to go it alone including; Mark Butler, David Lawson and Eugene Evans. Staying in Liverpool, they set up Imagine Software which has been suggested was named after the most famous song from Liverpool’s most famous son – John Lennon. Imagine quickly made a name for themselves by employing some of the very best coders of the early 80s. Butler and Lawson were very close friends and had previously worked together at one of the countries first ever (if not THE first) microcomputer shops, Microdigital. Which was in the heart of Liverpool city centre.

MicroDigital

When they formed Imagine Software, Butler and Lawson invited their old boss and owner of Microdigital – Bruce Everiss to join them and after selling Microdigital, he agreed. Everiss took on the role of Public Relations and everyday operations within Imagine. Mark Butler became the company director while David Lawson and Eugene Evans were lead programmers. But there was one more member of the team that was hired at the request of Lawson – Ian Hetherington who came on-board as the company’s financial adviser.

Unusual for a game company at the time Imagine loved being in-front of the cameras, they would hold interviews and try to get their name in print as much as they could. There is one major example of this with the utterly engrossing BBC documentary Commercial Breaks originally broadcast in 1984 which followed both Imagine and Ocean that was also a huge help in compiling research for this whole project. One thing the guys at Imagine loved to do was show off their success. You would often find articles written about the company founders where they would gloat about once being lonely bedroom coders to showing off their millions of pounds they were making at the time. Imagine were PR experts lead by Everiss and never turned down the chance to get their names in the press. Yes, Imagine became huge in the early 80s but I feel I’m jumping ahead slightly here and need to go back to how they became successful to begin with as no matter how great your PR is, a game company is nothing if you don’t have the games to sell.

David Lawson had an idea for a title back when he was still working for Bug-Byte Software before Imagine existed. However, he felt that Bug-Byte were too small to sell his game so he sat on it for a while and when he co-formed Imagine, he realised he was now in the right position to get his game sold. That game was Arcadia.

Arcadia

Released in 1982 for the ZX Spectrum, Arcadia was the first game from Imagine Software. It was a pretty good arcade style shoot em’ up that received very favourable reviews in the gaming magazines back in the day. Arcadia was one of the very early games that helped to forge a path for microcomputer gaming as a whole and laid the foundations of what was to come over the next few years. For its time of release, it sold very well indeed and could be credited with setting up Imagine financially and giving them the leg up they needed which allowed them to become one of the most popular developer/publishers of the day.

The money Arcadia brought in allowed Imagine to grow as they hired more programmers who would go on to produce some of the best games of the early 80s and push the ZX Spectrum to its limits. 1982 was their introduction year, but it was 1983 where Imagine would go from strength to strength as they released game after game after game. Titles such as AlchemistAh DiddumsZzoom and Stonkers – just to name a few, all from 1983. It was as if the stars had aligned as everything just fell into place. Bedroom coders were booming meaning Imagine could pick and choose from the best young talent. The ZX Spectrum, which was Imagine’s main computer of choice for their games was fast becoming the gaming computer of choice and was selling well in England and Imagine were right at the forefront with front row seats to what many consider the birth of the microcomputer gaming industry.

Bedroom coders where becoming a hot property, you could pick up a well known newspaper in 1983 and find interviews featuring these (often) teenagers who had knocked up a game at home and managed to sell it to a publisher making plenty of money in royalties along the way. 1983 was most definitely the best year Imagine could wish for…but 1984 would be the year where Imagine would fall.

Once the money started coming in throughout 1983, Imagine would spend it just as quickly as they earned it. They upgraded to state of the art offices and computers, hired more and more staff to a point where they had around 100 employees – which for a game company in the early 80s was stupidly big. Still, improving your work-space and employees is pretty standard stuff but Imagine tried to grow too big, too quickly. Money was not just being spent on improving the office as huge chucks of their profits were going towards lavish parties and sports cars. The founders drove around in Ferraris, Porches and BMWs, even the mid and lower-level employees drove expensive cars including the cleaners. Imagine’s company director Mark Butler owned a custom built Harris motorbike and at some point in 1983, they even planned to get a helipad built on top of their office – just because they could afford to. Oh and let’s not forget the bike racing team…yes Imagine had their own racing team. Most probably set up just so Butler could enjoy riding his bike(s) at high speed.

Imagine racing

Imagine loved flaunting all they had, telling their success story to the press as they were becoming the face of the home computer gaming boom. David Lawson gave their programmes complete freedom to create whatever they wanted with no disruption. Which sounds like an amazing job – but with little direction or discipline, it meant many of the employed coders would just sit around doing nothing and getting paid very well for it too. Though all of this with all the money they made in 1983 and all they were spending, Imagine never bothered to hire a professional accountant. By the end of 1983, the cracks had already began to appear at Imagine as the four heads of the company split down the middle with David Lawson and Ian Hetherington one one side while Mark Butler and Bruce Everiss were on the other side. They couldn’t agree on the direction the company should be heading in and while the disagreements continued – so did the spending of money. The slowly forming cracks became more widened and more fractured. Their games stared to suffer too and what were once well developed and polished titles at the start of 1983 became lazy and messy games be the time Christmas rolled around.

But there was one major factor that would be the end of Imagine…well technically two factors. Psyclapse and Bandersnatch – two games that Imagine had planned that would be truly groundbreaking.  Two games that Imagine heavily advertised and two games that they were calling ‘megagames’.

Psyclapse and Bandersnatch.jpg

If things at Imagine were starting to look bad before, then they were only going to get much, much worse with these titles. These two megagames that were only two of an intended six – were envisioned to push the ZX Spectrum way beyond its limits. Imagine did all they could to hype up these games to boiling point. Publishers Marshal Cavendish supposedly made a deal for the games that was worth around £11 million…in 1983s money. Which was, back then an obscene amount of cash, especially for just two pieces of software. When the deal was signed, Imagine celebrated by spending even more money. More parties, more sports cars, more racing bikes and the like.

In order for these games to work on the ZX Spectrum, they would have to be sold with some kind of expansion cartridge which drove the cost price of the games up through the roof. These megagames were estimated to have been sold for around £40, which by today’s standards is about normal. But back in late 1983/early 84, Imagine’s games typically sold for around £5-£7, just to put things into perspective.

David Lawson threw himself into developing these games and did something he previously refused to do – oversee and manage the programmers. The ads for the games were already running in the numerous gaming magazines at the time, deals had been made for not only the publishing rights but also the cover art, which was commissioned to be done by the legendary Roger Dean who created the artwork for many rock albums, book covers and even other video games. It was Bandersnatch in particular that took up most of Lawson’s time. There were problems…big problems as the game was no where near complete despite all the hype and advertising Imagine had carried out. The programmers just could not get it to work at all and while all of this was going on, Imagine’s company director, Mark Butler was more interested and invested most of his time in the bike racing team than the development of the software. Butler’s apparent lack of interest in the company meant that Bruce Everiss stepped up as unofficial boss – even if he never wanted to be. Everiss fought hard to keep Imagine from going under.

It was Christmas of 1983 and Imagine wanted to take as much advantage of the silly season as they could. Using an aggressive tactic to try and gain a monopoly of Christmas sales, they hired out the entirety of one of the biggest duplicating factories to produce their games. This meant that their competitors would find it more difficult to get games into shops while Imagine would have an abundance of software all ready to go on sale for Christmas. But the plan backfired for one major reason and one very similar to what bought about the game crash of North America, they over produced. Yes Imagine had plenty of games on the shelves for Christmas, hundreds of thousands of them in fact, but after Christmas the sales dropped as they normally do after the festive season and yet there were still thousands and thousands of Imagine software sitting on the shelves that no one was buying. While we here in Blighty didn’t have anything anywhere near as severe as the 1983 video game crash, sales did slow down. With the tonnes of games still on the shelves in early 1984 and sales figures dropping everywhere, Imagine had no other option but to sell of their games dirt cheap to try and reclaim some of that cash that went into producing them in the first place. Once more, Imagine were spending more money than they were making.

This all tied into the previously mentioned megagames, if they struggled to sell their current games at discounted prices after Christmas then how were they going to sell the these megagames at £40? Seeing development for these games had ground to a halt, publisher Marshal Cavendish began to get very cold feet over the £11 million deal and eventually pulled out. They also demanded any revenue back…money that Imagine had already been spending. To save hemorrhaging money, Imagine could have cut back on staff, downsized if you will – but no as the company began to crumble in early 1984 they held onto their 100 strong employees refusing to let anyone go. There was a plan put in place where Imagine would sell their non-working megagame Bandersnatch to Sinclair Research who in turn could then sell the game for the Sinclair QL computer. For those not in the know, the Sinclair QL computer is one of the biggest microcomputer failures. So obviously that didn’t pan out either.

It was around Christmas of 83 time when director Paul Anderson was making his previously mentioned BBC documentary Commercial Breaks. Filming both Imagine and Ocean with the idea that he would capture an amazing part of history where young entrepreneurs were riding the wave of the video game revolution selling thousands of games over the Christmas period of 1983. Yet what he actually captured on film was the fall of Imagine. It was now the summer of 1984 and after several months of mismanagement, deals falling through and excessive spending of money the roof finally caved in on Imagine and it was all caught on camera thanks to Anderson’s documentary. There is one part in particular from Commercial Breaks where the bailiffs turn up at Imagine’s office to reclaim anything of value. The bailiffs were reclaiming so much equipment from the Imagine office they there even tired to take the cameras from the crew filming Paul Anderson’s documentary thinking it all belonged to Imagine.

News Clipping

On the 9th of July 1984, Imagine were no more, forced to close and declare bankruptcy.  They only lasted around 18 months or so – but what a year and a half it was. Imagine were very young and very stupid. They made their fortune, changed the British gaming industry forever and paved the way for many other companies after them. They were trailblazers in many ways but they also managed to destroy everything they worked to build. Many of the head honchos and staff of Imagine went onto other careers within the games industry, some massively successfully so too…

Now I know what some of you older gamers may be thinking right now – that you remember playing Imagine games long after 1984 and yes, you’d be right. So if they closed in 84 then how were you playing their games right up to 1989? Well this is where Ocean Software stepped in as they brought the Imagine name and released some of their games through the the name even if the company itself was dead…but that is a story for the next chapter of this book.

Oh and about those megagames too? Well information on Psyclapse is nonexistent. As far as I can tell, the game never even begun development at all. Imagine just had a name, a few ideas and a several ads running in gaming magazines to hype it up. But Bandersnatch is a very different story. That one was most definitely being worked on and you can even see as much in the Commercial Breaks documentary where footage is shown of the game being developed. Oh yeah, and it was even eventually released too. Given a name change but it was the first game developed and published by Psygnosis – the company set up by Ian Hetherington after the collapse of Imagine and a game developer/publisher that became one of the best, most loved of the 80s and 90s and again, this is something I’ll cover in another chapter…


My Dream…

So there you have it, just an example of what I want this book to be about. The final write ups will be more in-depth and take a closer look at some of the games. This is just meant as a taster. I also found it really interesting how many of the companies I’m going to cover intertwine with each other over the years, there’s a really fascinating tapestry of British game development/publishing that emerges once everything comes together. Then there are the starts of some of the biggest names working in games today that got their breaks with companies like DICE (not British themselves, but started via a British publisher), Rare and even the mighty Rockstar Games all cutting their teeth in the 80s and 90s British game revolution. Really interesting stories I aim to cover.

As I said before, I have around ten developers and publishers to cover (possibly more added later) so this will be quite a big book when finished and I really want to make it a hardcover, glossy thing of beauty all professionally finished. And here is where I need help. Putting something like this together takes money. I’ve done all the research for the companies I will cover, already have three of the chapters written up in the first draft (this is one of them) and the book with be finished within the next 6 moths or less. But I know nothing about actually designing a book like this – I can write them no problem but putting the whole thing together in one package with a real professional look and feel is something I know nothing about. Plus it being in hardback, then there is the printing and distribution, etc all of this costs coin that I just do not have. So I’ve set up a Go Fund Me where I hope people will chip in to help me make this book a reality.

My Go Fund Me link. Please share.

Even if you don’t feel like donating (I won’t hold it against you), if you could just share this article and/or the Go Fund Me to help me drum up some interest, I’ll be eternally grateful. If I raise the money, I will make the book as professionally as I can – I’ll hire a design artist to help me with the look of the book. I’ll go to the best printers I can find to deliver the best possible finished product in glorious hardback and glossy pages and so on. I’ll even put any and all people who donate into the book as personal thanks.

Even if I don’t manage to raise the cash, I’m still going to write the book but it just won’t be as grandiose as I want it to be and most probably just be an all text (no picture) simple paperback instead. So the more money I can rise the bigger and better the book will be.

I think with the popularity of retro gaming right now that this could be a great book. A really interesting look at the British side of game development and publishing, a window into an important piece of gaming history that many people overlook or just do not know about.

Update: I’m currently letting people read the first three chapters. More info right here.

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007: Licensed to Game – James Bond In Gaming

I think it can be said without too much argument that James Bond is a giant cinematic icon. Since his first big screen appearance in Dr. No from 1962 right up to today with Daniel Craig announcing he’s agreed to do one more Bond film which would be the actor’s fifth outing as James Bond and the twenty fifth film in the mega successful franchise. Yup, the Bond name is a big draw for film nuts like myself.

But what about the character’s gaming career – how has James Bond fared up in the world of video games? Well that is exactly why I’ve written this article, to take a look back at James Bond in gaming. I’ll be quickly covering every known James Bond game released over the last four decades as well as taking a look at some unreleased games and a few other Bond related games too. [Insert your own James Bond pun here] and lets get cracking…

The 1980s

The very first James Bond game was released in 1982. Developed by Richard Shepherd for the ZX Spectrum called Shaken but Not Stirred. The game was one of those early text-based adventure games, so graphically – it was lacking…

Shaken But Not Stirred

You play as James Bond and asked by M to track down the nefarious Dr. Death who is threatening to destroy London with a nuclear weapon. The gameplay was pretty basic stuff  as you travel the world gathering clues and solving puzzles to help you locate Dr. Death’s secret lair.

For an early Bond game it played pretty well and it was highly praised at the time by reviewers.

In 1983, the game James Bond 007 was released by Parker Brothers for the Atari 2600, 5200 as well as the Commodore 64 and ColecoVision.  This James Bond game is set over four different levels all based on various James Bond moives. Diamonds are Forever – you have to rescue Tiffany Case from an oil rig. The Spy Who Loved Me – you destroy an underwater laboratory. Moonraker – where Bond needs to destroy satellites. For Your Eyes Only – you need to retrieve some radio equipment from a sunken boat.

James Bond 007

The fourteenth James Bond movie, A View to a Kill was released in 1985 – and so were two games based on the movie. The first game was James Bond 007: A View to a Kill, this one was another of those text-based adventure games by Angelsoft Inc released for  DOS, Macintosh and Apple II computers. You really don’t want a screenshot of another text-based game do you?

So moving on, the second game was titled A View to a Kill: The Computer Game. This one was more action orientated and came out for the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum.

A View to a Kill C64

This one was from Domark and split into three different action sections based on the movie. The first section has you driving around Paris in a taxi trying to catch May Day who has parachuted from the Eiffel Tower. The next one features Bond trying to escape San Francisco City Hall which is set on fire. The final level is set in a mine where Bond must find the code to disarm Zorin’s bomb.

Then in 1986, Angelsoft Inc released a follow up to their previous text-based game based on the Bond movie Goldfinger.

James Bond 007 Goldfinger

Developed by Melbourne House in 1987 and released for the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum (plus others) – The Living Daylights was the next James Bond game. An all action, side scrolling shooter inspired by the film of the same name. Simple and basic stuff, but pretty good fun for the time.

The Living Daylights

The vehicle became the star of the next Bond game with Live and Let Die in 1988. This one was a combo of racing and shooting inspired by the speedboat sequence from the movie. Developed by Elite Systems International for the Amiga, Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum.

Live and let Die

Though not originally developed as a James Bond game – this one started out as an original IP called Aquablast, but the development team realised how the game felt and looked like the speedboat chase from the movie and so re-branded the game with the 007 licence. This one was a fast-paced racing game where you had to dodge numerous obstacles as well as shoot at other boats that got in your way.

The final game of the 80s was based on the sixteenth Bond flick – Licence to Kill. Released in 1989 and developed by Quixel for the Amiga, DOS, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum platforms. This one was a top-down shooter with you controlling various vehicles as well as Bond on foot.

License to Kill

Set over six levels all based on scenes from the film. I always remember this one being quite tough with a fiddly control scheme – but still an enjoyable game once you got used to its difficulty.

Well that’s about it for the 80s, the 90s brought many more Bond games – including what many consider not only the best James Bond game ever, but one of the finest games of the decade.

The 1990s

It was a new decade and in terms of the films, the James Bond franchise had halted production. Long story short, there were all sorts of behind the scenes shenanigans preventing any new Bond films being made. In fact we wouldn’t see a new Bond film for six years from 1989 with License to Kill until 1995’s GoldenEye. But while the film series was in serious doubt (it almost never came back at all) the James Bond games were still being made. We even got two Bond games in 1990.

The first Bond game of the new decade was based on the 1977 picture The Spy Who Loved Me. Developed by The Kremlin (game development team, not the Russian fortified complex at the heart of Moscow).

The Spy Who Loved Me

The majority of the game was a Spy Hunter style top-down racer/shooter with you in control of the infamous modified Lotus Espirt from the film. You pick up tokens to spend on upgrading the Lotus by driving onto the back of a moving truck. While fending off bad guys and pulling off stunts. There were other levels inspired by scenes from the movie – but I found them a bit dull and just kept replaying the awesome Louts level over and over.

Also from 1990 was a point n’ click adventure developed by Delphine Software called Operation Stealth. Now I know what you are thinking if you played this game outside of the U.S – this had nothing to do with James Bond, and you’d be right. However in the U.S the game was released using the James Bond license as James Bond 007: The Stealth Affair.

Operation Stealth

You play as John Glames (James Bond in the U.S.) a CIA secret agent (though Bond works for MI6) who is tasked to finding a stolen, high-tech stealth plane. Typical point n’ click adventure fare that was massively popular in the late 80s/ealry 90s.

In 1991, an animated TV show inspired by the spin-off novel The Adventures of James Bond Junior 003½ was made that featured James Bond’s nephew – titled James Bond Jr. The series became quite successful spawning a toy line, novels, even a series of Marvel comics and of course a game – well two in fact. Okay so they really are the same game, first was the NES version in 1991 and then an updated SNES version in 1992.

James Bond Jr

These were simple action/platformers and to be honest, not very good either. With you playing as Bond Jr. having to find some missing scientists.

James Bond 007: The Duel was the next game released in 1993 for the SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis, Master System and Game Gear platforms. The game featured Timothy Dalton as Bond for the marketing and in-game introduction. So technically, this was the last time T-Dalts was (officially) Bond.

James Bond The Duel.jpg

If you ever played the arcade classic Rolling Thunder –  then this game was similar… only not as good. You run trough levels shooting bad guys and rescuing girls while crossing paths with familiar Bond baddies like Jaws and Oddjob. With your main goal being to place a bomb to destroy the enemy’s secret base.

It was in 1997 when THE James Bond game was finally released. Based on the movie of the same name and developed by Rare for the Nintendo 64 – GoldenEye 007. Often cited as the best Bond game ever as well as being one of the defining FPS games of the 90s. This really was one of the all time great games that not only did the film justice, but it also managed to become the 3rd best selling N64 game ever only beaten by Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64… yes GoldenEye 007 even outsold The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

GoldenEye

Chock full of content from unlock-able cheats that added so much fun to the game to hidden levels based on other Bond films and even the trailblazing 4-player split-screen mode that offered endless fun. I really should do a more in-depth look at this game at some point – but now is not the place as we have many more Bond games to cover. But in short, GoldenEye 007 was awesome!

Next up was James Bond 007 released for the Game Boy in 1988 and developed by Saffire Corporation. This was a top-down action game that incorporated enemies and locales from numerous Bond films. Bond has to explore the world to track down a secret weapon cache. Set over eleven levels and also includes gambling minigames like Blackjack.

James Bond 007 Game Boy

And here we are, at the end of another decade. 1999 saw the release of Tomorrow Never Dies for the PlayStation based on the movie of the same name. This one was a third person shooter as Bond teams up with Wai Lin to take down maniacal media mogul – Elliot Carver.

Tomorrow Never Dies

A somewhat awkward game that lacked the depth and fun set by GoldenEye 007 previously. The game became more infamous for its terrible controls and short length.

And so the 90s ended with a quiet whimper from a silenced Walther PPK instead of a shark-inflating pellet style bang when it came to James Bond games. GoldenEye 007 had set the bar so high that we would never see another Bond game even get close to its quality and high praise.

That’s two decades of Bond games down, lets move onto the 2000s.

The 2000s

Okay, time to get a little confused. We have two games that are both based on the same movie – 007: The World Is Not Enough. Both are FPS titles and both released around the same time in 2000 – but they were developed by different companies and are in fact two very different games. One for the PlayStation and the other for the Nintendo 64.

007 The World Is Not Enough N64

While both games follow the plot of the movie, the N64 version featured more levels and to be honest – was the best of the two by far. Smoother controls and better gameplay. The N64 version also featured a great multiplayer mode that was missing from the PlayStation.

Also in 2000 saw the release of 007 Racing. Developed by Eutechnyx for the PlayStation. This game was a vehicle based racing game (in case the title didn’t give it away) where you drive the numerous cars made famous by the moives such as the Aston Martin DB5 (Goldfinger), Lotus Esprit (The Spy Who Loved Me) and the BMW Z8 (The World is not Enough) plus others. There is an original story that sees the return of some of Bond’s most famous adversaries. Despite some really great mission ideas, the game is rather flat and dull with terrible controls.

007 Racing

Just when you thought it was safe, yet another 007: The World Is Not Enough game was released in 2001 – yes, that’s three games in total all based off the same movie. This one was for the Gameboy Color and again is yet different from the other two games. A top-down action game set over eight missions based on the film.

The World Is Not Enough GBC

Also in 2001 was a James Bond game not based on any movie but in fact its own unique story.  James Bond 007: Agent Under Fire sees Bond rescuing CIA agent Zoe Nightshade and investigates a botanical research firm which is a possible front for a weapons-smuggling ring. The story eventually leads to Bond discovering a plot involving world leaders and cloning.

Agent Under Fire

This one was okay, a blending of FPS and vehicle based missions. A little short to be honest but a half-decent Bond game non the less.

A direct sequel to the previous James Bond 007: Agent Under Fire was released the following year in 2002 titled; James Bond 007: Nightfire. Bond teams up with agent Zoe Nightshade once more. James Bond goes up against industrialist Raphael Drake and sees Bond travel the globe and even venture into space as he tries to stop the villainous Drake. Much like the previous game, this one is also a melding of FPS and vehicle action. An improvement over the last game, but still just okay and mediocre.

NightFire

James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing is the next game in the Jame Bond timeline. Moving away from the FPS games  and instead opts for a third person view. It also features the likeness and voice talents of (then) Bond actors; Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, John Cleese playing James Bond, M and Q respectively.

Everythin or Nothing

One of the better Bond games of that era and really does feel very Bond-like. Released for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and Gamecube consoles – there was another version released for the Gameboy Advance…

Everythin or Nothing GBA

This one was an isometric action/shooter that suffered from terrible controls and gameplay mechanics. The bigger console versions were good, but this GBA one was terrible.

The Bond games were coming thick and fast in the early-mid 2000s and next up was a ‘sequel’ to the best Bond game ever.  2004’s GoldenEye: Rogue Agent tried to cash-in on the success of GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 by tricking people into thinking the two games were related. In truth, they shared nothing outside of using the name GoldenEye. You see, this was not really a sequel despite what developer/publisher EA Games wanted you to think.

Rogue Agent.png

Going back to the tried and tested FPS genre – this game’s deceptions don’t end with the title as you don’t even play as James Bond. Instead you are an agent known only as GoldenEye after losing his real eye and having it replaced with a gold one. Though 007 himself does make an appearance along with other familiar Bond faces like; Goldfinger, Dr. No, Blofeld, Scaramanga, Odd Job, Pussy Galore and others. Some of the levels are also based on scenes from previous Bond films. As for the gameplay itself? Its just another one of those distinctly ‘okay’ games.

2005 saw the release of a blast from the past. James Bond 007: From Russia with Love based on the Sean Connery starring 1963 James Bond picture – they even utilised the likeness of Connery himself for the game along with other actors from the film like; Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Robert Shaw and Desmond Llewelyn. This one was pretty good actually going for a third person view (probably to make the most of the Sean Connery licence). Not only did Connery lend his likeness, he also recorded all new dialogue for the game too – so this marks the final time he played James Bond. The game hits all the main scenes from the movie, yes even the jet-pack scene.

From Russia With Love

From 1963 to 2008. The final game of the 2000s was based on the then newest film 007: Quantum of Solace was released the same year as the movie. Using Daniel Craig’s James Bond along with the rest of the main cast from the film. Like with some of the previous Bond games in this list, there were different versions developed for different consoles. The Xbox 360, Wii and PlayStation 3 versions were FPS games – but the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo DS versions were third person games.

Quantum of Solice

No matter which version you played, this was another ‘middle of the road’ very average games. Hitting all the major scenes from the movie and doing them justice – but the gameplay itself was just very stale and boring… just like the film itself.

So that’s another ten years covered. Next up is the fourth and final decade and the James Bond games started to slow down… a lot. I mean, there’s only three to cover! And we get off to an almost blasphemous start…

The 2010s

GoldenEye 007 was released in 2010. Yes you read that right the best James Bond game ever was remade! Originally for Nintendo’s Wii and DS platforms – the game was re-released in 2011 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and re-titled GoldenEye 007: Reloaded. They had the sheer brass-balls to remake the all time classic GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64, but was it any good? Well gone are original developers Rare and replaced with Eurocom. Then Daniel Craig was used as Bond – replacing Pierce Brosnan… just like real life. The game also re-works the film’s story and updates it so it now takes place after the events of Quantum of Solace. This was more then just a simple remaster that we see everywhere in games today, this was completely rebuilt from the ground up.

GoldenEye reloaded

Not as classic as the N64 original, but this version was still pretty damn good. The main game follows the film pretty damn well (like the original) and still manages to keep things fresh at the same time to by adding new content. Plus the awesome multiplayer mode form the original returns complete with hidden secrets to find. A good remake and a good Bond game.

James Bond 007: Blood Stone was also released in 2010 even on the exact same day as the previous GoldenEye 007. So if you wanted James Bond games in 2010 on the same day, you had your choice. James Bond 007: Blood Stone once more featured Daniel Craig as Bond but was not based on any movie or book – an all new story set sometime after Quantum of Solace, the story was written by James Bond screenwriter Bruce Feirstein. The game ends on a cliffhanger which some fans have connected to Ernst Stavro Blofeld from the movie Spectre. A third person cover/shooter game with a few vehicle sections. This is an above average game better than some of the latter Bond game efforts – but still lacking in substance and gameplay.

Bloodstone

And we get to the last James Bond game released so far, 2012s 007 Legends. Released to celebrate the 50th year celebration of the Jame Bond film franchise. The game starts using the opening of the film Skyfall when Eve Moneypenny accidentally shoots Bond and he falls into a river. This kick-starts a series of flashbacks were Bond recalls some of his most dangerous missions. Basically, this is a ‘Bond’s greatest hits’ game as all the missions are based on scenes from previous films.

007 Legends

Much like the previous GoldenEye 007 remake – this game modernises and re-tells classic James Bond stories – updating them for toady’s audience. It takes one mission based on one film from each of the James Bond actors on the big screen: Goldfinger (Sean Connery), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (George Lazenby), Moonraker (Roger Moore), Licence to Kill (Timothy Dalton), Die Another Day (Pierce Brosnan) and Skyfall (Daniel Craig) with each Bond now played by Craig.

This one was pretty bad. What was meant to be a grand celebration to James Bond turning 50 ended up coming across as a cheap cash-in, lazily and haphazardly thrown together. A great idea but poorly executed – a very bellow average game.

So there you have it, the entire James Bond game catalogue (aside from a few iOS/Android games and fan-made remakes) and it ended badly. Overall, James Bond has been a mixed bag when it comes to his gaming life. For every all time great game like GoldenEye 007 – there’s been more then a few average games and more then a couple of just outright terrible games.

There have been no Bond games since 2012s 007 Legends and that was a bad one. There have been no new Bond games announced either, is this the end of James Bond in gaming? I hope not as the franchise has a lot of legs.

8bit Bond

But there’s still more Bond games that I just quickly want to cover as there were a handful of unreleased/cancelled titles.

Cancelled Games

Not long after 1983s James Bond 007 was released – a game based on the movie Octopussy was announced. There have been rumours that the game was completed – some have even said they played it at the Electronic Fun Expo in 1983. Rumour also says that the Octopussy game originally started out as a level in the James Bond 007 game from 1983 before the decision to turn it into its own separate game came about. There was even an Atari brochure from 1983 that showed a screen shot of the train sequence as part of the James Bond 007 game. Parker Brothers also released a poster to advertise the game in 1983.

Octopussy poster

But the game was never released. Why it never saw the light of day is unknown.

GoldenEye 007 Racing was set to be released for Nintendo’s Virtual Boy. Very little is known about this one other than it was set to be released to coincide with the release of GoldenEye for the SNES… yes originally the GoldenEye game was being developed for the SNES before it was shifted over to the N64. I did manage to find a blurb from a publicity brochure for the Virtual Boy which read:

“If you thought rush-hour traffic was a nightmare, wait ’til you get behind the wheel of 007’s car. Avoid obstacles and blow the other cars away. Buckle up for safety because, in this game, you never know what’s gonna happen.”

Along with two screen shots, one is a bury mess which looks like it may be the title screen and the other…

GoldenEye VB

A slightly less bury image of what looks like a racing game on the Virtual Boy, quite possibly GoldenEye 007 Racing? The game was cancelled due to the infamous and huge failure that was the Virtual Boy console.

At the end of the original VHS release of the flick Tomorrow Never Dies –  there was a trailer introduced by legendary Q actor Desmond Llewelyn. This trailer was for a game titled: Tomorrow Never Dies: The Mission Continues and was said to “start where the film ends”. You can see the trailer right here. The footage shows a mix of first and third person shooting as well as scuba diving, driving and skiing sections and to be released for the PC and PlayStation in 1998. Now, of course we did get a game based on Tomorrow Never Dies but this one followed the plot of the movie – the unreleased game was meant to be a direct sequel that follows on where the film ends.

It was also being published by MGM Interactive and not Electronic Arts who released the 1999 Tomorrow Never Dies game. So this was definitely a completely separate game. Why it was never released is unknown, but most probably has to do with EA obtaining the rights to the James Bond licence in November of 1998 and them wanting to make their own game based on the movie.

There was going to be an updated version of the PlayStation game of The World Is Not Enough released for the PlayStation 2 – set to be out for 2001. It was going to feature improved graphics, gameplay mechanics and new levels. But EA who held the James Bond license felt that too much time had passed and no one would be interested in a Bond game in 2001 based on a film from 1999 (side note: the best Bond game ever – GoldenEye 007 was released 2 years after the movie). The improvements to this updated version could have put it more inline with the far superior N64 game, but EA dropped the idea in favour of releasing Agent Under Fire instead.

The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were set to have a game based on Casino Royale. Daniel Craig was on-board to lend his likeness and voice to the game. EA had access to the filming  locations and script as the film was being shot, so they could make the game as authentic as possible. It was scrapped after only around 15% complete. A few early screens of 3D models for the game were later found.

Casino Royale game.jpg

Thanks to MI6-HQ.com and you can read more about why the game was never finished right here.

It was 2012, January of 2012 when it was announced there would be a game based on Skyfall. A full game was never released, but a mission based on Skyfall was made available for 007 Legends via DLC. I’m not sure of this is a case of crossed wires and the announcement was just for the 007 Legends DLC or if it was for a full game.

Bond 6 was the working title for a new game from EA. To be released in 2005 and starring Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. The game was dropped when Brosnan announced that he would be stepping down as Bond – so the From Russia With Love game was quickly put into development instead. But interestingly enough – CGI work for the game was used for the advertising of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent.

In 2010 some early screen shots of a new Bond game began to appear online. There was never any official statement as to what game it was – but it was widely believed to be a possible Blood Stone sequel developed by Raven Software. The images have since been removed (at least I can’t find them) and we never did get that Blood Stone sequel.

There was also a rumour of a sequel to 007 Racing for the PlayStation 2, but I couldn’t find any info at all on this.

There you go, as much Bond gaming as anyone could wish for. I think I covered everything and I’ve taken up way too much of your time with this lengthy article – there’s really only one more thing for me to do…

Bond Gif

Double Dragon Is 30 Years Old

Released into arcades in June 1987 – Double Dragon became a big hit for publisher/developer Technōs. It was the first arcade game I ever completed and today, the game still sparks off fond memories growing up as a gamer in the 80s.

Right here – I’m going to take a look at the entire Double Dragon franchise over the last 30 years as well as some of the more infamous ports and spin-offs the series has offered us for three decades.

Double Dragon

Double Dragon

Telling the story of brothers, Billy and Jimmy Lee. Double Dragon was a simple beat em’ up with a simple plot. Bad guys called The Black Warrior Gang turn up, punch Billy’s girlfriend -Marian in the stomach and kidnap her. Playing as Billy or Jimmy… or both with a friend – you had to fight your way through four stages of various enemies and bosses. You’d even find numerous weapons to use in your fight to save the girl. The final stage is the gang’s hideout where you eventually come up against the gang’s leader, Willy. Take out Willy, save Marian and you are a winner… except if you played 2-player where an unexpected twist has brother fight against brother.

Double Dragon was a smash hit and was soon ported to pretty much every game’s machine in the late 80s and early 90s. The NES, Master System, Game Boy, Atari Lynx Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC all had their own versions of the game. There was even a port on an unlicensed cartridge for the Mega Drive released in 1992. But the cream of the crop, top of the heap was the Atari 2600 port – it was… interesting.

Double Dragon 2600

The success of Double Dragon meant a sequel was inevitable, but who would know the franchise would still be alive 30 years later?

Double Dragon II: The Revenge

Double Dragon II

The sequel, Double Dragon II: The Revenge was released in 1988 and to be quite frank – it was more of the same with a few bells and whistles. This time around The Black Warriors Gang and their leader, Willy don’t kidnap Marian. Willy outright murders her in cold blood. So of course Billy and Jimmy set out for revenge. Double Dragon II: The Revenge really is little more than just a graphical upgrade. The gameplay itself remained the same, save for a few minor tweaks and improvements. The game even re-uses a lot of the same enemies from the previous game.

Once again, the game was ported to pretty much every popular games machine at the time but sadly, no Atari 2600 port.

Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone

Double Dragon 3

1990 saw Billy and Jimmy Lee return and this time – they are joined by Sonny (whoever that is). Yup, this sequel brings with it several new ideas to the Double Dragon franchise. Not only is it simultaneous three player but the graphics have been given a complete overhaul and several new moves have been introduced. The plot this time involves the Lee brothers and Sonny (still no idea who he is) having to travel the globe in search of the titular Rosetta Stones. Starting in the United States before heading to China, Japan, Italy and finally – Egypt.

The game also featured a very unwelcome addition. You know how modern games have those dreaded ‘micro transactions’ – those things developers include to milk every last penny out of the player? Well Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone had this feature long before they became the norm today. This game featured item shops on the levels where you could buy new weapons, items, power-ups and even new characters… only you had to use real money to buy these and each item would be the same cost as a single credit. So if you wanted to make any progress in the game, you’d have to spend some serious real cash. This feature was removed from the later Japnese version due to negative feedback.

And yes, there were ports to the numerous gaming machines at the time too. Plus there was an alternate game called Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones released for the NES in 1991. This was not a port of the arcade game, but instead a whole new game made just for the NES and yes – this is where the whole ‘Bimmy’ thing started too.

Super Double Dragon

Super Double Dragon

This one was an exclusive for the SNES and fourth game in the franchise… though not actually Double Dragon IV – that explanation is coming up later…

The plot of this one is – well, there is no plot. Lead programmer; Muneki Ebinuma revealed in 2004 that this game was never finished before it was released. Super Double Dragon was supposed to feature cut-scenes telling a story. The story involved Billy and Jimmy investigating a criminal organisation known as the Shadow Warriors. The gang has been kidnapping various martial artists. Billy and Jimmy were tasked with fighting their way through seven stages as they rescue the missing martial artists before facing the gang’s main boss – Duke who was to have been revealed as being a childhood friend of the Lee brothers… but the story a lot of the game mechanics were never included in the final product due to time constraints.

Super Double Dragon is a very impressive beat em’ up in many ways. The fighting mechanics are pretty awesome as not only can you punch and kick, but you now have a block button and if you block just as you’re being attacked, you’ll grab your enemy in an arm/leg lock and continue to beat the crap out of them too. The weapons have been improved and updated over previous games too and some of the scenery is interactive. But you can also tell that the game is unfinished and lacking in so many areas – plus its painfully slow and sluggish. Its a shame because you can tell there is a great game here. The Japanese version (Return of Double Dragon) differs slightly and is ‘better’ than the Western version and I’d recommend playing that one instead if you can find it.

Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls

Double Dragon V

By the mid 90s – any and everyone was trying to cash in on the massive success of Capcom’s Street Fighter II. There were suddenly one on one, tournament fighting games everywhere and Double Dragon wanted in on the action too. Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls was released in 1994 and based on the animated Double Dragon TV series that aired around the same time. It was pretty standard stuff, Street Fighter II only not as good.

Double Dragon

Double Dragon Neo Geo

Yup, its just called Double Dragon and no its not a remake of the original. This 1995 released game is yet another Street Fighter II wanna-be. Inspired by the movie version of the game (so a game turned into a movie which is then turned into a game) as it takes plot elements, characters and locales used in the movie. This was also the last Double Dragon game made by original developers – Technōs before they went bust.

Released for the arcades, Neo Geo CD and Play Station. This Double Dragon ended up being a disappointment as it just didn’t measure up to the sea of similar (and better) fighting games around at the time. Plus, Double Dragon fans were thirsty for a proper Double Dragon game – not another Street Fighter II clone.

Double Dragon Advance

Double Dragon Advance

The franchise lay dormant from 1995 until 2003 when Double Dragon Advance was released for the Game Boy Advance. This one was a remake of the original arcade game, only given a graphical overhaul as well as update the move set to include fighting mechanics taken from some of the series’ sequels over the years. The plot is the same as it was in the original with you taking on the gang that kidnapped Marian. Four new stages have also been added to the original ones as well as several new enemies to punch and kick. This was the kind of game fans of the series had yearned after for several years and Double Dragon Advance is a pretty damn good Double Dragon game – well worthy of the name.

Double Dragon Neon

Double Dragon Neon

A modern retelling/reboot of Double Dragon released in 2012. This game is very tongue in cheek as it really plays up to its 80s setting and uses self-parody as its main source of humour. Yet it still manages to retain that classic 80s arcade feel and this one is definitely a must for any old school Double Dragon fan. Not an easy game to get on with at first – but once you unlock a few upgrades and get used to the fighting mechanics, this game is a pure blast full of retro goodness and gameplay.

Double Dragon II: Wander of the Dragons

Double Dragon II Wander

A remake of the original arcade game Double Dragon II: The Revenge – Double Dragon II: Wander of the Dragons is awful. I made the mistake of thinking this was a sequel to Double Dragon Neon… its not. This game is a clunky, unresponsive, and just an absolute mess. Its ugly to look at and even uglier to play. Not worth your time at all and is an insult to the Double Dragon name.

Double Dragon IV

Double Dragon IV

Okay – so now things are going to get confusing. This game released in 2017 is the official fourth game in the Double Dragon franchise. Released twenty seven years AFTER Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone and twenty three years AFTER Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls. But it gets worse as Double Dragon IV is not even a sequel to Double Dragon 3 (either version) but in fact a direct sequel to the NES port of Double Dragon II instead. Confused yet?

As you can see for the screen shot, Double Dragon IV goes for a retro style and look based on the NES versions of the original games. The plot is pretty simple – The Black Warriors Gang from the original two games team up with an all new gang called The Renegades to finish off Billy and Jimmy Lee once and for all. In typical Double Dragon fashion, you punch and kick enemies in the face and take out bosses spread over several different stages. A distinctly average Double Dragon game that leans too much on nostalgia and not enough on gameplay.

1987 – 2017

So there you have it – three decades of face punching action from Double Dragon.

Double Dragon Logo

But before I end this retrospective, there are a few other Double Dragon games and spin-offs I want to give quick mention to.

1989s U.S. Championship V’Ball (aka; Super Spike V’Ball) for the NES featured both Billy and Jimmy Lee as playable characters. Arcade game WWF Superstars from 1989 had Billy appear in a cameo role. Battletoads & Double Dragon which was released in 1993 was a crossover game featuring characters from both titular franchises. 2002s Rage of the Dragons released for the Neo Geo is a one on one fighter that features Billy and Jimmy Lee as playable characters. And in 2013, Double Dragon Trilogy was released for  iOS, Android and Steam – a collection of the first three arcade games with a few minor tweaks added.

Well that’s me done then. Thanks to Billy and Jimmy Lee for the gaming memories. – I’m off to play some Double Dragon Neon.

Double Dragon Neon Characters.jpg

Raiding Tombs And Shooting Endangered Animals In The Face, Its 20 Years Of Lara Croft

Back in October of 1996, the world was first introduced to now gaming icon legend – Lara Croft with the release of the original Tomb Raider. So I’m going to spend some time looking back at the main games in the franchise and its ups and downs as well as Lara herself over the last 20 years.

lara-croft-evolution

The Original Trilogy

Tomb Raider was the game that started it all. Developed by Core Design while being published by Eidos Interactive. Tomb Raider was a melding of action, platforming, puzzles and exploration. Borrowing gameplay elements from the 1989 classic Prince of Persia. You play as Lara Croft who sets out to recover a mysterious artefact called the Scion. The first part of which she finds in the lost tomb of Qualopec in Peru.

tomb-raider-1996

Lara is then send around the globe to seek out the rest of the Scion in locations such as; Greece Egypt and the lost city of Atlantis. Lara was a nimble character as she could run, jump, flip, climb, dive, swim and she also had a small arsenal of weapons too. Pistols, uzis, shotguns and even a magnum. Lara would spend most of her gun skills killing a variety of animals like; wolves, bats, bears and gorillas. There is even a T-Rex battle because… why not?

tomb-raider-t-rex

The game was a huge success and the inevitable sequel, Tomb Raider II was released in 1997. This time, Lara investigates the legend of the Dagger of Xian a mythical weapon which was said to be used by an Emperor of China. It was pretty much more of the same with a bit more polish. Lara was as nimble as before and was packing even more weapons too like; a speargun, grenade launcher and an M16 rifle to kill even more animals around the globe. Lara’s travels took her to Venice, Tibet and China. She could also use two vehicles in the game a snowmobile while in Tibet and a motorboat in Venice.

tomb-raider-ii

By 1997, Lara Croft had become a pop culture icon as she turned up on the cover of magazines often not associated with games as well as appearing in TV adverts for SEAT cars, Lucozade energy drink and even showing up at U2’s Popmart live tour in 1997.

lara-croft-cover

The last game in the original trilogy, Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft was released in 1998. Lara’s move set had yet again been improved as she could now sprint and even ‘monkey swing’ on overhead bars and vines. This time, Lara’s globetrotting takes her to India, the South Pacific, Nevada, London and Antarctica as she searches for meteorite stones. This marked the end of the original numbered trilogy, but there was plenty more Lara to come.

The No More Numbers Trilogy

Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation was the fourth entry in the series, the start of the numberless sequels and was released in 1999. While in Egypt, Lara uncovers an ancient tomb where an Egyptian God was once imprisoned. She accidentally releases the god who threatens to unleash an apocalypse on Earth. So Lara sets out to entrap the god back into its resting place.

tomb-raider-tlr

To be honest, by the time this game was released – the whole Tomb Raider/Lara Croft thing was wearing a little thin. The games were hardly evolving and were little more than just Lara ‘wearing a new hat’. A handful of new features and cosmetics were all that was on offer. Gone is the globetrotting element of the first three games as this one takes place solely in Egypt. Aside from an opening prequel where you get to play as Lara when she was 16 years old set in Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Oh and Lara is (supposedly) killed off at the end too.

But Lara didn’t stay dead for long as the release of Tomb Raider: Chronicles in 2000 proved. Set just a few days after Lara’s (supposed) death, a memorial service is held at Croft Manor as friends of Lara gather to reminisce on some of her past adventures… and this is where you get to play as Lara once more. The first story has Lara in Rome searching for the fabled Philosopher’s Stone. The second tale has Lara exploring the Pacific Ocean for the Spear of Destiny. Story three is set during Lara’s childhood where a 16 year old Lara is exploring the Black Isle of Ireland. In the final yarn – Lara infiltrates Von Croy Industries HQ in New York to gain possession of the Iris, the artefact that began the events of Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation.

tomb-raider-v

The game wraps up with an expedition in Egypt where an excavation of the collapsed temple Lara (supposedly) died in from the last game reveals Lara’s iconic backpack and the game ends presuming that Lara has been found alive.

Was the game any good? Well here is what Andy Sandham, a designer for the game stated years after it was made…

Tomb Raider 5 was effectively a load of old shit. That was the most depressing one for us. We were effectively just doing that for a paycheck because no other team wanted to take it on. So we had to do it, basically. By that time it had taken its toll. Three years of hammering it, and we were burnt out. That shows in the product.”

The game wasn’t very good and it looked like the Lara Croft bubble was about to burst. There was just a lack of innovation (again) and the Tomb Raider series was becoming stale – very stale. Core Design had developed every game in the franchise so far. The franchise was in need of some new ideas, but Core Design had one more game up its sleeve.

tomb-raider-taod

The sixth and final game from original Tomb Raider developer Core Design was released in 2003. Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness has Lara alive and now in Paris as she is dragged into an investigation of a serial killer known as ‘The Monstrum’. All of which tie into the discovery of some Obscura Paintings linked to black magic. Light RPG elements were added to the game as well as some instances where you could chose replies in conversations such as polite questions, bribery or even threats.

The game was delayed, twice and when finally released it met with average to poor reviews. Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness was the worst selling game of the franchise so far, it was full of bugs and plans for a sequel called; The Lost Dominion were quickly scrapped.

Out With The Old And In With The New… Trilogy

The large criticism that Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness received prompted the Tomb Raider franchise publishers, Eidos Interactive, to replace developer Core Design with Crystal Dynamics. So what did they have planned to breath new life into the dying franchise?

tomb-raider-legend

Tomb Raider: Legend was released in 2006 from developers, Crystal Dynamics. This one was a reboot to the series and disregarded all previous continuity. Lara searches for the mysterious Stone Dais that was responsible for the disappearance of her mother several years ago. Lara was back and Tomb Raider: Legend managed to revive the ‘dead on its legs’ franchise. The new game engine was sublime and allowed Lara to be much more athletic and dynamic. The core gameplay remained largely the same and yet it all felt very fresh at the same time too.

Crystal Dynamics successful reboot meant the future of Lara looked good. But who knew her future lay in her past?

tomb-raider-anni

Tomb Raider: Anniversary hit the shops in 2007. It had been 11 years since the release of the original Tomb Raider so what better way to celebrate than a remake of the very first game? Yes, Crystal Dynamics remade the original game… but did it work?

Well yes it did. It wasn’t just a graphical upgrade. This game used the much improved game engine from Tomb Raider: Legend and all that brought with it. The plot is the same as the original Tomb Raider with Lara travelling around the globe searching out parts of the Scion artefact. All the original’s game locales have been beautifully recreated and yes, that damn T-Rex is back too, only now looking a lot better…

tomb-raider-anni-trex

The third and final game in this trilogy was Tomb Raider: Underworld released in 2008. This one is a direct sequel to the first game in this trilogy, Tomb Raider: Legend. With the second game, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, being a prequel… confused yet? This time around – Lara is tasked with finding the Entrance to Avalon, where she discovers a link between the Saxon Legend and Norse Mythology. As Lara seeks out the Hammer of Thor.

tomb-raider-underworld

When it was released, Tomb Raider: Underworld was met with positive reviews and critical praise. Lara was on top once more and the franchise was back on track. The Tomb Raider name then lay dormant in terms of main games in the series for 5 years before yet another reboot was released…

The New, New, New Trilogy

It was all quiet on the Tomb Raider front for half a decade until an all new Lara was reborn in an all new game.

tomb-raider-2013

Tomb Raider was the second reboot the franchise and released in 2013. Lara is back but much more gritty and ‘realistic’ than before. Lara is on an expedition that goes very wrong and leaves the young and inexperienced Lara Croft stranded on an island. An island full of savage animals and bizarre cultists as Lara uncovers the mystery of the Shaman Queen, Himiko.

As previously mentioned, this one is much more grounded and Lara feels like a genuine character with real emotions and a personality. The violence is far more bloody, graphic and visceral then before. In fact, this is the first game in the franchise to be given an M rating in America.

tomb-raider-2013-blood

Tomb Raider was critically acclaimed and met with very positive reviews. Which all meant a sequel would be coming soon and in 2015, Rise of the Tomb Raider was released.

rise-of-the-tomb-raider

This one was pretty much more of the same as before, but with several refinements… which was not a bad thing at all as the previous game was great. This time around, Lara continues her late father’s research into myths of immortality. As her travels take her to the Siberian tundra where she crosses paths with a ruthless shadow organisation called Trinity.

rise-of-the-tomb-raider-1

Once again, this title met with high critical praise. This sequel just built on what was already great about the the first Tomb Raider game… the second reboot first game from 2013 and not the original first Tomb Raider from 1996… confused again yet? The combat had been improved as well as the upgrade/crafting system. Even the acting and story was much better this time around too. Everything just felt much more fluid and natural which led to a more organic gameplay experience.

20-years

And that just about wraps up Tomb Raider’s 20 year legacy in games. Yeah there were a few spin offs and other titles I didn’t mention, but as I said at the start, I just wanted to concentrate on the main games in the franchise. But wait a second, didn’t I imply this was a new trilogy but only mentioned 2 games? Yes I believe I did. Well back in August of 2015, Square Enix of America CEO, Phil Rogers let slip that this new Tomb Raider reboot would be a trilogy. Then more recently, an image popped up claiming to reveal the title of the new game as being Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

Its all rumour and speculation right now. But I don’t think a third game in this reboot would be a big surprise to anyone would it?

Well there you go – 20 years of Tomb Raider and I now feel old. I can’t believe it was two decades ago when I was first introduced to Lara Croft and her tomb raiding adventures. But just to finish, I’s like to take a quick look at the star of the show itself…

Lara Croft

lara-croft

Well, Lara certainly has changed over the years and I don’t just mean graphically. Her breasts have gotten less pointy and smaller as she has grown from a sexual gaming icon of the mid 90s that late teen early 20 somethings like myself drooled over, to a genuine and honest character with a real personality and emotions in more recent years. But did you know she was never originally intended to be female at all?

When Core Design first came up with the idea to create a game with an Indiana Jones inspired archaeologist that travelled the globe in search for artefacts. Lead graphic artist, Toby Gard originally pitched the idea for a male character complete with a fedora hat, bullwhip and everything. The original character design was Indiana Jones in all but the name. It was Core Design co-founder, Jeremy Smith who asked for more originality and that was when Toby Gard changed the character to female and created the Latino sociopath named Laura Cruz. Yes, the first idea for the now iconic Lara Croft was going to be muscle bound cold blooded killer called Laura Cruz.

laura-cruz

It didn’t take too long before that idea was dropped in favour of a more erudite character we have now, but where did they get the name from? Well, a phone book. Seriously, they wanted something that sounded like Laura Cruz but more ‘English’. It was publisher Eidos who pushed for the English angle and it was someone there who picked up a phone book for Derby, England and found the name Lara Croft. So technically, Lara Croft is named after a real person and there is/was someone living in Derby with a now very famous moniker.

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The original Lara from Tomb Raider 1996 only consisted of around 540 polygons and the Lara from Tomb Raider 2013? Over 40,000. It was due to the tight polygon count for the original game the lead to Lara not having a ponytail in-game, though she did in the cut-scenes and promotional marital. It has also been said that Lara’s unnatural pointy and large breasts came about because lead graphic artist, Toby Gard was just ‘messing around with Lara’s model one day and accidentally made her breasts 150% larger’. He intended to reset it back to how it was, but others on the team saw the model and decided to keep it as it was.

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Not only has Lara changed in-game, she has been played by numerous actresses over the years too. Starting with Shelly Bond in the original Tomb Raider from 1996, Lara has been portrayed in the games by Judith Gibbins (1997-2000), Jonell Elliott (2001-2006), Keeley Hawes (2007-2012) and finally, Camilla Luddington (2013 – present). As well as being played by a number of models outside of the games and of course Angelina Jolie in two live action movies.

I think it best to end this article now as its dragging on a bit. But I’d like to finish up by just wishing Lara and Tomb Raider a happy 20th anniversary… and end with a sexy shot of Lara just to remind me of when I was 20…

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Wolfenstein: ‘The Grandfather’ Part II.

By now, Wolfenstein 3D had taken the gaming world by storm. We gamers were blown away and eagerly waited for another game in the franchise.

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Wolfenstein 3D and its add-ons were released in 1992, but we wouldn’t see another game for almost a decade. It wasn’t a sequel but a reboot.

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Return to Castle Wolfenstein: This time developed by Gray Matter Interactive (single player) and Nerve Software (multiplayer), published by id Software and released in 2001.

Once again, you play as B.J. Blazkowicz who teams up with a British operative known as Agent One. The two are captured and imprisoned in Castle Wolfenstein by the Nazis while they were investigating rumours of a top secret project of Heinrich Himmler regarding the SS Paranormal Division. Agent One is killed during interrogation but Blazkowicz manages to escape and its up to him (you) to unravel the mysteries of ‘Operation Resurrection’ and escape Castle Wolfenstein.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein was a pretty decent game and it managed to update the franchise while still not forgetting its roots as it featured several nods and references to Wolfenstein 3D. Its an action packed shooter like its predecessor only this time it contains more of a story. The supernatural elements of Wolfenstein 3D are also played up much more and offer some depth to the plot.

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Reviews at the time gave the game pretty decent scores as a single player game, but it was the multiplayer element that received the most praise.

There were plans to make a direct sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein, but things didn’t quite work out…

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Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory: This was released in 2003, developed by Splash Damage and published by id Software. Originally planned to be a sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein but there were problems during development, so the single player element was dropped from the game and it was released as a multiplayer only title.

Created to build on the success and popularity of Return to Castle Wolfenstein’s highly praised multiplayer. The game was released completely free to anyone. Originally, the game only contained six maps to play on. But thanks to a great gaming community, hundreds of user created maps were soon added. There are various game modes to play including; Objective Mode, Stopwatch Mode and Last Man Standing coupled with plenty of options to tailor the game’s settings to suit your style of play.

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There are various classes to play as each with their own skill sets, strengths and weaknesses. As you play, you’ll earn experience points which allow you to level up your skills. This was a pretty good multiplayer shooter… but it really had nothing to do with Wolfenstein at all. It was just a good WW II based multiplayer shooter and could have been given any name really.

So what next for Wolfenstein? How about an RPG?

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Wolfenstein RPG: Developed by Fountainhead Entertainment and published by EA Mobile. This oddity was a mobile only game for iOS in 2009 and programmed by id Software co-founder; John Carmack. Yes, an RPG based in the world of Wolfenstein because… why not?

William “B.J.” Blazkowicz is back and is being held by the Nazis. You must escape Castle Wolfenstein (again) and save the world by putting and end to the SS Paranormal Division (again). This game plays like an old school, turn based RPG but looks like Wolfenstein only given a bit of a comedic/cartoon slant. You roam areas, loot for items, kill Nazis, zombies, skeletons and even paintings of Hitler…

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If you have ever played a dungeon crawler style game like Dungeon Master, etc then you’ll know what to expect with this game. Its a slow paced game as its turn based, so no ‘running and gunning’ here and a big departure from previous games. But its also damn good fun and very addictive with a great black humour and an exaggerated comic book art style. The game was well received when released and well worth playing, but sadly its no longer available on Apple’s app store.

Well that was ‘interesting’ but now its time for yet another reboot.

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Wolfenstein: Yep, just plain old Wolfenstein. Developed by Raven Software and released in 2009. This was the second time the series was rebooted, but was it any good?

Yes, B.J. Blazkowicz is back once more to shoot Nazis in the face. Set in the fictional town of Isenstadt. Blazkowicz steals a strange medallion and unwittingly unleashes its power. He soon learns that the medallion requites crystals called Nachtsonne that are only found in a Nazi occupied town called Isenstadt. Blazkowicz goes to Isenstadt to find these crystals and meets up with a resistance group dedicated to freeing Isenstadt from the Nazis. A bigger emphasis is placed on the supernatural elements as you come into possession of the medallion that grants you certain mystical powers. The game also uses a pseudo-open world styled hub that you could explore at will to find secrets and hidden areas.

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This reboot was quite a departure from the classic Wolfenstein games in the past and didn’t feel quite right. Don’t get me wrong, its a pretty fun game to play… but it just doesn’t feel like Wolfenstein at all. The game met with average reviews at the time and that was about fair to be honest. It was just a very ‘okay’ game that lacked that Wolfenstein style and attitude.

So what next for the series? Well another reboot of course.

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Wolfenstein: The New Order: Developed by MachineGames and published by Bethesda Softworks, released in 2014. This one was more of a soft reboot for the franchise as its often seen as a sequel to the previous game, but with a new timeline .

The plot here tells a story of an alternate timeline set in the 1960s where the Nazis won the Second World War and have enslaved the world. I don’t want to spoilt the plot here so I’m not going to reveal anymore. Once again taking control of veteran, William “B.J.” Blazkowicz as you make your way all over Europe and explore various levels and of course, shoot Nazis in the face with a variety of weapons. Wolfenstein: The New Order brought back the stealth element from the original games as you could sneak around, use cover and kill enemies while trying to no raise any alarms… or you could just blast away with dual shotguns old school style. The game offered a great deal of gameplay mechanics as well as an interesting story and plenty of secrets to find along the way.

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Blazkowicz feels like a genuine character for the first time in the franchise as the story unfolds, he develops. There are decisions to make in the game that affect the plot, customisation for the weapons, alternate routes to find through the levels and even the chance to play maps from the classic Wolfenstein 3D but using the game mechanics from this game. There is a hell of a lot poured into this game as it mixes old style gameplay from previous Wolfenstein games but also adds a lot of new ideas that keeps the game feeling fresh and gets you wanting to try multiple play throughs and search out all those secrets.

Wolfenstein: The New Order met with critical and commercial success and received impressive review scores. A wonderful melding of classic Wolfenstein and modern Wolfenstein to make a successful return for an ageing franchise. I highly recommend playing this one if your’re a fan of the FPS genre and Wolfenstein. The game was followed up with a add on…

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Wolfenstein: The Old Blood: Again, developed by MachineGames and published by Bethesda Softworks, released in 2015. This was originally going to be relased as two separate pieces of DLC, but it was decided to combine the two and release it as one whole add on instead.

Not too much to say about this one as its more of the same with it being an add on to Wolfenstein: The New Order and it plays the same. This one is a prequel to the last game and set in 1946 where you playing as Blazkowicz on a mission to once again infiltrate Castle Wolfenstein.

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There are a handful of new weapons to use and customise and one of the biggest is the introduction of a steel pipe. Yeah the steel pipe doesn’t sound very impressive, but the way it is used in the game is quite clever as it can be used to climb walls, pry open doors, break open walls or just to crack people over the head with. This is just more of the same and its just as good as Wolfenstein: The New Order.

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So there you have it, the Wolfenstein franchise in all its glory. From its humble beginnings as an early stealth game to earning a rightful place in gaming history as the ‘Grandfather’ of the FPS genre to riding high today with its modern entries. There have been a few ‘not so great games’ in the series though. But overall, its a great franchise and with rumours that a full sequel to Wolfenstein: The New Order is being worked on. The franchise looks like its not disappearing anytime soon. I can’t wait for more Wolfenstein and William “B.J.” Blazkowicz as I do enjoy a bit of B.J.

William ‘B.J’ Blazkowicz:Here’s how this is going to work. I’m gonna ask you one question. You’re gonna answer that question in a way I find satisfactory and if you do not, I’ll saw your head off with this here appliance, you hear me?

You can also read my Wolfenstein 3D gaming overview.

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Wolfenstein: ‘The Grandfather’ Part I.

Wolfenstein 3D from id Software, cited as “the Grandfather” of First Person Shooters (FPS) and also mostly known as the first FPS ever created.

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Yeah, one can not deny the importance Wolfenstein 3D has in gaming history. But before I go on, I just want to rectify a couple of things. Wolfenstein 3D was not the first ever FPS, it wasn’t even the first FPS from id Software themselves as they had made Hovertank 3D and Catacomb 3D both in 1991 before Wolfenstein 3D. Plus there are other notable games from other developers that could easily claim the crown of the first FPS.
Its not even the first Wolfenstein game, there is a subtle clue in the title… Wolfenstein 3D. Its the third game in the series. And that is what this article is going to look at, the Wolfenstein series of games right from the very first title up to the newest entry as well as look a few interesting Wolfenstein tit-bits along the way.

Better crack on with the first Wolfenstein game.

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Castle Wolfenstein: Developed by Muse Software and released in 1981 for the Apple II, DOS, Atari 400/800 and Commodore 64. Castle Wolfenstein is a mix of action/shooting blended with stealth. This game was Metal Gear 6 years before Metal Gear even existed.

Taking place in the titular Castle Wolfenstein you have to find the war plans of the Nazis and escape. You start the game as a Private but go through the ranks up to Field Marshal as you play. You can move from screen to screen of which there are 60 different ones on 5 separate floors and the items and guards for each room are randomly generated at the start of the game, but the rooms themselves are always the same. For such and early game, there is a lot of variation and options open to the player. You can go all guns blazing and shoot all and every guard you see, or you can try to sneak past guards instead and leave little evidence that you are there.

Armed with a gun as well as grenades, but guards will react to the sound they make putting risk on you getting caught. If you take out a guard, you can search them and find helpful items such as extra ammo, keys, grenades and even bullet proof vests. You can even find items in the various chests scattered around the rooms though these are locked but can be opened with a lock-pick or keys. You might also find food and drink and can even get drunk via wine and Schnapps and this affects your aim with the gun. Aside from main walls and stairs, the rooms were destructible and you’ll find yourself having to blow up walls to gain access to other areas.

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If you didn’t want to go in shooting everyone in sight, then you can always sneak up on a guard with your gun drawn and force them to surrender. The game featured digitised voices as the guards would call out “Halt!” and “Kommen Sie!” if they spotted you. It all looks rather primitive by todays standards, but Castle Wolfenstein was very advanced for the time with its many options open to the player and with no one set way to complete the game as how you played was up to you, as well as all the little touches that are now common place in stealth games today. This featured plenty of replay value and I recall spending hours upon hours exploring and trying to find those damn plans from the Nazis. For 1981, this game was a revelation and without knowing it, it set the standard for a genre of gaming that would become massively popular in the 90s, the stealth based game. Hideo Kojima and his Metal Gear series owes a lot to this game.

Castle Wolfenstein was a pretty big hit for developer Muse Software and a sequel was released following its success.

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Beyond Castle Wolfenstein: Released in 1984 also from Muse Software, this sequel to the original game looked and felt pretty much like its predecessor but with a few gameplay tweaks.

The story had changed with you now having to explore and make you way through a secret bunker to find Adolf Hitler and assassinate him via the use of a bomb. The idea was based on the infamous “20 July plot” plot under Operation Valkyrie from 1944. The main gameplay remained pretty much the same as before but also brought with it some new ideas such as guards now asking you for papers and if you had the correct pass for each of the floors then they would let you pass. If you didn’t? Well they would raise and alarm or try to kill you. But you could always try to bribe the guards if you had the money to do so.

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You could also now drag the bodies of guards away to avoid them from being spotted by others. Another addition was being armed with a dagger which you can use to silently kill any guards in your way adding another layer to the stealth mechanic. More speech was also added as well as improved sound effects. But on the whole, this game was more of the same… which was not a bad thing at all as the last game was great as was this one too.

And that was it for the franchise as it lay dormant… until 1992 of course when the ‘Grandfather’ was released.

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Wolfenstein 3D: This was the big one, the game changer, the true ‘birth’ of the FPS genre. id Software came up with the idea of building on their previous FPS games but couldn’t decide on the setting. Then the idea to make a game similar to the first two Wolfenstein games came about as the team were big fans of them, but they knew they couldn’t afford to buy the license to use the name. It was soon discovered that Muse Software had gone bust a few years earlier and the Wolfenstein name was free to use… so they used it.

The game was not only hugely influenced by the original Wolfenstein games, but also by the classic Gauntlet from 1985. While this shared the Wolfenstein name, its gameplay was vastly different. Gone is the stealth mechanic of the previous games as the action is amped up in its place. With the focus being more action orientated for a faster moving game though the setting remained the same of Castle Wolfenstein. You now play as William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, an American spy of Polish descent… so he doesn’t much like Nazis. The game is split into three different episodes with each episode having its own story inspired by the original Wolfenstein games.

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Episode 1: “Escape from Castle Wolfenstein” has you, wait for it… being captured and having to escape Castle Wolfenstein. Episode 2: “Operation: Eisenfaust” in which you discover plans the Nazis have to create an army of undead mutants and Episode 3: “Die, Führer, Die!” you have to infiltrate a underground bunker and kill Adolf Hitler… who is in a robotic suit equipped with mini-guns. Each of the three episodes feature multiple levels for you to make your way through. The gameplay is very similar to that of Gauntlet as you have to make your way through various levels, killing enemies and collecting keys to make it to the exit, but the view point is now that of a first person. The levels themselves are full of secret areas for you to discover where you can find treasure to add to your score as well as ammo and weapons.

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It was a simple enough game and definitely ‘dumbed down’ over the originals by removing all the stealth gameplay… but that was not a bad thing at all as Wolfenstein 3D was a fast placed, bloody/gory, gun filled extravaganza. Again, not the first ever FPS but this was the game that cemented and popularised the genre. You know how you kids are playing the latest Call of Duty game? Well that exists because of Wolfenstein 3D.

But the fun didn’t end when you completed Wolfenstein 3D as two prequels were released as add-ons. First was; The Nocturnal Missions and like the main game, it too was split into three episodes. Episode 1: “A Dark Secret” where you pursue a weapons research scientist. Episode 2: “Trail of the Madman” and here, Blazkowicz has to find the maps and plans for a chemical war. Episode 3: “Confrontation” has you confronting the Nazi general in charge of the chemical warfare initiative. Then finally there was the other add-on; Spear of Destiny and its episodes that included; “Return to Danger” and “Ultimate Challenge”.

Wolfenstein 3D changed gaming forever and put id Software on the map. The game was a revelation and you really had to be there to understand the impact it had on the industry. It reinvented the FPS genre and its influence can still be found in modern games today. id Software went on to (again) change the face of the FPS genre with another franchise about some space marine and some demons from hell, but that will have to wait for another time as I have a lot more Wolfenstein games to cover. But before we move on to all of that, how about some Wolfenstein trivia?

One of id Software’s earlier games was a called; Commander Keen and he starred in four games; Invasion of the Vorticons, Keen Dreams, Goodbye Galaxy and Aliens Ate My Babysitter.

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They were quite popular platform/action games. But what does this have to do with Wolfenstein? Well a fourth game was planned at the time and it was originally going to be a 3D version of Commander Keen but that became Wolfenstein 3D. Also the star of Wolfenstein, William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, is said to be a direct descendant to Commander Keen.

Nintendo asked id Software to work on a port of Wolfenstein 3D for their SNES console which they did do. However, Nintendo censored the game in a HUGE way removing all the blood, Nazi imagery and even replacing the dogs in the game with rats. This censorship angered id Software, so they gave the game’s source code to another company (Wisdom Tree) so they could make an unofficial Nintendo game…

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Super 3D Noah’s Ark was released in 1994 for the SNES and it was Wolfenstein 3D with a graphical change and a religious theme.

In Episode 3, floor 10 and Episode 6, floor 10, there are secret areas that reveal an homage to some very specific famous, classic game characters…

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Yes, the Pac-Man ghosts are in Wolfenstein 3D.

There was even a direct sequel planned for Wolfenstein 3D from id Software and it was quite far in development before they turned their attention to another project (DOOM). But that sequel was eventually released, just not as a Wolfenstein game.

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The game was reworked and released as; Rise of the Triad in 1994. The game even still has a Nazi theme as the plot tells a story of the fall of Hitler (which would have carried over from Wolfenstein 3D).

I’ll end part I here, but in part II Wolfenstein gets rebooted for the first time, but not the last.

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Its never going to get any better than this (A brief history of video games).

I grew up in the late 70s and through the 80s, growing up playing games as long as I have. You get to see many, many changes over the years. There have been several times when I’ve played a game and thought to myself that ‘its never going to get any better than this’ only to be proven wrong further down the line.

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So here, I’d like to round up those games that, for as long as I have been playing games, for one reason or another. Whether it be graphics, gameplay, story or some other reason, have impressed me.
In no particular order and I’ll be jumping around the years as I go and yes, I would have mentioned several of these games elsewhere on this site already too. Here are my ‘its never going to get any better than this’ (A brief history of video games).

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Space Invaders – Atari 2600 (1980): Holds the distinction of being the first ever licensed arcade to home machine port. This was always a simple game and one of the all time classics in gaming. But what amazed me about it was the simple fact we could now play arcade games at home, of which Space Invaders was the very first and opened the floodgates to other arcade/home ports like Asteroids, Defender, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and so on.

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While this version was not an arcade perfect port by any means, just the simple fact we were playing this on our own console at home was a dream come true. Plus the Atari 2600 version came with 112 variations on the classic game offering hours upon hours of replay value.

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Prince Of Persia – Amiga 500 (1989): This game just had to be seen to be believed back then. The super smooth, rotoscoped animation was unreal and unlike anything we had seen then. A platforming game like no other at the time and would go on to not only be the inspiration for other many hugely popular IPs later, but also become its own successful franchise in itself. Prince of Persia didn’t just offer amazing animation but also managed to blend into the mix platforming action, sword fights and puzzle solving. The game was simple but tough and relied on the old ‘trial and error’ style, so the more you played, the more you learned and progressed.

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It gave birth to the sub genre of (what I call); ‘The cinematic platform games’, as this offered an almost movie like story experience that unfolded as you played. With other games like; Another World (AKA; Out of this World), Flashback, Nosferatu, Blackthorne (AKA; Blackhawk) and numerous others that borrowed form the Prince of Persia formula. Would we ever had gotten; Lara Croft and the entire Tomb Raider series without this game? Plus the fact that Assassin’s Creed began as a spin off to Prince of Persia called; Prince of Persia: Assassin. Prince of Persia was/is certainly influential.

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Half-Life – PC (1998): Okay, I have to be honest here, I’m not a big fan of Half-Life. People are always going on about Valve finally releasing a Half-Life 3 and to be honest, I couldn’t care less. But I am more than willing to admit that I was impressed with the original when I first saw and played it… but not for its core gameplay.

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While I didn’t think much of the gameplay of Half-Life, what did impress me was the introduction. Just that whole opening of going to work felt epic and unique at the time as introductions were just something you watched (and occasionally skipped) before the game began. But the introduction to Half-Life allowed you to play and interact as the story was slowly set up. It all helped to make introductions to games important and a great way to set in place the style and tone for what was to come later.

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Midwinter – Amiga 500 (1989): One of the very first true open world/sandbox games that are everywhere these days. While not the first of this sub genre (that one is coming up later), Midwinter (and its sequel; Midwinter II) paved the way for games like GTA, Saint’s Row, etc that we have today.

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Played from a first person view point, the map was big (for the time) and the dazzling amount of ways you could get around was unmatched. You could ski, use hand-gliders, skidoos, cable cars, snowcats, etc. Then the missions themselves could be approached and handled in various ways. Yeah there was a story to follow and objectives to complete, but you didn’t have to do them and could explore the map, find new locales and meet new people. Just the freedom the game allowed you to have was stunning at the time.

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Gauntlet – Arcade (1985): The cabinet itself with its 4 player set up was an amazing sight to see, allowing you to team up with friends and play together. One of the very first drop in/out, co-op multiplayer games. The way each character was unique and had their own strengths and weaknesses was also quite new at the time and offered a character to suit your play style.

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The memorable (and quotable) speech during gameplay, the endless levels urging you to keep on playing to see how far you could get. One of the most perfect arcade games ever created and an arcade game that shaped and moulded co-op gameplay decades before it became popular. I just never could resist popping in a few 10p coins into this monster of a game whenever I saw it.

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Super Mario World – SNES (1990): In my personal opinion, this is the greatest platform game ever created. I really can not think of another platforming game that was as well designed and as much fun to play as this. The closest game that comes to mind it its own prequel; Super Mario Bros. 3. It was beautiful to look at back then and offered a dazzling variety of gameplay and fun with a huge world full of taxing levels to play in and explore trying to find all those little secrets and hidden levels.

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The bright and cartoony styled graphics were jaw dropping at the time, but this was not just a game that looked pretty, it was a game that played even better. Each level seemed to be so well crafted and felt genuinely fun to play. The massive over-world map that held its own fun secrets to find. The multiple endings and secret areas you could hunt for in the levels that would open up short cuts, hidden areas and even a whole ‘new’ world… everything about this game is just so well designed and implemented, for me (as I said) the greatest platforming game ever made.

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Skool Daze – ZX Spectrum (1984): Another early game that had that open world/sandbox style. A game that was very unique at the time with it being set in a school. But the things you could do, the mischief you could get into and the freedom the game offered was a thing to behold back then.

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This game allowed you to bend and break all the rules you couldn’t get away with at school. Want to punch that annoying ‘know it all’ kid, stand up to the bully, hit your geography teacher with a slingshot, write rude words on the blackboard? Well you could do all of that and more in this game. And like many open world/sandbox style games, yes there was a story/plot to follow and a main goal to achieve… but you didn’t have to. You could just play around with all the little things the game had to offer and find new and interesting ways to cause havoc in school without the risk of getting into real trouble.

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Populous – Amiga 500 (1989): You got to play as a God, which in itself was pretty unique at the time. This Peter Molyneux classic (from when he was a great game designer and not a purveyor of lies and empty promises) spawned an entirely new sub-genre of gaming; The God Game.

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The power you had was unmatched in any other game, you could sculpt the land to help you people build ever increasing homes, build your power and army to unleash God-like attacks on your enemy such as earthquakes, typhoons, blight the land with swamps and so on. Until you destroyed your puny rival and took over the land. Each map was different and offered a fresh new challenge, with changing scenery and obstacles to work around. A refreshing and interesting first for its time and was the game that opened my eyes to the strategy led games of that era.

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Star Wars – Arcade (1983): The 3D vector graphics were stunning back then, coupled with the voice samples taken directly from the film as we took down Tie Fighters in our X-Wing with the Death Star looming in the background. Then once all those pesky Ties were dealt with, onto to Death Star the take out the towers before reliving the climatic trench run from the film. All of this was just awesome and really made us feel like we were X-Wing pilots.

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This game was the first I remember that felt like we were playing a movie. The action was nonstop, the graphics were (at the time) impressive and the digitised sound and music taken directly from the film just added to the overall experience, I’m pretty sure the impressive art work on the cabinet helped a lot too. If there was ever a gaming experience that made me think ‘its never going to get any better than this’, then Star Wars was it.

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Elite – BBC Micro (1984): This, this is the game that is (arguably) the grandfather of the open world/sandbox sub genre of gaming. What this game managed to archive in terms of game design in 1984 was just though of as being simply impossible back then. Developers; David Braben and Ian Bell were quite simply pure geniuses.

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To be honest, to do this game justice, I really need to do its own in-depth article (and may do so one day). What this game offered was just unheard of then, a true revolution in gaming. It was game of unparalleled design, depth and one that offered such amazing freedom of gameplay that it is still held up in such high regard today. With you playing as Commander Jameson (though the name could be changed) and starting off with a meagre 100 credits and a lightly armed trading ship. You are free to do whatever you want within the game’s impressively large universe… and it is a universe. You can become a Han Solo style space smuggler/trader. Dabble in perfectly legal goods, or maybe you want to earn more money going a more illegal route? Mine asteroids for materials. Become a well respected space trader or a nefarious space pirate. Take part in dogfights, go from planet to planet, galaxy to galaxy over an entire explorable universe via hyperspace travel. Earn more money and upgrade your ship, its weapons or even buy an all new ship with even more upgrades available. As I said before, I could do a more in-depth look at this game as it rightly deserves as what I’m writing here doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Elite changed gaming for decades and really showed what could be done with a little imagination and impressive development skills. What was in Elite was just not thought possible in 1984… but there it was. The game went on to become its own successful franchise with; Frontier: Elite II, Frontier: First Encounters and more recently a reboot for the current generation with; Elite: Dangerous (which I highly recommend if you want a great space exploration game) as well as opening the doors for games like Wing Commander (series), Privateer, Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter and the countless other space combat/exploration games that followed it. David Braben and Ian Bell changed the face of gaming forever with Elite and the ripples it caused are still being felt today.

So there you go, just a handful of games that made me feel ‘its never going to get any better than this’. To be honest, there are literally hundreds of others I could include and may very well do just that in a follow up article or seven later. While all of these were games from the 80s and 90s, there are still games being made in recent years that manage to impress me for one reason or another. I have just learned over the years that ‘it will always get better then this’ with the advancement of technology and ever increasing game designers with fresh and exciting ideas.

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