Category Archives: PC

The summer of Ultima VI

Ultima 6 Gypsy

My brother & I alternated answering the gypsy's questions...it made for an interesting Avatar!

When I was a kid, my whole life was turned upside down when my parents divorced (don’t worry…this isn’t going to be a “my parents never loved me” kind of post). It was a series of typical events that I’m sure many of you can relate to, so I won’t delve into the superfluous details. Suffice it to say that my father ended up getting his own apartment, and my brother, Jasen and I were subjugated to required weekend visits twice a month. There wasn’t a whole lot to do during the weekends we spent with our father. He wasn’t exactly what you’d call a “hands-on” kinda dad, and would mostly spend his time locked away in his bedroom watching TV, leaving my brother and I to our own devices.

While we did have a Nintendo console, it remained chained to the single television which was usually in my dad’s control. However, there was an old IBM x286 that sat in a relatively empty office room, and somehow that became the center of our world during those weekends. There were two of us and only one computer, and miraculously, instead of fighting over it (which we were prone to do), we learned to compromise and share.

One of the few games that we had at our immediate disposal was Ultima VI: The False Prophet. Jasen and I quickly devised a system of game play that satisfied us both. He being older (by a year and a half) would be the captain and I would be the navigator. This meant that he actually got to control the game, while I sat next to him and helped steer the course. Four days out of every month would find us sitting in our respective chairs; my brother at the helm and myself to his right, clutching a pen and notebook as we immersed ourselves in the world of Britannia.

Ultima VI did not have an in-game map, quest journal, nor any of the other features that you find in today’s games. When entering dialogue with NPC’s, certain words would be flagged in red that indicated more information would be available on that topic. If you weren’t paying attention, it could be relatively easy to miss something good. But thankfully, there were two sets of eyes and we rarely missed anything. One of my jobs was to catalog all of the topic keywords, while my brother typed them in. I coordinated our quests, while Jasen guided the Avatar through them. When we entered a dungeon, I dutifully sketched maps of the area so we wouldn’t get lost, while my brother controlled the combat with the various dungeon inhabitants.

This might sound tedious to some folks, but for me, it was a hell of a lot of fun. And although I didn’t realize it, or truly comprehend this until much later in life, I really learned some valuable things that summer, hovering around a computer screen. Through our cooperative method, I honed the keen attention to detail that I’ve carried with me throughout my life. I got to spend time with my big brother (who I secretly idolized, even though he gave me indian burns and endless noogies). To top it all off, I soaked in the abstract concepts of teamwork and compromise, and working together to achieve something.

In time, we beat the game, and our temporary alliance would end. That summer brought a truce between siblings who were often at odds with one another, although adulthood thankfully brought the growing pains of sibling rivalry to a close. And I can definitely look back now and count those hours spent gaming with my brother as one of my most fun, and most memorable gaming experiences of all time.

I’d love to hear about your favorite gaming moments, so please feel free to take a moment and drop a comment below. Happy gaming!

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I credit my high WPM to Sierra

KQ1

It might just look like a blob of blue pixels...but it's clover. Really.

When I type, my fingers dance across the keyboard like a trailblazing cowboy. I didn’t develop mad typing skills in keyboarding class…my Keystroke Kata began well before school required that as a part of the daily curriculum. And I owe it all to Sierra.

The early text-based adventure games like Quest for Glory (originally dubbed Hero’s Quest), King’s Quest, and…ahem…Leisure Suit Larry really helped to shape my typing techniques because this style of game required you to input verb commands in order to progress and complete quests. As the graphics technology of this era were limited (but still awesome), you couldn’t always get an in-depth view of your surroundings. Commands such as “look around” or “look at” followed by what you wanted to examine returned an in game pop-up panel that gave you a literary description of what you were actually looking at.

The early Sierra games really required you to think. You drove the story with your commands, and so you had to think about what or how you wanted to do something, tell the game what you wanted to do, and make it happen (or not – depending on your command). The text parser system within these games translated your command inputs into something the game could understand, making it easier for the player to react to the game’s response. For instance, if you issued the command, “get the gold key”, the game would strip the input and understand “get key”, resulting in your character picking up the key in the game.

The game developers at Sierra had a quirky sense of humor that often coincided with the players themselves. You could enter in some not-so-politically-correct commands and the game would provide humorous admonishments about your lack of manners. I can clearly recall one instance in Quest for Glory where I instructed my character to “pee on bush” (come on…I was 12) and the parser responded with “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” Sometimes this would turn into a personal conquest to determine how many insults I could fling at the game and get a response for.

When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, the complexity behind these early adventure games was almost mind-boggling when you stop to think about it. Every interaction, every consequential combination of objects, all of these aspects had to be carefully planned and coordinated by the game’s designer. The designer not only had to plan out the story’s sequence, but how the multitude of players would play the game and interact with the world. At some point, the designers of Quest for Glory anticipated the juvenile requests exploring the possibility of urinating in the woods.

The cool thing about text-based games is that you were really drawn into the game on an interactive level. These games weren’t just about mashing buttons mindlessly. They were about putting together the bits and pieces, unraveling the story one step at a time. You had to apply reason and conscious thought – if you got stuck on a puzzle, you couldn’t just Google the answer. However, on the flip-side of button mashing, if you were at the mercy of a non-intuitive puzzle, oftentimes you would end up typing out every combination of interactions with every item in your inventory. It’s tough to be the only kid in your sixth-grade class with carpal tunnel.

The introduction of mouse-driven game engines saw the decline of the text-based adventure game era. But thanks to games such as the hit titles in the Sierra lineup, it only took me 29.6 seconds to type this blog post.

Paladin’s Picks: Top 5 RPG Games for PC

I love video games. Yes…that does sound like an opening statement only Captain Obvious would use, but it’s true. I am an avid gamer who is fascinated by not only the games themselves, but by the industry itself as well.

Throughout my years as a gamer, I’ve played almost every genre of game available, with the exception of most sports-based games (does MLB Baseball for the original Nintendo count?). From the early text-based adventures, to the shoot-em-up first-person shooters, to the story-rich RPGs, I have masqueraded as a variety of player characters through countless worlds, scenarios, and adventures.

Role-playing games are definitely my preferred stomping ground, and here’s a showcase of my top five RPGs for PC of all time.

  1. Ultima VII: The Black Gate– This game had it all. Groundbreaking graphics, a rich, in-depth story that evolved from a simple murder mystery to the introduction of Britannia’s arch-nemesis, and an advanced inventory system that let you revel in your inner-hoarder. U7 also introduced a fully interactive world. Almost every object could be touched, used, opened, or even eaten, opening up a whole new game experience. The Avatar did not stand alone, as both new and recurring companions shared your trials and hardships with you, and you could tweak the AI controls over respective party members. And thanks to the team at Exult, you can enjoy this timeless classic over and over and over again.
  2. Diablo II – Although not a true RPG in the standard definition, this hack-and-slash dungeon crawler made my list on sheer principle. The Diablo series has spawned numerous imitators, but like the Highlander, there can be only one. In Diablo II, you chose from among five character classes to partake in a battle royale against hordes of enemies and big bad bosses. Many weekends were spent in classic old-school LAN style, fueled by caffeine and scouring endless dungeons for matched epic set pieces.
  3. Baldur’s Gate 2: The Shadows of Ahm – I’m a Baldur’s Gate fan to the core, and the second of the series kept me glued to my keyboard clocking some serious gaming hours. From the moment my character escaped the wicked experimentations of Jon Irenicus all the way to the epic ending battle in the subterranean abyss, I was mesmerized by the in-depth story and and how actions you took in-game affected the way your adventure played out. In addition, BG2 served up some lovable (and some not-so-lovable) characters, including the big, burly berserker Minsc and his miniature, giant space-hamster, Boo. “Go for the eyes, Boo!” was his battle cry, and you will find this phrase popping up with cheeky deference in games such as Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2.
  4. Neverwinter Nights – Neverwinter Nights served up a heaping platter of D&D goodness. Starting with character creation, I’m sure I spent at least an hour custom tailoring my Paladin (of course) with feats, abilities, and appearance options. The game’s story line was great – at the Neverwinter Academy, you rose from the ranks of obscurity to become the city’s champion against the Wailing Death; a mysterious plague that is robbing citizens of their lives. Although the Henchman AI was a little quirky, it was rewarding learning more about your followers through each of their individual quest lines. Another great feature of NWN was the Aurora Toolset, which allowed you to easily create your own campaign modules and share them with your friends or online with the NWN community.
  5. Oblivion – The fourth game in the Elder Scrolls series follows in the great tradition of its predecessors. Take everything you know about traditional RPGs (be a hero, follow a linear line of quests, rescue the princess, save the world) and throw it out the window. This game lets you unearth your own creativity from the get-go with non-standard player characters. Want to be a fireball-flinging warrior who can rock stealth with the best of them? Go for it. Oblivion’s open ended quests, lush graphics, and breathtaking landscapes redefine the RPG genre.

What are your favorite RPG games for the PC? I’d love to know, so drop a line below!

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