Retro Saturdays : Episode 1 :: Wasteland

0

Old is often gold

Another year, another assortment of games to look forward to. Last year was, in general, a good one for video games if you exclude some controversies surrounding microtransactions and lootboxes. Although 2018 is set up for a slow start, we will get a plethora of new and exciting games to sink in our precious time into. But all this new arrivals doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t spare a few hours to take a look back at some of our beloved franchises which we got to experience at different stages of our life. In a sense, old is truly gold. Hence, we at Indian noob have decided to dedicate an entire weekly column to take a look back at titles old, odd, obscure, forgotten or even lost to the annals of time. Taking on a new perspective or in a better sense, retrospective on such titles can shed some light on the relevance, the fandom, it’s impact on the genre and industry and most importantly take us all back to nostalgia lane for one more time. You may remember spending hours and hours on the games that we’ll redux or you may have been too young to play at the time of release,only hearing whispers of how good it is and that made you want to check it out, or you might not even have been born when the game was released and you want to get into retro gaming. Whatever your reason is, there is a place for everybody here; whether you are oldschool or newschool, hardcore or casual. No games are judged here based on their qualities or lack there of, no scores will be given and no incoherent rambling either. We’ll be hanging back, with a cup of joe nearby, shutting off our critical bonebox and let nostalgia and memories lead the way.

With the pleasantries out-of-the-way, the question now looms to which game do we pick for our first episode? It’s not like there’s any lack of classic games that you desperately want to talk about. From the 80’s to 90’s to early 2000’s there have been a plethora of quality games that innovated the industry and at the same time, proved to be one heck of a fun ride. First I thought of picking my favorite game of all time. Although it met the above conditions, it wouldn’t be fair, would it? I mean you could talk about your favorite game till you bleed from the nether regions. I went over my retro game collections over and over, unable to make up my mind. Then it hit me. One of those babies was turning 30 this year, and getting a second sequel next year. It couldn’t get any better now, could it? So without rambling further about how I carefully selected one game from a hundred to pioneer a weekly article and make the reader’s eyes and minds bleed, here is our retrospective of;

WASTELAND

When it comes to post apocalyptic role-playing games on the pc, Fallout is the unquestionable sweetheart for almost every guy and girl from here to the deep dark corners of No Mutants Allowed forums (as always, a story for another day). But before Fallout, there was Wasteland, a crpg developed by the then-small time and now almost defunct Interplay Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts (Yes. The one and only) in 1988. Wasteland, was originally made for the Apple II and was ported to the Commodore 64 and MS-DOS. It was re-released for Windows, OS X, and Linux in 2013 via Steam and GOG, and is now available as Wasteland: The Original Classic, which you can get for free along with Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut. With the formalities out-of-the-way, let’s get to the meat of the game.

What is the game about?

Just like it’s baby Fallout 2, Wasteland is a post-apocalyptic role playing game set in the far future of 2087 following the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust that was the result of the global superpowers playing Cowboys and Indians…with nukes. In the new world forged with fire, the only law is the Desert Rangers, remnants of the United States Army who has set up camp in the Arizona wasteland. The last remains of civilization is plunged into chaos by bandits, cannibals, irradiated bunnies and their version of Skynet. You play as 4 fresh-in-the boots desert rangers, ordered to restore law in the savage wastelands. The four of you and some willing companions you meet throughout the game are tasked with purging the wasteland of all that is evil, mutated and anything having four legs and a single eye. Your journey will take you across the Arizona and Las Vegas ruins and badlands restoring faith in humanity, spreading the word of ranger law and purging the newfound threat of a larger menace seeking to exterminate what is left of humankind: A pre-war artificial intelligence operating from a surviving military facility. Will you eradicate the threat and save humanity in the process? Will you defend the sick and the downtrodden? Will you make sweet love to a three-legged hooker and contract an STD or will you shoot a 10-year-old boy and his dog for pointing his Red Ryder BB gun in your face? There lies the premise and scope of Wasteland. How you tackle these situations and define your party of rangers is entirely up to you.

Life in the wasteland : What does the game plays like?

Like many rpgs of the 80’s Wasteland’s mechanics is loosely based on tabletop rpgs like Tunnels and Trolls and Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes created by the designers themselves. The game looks terribly dated by today’s standards. But it’s 30 years old. So…yeah. You start off in the ranger command center and are free to either select the four pre-made characters ; Snake Vargas, Angela Deth, Thrasher and Hell Razor ( you don’t see names like that anymore) or make your own custom characters, which might be wise because the pre-made ones are terrible. From the moment you click on create a character, the depth of the game oozes in. You have 7 attributes to develop ; Strength, Speed, Intelligence, Luck, Agility, Dexterity and Charisma. These play a vital role throughout the game, as skills are defined by the amount of points attached to the attribute that it’s bound with, for example if you raise the Strength other Skills such as Brawling (that is depended on this attribute) will be more effective. Moving over to the skills, things can get a bit overwhelming to newcomers and for people who haven’t read the manual (yeah, that was a thing). There are a total of 35 skills in the game, some of which you learn throughout the game. Skills include typical ones such as Brawling, Rifle, Assault rifle, Pistol, Perception, Picklock, Demolitions etc, to borderline uncanny valley materials such as Cryptology,Forgery and Metallurgy. You’ll be asked to spend your skillpoints on these during character creation, and honestly, knowing which skill is useless and which skill is useful can either make or break your game, especially if you are a min-maxer. But the wide variety of guides available online makes this job easier. These skills increase in level with use. Skill use outside of combat also earns you experience points (bread and butter of every rpg). Then you have the option to pick your nationality, which is kind of redundant, but hey, whatever that helps you role play, and finally, the name of your character. After creating four of these noobs, your party is literally thrown into the wastes with minimal equipment and only your wits and your brawn at your side.

Like some titles at the time, the game’s way of copy protection was the use of a printed paragraph you got with the game. Nothing else stopped you from copying that floppy.  At several key moments in the game, you were asked to consult the appropriate section of your paragraph to progress further. These paragraphs described encounters and conversations and contained clues. Because programming space was a luxury, it saved on resources to have most of the game’s story printed out in a separate manual rather than stored within the game’s code itself.  It added to the overall atmosphere of the game, plus it’s quite charming to be honest. Thankfully, the current version of the game being sold comes with PDF version of these paragraphs to aid your journey in the nuclear wastes.

Navigating the wastes

The game has two main types of movement; travel through overhead map, where you can see the overall geography of the region and go in search of locations and encounters, an in-map mode which the game switches to when you go inside a particular location and in it, you can engage in conversations, walk around, barter, seek medical aid, engage in combat etc. Although you control more than four characters at a time, the game, being minimalist in terms of graphics and sound only shows one human graphical representation for the entire party and I always found it somewhat off-putting. Throughout your travels in the overhead map, you will run into geographical obstructions such as a hill or a body of water that checks your party for the appropriate levels in the related skill so that you may bypass them. Other than that, you might stumble upon enemy encounters that will put your skills to the test. Which brings me to one of the most important aspects of the game, i.e the combat.

With fire and blunt knives : The combat

Wasteland, like Fallout takes its combat encounters one turn at a time. In layman’s terms, the game featured a turn based combat system which was not so unlike the one’s found in the likes of Final Fantasy. There is no graphical representation of the combat nor any animations. At the start of combat, the game switches to a separate window where you can see a pixellated picture of your enemy (due to graphical limitations, the game used the same pictures for different critters, for example: a bloodthirsty rabbit had the same graphic art as an irradiated squirrel. This always made me laugh). Inside that text heavy, yet graphically minimalist window, you and your enemies took turn to tear each other into pieces. You could perform a wide variety of actions such as hit the enemy (or try to), shoot, use items etc, and the result of all your actions and your enemies will show up again, in the text form. If you have a weak character member or if your entire party is full of useless amateurs, prepare to see the “X has missed X” text scroll down more times that you can count. As you level up and gain better tier skills and items, combat becomes a breeze and sometimes boring too, actually. Combat is not in any ways original, but it does the job, and does it well. Filling a killer tomato with hot lead never stops being satisfying.

The colors of the wasteland : Graphics and sound

Wasteland was well received for it’s graphical representations back in 1988. But pretty much all the useful information the game conveys is in textual format. Wasteland begins with a title screen, showing you the 16 color EGA logo which shows a nuclear explosion when in truth, it looks like if someone made a bomb with strawberry and pineapple syrup. There are only a handful of assets and pixels, that the game uses over and over. You wouldn’t be able to say the difference between, let’s say rock and a piece of dog turd.

If you think the graphics are minimalist from what I’ve said, wait until you hear the sounds. The original version of the game is completely silent aside from a few beeps and bloops. But thankfully the updated version has added the music tracks to the game. The OST you get with the modern version of the game is really something unique and atmospheric. But if you ask me, it all adds to the charm of the game. I mean this is game is older than me, and way older than half the people reading right now. So it requires a certain mindset to not get turned off by how the game looks . But you wouldn’t be reading these lines if you didn’t have that.

Put on your radiation suit : How to get the game up and running today

Up until a few years ago, finding and running Wasteland, even with DOSBox was hard, because you had to find scanned copies of the original paragraphs and the game had some issues with the DOSBox cycles being too high. But the developers at InXile, whose CEO is the creator of the series, were cool enough to make an updated DOSBox version with updated and smoothed out visuals, a pdf version of the paragraphs, new paragraph voice over, new music tracks and updated portraits. This version, dubbed ‘the original classic’ makes running the game on modern hardware easy and effortless. Reading the manual will certainly help newcomers with the game, but I recommend looking up a guide online to get the full experience as those who are not experienced in such games might find the lack of any form of tutorials or handholding frustrating. Plus you could miss out on quests if you fail to ask npcs what they want to hear by typing in keywords yourself, based on the information and clues you gather from nearby. So looking up a guide doesn’t turn you off the experience as it will be very hard to complete the game for most players otherwise. You can get the latest version of the game from either Steam or GOG. I personally recommend the game if you have the tolerance for the early era graphics and gameplay.

Wasteland : A pinnacle of computer role playing games

I didn’t choose Wasteland as our first title in the series just because it was turning 30 this year. I chose Wasteland because it revolutionized the already rpg genre into what it is today. A persistent game world that reacts and changes according to the player’s actions, huge non-linear game design, fully customizable character stats, various paths to go on about problem solving, choice and consequences – all of this may sound and seem pretty standard for an rpg now. But before Wasteland came about, these systems were not seen in an rpg, at least not together. The game went on to become a massive success and put Interplay on the map. Though we wouldn’t get a proper sequel until 2014, the legacy of Wasteland continued with Fallout, and all things Wasteland did, Fallout did better. But just because we may love Fallout more, it doesn’t meant the granddaddy should be loved any less. It wasn’t soon after finishing Fallout 2 that I went back to the roots and played and completed Wasteland. I had hours of fun with it. If I, a guy playing the game decades after its original release enjoyed it so much, just think about how big of a deal Wasteland was when it originally got released. Things will become full circle next year when Wasteland 3 releases and Brian Fargo, the creator of the series will retire from the video game industry and ride off into the sunset.

So that’s it for this episode. If you liked the game from the retrospective, check it out on Steam or GOG. We will be back next week with another classic game on Retro Saturdays Episode 2. Old is often gold.

  UPVOTE