I don't know about most of you, but I've been playing PC games since Zork, and frankly, it seems like they were a lot more fun back then. People
didn't worry about things like "marketability" and "target demographic" and there were actually NEW innovations. People didn't make games to
cash in on the WWII FPS market, or to rehash an old license. Graphics weren't the point of games, they were merely gravy to a good, fun concept. Half
the time, the "graphics" were nothing more than ASCII text, assuming they even went that far.
That's why I started this thread, to salute some of the best Old School PC games to ever grace the CRT.
Now many of these greats are so old (like DOS versions) the original title won't even run anymore, or are on defuct systems (like the Amiga, Vic-20,
or the Apple 2e). That's where the beauty of the internet and open-source code shines through. I've managed to find a number of games where the
original open-source was fixed and modded to run on current-day PC systems, or alternately re-created with open-source code as a clone game. All of
which are free.
Feel free to add your own, but to start us off, I present to you some of the best Old School Games ever, along with a link to their current free
Originally developed by some bored MIT students, Zork is an icon of old-school gamers, and was the original "Adventure Game". Before the advent of
massive graphic Action/Adventure games, the Adventure genre meant something more like "a game where you type go north
to move about, or get
to pick up the sword". The game was entirely controlled by typed commands, critical thinking, puzzle solving, and careful reading. Infocom
has been kind enough to provide all three of the original Zork titles for free via the link.
Defender of the Crown
By Cinemaware, largely considered to be one of the best trans-genre games. Consisting of RPG, strategy, action, and adventure, this game places you in
the role of one of four factions seeking to unite England against the Norman invasion during the Middle Ages. In between battles, you compete in
tournaments, rescue fair maidens, and recruit allies. The graphics at the time (1986) were stunning. Every so often, I still run across someone who
played this title way back then and they're still in awe of what the game looked like at the time. Especially those of us who didn't have an Amiga,
but played one of the later ports, like on the C-64. The link takes you to Cinemaware's site where you can play a flash version of the game for
The "Roguelike" Games
One of the earliest and most heavily modded RPG's ever, Rogue was a game that used Dungeons & Dragons like stats, and ASCII graphics, and mapped out
dungeons you could run for treasure, weapons, armor, magic items, gold, and, of course, experience. Rogue was the original, but quickly got so heavily
remade, remodded, and more complex that it birthed its own genre of games known as "The Roguelike Games". Moria, for instance, added a town-level
where you could buy and sell equipment, as well as the ability to SAVE your game. NetHack added new and hilarious character classes like "tourist"
into the mix. But the single best, most complex one I ever played was Omega
, where you had the
ability to create yourself as a character based on honest
answers to a series of questions, and included multiple towns, guilds, wilderness,
plotlines, and even other dimensions. The respective links take you to the places you can download these free titles.
Where to start with Wasteland? The first real post-apocalyptic RPG game, it created a new genre all on it's own, later becoming the inspiration for
many other games, such as the Fallout
series. The storyline was deeply compelling, the
humor was as clever as it was irreverent, and the social commentary was insightful. Most of all, though, it was just a helluva lot of fun to see the
combat result that your enemy had just exploded like a blood sausage or been turned into a thin red paste. This game is technically Abandonware. EA
bought Interplay's rights, but never re-released the game, won't sell the game (not that the original boxed set would work on a PC these days
anyway), and apparently doesn't persue those that share the emulators for it.
This game actually caused me to become best friends with someone. After being forced to go to his house to apologize for breaking his finger, he
showed me this game on his Dad's machine. I was floored. I returned again and again to play the game, and eventually saved enough allowance and
odd-job money to buy my own copy, only to find out the graphics were too advanced for our PC and we had to upgrade to a CGA graphics board just to get
it to run. Now, if you're truly old-school, you know how hilarious that is, but truth told, this is the Space Exploration game that created its own
genre, eventually culminating in the likes of EVE
, Galactic Civilizations
others. It eventually spawned a sequal which got mixed reviews, but personally I found less enjoyable than the original. The premise of the original
is that stars are going Supernova far too early, in a wave, and scientists have figured out that Earth only has a few years to figure out why before
its own Sun explodes. They've secretly cobbled together a simple starship, which you can then use to explore other planets, mine minerals,
capture/kill life forms, and meet new intelligent alien life. Like Wasteland, this title is also abandonware.
Star Control I
Star Control was the first of a well loved series. It was a ship vs. ship combat game of the Alliance of Free Stars vs. the Hierarchy of Battle
Thralls. It also included a strategy game where you could play larger epic wars out on a rotating galaxy map and produce your own ships and even find
precursor technology that gave better stats to ships. It was an excellent game, and so well enjoyed it spawned several new versions, the second one
deserving its own place in this list.
Star Control II
Most people, like myself, didn't even realize how great the main game to StarCon2 was until weeks after playing the melee version. The melee (ship
vs. ship) featured not only better graphics, but new ships with exciting new special abilities. Eventually, some of us got around to playing the
"main game" and found it to be the sequal that Starflight II should have been. It was a fantastic adventure with a great storyline, and a new menace
to the galaxy that threatened even the Ur-Quan hedgemony. Of course, since we'd already played the melee, the surprise was a bit spoiled, but it was
still a great and truly epic space adventure. The ability to customize your ship down to the individual module and look was revolutionary and the
ability to interact with species in a trade and diplomatic environment was incredible. By far, this game shines as one of the single best Space games
ever made. Just, do yourself a favor, and skip the 3rd one in the series.
One of Sid Meyer's earliest "Civ" type games, this was a 4X game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate), that focused on early colonization of the
New World, and is both educational and fun. You can play as the Spanish, English, French, or Dutch, in competition or cooperation against both other
nations and natives. The link goes to "FreeCol," a very well done open-source clone of the game that is still being modified and upgraded to this
This was one of the oddest releases ever, not just by Activision, but by the game developers as a whole. In 1983, the movie War Games came out, and a
public that was still largely ignorant of computers in general was happily made aware that not only could you dial into other computers from home, but
that they could be hacked into, and World War III could be started accidentally by some dumb kid thinking he was playing a game. Two years go by, and
one day Activision releases "Hacker", a box with no pictures of the game itself, no explanation of what you do, and nothing except a brief
description that you will face a logon screen. The box came with no instruction book, no explanation, and if I recall, the disk wasn't even labeled,
or wasn't labeled with anything other than "Hacker" on it. I loaded up the game and was presented with a logon screen. Within minutes, I had
supposedly connected to another computer, hacked into Magma, LTD, bypassed their security systems, and saw what looked to be a military robot of some
sort, followed by a map of the world and target hotspots. I freaked out and called my dad into the room. Lucky for me, he knew a lot about computers,
modems, etc, and assured me it was just a game. Namely because the Commodore 64 I was running it on didn't have a modem. From what I've heard from
others who played the game, they had a very similarly scary experience.
Autoduel was the computer version of Car Wars
, though it later gained a tabletop title of the same
name. In all those games, a dystopian future had arisen where weapons and armor had become standard issue on cars, and road travel was even more
dangerous than the arenas. Every city was an isolated pocket of life amidst a Mad-Max style wasteland, your ride stood between you and death. This
game featured the ability to buy cars, trucks, trikes, and outfit them with all sorts of interesting weapons and armor configurations, and earn money
either through missions, raiding, or arenas. Though it lacked many of the cooler weapons and upgrades offered in the tabletop games, it was still a
solid title that both entertained and educated (lots of math involved in figuring out the best rig).
An RPG in the same vein as Wasteland. Humanity has been enslaved by the Tzorg (robots) and you are a member of a resistance movement to put an end to
their rule. This game was incredibly difficult as the only weapons that could actually hurt the robots more than they could hurt you cost far more
than you could ever make in a reasonable amount of time. This was one of the first games I can remember where you could have new weapons built out of
components you found throughout the world. A thoroughly enjoyable, if difficult experience.
Well, I hope this encourages you to try some of these Old School games out. If not, maybe it gives you Young Gamers a glance at the history of what
games used to be like, before pretty much everything became a formula genre game.