Thursday, January 05, 2006

rocking the ebay for some retro gaming.

I spent the large sum of $3.99 + 3$ for shipping to get a copy of one of my favorite games ever: Mechwarrior 2 for Mac. Released 1996. Requires at LEAST System 7.5. It runs in OS 9 no problem at all (though not Classic) once you download a patch (which actually was to let it run in OS 8!), and is super super fun. I remember it had a pretty good soundtrack; kind of reminding me of the first Autechre record (Incunabula), which is one of my favorites.

Today it might be called a realtime strategy game; it requires fast reflexes but is not a twitch game like some of the first person shooters are. It's really more about planning and tactics, if not actual strategy. Unlike some of the FPS games out there, you rarely are significantly more weaponed up than your opponents; in fact at most times you can blow yourself up with about two wrong clicks or keypresses by firing weapons too close together: heat buildup = boom.

The part I didn't remember was how thorough the environment was - not the level of details in the models, which is frankly lower than I remembered - but the details of the storyline. It really is a campaign; each mission has screens and screens of background to read, and a lengthy description of the aftermath of the battle you've just completed, or not completed as things may have turned out. There is a 'reading room' where you can just peruse the history of your clan. And you can play the whole game from either of two sides, with entirely different history and missions. It's a whole world.

The game is an adaptation of something vague D&D-ish called BattleTech universe, so much of the 'lore' is lifted from that, but it's an interesting comparison to make with something like Halo. Halo's backstory is clearly grafted on by a team entirely separate from the team building the game engine itself; not a problem necessarily, but in practice the backstory is just a few pages in the instruction manual that gets left in the box. If you want to know a little more about Master Chief, may I kindly direct you to the lovely snow falling on the battlefield as that hover-buggy swings by for another sortie on your position? It's cool, right? What was that about you were asking about Master Chief? Right, never mind.

It's not the reams of copy that made MechWarrior II such an immersive experience; part of was the sheer complexity of the tasks you're asked to complete, and part of it comes from the details you CAN'T skip over, like the endless scenes of code procedure on the bomber in Doctor Strangelove. But I think the biggest part of it is the overwhelming sense that you are participating in a larger story. Not just blasting, but a real story. When you finish a mission, you feel like a hero, not a mass murderer or a kid shooting cardboard cowboys with a BB gun at a stand out at Coney Island. It was clearly a talented bunch of folks who put the game together.

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