That Intangible Game Feeling

Monday, February 14th, 2011

I’ve been watching some of the excellent review/walkthrough videos of Ancient DOS Games the past several days. There are a couple of reasons they’re awesome. For one, they’re quite nicely polished videos and extremely detailed, almost to a fault. For, uh, two, they’re DOS games, which is an automatic win. Further, many of them happen to be DOS games I grew up playing and remember fondly.

I’ve been watching them in sporadic order, and just watched the video on the first MechWarrior. I certainly remember the game. Even more so I remember the massive hype of 1995’s second game and the consequent bit of attention the original game then received. While watching the video, listening to the commentary and recalling me own experiences with it, I didn’t feel particularly nostalgic or fond of MechWarrior Uno. It was kind of a cool game, it’s got some neat features, nifty graphics and as a DOS game it’s interesting to me. But there wasn’t any real desire to try it again.

Earthsiege Box Art

But the next video on the playlist, Earthsiege, was like a mental lightning strike occurred. *BOOM* I was overwhelmed by nostalgia and had the massive urge to search deep into my collection to locate my floppies and CDs of the game, whip out the ol’ Pentium 90 and play it again.

Funny thing is, I don’t really know why.

Admittedly, MechWarrior and Earthsiege are extremely similar games. Frick, they’re even made by much of the same team of designers. They’re both DOS games by Dynamix, both mecha games, both sci-fi military sims, both make use of 3D graphics, etc. But what makes Earthsiege so much better, in my mind? Can’t really say. I often refer to this phenomenon as “that intangible game feeling”. It’s when a game has a certain feel or atmosphere that really sets the game apart to you personally. Totally subjective. It’s not going to be the same for everyone and it’s also really hard to describe, so this kind of thing rarely makes it into my reviews. I’ve tried with review vids like Epic Pinball and Jill of the Jungle, but I do not feel I was very successful. It’s just that rush of near-adrenaline or rose-tinted thoughts you get when you see the box art or even a screenshot of the game, where you long to experience that universe again, that moment in time you played the game.

Admittedly, Earthsiege isn’t the best game of its genre. Its successor is easily a better game on many levels, and even the later Mechwarrior games could make the claim of being the better mech game. But why have I played ES1 craptons, but the sequels far less? What in the world is it about that game?

Maybe it’s my history with the game. I first got the game in 1996, I think. It was after playing a demo of Earthsiege 2 that came on the disc for Silent Thunder: A10 Tank Killer II. I went to one of the local stores that sold lots of PC games, Office Depot if I recall, and saw that Earthsiege 2 was like 50 bucks. Too darned much for my rather young self. It wasn’t long after this that me and my dad went to a local computer and software show at the LJVM Coliseum Annex. It was freaking awesome. I clearly remember seeing Need For Speed II (so maybe this was 1997) and 3D Ultra Pinball in the boxes there, for some reason, along with like a billion cool computers and loads of software vendors. But it was at this bargain reseller table that I ran across the CD-ROM special version of the first Earthsiege for five bucks. Now that was more in my range! It had the speech pack and expansion pre-installed, so I got the Apocalypse herc and lots of extra-cool cutscenes and missions. I was psyched. I remember the freaking PAIN getting it to work though. Sound card issues, mainly. But also the game would freeze the entire system every hour or so. I didn’t care. It had a very gloomy atmosphere, a sense of foreboding, and when you completed a mission there was a real sense of accomplishment where you couldn’t wait to get debriefed, head back to the hanger and check out the loot you may be able to upgrade your herc with.

I played the balls out of that game and I barely got any better at it, haha I don’t think I ever beat it but I got close. It wasn’t nearly as good as Earthsiege 2, but whatever. Whenever I finally got Earthsiege 2 a few years later, I barely played through the first six or seven missions. Why? It had better… everything, really. Except for that intangible feeling, that atmosphere, that whatever.

Sure, ES1 was my “first” Earthsiege game, and it was a during a time period where I had very few games and the ones I had were cherished. But there are very few games that provided that “feel”. Out of this World, Jazz Jackrabbit, Earthsiege, SimCity 2000, Duke Nukem 3D, Crystal Caves. Games like this are some of the very closest to me in terms of personal whateverness. Modern games also occasionally have this certain intangible feeling, like Fallout 3 as the most recent example I can think of. And Minecraft, perhaps. Portal before that. I don’t know what “it” is, I don’t care, I just know it exists and it’s hard to explain. Any thoughts on this? Any particular games that come to mind for you?

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16 comments on “That Intangible Game Feeling

  1. Alex says:

    I know exactly what you mean! I get this feeling from earlier examples of the brawler genre, like the original Final Fight or TMNT: The Arcade Game. The Final Fight sequels never felt as fun or “right” to me as the original. For more recent games, I loved the feel of GTA IV, but didn’t take to Red Dead Redemption nearly as well, even though I love westerns and it’s a well-designed game in the GTA IV mold.

    When other people ask me what I’m talking about, I usually describe it as feeling like the game was made just for me. It may not be perfect, but it does enough things right in the exact way that I want it to that I’m happy to play it again and again. At that point the quirks become charming rather than frustrating.

    • “…the quirks become charming rather than frustrating.”

      That’s a very good way of putting it! I feel the same way regarding Earthsiege and many others. Sure, you could “fix” certain aspects of the game, but that may only make it “better” to a specific group of people. It’s games like these that really set gaming apart from other media. It becomes such an invested, personal experience that you really do get that sense of the game being tailored for your tastes.

  2. FooAtari says:

    I know what you mean. Although I very rarely get that feeling with new games. So maybe it has a little nostalgia mixed in as well. Brings back feelings of when I was a kid and, as you said, cherished the games I had more as I couldn’t just go out and buy whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.

    Games that bring back those feelings for me

    Super Sprint (ST)
    Oids (ST)
    Elite (ST). I don’t think I really fully understood the game at the time, I just flew around buying and selling and stuff and mostly shooting the crap out other ships.
    Wing Commander 4. Man that game just felt epic. I loved everything about it, and still do. Shame we will probably never see another true sequel.
    Grand Prix 2
    Duke Nukem’ 3D
    Half-life (especially the multiplayer, which between that and DN3D was my first experience of online gaming)

    Think thats about it, although no doubt more will come to mind.

    Most of these games had some kind of sequel that bettered the previous game in some way, but just lacked the atmosphere or soul I found in the previous game.

  3. Kevin Dady says:

    25th Anniversary Star Trek from interplay

  4. LORD MJ says:

    After reading , I’ve opened the list of installed games, also the games that I haven’t got installed and here’s the list that comes to my mind. I think that there are even more, but I can’t think off them all.

    Scrapland – This game immediately comes to mind. It didn’t sold well and it never got a sequel. Something about that game makes me feel good. I remember when I first played the game back in 2004 I think, it was awesome and I couldn’t stop to play it. The story mode and missions, and when I got through the game, and saw at the end of the game “The End…?” I was excited because I thought there would be sequel. Sadly there wasn’t but I still like to play the game. I’ve beaten it 7 times and I still can get back to it.

    Quake 3 – I simply love the fast action in this game. When I’m bored I always play this game, and it takes me back to the good old days. I mainly play against bots, don’t know why but I have a lot of fun that way. I also play Quake Live, but that game doesn’t make me fell as good as Quake 3.

    Postal 2 – Love it. Now most people will say, “You’re sick!” Don’t get me wrong, but I like to kill and torture people in that game. It just makes me fell good, when something makes me angry in real life I play P2 to blow off some steam. Simple as that.

    CSI series – I’m not a big fan of the TV series, but I played the game before I watched it on TV. I played every single game(except New York, that was horrible) of that series and I can’t get enough. I can’t wait for Ubisoft to release the next game. The new games are excellent, but old ones get me nostalgic.

    Clive Backer’s Jericho and Half-Life 2 – Why did I put this games together? They aren’t similar at all. Three things make these games special, the story telling, the atmosphere and design of NPCs. In many games NPCs are just dudes or aliens who’re walking around and either are your friend or enemy. Most of them don’t have a lot of personality and fellings. But in those two games, ahh I just got connected to the NPCs. I just can’t describe the felling, it makes the game simply awesome.

    Now there are even more on my list, Mass Effect, Neighbors from Hell and many others, but I won’t talk any more. I don’t want this comment to be huge. xD

    And old NES games: Super Mario(the original one), Jungel Book, Tom and Jerry, Adam’s Family, Lion King and many others.

    Keep up the good work Clint, I simply love your reviews. I’ve never had a chance to play games on those old PCs and consoles, but I like to see where it all began.

    • Alex says:

      Clive Barker’s Jericho is an excellent recent example of this. That the same team went on to make the critically and commercially successful Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was quite impressive.

      • Jericho is indeed a great example. I thoroughly enjoyed that game, for everything from the characters, to the bizarre story, to the atmosphere, to the unique gameplay mechanics which reminded me of The Lost Vikings. Very cool game, even though it didn’t really seem to “catch on” with the mainstream. Didn’t know they did Lords of Shadow, that’s awesome.

    • And I totally know what you mean by Postal 2! Especially with the Apocalypse Weekend expansion installed… well, not the expansion itself, but the weapons and extra gore it provides (especially when added to the original Monday-Friday) really puts things over the top in terms of “pleasing” violence. The expansion itself was pretty bland, I thought. Too linear. Still, one of the best steam-blowing-off games out there without a doubt, and quite fun too once you get over/embrace the stupidity of it!

      • LORD MJ says:

        Is it a little late to reply here? Ah, who cares.

        I’m glad you see P2 that way. I like to play custom maps and mods, and P2 has a really strong moding community, even now. I mostly play AWP and ED. Those are the two greatest mods for P2 out there. I also play with the UnrealED and create my own little bloody adventures. xD

        About my list of the games, I should definitely add Minecraft there. I can easily picture myself 20 years later thinking or even still playing that game.

        And I would like to personally thank you, Clint. I’ve lost my life, because of you! Joking, but I really enjoy this great game every day and I can’t thank you enough. To bad I have a cracked version, and I can’t play on the servers. But I’m cursed to live in a damn country that there’s no PayPal and parents won’t let me use their credit card. 😦

  5. John says:

    Check out MechCommand in the Battletech universe if you’re into strategy games and want a similar fond memories (for me at least) game. It’s very hard the further you go on which is why I never got anywhere near completing it but it won’t allow cheap shots (legs!) except only on certain occasions which IMHO makes it stand out immensely from the rest of that genre’s 3D lineage. The mods for the game are also worth a look too.

  6. Jonathan says:

    I recently found your videos on YouTube and decided to visit the blog, too. I have been missing “that intangible game feeling” for years and have been yearning to do some real DOS/Win 3.1/Win 95 gaming. My first PC was an IBM PS/1 Consultant from 1993 that came with King’s Quest 6. Man I loved that game. It was easily my favorite in the series, and along with Civilization, Sim City 2000, and Lords of the Realm it was one of my all-time favorite PC games.

    My computer was almost instantly out of date after the release of the Pentium processor and Windows 95, but I got by on older games and a RAM upgrade. By 1996 or so I could no longer play any new releases on my computer so I became much more of a console gamer. I owned that computer until 1999 but by then I was out of touch with PC games. I never got back into PC gaming but after watching your Minecraft videos I think I it is finally time to retire my old Pentium 4 PC. Minecraft looks like it has that intangible feeling thing…

    I am also going to keep an eye out for a deal on am IBM PS/1 Consultant and a Windows 95 machine, too. There are tons of games I want to revisit and DOS Box, while great, just does not provide the same experience.

    Great post, and keep up your great video reviews!

  7. Senrew says:

    The one game that no matter what, always provides that “feeling” for me has always been Tie Fighter. I got the game late, I remember picking up the collector’s CD-Rom version, though still DOS, at a CompUSA (That place deservers it’s own post…if I ever get my own blog working). I bought it in December 96, right before christmas break at school and finished it in those two weeks. Every single winter after that, I’ve found some copy of the game and played through it again. I haven’t had a chance to continue the tradition over the past few years, being almost 30 and attempting the adulthood thing really screws with play time…

    • Ah man, I have very fond memories of X-Wing vs Tie Fighter. It’s weird, that’s one of the few games I borrowed from my local library back when they were a designated “media outlet” somethingorother sponsored by Gateway. That game, wow. It was one of the first times I had experienced what felt like a truly open universe in a game. Spectacular stuff. I have the X-Wing games and their expansions, have yet to grab and play the Tie Fighter titles.

      Hehe, the adulthood-attempting does indeed put an unwelcome large damper on things… although it makes the time you do get that much more valuable and precious.

  8. Aye, “Myst” has this effect on me. For its time it had mind – blowing graphics and an amazing soundtrack, which combined to introduce an atmosphere of wonder, mystery, and exploration. I still go back and play it every once in a while, and wax nostalgic every time I see the box art or hear its music. Sure, “Myst” had a sequel in “Riven,” but it just never felt the same to me.

    Thanks for your article. 🙂

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