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.
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?