Fort Apocalypse (by Jex the Gamer)

starting positionTwo weeks ago, I wrote about the similarities between a lot of retro games and the games of today’s indie scene. This week’s game review is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.

Fort Apocalypse!

First of all, that is an awesome name. I haven’t even told you about the gameplay yet, but already you know two things: it takes place at some kind of fortress, and things are going to get destroyed.

Fort Apocalypse is the game you get when combining the sweet action of Super Cobra with the game mechanics of Choplifter. Those two arcade games are absolute classics in the retro games hall of fame, but Fort Apocalypse takes it up notch.

You as the player maneuver a helicopter through the levels of a huge fortress, dodging traps, taking out enemies, and rescuing a certain number of men along the way. You start at ground level and work your way down into the fortress’s caverns. At all times, you have a very handy navigation display that locates enemies before they can sneak up on you. Extremely helpful!

Your helicopter is surprisingly maneuverable, and the game offers the whole fortress to explore, so you aren’t stuck heading in only one direction. Your biggest problem will be the respawning enemies. The caverns can get pretty tight, and between walls of laser death and other helicopters and anti-air missile launchers gunning for you, this is a game that is going to
kick your butt over and over again.

But you’ll be coming back for more because the gameplay is pure arcade bliss. The atmosphere is fantastic—you can feel the weight of the fortress bearing down on you as you descend deeper into its trap-laid depths. The graphics are nothing spectacular, but it’s easy to tell what’s going on. But what really makes it addicting is that feeling of wanting to get just a little bit further even after dying for the 30th time. It’s a hard game, but it’s addicting at the same time.

insane planet compareRemember how I said that this game is a good example of the similarities between retro gaming and indie gaming? Well, as soon as I started playing this game, I thought of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. Just look at the visual similarities. And yes, the gameplay of the indie title is much more complex and longer, but that is to be expected. The point is that they play very similarly, so if you enjoy games like Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, then you should definitely give Fort Apocalypse a try. It’s one of the great granddaddies of that kind of gaming sub-genre.

ft apoc compareFort Apocalypse was developed by Steve Hales (a one-man team, like many indie developers of today) and published by Synapse Software all the way back in 1982! It was originally developed for the Atari 8-bit computers, but it was also ported to the C64 that same year. The C64 version is the one I played. For anyone out there looking for a great arcade-action discovery, I highly recommend Fort Apocalypse. Just get ready to die a lot…and love the game all the more for it.

 

THERetroGamerNY comments: God. I think this game gave me PTSD. I played it to death on my C64 back before I was even a teen, and was so so frustrated with the difficulty of the game. This was one of the few games where I was not even relaxed playing it, but would grip the joystick tightly in my hand, focused laser-like on the screen. Jex is right: Death awaits you.

One interesting thing about the (excruciatingly-difficult) level layouts is that you faced different challenges depending on the route taken. So … basically … you could chose your own painful demise.

800px-Fort_apocalypse_map

Wargaming, Part 4

TRADITIONAL vs DIGITAL

This is the type of post that is rather polarizing to both types of fans of a particular gaming type, and I always do my best to be as impartial as I really honestly can be (I’m certainly not infallible, to be sure).

As wargames started to gain more ground on PCs, thanks to the availability of mice, more RAM, and better graphics, the monster-sized games that were full of thousands of unit counters, thick rulebooks, and huge map sheets started to increase in cost – and decline in popularity. Advances in video games, as a whole, rather caused a decline in the sales of these games.

A few of the more notable wargaming companies went bankrupt, a couple others merged, and several others were bought out. Hasbro, in a move that outraged fans, bought Avalon Hill and then subsequently declared that none of their famous wargames would ever be revised, much less re-printed, because they were so complex as to “not be games”.

This is rather the dilemma of wargames: Ease of play versus realism. Historical fidelity versus room to explore. The always available AI opponent versus the difficulty of finding a actual human – and the major positives of having that actual human opponent.

Me, personally: I advocate the strengths of digital wargames – but I won’t turn down the opportunity to play face-to-face with a good friend.

The pros of a good wargame, with a human as your opponent are significant, but the cons of such a game are precisely the reasons why the games are so appealing on a computer. They are:

Columbia Game's brilliant wooden blocks make partial fog of war, and gradual step reduction, a breeze.

Columbia Game’s brilliant wooden blocks make partial fog of war, and gradual step reduction, a breeze.

- Fog of war is real. On most wargames, you can readily see both your units, as well as your opponents. You can see the exact position of said enemy units, as well as their exact strengths. For games set in WWI, WWII, or even ancient warfare, such omnipotent vision of the battlefield isn’t realistic at all.

Some traditional wargames have done some rather creative mechanics to help introduce actual fog of war into tabletop games. The excellent games of Columbia Games use a rather simple & elegant method of providing partial fog of war via wooden blocks. Your opponent can only see the backs of the wooden blocks, so he knows something is there. These blocks also provide more gradual strength/step reduction in the various units (most counters merely have a full-strength side, and then a half-strength side, whereas a wooden block has 4 sides to be rotated through).

- The AI is always available. This is one of those points that really almost goes without saying, but I personally have always found finding an opponent to play a manual wargame with to be a hopeless task at times. A solid AI not only can play similar to what was done historically, but never tires of play.

- Digital wargames are space efficient. No sprawling map sheets that must be affixed to a tabletop, and counters spread across it that might be jostled with the bump of the table. Save your game when real life interferes, and load it back up when time allows.

WHO THE HECK PLAYS THESE THINGS?

If you have an interest in historical topics, ten-to-one there is a wargame out there that fits the topic. The online distributor Matrix Games has just about any, and every, wargame that you may be looking for.

But not all wargames are about history: The fantasy tabletop Warhammer 4000 is most certainly a wargame (and there are even computer versions of that one as well).

"War of the Lance" is a 1990 war game that lets you fight the massive war described in the original novels. Draconic troops vs. humanoid defenders. Even play as the bad guys!

“War of the Lance” is a 1990 war game that lets you fight the massive war described in the original novels. Draconic troops vs. humanoid defenders. Even play as the bad guys!

Heck, I even have old wargames in my collection that let you fight the entire scope of the battle for Tolkien’s Middle Earth, or the draconic battles of Krynn from the pages of the Dragonlance Chronicles! Colorful EGA graphics keep these wargames vibrant, and deep mechanics let you flex the muscles of your fantasy-general mind as you battle ogres, dragons, and evil humans.

Wargaming is also known as Conflict Simulations because of the real topic at the core of it all: Simulating conflict. Many 4X games (eXpand, eXplore, eXploit, and Xterminate) have wargaming concepts at their core, but with city-building mechanics on top (in fact, that’s really what separates wargames from these other types of games: Wargames solely focus on the warfare aspect).

Not all wargames are hex-and-counter based either. There are totally legitimate RTS wargames out there, most famous of them being the Close Combat series (which I really love). Your virtual soldiers even have real-life emotions and psychology modeled into them (again, Matrix Games sells this fantastic series).

"Combat Mission" lets both players plot their moves, and then plays the battle in 60 sec increments as a hands-off RTS. Published by Battlefront.com

“Combat Mission” lets both players plot their moves, and then plays the battle in 60 sec increments as a hands-off RTS. Published by Battlefront.com

Another of my favorites is the top-rated Combat Mission series, which blends turn-based tactical planning into RTS action elements. You plot the orders of your various units, taking all the time you need, and when you and your opponent are ready, you Execute the commands. For the next 60 seconds the game doesn’t let you do anything but watch, and it basically becomes a hands-off RTS simulation as your tanks and soldiers try to carry-out your orders to the best of their ability.

THE V FOR VICTORY SERIES

My first foray into actual “real” digital wargaming came around in 1991 when Atomic Games made the first of the 4-part V for Victory games were published by Three-Sixty Pacific. This was the first computer wargame that totally seized control of what a pure digital wargame could do, and it did so with flawless execution. Since everybody owned a mouse with their computers by this time, hex-based movement was a given. The computer played with excellent AI. And all the tedious math and calculations that can bog-down a traditional wargame were effortlessly calculated by the computer.

V for VictoryPublished in 4 separate installments, each volume focused on a different major operation within the scope of WWII, and each one gave you lots of different scenarios, as well as options.

What makes this game so great for newbies to wargaming is that it offers a capable assistant that can literally automate any portion of the game – so you can have complicated stuff such as supply done automatically until you are ready to deal with it. And the manual is a wonderful source of strategy, tactics, as well as exhaustive historical details. The final edition of the game, which fully united the previous 4 separate releases came packed with 23 pages of quick start rules; 2 pages for the quick reference chart; and 283 for the full reference manual. It was all black and white as well (excepting the cover), so I modified the quick reference charts with color versions of the actual hexes from the game to help improve its readability.

This is actually the first major wargame that sparked my now-enduring interest in all things WWII. The manual is a superlative example of gameplay mixed with historic details, and the game itself is wonderfully easy and smooth to play.

On November 1st, 2014 I uploaded the entire game, along with DOSBox, and all the necessary manuals, in one simple package. Just download it from here, read the quickstart manual to get all the basic gameplay details, print out the charts if needed, and have a good long read of the reference manual as time allows.

Indie-Gamers can easily appreciate Retro Games too (by Jex the Gamer)

Jex decided to write an opinion piece this week…

There are two very distinct camps of gamers in today’s world: the indie gamers and the AAA-title gamers. Neither group is better than the other; both offer interesting and creative games for this present generation. However, there is no doubt in my mind that indie gamers have a much easier time appreciating other gaming-styles of this generation than any other group of gamers. And yes, their appreciation of games does not have to be limited to this generation of games. I believe indie gamers have the ability to appreciate a retro game for what it did in its own era and for its “minimal” aesthetics and nostalgic value which it carries with it today.

Where an indie gamer might experience an old game and say, “How interesting,” another gamer who only plays big-budget, HD titles would play the same game and say, “This is junk. Look at those crappy graphics! And I can barely move on the screen! Is this even a game? It’s so boring and ancient-looking.” I think the leap to retro gaming is easier for indie gamers because their own movement started out similarly, with a single developer or a small team of developers working with limited graphics and hardware capabilities.

line flyerWhen I first started playing indie games (back then, I knew them only as flash games), I found myself thinking over and over again that this idea or that art style looked incredibly familiar to what I was used to in retro games. Look at a game like Line Flyer or Enviro-Bear 2000. They have old-school graphics! And they have simplistic gameplay that is also super addicting. In case you are new to the retro game scene, I will tell you right now that terms like “simplistic, addicting gameplay” and “minimal graphics” are used all the time to describe games of the 8-bit era.

Then there’s a whole branch of the indie gaming scene that emulates old games’ aesthetics. Even more than that, there are developers out there who are releasing games for old systems such as the ZX Spectrum, Commodore64, or the Vectrex. You might think there is just a handful of developers doing this, but the homebrew communities are extremely prolific and don’t seem to be going away any time soon. There are developers out there who enjoy working with the limitations of older systems and trying to resurrect those nostalgic feelings of gaming history’s infancy.

envirobearAll of this to say, if you consider yourself to be an indie gamer, then you owe it to yourself to get involved as much as possible in the retro gaming scene. Try out the games, play around with the hardware, and most importantly, be inspired by them. Retro games are not only fun, but they also have a lot of creative potential left in them even in today’s world. Just look at the new surge of interest in text adventures and point-and-click adventures! Developers such as Telltale Games and Simogo are doing an awesome job in resurrecting what many thought to be dead game genres.

In many cases, old and forgotten games of 30 years ago are finally getting the attention and praise that they deserve, and in that limelight, they are able to influence the gamers and developers of the present and future generations. Like this very website, many are pleased to labor for an awareness and appreciation of older games not only for their own value but for the creativity and inspiration that they bring into the gaming community as a whole.

So, indie gamer, you’re just one step away from experiencing retro gaming bliss. Take the plunge and discover your gaming roots.

Notes from THERetroGamer: I totally agree with this. I don’t play old games because I’m stuck in the past – I play them because I actually like them! =)

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