Saturday, October 23, 2010

2400 A.D.: Final Ranking

The most honest NPC ever encountered.
2400 A.D.
United States
Origin Systems (developer and publisher)
Released 1988 for Apple II and DOS
Date Started: 14 October 2010
Date Ended: 22 October 2010
Total Hours: 8
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: 34
Ranking at Time of Posting: 16/28 (57%)
Ranking at Game #453: 325/453 (72%) 
Again, I find myself in conflict with Dungeons & Desktops author Matt Barton, who says, "2400 A.D. is a very creative game that should have been a great deal more successful" (p. 122).

I'll give him that the game is creative. There aren't many sci-fi RPGs out there, and this one creates a relatively interesting story, a different landscape full of things you generally don't see in CRPGs: moving walkways, subways, transport tubes. The weapons and equipment are unique, and the method of attribute development is rare for the era. Reading a walkthrough later, I realized I barely used half of the equipment available, which included holograph generators that confuse robots and various weapons that stun them.

But I can guess why it's not successful: it's a bit boring. While I love the Ultima IV-style dialog, and I like games that make you rely on NPCs for clues, there are too many NPCs in too tight an area with too few things to say. As for the variety of equipment, most is unnecessary, since the robots fall quite willingly to a few basic weapons. Once you have the plasma rifle, the game is basically over.

Let's break it down on the GIMLET scale:

1. Game world. We have to give 2400 A.D. credit for a unique game world and a somewhat interesting back story covered in the type of thickly-written manual that only Origin could produce. The thing I noticed is the back story could have been written a bunch of different ways without changing the gameplay. For instance, instead of an alien race called the "Tzorg" taking over the colony and staffing it with robots, it could have been a robot revolution against human rule. The Tzorg, after all, are oddly absent from things. (By the way, Barton has a mistake here, calling the enemies as "alien robots called the Tzorg"; the robots are creations of the Tzorg, not Tzorg themselves.) Anyway, your character and quest are quite clear. Nothing you do changes the game world much, though, until the end. Final score: 6.
If there's one thing Origin excels at, it's game manuals.
2. Character creation and development. I give the game credit for its use-based attribute development. Your energy (strength) goes up by repeatedly running and climbing, and your IQ by fixing your broken equipment, and so on. I can't think of an earlier game that builds your skills this way, a system that will be seen again in the Quest for Glory series and will reach full potential in The Elder Scrolls games. Everything else about character development is fairly basic. There are no choices in character type, alignment, and so on. Treating strength and hit points as the same thing is a bit odd. Final score: 4.

3. NPC interaction. As I said, I have a weakness for the handful of games, almost all Origin Systems titles, where you speak to NPCs by typing keywords. And 2400 A.D. is full of NPCs, most of whom are necessary to find your way along the main quest. They have very little to say, unfortunately, and your dialog with them doesn't offer real choices or opportunities for role-playing. Final score: 5.

4. Encounters & foes. There are a bunch of different types of robots, basically distinguishable only by icons and how much damage they do. They die too easily and offer little challenge. Most of the encounters are random, though, and foes do respawn. Final score: 3.

5. Magic & combat. There's no magic system in the game, and combat is a rote matter of hitting (a)ttack and pressing a direction. Except in a few cases, where it's good to use obstacles and corridors to limit how many enemies can attack you, there are really no tactics in combat. Final score: 2.

6. Equipment. There are a handful of weapons, three armor choices, and some other equipment in the game. Some of the items are unusual and fun, like time bombs and holograph projectors. I didn't see any need for pass cards and zone access cards; you can just sneak around zones and bash robots. Other than that, nothing terribly special. Final score: 4.
Donovan uses his jetpack for no other reason than he can.
7. Economy. You need about 7000 credits to get the equipment necessary to win the game, obtained 0-99 at a time from each robot slain. After that, money builds up for no reason. Final score: 3.

8. Quests. There is but one main quest with no twists. No side-quests. The main quest has one outcome and no role-playing opportunities. Final score: 2.

9. Graphics, sound, inputs. The game features basic keyboard controls. The graphics are good enough for the gameplay, although the grey boxes around the sprites are distracting. Sound is still in the better-to-play-it-silent era. Final score: 3.

10. Gameplay. Within the world, gameplay is fairly non-linear, allowing you to go wherever from the start. But the world is small and confining, so it's not as if you can use the non-linearity to really wander and explore. Overall, it is too easy (you cannot die!), too quick, and not in any way replayable. Final score: 2.

This gives us a total score for 2400 A.D. of: 34. That puts it in the range of Shard of Spring, which I once described as "meh." That's pretty much how I feel about 2400 A.D.

The next game is an interesting one: a construction set that comes with a playable single-player module. I'm ready for something new.


  1. Nice to see you make it to the end, and kinda easy to see why there was no sequel. I also disagree with Mat, its a very basic, very beginner level, very boring game. The graphics look very wasteland-ish to me too (oddball observation)...

    I'm still not sure if the game was supposed to be on the level it was or not. Just very very disappointing game overall imo.

    as someone said, 6 games till dungeonmaster... and I predict fail :P The deviousness of that game is legendary and I think few beat that game without using spoilers.

  2. Ooh, Dungeon Master, looking forward to that. I never played it, but I did play Eye of the Beholder I and II, which are very similar.


  3. I just realized... your spreadsheet is missing a game. "The Adventure Construction Set" by EA, released in 1985.

    I played with this one a lot in the Apple II labs at junior high school. It's actually a decent editor system, and it includes a full adventure to play, as well as a tutorial adventure showcasing the different settings.

    The DOS version was released in 1987... I haven't seen that one myself, I imagine it probably is in horrid CGA graphics.

  4. Dungeon Master is far superior to the EoB series (and has aged better, too), in my opinion anyways. And while it's challenging, it's also never unfair - something which maybe can't be said for the expansion, which (luckily? for CRPGAddict) didn't make it to the PC.

    Surely you must be jesting?

  5. @trudodyr, I've played all the EOB series and some of the puzzles are a pain, as far as fairness, I thought dungeon master was more devious but EOB had some awefull puzzles and some of the level maps are just atrocious. EOB has aged better than DM in my opinion, graphics, sound etc. DM is VERY antiquated, especially in interface, its interface is a piece of shit and overly complex

  6. I disagree with Stu about DM being too difficult. At least the basic version, not the "Chaos Strikes Back" expansion scenario that came out later.
    The only real problems I remember I had when I played it back then on the Amiga were on the last two levels. I don't remember using a walkthru and I certainly had no online help.

    I don't see "The Addict" fail on this - but perhaps he gets bored because there is not really much in the way of plot or story in the title. It's really nothing more than a dungeon simulator and it was bested in practically all disciplines by the first Ultima Underworld, IMHO.

    As for 2400 A.D. I can only contribute that the title does indeed not live up to its expectations. I started playing it on the Apple II when I got a retro flash a few years ago and it felt like a half-finished game to me. The checklist of the programmer must have been looked like this:
    - Wandering around the city: check
    - Talking to random NPCs: check
    - Blasting random robots: check
    - Implement basic inventory: check
    - Implement dialogue system: check
    - Implement thrilling story: 50%


  7. @Stu
    Interface-wise, it may come down to personal preferences. I played through a couple of my favourite old-school RPGs (among them DM, CSB & the EOB trilogy) some 2-3 years ago, and thought that FTL had really done a groundbreaking and smooth job with the UI, whereas Westwood's implementation felt rather cumbersome (they did much better later on with Lands of Lore, I think).

    At any rate, there's a lot of titles coming up that CRPG Addict will hopefully play through in 2011 - for me, the early 90s gave birth to some of the best and most memorable computer RPGs to date. :)

  8. I was aware of this title but not it's Origin / Ultima style background. Doesn't sound like it has much going for it. Shame as I'm sure there is good potential for an Ultima style sci-fi game.

    I think 2400 A.D. is one I'll give a miss though based on your comments. I have lots of games that I've hardly started to play through such as Baldurs Gate, Morrowind and the Fallout games not to mention older games which you've sparked my interest in such as Starflight and MM1.

    Always preferred EOB1 & EOB2 to Dungeon Master myself, though I feel Westwood used the DM design as the basis of their EOB engine. I think the lack of story and characters was what put me off DM. It felt more like an elaborate puzzle box to me that a CRPG.

  9. I am really looking forward to Wasteland. I have tried to play it several times and can't seem to make a dent in it, but I love the Fallout series and I am looking forward to an in-depth view of its origin.

  10. Wasteland was a great game. It took The Bard's Tale style of play, mixed into it Gold Box game like paragraphs (BTW, Pools of Radiance was released around the same time as Wasteland), throw in a top down perspective while adventuring and put it in a post-apocalyptic setting. Couldn't go wrong with that combo back then :)

    The adventure part was a little confusing at times, but nothing that couldn't be figured out with time.

  11. I still don't have an account, but I'm the "Anonymous" you suggested to get one about a month back. Still reading, still loving the blog.

    I just opened your xml file to see what games are on your horizon, and in particular, which ones were in existence the year I moved to Toronto, and had an amusing surprise. I'm the author of the 351st game in your list :) So... figure you'll be playing my game in what... 15 years?

    Keep going, your blog is great!

    1. We are getting close to the 15 year mark...

    2. I wonder what the 351st game on my list was back then. I was still in my "DOS-only" mode back in 2010. I think it would have been around what is now the 1995-1996 transition period. Somethin glike Azalta or Betrayal of the Obsidian Baboon.

      That's an interesting thought. I've I'd kept my "DOS-only" rule and made the same amount of progress in terms of number of games, I would currently be playing The Tone Rebellion (1997).

    3. Unless I'm missing something, don't we know exactly what #351 was -- namely, Jeff Sinasac's Caverns of Xaskazien, from 1995? Looks like there's a very good chance you'll make it on time.

    4. Among DOS/Windows games, I show Caverns of Xaskazien at #336, not #351. But it doesn't matter anywway, because lots of games were rediscovered and added, and others rejected and subtracted, since I originally constituted the list. I have no idea what it looked like in 2010.

    5. What I'm referencing is your comment below (October 30, 2010 at 10:04 PM):

      So, Anonymous, you're either Jeff Sinasac or you took more time to delete the blank rows in the sheet than I'm willing to.

      To which Anonymous, self-described as author of game #351, replied:

      I didn't delete any blank rows :)

      I would think that indicates Xaskazien was #351 at the time, unless I'm completely out to lunch here...? I agree that it doesn't matter; it's only that it would be funny if you end up covering it in 2025.

    6. Ah. I keep forgetting that Blogger didn't allow threaded comments (even at a single level) back then. It didn't occur to me to keep reading.

  12. Well. I HAVE to finish Dungeonmaster now, if only to prove Stu wrong.

    Adamantyr, as you'll undoubtedly see, I'm playing ACS now. Arcanum's spreadsheet is very good, but it's not technically the one I'm using; I have my own list, informed by Arcanum but also using several other sources.

  13. So, Anonymous, you're either Jeff Sinasac or you took more time to delete the blank rows in the sheet than I'm willing to.

  14. You seemed far too dilligent to let it slide without investigating. I didn't delete any blank rows :)

    P.S. In my spare time I'm working on the sequel to game 351. A drastic improvement. But that one would be about game 3051, so I'm not holding my breath for it to be blogged.

  15. I know this is a random post for this comment, and I'm sure you've heard it before, but, have you ever considered writing a book on the history of CRPGs? I think you'd do a fantastic job and I'd buy it. Your writing style has kept me hooked on running through your back catalog of blogs for over a week so far with no signs of getting bored. This coming from a guy who gets bored with everything. Keep up the excellent work!

  16. I appreciate it, Tom, but I'm not sure what I would offer that Matt Barton didn't offer in his "Dungeons and Desktops." Beyond that, I just don't think I have the time. I might consider it at some point, though, when my schedule clears up a bit.

  17. Instead of writing about what you feel has been covered well enough, you could instead pick another aspect of CRPG that you think you could be motivated to delve into. You already have a different take on things than Barton does and it looks like he was more into the history surrounding the games, where you could focus on how you see the genre grow and change over the course of time. Really though I think you could contribute something if you had the time and found something to focus on that inspires you.

    On a side note, if you do decide on this let me know because there are some interesting developments in publishing contracts as it regards to e-books that you should be aware of. Frankly I don't see why we don't just remove the traditional publisher model altogether when it comes to e-books, they have very little to no cost compared to printing.

  18. Thanks UbAh. I'll give it some thought. I might have some free time next year.

  19. Given that completing your quest will take numerous years, and that you will have extensive material at that point, the book may become an interesting option to consider. You have a terrific combination of objective, well-supported critical analysis balanced by subjective, entertaining opinion. By distilling down multiple years worth of blog into a sort of "greatest hits" I could see that becoming a great read.

  20. Even as a kid poring obsessively over the U6-era Origin catalogue, 2400AD held no interest for me. Probably the only game in there that didn't. Looking at it now, those EGA graphics remind me unpleasantly of early 90s shareware - I'll take the darker and more atmospheric look of Ultima V any day.

  21. A note on sound. There is a great little piece of music by Commodore SID maestro Jeroen Tel that according to the High Voltage SID Archive is from '2400 A.D.'

    This is a bit odd, as Mobygames at least suggests there was no C64 version of 2400 A.D. released. Not sure if the music was commissioned for a port that was never completed, or if there's something else going on.

    Anyway, I love the tune. It's the first track on this Youtube compilation of Jeroen Tel music:

  22. I loved this game so much as a kid. My best friend and I played it relentlessly...


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