Friday, September 30, 2011

Game 64: Visions of the Aftermath: The Boomtown (1988)


As a CRPG...what?...connoisseur?...I have learned to be wary of games whose manuals oversell themselves. Visions of the Aftermath: The Boomtown promises a game that presents "the laws of nature in an inter-active environment without seeming arbitrary or trite." The game, it goes on, "is designed to model life," with the map "designed to seem like places instead of squares." Through repeated deaths, it promises, "you are mastering skills which give you unprecedented control of such a reality."

Moving past the author's self-accolades, we find that Visions is a passable post-apocalyptic simulator, not light years removed from Scavengers of the Mutant World. When you start the game, you set its parameters and difficulty level and then try to achieve your goal while the game concertedly tries to kill you. In most scenarios, the goal is simply to survive a certain number of years.

Looks rather homey.

The game takes place in 1995, some unspecified time after the bombs fell, and the player begin his life in a bomb shelter with random amounts of food and goods. If playing a game in which all you have to do is survive, there's really no reason to leave the shelter except that the food eventually runs out. Outside the shelter, you have to contend with erratic weather, radiation, scavengers, mutants, dwindling food supplies, and other trappings of post-apocalyptic sci-fi.

Lost in the desert.

After a few deaths, I won the game rather easily by setting all the parameters to their easiest level and establishing the "win" condition as lasting only two years. I was able to spend about 14 months in my initial shelter. Ultimately, I had to leave to find more food, but I just found another shelter close by and spent the next 10 months there. It was something of a hollow victory:

Look at the bottom for the "win" message. It's all you get from the game.

The game is not a CRPG; its inclusion here is another MobyGames errata. It is, nonetheless, mildly interesting, and I can see how things like the health meter and the inventory could confuse someone as to its CRPG creds. Turn-based, it is meant to be played with other players against whom you can compete for the longest life and the highest score.

The settings for one Boomtown scenario.

In harder games than the one I won on, you have to engage in a wide spectrum of statistics-studying and planning to survive. You watch the messages carefully so as to avoid going outside during storms. You stock up on fertilizer to grow your own food. You chop down forests for fuel and lumber. You scavenge for car parts so you don't have to walk around and get caught during meteor showers. You build generators to supply electricity. You meet other people and learn their skills. Or kill them and take their stuff. You find books and spend cold winter months reading them in your shelter to gain knowledge.

And you can fish!

Combat is rather lame, consisting of simply exhausting your supply of arrows at your enemy and hoping that's enough. If not, the game lets you sheepishly trade with your enemies shortly after trying to kill them.

Dealing with a horde.

Ultimately, it doesn't add up to much. The best way to win--if not get the highest score--is to keep a low profile, remember shelter locations, cache resources, and use the environment. This might make it an interesting simulator, but it doesn't do much for a CRPG addict. So, having won at least one scenario, I'm giving it a ranking of 26 and moving on.

I realize that it wasn't much of a return posting after a two-week absence. But I trust you'll enjoy what's coming next: Wasteland!


32 comments:

  1. Glad to see you back, even if it is a week late. :-)

    Nice interview at Toronto Thumbs Blog. I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment that most of the old games are still playable, but the Bard's Tale games have not aged well.

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  2. Yeah, I'm not going to be posting "estimates" for next postings any more. I'm always wrong.

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  3. Looking forward to Wasteland--being a big fan of Fallout 1-2, I made a serious attempt to really get into it a few months back, and I, well, I played it for a good while, but HOLY CRUD did the constant, brain-numbingly mindless and repetitive battles ever wear me down, to the point where I just couldn't take it anymore. But I'm very interested in your perspective.

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  4. "I made a serious attempt to really get into it a few months back, and I, well, I played it for a good while, but HOLY CRUD did the constant, brain-numbingly mindless and repetitive battles ever wear me down, to the point where I just couldn't take it anymore."

    Vegas, baby!

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  5. I am curious to see how Wasteland stacks up. Have you ever played Fallout? I don't seem to remember you referencing very much, especially compared with the likes of Baldur's Gate and such... (including an incident where I'm pretty sure you spoiled a major plot twist for me in the second one, :P).

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  6. I bought both Fallout and Fallout II. I started trying to play the first one, but I kept encountering this bug where the screen would go completely black on me. It got so annoying that I stopped playing. Then, I threw away both games in my Great Game Purge of 2009--see my first posting for details. So the answer is, mostly no. Faster's comment on Wasteland is the first negative thing I've heard about it.

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  7. Yeah, I don't know; maybe I'm doing something wrong, since everyone else seems to think it's the best game EVER, but...well, that's why I'm interested in a different perspective.

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  8. @ Faster

    Fallout did have serious flaws, like a somewhat clunky interface and breath-takingly stupid companion AI. But it also gave a lot of freedom - perhaps unprecedented at the time - to roleplay the character you wanted. And I don't just mean in terms of stats and abilities, but in terms of moral behavior as well.

    But for me personally, what got me was the way it handled intelligence. I usually like to play the smart guy, whether that's a wizard or a tech in the setting. But smart characters in CRPGs normally just get more spells, more skills or better resistances. In Fallout smarter characters also got better dialogue options, allowing them to figure things out they normally wouldn't and come up with options you otherwise couldn't use. You could even convince the final boss to give up by proving to him that his plans couldn't work, which I'd never seen before. Fallout was the first game that truly supported my characters being able to act like the geniuses they were supposed to be, and I loved that.

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  9. @Faster

    Whoops, I think I mixed up the games. You were complaining about Wasteland, weren't you? Never mind the above, then.

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  10. RPG or not, clunky or not, Boomtown intrigues me. There have been so few post-apocalyptic games where the player tries to cope with the environment and build something better. Usually that's glossed over in favor of the MUTANT ZOMBIE HORDES and tearing things down even further. Isn't that so much more exciting? They're mutants! And zombies! They've even got guns!

    Sorry. I guess it's hard to make subsistence agriculture interesting.

    Let me pick my brain. There's a flash game on Kongregate called Rebuild that does just that against zombies. There's an old strategy game called Survival, but it's grossly unplayable. Millennium - Return to Earth has a grim premise, but is not about a struggle for survival - the game is impossible to lose. The Civilization IV scenario Age of Ice gets it right. When a people that had started with flint tools went to free summer with mammoth riders and spearman formations, I grinned like an idiot. The new expansion to Fate of the World may do it. Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri and the UFO: Afterblank games have elements of rebuilding, but it's incidental, really.

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  11. I'm very glad to see you are back. The interview was very good, glad to see you are getting notice. I'll be following for a long time, your writing is always interesting and worth the time. Don't worry too much about time spent on real world things like your job - that stuff is important.

    It doesn't look like you will reach my first CRPGs for quite a while - mine were the 2 Ravenloft games in 1994 and 1995, and Menzoberranzen after them. I've found Strahd's Possession recently, but can't get ahold of Stone Prophet. Hope you have better luck.

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  12. I'm looking forward to you moving on to Wasteland, if only because I believe it to be one of the best CRPGs ever made. I think you'll see it, since the way you review games (by playing them in order) will clearly show how great it was compared to other games of the era (except maybe Pool of Radiance).

    It doesn't seem as good anymore, but that's what happens as games age. The innovation becomes commonplace and future innovations make what was once revolutionary obsolete. But, as I stated already, you're in a unique position; because playing the games in order puts you in the mindset of someone who is back in 1988 and is only comparing it to other games of the age.

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  13. At CRPGAddict: I can't wait to see you play Fallout 1 and 2 then. Absolutely fantastic games. I never was much of a CRPG fan as a young's (I played a lot more JRPGs), but I LOVED Fallout 1 and 2.

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  14. Heh. The problem with realisitic post-apoc simulations: They are **boring**. You either die in the inital attack, or spend a lot of time sitting in your shelter.

    That said, has anyone else been to the Deifenbunker in Ottawa? 300 room survial shelter desinged for the Canadian goverment to hide in if the cold war went hot. Great tour, even if they don't have most of the origional furnishings.

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  15. I'm quite excited to see you finally get to Wasteland; it's the first CRPG I really played, and still one of my all-time favorites. I've actually been writing a series of articles about it as well (http://www.spectaclerock.com/2011/08/16/revisiting-the-wasteland-part-i/), and I can't wait to see how your experiences compare.

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  16. Waiting for Fallout? I'll likely be teaching the children I don't yet have how to read via the Addict's Fallout playthrough.

    Read the interview at Toronto Thumbs, there is actually a new Wizardry game that came out recently on the Playstation Network. The gameplay still remains the same as it was in Wizardry I. Apparently the formula is popular in Japan.

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  17. "HOLY CRUD did the constant, brain-numbingly mindless and repetitive battles ever wear me down"

    At least the PC version of Wasteland supports function key macros (F1-F10). I immediately make one that runs a standard combat sequence. This along with the battle messages turned up to maximum speed does a whole lot to speed up the boring pointless battles. With modern computers (or DOSBOX emulation turned up) along with a good combat macro a pointless battle shouldnt take more than a few seconds.

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  18. I predict that the Addict will find Wasteland a fun, passable CRPG, but won't be over the moon about it. He'll comment that the NPC interaction is a little weak, the economy works but is pretty basic, and that he's not very excited about the world or setting (he's already commented about the post-apoc milieu). He'll give it a decent GIMLET because the game works pretty well and the battles aren't completely un-tactical, but for him it will be overall decent but anticlimactic.

    I also predict that I and many others of us who rightfully hold Wasteland to be one of the most seminal and best CRPGs, nay, games of any kind we've ever played will crucify the Addict for daring to disagree with our nostalgic opinion :-)

    Wasteland IS for me the most seminal game and certainly CRPG, and I still go back and play through most of it every couple of years. Being completely objective, though, especially after following the Addict through other games of the same time (I recently played Pool of Radiance for the first time in parallel with the Addict), Wasteland is probably not the greatest CRPG of all time.

    However, and I think this is important, I can't think of anything in Wasteland that is "broken", in the sense of some game feature or capability that is so annoying or jarring that it takes you out of the fun zone and/or makes it hard to play etc. There are probably other games that do every aspect of Wasteland better, but especially for the time in which it was released, it did everything it tried to do very well. As we've seen with the other post-apoc games the Addict has played up until now, Wasteland is clearly the best game set in a post-apoc world and perhaps it was the setting that did so much for us in our memories.

    I still think some aspects of Wasteland were head and shoulders above at least most games of the era - most importantly for me was how open the world was. From the very beginning of the game, you can visit some of the hardest areas that you'll only be able to take on late in the game (in fact, one of the hardest areas is almost literally next door to where you start). This was probably the single coolest thing that has stuck with me, and I still miss it in MOST games that are released, even until this day.

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  19. "I also predict that I and many others of us who rightfully hold Wasteland to be one of the most seminal and best CRPGs, nay, games of any kind we've ever played will crucify the Addict for daring to disagree with our nostalgic opinion :-)"

    I was going to post something, but Kennon summed my thoughts up nicely.

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  20. Personally I enjoyed Wasteland untill I arrived in Vegas. At that place the endless random encounters combined with a rather boring combat system took the joy out of the game for me.
    Also, despite mapping the whole outer city of Vegas I somehow managed to avoid triggering some encounter with Fat Freddy and/or his cronies. And not exploring every derelict building I missed the omniscient old bum. I beat the Scorpitron rather easily though.
    The combination of too many random encounters and having to walk back and forth revisiting places because it's so easy to miss something was frustrating.

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  21. I think that the review of Wasteland will be better than you give credit for. Let's not forget that Wasteland allows you do the missions in any order you want, doesn't railroad you nearly as much as other games, has multiple ways to complete objectives and, most importantly, has a ton of skills, each of which are useful for something.

    How many other games of that era can claim that?

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  22. @engaged greek, also has the superloot bug! :) c64 version plways way better than pc so we will see how it goes for crpgaddict. Its one of the first games I remember where sex of your character impacts in a place or two (From memory only 1 place but still...)

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  23. Duskfire, I'm actually quite worried that I'm going to hit a point, probably in the early 1990s, in which I can no longer find some of my games. Abandonware sites stop offering many of them from this era (they're too large, or their publishers are still around enforcing copyright), but they're too old to still be sold in legitimate stores. I'll be asking my readers for a lot of help here.

    Kennon, we're all entitled to our nostalgia. In my first posting, I called Ultima IV the "greatest CRPG of all time," which it clearly isn't, but it'll always occupy a spot in my mind higher than the rating I gave it.

    My first Wasteland posting just went up!

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  24. Addict: We can tackle that when we get to it. More and more companies are realizing that selling old games is pretty much free money so we are seeing new releases on Steam and Great Old Games every week.

    As a note, if you are looking at buying games from either one I suggest you put them into http://steamalerts.com/ well ahead of time and try and get them on sale (if using steam) or subscribe to GoGs newsletter (Very low volume, less then one post a week all sales and new games). You can often save well over 50% that way.

    Also I tend to prefer GoG to Steam; Never has any DRM and adds a bunch of cool extras.

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  25. @stu "Its one of the first games I remember where sex of your character impacts in a place or two (From memory only 1 place but still...)"

    I have refrained from mentioning one of these when talking about this game because I want to see how our addicted one plays it. Also I remember thinking it was hilarious as a pre-teen, but I don't remember exactly what happens.

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  26. @CRPG Addict: I can help with the Fallout 1 black screen bug. I found some french utility that you can run in the background that prevents the issue.

    GOG.com fixes it in their version by using a DirectX wrapper, but that causes the game animation to be choppy for me.

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  27. How much money are you willing to commit? For a lot of these games there's almost certainly someone with a viable copy of some kind on eBay or Amazon Marketplace or similar.

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  28. Finally read your interview, very nice BTW, I am afraid you may run into a wall when you try to ascend in nethack without spoilers...

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  29. One fellow did ascend spoiler free, by taking careful notes on what he learned every time.

    It took him years.

    If you plan to keep going until you ascend, please remember that your rules allow for help from us.

    If you decide to move on before ascending, remember too that this is no defeat- the majority of roguelike players enjoy the games for years without victory. Winning is almost not the point.

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  30. "there is actually a new Wizardry game that came out recently on the Playstation Network. The gameplay still remains the same as it was in Wizardry I."

    Yes, and it has a DLC extra dungeon setup as well. I bought it as soon as I saw it. It's just as complex as the games were way back when (aside from the fact that this is designed to be played with a Playstation controller an not a keyboard), aside from the fact that...

    The Game Does Not Have ANY Documentation At All.

    You have to figure out EVERYTHING by playing it- and that means encountering everyone in the town, how to converse, how to do ANYTHING by just trying it out.

    Makes combat fun when you are trying to figure out how to use the spell system as the only time you can really play with it to figure it out is when something attacks...

    It is NOT a bad game. It's just a different game, and VERY old skool (aside from the mix of photorealism in the dungeons and the Manga NPCs, etc)

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  31. I'm just wondering what kinda mutated crap you'd get from fishing in this game...

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