Monday, February 20, 2017

Game 242: Roadwar 2000 (1986)

Graphically, there's not much to this game.
Roadwar 2000
United States
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released in 1986 for Commodore 64 and Apple II; 1987 for Amiga, Apple IIGS, Atari ST, and DOS; 1988 for PC-88, PC-98, and Sharp X1
Date Started: 9 February 2017
Date Ended: 12 February 2017
Total Hours: 23
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: 30
Ranking at Time of Posting: 136/242 (56%)

Roadwar 2000 isn't really an RPG, and its inclusion on my blog is only justified if you regard vehicles as both "characters" and "equipment" and you accept a simple 1-5 scale of character levels as "attributes" for combat purposes. Nonetheless, MobyGames classified it as such (or, at least, it did at the time that I originally made the list) and I remembered it fondly from when I was 14, so I decided to give it a try. I could have turned it into 3 or 4 postings given how long it took to win, but since I'm making an exception by playing it at all, I'm going to try to cover it in a single entry.

Although I never won the game as a youth, I had stronger memories of it than most RPGs I played back then, down to some specific lines in Shay Addams's accompanying coverage in Quest for Clues. As I fired it up, I was astonished to find that I still remembered the keyboard shortcuts and commands despite not having played it for 30 years. Everything was as I remembered: the tension that accompanies the few seconds of disk access after you choose to search for (p)eople, (l)oot, or (v)ehicles; the infuriating way that some gangs have of attacking your party without giving you a chance to retaliate; the palpable fear when you learn that a city is controlled by "invaders"; the joy of finding a bus, armory, or drill sergeant; the way that your imagination embellishes the long and soundless tactical combat. But when I was a kid, I never got out of the game's opening stages. Replaying it now, I found it just a bit too long and repetitive, but it was still a lot of fun.
A typical Roadwar 2000 screen has me arriving in Spokane with options to search for loot, people, or vehicles.
Roadwar 2000 draws upon SSI's primary strengths, honed in dozens of wargames: resource management and tactical combat. The backstory, presented in the form of a series of journal entries from the director of the secret Government Underground Biolab outlines the collapse of society, in 1999, from a plague--actually, from a bacterium that somehow has a pupal, larval, and adult stage. (This was before you could Google how bacteria actually work, so the developers may not have realized that phrases like "two months after the adult bacterium breaks out of the cocoon" were absurd.) The plague was engineered by some unspecified anti-American sect that sent infected suiciders across the nation to spread the disease. They apparently developed a vaccine but kept it to themselves. Then, if that wasn't enough, once enough people had died that there was no military structure to retaliate, they nuked us! As society collapsed completely and cities were taken over by gangs, half the population turned into aggressive mutants. Vaccinated foreigners invaded the country through Mexico (make your own wall joke here) but soon started to succumb to a mutated form of the disease.
In my game, New York City and Colorado Springs were the two that were nuked.
By the end of 1999, the director decided to seek out a powerful gang leader and use his resources to find the eight field agents of GUB, get them back to the institute, and somehow find a cure for the disease. You become that chosen gang leader.

As you traverse the landscape--which includes cities, highways, farms, forests, mountains, oilfields, and radioactive zones--you try to build your gang by acquiring more vehicles, people, and supplies like fuel, food, guns, medicine, and tires. As you grow in strength, you can take over cities--and thus catch the attention of the GUB director--but your actions put you in constant conflict with mercenaries, street gangs, cannibals, mobsters, satanists, mutants, and other undesirables.
My empire grows.
You begin as the leader of a gang with a name of your choosing, starting in some random city. The game takes place across the entire North American landscape on a geographically-accurate map that includes 120 metropolitan areas in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Plenty of games have been set in New York City and Los Angeles, but here's a rare one that allows you to adventure in positionally-accurate cities like Waco, Spokane, and Dayton. Everything is randomized at the beginning of a new game, including your starting city, the factions that control each city, the location of the GUB, the locations of the eight field agents, and which cities have been nuked and are thus crawling with mutants.
The included game map has both cities and highways in the correct positions.
Randomness is also the prevailing game mechanic as you explore and build your party. For instance, you start the game with only 8 gang members, one vehicle, and 80 cargo spaces, but you have the ability to recruit up to several hundred members, acquire up to 6 vehicles, and stuff them with thousands of units of cargo. You can do this all in the first city if you want--and if you're lucky. In every city, you have the option of hitting "V" to find new vehicles, "P" to look for new people, and "L" to look for loot. Take the last one as an example. Every time you hit that key, one of several random things can happen:
  • You find nothing at all, and time simply passes.
  • You find any one of several dozen types of locations, including convenience stores, grocery stores, gas stations, parking lots, armories, hospitals, and schools, in which you might find any number of goods specific to the location (e.g., food in grocery stores, tires and fuel at gas stations, guns and ammo at sporting goods stores, medicine at hospitals) that you can either take or cache for later.
  • You find a special location type that improves your vehicles or party members. Some of these are specific to certain cities.
  • You run into a group of people, as if you had pressed "P" instead, and play through the associated options.
  • You get attacked by the faction that controls the town. If you defeat them in combat ("abstract" combat, as below), you might have a chance to take over the town.
  • If it's nighttime and you're near a nuked city, you get attacked by mutants and fight "abstract" combat.
  • You run into a road gang and can fight either "quick" or "tactical" combat.
  • Some faction gets a chance to shoot at your party from hidden places with no chance to retaliate.
In that long list, I'm probably forgetting a few things. The point is that if you set out to do a specific thing--add 50 members to your party, find a bus, find a large cache of fuel--then you have to be fairly lucky with the die rolls to have it happen in anything less than a dozen tries, with any number of consequences to your party from each attempt.
Options when finding valuable loot.
But in the long run, the odds are with the player. I don't think there's a time limit on the game, and generally speaking, goods, vehicles, and people are easy to acquire. Enemy parties seem to scale a little in size but stop at some point, so large parties almost always win combats against them. Playing Roadwar 2000 is a little like playing a casino game where your edge is 52%: you'll go through a lot of ups and downs, but the overall trendline is almost always in your favor. Even if it's not, you can save the game at any time and place and reload if you get a few bad breaks in a row.

Throughout the game, you're basically trying to manage three things: your party, your vehicles, and your goods. Of the three, the party is the easiest. Your members fall into five classifications from strongest to weakest: armsmasters, bodyguards, commandos, dragoons, and escorts. You draw them from various parties that you encounter in cities, and you can usually tell by the parties' names what types of members they're likely to offer. For instance, "mercenaries" might sign up a couple of armsmasters, a few bodyguards, and a bunch of commandos, while "the needy" will almost entirely be escorts with maybe a couple of dragoons.

After combat, all party members have a chance of promoting to the next rank. Over time, you hopefully get top-heavy with armsmasters. The effects of promotion are nebulous, but a party with 50 armsmasters and 10 escorts quite clearly outperforms the reverse. Once someone joins your party, they follow your every order and there's no morale/desertion/mutiny system like in Pirates.
A standard screen when first encountering people. They might join me, flee, or attack me depending on what I choose.
There are three "special characters" who are difficult and valuable to find: doctors, who reduce casualties in combat; drill sergeants, who increase the pace and number of promotions; and politicians, who in some nebulous way help you deal with bureaucrats. I never found a politician in any of my games, but the drill sergeant and doctor were particularly useful. They don't fight in combat, but they can be killed.
Finding a key NPC.
Goods are also somewhat easy to manage. Tires are so plentiful that it's almost laughable. After a really tough combat, you might have to replace 8 of them, and you routinely find them in batches of 50. The developers may as well have left them out of consideration entirely. Food and fuel are a little harder to acquire but not very hard; you get copious amounts from both city looting and longer combats. Your crew eats 1 unit of food per member per day and consumes between around 3 and 12 fuel units per vehicle, depending on the types of vehicles. Get a few thousand of both and you're okay for a while.

The only resources I had trouble developing over the long-term were ammo and medical supplies. Medical supplies don't do any good on their own, but you occasionally come across healers who will trade "anti-toxins" for them. These "anti-toxins" somehow cure disease conferred from fighting mutants. I got attacked by mutants constantly and was always on the verge or running out. As for ammo, I ended the game with plenty of it, but there were times that my reserves dipped dangerously low. A visit to a sporting goods store might only provide around 250 cartridges, and a single volley against a random attacker could easily deplete twice that amount. I cried out in relief every time I found an armory and picked up 2,500 rounds at once.
Quickly checking my supplies near the endgame.
There are special encounters that offer fuel additives, food additives, and snow tires. Each makes their respective supplies last a little bit longer. If there are similar "bonuses" you can get for guns, ammo, medical supplies, or anti-toxins, I never found them.
Getting a fuel upgrade.
The fleet of vehicles is perhaps the most difficult part of the game to manage well. There are 20 vehicle types in the game, and each one has different considerations for maneuverability, speed, armor, cargo capacity, crew capacity, and fuel use, as well as some less often-used statistics like the difficulty involved in boarding it during combat. I tended to fight my battles conservatively and favored slower high-capacity vehicles like buses and trailer trucks that could pull up alongside enemies and unleash volleys of a dozen rifles or more. I tried to load up with as many of those as I could, but I often took pickup trucks, vans and limousines when I couldn't find them. I mostly ignored faster, more maneuverable vehicles like motorcycles, compacts, and convertibles even though I could understand building a combat strategy around them. I also eschewed tractors and construction vehicles because I didn't do much with ramming.
Checking out the stats and deployment of one of my vehicles.
In addition to finding all these vehicles, you have to worry about keeping your crew at numbers that take advantage of the vehicles' capacities, and you look for the occasional body shop or other special facility that will upgrade their speed, armor, braking, or maneuverability. Losing a vehicle that has gone through several upgrades really sucks.
In "abstract" combat, results simply flash by at the bottom of the screen.
The combat system in Roadwar 2000 is interesting. Its main feature is the ultra-tactical showdowns between PC and enemy fleets, but since these combats can easily take an hour or more, the developers introduced a couple of quick combat options. The first is a bit too quick. Known as "abstract combat," it basically consists of messages flashing at the bottom of the main exploration window, letting you know which party members and enemies have been killed and which vehicles have crashed. You get absolutely no input into what happens during these combats, which makes it all the more annoying that most battles in cities (involving just people, no vehicles) can only be fought this way. When you're given the choice, you almost never want to fight vehicular combat the abstract way, because there's a decent chance that even a strong party will lose a couple of cars.

The second option--and this is just for vehicle combats, mostly on the road--is "quick" combat. Under this system, you still have the ability to allocate your party members by vehicle, specify your preference for ramming (including "never"), and give priority to where your characters shoot at various parts of the vehicle. After you set all of this up, the rounds scroll by on the screen and you can see more details about what's happening to your party. It's still mostly out of your control, but it's more predictable than "abstract" combat and I used it for most of the battles.
Watching the action scroll by in "quick" combat.
The third option is to control everything manually in "tactical" combat. This is where SSI shows its quality, of course. There are a billion logistical considerations to the system, and I managed to get through the entire game without completely figuring them all out. The system is entirely turn-based--everything I describe below might sound action-packed, but it's not. You make each choice and move each icon one round at a time and mostly get told the results in the text window.
The game gives you a sense of what you're facing before you decide whether you want "quick" or "tactical" combat.
Tactical combat starts with a movement phase. Both parties starts at opposite ends of the tactical map and have to find each other first. On the road, this is pretty easy. In the city, it can be annoyingly hard, and I stopped fighting tactical combats in cities after the first couple of tries.
Trying to find enemies among all the buildings got old fast.
But even the highway is full of wreckage and burnt cars, so you have to maneuver around them. In this phase, each vehicle can accelerate, decelerate, and turn, which sounds easy enough but there are all kinds of rules depending on the type of vehicle, its speed, and whatever upgrades it's found. Sometimes you can't turn because you're going too slow. Sometimes you can't turn because you're going too fast. Sometimes you can only turn once. You might get multiple "rounds" with each vehicle depending on its movement speed. If a tire gets blown out, all the rules change. Early in the game, I often found myself in situations where my cars bunched up around each other and, with nowhere else to go, I ended up ramming my own cars. Other times, I found I couldn't turn in enough time to avoid a bit of debris. Eventually, I learned just to keep everyone moving slow, even though I think it made my vehicles easier to hit.
The movement phase of tactical combat. My cars are the solid ones; the enemy's are hollowed out. We've created a bit of a traffic jam, and I need to be laying on the brakes if I haven't already.
After the movement phase comes the shooting phase. You have to picture that your limos and pickups and buses are crammed with people just waiting to take a shot, and the direction that the vehicle is facing really matters. If you're facing an enemy head-on, only a few guys can shoot from the front. But pull alongside an enemy and you might be able to hit him with 12 guys from the side of a trailer. A full bus can fire 26 shots from each side as long as there's a line-of-sight. This means that during the movement phase, you want to try to angle your vehicles so that an enemy can be hit from both the front and side of yours.

When shooting, you can target the interior, topside, or wheels of most enemy vehicles. Since killing the driver is the only way to take it completely out of commission, I found that it was best to focus most shots on the interior. Shooting topside (if the vehicle has one) just reduces enemy guns, and shooting the wheels is (I think) only useful if you want to capture the vehicle, which I was never able to successfully do. I didn't try that hard.
Firing options. My limousine is alongside the enemy vehicle, so I'll be able to shoot at it with 6 rifles.
After the shooting phase comes two more phases: transferring and boarding and melee. I barely explored either. The first allows you to move party members from one of your vehicles to an adjacent one. Maybe you've given up one as a lost cause and you want to increase the number of guns in the other or something. The second phase allows you to try to board and capture an enemy vehicle, putting your characters into melee combat. I found that the interface for this was so cumbersome that I gave it up. It's easier just to find desirable vehicles in cities.

Imagination goes a long way in these tactical combats. If you try hard, you can picture an epic Mad Max-type scene as you accelerate a motorcycle to 90 miles per hour and broadside an enemy limo, firing volleys from the sidecar as you approach. You drive a tractor up the median strip and ram it head-on into an enemy van, bringing it to a sudden stop as two buses pull up on either side and unload their rifles into the interior. You maneuver your tractor trailer alongside a enemy's and have your party members jump from one to the other, deciding ownership of both vehicles in a display of fisticuffs.
I rarely did this deliberately.
Again, though, these combats can be long, and eventually I got tired of them. (Trying to win the game in just a couple of days undoubtedly made me more impatient than I would have been at 14.) The primary motivation to fight tactically is that it's the only way to increase the size of your fleet: for every one that you win, you get one more maximum vehicle, up to 15. Once I hit 15 vehicles, there was little incentive to fight tactically anymore, particularly since a fleet of 15 vehicles and 400 men is essentially unbeatable, no matter what combat option you choose.

On we go, then, to the game's plot. As you visit each city, you can scout around to find out who controls it. Often, you'll find that no one controls it and you can immediately take it over. Other times, it's controlled by a local gang or by "invaders," at which point you just have to keep looting and letting them attack you until you wipe them out in abstract combats and the game asks you if you want to take the city. I never found any way to get control of cities run by either "bureaucrats" or the "lawful national guard," and indeed it's dangerous to even loot there. The oddest option is to find a city controlled by "reborners": you take it without struggle, but up to half of your party runs off to join the cult.
At first, I thought this was a bad thing. Then I remembered it was my gang name.
Once you capture enough cities, you'll find a random encounter in which someone whispers the password for the GUB. Minutes or hours later, in another random encounter, you run into a GUB agent who asks for the password. Provide it, and you learn in which city the GUB is hiding out.
The first step on the main quest.
You have to visit that city and look for (p)eople an indefinite number of times (usually, it doesn't take more than 10) before you actually locate and get admittance to the GUB facility, where the director tasks you with finding eight agents and returning them to the facility. If you're lucky, the facility is in some place like Kansas City. If you're unlucky (as in my winning game), it's off some place in a corner like Montreal.
Getting the main quest from the GUB director.
Before I get into the agent quest, I should mention that a lot of the cities have special encounters. If you visit Anaheim, you can send your party to Disneyland for a potential "morale boost" that causes a lot of them to promote. The same thing happens if you let them gamble in Vegas. A trip to Indianapolis upgrades all your cars. I understand that being in New Orleans at the right time can let you experience a (textual) Mardi Gras parade, though I missed that. There are several more that I forgot to note.
Popping in to Disneyland.
I ran into an odd encounter in Amarillo that's worth mentioning. There was some kind of plane or shuttle that I could enter. By pressing the right sequence of buttons and switches--mostly by trial and error--the plane took off with me in it, dipped into orbit, and then returned back to Earth on an island. There, I found an abandoned military facility in which a memo in a folder suggested that "death squads" target my gang. That was all there was to do here, and a few more buttons brought me back to Amarillo and my waiting gang. (The entire episode was told in text while still on the Amarillo screen.) I don't know what this was all about, but it didn't seem to have an impact on gameplay.
One of the few special encounters in the game.
The part of the game where you hunt for the eight agents is the longest and most tiresome. By the time you even get the quest, you've experienced most that the game has to offer in terms of logistics and combat. Now you have to scour the continent for the agents, and that essentially involves visiting every city. Occasionally, as a special encounter, you'll get a hint to the general area of the country in which an agent is located, but that's about it.
The most specific hint you ever get as to the agents' locations.
Moreover, even if you're in the correct city, you may have to hit the (p)eople search option a dozen or more times before the agent will make his presence known and join your party. I really have trouble with this kind of uncertainty when playing an RPG.
Luck prevails and I find an agent.
I eventually ended up making a list of all 120 cities in the game in a notepad. I visited them one at a time (following a variety of logical paths from coast to coast and back again), prioritizing those in regions where I had hints as to the presence of an agent. In each one, I forced myself to search for people at least 20 times. This generally meant fighting a lot of combats and then having to find loot, vehicles, and people to recover from those combats. I also searched until I had found enough food and fuel to cache 255 units (the maximum amount) in each city. Then I moved on.
Checking cache levels in Tucson.
Sometimes, I found agents based on hints; sometimes, I just happened to get lucky and wind up in their cities. Eventually, with 7 of the 8 agents in my party, I found myself back in the area of Montreal. Although I hadn't visited more than half the cities on the map, I decided to see if anything happened when I delivered my partial group to the GUB.
The game keeps me updated on the agents I've found.
I'm glad I did. After gratefully receiving the first 7 agents, the GUB director handed me a radio device with two switches and said it would lead me to two "final agents." At first, I was confused since I thought there was only one more, but then I noted that one of the switches pointed to GUB itself, indicating I'd already found that agent.
That's definitely a bio-scientist's name.
The last one was hiding way down in Durango, Mexico--the city furthest south in the game, and possibly the last one I would have visited in a natural search pattern. Eventually, I made it there and grabbed him.
The radio device points me directly to the final agent's location, not just a general area.
At this point, I was a little disappointed. When I was 14, Shay Addams's book had completely freaked me out about the final stages of the game. This is what he wrote: "The final trip to the GUB is the toughest part of the game. Road gangs are everywhere and supplies are scarce. Throughout the game, prepare for the end game by setting up supply lines of cached supplies along key routes back to the GUB." Based solely on my 30-year-old memory of that advice, I had obsessively set up maximum caches in practically every city.

It was all a bunch of bull. If, during the last journey, combats are more prevalent and supplies, vehicles, and party members are harder to find, the difference is so small as to be imperceptible. I didn't have to touch a single cache. By the time I made it back to Montreal, the entire "cache" system seemed like a waste of time. By ignoring it, I could have easily cut 3 hours off the game.

The endgame featured no special graphics, but the text was fun. Once I delivered the final agent to the GUB, the director said:
Now our research can be completed! I am certain we shall succeed. Your name will be revered by all until the end of time!!!  

Having served your country so bravely, I feel that you can be counted on to fulfill the one final need of our reconstruction of America. Congratulations, Mr. President!
I'm not sure the director of a biological research lab in Canada has the power to appoint me President of the United States, but I'll go with it.
While waiting all this time for an RPG in which my character becomes king, I never knew there was one in which he could become President.

The game ends with a promise of a sequel--namely, 1987's Roadwar Europa. I'm sure it's fun, but judging from screenshots, it doesn't seem to offer much that Roadwar 2000 doesn't, and since I never played it as a kid, I don't feel particularly compelled to visit it here unless it offers more RPG elements that I'm not seeing.
This seems a little hyperbolic.
As for this one, a GIMLET awards it:
  • 4 points for the game world. The backstory is silly in places, but it goes well with the terrain of the game itself, and the player's actions make notable changes to the landscape.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. Even if I consider vehicles as quasi-"characters," there isn't very much to develop except for numbers and a few status upgrades that the player doesn't even control.
A summary of my gang towards the end of the game.
  • 2 points for NPC interaction, in the form of the GUB, the agents, and some of the hints.
  • 4 points for encounters and foes. The different factions really don't behave differently in combat, but you do have to treat them differently out of combat. I'm using this category to otherwise reward the game's approach to visiting cities, finding people, vehicles, and items, and hitting on special encounters. It's mostly random, without a lot of roleplaying, but still exciting.
  • 5 points for combat. The tactical combat offers enough logistics to satisfy the most fervent wargamer, but the "abstract" combat offers too-little choice for the player (which is particularly unforgivable since he's so often forced into it). "Quick" combat is a happy medium but could have benefited from a few more choices.
  • 2 points for equipment. I'm being generous here because the game's approach isn't much like an RPG.
  • 0 points for no economy. You can't even barter goods.
  • 3 points for a main quest with no options or role-playing, though you do have some freedom to determine how you want to find the agents.
The stakes are high.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. There's no sound at all in the game. The graphics are primitive but serviceable. Most of this credit goes to the excellent, keyboard-driven interface which is fast and intuitive. The only thing I didn't like is the system of movement through the numbers 1-8, with 1 going north, 3 going east, 5 going south, and so on. I should mention that I played the game with the CPU speed set to around 400%. At era-specific speeds, abstract combat results and some other messages are maddeningly slow.
  • 5 points for gameplay. It's mostly non-linear and quite replayable given how much is randomized at the outset. Its difficulty and length aren't well-balanced, though. Maybe half the number of agents would have been a good idea. It's a bit too easy to build up an unstoppable party who can nonetheless get mired for an hour in a single city trying to find fuel.
I had to work hard to get this screen. The overall game tends easy.
That gives us a final score of 30, not bad for a non-RPG being ranked on a RPG scale. Most of the things that it "lacks"--real character development, NPCs, an economy, side-quests--aren't things that you'd expect from games in its "real" genre.
The advertisement carefully avoids showing what the game actually looks like.
Of course, the fact that it's not an RPG and doesn't really have many RPG elements didn't stop Dragon from giving it 5 out of 5 stars in October 1987. Other contemporary reviews are hard to find; Computer Gaming World seems to have overlooked it except in a November 1992 retrospective that, calling it a "cyberpunk simulation," seems to be remembering a different game. A review in the March 1987 Compute! mostly covers the game in factual terms without attaching much good or bad to them, except to say at the end that it is "another successful product from SSI."

For our purposes, it's interesting to note the similarity between Roadwar 2000 and Wizard's Crown, released the year before, also offering a "quick combat" option. Despite the vastly different settings and underlying mechanics, the two games offer a similar interface, including making all relevant commands visible on the screen at any given time, the 1-8 movement system, options changing depending on the square the party is standing on, and of course some of the combat tactics, including the importance of facing direction and terrain. I don't want to take this too far because obviously Wizard's Crown doesn't have acceleration or boarding or a lot of the vehicle-based options of Roadwar 2000, but it seems likely that Jeffrey A. Johnson, author of Roadwar, started with a Wizard's Crown base. As he was on the development team for Wizard's Crown, but not the primary developer, it's hard to know how many of the features common to both games should be credited to him.
I'm President of the United States now! I'm not going to lead an expedition to Europe.
I haven't been able to find out much about Johnson. His credits go back to Automated Simulations' Dunjonquest series of 1978-1981, where he is listed as one of the level designers, and he continues as a playtester on some other AS titles through 1983. He must have joined SSI before 1985, as he first appears as a playtester on U.S.A.A.F. and Battle of Antietam that year. Roadwar 2000 seems to be his first title as the lead developer and programmer, and he lent support to Rings of Zilfin the same year. After Roadwar Europa (1987), there's an 8-year gap in his resume before he shows up as the co-designer of a strategy game called Stars! (1995).

MobyGames has him working on a variety of sports games for Midway Games after that, but I think maybe they've conflated him with a different developer. I found a LinkedIn profile for a Jeff Johson who indicates that he started his career at Midway Games in 1991 and was getting his bachelor's degree for the 4 years before that. He seems too young to have been programming for Automated Simulations as early as 1980. This raises the question of what happened to the "real" Johnson after 1987. In any event, I can't find any indication that he was ever interviewed about Roadwar 2000 or his time at SSI, but it's hard to untangle him from a bunch of other people of the same name. Parents, this is why if you have the last name "Johnson," you give your kid a name like "Jezezzery" instead.

Finishing that one feels like scratching off a longstanding item on my "to do" list.


  1. RW2K seems like a more complicated version of my favorite (as a child) board game, Dark Tower. You traveled around 4 kingdoms in search of the keys for the Dark Tower, amassing gold and armies for the final battle. You could hire scouts and healers, find treasures and plunge the depths of ruins and tombs. I loved it and DT has quite a following. More than a few people have made PC versions of the game. You might find it enjoyable if you liked RW2K. There's plenty of info about DT on boardgamegeek(dot)com.

    1. I played a heck of a lot of Dark Tower. I suspect what was left of the original game I had as a kid drowned during Katrina with a lot of other stuff I'd left in my parents' house. But I've got a 15 year old son now, so thanks for the memory, and for noting that there are PC versions of the game. I may have to drag him away from Overwatch to check it out.

      Also, it's been so long that I can't be sure if I have actual memories of playing Roadwar 2000. I know I played at least two "Road Warrior" type games, but one, at least, was more action oriented. Regardless, I enjoy reading about games I never even heard of as much as reliving those I did through your posts, Chet. Thanks!

  2. There are several more that I forgot to note.

    If memory serves correct, for postmodernism points, you can visit the SSI offices at Mountain View.

    1. PS, developer split request filed at Mobygames, thanks for doing our homework 8)

    2. I'm not 100% sure about that, though.

    3. I guess it's possible that he left the industry to get a degree, then came back afterwards.

    4. Moby is on it!

      "I went through all our Jeff/Jeffrey/Jeffery Johnson/Johnston credits and cleaned them up. The SSI developer obviously isn't the Midway dev as the latter mentions on his LI profile that he began his career at Midway. Of the remaining credits for the former, the only questionable ones would be the 1995 Stars! credit and the 1987 credit for the Microprose title 'F-19 Stealth Fighter'."

  3. Bacteria in cocoon definitely made my day. And again thanks for great post.

    1. I do believe some bacteria utilize cysts to survive harsh environments, which is kind of like a cocoon.

    2. Yes, but they are inactive inside the cyst. Developing in a cocoon is mainly an insect thing.

  4. I know it's not important and it isn't going to be played on this blog, but Stars! is a rather excellent strategy game in the 4X vein. Games like Endless Space and Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri owe a lot to it. There are still older 4X games like Master of Orion and Reach for the Stars, but Stars! adds a lot of well-designed complexity to the ship-building process. It was quite popular for some time as it supported Play By Email. I believe people still play it today.

    1. I was about to post the same thing, Stars! cost me a lot of hours (forget about Fate...), excellent 4X game which is still getting played on the automated Autohost multiplayer platform. Both developers were called Jeff so they were collectively referred to as "The Jeffs".

  5. Yay, Magic Candle 2 is coming soon. Make sure to install the 2.0 patch. It improves the keyboard controls, adds mouse support, and maybe also fixes some bugs. (The intro screen shows the current version number.)

  6. Finishing that one feels like scratching off a longstanding item on my "to do" list.

    I love that feeling. Last time I had it was when I finally beat Karateka -- and I think the first time I had it with a game was actually when I finally beat Dungeons of Daggorath around 1993, after having owned it for about a decade and then set it aside during my NES/SNES years.

    (And speaking of games for the TRS-80/Tandy CoCo, I'm looking forward to Gates of Delirium in 1988 -- not that I think it'll be any good, but it's nice to see more coverage for the CoCo and its small RPG library.)

    1. A guy did a playthough of Gates of Delirium a few years ago, it's up at Armchair Arcade.

      I'm looking forward to Paladin's Legacy and The Seventh Link's coverage. So far as I can see, no one has done an in depth playthough of them.

  7. So glad you played this. I prodded you a bit a year ago to add it to the list (counting the Cars a "statistics"). I ended up playing it then, and had very similar views.

    I played this one a LOT as a kid on the C64, and never quite finished it. It was very satisfying to finish it last year.

    On a side note, I think I may have learned more about north american geography from this game, Railroads and Pirates! than I did in elementary school.

    Good times!


  8. It's funny that as a war-gamer, I found "Shiloh: Grant's Trial in the West" as the only SSI war-game that I played in the 80s. It was the Goldbox games that were always available in stores back then. This entry reminds me of "Auto-Duel", but bigger.

  9. I've found spoiler in your blog. Before you relase post about "Wizard of Tallyron" I've saw the GIMLET score for it, when checking "Roadwar 2000" spredsheet summary note (what I am always looking for after reading).

    Not big deal, game is rather low.

    Even if you don't care it's still ok with me ;)

    Another good job, Thank you for that.

    1. Yeah, I'm not going to be around during the week, so I pre-scheduled a couple of posts, including the one on WoT. I used the spreadsheet to add up the score and figured no one would notice.

  10. Glad you liked this one. I enjoyed it a lot on the C-64 when I was a kid; I was (and still am) a huge fan of the board game Car Wars, and this game felt like the huge CW campaign my group always wanted to play. i never finished I want to go get this one, too, and give it another go.

  11. I enjoyed this game as in my early teens.

    I use tactical combat a fair amount. I used a small squad of trailer trucks/buses to limit the tedium of managing too many vehicles.

    Ramming is a good tactic with a trailer truck. At 50+ mph you could ram smaller vehicles and it would be counted as an "overrun". Your vehicle would take no damage while the smaller enemy vehicle would disintegrate.

    Boarding is also a good tactic. You clear the top of a vehicle and have a few men board the top. They would wipe out the interior enemy and control the vehicle. Not sure if it was a big or not as it didn't make any sense how one member at the top could wipe out 50 men in the interior of a trailer truck.

  12. RW Europa added a time limit, which I think does make it a bit harder. They also added a boss battle.

    But, it is pretty much the same game at its core.

  13. This sound like exactly the type of game I would have enjoyed when I was younger. I loved post-apoc fiction, inspired a lot by Daybreak 2250 AD by Andre Norton. I liked the idea of exploring ruined places and finding ruined things. Also, one thing this game has that most don't: Community building. IN this game it isn't one supreme combatant that is saving the day, it is an organization of people with aligned interests. Which at least a little sets it apart from the loner survivalist fantasies that have come to dominant post-apoc fiction.

  14. My recommended convoy: 2 tractor trailers, 2 buses, 2 construction vehicles. Then take them to Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Indianapolis for free upgrades. The construction vehicles only hold four crew, but lots of cargo space, so keep them away from combat, especially before you upgrade their armor.

  15. The world needs an actual post-apocalyptic vehicular squad/army-based strategy CRPG.

    1. Yeah. I don't really know why we don't have one.

      Fallout: Tactics had a handful of maps in which you had a vehicle as well as your squad, but they weren't customisable or anything. Wasteland 3 will similarly have a combat-ready vehicle you can drive around. But that's not quite what I'm looking for.

      I could envisage something like the new Battletech from Harebrained Schemes, but built around an explorable rpg world rather than a sequence of battle maps.

    2. There is one, kind of: Convoy

    3. Thanks! If only it was turn-based with some good plotlines instead of being a roguelike. It'd be even better to be able to capture and improve bases.

    4. For what it's worth, I ran into that game when looking for games like FTL, which is *excellent*. I haven't played Convoy yet, but if it's half as good as FTL, it's worth trying out.

      Roguelike gets thrown around enough (because there's enough interesting components to roguelike games) that it's semi-useless as a descriptor. if Convoy is anything like FTL, I would say it's much more aptly described as a strategy-RPG. It's probably best to think of it as a descendant of Steve Jackson's Fighting Fantasy style gamebooks.

  16. This SSI fan is getting a kick reading about GUB field agents and vaccines in 2021.

  17. I played this game forever as a kid and never won. Maybe I'll emulate it on my 3DS for a long trip someday.

  18. I had this game for the Amiga back in 1988 or 1989....
    I never "won" but I did manage to get across the US, visiting Disneyland, Las Vegas, and San Jose (where the SSI offices were?)--there was a particular advantage to visiting San Jose, but I forget exactly what...

    One interesting thing was, although the game had a city in the Bahamas, there was no apparent way for the player to visit it. (The instruction manual somewhat cheekily reminded the player: "You may be the savior of your country, but you still can't drive on water!")

    And again, the storyline revolving around viruses (or bacteria) and vaccines sure hits home for the past two years.

  19. I was just trying to remember the name of this game out of the blue the other day! I failed at searching but then found your blog unrelatedly. I'm enjoying the blog, thanks for doing it!


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