Wednesday, 18 February 2009

GINUINITI, or, Games which I Never Used to be Interested in, but am Now Interested in Thanks to the Internet

Rifts - When I was about 11 or 12 the only place I knew of to buy RPG stuff was the Virgin Megastore in Liverpool. (I'm showing my age there, probably: those were the days when not only were Virgin Megastores still around, they actually sold role playing games.) I used to spend a long time paging through various books on its shelves and imagining what it would be like to have more than three quid a week in pocket money. I liked the look of most games, but something about Rifts products always used to depress me. I'm not sure if it was the art or writing, but flicking through the books would fill me with this profound sense of apathy and alienation. Thanks to some posts at the RPG Corner, though, and I find I'm all turned around on the subject. Funny how sometimes you just need somebody who's "in the know" to explain what's good about something.

Tunnels & Trolls: This always struck me as the poorest of poor men's D&Ds: a straight up rip-off that didn't even try to hide the fact in a clever name. But again, thanks to somebody "in the know" I'm reconsidering that position. T&T looks cool.

Traveller and Twilight 2000: As kids a friend and I spent really a rather ridiculously long amount of time playing computer games based on these two, and failing utterly to find any enjoyment, or even sense, in them. The Traveller game in particular was like an exercise in refined torture; you could spend an AGE creating an entire gang of characters and customizing them in all sorts of interesting ways, but the instant the game begun you tended to either get attacked and wiped out by random bypassers, or accidentally walk into a lake and drown. The Twilight 2000 one meanwhile had such a horrible isometric interface that it was literally impossible to control anything your characters were doing; they would consequently run about in a manner reminiscent of people who've just been told a tsunami is coming, and be picked off one by one by mercilessly tough computer opponents. This ruined any interest I might have had in either as rpgs. However, discussion forums and in particular the Godzilla Gaming Podcast have made me reconsider. Computer games are never fair representations of the rpg they're based on. Just look at bloody Baldur's Gate.

Runequest: No.... hang on, thinking about it, I'm still not interested in Runequest.


  1. I'm pretty sure there are still Virgin Megastores in America. There's one in San Francisco.

  2. Being a Traveller fan, I’ve always wanted to enjoy the computer games. But I know exactly what you mean.

    First it seemed like you always started out in realtime a firefight against the computer that you had no chance of winning even if you did know how to control your PCs. Then, the time I figured out how to survive, I couldn’t figure out how to do anything but wander around. The last time I tried, I managed to make it off world, but space travel being no better implemented than the rest was the final straw.

  3. Rach: That's weird. All the British ones got sold off ages ago to a chain called Zavvi - which is now bankrupt.

    Robert: I'm glad I wasn't the only one with that experience. Being kids we never even got past the initial realtime firefight!

  4. Yeah, David at the RPG corner really makes Rifts seem like fun.

    I often think how, despite all the stuff I know now about what makes a game design good or bad, the only reason I or my friends ever chose to play a certain game when I was a kid was the quality of the pictures. A good illustrator can make any gameworld look fun and mysterious.

    A corollary of this is, I think, the more "specialized" a gameworld, the more it really needs good illustrations. DnD didn;t really need them, since everybody knows what a dragon looks like, and (at least when they're young) sort of assumes that DnD will let them pretend to be whatever wizard they imagine when they imagine the word "wizard".

    Traveller and Rifts, on the other hand, really needed pictures to let the potential player know what they were getting into. I think the only reason I--and other people I know--got into Rifts is that we knew it was the same guys who did Robotech and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, both of which were based on properties which we knew already and we knew what they looked like. From what I hear, I assume you didn't get much Robotech in the UK.

  5. That's absolutely true, Zak, although I think you can also lump good writing in with that.

    The classic example for me is Changeling: The Dreaming. The art & design and writing for that game was absolutely beautiful - possibly my favourite ever in an rpg. This made me work hard to overcome what was, really, a pretty shoddy system that even to this day I don't think I half understand.

    We didn't get much Robotech in the UK, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles only ever achieved fame after the cartoon and films. Rifts was this mysterious thing that was, frankly, too out there for an 11 year old to get to grips with without any introduction from anybody else. Even now Rifts seems a little more self-consciously 'for adults' than AD&D, Rolemaster, Traveller or whatever.

  6. There's definitely a Virgin Megastore here in San Francisco, 4 blocks from my place. Opened up in 1999 or so. I don't think it ever carried RPGs though. Maybe D&D in the book section (which itself was pretty much closed about 2 years ago).

    I had no idea there was an official Traveller computer game (and I'm old!). I didn't get my first PC until '92, so I guess I just missed it. But based on your description, it's probably best that I did.

    T&T was great. I think we played more T&T and TFT (Metagaming's "The Fantasy Trip") than we did D&D @ '79/'80. Your post reminds me that I've been meaning to check out one of these later versions of the little game that would not die!

  7. Robert: It's weird that they should survive in the States and not Britain. Maybe there's more competition from HMV etc. in the UK? Anyway, yeah, when I was about 12 or so there was a whole section of the Virgin Megastore devoted to RPGs. It was actually about twice the size of the only place in Liverpool where you can currently buy RPGs - which is itself supposedly a gaming/hobby store! A sad sign of the detorioration of the industry.

    There were two Traveller games that I knew of: one called The Zhodani Conspiracy and one which I think was just called MegaTraveller. Both were awful.

  8. I think Rifts and its many permutations (TMNT, After the Bomb, etc) are great fun...during character creation. Making the twitchy combat system work is something that has eluded my gaming group.

    Oh yeah, the Virgin in Columbus Ohio closed 2 years after it opened

  9. To be honest I've never tried Rifts, so can't speak for the mechanics - though everyone assures me they're awful.

  10. Tunnels & Trolls was the first RPG I ever played. My head-master in primary school got a small bunch of us 8 yr olds to play one after-noon and we were hooked. He never played with us again but we started out own games.

    I tried to get into Traveller but yeah there was just way too much rolling up involved.. esp. re star systems etc... We tried to computerise it in BASIC on the Apple II computers we had in juniror high school but our programming skills were next to nil.