Games of the Twentieth Century. The year 1990

In 1990, Nintendo released the 16-bit Super Famicom, known worldwide as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System or SNES. Sega at the same time began selling the Mega Drive outside of Japan and thus began to conquer the world's markets. There were other releases of other consoles, but they failed. And we are more interested in games that were released three decades ago, not systems. How could we not play with hearts out? That's what we'll talk about.

Golden Axe

  • Genre: arcade
  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega

Oh, my shoulder, my arm, my shoulder, my arm, my arm, my arm, my arm! Beneath me is a vast ribbon of road, running from left to right edge of monitor. With a resounding clatter another villain collapses, and a leprechaun galloping about his business gets a resounding kick and part with a blue bottle. Boom! I feel just magical... Shouldn't we shake a little Mother Earth?

Golden Axe Screenshot

The choice to save the fatherland offers three heroes: a wiry barbarian with a huge two-handed pickaxe, the most enchanting lady of the Amazon and a bearded dwarf. Dwarf, as it should be by nature, is powerful, but can only handle two bottles, and therefore the magic he has is a kind of toy. Amazon conjures with heart, but is frail, and the barbarian is somewhere in the middle. Charms are effective, hitting everyone on the screen, and many to death (a dragon's head just peeks out of the cloud and blows!), but to fully charge them you must catch the right amount of bottle-bearers. Usually you have to do it the old-fashioned way. You gotta hit 'em in the nape of the neck with a tin can.

Golden Axe Screenshot

And the scum don't come at us by the principle "who wants to go to the Kolyma, come out one by one" - they have organized and diverse battle groups, sometimes they come in from two sides at once, and some have cavalry too. A rascal rides a purple zavre - and we hit him in the head and saddle up ourselves. And now the beast is ours, breathing fire on whoever we say... ...until we've been kicked off of him. Isn't that nice?

The best way, however, is to go for the golden axe by two. Heroes, of course, must choose differently, and it would be better if at least one was a dwarf (because the bottles will give the usual, not double the number, the minibar will not be enough for all). Of course, no "local networks", you have to share a keyboard with a friend. That's what's called "feeling your friend's shoulder"!

Golden Axe Screenshot

And it's all so darn beautiful! The 256 colors of the newfangled VGA often turned out a little pale, but not here. Blue skies, reddish flames, and the annoying hiss of a PC speaker. For what it's worth, yours truly is not a big fan of arcades, but Golden Axe isn't a lurker, it's sacred.

Golden Axe Screenshot

What happened next: The series, alas, crawled over to consoles and is now residing there; it still looks nice, but before, for the life of me, the grass was greener and the axes were more golden. Golden Axe was also the ideological ancestor of Mr. Diablo. And in one important respect they didn't surpass it: even after six years, the Diablos were not allowed to take battle horses from the enemy and use them - and that's a damn important part of the game! Blizzard doesn't seem to recognize the kinship, but we know…

Eye of the Beholder

  • Genre: RPG
  • Developer: Westwood Associates
  • Publisher: Strategic Simulations, Inc.

- Did you know," a friend once asked me, "that your D&D can be played on a computer? I saw it yesterday - you go to the brick dungeon and there's a dead hobbit hanging in a spider's web...

Actually, you could play Dungeons & Dragons on PC before - the Goldbox series had already started. But in EoB it was done in real time, and the picture was much more beautiful than in the "Goldboxes" - although, as usual, the game window with pictures took up a tiny part of the screen (on a full-screen maze there wasn't enough computer power). That's because the game was being designed not by the SSI, who had already put the "boxes" on stream by then, but by the Westwood guys. Though not the same ones who would soon make "Dune 2", but their teammates.

Eye of the Beholder Screenshot

Over the course of five floppies, we descended into the dungeons of Waterdeep - for Forgotten Realms adventurers, this is the center of the universe (and not Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter at all) in order to - well, save the great city, of course. And kill who do you think? That's when every seasoned player recognizes "potatoes with eyes" at a glance.

To harass the evil-eyed must be the four of us; in theory, you can long and sensibly create a team, but by and large everything is very simple: you need a warrior, a priest, a thief and a sorcerer. You can try to make a viable team at the expense of "hybrids," but the most viable group will still be standard. Swordsmen in the first row, mages in the second; but the holy father could also be in the first, he had armor and a mace.

To tell the truth, it was just "clearing the dungeon": the plot - the minimum, but there are monsters and mazes with plenty of illusion walls, teleports, and "press the lever in the northwest corner to open the grate near the southeast corner, but do not confuse, otherwise the neighboring lever will block your way to the southeast corner. Simple skeletons, kobolds and zombies are slowly replaced by hellhounds, slithering beasts (displacer), mantis warriors, golems...

In short, just get through the dungeon. And just survive.

More about Eye of Beholder

It was a good game. And it was a pleasure to play it. I played it... Played everything. I was able to play everything, knew everything. Except one room on the penultimate or pre-penultimate dungeon level. It was like this: if you came to almost the highest level, almost all passed, and laid the party to rest, then woke up, and was in a deadlock. Instead of a door appeared a wall with a niche. And what to do with it is unclear - there is no way out. One could put things in the other niches - if you put one thing in, you would get another. There were rumors that if the right thing was put into the niche, a door would open to a new, undiscovered place. I put it literally everything: both rarities and ordinary objects - nothing happened.

But in the game were the same location, not accessible to players. If you use all sorts of cheats, you could go through walls. And there was a huge hall. No one could honestly go there, but they said that if you went honestly - there would be your happiness. They said that it was the Hall of Heroes, and there would be portraits of the whole group hanging there, and all sorts of awards... a lot of things they said. And that the entrance there is honest - through a niche. I tried to go through it for hours, not two, played over and over again, but still could not solve the riddle of this room.

Times were tough back then. Games came in all kinds of ways, but there were no branded, licensed ones. But once a man traveling to America, asked me: "What can I buy you as a gift? What can I bring you from far away Bourgeoisie?" And I begged, "Don't buy me blue jeans! I don't want cassette tapes! Buy me a branded game, Eye of Beholder..." And my faithful friend brought me the game. (How my friends looked at me and what they said about me asking for the game instead of something else - I'm not going to tell you, that's another story). In a branded box, which at the time was almost unknown! And in the box there was a coupon. And if you fill it out and fax it (not by mail, but by FAX!), then the company will answer your question. Any question you ask. So I translated what was written on the coupon.

Eye of the Beholder Screenshot

I quickly replayed the game, from the original floppy disks installed. Again, a room with a niche appeared, and again I could not pass it. I called my friend, who writes in a foreign language, better than any other acquaintance. I drew up a petition and he translated it. They took a long time to type it, it took them longer to find a fax, it took them quite a long time to call me, but they sent it. I waited for an answer for a long time, a short time. The days dragged on and on. In fact, I sinned at the angels in blue caps, maybe they had intercepted the fax. But... after waiting a week, I got my answer! I called my friend again, and together we translated the answer... And I knew then, that never! Never hope for a bourgeois! I gave up my jeans for nothing, even though I never wore them! They told me they'd received a petition from me... ...that they repeated the situation... But what it means, they can not say, because the developer ran away somewhere, and no one else in the whole world does not know. I cried then! I did not learn of this mystery...

Many years have passed. Now and then, when my grandchildren push my wheelchair to the computer table and tie my gray beard to the radiator, I look at the clouds floating on the monitor, and I remember the past. There was a lot of good and a lot of bad - I still haven't learned how to play tetris on level 9. And sometimes I wonder if my whole life would have been turned upside down if I'd gotten past that secret room.

What happened next: The second (most famous) and third parts appeared, and they once again elevated the popularity of computer D&D (supplanted by other role-playing series) to its zenith. Since then, despite the success of Fallout and others, D&D titles have been firmly entrenched on the role-playing pedestal. And the game's developer managed to make another mark on our hit list, in the same year!

While we were playing Golden Axe and Eye of the Beholder...

  • The first web browser in history was developed.

The Dark Heart of Uukrul

  • Genre: RPG
  • Developer: Digital Studios
  • Publisher: Broderbund Software

Walls, walls, walls, walls, walls, doors, doors, doors, doors, doors, walls... Oh, the monsters... No, this isn't Doom or even Wolfenstein 3D (it won't come out until two years from now), you don't have to shoot anywhere in real time. You must gradually, step by step through the underground labyrinth city of Eriost, dominated by the evil wizard Uukrul.

The Dark Heart of Uukrul Screenshot

Four inseparable characters - a warrior, a paladin, a priest and a wizard - make their way through the labyrinth. You can choose a character's name and gender, but the characteristics are not entirely random. They depend on the answers to the questions that are asked at the beginning of the game. For example:

You have defeated a mighty dragon and looked into his lair. But the thing is that there are too many treasures there. What you will do:

  1. stay guarding the lair until help arrives;
  2. take as much as you can so you can come back later without telling anyone;
  3. leave the treasure and go for help?

The Dark Heart of Uukrul Screenshot

The abilities of a warrior and a wizard are quite common - one hits enemies, the other casts spells. Exactly says - spells, like prayers of priest, have names, and they must be entered using the keyboard. Unusually, perhaps, the wizard has not only combat or defense, but also healing spells. A paladin can also heal by laying down his hands, at the expense of his own health. And if you lay your hands on the enemy, you can draw health from him (although our paladin is not a vampire, he still loses health during this operation, not gain it).

On the other hand, the relationship between the priest and his gods is more complicated. You don't know in advance if the gods will answer your prayers. If the god will be in a very bad mood, instead of the expected help, he can take away part of the priest's health - to his divine greater glory. It's a good thing that the gods have a better attitude to their priest as levels go up.

The Dark Heart of Uukrul Screenshot

Of course, the tyranny of Uukrul does not interfere with the fact that right in the labyrinth live peaceful residents - merchants, healers, and craftsmen. There is a mausoleum where a victim of Uukrul's minions can be resurrected - though not for ideological reasons, but for money. And with the loss of experience. If resurrection failed or the money was not enough - a new member of the company to replace the departed can be found in the guild. But to be honest, it's a shame to bury the characters. Perhaps the point is that the external minimalism does not prevent players from imagining and seeing in the faceless (literally) pictures - personalities?

The Dark Heart of Uukrul Screenshot

Although the corridors in the game's main window look pseudo-three-dimensional, the level maps are reminiscent of more text-based "wanderers" like Rogue. Yes, the colorful expanses of Morrowind or Azeroth are still a long way off - but Eriost is still a rich field for the explorer, cartographer, and treasure hunter. Multi-story nooks, hidden doors, a network of teleporters, traps, puzzles - the player is in for many surprises and discoveries. The way to the dark heart of Uukrul is not at all simple and very fascinating. You should put Steam aside, which requires all the power of a modern computer for a few days, and run DosBox...

What happened next: A direct sequel to the game never happened. But attentive gamemakers took a hard look at it - and something then popped up in Might & Magic III, or Darklands, or Daggerfall…

Wing Commander

  • Genre: space simulator
  • Developer: Origin Systems
  • Publisher: Origin Systems

In space, sounds cannot be heard, laser beams do not leave a tracer trail, the concepts of "up" and "down" do not exist... Did you know all that? If you want to make a successful space game, forget it as soon as possible, because the "truth of life" here can only make the game more boring and less entertaining. That's exactly what Chris Roberts decided in his time - based on the authority of George Lucas, who had already fought quite a bit according to these laws in a galaxy far, far away.

Elite and its motley kin, which set the tone for gaming space in those years, relied on the principles of limitless freedom. "Wing Commander" boldly discarded that as well: story, story, and story again! First missions as part of the "wing" (fighter squadron), then at the head of it - against the backdrop of an epic war of the exhausted Earth Confederation against the totalitarian, militant, but aware of the laws of honor Kilrath empire. Kilrathi are such humanoid cats: cats kill rats...

Wing Commander Screenshot

However, the missions in Wing Commander are not set once and for all: the better our pilot acts, the easier it will be in the future. Wing Commander allows the player to feel how his accomplishments bring victory closer... and mistakes threaten defeat. If you manage perfectly well, we'll take the offensive; if you don't manage well, we'll take the defensive. Tell me, how many games do you know these days with this approach to the structure of missions? Even if not limited to the genre of space simulators?

And - yes, you can lose in Wing Commander. Not to die, not to stall, but exactly to lose: you fought bravely, guys, but not well enough! After the current games that literally pull the player to victory on a rope, running Wing Commander is... is about like running Baldur's Gate after some Avencast.

These days, a dynamic, undefined world means more often than not faceless heroes - which is why few people try to make games in this vein. And Wing Commander didn't think to suffer from that! On the contrary, I still remember as old friends the guys I flew with back then: Paladin (Major Taggart), Maniac (Lieutenant Marshall), the eternal Lieutenant Montclair "all-this-good-is-not-ending" (aka Doomsday, which in this case would correctly translate as "Hana to Everything").

Wing Commander Screenshot

However, I wouldn't confuse a light Rapier fighter with a heavy Palash, either. I wish you the same.

What happened next: Next came the incredible success, three sequels - and then a movie based on the game and books on the film and games. The movie, by the way, was not directed by Uwe Ball, but... Chris Roberts himself. And although fans of the game scolded the "bald" Kilraths, the film had merit. Alas, the movie still wasn't Roberts' best effort, and his scores were no match for the storm of enthusiasm for the game.

While we played Dark Heart of Uukrul and Wing Commander...

  • The author of the first "worm" received a court verdict for his invention.

King’s Bounty

  • Genre: TBS, RPG
  • Developer: New World Computing
  • Publisher: New World Computing

Once upon a time in a very rich country there lived a King Maximus, and he was kind. So much so that the whole country hated him with a ferocious hatred and started plotting against him.

Literally three steps away from the castle - and a grimy man with a pitchfork, abandoning his vegetable garden to the mercy of fate, rushes towards us, remembering the brouhaha of his mother. Dwarves in scarlet robes, good-natured fairies and grim dwarves, not to mention orcs and dead men - all ready to count the ribs royal lieutenant. That is us.

King’s Bounty Screenshot

Actually, our hero is more of a treasure hunter than a riot suppressor. His task is to find a great artifact, the map from which we have to pick up in pieces. Alas, the valuable manuscript is held by all sorts of dissidents and extremists, who are just plotting against his majesty, sitting in their castles. Elf Prince Pine Mound (Barrowpine), Baron Jono Macal, the dread pirate Rob... poor rebels, they might still be building their multi-story intrigues to this day if they had turned in the pieces of the map to the king's archives in time.

The king's army is limitless, which cannot be said for our finances and especially our ability to command (a Leadership skill). License to rule so many peasants, and not a single peasant more. Want to expand the rights - or get a rank (for so many rebels), or find gold on the road, suppressing the hamster instinct, immediately distribute it to the squad. So that it penetrates.

King's Bounty is a turn-based tactical game, but you can't really call it that. And the reason is that it is a first-person game, albeit without the "eye view". It is very easy to recognize the knight on the screen a favorite - which in any "Heroes" is not and is not expected, despite the fact that over the years the series has acquired a branched plot. The genre has now been enriched by "Demiurges" - and in 1990, KB was lonely and unique.

King’s Bounty Screenshot

I remember that if you quickly opened the door of the department where I was a student at the time, there was an 80% chance you would find it on the monitor. "Cult game" is about it, no Fallout has ever been so faithfully loved. And the "F" in math statistics I received for too much devotion to King's Bounty has remained the only one in my collection. Apparently, I couldn't find a more worthy game in five years!

What happened next: Instead of a direct continuation, it was decided to deepen the strategy, allowing you to build bases, and merge the KB with the rising role-playing series Might & Magic. The result - Heroes of Might & Magic - has gone far from its ancestor, although it still collects an artifact search map. And the direct sequel was born only in 2021 - and also greatly developed the idea, but already in the role-playing side.


  • Genre: dragon combat simulator
  • Developer: Westwood Associates
  • Publisher: Strategic Simulations Inc.

There's a blue sky all around, and in front of us is a horned, golden dragon's head. We sit on its neck, clutching tightly a silver-white spear. No, not that: the Spear. Dragonlance.

The green sheet far below is Krinn. The magic orb nearby is the freshly invented white mages' radar. Come on, dragon, it's time to take a breath. Gather your strength, and let's get closer... breathe!


The simulator is not an arcade game: if you linger, as you get into a deep dive and meet with Mother Earth, and smear on it as a huge Rorschach test. The enemies are numerous and varied: blue, red, green dragons with riders, manticores, even evil-eyes. Against them we have a) dragon's breath, b) our trusty Spear (try to hit it, but if you hit it...), c) the claws of our "stormtrooper", d) some magic on top of that.

Many people found this too complicated - so DragonStrike did not become a bestseller. But it was a masterpiece.

What happened next: Since then we've had the chance to fly a dragon... or even become a dragon. But DragonStrike remained the smartest dragonrider simulator. You won't see similar combat tactics anywhere else.


  • Genre: quest
  • Developer: LucasArts Ent.
  • Publisher: LucasArts Ent.

Who would have thought weaver was such a musical profession? A young weaver from the Machine of Destiny conquers this world with his magic staff; his fine hearing will allow him to recognize the melody sung by the things and creatures around him, and... to sing it himself.

Loom Screenshot

The song of the tornado can "spin" it back, the song of the sharpening stone can both sharpen and dull anything... The song is sung by a paint bottle, by owls in hollows, by seagulls trying to open an oyster. And the opening tune can be used to open... the sky. Except the consequences are at your own expense.

Loom is the brightest game-changer. The emerald city of glassmakers unfolding before us to the music of Tchaikovsky, the mad bishop tearing up the fabric of the world, the shepherdess whose dragon steals the sheep... Every one of us who played Loom back then will easily remember the entire game, from beginning to end. And again will wish it had ended so quickly.

Loom Screenshot

What happened next: Two sequels were planned, one about the blacksmith and one about the shepherdess, but they never saw the light of day. And so far there's nothing hinting at a revival.

While we were playing King's Bounty, DragonStrike and Loom...

  • Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras sang together for the first time in Rome.

War in Middle-Earth

  • Genre: epic game
  • Developer: Synergistic Software
  • Publisher: Melbourne House

Once upon a time, there were hobbits, and they had a ring. Not an ordinary ring, but a golden one. Frodo bil, bil, bil... Wait, I'm talking out of my ass.

So we're looking at a big, huge map: Hobbiton, and Rivendell, and Mordor, and The Long Lake and Lonely Mountain, and Dol Guldur, and other places that we only know from the map (and those that don't even have names). Wherever you want, click your cursor and... get there. See the Gondor marching on the road, lying buried Thorin's father, the Dwarf Ring at Dol Guldur, the black rider approaching the hobbits. A whole world, or rather a whole world. In 1990.

There are icons swarming on the map: here are the hobbits, somewhere to the south are Éomer and Faramir with their squads; the other friends are not yet in play, though they can be awakened. The circle of black riders is shrinking around the hobbits, and we must go. Where to, really... through the Graveyards?

One can try to look at the map with a strategist's eye, or one can join the hobbits and watch them. Here walks towards them, in cloak and hat... Gandalf? No, alas, just "an old man is passing by." And there's a knotty stick named gnarled staff lying in the road; it looks trashy, but if the hobbits are attacked by a wolf or something - and there's only Frodo armed! So we'll pick it up, it's better than nothing.

Gradually the others, both friends and enemies, are "waking up"; let's say we get to Bree and Aragorn appears, and in time Saruman's army will move, and we can command the Rohan cavalry. And little by little the game becomes more and more strategic.

In combat, we have few options: command to attack, defend, or flee by each member of the squad. If there are simple warriors among them (say, 120 riders of Éomer or 200 trackers of Faramir - I still can't forget the number!), they are also considered a separate "character", but they can't wear equipment.

By the way, there's a wide variety of equipment here, but the most interesting things are placed far from the center of events: the palantir - to the north in Annuminas, the Dwarf Ring in Dol Guldur, mithril armor in Belegost (recommended on Frodo or Gandalf), and the Red Arrow, which can bring Theoden and his Rohirrim to life, some demon brought to Mount Graham (it's the far north of Middle-earth, from Rohan and Gondor are weeks away). A completely inconspicuous nook near the Lonely Mountain, if visited in time, will give Dain a dwarven hammer in his hands, after which the battle at the Long Lake can go much better.

The heroes listen to us, but not always. And it seems that willfulness varies from character to character; for example, Boromir is very difficult to steer you in the right direction, Faramir is much easier. And their self-will actively participates in the creation of the game's plot.

The most amazing thing is that The War in Middle-earth can - and, by and large, should - be played exactly as described in the book. It will not be easy, but it is realistic. Although... Will become much easier if in time, before the rest in Rivendell, to send Éomer and Faramir for artifacts of bygone eras - then they will be already armed and very dangerous by the time the rest is over.

What happened next: This is another great game that did not have direct descendants. There have been Middle-earth games, epic games too, but there was never a sequel or even a complete borrowing. Unless you count the board game my friends and I made back in 1990.

Centurion: Defender of Rome

  • Genre: strategy
  • Developer: Impressions Software
  • Publisher: Impressions Software

A mere cook may not be capable of running a country, but an ordinary centurion, or company man in our words, is perfectly capable of leading legions and ruling Rome. We saw this for ourselves in 1990.

Centurion: Defender of Rome Screenshot

Moreover, he could and should at the same time lead the legions to far-off Parthia to fight the king there - and to suppress a rebellion in sunny Sicily. Simultaneously defeating Carthage on the sea. Scary men, these centurions.

The Senate obviously cannot do without him. We must have gladiatorial fights and chariot races, for these "citizens" are childish.

Centurion: Defender of Rome Screenshot

But the main thing, of course, is to command the battle. To deploy troops in columns and wedges, to command offensive and retreat... There are far fewer orders than there are nowadays, but in some ways this is a good thing, because the battle at this point becomes a task to be solved rather than a field for a game of cat-and-mouse. At sea, everything is much easier, and by and large, the strongest wins.

Centurion: Defender of Rome Screenshot

And the task is simple. To conquer the world. And keep it from rising. True, the Roman world is not that big - the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, Gaul, Parthia, Britain, and let us not forget the fierce Germans (who managed to coincide with Carthage).

Centurion: Defender of Rome Screenshot

Ave, Caesar!

What happened next: Having made a furore, the game idea... The game idea went into a deep sleep for a full ten years. Then all of a sudden, Creative Assembly picked up the dusty idea and turned "Centurion" into Shogun: Total War. And after a few years ventured back to Rome. And they were right not to start with it - they would have declared it a clone or a remake; and so no one really remembered the old Centurion.

While we were playing Centurion and War in Middle-Earth...

  • Iraq had entered Kuwait, starting the Gulf War.
  • Emperor Akihito ascended the Japanese throne.
  • Microsoft Windows 3.0 is released.