Games of the Twentieth Century. The year 1992

That year the world was shaken by all kinds of disasters: explosions, earthquakes, street fights turned into wars. Turkey was shaken (literally and figuratively), the Caucasus, the Balkans, and even prosperous California. Hawaii was washed away.

As for games, '92 turned out to be the golden year of the role-playing genre. Personally, I still have five RPGs from that year alive on my computer. I think it's a record.


  • Genre: RPG
  • Developer: MPS Labs
  • Publisher: Interplay

- With whom do I have the honor? - Darklands asks. The player frantically searches the boxes for "race", "class" and so on. But he can't find any. Maybe because they are not here?

Darklands Screenshot

"You'll start the game as green beginners, and then you'll gain experience and with it might..." - forget it. You can gain experience right now. Tell the game how your heroes lived before their first steps in Darklands - maybe they really are youngsters taking up the sword for the first time, or maybe they are old veterans. Veterans are able to do much more than the youth - but their health is not so good after a few years of fighting.

There is no class at all. There is a biography. Born into such and such a family, learned such and such a trade, then... you decide for yourself. And the game will take it into account.

Darklands Screenshot

Here, for example, you can go to monastic school and make a career as a priest. Learn prayers to various saints, they sometimes respond... What, do you get a typical clergyman? The familiar guy with a dedicated line to the lord God, spouting spells left and right? Like hell he is. The saints around here respond the less often you bother them. Makes sense, but no other game has ever thought of that.

Ready? Suppressed the shock of your first encounter? Then embark on a journey through medieval Germany, painted with exquisite watercolors, and prepare to prevent the Apocalypse. How corny is that? Well, at least something here should be corny...!

Darklands Screenshot

What Happened Next: There seemed to be nothing - no MPS Labs, no Darklands 2. But it was Darklands that the authors of Fallout cited as the main source of inspiration.


  • Genre: epic game
  • Developer: Cryo
  • Publisher: Virgin Games

In this "Dune," you're not herding flocks of harvesters in sandy pastures, but simply and uncomplicatedly reincarnating yourself as Paul Atreides - and walking his path with him.

Dune Screenshot

Greedily this game was called a quest, but wrongly: the quest is almost devoid of game mechanics, leaves us with only one story, and here we have everything - a certain freedom of action, moving around the map... You can call it a quest only for the first half an hour of the game, then there is strategy, troops, economy. Yes, the Atreides have nothing left, but the Freemen are with them, and that should be enough. You'll get them modern equipment in addition to kris knives, and let the Harkonnens beware.

Dune Screenshot

It's all here: espionage, terraforming the planet, mining Spice and other valuables, flying in an ornithopter... And it's all in '92.

Usually "playing by the book" is hampered by the fact that the player, having read the original, knows the "right" answers (and if he hasn't read it, half the fun is lost). But "Dune" knowledge of the world is no hindrance, because Paul Atreides is a visionary. And knowledge of the book's plot suddenly turns out to be even more immersive in the reality of Dune.

Dune Screenshot

What happened next: In the shadow of its famous relative, the first "Dune" was almost forgotten. And in vain. They don't make those now.

Dune 2: The Building of the Dynasty

  • Genre: RTS
  • Developer: Westwood
  • Publisher: Virgin Games

Spice is scattered in piles of cinnamon on sand as bright as an egg yolk. The unhurried Scarab Combine picks it up, but sometimes the sand starts to move - and then you should run for safety on the stone slab! The worm is coming!

Dune 2: The Building of the Dynasty Screenshot

We build the base. First the foundations, then power plants, factories, peripheral defenses. Command appreciates us very much, but trusts equipment gradually - in the first mission, only all-terrain vehicles, then comes tanks, rocket launchers, and so on.

In short, the usual "spherical RTS in a vacuum" - three factions, with differences, but not quite global, base construction, resource extraction. Now the usual, and then the first. Warcraft is still two years away. But the whole model of the future genre is ready, except that there is no rubber frame. Have you ever tried to aim fifteen tanks manually, without groups? And you say microcontrol. That's roughly how Captain herded herrings from Calais to Alexandria.

Dune 2: The Building of the Dynasty Screenshot

So? Did it bother anyone?

There was even a theory - actively discussed - that the success of both "Dunes" was... yellow. Rarely do we get yellow backgrounds in games!

Dune 2: The Building of the Dynasty Screenshot

What happened next: Westwood switched to the Command & Conquer series, where it developed and refined ideas. Attempts to return to the roots happened in 1998 and 2001, but unsuccessfully.

While we were playing Darklands and Dune...

  • Croatia and Slovenia were recognized by the world community.
  • A huge hurricane struck the Hawaiian Islands.

Wolfenstein 3D

  • Genre: action
  • Developer: id Software
  • Publisher: Apogee

Private Blazkowicz makes his escape from Nazi-occupied Castle Wolfenstein, a fortress full of Nazi soldiers and fighting dogs. And, hell, it was the most assured escape of all time: how many thousands of players helped Blazhkovich - still can't even estimate! Not surprisingly, the hero ended his humble mission by, no less than, killing Hitler. True, it didn't happen here, but on Macintosh.

Wolfenstein 3D Screenshot

The game had a surprisingly "mature" three-dimensional engine for its time. In those years 3D in games was no longer a novelty (Elite, Dark Heart of Uukrul...), but it was imitative. And here there was a "depth buffer", the crossings were counted honestly - technically the game was two or three years ahead of its time.

Wolfenstein 3D Screenshot

What's curious, originally it was supposed to be a spy action game in many ways - we would sneak, hide, and carefully sidestep ambushes. It was... in the first Wolfenstein. Which took place ten years earlier, but never carried over to PC.

Wolfenstein 3D Screenshot

What Happened Next: Nothing less than that, the action movie genre was established. A direct sequel came out less than a year later (Spear of Destiny), and then... Then there was Doom and all the rest.

The Incredible Machine

  • Genre: puzzle
  • Developer: Jeff Tunnell Productions
  • Publisher: Sierra Online

Tell me, what motors do you prefer for a small mechanical machine about the size of your room? Electric? INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINES? Nonsense! A monkey on a bicycle is fine for large parts, a mouse in a wheel in its cage is fine for small parts. Efficiency checked: meets the general requirements of Unimaginative Machines.

The Incredible Machine Screenshot

The cat, gentlemen, is a lazy creature. She is interested in the aquarium, but she will not move her center of gravity for the sake of it. But if you break the aquarium with something, oh, that's another matter!

How do you make an object swing? There are lots of ways: bellows (they blow on it), a vacuum cleaner... oh yeah, and of course, the cannon.

The Incredible Machine Screenshot

The idea of making a computer game based on Goldberg's machine - "build an unimaginable structure to achieve a specific goal" - wasn't the first time in '92. But only The Incredible Machine so sparkled with the charm of good Goldberg madness, and only in it was every puzzle unique.

The Incredible Machine Screenshot

What happened next: The Goldberg Machine theme became popular in the industry for a while; besides a few direct sequels, there were imitators. Then it went silent--but now it's making a comeback in Crayon Physics and a few others.

Laser Squad

  • Genre: TBS
  • Developer: Mythos Games
  • Publisher: Target Games

A team of several fighters on a mission, such as infiltrating a lunar base and destroying data there or repelling a massive robot attack on the station. Each fighter has some stock of action points (if heavily armed, the stock is less), and you can spend them on turns, movement, shooting...

Laser Squad Screenshot

Sound familiar? Sure: the author of the game is Gollop. Hence the origins of X-COM, Jagged Alliance, Fallout, Silent Storm... Thus began a new genre.

Missions are seven, but each of them can be played in online mode - of course, with one monitor. This means, incidentally, that the sides are balanced, and therefore, the AI does not try to take numbers. Which of the followers can boast of this?

Laser Squad Screenshot

Then additional cards were released-and the release of each one was an event. No one, characteristically, buzzed about the "too small additions." One more map for Laser Squad is more than a pack of forty maps for Heroes of Might & Magic!

Laser Squad Screenshot

What Happened Next: Gollop himself soon moved the game into fantasy, creating Chaos Lords, then creating X-COM... And the direct sequel, Laser Squad Nemesis by the same author, appeared only a few years ago. It didn't get much fanfare, though it was worthy of it.

While we were playing Wolfenstein and Laser Squad...

  • The European Union was founded.
  • Windows 3.1 was released.

The Legend of Kyrandia

  • Genre: quest
  • Developer: Westwood
  • Publisher: Westwood

Jesters are the most dangerous people, just think of Chico or Rigoletto. They do wonders for the king's side... And on the other side, too. Malcolm, King William's jester, killed him and the queen and turned a lot of people into stone statues, while, by the way, the country is dying.

The Legend of Kyrandia Screenshot

But jesters are usually inconsiderate. And Malcolm, consistently ridding the country of old power, has forgotten Prince Brandon, who was brought up somewhere in the wilderness. And we'll give that prince his crown back, and we'll show Malcolm in his own skin the fascinating life of sculpture.

But first, of course, we'll wander through the magical forest and adjacent caves, make friends with someone (Malcolm will later turn them into stone...), meet the sorceress Zantia (with whom we still have much to do in later episodes), learn some spells ourselves...

The Legend of Kyrandia Screenshot

What's interesting is that the game isn't exactly linear. It's kind of a bit akin to Hero Quest, which tried heartily to cross a quest with an RPG three years ago. Kirandia has much more modest goals, but the game doesn't suffer from that.

The Legend of Kyrandia Screenshot

What Happened Next: The game has a fair subtitle: book one. So there will be a second and a third. So it turned out, and Malcolm had yet to return…

The Patrician

  • Genre: economic strategy
  • Developer: Ascaron
  • Publisher: Ascaron

A Hanseatic merchant is building his trading empire. Supply and demand, caravans and fleets, the fight against robbers and pirates - no one would call the life of a medieval merchant peaceful and quiet.

The Patrician Screenshot

However, it is possible and quieter - we build a shop, get a profit from the products, and develop the "industry. But do not be surprised if risky competitors put on long journeys and win more than you.

The economy counts more or less "honestly." Find a profitable market and start pumping money from it? Well, you'll soon flood it, and the profits will fall. Competitors can do the same. There is no guaranteed "golden bottom" in the game - flexibility and only flexibility.

The Patrician Screenshot

Merchants in Hansa are respected people, but to varying degrees. One has to take care of one's popularity, because German trade cities are republics, and the distance to power is determined not by loans to the ruler, but by working with the "electorate". At least at the level of "bread and circuses".

And in the end - elections and the title of the head of the Hanseatic League. For which you are not the only one to lay claim.

The Patrician Screenshot

What Happened Next: that's how the glorious journey of "Ascaron" began. In a few years, the phrase "German game" will appear, and the main law of this sub-genre will be: "If there is a rifle hanging on the stage, in the last act it will be sold at triple price.

Spelljammer: Pirates of the Realmspace

  • Genre: epic game
  • Developer: Cybertech
  • Publisher: SSI

You've never seen a Dungeons & Dragons game like this before, and you're unlikely to see it again. Traditional elves and dwarves, clerics and wizards don't stroll through caves and dark forests, but plunder the world's ether.

Spelljammer: Pirates of the Realmspace Screenshot

In D&D cosmology at the time, the world was arranged according to Ptolemy - crystal spheres, the ether between them. Monstrous ships, both traditional races and Illithids, Neogs, and other non-American beings, plowed through the ether.

You are the captain of one of these ships, able to transport cargo and make a legitimate profit, but sometimes a pirate appears in the distance... or prey, and then you engage in a three-dimensional real-time artillery or catapult-ballistic duel with it. You can dodge the nukes. And then the boarding - in a more or less traditional way at the time of the role.

Spelljammer: Pirates of the Realmspace Screenshot

The crew is recruited in the taverns on the planets. Like in "Pirates"? Not really, officers have D&D levels and classes. You'll need a mage helmsman, for example; what did you think, you'd have a paddle in the ether or something?

The game's script was, perhaps, average: you could get "kill-and-drive" jobs from governors and more on the planets, and the texts were reduced to a meager description of what to do and where to do it. But so what if the ethereal expeditions are one of a kind? If the game managed to combine Goldbox's role-playing, "Pirates" and a bit of Wing Commander?

Spelljammer: Pirates of the Realmspace Screenshot

What happened next: A unique experiment hangs in the world's airwaves. No one followed the trail, and there is no place for the Spelljammer system in the current D&D worlds. Alas and ah!

While we were playing Spelljammer and The Incredible Machine...

  • Windsor Castle nearly burned down completely.
  • Criminals kidnapped the president of Adobe for ransom.

Ishar: Legend of the Fortress

  • Genre: RPG
  • Developer: Silmarils
  • Publisher: Silmarils

There were such people - they named their company "Silmarils" and the main gadget - Morgoth and didn't care about copyrights. However, "Ishar" has nothing to do with Tolkien, and thank goodness.

Ishar: Legend of the Fortress Screenshot

A hero named Aramir (hmm... perhaps I was a bit harsh about "no relation"), proudly looking out at the world in first person, has to storm the fortress of Ishar. Almost single-handedly: the victorious army consists of six heroes.

And herein lies the main "feature" of the game: the heroes can love or hate each other, and for the accession of a new hero is carried out ... voting. If you go against the will of the team, it can all end very badly. No, they won't take offense at us, they'll engage in mortal kombat. They could take Aramir in the heat of the moment... ...and get the hell out of them.

Ishar: Legend of the Fortress Screenshot

We'll have to go through a referendum to get them out of the group, too. You're the leader and everything, but personal relations are sacred. Let's not allow the breakup of families and friendships!

To make it clearer to what extent this shook us in 1992: it was, I think, the first game with noticeable squad NPC relationships. In all sorts of Might & Magic, you can recruit heroes on the go, but you can't think about their delicate inner world. It won't get serious until about five years from now.

Ishar: Legend of the Fortress Screenshot

What happened next: A trilogy was created about Ishar Fortress. And ideas froze until Baldur's Gate and other great RPGs of the late '90s came out.


  • Genre: RPG
  • Developer: Norsehelm
  • Publisher: Norsehelm

Ragnarok is coming - not online with plush heroes, but a big and harsh battle of the gods. And even if you're an experienced fighter, it's far from certain that you'll walk across the rainbow bridge and take a personal part in it. Even using cheat saves doesn't guarantee anything.

Valhalla Screenshot

Valhalla is essentially a rendered analogue of the pseudo-graphic RPGs (Rogue, Nethack, Angband). The field is the same cellular, only instead of letters it's sprites. And, as is typical of this family, in graphics it is - ascetic, but in opportunities...

Monsters actively bend you to their will, bite off your fingers (and other creatures grow them), you can use them - for example, to eat them. Having eaten bats, you get tipsy, and from the blue teleporting critter you get teleportation skills.

Valhalla Screenshot

Role system, in general, is simple - six classes, and you can get ten levels in each of them and thus learn everything from blacksmithing (there is such a class!) To the skills of a scribe. The latter are not useless - the right to convert any scroll into almost any other is worth a lot. But to get to the end is a non-trivial task, you have to find and apply a lot of tricks. Special scrolls to destroy the nastiest monsters (telepaths first of all), to grow fingers (they wear rings), to eat someone very necessary... And not to inadvertently kill those who can share information. And find the red bag...

Valhalla Screenshot

What happened next: The graphics didn't do this anymore, I don't think. But new pseudographic games of this class live on and evolve, reaching new levels of perfection - Dwarf Fortress, for example.

While we were playing Valhalla and Ishar...

  • There was a colossal street riot in Los Angeles.
  • The revolution in El Salvador - for a change - ended in a peace treaty.