Games of the Twentieth Century. The year 1998

The year 1998 sends greetings to 2008 and 2020: also a crisis, but sharper and very short-lived, noise, panic... and a lot of games.

Baldur's Gate


  • Genre: RPG
  • Developer: Bioware
  • Publisher: Interplay

By '98 we had already gone through at least a dozen AD&D games: beautiful and Goldbox-powered, real-time and unreal, but we had never seen anything like this. Instead of homogeneous dumbass dungeons, there are gorgeous castles, cities, and fuzzy herringbone trees. Instead of a "party" of "this one cuts, that one heals, and you, sinful beard, conjure up a fireball" - an open world full of bright personalities who are ready to become our comrades-in-arms... or hate.

Baldur's Gate Screenshot

Who doesn't remember Sister Imoen, or the actor Garrick, or the undercooked Viconia, or the brash Edwin Odesseron, the Tae mage? Not to mention Minsk and the microgiant hamster Boo ("Go for the eyes, Boo! Go for the eyes!"). You can make a squad of them, whose members are as loyal to each other as brothers, or a "pack of comrades" ready to claw at each other's throats. If you haven't already done so, hurry up. It's a must before Dragon Age's release.

Instead of scattered "locations" nailed to the map - a small, but whole world. With towns, villages, mines, and old acquaintances for those of us who aren't visiting the Forgotten Realms for the first time. Whether at the dice table, at the monitor, or with a book. Drizzt d'Urden (who killed the poor Drau for his sabers - two steps forward!), traveler and dreamer Marco Volo (we had a nice walk with him in Storm of Zehir recently), and old Elminster, what without him.

Baldur's Gate Screenshot

The only thing that was missing was the resolution: why was the entire game screen 512 pixels wide? It's not much, even in 98. But it had cheerful spell lights. Hundreds of animations. And in each location hides a small orchestra with charming music. It's like nothing we've ever seen... ...and we won't see it again until the second part comes out.

Anyway... the god Baal had two sons, one clever and one as usual. You'll find out which one is which as the game progresses.

What Happened Next: the series was expanded by one more part and two more additions, and gave birth to the spin-offs: Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale. And now we are waiting for Dragon Age, which, according to the creators, will embody the very thing they did not have time to finish in BG.






Thief: The Dark Project


  • Genre: FPS, Stealth
  • Developer: Looking Glass Studios
  • Publisher: Eidos Interactive

What is action, we all know very well. You pull a gun and bang, bang, bang, all the living things get blown away. To pieces. Sometimes we have to perform a military trick: like hiding behind a corner. So that afterwards with one shot...

But what is an action in which there is no need to kill? In general? That is you can do it, but you are condemned? And not because our hero Garrett is the incarnation of goodness and mercy, but because he's a decent thief and not a bandit and not a thug. And don't give him the wet work, fellow player. Sure, he can do it, but it's extremely disgusting. And the mission may not count.

Thief: The Dark Project Screenshot

Running from shadow to shadow, extinguishing annoying light sources, making noise in the wrong place - that's how a real pro operates. A bow is needed mainly to pour a water arrow on the torch, and a special "cat" to secure a rope for climbing. In extreme cases the baton is used to give the turned away guard a deep anesthesia. Well, the sword is for those thieves who got caught. For losers.

A decent thief does not go into business at random, he has a clear order and a map. The word "clear" refers only to the order, the map must have been drawn by a groggy troll in the morning hour: stick, stick, pickle, twisted harden and the sign "the thing lies there. In short, look somewhere out there. And find it. Are you a professional or not?

It's no reproach to Thief that he might save the world a little in the process.

Thief: The Dark Project Screenshot

What Happened Next: The stealth-action genre appeared, in which, however, the majority of its representatives nevertheless didn't refuse to be bloodthirsty and made assassins their heroes. Quietly, around the corner, but - killing. But fortunately there are direct sequels - Thief 2, 3 and 4. And since that time the work with sound, which until now has been relegated to the role of "decoration", has reached a new level. You say, "all genres have already been invented"? That's what they said in '98. Just before "The Thief."


While we were playing Baldur's Gate and Thief...

  • India and Pakistan became nuclear powers.
  • The first American astronaut, 77-year-old John Glenn, went into space again.
  • The Windows 98 operating system appeared.





Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines


  • Genre: Action, Stealth
  • Developer: Pyro Studios
  • Publisher: Eidos Interactive

The previews of this game usually remarked this way: it looks like the game will brighten up our wait for Jagged Alliance 2. Run it in a couple of evenings, and refresh our skills...

Like hell you will, my dears, run it in a couple of evenings. Especially without a walkthrough on hand. Because the missions here - that's in real time! - require the accuracy of a chess player, not a dashing cavalry charge.

Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines Screenshot

Yes, our Saboteur is harder to spot in the snow than an ermine; our Sailor can swim underwater like a hunchback and kill silently with a harpoon gun; every German would take a spy for his brother and invite him to a christening; The Sapper carries with him a TNT equivalent of a blast fireball; the Sniper can shoot an SS man through the whole map with his second left gold tooth; and the Driver can drive anything that has a motor - from a tank to a washing machine.

But they are just ordinary superhumans. They die like mere mortals, from a stray bullet. And the enemy has a high-security perimeter, lots of sentries and weapons. And these sentries sometimes think, not just step left and right at the dictates of the script. And how to open the "oyster" of the enemy's camp so that not a single dog suspects anything but half a second before passing into the next world.

Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines Screenshot

And then there's the main problem of all those who do complex missions: superiors! Lieutenant Colonel Clark is a head, of course, but scatterbrained as Paganel. He sends us to blow up a dam - and so nicely forgets to give us the explosives. And an inflatable boat, too. And a German spy's uniform, so we have to steal the Krauts' drying pants off the rope. Or else they'll drop you with parachutes at point X... ...and in the meantime, they'll drop your gear at point Y. To which it's still a long way to go on your hands and knees with almost nothing. Or on the eve of a decisive operation will send almost the entire team on vacation to visit their aunts, and you with Saboteur and Sniper lie down and execute the plan.

That's how we live. Who do you think kept Hitler from making the atomic bomb?

What Happened Next: Two legal descendants (Commandos 2 and 3), one fruit of a mysterious experiment with genres (Commandos: Strike Force), a successful bastard family (Silent Storm)... And simply - a new sub-genre. And the inevitable comparison to Behind the Enemy Lines for all real-time tactics.






Half-Life


  • Genre: FPS
  • Developer: Valve Software
  • Publisher: Sierra On-Line

- Good afternoon, Mr. Freeman. Great weather today.

"You mean like 'great weather'? - Thought the seasoned player. - Where's my gun? Where are my monsters? What the hell kind of action movie is this, where everyone leisurely strolls through the halls and discusses whether it's going to rain tonight?"

And that's the kind of action movie, smirks the game's laserdisc splotches. Don't worry, Mr. Freeman, the experiment is about to fail as planned... you just put on your overalls, please, safety is paramount... and then there will be as many monsters as you want. And half as many more. Only, Mr. Freeman, I'm not giving you a machine gun. Sorry, we don't keep one in our lab. Would you like a tire iron? And, you know, so proletarian... A tire iron to the skull. Where's that thing's skull? The hell knows.

Half-Life Screenshot

Missions? What missions? What are they for, Mr. Freeman? Here you are, if you please, headcrab. You have one mission: Make sure he doesn't eat you for lunch. Two: Make sure his wife, kids and grandnephew don't eat your dinner. Three: Get out of this... ...unpleasant area and, if possible, clean up this mess. Anyway, you'll figure it out on your own.

Oh, by the way, the government has decided to help you. They've sent you their troops. Who will, if you just give them the opportunity... ...to humanely end your suffering. The front page of the Washington Post is already prepared: "The effects of the catastrophe have been fully repaired... Unfortunately, no one at the research center survived. We mourn..."

There are allies (still an unprecedented case in militancy). The same unconscious slackers among the scientists and security guards who are unwilling to pass away quietly and finally publish an editorial. They, by the way, are not stupid and sometimes even know how to shoot. And not just yell "help, they're killing me!"

But if you think about it, the plot of Half-Life is not very far from Doom. But who, having played Half-Life, will find the strength to think about it?

Half-Life Screenshot

You wanted to imagine yourself, just like that - a city dweller, a worker of intellectual labor, saving the world from aliens? Go for it. Freeman is you, everything here works for the "presence effect." Graphics of unprecedented beauty, the ability to control the hero even during "scripted" scenes, no "locations" and "missions". Well, not real life, but half a life for sure.

What Happened Next: Half-Life was later recognized as the leader of the genre, but it didn't happen immediately. The decisive argument was a modification that had almost nothing of what we were talking about - Counter-Strike. And then everybody got used to the fact that Half-Life is our everything, and Half-Life 2 automatically climbed on the same pedestal. To Valve's credit, it fully deserved it.


While we were playing Commandos and Half-Life...

  • Europe banned human cloning.
  • Google was founded.
  • Operation Desert Fox in Iraq was launched.





Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six


  • Genre: FPS, Tactics
  • Developer: Red Storm Entertainment
  • Publisher: Red Storm Entertainment

I saw a caring footnote after the word "terrorist" in one detective novel that came out in the '80s. Indeed, not everyone knows who that is! And in '98, game journalism still provided footnotes for the name of Tom Clancy. And the name of Sam Fischer didn't even ring a bell. Until the first Rainbow. Actually, there were already a couple or three games based on Clancy, but they went almost unnoticed - apparently, they were well masked.

Truth be told, Rainbow 6 was as much a coup as Half-Life and Thief. It was just as mind-boggling. But in a different way.

The action hero of those years was supposed to be the superman who, after three rounds at point-blank range, could still shoot all the enemies in the room and reach for the first aid kit carefully placed right on the floor by the level designer. If I'm exaggerating, I'm exaggerating just a little. Not like in Rainbow, when you get shot in the chest, well... rest in peace. And you can't reach the first aid kit on the floor because it's not there. It's amazing, but usually terrorists don't put first-aid kits in the rooms of a seized building. Neither do weapons, by the way.

Further, the nameless heroes of Doom and Quake took down enemies single-handedly. But for the lack of Batmen in the ranks of the special services usually on tasks such as neutralizing a group of terrorists do not send a single soldier, but a squad. Before the fight, you have to plan actions, decide if the equipment is not worse than in the RPG, and most importantly - to give orders, because this is not a strategy and being everywhere at once will not work.

True, we're allowed to switch between groups (the only detriment to realism), but if the other groups stand around waiting for us to act, no good will come of it. We need a detailed plan, with the trajectory of each group, placement upon arrival, commands of "on the third green whistle, enter the building..."

True, if you suddenly don't have a 3D gas pedal, this toy will go very, very slowly. Do you have a modern enough computer to fight terrorism?

What Happened Next: As of today, the PC game registry lists thirty-plus Tom Clancy games and add-ons - the old boy outdid even Tolkien. Of these, twelve bear the name Rainbow Six. And in the registry of genres appeared the concept of "tactical FPS".






Starcraft


  • Genre: RTS
  • Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment

It's damn hard to imagine what the game world would look like today without Starcraft. After all, even those of us who don't play RTS in principle and have never launched a disc with a purple scaly face on the cover know very well who the Zerg are, what their rush is, and what the maggots mutate into. And I'm afraid they recognize a zerg larva more easily than a dragonfly larva. Starcraft is, as they say, "quote-unquote."

At the same time... ...it's not like they've invented something radically new.

 Screenshot

RTS scheme was well known to us from the second Warcraft, from which it was carried over to space without much change. The idea of "three fundamentally different tactics and strategies" wasn't born in '98 either... hell, there were eleven such races in VGA Planets!

Blizzard rarely comes up with something from scratch. They just take old ideas, develop them a little bit... and then implement them better than their competitors.

The three races weren't just different. The faces of the Protoss and Zerg (if you can call any part of the Zerg a face) were memorable for life, as were their lifestyles--directly reflected in the style of the game.

They were also balanced. No, not immediately, of course. Starcraft went through sixteen patches in the following years. And yet it remained the most perfect "cybersport" game... Moreover, together with the Half-Life modification they gave birth to the concept of eSports. In '98 none of us had heard that word yet.

 Screenshot

By the way, we hadn't heard the word "clone" in its gaming sense back then either. We owe it to Starcraft as well... or rather, to its unsophisticated imitators.

What Happened Next: We found out the answer to this question in 2010!


While we were playing Rainbow Six and Starcraft...

  • European Union countries began the transition from national currencies to the euro.
  • The French national team became the world champion in soccer.
  • The United States began a lawsuit against Microsoft.
  • XML language appeared.





Warhammer: Dark Omen


  • Genre: TBS
  • Developer: Mindscape Entertainment
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts

Who hasn't invaded imperial borders... Fierce Chaosites, savage Orcs, treacherous skaven from beneath the earth, mysterious vampire counts. But the Tomb Kings? Aren't they supposed to sit somewhere in the south, in hot Hemri? And the proud imperial army... out of action. The Dogs of War will meet the danger. Morgan Bernhard, hero for hire.

Captain Bernhard had already gone out to defend the Empire two years before, during the Skaven campaign. But Shadow of the Horned Rat, for all its merits, was terribly uncomfortable. It was embellished, simplified a bit; banned cannons and wizards from committing suicide from time to time (by Warhammer rules, artillery sometimes explodes, and wizards die in the winds of magic). They made a luxurious brass button panel (who won't borrow it afterwards...). Morgan will greet the new war in a ceremonial uniform!

Warhammer: Dark Omen Screenshot

In real-time strategy games, be they Starcraft or Commandos, it was the loners who fought back then. Warhammer shows something completely different: the war in close formation, where you do not have to worry about "pile on the creep", but about not to expose the undead flank or rear, not to break through to the guns and archers, not to let their soldiers flinch and not turn to flight ...

Warhammer teaches you to fight carefully. Not "win at all costs," as usual, but "win economically." We're mercenaries, not imperial generals, we must recruit for our own money. And they pay for our services... well, they pay well, but not so much as to throw people away. Well, and to crush the mass is almost never possible: the recruitment of new troops in our competence is not. That's why every battle requires a thoughtful decision and understanding of what each of your and other squads can do.

Warhammer: Dark Omen Screenshot

Also, the characters there are incredibly charming. And Morgan himself, a surprisingly decent man for a mercenary, and the businesslike gunner Schwarzkopf, and the hysterical flagellant monk Eusebius the Faded, and the slouchy, hiccuping ogre, and the hapless swords captain Gunther "me-against-my-guards-retreat" Schepke, and the tanker Ludwig on his steam coffin on wheels, and the disgustingly cheerful fire mage Luther...

What Happened Next: The Total War series grew out of Dark Omen. But it is rarely remembered. There was also Warhammer: Mark of Chaos; it's not badly made, but both in charm and tactics it loses to its ancestor. And let's not forget Dawn of War!