For a long time I thought of Grim Fandango as the ‘LucasArts game with the skeletons’, whose appeal was a total mystery to me. Maybe it was because back then, when the game was released, I had been somewhat over-saturated (like many others) by countless adventure games. Also they started copying each other more and more and most of the time provided some awfully boring ideas. Still a game, in which you slip into the role of a bony man, seemed just too silly. In the meantime adventure games are returning again and LucasArts finally closed its gates. So after fifteen years I decided to fill a gap in my knowledge.
If you look over the shoulder of a core or hobby gamer today, you will surely find a gamepad in their hands. Such a controller is a must-have equipment and even the showpiece of every console. Further bundled with a sensational game title, the console appears as an irresistible package in the stores. But in the 80s, strange flowers sprouted here and there. At that time the joystick was still very popular and the home computer sector could not be imagined without it. Such a joystick was then also included with the Atari XE console. But for the overall package, Atari even included a keyboard for "advanced games" and – to get to the point – a lightgun. The toy in futuristic design was the means of virtual pest control in the included game Bug Hunt. The novel firearm, together with the launch title Bug Hunt, was the driving force behind Atari's first computer-derived console release. This seems very daring nowadays, since the control via controller is so natural. But in its time, the Atari marketing department apparently saw an advantage in the versatile usability of its console. The XE Game System was supposed to offer real arcade feeling with the help of this lightgun, which you could otherwise only get for many coins at the slot machines. Later, Nintendo also produced a lightgun called Zapper for the competing NES and marketed it together with the game Duck Hunt. In the end, it was clearly the NES that won the race for market share and the lightgun has largely disappeared, not least because of the lack of cathode ray tube monitors. So, did Atari bet on the wrong horse on the usability side, or was perhaps even the game offered in the overall package the drawback? An answer is purely speculative of course, but I mounted the horse, put on the cowboy boots and strapped on the shooting iron.
A strategy game set in the D&D universe. A sequel of Stronghold? No - Fantasy Empires follows the futuristic footsteps of Cyber Empires. On the surface, not a lot has changed in the gameplay: Competing armies are strategically shuffled around a world map... until they meet, which is when the games zooms into a real-time battle screen on which the player can even control one soldier himself.
Nevertheless, there have been quite a number of noteworthy changes in the details. Just like in Stronghold, the player can create his own 'character': The class and the attributes of this commander will influence the playing style. For example, chaotic characters have the benefit of strong necromancy spells with which they can build up large undead armies quickly. On the other hand, their provinces don't generate as much income. Magicians can weave global spells more easily. Dwarves command stronger conventional troops of their own race. And so on.