The best in CD-ROM games. (Compute's Getting Started With: Entertainment Software)
by David English
CD-ROM games have come a long way in the last few years. We've gone from CD-ROMs that contain only disk-based versions of games to CD-ROMs with games created especially for the new medium - and everything in between.
For the sake of simplicity, let's break these CD-ROM games into three categories: ports, hybrids, and pure breeds.
When CD-ROM drives started to sell well in 1989, game developers began to port the disk-based versions of their most popular games to the new medium. It was the easiest and quickest way to test the waters. Access released a CD-ROM with many of its previous hits, Origin combined its popular Wing Commander with two mission disks onto one CD-ROM and Ultima Underworld I & II onto another, and LucasArts produced a CD-ROM with Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe and threw in some add-on disks. The extra value came from buying several games for the price of one and not having to install the games on your hard drive.
Even today, you can find vendors offering CD-ROMs in value-pack ports. By the time your read this, Psygnosis will be selling a CD-ROM that contains both Lemmings and Oh No! More Lemmings for the price of a single game (Psygnosis, 617-497-7794, $59.99).
Most of today's CD-ROM games are actually hybrids - disk-based games that are given extra features when converted to CD-ROM. The immense space provided by the CD-ROM (as much as 680MB) lets a company take a popular DOS-based game and add voices to the characters, a digitized music track, and even additional graphics and puzzles.
The most dramatic example of these added features is the adventure game, King's Quest VI CD (Sierra On-line, 800-326-6654, $79.95), which is an enhanced version of the disk-based King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow. The CD-ROM version replaces the characters' on-screen words with actors' voices (for a total of four hours of dialog and narration) and adds higher-resolution graphics throughout the game (under Windows, the icon interface, inventory items, and talking characters are shown in 640 x 480 with 256 colors). The CD-ROM also includes a 50-megabyte animated sequence that runs for 7 minutes, as well as a 4[degrees]-minute Video for Windows movie that shows how the game was made.
Most hybrid CD-ROM adventure games add spoken dialog and narration. These include Sierra's other CD-ROM games, King's Quest V ($69.95), the previous adventure in this popular series; Space Quest IV ($69.95), a rollicking spoof of space adventures, featuring the voice of Garry Owens ("Laugh-In"); Laura Bow: The Dagger of Amon Ra ($69.95), a mystery adventure in the tradition of Nancy Drew; and The Adventures of Willy Beamish (on the Dynamix label, $69.95), a light-hearted look at the action-packed life of a pre-teen.
LucasArts offers similarly enhanced CD-ROM versions of its popular adventure games, including Loom (415-721-3300, $59.95), a magical tale that successfully integrates a musical theme into the story; Monkey Island (415-721-3300, $59.95), a satisfying spoof of pirate adventures; Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (800-STARWARS, $69.95), an original story based on the popular movie character; and Day of the Tentacle (800-STARWARS, $69.95), a droll parody of 1950s science-fiction movies.
Other hybrid titles include Dune (Virgin Games, 800-874-4607, $99.99), which integrates actual footage from David Lynch's classic movie, Done; Battle Chess CD-ROM Enhanced (Interplay, 714-553-6678, $79.95), which sports a new music track, additional sound effects, and higher-resolution graphics; The Chessmaster 3000 (The Software Toolworks, 415-883-3000, $79.95), a first-rate chess game that adds full voice instruction; Microsoft Multimedia Golf (Microsoft, 800-426-9400, $64.95), which adds spectacular flybys of each hole and video golf pro tips to the disk-based Microsoft Golf for Windows; and Inca (Sierra On-line, 800-326-6654, $64.95), a marvelous mix of ancient cultures and high-technology with animation and sound added to the CD-ROM version.
The future belongs to games that are designed especially for CD-ROM. You only have to compare the quality of most of the new made-for-CD-ROM titles to the typical port and hybrid games to see the incredible potential of the new medium.
Many of the companies that have dominated the hybrid market, such as Sierra and LucasArts, are designing games that will be available only on CD-ROM. In 1994, many of the top games from the well-known game companies will be designed especially for CD-ROM and then scaled-down for the disk version. By 1995, many of these same companies will either be producing games only for CD-ROM or releasing each game in separate versions for both CD-ROM and disk. With as much as 680MB available for a CD-ROM game versus 20-30MB for a disk-based game, it shouldn't be surprising that the leading edge games are moving to CD-ROM.
The year 1993 has brought us the first group of games created especially for CD-ROM. While not all of them are as playable as the best disk-based or hybrid-CD-ROM games, their advanced graphics and sound have dramatically raised our expectations for computer-based games. The most famous of these would have to be The 7th Guest (Virgin Games, 800-874-4607, $99.99). Too large to fit on a single CD-ROM, this double CD-ROM game features a terrific musical score (especially when used with a General MIDI music device), full-motion video characters, and eyepopping 3-D rendered backgrounds.
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Volumes II & III (Viacom New Media, 708-520-4440, $69.95 each) are the follow ups to Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Volume I ($69.95), which was one of the first games to integrate video clips into the game's action. Viacom's latest title, Dracula Unleashed ($69.95), includes over 150 video scenes (for a total of 90 minutes of video) that you navigate using a VCR-like interface. Who Killed Sam Rupert? (Creative Multimedia, 503-241-4351; $39.99) also successfully integrates video clips into a mystery setting. A sequel to Sam Rupert should be available by the time you read this.
Model car fans will enjoy two innovative CD-ROMs from Revell-Monogram (708-966-3500): European Racers ($69.95) and Backroad Racers ($69.95). Both feature an actual model car kit, step-by-step instructions on how to construct the model (rendered onscreen in high-resolution 3-D polygon animation), and a racing game where you can square off against similar vehicles (here you'll interact with video footage of various characters, such a a policeman and a pit crew member). Each CD-ROM includes the simulation software for three additional models, which you can buy separately at toy stores or hobby shops.
Quite a few pure breed CD-ROM games will be shipping just before Christmas. They all feature graphics, sound effects, and music that are state-of-the-art.
Hell Cab (Time Warner Interactive, 800-593-6334, $99.99) includes photo-realistic characters and a plot that involves a New York City cab driver (he's really a trainee devil), prehistoric jungles, Nero's Rome, and the trenches of World War 1. Your goal is to make it back to the airport with your soul intact.
If you liked X-Wing, you'll love Rebel Assault (LucasArts, 800-STARWARS, $69.95). This thing looks and sounds so much like a Star Wars movie, you'll do a double-take. The ships and planets are rendered with high-resolution graphics to match the ones in the Star Wars films; John Williams' score is there, often note for note; and even the dialogue and position of the characters recall specific scenes from the movies.
The Journeyman Project (Quadra Interactive, 619-931-4755, $79.95) has some of the most innovative graphics I've ever seen in a game. The year is 2318. Your mission is to repair a rip in time caused by careless time traveling. The game features both arcade action and mental puzzles. The pre-release version I played ran slow, but Quadra Interactive was working on speeding it up.
Iron Helix (Spectrum Holobyte, 510-522-3584, $99.95) is an action adventure game set in the future. A biological weapon threatens to start a galactic holocaust - unless you can pilot a small robotic probe through an enormous starship.
Other titles scheduled for imminent release include The Labyrinth of Time (Electronic Arts, 800-245-4525, price not available), a Super-VGA maze with logical puzzles and historical themes (you travel from a subway car to various historical eras); Myst (Broderbund, 800-521-6263; $59.95), a stunningly photo-realistic adventure from Rand and Robyn Miller (developers of the Manhole and Cosmic Osmo), shipping in early 1994; The XIth Hour: 7th Guest Part II (Virgin Games), the eagerly awaited sequel to The 7th Guest (planned for late 1993 or early 1994); Microcosm (Psygnosis, 617-497-7794, $59.95), yet another great-looking sci-fi game; and Conspiracy (Virgin Games), a Soviet thriller starring Donald Sutherland.
If you think Conspiracy sounds more like a movie than a CD-ROM game, prepare to be amazed by the CD-ROM games that will be released in 1994. Access (800-800-4880) is set to release its double CD-ROM game, Under a Killing Moon, by early spring, starring Margot Kidder, Brian Keith, and Russell Means. If you have the new $449 Reel-Magic board from Sigma Designs (510-770-0100), you'll be able to view its virtual reality sequences as full-screen, full-motion video with CD-quality sound. Other CD-ROM games that will be available in Reel-Magic's MPEG-compression format include Activision's Return to Zork, Interplay's Lord of the Rings, Readysoft's Dragon's Lair, Sierra's Outpost and Police Quest 4: Open Season, and Virgin's The XIth Hour: 7th Guest Part II.
Expect 1994 to be the year that interactive movies truly come of age.