The best burger in town. The best plumber around. Everyone likes to make "Best of" lists. The editors at COMPUTE! are no exception. Here's our first Best list-20 computer games no one should be without.
Think back to the first program you bought for your computer. Chances are it was a game. Maybe it was a rock-'n'-rollin' arcade game that nearly tore your joystick apart. Or perhaps it was a thought-provoking simulation that included a manual three inches thick and three pounds heavy. Whatever its form, it was strictly entertainment.
Personal computers may be terrific number crunchers, word processors, drawing tools, and file organizers, but they're also premiere game players and presenters. Thousands of games can only be played with a computer. Without computers, for instance, there would have been no Pong, no Pac-Man, no Space Invaders. Simply put, there would have been less fun in the world.
Computers are fun. We can't forget that. If we do, we run the risk of forfeiting our machines to the dry, the dull, and the dreary.
Our Favorites, Maybe Yours
With some discussion, some debate, and some shouting, we picked 20 great computer games, games that are a step above superior. Almost everyone around here is a computer game player (sometimes to the detriment of work). Most of us play games on a wide variety of computers. We play games on everything from the venerable Commodore 64 and Apple IIe to the state-of-the-art Amiga, Macintosh, Atari ST, and 386 PC. We play on IBM PCs, PC-compatibles, and clones. Name a personal computer that has had entertainment software and we've played on it.
Our criterion for selecting these 20 games was simple-if it's listed, we think it's a great game. But what makes a game great? Lots of things, really, but they in clude playability (how well does it play?), depth of play (how long can you play before you get bored?), graphics and animation (how good does it look?), game concept (is it unusual, out of the ordinary?), and popularity (if tens of thousands play the game, it must be good). Answer yes to these questions, and you've got yourself a game worth playing.
All these games, with one exception, are available. Look for them in local software stores or from mail order companies, or contact the publisher directly. You may be able to find the out-of-print game by scanning user group newsletter classified ads, talking to other computer users, or going to small computer fairs and shows.
We hope our picks confirm your suspicions, that you agree with our 20 choices. And if you discover a new game here, so much the better. It means we've done our job.
It's possible, of course, that we've left out a few of your favorites. Let us know if we have. Tell us which games you think should be in the Top 20. Write us-Favorite Games, COMPUTE! Magazine, 324 W. Wendover Avenue, Greensboro, North Carolina 27408-and tell us we're on target or way off base. It's your chance to make the next "Best of " list.
Balance of Power
Go eyeball to eyeball with the Soviets (or with the Americans) and see who blinks first. Mindscape's Balance of Power, the game that made Chris Crawford famous, is an impressive recreation of the world's geopolitical landscape as viewed from one of the two superpowers. You desperately try to avoid nuclear conflagration as you advance your own ideology. With tools like money, guns, troops, treaties, diplomatic pressure, and dirty tricks, you coax third world nations to your side. All the while you're putting the pressure on the Soviets and their clients. Crisis management is the key to winning. Back down at the wrong time and you'll lose the game. Call one too many bluffs and you'll see the chilling message You have ignited a nuclear war.
Travel by land and sea, battling the opposition in a quest to locate and conquer the enemy fortress of Kuhn-Lin. Beach-Head, a popular Access release of old, was a pioneer for computer combat action games. It was one of the first to combine multiple screens of arcade-style battle with the rudiments of strategic planning. In the fast-action scenes, you find yourself in the heat of battle, facing ships, aircraft, and tanks head-on. To locate the fortress, you must advance through three screens, employing a variety of tactics in each. Good graphics and sound contribute to the game's play. Beach-Head spawned many imitators, as well as a popular sequel. Few, however, ever matched the excitement generated by this classic original.
-David Hensley, Jr.
Surf's up! And so is the level of excitement in California Games, the best of Epyx's Games series. This time, instead of competing for Olympic gold and glory, players are challenged to tackle a variety of classic West Coast sports: surfing, flying disc toss, skateboarding, BMX bicycles, footbag, and roller skating. Each event is beautifully rendered, with terrific animation and some of the smoothest joystick control seen. Game play is easy at first, yet satisfyingly difficult to master. Repeat playability is high.
Perhaps more important is the game's sheer exuberance. It's nice to know that, via the computer, there's a California where the skies are always blue, the surf perpetually gnarly, and the competition totally tubular.
Chessmaster 2000 provides a challenging chess opponent for owners of almost every personal computer. Opening up a whole new genre of chess programs, Chessmaster 2000 offers realistic graphics and optional sound, which on the Amiga and Atari ST even includes speech. View the board in two or three dimensions as you challenge its 12 levels of play and three different play styles: Coffeehouse, somewhat random in its strategy; Normal, providing good, solid moves; and the aptly named Best Move. To augment its playing abilities, Chessmaster 2000 contains 7100 openings and a library of 100 classic games. With some serious concentration and a strong end game, maybe you can force Chessmaster to say, I am checkmated, you win.
F-15 Strike Eagle
Vicarious thrills are a big part of computer games, and F15 Strike Eagle from MicroProse provides plenty to every budding jet jockey. Arcade in its feel, this isn't a touchy simulator where twitching sends you into a spin. Handle the F-15 as roughly as you want, and most times it will come through. Real-life scenarios give you opponents from Lybia, Syria, and Iran. Use your heatseeking and radar-ranging missiles, cannons, and electronic jamming gear to successfully out-duel enemy jet fighters. Climb, roll, dive, jink, then hit the afterburners to get back to base. Other flight simulators teach you how to fly or land on a carrier, but only F-15 Strike Eagle makes jet fighter combat nerve-wracking and fun at the same time.
The desire to fly seems innate, and that's what attracts thousands of people to try their hands at Flight Simulator and its grown-up companion, Flight Simulator II. By far the most popular versions, they put you in the pilot's seat of a single-engine aircraft with a very accurate array of controls and instruments. To heighten the realism, you're presented with a simulated 3-D cockpit view in any direction. You can actually fly over real-world scenery-circle the Empire State Building or barnstorm the Golden Gate Bridge. Most important, Flight Simulator fuses the action elements of arcade-style games, the exploration aspects of adventure games, and the intellectual challenges of flight and navigation to create an experience that is uniquely educational, nonviolent, and fun.
-Tom R. Halfhill
These Are a Few of
THEIR Favorite Games
We asked a handful of software publishers and developers to give us their favorite games-the ones they and their companies weren't connected with. Here are their picks....
Trip Hawkins, president, Electronic Arts
"My first major computer gaming experience was with Colossal Cave, the original adventure game. I nearly finished [the game]. I really liked it, but the novelty wore off, and I haven't liked any text adventures since."
What took the place of text games in his life? "I'm addicted to sports games," Hawkins admits. "I programmed a football game back in 1973 and used it to simulate the 1974 SuperBowl. In my simulation, Miami beat Minnesota 23-6; in real life it was 24-7."
His favorites? "An old-time favorite was Sneakers, by Mark Turmell. It's one of the few action games I ever mastered. I liked the arcade game, Battle Zone, but I wasn't any good at it. I also got pretty hooked on Marble Madness and Gauntlet: I think the digitized sound effects put them over the top for me."
Sid Meier, vice-president of product design at MicroProse, and developer of Pirates! and F-15 Strike Eagle
"I like games that are simple," says Meier. "Not games that are trivial, but also not games that require you to invest a week or relearn something. I like games that you can just pick up, sit down in front of, and get going."
An example? "The Sentry from Firebird is one I enjoy. It's a great diversion. You have to use your brain and think. It's not a real joystick-shaking game, and it's not really an action-oriented game, but it's just fun to sit down with and puzzle through for a while. It's a game that kind of takes your mind off whatever you want your mind taken off of. That's why I like it. It's unusual and it's hard to describe."
Ezra Sidran, developer, author of Universal Military Simulator (Firebird) and Designasaurus (DesignWare/ Brittannica)
Sidran is unequivocal in his choice of favorites: "Anything written by Sid Meier and Ed Bever. Crusade in Europe is a good example, as is Silent Service (which Sid did alone)."
What makes their games stand out? "The documentation is exceptional," Sidran says. "Playability is superb, but it's the documentation that gives you a perspective you just don't find in many computer games."
Tom Snyder, head of Tom Snyder Productions, creator of Infocomics
Snyder recalls a season spent playing Castle Wolfenstein in concert with a friend. "I enjoyed the interaction with another player," he says. "One of us worked the arms the other legs. We played for weeks in a row-it was, in many ways, the ultimate social experience.
"Wolfenstein was a really elegant game. At first I disliked the violence, but once I got past that, I couldn't stop. At one point we found ourselves whispering to each other so the Germans wouldn't overhear us."
Roberta Williams cofounder of Sierra On-Line, and author of Mixed-Up Mother Goose and the King's Quest series of animated adventure games
"I like Infocom's games," Williams says. "I write adventure games, so I'm drawn to that genre. Beyond Zork is a good one. I started playing the first two (Zorks) but never finished. I just don't ever have time."
Still, she keeps coming back to text adventure games."I started playing Trinity a few months ago. I said, 'For once I'm really going to take some time and get through it'-and I didn't. After a while I said, 'I just don't have the time."
Williams enjoyed the time she spent with Trinity, noting, "I thought it was rather hard, but only because I didn't really have the time to put into it and think about it. But I thought it was very well done."
-Keith FerrellGettysburg - The Turning Point
Reliving history is a prime in gredient in all computer war games. The best ones offer an attention to historical detail and the opportunity to make tactical or strategic decisions. SSI's Gettysburg-The Turning Point provides all this and more as the bloody days of America's greatest battle are brought to life on your screen. Assume command of either the Union or Confederate forces as the computer commands the opposition, or play a two-player game with a friend while the computer acts as the referee.
As you wage battle in any of the four included scenarios, the program supplies realistic situations as fatigue and supply problems become factors in the battle. Move units, fire at the enemy, and assult defended positions on the recreated battlefield.
Superior war games like Gettysburg let you see what happened, and why, in conflicts that changed the face of America.
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
You wake up with a raging headache, so you get out of bed, take an aspirin, and get dressed. But a bulldozer is about to demolish your house. If you survive, you soon discover that the earth is blocking the planned route of an intergalactic bypass and will be destroyed in a matter of minutes. Luckily, you get your hands on "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," a sort of electronic encyclopedia that lets you escape. You're on your way to intergalactic adventures with melancholy robots and aliens who create fatally poor poetry.
What distinguishes Hitchhiker's Guide from run-of-the-mill adventure games is its sense of humor. Douglas Adams, author of the original book series, collaborated closely with Infocom's programmers. His keen and literate wit make this game a joy.
Stay awhile, stay forever! Those chilling words send you off in search of an evil scientist in his underground labyrinth. Great speech synthesis and smooth, colorful graphics make Epyx's Impossible Mission a fast-paced game with an innovative feel. A banshee's scream erupts every time your character falls down an elevator shaft. In fact, one of this game's guilty pleasures is to send your character hurtling repeatedly into the abyss just for the sound effects. Squat robots bar your way at every step, sending electrical charges through your character if you make a misstep.
You can have hours and hours of fun just running amuck within the under ground passages, jumping robots, riding the elevators, and solving memory teasers. But you're on a deadline, trying to prevent a nuclear catastrophe. Your character runs smoothly along, his footfalls echoing nicely in the corridors, while the deranged doctor repeatedly calls out to his robots: Destroy him, my robots!
Experience the thrill of playing the world's most famous golf courses while in the comfort of your own home. Mean 18, a golf simulation game from Accolade, utilizes suberb graphics and digitized sound to create a realistic golfing experience. Nearly every aspect of the game comes into play, from club selection to green breaks. Plenty of practice and perseverance are necessary to master Mean 18, a touch of realism that helped send this sports game onto the best-seller charts. Once you're familar with the courses provided, you can design your own with the feature-packed course architect or buy packaged disks with more actual courses. Chances are, after experiencing Mean 18, you may find yourself hooking and slicing your way around the computer links more often than your favorite local course.
-David Hensley Jr.
Cross a robot and a factory, and you get a stubborn critter called a MULE. In this classic game from Electronic Arts, you and three others-under the control of other humans or the computer-play planetary colonists. Land is regularly granted to the colonists, or you may bid for it. You then buy MULES and outfit them to produce electricity to run the MULES, food for the colonists, smithore to build more MULES, or crystite (a precious metal with a wildly fluctuating value). After installing the MULE on the land, you take the product to market. At the same time that you're selflessly helping the colony to thrive, you're also trying to make the biggest profit. Do you specialize in smithore and hope that other players produce electricity and food, or do you diversify to gain self-sufficiency? This game requires a sense of strategy as well as proficiency at joystick maneuvers.
Pinball Construction Set
Bill Budge's Pinball Construction Set, published by Electronic Arts, helped launch an important genre of entertainment software-the construction set. Tired of the pinball machine? Then create your own. Budge put together an elegant pinball machine, full of crazy sounds and flashing colors, a place in which nothing is nailed down-least of all your imagination. You can build virtually any kind of pinball machine, no matter how strange and wonderful, by moving bumpers, switches, bells, balls, and whistles into any configuration. The games are always fun, and the construction set itself is a programming work of art. We've seen plenty of pinball machines on computer screens, but this one's a classic that never seems to grow old.
Raid on Bungeling Bay
The Bungeling war machine is gearing up for a major assault. New war factories are cranking out military hardware at an alarming rate. If they aren't stopped now, they'll never be stopped. That's where you come in. Your mission is to destroy the heart of the machine, the factories. To complete your mission, you command a carrier and five attack helicopters. These choppers aren't as fast as the Bungeling jets, but maneuverability and a good cannon more than make up the difference. Brøderbund's Raid on Bungeling Bay is an outstanding arcade game that's both playable and addictive. You may be able to destroy one or two of the factories your first time out, but you'll have to refine your strategy before you'll ever see the Bungeling empire fall.
Where to Find Our Favorite Games
|Balance of Power||Mindscape||Amiga,
Apple, Atari ST, Mac,
|$44.95-$49.95||3444 Dundee Rd.,
Northbrook, IL 60062,
|Beach-Head||Access||Apple, Atari, 64||$19.95||2561 S. 1560 W.,
Cross, UT 84087,
|Reissued as part
three game Action Pack
|California Games||Epyx||Amiga, Apple, 64, MS-DOS||$39.95||600 Galveston
Dr., Redwood City, CA 94063,
Apple II, Atari, Atari
ST, 64, Mac, MS-DOS
|$39.95-$44.95||1820 Gateway Dr., San
Mateo, CA 94404,
|F-15 Strike Eagle||MicroProse||Apple,
Atari, Atari ST, 64,
|$34.95-$39.95||120 Lakefront Dr.,
Hunt Valley, MD 21030,
|SubLogic||Amiga, Apple, Atari,
64, Mac, MS-DOS
|$49.95||713 Edgebrook Dr.,
|Yes (Mac and MS-DOS
versions avail. only from Microsoft
|SSI||Apple, Atari, 64, MS-DOS||$59.95||1046 N. Rengsttorff
CA 94043, 415-964-1353
Guide to the
|Infocom||Apple, 64, MS-DOS, Mac||$14.95-$19.95||3250 Bayshore Pkwy,
|Impossible Mission||Epyx||Apple, 64||$39.95||600 Galveston Dr.,
Redwood City, CA
|64 version only
Softmail, Woodside, CA
(408) 848-3042 ($9.95)
|Mean 18||Accolade||Amiga, Apple IIGS,
Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino, CA
|M. U. L. E.||Electronic Arts||Atari, 64||$14.95||1820 Gateway DJ., San
Mateo, CA 94404,
|Pinball Construction Set||Electronic Arts||Apple, Atari, 64,
|$14.95||1820 Gateway Dr., San
Mateo, CA 94404,
|Raid on Bungeling Bay||Brøderbund||64||$29.95||17 Paul Dr., San
Rafael, CA 94903,
game system version available)
|Reach for the Stars||SSG||Apple, 64, Mac||$45.00||1820
Gateway Dr., San Mateo, CA 94404,
|Shanghai||Activson||Amiga, Apple, 64,
Pkwy, Mountain View, CA
Apple, Apple IlGs,
Atari, Atari ST, 64, MS-DOS
|$34.95-$39.95||120 Lakefront Dr.,
Hunt Valley, MD 21030,
|Starflight||Electronic Arts||MS-DOS||$49.95||1820 Gateway
Dr., San Mateo, CA 94404,
|Ultima I, III, IV, V||Origin Systems||Amiga (III), Apple
(all), 64 (I,
III, IV), Atari (III, IV), Atari ST
(III, IV), Mac (III), MS-DOS (I,
|$39.95-$59.95||17 Paul Dr., San
|Yes. Ultima II discontinued|
|Worms?||Electronic Arts||Atari, 64||$14.95||1820 Gateway Dr., San
Mateo, CA 94404,
|Zork Trilogy||Infocom||Amiga, Apple,
Atari ST, 64,
Bayshore Pkwy., Mountain View, CA
Reach for the Stars
Modeled after a popular board game, Reach for the Stars is a game of galactic supremacy that pits you against up to three opponents in a bid to become emperor of outer space. Expand your empire by colonizing uninhabited worlds and by conquering enemy planets. Get the best of your enemies by executing a brilliant sneak attack or by building a vast economic empire. Limited information on enemy colonies and fleets makes Reach for the Stars a realistic strategy game that keeps you guessing. Excellent computer opponents and variable victory conditions provide additional challenges.
Spend your credits on scouts, transports, warships, social concerns, planetary environment, local defense, or technology. Decide where to attack your enemies, and when. The choices are many, but so are the rewards. Domination of the universe doesn't come cheap.
Lose yourself in the mysteries of the ancient Orient with Shanghai, Activision's computer version of the popular and addictive game of mahjongg. Attention to detail is what sets this game above the rest. The screen is beautifully drawn-right down to the shadows that the game tiles cast. In Shanghai, your goal is to remove pairs of tiles from the playing field until none are left. The trick is that you can only remove tiles on the left or right edge of a group. The game is similar to solitaire, though much deeper. Although the standard game is usually played at a leisurely pace, the two-player timed game is an exciting change. As a bonus, there's a wonderful surprise waiting for you when you finally remove all the tiles.
Submarine simulations fulfill a strange desire-to be someplace where you really wouldn't want to ever be. Silent Service is the best-selling submarine simulator for a good reason: It combines a relatively faithful feel of submarine warfare with excellent graphics, good sound, and palm-twitching action. You captain a U.S. sub in the Pacific during World War II, searching out Japanese convoys, sinking enemy merchant ships, and avoiding charging destroyers. From a central menu, you access several screens to run the sub and fire its weapons. Dive, surface, raise the periscope, fire torpedoes or the deck gun, use your radar, and quietly slip away when the depth charges drop. Silent Service rewards both patience and aggressiveness, qualities a good sub captain has to have. For its playability, realism, graphics, and durability, Silent Service makes our favorites list.
In a market crammed with science fiction games, Starflight stands out. No simple shoot-em-up, this game turns on trading, mining, collecting artifacts, interacting with aliens, and solving mysteries.
Starflight simulates an entire universe. Hundreds of solar systems with planets, lifeforms, and exploitable minerals are scattered through a cosmos riddled with worm holes through which your starship emerges ... elsewhere. Behind everything is a gradually unfolding mystery whose dimensions span time and space, and on whose solution the fate of the universe rests. Finally, Starflight captures the feel of a certain type of science fiction, as you assemble a crew, set out to explore and acquire, and are drawn into a narrative whose conclusion you control. The game can take hundreds of hours to play fully, yet those hours are anything but boring.
Enter the world of fantasy with any of the Ultima series of adventure games. Attract a party of like-minded adventurers, explore Britannia, and endure perils as you complete a quest.
As with most Dungeons and Dragons-style role-playing games, magic plays an integral part in your quest. Often, magic spells are the only means to defeat a monster. Movement through the available worlds is controlled on a hex-squared map which encompasses several screens. Battles with monsters or brigands dedicated to your destruction are resolved on a separate animated screen, where each member of your party is controlled individually in sequence.
Whichever Ultima you choose, you'll enjoy a rich plot and dynamic game as you explore the cities, castles, and dungeons of Britannia.
Worms? is still in a class all by itself, more than four years after its introduction. The folks at Electronic Arts knew a good thing when they saw it, even if no one could quite describe just what Worms? was all about.
It's just as difficult to explain today, but it is a simple, unadulterated joy to play without doubt a unique entertainment package. Up to four people can watch their worms trails of light that seem to have minds of their own-zip around one another as they apparently fight for space. Or maybe they're dancing to the always-changing music. No one's quite sure, but the effect is a game that's as engrossing as it is delightful. Worms? has never failed to draw a crowd of people around the office when we boot it up, and continues to hold its charm after all these years.
Traverse The Great Underground Empire, confront The Wizard of Frobozz, and explore the Dungeon Master's ominous domain. Based on a classic mainframe adventure program, the Zork series opens up a new world inside computers. Zork I challenges you with dangerous foes and perplexing puzzles as you attempt to find 20 valuable treasures in an ancient underground empire. Zork II introduces you to the absent-minded Wizard of Frobozz. Zork III takes you even deeper into the Zorkian realm.
You communicate with Zork in plain English, using commands such as Go north and walk around the house. And although Zork lacks the complex sound effects and dazzling graphics found in most of today's games, the series' detailed descriptions and amazingly coherent responses create images in your mind-images that no computer could begin to rival. With text-only adventures becoming less and less commonplace, Zork continues to stand the test of time.