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Posts Tagged ‘rogue

Jammin’!: The Story of ToeJam & Earl

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In proverbial “man I’m getting old” fashion, I’ve just realized that we’re just two-and-a-half years shy of the 30th Anniversary of ToeJam & Earl.  It’s not like I suddenly woke up and decided to write about this franchise, either, ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove will release this Friday, March 1st and while we can’t talk about it yet, tune back into the site on Thursday to get all the details and our thoughts. Permit me to take you back to the halcyon days of the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive for you players outside North America) and into the team that dared to make a roguelike in 1991 on consoles.

ToeJam & Earl (1991, Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, Developed by Johnson Voorsanger Productions, Published by Sega)

The story of ToeJam & Earl starts with its creator Greg Johnson and his fanaticism for Rogue while at UCSD.  The link above will provide you background on both Rogue and the now dubbed “roguelike” genre, but back in 1980s there was only one game influencing a slew of young developers.  Johnson would go on to EA working on PC titles, including his most notable releases as designer on Starflight in 1986 and Starflight 2 in 1989, the latter receiving Computer Gaming World’s Roleplaying Game of the Year award in 1990.  The franchise involves space exploration with integrated strategy, combat, and simulation in a non-linear fashion.  It was a starting point and notoriety for Johnson early in his career and allowed him to get more creative as he brainstormed his next project.  It was around this time, according to a Gamasutra’s interview I reference consistently, that Johnson met Mark Voorsanger, a programmer, while mountain climbing with a mutual friend.  The two hit it off so well that Johnson pitched the idea for ToeJam & Earl and immediately set to work on establishing Johnson Voorsanger Productions, the studio that would develop and release the game.

The concept was pretty straightforward, but also unique for the time.  ToeJam & Earl is about two rapping aliens dripping with 90s urban culture who have their ship breakdown on Earth and have to scour randomly generated maps to re-collect all the pieces.  Some may even call it a cartoonish, funky version of Rogue.  According to Johnson, the main concepts that drove design were randomized maps and survival to complete the grand task of rebuilding your ship.  I’m used to hearing about all the struggles that game development faces – in the Gamasutra interview you can read about Johnson’s in his formative years – but oddly enough this wasn’t the case with ToeJam & Earl.  To hear him tell it, the design doc was easily assembled and Johnson pulled old team members into development, including the talented John Baker who was responsible for the soundtrack.  A quick meeting with Sega that spelled out the design on note cards along with their combined experience on major games was enough to get the title published.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 26, 2019 at 3:00 pm

Strife: Veteran Edition Review

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strife_logoThere are a handful of games out there that are almost universally loved by gamers.  Off the top of my head, two of these titles are Deus Ex and Skyrim, and the one thing they have in common is that they successfully blend the first-person perspective and elements from RPGs into a cohesive experience.  Oddly enough, when we look back at the history of gaming you rarely have anyone mention Strife: Quest for Sigil, developed by Rogue Entertainment.  It was one of the earliest games to combine these genres and it differentiated itself from many of its hybrid peers in that the game focused almost exclusively on gameplay and hid items like the map and the character’s inventory from the main HUD.  The end result was a large field of view for the player and it all looked a lot less busy than the games that came before it.  This probably had to do with the use of the Doom engine, but regardless of why this title utilizes the full screen for your adventuring or decided to rely much more heavily on combat than any other aspect is irrelevant.  Strife did it and it did it well.

strife2The basic premise of the game is that you play a mercenary in a time where a religious cult, The Order, has oppressed a society and is converting humans into cyborgs.  Macil, a leader of the rebels combating this takeover, has hired you to seek out pieces of The Sigil, an artifact that can apparently rid the world of The Order.  In the game you move about a central town hub, taking missions as you go, to continue this larger quest by going to branching levels.  It has a surprising commonality to the way open world titles work today, although it of course modern games aren’t as transparent as they were back then.  Each of these levels are diverse in terms of the look and scope of the area, but given that this title is from 1996 and confined to the limitations of the Doom engine, you will find little more than empty areas or a handful of enemies everywhere you quest.  This also creates a more binary system as to how to handle each mission – to get the items that make up each quest requires you to either kill someone or attempt to talk them into giving it over, and then usually kill them when they react by attacking you.   Your ability to speak with everyone in the game, many of them having different dialogue options, is alone a unique factor of any Doom clone of the time and I remember that it was mind blowing back then.  Sure, often times not much comes of it, but I still take solace in a title that is focusing more on the plot and characters in it rather than simply making you a floating gun with killing as your sole purpose.  Strife may not be doing a whole lot more than other shooters of the time, but it’s sure trying to hide that fact behind a lot of intriguing concepts.

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Written by Fred Rojas

December 18, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Posted in PC/Mac, Reviews

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