Revisiting the Wasteland, Part I

In the year 1991, I was twelve years old and fancied myself quite the gamer. I didn’t call myself a gamer, because that phrase didn’t exist yet. I was just a kid who played a lot of video games, and I was pretty proud of that. I had my NES, with plenty of hours sunk into Mario and Zelda. I had my dad’s PC, where I was playing things like Space Quest and Sim City. I even still had the old Intellevision, where I could bust out Shark! Shark! and Burger Time if I was so inclined.

I knew platformers. I knew adventure games. I knew whatever you would classifyMarble Madness as.

The one thing I didn’t know was the CRPG.

I had played some Dungeons & Dragons titles on the Intellevision, and while they captured some of the aspects of exploration and treasure finding, they didn’t have much in the way of story or theme.  I had also dabbled with Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior on the NES, but something about that had just failed to grab my imagination (not to mention my attention, which waned steadily with my early confrontation with level grinding).  For the most part, the idea of role-playing in video games was completely foreign to me.

Yet, one day in the fall of 1991, a new world was about to open to me. There was a kid on my bus who also fancied himself a gamer, and, truth be told, he probably had a better claim on it than I did. He was the kid who I could always count on to show up with some game I had never heard of, and he was always happy to share (hey, we didn’t know what piracy meant back then). And so, on the fateful autumn day, he handed me a floppy disk and a bundle of photocopied pages. Scrawled across the disk was simply the word “Wasteland.”

When I got home that night, I installed Wasteland onto my computer, loaded up WL.exe, and found myself sucked into a whole new world. This was gaming like I’d never seen it before. Character creation? Tactical combat? A post-apocalyptic world? These were new horizons for me, each waiting to be traversed. Now, at this point, there was over a decade of CRPG history out there, but it was all unknown to me. Wasteland, as far as I was concerned, was the harbinger of things to come.

I spent the next couple of weeks lost in the wastes, squeezing in every moment of play that I could; all other games were temporarily forgotten.  This was a new frontier in gaming to me, and I was going to explore it as thoroughly as I could. My initial party of Desert Rangers was struck down quickly by the dangers of the world, and my second and third parties met similar fates. But after a few stuttered starts and stops, I began to understand what made a good character, and what sorts of strategies would work to ensure survival. I could not tell you how long exactly it took me to finally stand triumphant at the end of the game, but I do know that as soon as I did, I rolled up a whole new party, ready to try entire new strategies to see if I could improve upon my previous efforts.

In many ways, I was very lucky that Wasteland was my gateway to CRPGs; it did many things right, and much of what it did wrong was easily forgivable. As we sit now in the summer doldrums of gaming, I’ve decided it’s long past due that I take another trip into the wasteland, and take a much closer look at what exactly about this title struck a chord with me, and what aspects of it have held up over the years. Over the next few installments, I’ll be taking a tour of beautiful post-apocalyptic southwest USA, and I invite you to come along for the ride.

Other Entries:

Revisiting the Wasteland, Part I

Revisiting the Wasteland, Part II – Starting Out

Revisiting the Watsteland, Part III – Long Arm of the Law

Revisiting the Wasteland, Part IV – Hit the Books 

Revisiting the Wasteland, Part V – Fight the Future

Revisiting the Wasteland, Part VI – Breaking Up is Easy to Do

Revisiting the Wasteland, Part VII –  Two Roads Diverge…

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No Talking Back On This One!