#100: Sir Conlan

For my 100th post I thought I’d wax nostalgic for a bit about one of my all-time favorite miniatures: Sir Conlan, from Reaper’s tabletop miniatures game, Warlord. The game itself has been dead for some time now, but they still sell the miniatures. Most of the sculpts are fairly high quality, and there are some standouts, but to be honest, most of it is the standard stuff that you’d expect to find in a range of fantasy minis. All of that aside, Sir Conlan holds a special place in my gaming history.

In the fall of 2004, I found myself at a Hobbytown USA in Pittsburgh, PA. At that point, I had been away from any serious tabletop gaming for several years. I was staring at a display wall of metal minis, many of which were part of something called “Warlord.” The blister packs contained not only the minis, but colorful cards with an image of a painted version of each miniature as well, and on the back was a a list of the figure’s stats and abilities. While I had painted plenty, I had only dabbled in miniatures games before, but I was genuinely intrigued by the Warlord minis, and I chose Sir Conlan as my first purchase.

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Sir Conlan 2004 (metal version)

I painted Sir Conlan over the course of the next week or two, at the same time trying to find out more about Warlord. I was already familiar with Reaper, but I didn’t know that they were making a fantasy miniatures game. I soon acquired the core rulebook for Warlord and, over the next several months, got a few games in with my wife and some of our friends. Sir Conlan was from the Crusaders faction, so that’s what I started collecting and painting. I didn’t have many official Warlord minis yet, so we proxied about 90% of our armies.

I also got back into playing D&D with a short-lived campaign that one of my friends ran during this time, and I liked the Sir Conlan miniature so much that I used him to represent my character, a half-elf fighter/mage. It wasn’t a perfect match, but it was close enough to work.

Today, while I still have a good portion of my collection of Warlord minis, it’s considerably smaller than it once was, and I haven’t actually played Warlord in several years. It’s a fine game, and I’m sure I’d enjoy it if I played it again; but the reality is that gaming is a social hobby, and it’s much easier to play games that already have an existing player base and not one that you have to build yourself.

Although it’s in my past now, I owe a debt of gratitude to WarlordLooking back, I can pinpoint the exact moment of my serious return to gaming; it took me several years to get as deep into tabletop gaming as I am now, but getting into Warlord, beginning with Sir Conlan, is where it started.

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The plastic Bones version, painted in 2016

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So THAT’s why Pols Voice hates loud noise.

If the title of this entry comes across to you as some AI’s feeble attempt to parse language, feel free to skip the rest. However, if you understand the reference and, like me, have had this cryptic clue from the original Legend of Zelda lingering for years in the recesses of your mind as an unsolved mystery from childhood, you might be interested in this, Link*. Hint: The second player controller on the Famicom had a built-in microphone.

I quite unexpectedly stumbled upon the answer not that long ago. It’s a strange feeling, randomly coming across the answer to a question that had caused me no small amount of confusion and frustration as a kid, only to be forgotten as time went on, then suddenly, years later, experiencing surprise, delight, and even a little relief, as old feelings come rushing back and are finally resolved.

Pols voice

The bow would one-shot these guys, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. But I still wanted to know what the hell that clue meant!

 

*Pun unintended. But that just makes it better.

 

Ral Partha: The War Machine

While rummaging through my closet tonight looking for something else, I came across this little treasure from a couple of decades(!) ago. This is “The War Machine” from Ral Partha. I’m not sure when it originally came out (sometime in the 80’s I think), but I received this my copy as a gift from my grandparents around 1995 and painted it around that time as well. I’ve been wanting to get more photos of my various miniatures on the blog, so I figured “no time like the present!”

Some notes and other stream-of-consciousness thoughts:

  • The photography used for the box art does a great job of making it more imposing than it actually is. It’s actually a fairly simple model: a large platform set on four wheels with an attached trebuchet and ram. Still cool, though. The large skull on the front is the most distinctive feature really adds a lot to its mass and sense of space.
  • I acquired the base in the summer of ’95 from a candle-making shop in Amish country in eastern Pennsylvania during a family vacation (commence jokes about town names and double entendres). This was pre-internet and pre-driving for me, so I didn’t have easy access to (or even awareness of, for that matter) appropriate bases for larger miniatures such as this one, so I took what I could get.
  • I never did get around to painting the archers and the guy with the whip, but at least I painted the six little naked guys providing the sweat and muscle to move this thing. Oh, those crazy orcs; nothing like piling on a little humiliation to an already miserable, degrading task, lol.
  • Come to think of it, whip or no whip, I kind of doubt that six little naked orcs/goblins could provide enough power to move this thing at any speed that would actually be useful in battle.
  • I remember using brown flock to simulate earth that had been torn up by the wheels as they rolled over. The color’s ok, but the texture isn’t right. But it was the best I could do at the time.

First Quest

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Years ago, Dragon Magazine ran a series of guest editorials entitled “First Quest,” in which members of the industry recalled their introduction to gaming. The name was a reference to a line of D&D products that TSR released under the “First Quest” banner which were designed to help new players learn the game. The title of this piece is an homage to that series of editorials, although I do not claim to put myself in the same category as those game designers who made an indelible mark on the gaming world.

 

My introduction to gaming took place on my 12th birthday. It was the capstone experience of the day and one that would have an immeasurably profound impact on my life, but I didn’t know it yet. It took place during the lull between an awesome birthday party at an indoor amusement park/arcade earlier in the day, video games at home that afternoon, and ice skating that night. The one common denominator in all of these activities was my cousins. They’re a few years older than I am, which made them and the things they were interested in awesome by default.

We were at Anthony’s house. He’s always had a great sense of humor and a certain low-key cool that made me really enjoy being around him. Also, when we were kids, I could always count on him to bring his NES (and eventually, his Super NES) to the New Year’s party at our aunt and uncle’s house, transforming what would otherwise have been a boring evening into a solid block of hours and hours of playing Nintendo.

Dave was the oldest of the three of us. He was the smallest in terms of physical stature, but he carried himself with a wry, confident attitude. This, combined with the fact that he was a whole three years older than me meant that I tended to approach him with a level of respect and deference, despite him once describing me as being “ten times bigger” than him.

Dave took on the role of Dungeon Master and described the scene for Anthony: “You’re sitting in an inn.” And so, the adventure began, using what has become the ultimate cliche for D&D adventures, but which was still new to me at that point.

“The serving wench brings you your drink and then goes over to serve another customer, a mean-looking dwarf. All of a sudden, he starts loudly berating her for some reason that isn’t clear and then he starts beating her savagely.”

Anthony had an affinity for mages, but the character he was playing that night was more of a fighter type — probably something whipped up on the spur of the moment just for that adventure. In any event, he quickly sprung into action, drawing his blade and coming to the girl’s rescue. The malicious little bar patron turned his attention to Anthony’s character. A brief fight ensued, and he easily dispatched the dwarf.

The game had only been going for about three minutes, but I was already enthralled. The concept of free-form, collaborative storytelling wrapped up in a game was a completely new concept to me. Furthermore, in an experience no doubt shared by countless neophyte RPGers before and been since, I was also fascinated by the strange, multi-sided dice that my cousins used to determine the outcome of the fight and which conferred a sense of arcane, esoteric wonder to the proceedings. Who knew that dice could come in so many different shapes?

 

With the dwarf slain and lying in a bloody heap on the tavern floor, Anthony turned his attention to the serving girl. The dwarf had managed to inflict serious injuries in a short period of time and she was unconscious. Seeing her condition, he scooped her up and went searching for a healer in the town.

He barged through the front door of the nearest temple, interrupting the priest during the middle of a morning sermon. The cleric was irritated by the interruption, but was willing to help in exchange for a random item from Anthony’s pack. (Even non-adventuring NPCs want treasure.) Anthony agreed, and the priest cast healing spells over the girl, bringing her back to consciousness.

The callous priest collected his payment. Reaching into Anthony’s pack, he pulled out a gaudy-looking necklace and was instantly immolated by magical flames that engulfed his body the moment he placed it around his neck.

I was blown away; this game was like nothing else I had ever experienced before.

To drive home the point of just how free players were to take the game in any direction, Anthony and Dave reset the scenario back to the tavern with the serving girl waiting on Anthony. This time, they role-played a conversation which quickly degenerated into the two characters haggling over the price of sexual favors. (Hey, I had literally just turned twelve and my cousins were in their early teens, remember? What else would you expect?) I was in stitches, and my cousins had made their point effectively.

That was the end of the short demo adventure, but this game was the most amazing thing I had ever experienced and all I knew was that I wanted to play more.

D&D was always high on the priority list whenever I got together with my cousins after that point, and it was some time before I was able to play D&D without them. The main impediment was that my parents had become aware of the moral panic surrounding D&D which still existed at that time. They generally didn’t like the idea of me playing and resisted my efforts to do so to different degrees at various times, but they were certainly never supportive. Eventually, possibly due to my persistence, or possibly to them realizing that there really wasn’t anything to be concerned about, they officially let me try out my new hobby. In an uncharacteristic show of support for anything that interested me, my father was actually the first person to drive me to my closest FLGS, 20 minutes from our house.

The store was small, but I remember being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of books and other gaming material: “There’s an entire *COMPENDIUM*¹ full of monsters, and this big binder is only the first volume?? This one city gets a whole book² written about it??!” I found a copy of the one book I was already familiar with and selected two sets of plain opaque dice, one blue and one black.

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A treasured relic from my earliest days as a gamer. The amount of time I’ve spend pouring over the pages of this tome is orders of magnitude greater than I’ve spent with any other single book.

Armed with my brand new Player’s Handbook and dice, I set forth on my first quest: recruiting new players.

My sister was the first person I DMed for. Being four years younger than me, she was in second grade at the time of her first adventure and couldn’t quite read all of the words on her homebrew character sheet (i.e., a sheet of loose leaf with boxes drawn on it), much less the actual rules of the game. We rolled up her first character, a dwarf fighter that she named Rosella Thogard. The adventure got off to a rocky start, with Rosella being killed by orcs in the first encounter, so we started over and things improved dramatically on the second try. I made it my mission to introduce as many of my friends to D&D as I could, and I was finally able to put together my first gaming group during the summer in between eighth grade and high school.

Having written all of this, I realize that in both of my “first quests,” I didn’t actually participate as a player: I was an observer when my cousins introduced me to the game, and when I did ultimately find other people to play with, I took on the role of Dungeon Master. Furthermore, not only did I run games for my friends, but with only one exception, I was also the one who introduced them to the game; it wasn’t until early in my freshman year of high school that I became friends with someone who already had experience playing D&D (a fact which I became aware of when I saw him reading the PHB while waiting for English class to start). This is a pattern that continued in my adult life, after a long hiatus from gaming, when I introduced a new group of friends to the game and ran a campaign for them. Upon reflection, I realize that I find both this approach and the DM’s chair are where I am most comfortable.

Today marks twenty-five years since my cousins opened up this new world to me, one that not only became a hobby, but which has impacted almost every aspect of my life in more ways than I can describe, including the real-life adventures I’m now engaged in. Thank you, Anthony and Dave, for introducing me to the game that would have such an incredible impact on  me, and for giving me what is, other than life itself, probably the greatest birthday gift that I have ever received.

-John

 

  1. The poorly-conceived Monstrous Compendium. You know, the one where they decided to put the monsters in a three-ring binder instead of a hardcover book because it gave you the flexibility to expand and customize by adding new monsters, but which only stayed alphabetized (in other words, usable) as long as you didn’t expand and customize by adding new monsters. Not to mention the poor durability of three hole-punched sheets.
  2. Volo’s Guide to Waterdeep

Star Wars: Spiritual Successor – Part 2

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This is a fantastic piece of writing, but you should really read Part 1 before going any further. And yes, this is about Star Wars. What do you mean, “confusing header image”?

Descent is essentially a board game translation of D&D that gets as close as possible to being an RPG without truly being an RPG. I was still in the midst of my gaming hiatus when first edition Descent was having its heyday, and I never got a chance to play it. I picked up the second edition at a discount about two years after its initial release. My wife and I played a few scenarios, but the experience ultimately left us feeling unsatisfied, and I eventually sold it.

Occupying a hybrid space is a delicate balancing act. Descent is an engaging boardgame with tons of components and mechanics, including campaign play, that reaches the furthest boundaries of what can still be called a board game. It cleaves very close to being an RPG without including all of the rules and mechanics that would allow it to really be classified as an RPG. It’s certainly an impressive package, with great miniatures, sturdy map tiles, and cards upon cards and more cards (and did I mention cards?). But after taking all of it in, and then taking a step back to reflect on how much work is required to set up, organize, and play, it begs the question: with all of the effort required to play a boardgame version of D&D that doesn’t offer the advantages of actually playing D&D (collaborative storytelling, more freedom of choice and player agency outside of what’s pre-written into the scenario), why not just play D&D? (Or Pathfinder? Or 13th Age? Or Savage Worlds? Or any of the other myriad RPGs that exist?)

Descent has its fans and detractors, and I think the game can serve as a boardgame equivalent of a Rorschach: how you respond to it depends on what you bring to the table, as it were. For those who are more comfortable sticking with the board game milieu instead of taking the leap over to full-fledged RPGs, or for veteran RPG players who just want something different, Descent fills those niches quite well. For the record, as much as I really didn’t care for the game, I don’t consider myself a detractor; I’d certainly be willing to join a group of experienced players looking for another adventurer to join their party. I just don’t want to invest the time to learn the game well enough to teach it to other people, and if I were going be an Overlord, I’d much rather be a Dungeon Master instead.

So, it should be abundantly clear by now that this post is about Star Wars. [/extreme dry sarcasm] When Fantasy Flight announced another Star Wars game in the summer of 2014, my interest was certainly piqued. I’m not quite at the rabid fanboy level of either FFG or Star Wars, but I am definitely a fan and I enjoy both of them, both individually and from their collaborative efforts in the form of X-Wing Miniatures and Armada, so I was eager to see what this new game would be like. There was certainly the potential for it to be a lot of fun, and of course it included all of the borderline decadent components that have become FFG’s trademark. However, I had been curious about Descent 2.0 since its release, and when I learned that Imperial Assault was going to be using a slightly modified version of the Descent 2.0 rules, a decision needed to be made over which of which of these games to get. For some people, the obvious solution would be to circumvent the decision and get both, but I try to keep my boardgame collection at a manageable level, and it’s hard for me to justify owning what is basically two versions of the same game. In terms of IP, I’ll choose Star Wars almost every time over FFG’s fairly generic fantasy setting, but a Black Friday sale on Descent 2.0 a few months later decided it for me.

Fast forward to several months after selling Descent 2.0: this time, there was a big sale on Imperial Assault, so I picked up a copy. Although there are officially two different ways to play the game, the one that seems to be get the most attention is the campaign mode, so despite my lackluster experience with Descent 2.0, this is what I was focused on. I thought that perhaps the Star Wars setting might make the pseudo-RPG gameplay more appealing. It didn’t really help, but I didn’t sell the game this time either.

It’s unfortunate that there isn’t more focus on skirmish play. It wasn’t until a few months later that I realized what was sitting on my shelf: a possible way to recreate the fun and excitement that I had experienced with Epic Duels all those years ago! And this time, there were more characters to choose from, deeper and more refined gameplay mechanics, higher-quality components, and I could even choose the units I wanted to use! I might eventually go back and play the campaign mode at some point, but right now, when it comes to Imperial Assault, skirmish is where my attention is.

Is Imperial Assault the spiritual successor to Epic Duels? I don’t know if I can really answer that question – at least not on a subjective level, which is the more interesting one. You can compare the two games objectively, looking at how they’re both essentially skirmish-level miniatures games in board game trappings, comparing physical components, mechanics and so forth.

Skirmish mode of Imperial Assault certainly fills a similar niche to Epic Duels, and they share several similar aspects — the big one being the theme of taking characters from that universe (both named ones as well as anonymous mooks) and pitting them in battles against one another. Movement is conducted using a grid rather than a tape measure, characters have their own distinct stats and abilities, and players use cards for added tactical flexibility. However, even in their similarities, their differences set them miles apart. At the time of Epic Duel’s release, Episode II was still in theaters. Characters were drawn exclusively from the five movies that had been released up to that point. Imperial Assault reaches deeper into the Expanded Universe, but doesn’t go back farther than the original movie. Epic Duels contained everything in one box and felt like a board game. Characters and supporting units came bundled with their deck, allowing for no customization. Imperial Assault feels more like a true miniatures game, with tons of expansions available and the ability to customize your force. The cards are the driving mechanic in Epic Duels. In Imperial Assault, as in a true miniatures game, customizing your force to create unit synergies and to mitigate the randomness of the dice have is how you win.

So in an objective sense, yes, I think Imperial Assault could validly be considered a worthy spiritual successor of Epic Duels: a different game, but one that captures the essence of the original and improves on it in significant ways. But determining the status of “spiritual successor” is more than a cold, detached examination of empirical evidence; it’s about the experience you have when playing the game, a question that requires you, in the words of an  infamous Sith Lord, to “search your feelings” in order to truly answer.

On the subjective level, I really don’t know. Based on what I can remember of playing Epic Duels, I think I would say that it is, but I can’t be certain. The reason I don’t know is that the last time I played Epic Duels was a long time ago in a place far, far away from where I am now, both in a literal sense and in who I am as a person. I wasn’t as deep into tabletop gaming back then as I am now, but even beyond that, I’ve gone through several significant life experiences since then: getting married, having a daughter, suffering the loss of two miscarriages, and in just a little over the past year alone, losing my father, launching a business, and buying a house (experts say you should always definitely do those last two at the same time, by the way). All of these things change a person, and if I were to play Epic Duels today, the way that I would experience it now would be different than how I did in 2002. Would it really make sense to try to compare my experience of Imperial Assault now to my experience of Epic Duels back then?

Maybe the best answer is to let them each be their own game, their own experience. I’ll always have fond memories of Epic Duels, but like a relationship that comes to an end for one reason or another, it’s probably best to leave it in the past; I probably won’t spend much more time trying to chase down a copy of Epic Duels or comparing the two games. Epic Duels was a good game. I’m playing Imperial Assault now, and it’s good too.

Oh yeah, and I eventually got back together with that girl that I mentioned earlier and married her, so it’s all good!

Six Degrees: Frank Herbert and WoW – Part 2

This is the second part of a nearly 40-year journey that examines the link between Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi novel, Dune, and World of Warcraft. You can read Part 1 here.

5. Blizzard’s rise to dominance
By the dawn of the new millennium, the popularity of the RTS was past its heyday and Westwood Studios, sadly, was essentially no more, having been acquired by EA and basically locked in a storage closet and forgotten. But the Command & Conquer-Warcraft rivalry managed to continue. Despite significant delays, Blizzard went first in this round, releasing the highly-anticipated Warcraft 3 in the summer of 2002. Command & Conquer: Generals followed several months later in early 2003. It is worth noting that not only did Generals introduce a new C&C universe, but it also significantly changed several aspects and mechanics of traditional C&C games, and often in ways that made it feel and play much more similar to Warcraft 3 than to its C&C forebears.

Before its release, the announcement of Generals came as a surprise to many fans who were expecting a third entry in either the Tiberium or Red Alert universe, not an entirely new one altogether. Both series did in fact receive a third game later on, with gameplay that retained the mechanics of the earlier games in the C&C series (and then a fourth game in the Teiberium universe, largely reviled by fans for introducing yet another new style of gameplay to the C&C Series), but it is at this point that we bid a fond adieu to the Command and Conquer universe.

Over a decade after its release, Battle.net servers for Warcraft 3 are still active, a testament to its popularity, craftsmanship and game balance. But besides these things, Warcraft 3 possesses something else of significant value: a setting that has now been fleshed out over the course of three games, and an epic storyline that brings the setting to life and creates characters that players care about. In a move taken from the playbook for Starcraft’s storyline, the story of Warcraft 3 is a continuous tale that players get to experience from the perspective of each faction as they play through the game. This not only gives the story length and continuity (as opposed to previous RTS games which normally told entirely different stories based on the faction that was being used), but helps to further flesh out the world and its characters.

6. Genre reassignment
Intellectual property such as characters, setting, storylines, and lore are assets that can be transferred from one game genre into other another, or even into entirely different forms of media (for example, the countless number of movies made based on books that are made). As the popularity of RTS games waned, a new type of game was rising: the massive multiplayer online role-playing game, or MMORPG. By this time, video game RPGs had been popular for quite some time, and with the increasing popularity of multiplayer games, the natural progression was to move from single-player experiences to multiplayer games set in a shared, persistent world. (It is worth noting that multiplayer online RPGs had actually existed for quite some time in the form of “multi-user dungeons” or MUDs, predating the widespread adoption of residential internet access. But these earlier games were limited by the technology of their time and would be considered quite primitive compared to MMORPGs that exist now.)

In addition to the game design and mechanics that have to be programmed and developed, a huge amount of work involved in making an MMORPG is creating the world in which the game takes place. Among other things, this includes creating the geography and various adventure sites that players can travel to, creating a history, populating it with non-player characters with whom the players can interact, and developing storylines by drawing from all of these prior elements.

Over the course of three RTS games set in the Warcraft universe, Blizzard had completed a significant portion of this world-building and now had at their disposal a rich IP from which to develop an MMORPG. In a mere 10 years, Warcraft went from a successful series of RTS games to what has become the most popular MMORPG to date since its release in 2004, World of Warcraft.

Final Thoughts
To recap: Frank Herbert wrote an epic sci-fi novel (1), which was later made into a movie and a series of computer games (2), one of which helped establish an entire genre of games (3). In this new genre (4), one series eventually rose to prominence above all others (5), not only for its gameplay, but for its rich world and storyline, which was eventually used as the setting for an MMORPG (6).

All of these factors contributed in some way to the creation of World of Warcraft. Of course, there are other contributing factors that led to the development and incredible success of World of Warcraft. Blizzard’s string of successful games from the mid-90’s to the early 2000’s helped fill their coffers to the point where they could afford to invest in a project as massive as World of Warcraft. It definitely helped that WoW’s release coincided with a period of time that saw a significant increase in the adoption of high-speed internet by residential customers.

Finally, Dungeons & Dragons was also experiencing significant growth in popularity at the time of World of Warcraft‘s release and during its early years. The interplay and cross-pollination taking place between the tabletop RPG and the MMORPG should not be overlooked. Not only was the the popularity of tabletop RPGs (and D&D in particular) vital for helping to create the target audience for MMORPGs, but many themes and mechanics were translated directly from their analog (tabletop) form into digital form as well. (Then, in what is perfectly symbolized by the ouroboros serpent featured in D&D‘s iconography, the 4th edition of D&D, released in 2008, in turn borrowed many concepts and mechanics from World of Warcraft.)

Of course, it’s also possible that World of Warcraft could have come about in a different way. If Westwood had not made Dune 2 or if it had not been so successful, perhaps another company would have created the game that defined RTS genre as we know it (although this scenario is somewhat dubious given the dearth of RTS games released between Dune 2 and Warcraft). If, for whatever reason, RTS games had not risen to the height of popularity that they reached in the 90’s, perhaps Blizzard would have still created enough source material to develop World of Warcraft — not insignificant portions of the lore contained in Warcraft 3 were created during development of their unreleased Warcraft Adventures game, and Warcraft 3 was originally not intended to be a traditional RTS, but a new sort of RPG/RTS hybrid (some vestiges of this early phase of development remain in Warcraft 3 in the form of the hero-focused gameplay, and the leveling and inventory systems). Warcraft 2 and Warcraft 3 were big sellers for Blizzard, but it’s possible their success with Starcraft and the first two Diablo games alone could have given them enough financial stability to pursue creating an MMORPG.

However, the fact remains that the most successful MMORPG of all time can trace its lineage back to a novel published in 1965 written by a man named Frank Herbert.

Six Degrees: Frank Herbert and WoW – Part 1

As often happens, the other night as I was drifting off to sleep, my mind started wandering off to strange places and I realized that there is a direct, traceable link between Frank Herbert’s novel, Dune… and World of Warcraft.

Say what? How can an esoteric sci-fi eco-parable (with overt religious and messianic themes thrown in for good measure) from the 1960s possibly be considered a progenitor of the most successful MMORPG of all time? What madness is this? Read on, and prepare to be dazzled! (Or, undoubtedly, bored, if you find this type of exercise pedantic and uninteresting.)

1. Point of Origin: Frank Herbert’s Dune
In 1965, Frank Herbert’s seminal novel, Dune, introduced the world to the spice mélange, giant sand worms, Fremen, and their homeworld of Arrakis — otherwise known as Dune. Much to my embarrassment, although I’m familiar with the main story and some of the lore, the books remain on my list of must-reads, and not my list of have-reads. But I’ve played most of the computer games and seen all of the movies based on it. That’s gotta count for something, right?

2. Diversifying into other media
Once in a while, a book, song, movie, or game –that is, a piece of art or culture — is created that is too spectacular in its artistry and craftsmanship, too far ahead of its time to be widely accepted. The first Dune film, by David Lynch, was not widely accepted, but not for those reasons. But it did probably help keep up awareness of the novel, which helped pave the way for the first Dune computer game, which was one of those spectacular creations that was too far ahead of its time.

Released in 1992, it featured engaging hybrid gameplay (strategy, resource management, and some adventure-game elements thrown into the mix), great voice acting, and an incredible soundtrack. Sadly, as is often the case with trailblazers, the world just wasn’t ready for something as unique as this game, and it never achieved the level of popularity that it deserved. However, like the movie before it, it did help pave the way for the next step, by bringing the universe of Dune into the world of computer games.

3. The rise of the RTS: Dune 2
While not the first actual RTS game to be created, Westwood Studios’ Dune 2 (formally titled Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty, as well as other names, depending on the country and gaming platform) was the game that established real-time strategy games as a genre. Also released in 1992, the second Dune computer game deviated wildly from the storylines of both the book and the film, jettisoning almost all of the plot and established characters, and using only certain elements of the setting and the various warring factions before introducing a new one, House Ordos — because hey, if you’re going to basically gut an entire story line, what’s the big deal about introducing new content? (Of course, the introduction of the Ordos made sense from a gameply perspective, as it added more variety and options to the game, with the Ordos being the “fast” faction, compared to the slow but powerful Harkonnen and to the Atreides, who possessed a balance of speed and power.) It was only one game, but the floodgates to an untapped genre were about to be thrown open.

4. The Golden Age of the RTS: Blizzard and Westwood
Aware of the success of Dune 2, Blizzard Entertainment, who up to this point was a relatively small player with no major hits, tried their hand at making an RTS of their own called Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. Released in 1994, it went on to spawn an entire franchise of video games that you may have heard of. In what makes for a fascinating “what if?” scenario, Blizzard originally wanted to license the Warhammer IP from Games Workshop in order to help Warcraft appeal to a larger audience. Luckily for them and for the legions of World of Warcraft players worldwide, it didn’t pan out. But that’s skipping ahead.

Westwood followed up in 1995 with the first game in the eponymous Command & Conquer series, which became an instant classic. While having nearly identical mechanics and some similar themes as Dune 2, Command and Conquer was light years ahead of its predecessor in terms of production values, as was Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness, released at the end of 1995. Dune 2 codified the modern RTS, but it was Command and Conquer and Warcraft 2 that made them mainstream.

The golden age of the RTS was at hand, but as with any golden age, numerous contenders for the crown appeared; many RTS games were released during this time, some good, but many that were mediocre or worse. In a crowded field, Westwood and Blizzard stood out as the two rival powerhouses of the time, putting forth during this era such notable titles as Command & Conquer: Red AlertStarcraft, Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, and Red Alert 2. (Honorable mention goes to Cavedog’s Total Annihilation, one of the few examples of a great RTS not made by either Westwood or Blizzard, and another example of a game that didn’t achieve the level of popularity it deserved.)

So we’ve gone from a science fiction novel to RTS games in the 1990s, but what does that have to do with World of Warcraft?

Go to Part 2