I’m not sure how many people out there fondly remember “Epic MegaGames” as it is not a name you hear about these days thanks to the company turning into Epic Games some years ago. While most would be familiar with their Unreal Engine and the Unreal Tournament series of games, prior to the release of Unreal in 1996 they had quite a few other games on their roster. As I explored the vast libraries of shareware available to me in the 90s, titles by Epic were often sources of many hours of enjoyment, so let me wax nostalgic here for a few moments as I look at their pre-Unreal titles.
ZZT – With a very weird name that is more like a high score on an older arcade game, ZZT doesn’t have anywhere near the name recognition these days that would make people equate it with Mario, Sonic, Halo or anything like that. But for the very first game to come out of the company, it was an effort that gave EM the fuel it needed to move onto bigger and better things. With the graphics in ASCII, it could run on old monochromatic monitors or on any color monitor. The worlds were large and the best aspect of it all was that users could easily use the engine to create their own games – replete with text storylines and more. I once came across a user made ZZT adventure, full of levels and a huge storyline…unfortunately it has been many years since then and I can’t remember what it was called. It was truly a pioneer of the “mod” efforts for PC gaming before that became a little industry of itself.
Kiloblaster – This was a single screen shooter in the vein of Galaga that was a step-up from ZZT although it still did use ASCII for a few graphics, like explosive debris. The space backgrounds were something you wanted a VGA (256 color) monitor for though; you also wanted a good sound card to listen to the groovy tunes. A lot of the fun was in progressing through the levels to see what new weird background would pop-up next. I actually got the full version of this on a 3 1/2″ floppy as a gift one year since I enjoyed the shareware version so much.
Brix – I originally thought that this was an interesting and unique puzzle game where gravity was important; little did I know they were just ripping off an arcade game. 😛 Still, I had fun with it.
Jill of the Jungle – While looking through a digital Epic MegaGames catalog (they had those as little programs you could run in DOS BITD), I recall them talking about this game as something far better than what you would find on Nintendo. The game certainly did provide some solid platforming action and the graphics were a good step up from Kiloblaster (no ASCII that I can recall) and the soundtrack was even better. The knife weapon you had to use wasn’t always the best and it took some practice at times but overall I would play through this game several times. Also notable for having the “strong woman” protagonist that some in the media screech about not-existing, whose goal was to save the Prince.
Solar Winds – I was quite excited when I came across this space game, which had some tactical elements to it and an interesting story. The first time I played through I screwed up and missed the part of the story where you gain a hyperdrive – so it took me about an hour or more to fly to the next star system (I certainly don’t have the time to make mistakes like that anymore). That aside, it was a fun game that featured some nice VGA graphics, system management that wasn’t frustrating (I.E. adjusting your frequencies to be more effective against different shields, etc). and a storyline that was fine for me at the age of 10 or so.
Castle of the Winds – This is without a doubt my favorite game released through EPIC Megagames. It also is about the only good game for Windows 3.1 😛 In good part that was due to it being an RPG and RPGs demand time (I imagine this is also known as a rogue-like). Most of what I had played on Win 3.1 wasn’t deep or terribly interesting – since I was a kid there was no business use for the OS so I mainly stuck in DOS. But CoW did change that to a degree. It was a top down affair where the graphics weren’t much more advanced than the artwork used for making Windows icons but the random dungeons and the sense of discovery is what made this game for me. I loved coming across new enemies or rooms, finding new spells and objects and it was a nice touch where you could rename your equipment. All that was made easier by the mouse system, which this was able to handle better than many DOS games thanks to the native 3.1 support. Storywise it also dealt with something that was based on Norse mythology as opposed to something more Tolkien/Celtic/Saxon style. The only disadvantage to the game was the lack of any music/sound…but perhaps they figured it was best to let the user’s imagination have reign in that category (yes, I would make my own fireball noises when playing this so it was part of the fun).
Dare to Dream – This one I can’t really speak to as the shareware copy I had never worked for some reason. Like CoW, it was a Windows 3.1 game but it was a point-and-click adventure. The only things I could get it do do was show me a death screen. 😛
Overkill: Now here was a scrolling shooter game I spent a bit of time on, especially for the time right after I had upgraded from a monochrome monitor to an EGA (16 color) one. I desperately wanted VGA but I took what I could get and Overkill was a very fun, vertical scrolling space shooter that was one of the best showcases for EGA graphics I remember coming across. What really stood out in this game was the drone power-ups that you could get to unleash some pretty awesome firepower on your enemies. In that regard, it felt like Raiden on steroids (I know, there are other games from the late 80s that would probably be better comparisons but I’m name dropping the game most people know 🙂 ).
That isn’t everything from EM’s pre-Unreal library but I’ll close this post out here due to length. What was your favorite EM game from the good ol’ days of DOS?