Legionnaire (video game)
|Genre(s)||strategy, real-time tactics|
|Distribution||Cassette, floppy disk|
Legionnaire is a computer game for the Atari 8-bit series created by Chris Crawford in 1982, and released through Avalon Hill. Recreating Julius Caesar's campaigns in a semi-historical setting, the player takes command of the Roman legions in real-time battles against the barbarians.
Crawford had written an earlier Legionnaire for the Commodore PET in 1979, his platform before moving to Atari. This was a fairly simple game using character graphics and featuring a limited amount of logic. He later ported this to the Atari platform and released it as Centurion, but this saw limited sales.
After writing Eastern Front Crawford was looking for ways to use the new scrolling-map technology introduced in that game. Avalon Hill had approached Crawford with positive comments about Eastern Front, and he promised to make a game for them. After three months of preliminary work, he started development in January 1982, delivering the first version in February and a final version in June. Crawford published an article on game design in the December 1982 BYTE, using Legionnaire as example.
Legionnaire was the last game Crawford would release using the "classic" Eastern Front engine. His next game for the Atari was Excalibur, which used a different model of interaction based on moving from room to room within a virtual castle. When Atari collapsed in 1984 he turned his attention to the Macintosh computer, releasing the famous Balance of Power in 1985.
Similar to the earlier groundbreaking Eastern Front (1941) in terms of display and general gameplay, Legionnaire added a real-time computer opponent, and is one of the earliest examples of a real-time tactics (RTT) game.
The player took the side of the Romans, playing the role of Caesar, giving orders to their forces in real time. The computer played the barbarians, in blue, with the player's legions in pink. There were three types of units; infantry was represented by a sword, cavalry as a horse head, and Caesar's own Imperial Guard as an eagle. Orders were given to the units by moving a cursor over them with the joystick and then holding down the joystick button; existing commands would be displayed as a moving arrow, and new orders could be entered by pressing the joystick in the four cardinal directions.
Like Eastern Front, the Legionnaire playfield consists of a large grid of square cells with various terrain features displayed on it. Unlike Eastern Front the new map included altitude, displayed as a series of contour lines. Movement was affected by the contours as well as the underlying terrain, making positional combat an important part of the overall strategy. The screen showed only a small portion of the entire map at one time, smooth-scrolling around it when the joystick-controlled cursor reached the edges of the screen. Unlike Eastern Front, the map contained no cities or strategic locations, and the game started with both forces placed at random locations on the map.
While the user was entering the orders for their units, the computer was calculating moves for its own units. A basic form of multitasking was implemented by having the "easy" jobs of reading the joystick and recording the user's inputs during the vertical blank interrupt (VBI), while the computer AI ran during non-interrupt time. The player was forced to search the map for the enemy, and then attempt to gather their units into a fighting line on favorable terrain. The challenge was doing this quickly enough before the enemy forces arrived and attacked your units piecemeal. As in Eastern Front the AI was not particularly strong, but the real-time action made the game more difficult, as well as eliminating several "tricks" one could use to fool the AI.
The game lacked any strategic component driving the gameplay so the player could simply move to an advantageous position, form up a solid line, and wait. In combat the Roman forces were much more powerful than the barbarians, and would win any one-on-one fight. The scoring system attempted to make up for this, awarding higher points for faster victories. In pursuit of a higher score the player is forced to seek out and attack the barbarian units on terms that might not be as favorable, and without quick retreats after combat, might result in encirclement or exhaustion.
Computer Gaming World in 1982 described Legionnaire as "a game that anyone can sit down and play without reading endless instructions or learning complex strategies". The reviewer stated that "the real time action in this game is my favorite point ... I know I'll be at the computer for an hour at the most", and concluded it was "as challenging as Eastern Front and immensely more playable". In 1990 and 1993 surveys of strategy and war games, however, the magazine gave the game two-plus stars out of five, calling it a "marginally historical simulation of Roman tactics". Compute! compared the game to Eastern Front and felt it would "appeal to a much broader audience because the game is faster-paced, has fewer units to control, and is, therefore, a faster game." Creative Computings review was somewhat mixed, calling it a "successful effort" but pointing out several good points. InfoWorlds lengthy review was much more positive, rating it highly in its checkbox review, but giving it a somewhat more muted conclusion that "Legionnaire is a special game for a certain kind of player." BYTE mocked Legionnaire's cover art as being of poor quality, but called the game "great entertainment, even for those who haven't been war-game fans before" A later review called it "the perfect solitaire game", citing as improvements on Eastern Front multiple scenarios and durations and real-time play, and concluded that Legionnaire "is a wonderful game that ... combines the graphics and movement of arcade games with the depth of strategy games". By contrast BYTE columnist Jerry Pournelle, a fan of Avalon Hill board games, disliked Legionnaire. He stated that its real-time made it "an arcade game masquerading as a game of strategy", and described the Apple II version's interface and graphics as poor.
Even as it was being released, Crawford expressed his doubt that it would have the lasting power of Eastern Front. He later wrote in Chris Crawford on Game Design that he considered it competent, but "Neither the original version nor the Avalon-Hill version of the game was a great game ...certainly no masterpiece. It was good experience for me, but I would have spent my time better had I moved on to something that fired my imagination."
- Crawford 1982, p. 13.
- Crawford, Chris (December 1982). "Design Techniques and Ideas for Computer Games". BYTE. p. 96. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
- McMahon 1983, p. 128.
- Crawford 1982.
- Willett, Bill (November–December 1982). "Legionnaire: Review and Analysis". Computer Gaming World. pp. 27–28, 30, 45.
- Brooks, M. Evan (October 1990). "Computer Strategy and Wargames: Pre-20th Century". Computer Gaming World. p. 11. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
- Brooks, M. Evan (1993-06). "An Annotated Listing of Pre-20th Century Wargames". Computer Gaming World. p. 136. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
- James Trunzo, "Legionaire", Creative Computing, December 1983, p. 132
- Robert DeWitt, "With Legionnaire, fight Caesar's battles on Atari", InfoWorld, 14 February 1983, pp. 56-57
- Clark, Pamela; Williams, Gregg (December 1982). "The Coinless Arcade - Rediscovered". BYTE. p. 84. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
- Williams, Gregg (March 1983). "Legionnaire". BYTE. p. 248. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
- Pournelle, Jerry (May 1984). "Chaos Manor's Hard-Disk System". BYTE. p. 58. Retrieved 23 October 2013.
- Chris Crawford, '"Chris Crawford on Game Design", New Riders, 2003, p. 218