Wasteland (video game)
Cover art by Barry E. Jackson
|Designer(s)||Ken St. Andre
Michael A. Stackpole
|Artist(s)||Todd J. Camasta
Charles H. H. Weidman III
|Genre(s)||Role-playing video game|
|Distribution||Floppy disk, download|
Wasteland is a science fiction role-playing video game developed by Interplay Productions and first published by Electronic Arts for the Commodore 64, Apple II and PC DOS in 1988. The game is set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic America that was destroyed by nuclear holocaust generations before. It was re-released for Microsoft Windows, OS X and Linux in 2013 by inXile Entertainment.
Critically acclaimed and commercially successful, Wasteland was intended to be followed by two separate sequels, but Electronic Arts' Fountain of Dreams was turned into an unrelated game and Interplay's own Meantime was cancelled. The game's general setting and concept, however, became the basis for Interplay's 1997 role-playing video game Fallout, which itself would extend into a successful series. An official follow-up titled Wasteland 2 is currently in works by inXile Entertainment and Obsidian Entertainment.
The game mechanics were based directly on those used in the tabletop role-playing games Tunnels and Trolls and Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes created by Wasteland designers Ken St. Andre and Michael Stackpole. Characters in Wasteland consequently have various statistics (strength, intelligence and luck among others) that allow them to use different skills and weapons. Experience is gained through battle and through use of skills. The game would generally let players advance with a variety of tactics: to get through a locked gate, the characters could use their picklock skill, their climb skill, or their strength attribute; or they could force the gate with a crowbar - or a LAW rocket.
The player's party begins with four characters, and through the course of the game can hold as many as seven characters by recruiting certain citizens and creatures of the wasteland to the player's cause. The initial band encounter a number of NPCs as the game progressed who could be recruited into the party. Unlike those of other computer RPGs of the time, these NPCs might temporarily refuse to give up an item or perform an action if ordered to do so. The game was also noted for its high and unforgiving difficulty level and for such combat prose as "reduced to a thin red paste" and "explodes like a blood sausage", which prompted an unofficial PG-13 sticker on the game packaging in the United States.
Wasteland was one of the first games featuring a persistent world, where changes to the game world were stored and kept. Returning to areas later in the game, one would find them in the state one left them in, instead of being reset to their original state, as was common for games of the time. Since hard drives were still rare in home computers in 1988, this meant the original game disk had to be copied first, as the manual instructed one to do.
One of the other features of this game was the inclusion of a printed collection of paragraphs which the game would instruct the player to read at the appropriate times. These paragraphs described encounters and conversations, contained clues, and added to the overall texture of the game. Because programming space was at a premium, it saved on resources to have most of the game's story printed out in a separate manual rather than store it within the game's code itself. The paragraph books also served as a rudimentary form of copy protection, as someone playing a copied version of the game would miss out on much of the story as well as clues necessary to progress. Additionally, the paragraphs included a completely unrelated story line about a mission to Mars intended to mislead those who read the paragraphs when not instructed to, and a false set of passwords that would trip up cheaters with results that ranged from character sex changes to unintentionally detonating a bomb.
In the year 2087, following the devastation of global nuclear war of 1998, a far remnant force of the United States Army calling themselves the Desert Rangers is based in the Southwestern United States. A team of Desert Rangers is assigned to investigate a series of disturbances in the nearby areas and, throughout the game, explores the remaining enclaves of human civilization, including a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas.
Over the course of the game, the player's party discovers evidence of a larger menace that threatens to exterminate what is left of the human kind in the game's region and eventually the world. It is a pre-war AI computer that is operating from a surviving military facility Base Cochise, where it is constructing armies of killer machines and cybernetically modified humans with which it is attacking settlements; its goal is to replace the current 'flawed' population with genetically pure specimens. With the help from a pre-war android named Max, the player recovers the necessary technology and weapons in order to confront the computer at its base and stop it by making the base's nuclear reactor melt down.
Released after five years of development, Wasteland was first distributed for the Apple II and ported to the Commodore 64 and PC DOS platforms in 1988 - it is sometimes (and erroneously) listed as being published in 1987, because that year appears on the title screen of the Apple version. While all versions were nearly identical in terms of gameplay, the EGA PC port had upgraded graphics (there was also a CGA version), although the C64 boasted the best sound. The PC version differed by having an additional skill called "Combat Shooting" which could be bought only when a character was first created.
Wasteland was rereleased as part of Interplay's 10 Year Anthology: Classic Collection in 1995, and also included in the 1998 Ultimate RPG Archives through Interplay's DragonPlay label. These later bundled releases were missing the original setup program, which allowed the game's maps to be reset, while retaining the player's original team of Rangers. Jeremy Reaban wrote an unofficial (and unsupported) program that emulated this functionality. On November 12, 2013, inXile Entertainment re-released the game for the PC and Mac on GOG.com, re-branded as Wasteland: The Original Classic. The next day, the game was also re-released on Steam for the PC, Mac and Linux.
Computer Gaming World cited Wasteland's "ease of play, richness of plot, problem solving requirements, skill and task system, and graphic display" as elements of its excellence. The magazine favorably reviewed the game again in 1991, calling it "really the only decently-designed post-nuke game on the market". Orson Scott Card gave Wasteland a mixed review in Compute!, commending the science fiction elements and setting, but stating that "mutant bunnies can get boring, too ... This is still a kill-the-monster-and-get-the-treasure game, without the overarching story that makes each Ultima installment meaningful." Another writer for Compute! praised the game, however, citing its non-linear design and multiple puzzle solutions, the vague nature of the goal, and customizable player stats. In 1992, Computer Gaming World stated that this "classic mix of combat and problem-solving" was the favorite of the magazine's readers in 1988 and that "the way in which Wasteland's NPCs related to the player characters, the questions of dealing with moral dillemas, and the treatment of skills set this game apart."
Computer Gaming World awarded Wasteland the Adventure Game of the Year award in 1988. The game received the fourth-highest number of votes in a 1990 survey of the magazine's readers' "All-Time Favorites". In 1993 Computer Gaming World added Wasteland to its Hall of Fame, and in 1996, the magazine rated it as the ninth best PC video game of all time for introducing the concept of the player's party "acting like the 'real' people." In 2000, Wasteland was ranked as the 24th top PC game of all time by the staff of IGN, who called it "one of the best RPGs to ever grace the PC" and "a truly innovative RPG for its time." According to a retrospective review by Richard Cobbett of Eurogamer in 2012, "even now, it offers a unique RPG world and experience ... a whole fallen civilisation full of puzzles and characters and things to twiddle with, all magically crammed into less than a megabyte of space." In another retrospective article that same year, IGN's Kristan Reed wrote that "time has not been kind to Wasteland, but its core concepts stand firm."
Wasteland was followed in 1990 by a less-successful intended sequel, Fountain of Dreams, set in post-war Florida. At the last moment, however, Electronic Arts decided to not advertise it as a sequel to Wasteland. None of the creative cast from Wasteland worked on Fountain of Dreams.
Interplay themselves worked on Meantime, which was based on the Wasteland game engine and its universe but was not a continuation of the story. Coding of Meantime was nearly finished and a beta version was produced, but the game was canceled when the 8-bit computer game market went into decline.
Interplay has described its 1997 game Fallout as the spiritual successor to Wasteland. According to IGN, "Interplay's inability to prise the Wasteland brand name from EA's gnarled fingers actually lead to it creating Fallout in the first place." There are Wasteland homage elements in Fallout 1 and Fallout 2 as well. All games in the Fallout series are set in the world described by its characters as "Wasteland" (for example, the "Midwest Wasteland" in Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel or the "Capital Wasteland" in Fallout 3). A recruit-able character named Tycho in Fallout 1 is described as a Desert Ranger who is a descendant of an original Desert Ranger, whom had taught the previous survival skills. A major part of the Fallout universe is the military organization Brotherhood of Steel, whose origins are similar to the Desert Rangers and the Guardians of the Old Order of Wasteland; a group called the Desert Rangers actually appears in Fallout: New Vegas.
Wasteland 2 is currently in works by Brian Fargo's inXile Entertainment and Chris Avellone's Obsidian Entertainment. The game's development team includes the original Wasteland designers Alan Pavlish, Michael A. Stackpole, Ken St. Andre and Liz Danforth, and was crowd-founded through a highly successful Kickstarter campaign.
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