Scorched Earth (video game)

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Scorched Earth
Scorched Earth logo.png
Developer(s)Wendell Hicken
Genre(s)Artillery game[1]
Mode(s)Single player, Multiplayer (Hotseat)

Scorched Earth is a shareware artillery video game. The game was released for IBM PC compatibles in 1991, originally written by Wendell Hicken (using Borland C++ and Turbo Assembler),[2] in which tanks do turn-based battle in two-dimensional terrain, with each player adjusting the angle and power of their tank turret before each shot.


Scorched Earth is one of many games in the genre of "turn-based artillery games". Such games are among the earliest computer games, with versions existing for mainframes with only teletype output. Scorched Earth, with a plethora of weapon types and power-ups, is considered the modern archetype of its format.

Its slogan, "The Mother of all Games", was coined in 1991, during the Gulf War, after Saddam Hussein threatened the U.S. that if they stepped on Iraqi soil, it would be "The Mother of all Battles".[3]

The game has a wide variety of customization options from gravity, wind, money, meteorite showers, and a similarly large pool of different payloads, allowing for a large amount of entirely different situations.

In addition to the possible in-game changes, the text messages the AI players can display before firing (e.g., "I shall smash your ugly tank!") and before dying (e.g., "Join the army, see the world they said") are read in from two text files, TALK1.CFG and TALK2.CFG, respectively, free for users to change or translate.

Screenshot of gameplay in Scorched Earth

The weapons range from small missile rounds to MIRV warheads to high-yield nuclear weapons. All weapons can be upgraded with tracers which allow the player to more accurately adjust the trajectory on their next turn. In addition to conventional warheads, there is also ordnance such as napalm, wildly bouncing bombs, and earth weapons - allowing the player to dump dirt on other tanks or to remove ground from beneath them. A tank which is covered with dirt has to shoot itself free and may get damaged in the process; one which falls from too high a level may be destroyed. A variety of utilities, such as deflector shields, recharge batteries, and tank parachutes, make it much harder to score a kill with a single hit even with the more bizarre and advanced weapons, adding another dimension to the game's tactics.

Projectiles can be manipulated in their flight-path by wind, shields and guidance systems, and sometimes have partially random effects. Walls may have a bouncing effect, wrap-around, or no effect, as may the ceiling. As the player advances in the game, they can afford more and more powerful weapons, as can their opponents.

The game can be played against up to nine other human players and/or computer-controlled ones. A broad range of differently skilled player types is available. If the player-controlled tanks are destroyed before the others, the AI-controlled players continue to battle each other, turning Scorched Earth into a zero-player game.


A screenshot of the earliest known version of Scorched Earth, which displays the developer's screen name "Sprig" as the author.
Screenshot of the last version of Scorched Earth, 1.5

There are several versions known to exist, the earliest being 1.0b (where "b" is presumed to mean "Beta"). Public versions include 1.0, 1.1, 1.2 and lastly, 1.5, which was released in 1995.

Although, graphically, 1.0B looks similar to the later versions, in-game, its menus were completely different. It was also not as feature-rich and contained some different AI class names, such as "Rifleman" and "Twanger" (which may have been changed, as they were also AI class names in the slightly earlier artillery game, Tank Wars).

Starting with 1.0 in 1991, the game became Shareware and was graphically the same Scorched Earth that is widely known of today.

In Version 1.1, more weapons were added, such as Napalm, Smoke Tracers, and Liquid Dirt as well as Joystick support and two new death animations among other things. Also in 1.1, a modem icon was added with the intention of including some form of net play in a following version, however, this feature was never implemented.

Nearly a year later, in 1992, version 1.2 was released which added, among other minor things, a new death animation and Synchronous firing mode. Versions 1.21 and 1.22 were released as very minor updates, both of which listed themselves as version 1.2 in-game and in all documentation except for the "readme" file. In early 1993, version 1.23 was released, and it identified itself as such in-game.

The last version (1.50) was not released until 1995. In 1.5, the registration feature was removed and instead, only a shareware version was released freely while the registered version could only be obtained through a mail order. Purchasing the registered version allowed the player to use the triple-turreted tank as well as removing the shareware reminders. New to this version were lasers and SuperMags as well as a couple of new skies and the introduction of scanned mountain ranges.


Computer Gaming World in 1993 called Scorched Earth "the most configurable artillery game I have come across ... the most playable and addictive", with "quite good" SVGA graphics. The magazine concluded that the game was "a bargain for its modest" $10 price.[4]


Numerous artillery games that were inspired by Scorched Earth include Atomic Tanks,[5] Nasty Armoured Tanks of War,[6] xscorch,[7] Scorched Tanks, and Scorched 3D.

Wendell Hicken's official site for the original Scorched Earth offers a ZIP file download containing all officially released versions of the registered game (which are all known versions except for 1.0b). The ZIP file also includes a .MTN builder to create own Scorched terrains and an HTML edition of the version 1.5 manual.[8] The website offered special scholastic site licenses for the game until 4 August 2012.[9]

Hicken hinted in December 2005 that more news on the official version would surface soon.[10] He mentioned this again in February 2006 in his blog.[11] This is suspected of being related to a suggested "Scorched Earth project" that the developer has mentioned in his blog in March 2006.[12]

See also[edit]

  • Death Tank, a similar game with real time instead of turn-based gameplay


  1. ^ "MobyGames Summary for Scorched Earth". MobyGames. Retrieved 2007-12-31.
  2. ^ "Tools section" of the Scorched Earth FAQ
  3. ^ COWELL, ALAN (September 22, 1990). "CONFRONTATION IN THE GULF; Leaders Bluntly Prime Iraq For 'Mother of All Battles'". New York Times. Retrieved 4 May 2011.
  4. ^ Miller, Chuck (September 1993). "Applying A Little Strategy". Computer Gaming World. p. 76. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  5. ^ "Atomic Tanks page at SourceForge"
  6. ^ "N.A.T.O.W. page at SourceForge"
  7. ^ "xscorch web site"
  8. ^ "Official Scorched Earth web site"
  9. ^ "Scorched Earth FAQ (archived)"
  10. ^ MusicIP Forums
  11. ^ "Whicken's blog" February 2006
  12. ^ "Whicken's blog" March 2006

External links[edit]