Blast from the past

Sunday, May 15, 2011
Balance of Power screen capture
While wandering the internet I came across the site My Abandonware. It features computer games from 1979 to 1997 that have been 'abandoned' by their producers, which means they're no longer being sold or supported, or that the OS they were written for has became obsolete. It should be noted that they are not in the public domain, although the copyright holder rarely enforce their copyrights on the abandonwares.

The games are ported, so you can download and play them on you modern computer if you are feeling nostalgic. However, just browsing through the games, and looking at their screen shots, can bring back a lot of memories if you have a history of playing computer games.

Above is a screen shot of Balance of Power, the first Windows game I ever played. The premise was you were either the U.S. President or the leader of the U.S.S.R. and you had eight turns to try to raise the prestige of your country. Each turn covered a year of events. It seems sparse, but you had a wealth of information about the world's countries and their orientation to the two Cold War rivals, as well as coups and newspaper accounts of goings on in the rest of the world. Country by country you could send troops, provide aid, or engage in covert shenanigans to advance your cause. 

While it sounded good on paper, in execution it was complete lunacy. Failure at the game resulted in nuclear war -- and you always failed. No matter what you did you got the snotty black screen that told you, "You have ignited an accidental nuclear war. And no, there is no animated display of a mushroom cloud with parts of bodies flying through the air. We do not reward failure."

To say that the game assumed we were perpetually teetering on the brink of nuclear annihilation would be an understatement of the first order. Finally, after one game where I triggered WWIII by sending aid to Mexico of all things, I got fed up and launched a game where I did absolutely nothing. I just clicked continue through each of my 8 turns.

It was the only time I ever won the game.

Yeesh, talk about a silly bias built into the game. The only winning move was to do nothing but sit back, hoard your aid and watch your allies fall like dominoes. 

After being reminded of Balance of Power, curiosity got the better of me and I looked around to see if there was a sequel to the game. Sure enough, there is a Balance of Power: 21st Century that  starts with 9/11 and heads to who-knows-where. I'm guessing nowhere interesting or realistic. The below quote is from a review of the newer game by gimcrack'd, I think it probably says it all.
Admission #1: I think Chris Crawford (ED: Balance of Power's creator) is, by and large, crazy...
Admission #2: I have not beaten Balance of Power 21st Century, if such a thing is possible...