What Were the Odds?

What Were the Odds?
Chaos: Battle of the Wizards

Kieron Gillen | 6 Feb 2007 11:04
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Nostalgia's the most dangerous of emotions. People doing the retrogaming thing normally leave disillusioned. But Chaos is untouched, because its flaws were always visible. It never looks dated, as it looked dated the second it came out. It also has a little arcade-crispness in rejecting modern staples like hit points on its units. Things are either alive or dead, with the survivability decided by their defense, which can't be reduced piecemeal. There's always room for a turnaround. If in a disastrous position, there's always a tiny chance you could be lucky and pull through to, if not a win, at least a draw when the match ticks out. You almost certainly won't, but forlorn hope keeps you interested as much as the knowledge you could come back with only a fraction of your health (like in Street Fighter 2), rather than most strategy games where necessary attrition will necessarily destroy you.

Its youthfulness is also assured by its real choice of genre. Action games, especially on the home systems, can age terribly unless the controls manage to be perfectly precise. Going back to a day when low frame rates were acceptable can be jarring. Conversely, a turn-based game suffers no such issues. Literally, Chaos is as good to play today as it's ever been. You can come around to my house now; I'll boot up an emulator, and we'll sit down and play and you'll be entertained.

Of course, you'll lose. Don't mistake its simplicity for a lack of sophistication.

Since you'd be a newcomer, I may even try some of the more nefarious tactics by exploiting some of the holes in the game's programming. For example, deliberately getting an illusionary creature trapped in a gooey blob, then freeing it for it to become miraculously real. I probably won't, just relying on the long-practiced ability of knowing when exactly to make a creature illusionary or not. Either way, the result will be the same: entertainment, and, in the final stages, an arena that's gone from basic black to a mass of gooey blobs, corpses, clawing shadow-woods and the assorted detritus gaming archeologists will recognize as sign that a game of Chaos was once here.

And it will be glorious.

Chaos' trail is easy to follow online, for interested souls. Like most cult games, a small cottage industry exists of people making new versions of Chaos, some pixel perfect, some extrapolations. The game itself is now in the public domain, so it can be played legally with emulators. You could look at its direct successors, like Gollop's Lords of Chaos and Magic & Mayhem, which are entertaining enough but lack the originator's clarity of purpose. You could even look at the games that are openly inspired by it, like Shiny's Sacrifice, which updated the warring-wizard mandate with a big helping of Hieronymus Bosch. You can do anything you want.

Just don't disbelieve Chaos.

Kieron Gillen has been writing about videogames for far too long now. His rock and roll dream is to form an Electro-band with Miss Kittin and SHODAN pairing up on vocals.

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