290: 16-Bit Generals

16-Bit Generals

The real-time strategy genre is born in the unlikeliest of places.

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That's fascinating.

It does bring to mind the game I've been playing a lot recently - Supreme Commander 2.

The main thing I like about that is that a wide variety of strategies are actually viable (as opposed to the Command & Conquer games, where it seems difficult to use any strategy other than a tank rush effectively).

In some ways it's nothing like Herzog Zwei as you're describing it though - It's still very much the detached, issue orders anywhere you like kind of affair...

But there is a similarity in that there is always a unit on the battlefield called the APU, which officially represents you personally. In a skirmish match, you can set the game to continue if this unit is destroyed, but in general, losing your APU means you lose the fight.

That has consequences, because the APU is a relatively strong unit, but not invincible. You could, in theory use it as an assault weapon, but doing so is quite dangerous.

Still, the consequences of the APU being a critical unit just means you tend to guard it well (it's more important than your base, because if you still have it, you can always rebuild).

So, it doesn't have anywhere near the same impact, but the mere fact that an 'avatar' unit is on the battlefield still shows up a few similarities in how it influences gameplay.

This game has been a secret love affair of mine for many years now - against all rational thought, I'm still waiting for a "Herzog Drei".

To be honest, I've never heard of Herzog Zwei, but then I've always been a PC gamer exclusively. I sure played the hell out of Dune 2 though. It's good to know some more RTS history.

Thank you Mr. Butts. I learned something new today :)

You are welcome!

I hang on to my Genesis because of my copy of Sylvester and Tweety in Cagey Capers, 'k?

I have 3 Genesises (Genesii?) still. I love that system so much.

I spent months and months playing HZ. I still remember cursing my motorcycles as they surged ahead of the tanks to die. The best moment was always roboting up and blasting units until you died. It was a bad tactic because you had to wait to respawn. But so much fun.

"in the late 1980s, Herzog Zwei made the Genesis the place to be for strategy gamers."

Herzog Zwei wasn't released for the Genesis here until 1990.

I can't say how glad I'm you mentioned Herzog. This title was released before I was born, and I came across it in a 100 Greatest List. After downloading the ROM, I was simply... blown away. They friggin' managed to create an amazing RTS that didn't require a mouse! And yes, the gameplay was much more involving than any modern RTS simply because the player was part of the battlefield. Another cool feature was how the commands weren't specific but rather generalized - meaning that a lot depended on the unit's AI. The only complaint I had was that the commands were unnecessarily complicated (I had to go through a walkthrough on the net just to learn how to give basic commands) and the fact that it cost resources to give each command (though it added weight to each decision). But the best part was how, between giving tactical commands to your units, you could totally go arcade in the mech form and kick ass! Pure awesomeness!

It's one franchise I would definitely like to see revitalized. One of the major reasons why Herzog Zwei sank into obscurity was because the majority of the Genesis audience was in it only for the fast-paced arcade-style gameplay. I wonder how it would've all ended if its platform of choice was the PC. Good RTS titles don't tend to be ignored by the PC lots.

Am I the only one seeing the similarities between this game and the strategy sections of Brutal Legend? In that game, you also controlled everything through a general unit who could fly around to give orders and land to join in the fight. The enemy had a unit that did the same thing. And in both games, there were neutral bases to take over, and the game ended when the enemies base was taken over. I'm starting to think Tim Schafer was a Herzog Zwei fan.

And Steve, every industry needs more giant robots.

Are me and my friends the only ones who played Battlezone and Battlezone 2?
We still play Bz2 and with the map packs it makes use of my modern computer.

It is a fully 3D RTS where the players are avatars within the game. Only one in its genre and one of the best games ever. Released at a time when 3d accelerator cards were rare and requiring one for launch, it floped sales wise. To get access to the now-used-to overhead RTS view you would have to exit your vehicle and walk on foot to a relay bunker and 'jack in' to the overhead cameras. Leaving you unaware of the events in your avatars immediate vicinity. Combine'd with co-op play, its has become that one game that always gets played at LAN partys. IT will always run, causes no hardware conflict or network errors and we can all play smooth.

I often hear writers on the show, Bob, Yhatzee and now you pine over exactly this game.

Battlezone 2, check it out.

-Knytemare is a board game designer and visual artist from Toronto, Canada.

I am proud to say that I have kept my Mega Drive (personally I prefer our UK name) for the exact same reason.

Herzog Zwei was the first game I bought for it (and in fact the first game I had ever bought), but it was down to complete chance as I was actually after a top down scrolling shoot everything game which would easy to mistake it for based on the box art(and that I was 8 at the time)

It was a mistake I will forever be happy with as the gameplay as not really aged due to the unique way it plays compared with the modern RTS.

ND:
This game has been a secret love affair of mine for many years now - against all rational thought, I'm still waiting for a "Herzog Drei".

^^ oh how true this is, I would spend hours thinking of the ways you could improve the game and units I would like to have seen, but maybe that is why it still holds up now is due to the small unit pool.

I love the way that you could not take direct control of your units only give them orders which they would follow until they die or run out of fuel or ammo.

Many see Herzog Zwei as a footnote in gaming history but for me it will always be so much more.

Reminds me of a moment in Zone of the Enders 2, possibly the hardest moment of the game.

You controlled your Orbital Frame (Which was the more advanced version of mechas in the game's canon) and led a small army of LEVs (The older, slower and more bulky generation of mechas) to fight a huge army of AI controlled Orbital Frames.

During this part of the game, not only did you have to fight against the waves of enemies coming at you (Which was not terribly hard, considering they were the goons kind of enemies, as long as if you were careful not to be outnumbered) and being watchful over the entire ongoing of the battle to make sure your comrades do not die.

These weren't the stupid kind of AI allies. They fought as much as they could but sheer numbers and more advanced weaponry on the enemies side made this a Spartan battle. It was particularly nerve wrecking trying to fight your way through while hearing your comrade's please for help when they were being brutalized.

Thus you had to run around killing and saving those in need, taking a few minutes to be able to find them through your radar and the heal them. But every second became precious as it was one less second to go help another person. And you could be too late in saving someone's life.

It was distressing. It was great. They weren't just numbers like in Age of Empires. You were in the battle, you realized how much despair such a fight caused on someone even as they tried with all their might. You could tell them to pull back, to advance, go save them or not but once they were gone, they were gone and you maybe you could have prevented that. It felt like war.

It took me several tries to get me to 0 casualties and each time I couldn't, I felt what my character felt in thinking I could have just done a little bit more. Granted, I didn't realize at first that you could signal another Orbital Frame ally to come heal someone instead of you. It helped a lot, even if you made him leave his post could risk leaving that area unguarded.

I have never played Herzog Zwei but I would love to see that kind of mechanic come back. When it comes to war sadly we are thrown into 2 extremes: Either you are the only single person that for some reason is capable of winning an entire war on your own (Aka, every FPS) or you're some god entity that can manage the movements of your army without fail. Both of them makes you feel detached from the scope of what is war.

Plus, being able to control a multi function robot like in Herzog Zwei that can fight independently and assist others just seems bad ass.

Knytemare:
Are me and my friends the only ones who played Battlezone and Battlezone 2?

It is a fully 3D RTS where the players are avatars within the game. Only one in its genre and one of the best games ever.

Actually, there are a couple other games from that era that also meet that description. You might check out "Uprising", "Urban Assault", "Command & Conquer: Renegade" if you are looking for similar games. The genre was "hot" in the late 90s, but sales for all these games were disappointing.

Great article, slightly annoyed to see on of the factors empeding its success what the fact it had a german name... >:| Being part German, it actually gets to me that even today in the modern world (especially in the US) there is huge negative image of Germany. I personally dont like it mutch there (weird i know!) but not because of a war that happened over 70 bloddy years ago...

Crimson_Dragoon:
Am I the only one seeing the similarities between this game and the strategy sections of Brutal Legend? In that game, you also controlled everything through a general unit who could fly around to give orders and land to join in the fight. The enemy had a unit that did the same thing. And in both games, there were neutral bases to take over, and the game ended when the enemies base was taken over. I'm starting to think Tim Schafer was a Herzog Zwei fan.

And Steve, every industry needs more giant robots.

I noticed this.

Great article for a great game, and a great system.
I didn't own this game personally, but I played it at a friend's house. The biggest thrill for me was watching two of my friends play it, I got to see both ends of the battle.

epikAXE:
Great article, slightly annoyed to see on of the factors empeding its success what the fact it had a german name... >:| Being part German, it actually gets to me that even today in the modern world (especially in the US) there is huge negative image of Germany. I personally dont like it mutch there (weird i know!) but not because of a war that happened over 70 bloddy years ago...

I will prove you wrong with one word: hamburger.

There may be something to that argument, but I think the bigger issue is that the title itself was bizarre and confusing. That it also happens to be German is part of it being bizarre and confusing for the market, but I don't think it's the only cause. Keep in mind that Herzog Zwei arrived before the Genesis was as popular as it eventually became, so it was an early title that was soon overshadowed by more visible, better marketed games. The target audience for these games were folks born more than 25 years after the end of the Second World War.

Gamers are more accepting of equally impenetrable Japanese names, of course, but that may be because Japan was (and is) a leading creator of videogames. Germany enjoys some of the same cachet in the board game market.

Also, which part of you is German?

Let us also not forget the joy of Geghis Khan for the genesis. I always quite enjoyed that game. Many an hour of my life was spent with my best friend vying to control the whole continent of Europe.

Yes! Nobody I know has even heard of this awesome game and whenever I mention it they think I'm making it up.

I spent many, many hours playing the hell out of this game and haven't seen anything like it since.

According to the description the gameplay sounds a bit like Powermonger, a Bullfrog sequel to Populous.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EketrkTYoU

It was also avatar based. The player controlled a general that could move between villages and give them orders and hire troops. The avatar would lead the troops, but could also split them into separate units. The avatar could give orders to distant villages and units by the use of slow carrier pigeons.
It resulted in a delayed command system where prioritizing orders became very important.

I remember it could be played multiplayer using direct cable connection between 2 computers. The connection was prone to errors though and the game just resumed with AI control without informing the players. This could lead to some comic confusion when both players thought they were winning.

 

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