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History of Western Games Part 1 History of Western Games Part 1

Editorial

The Origins of Virtual Gunslinging — History of Western Games (Part One: 1971–1994)

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The Western genre, which tells the story of the 19th century American Old West, was the most popular genre of Hollywood film throughout the early 20th century. Naturally, the genre has transferred seamlessly into video games, with a variety of Western titles dating back to the dawn of gaming. With the upcoming release of Rockstar Games’s Red Dead Redemption 2 on October 26, as part of Red Dead Redemption Week, OnlySP is looking back at the history of the genre within gaming.

The first Western game, The Oregon Trail, was developed by Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger to teach high school students about the events and realities of life in the American frontier. A text-based strategy game, The Oregon Trail puts players in the shoes of the leader of a wagon train in 1847, forced to make decisions as their group travels across the Oregon Trail from Missouri to Oregon. The original version of the game, developed in 1971, was deleted from the school’s mainframe computer at the end of the semester; however, in 1974, Rawitsch recreated the game for the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC), and it was later released for the Apple II, Atari 8-Bit, and Commodore 64. The game sparked several sequels and spin-offs and has since been inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame.

Nintendo was quick to enter the Western scene with the light gun shooter Wild Gunman. Originally developed by Gunpei Yokoi for arcades in 1974, the game was ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System ten years later and was one of the few games to make use of the NES Zapper peripheral. Wild Gunman pits the player against a fellow gunslinger, where they need to think—and shoot—fast to survive. The NES version also features a shooting gallery where enemies are shot from the windows of a saloon. The game is notable for its appearance as an arcade machine in Back to the Future Part II, receiving a re-release on the Wii U Virtual Console on “Back to the Future Day” in 2015.

Wild Gunman

Nintendo’s Wild Gunman, released for the NES in 1984.

Japanese developer and publisher Taito soon added its own entry to the Western genre in 1975 with Western Gun—known in America as Gun Fight—an arcade shooter where two players use the gun-shaped joysticks to compete in an old West shoot-off. The game sparked a brief Western fever among the arcade market, with several competitors following up with their own Western titles: Atari Inc. released Outlaw in 1976, Midway Games published Boot Hill in 1977, and Nintendo trailed behind with Sheriff in 1979. All games imitated the original gameplay from Western Gun with little alteration, though Sheriff is notable for being one of the first games designed by Mario and Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto, as well as being the first of Nintendo’s games to feature a damsel in distress, predating 1981’s Donkey Kong.

Pornographic video game studio Mystique interestingly decided to enter the Western genre in 1982 with Custer’s Revenge for the Atari 2600. Disgustingly, the game puts players in the boots of a visibly naked and erect man (based on American Civil War commander General George Armstrong Custer) whose goal is to rape a naked Native American woman tied to a pole. Thankfully, Mystique went out of business during the North American video game crash of 1983.

Konami entered the scene in 1984 with Badlands, an interactive movie game in which the player navigates through animated sequences by pressing a button at a precise moment. The player controls Buck, a hardworking family man, as he tracks down and kills the band of outlaws who murdered his wife and children. Konami followed up with Iron Horse in 1986, telling the story of an American hero as he fights off bands of outlaws to save bags of gold.

Sega’s arcade game Bank Panic, released in 1984, puts the player in the shoes of an Old West sheriff whose goal is to protect a bank and its customers from robbers. Several games to follow repeated a similar premise: Exidy’s arcade game Cheyenne had a similar objective, wherein the player guides and protects the protagonist and his carriage from the dangers around them; Ocean Software’s shoot-‘em-up High Noon for the Commodore 64 focuses on a sheriff forced to defend his town against outlaws and bank robbers; Ultimate Play the Game’s Gunfright for the ZX Spectrum features Sheriff Quickdraw and his journey to discover and kill a gang of outlaws in his town; Accolade’s Law of the West, a more story-focused game for the Apple II and C64, follows a sheriff as he talks with several characters in his town; and Mastertronic’s Kane for C64 centres around a sheriff’s daily journey in the Wild West.

Capcom’s Gun.Smoke is considered a predecessor to Rockstar Games’s Red Dead Revolver.

While these games focused on the life and activities of sheriffs, several players sought more criminal activities, such as in Ultimate Play the Game’s 1985 Commodore 64 title Outlaws, Magnetic Images’s 1989 title Lost Dutchman Mine for the Amiga, Atari ST, and MS-DOS, and Capcom’s arcade game Gun.Smoke. Capcom’s 1985 title was brought to NES in 1988, and became highly successful, receiving later ports to the MSX, ZX Spectrum, PlayStation, Sega Saturn, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, Xbox, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. The game is often cited as the predecessor to Rockstar Games’s Red Dead Revolver, which was followed by the highly successful Red Dead Redemption—but more on these titles later.

American Laser Games, founded in the late 1980s, released its first title in 1990: a live-action laserdisc arcade game called Mad Dog McCree. In the game, the silent protagonist is tasked with finding the mayor and his daughter after they were kidnapped by a gang of outlaws led by the infamous “Mad Dog” McCree. The success of the game led to a sequel, Mad Dog II: The Lost Gold, which was released in arcades in 1992 and expanded upon the simplicity of the original game, adding dynamic scenes and in-game music.

Several tie-in games based on Western media were released in the early 1990s: Konami’s The Lone Ranger for the NES in August 1991 based on the radio and TV franchise of the same name; Acclaim Entertainment’s Back to the Future Part II & III for the NES in September 1990; Image Works’s Back to the Future Part III for the Sega Genesis, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, MS-DOS, Master System, and ZX Spectrum in 1991; and two versions of An American Tail: Fievel Goes West in 1994 based on the film of the same name, one developed by Hudson Soft for the SNES and one by Capstone Software for DOS. Several Lucky Luke games, based on the comic series of the same name, were released throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.

The Western genre was a perfect fit for arcades—an Old Western setting fits perfectly for cabinets using gun-shaped joysticks—so one should not be surprised that the Western genre stuck around as the days of the arcade system eventually came to an end. Konami released Sunset Riders in September 1991, where the player controls a bounty hunter seeking the rewards for several criminals; the game was later released for the Genesis in 1992 and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1993. In November 1992, Konami also released Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa, based on the animated television series of the same name, with similar gameplay to Sunset Riders. Finally, Shootout at Old Tucson, Fast Draw Showdown, and The Last Bounty Hunter, all released in 1994, were some of the final games by American Laser Games and some of the last live-action rail shooters.

Freddy Pharkas

Sierra On-Line, known for its graphic adventure games such as King’s Quest and Phantasmagoria, published two western titles: Gold Rush! in 1988 and Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist in 1993. The former, set in 1848, follows Jerrod Wilson as he becomes lost while looking for his brother amidst the California Gold Rush. Freddy Pharkas, designed by Leisure Suit Larry creator Al Lowe, puts the player in the shoes of a gunslinger-turned-pharmacist in the 1880s, and the result is one of the most underrated titles from Sierra.

Software Creations—known for games such as Wolverine and Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge—developed the rail shooter Tin Star in 1994. One of the few games to support the Super Scope and SNES Mouse, Tin Star features several typical characters of Western media, including the honest cowboy, his trusty steed and faithful sidekick, the dignified mayor, an enemy band of brothers, and a snake oil merchant, among others.

MECC returned to the Wild West with The Yukon Trail in 1994, a spinoff to The Oregon Trail. Adopting similar gameplay to the original, The Yukon Trail takes place during the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 19th century. The following year, MECC developed Oregon Trail II, a revised version of the original game, for PC and Mac.

Lethal Enforces II: Gun Fighters—a prequel to the 1992 game set in modern-day Chicago, Illinois—was released in Japanese arcades by Konami in March 1994. The game has five stages where the player must shoot outlaws without harming innocent civilians. The game was released outside of Japan for the Genesis and Sega CD later in the year, followed by a PlayStation bundle (with the first game) in 1997.

In August 1994, Natsume released Wild Guns for the NES in Japan. Set in the Wild West with heavy science fiction and steampunk influences, the game follows Annie as she seeks revenge for the death of her family with the bounty hunter Clint. Wild Guns was developed in five months with a small team of five, but received positive reviews upon release and has since become a cult classic; an enhanced remaster has been released for PlayStation 4, PC, and Nintendo Switch.

Wild Guns Reloaded

Wild Guns was enhanced and re-released as Wild Guns Reloaded for PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.

The second and final part of OnlySP’s look at the history of Western games is now available. For more on Western titles, and this week’s upcoming title Red Dead Redemption 2, be sure to bookmark OnlySP and follow us on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube.

Rhain discovered a long time ago that mixing one of his passions (video games) with the other (writing) might be a good idea, and now he’s been stuck in the industry for over six years with no means of escaping. His favourite games are those with deep and captivating narratives: while it would take far too long to list them all, some include L.A. Noire, Red Dead Redemption (and its sequel), Wolfenstein: The New Order, The Last of Us, and the Uncharted series.

Editorial

Three Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in July 2019

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Three Single Player Games (July 2019) - Sea of Solitude, Fire Emblem Three Houses, Wolfenstein Youngblood

July, the middle of winter down here in Australia. Even in the bizarre New South Wales climate, the biting cold makes for a great excuse to stay inside and play games. 

Weirdly for single players, quite a few prestige games this month include additional co-op modes. With acclaimed designers behind them, such games will hopefully avoid the pitfalls of accommodating multiple players, as too many games have done in the past.

Sea of Solitude

Release Date: July 5, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

At first blush, Sea of Solitude looks like yet another story of a young adult struggling with questions of identity and mental health while exploring a beautiful but harsh fantasy world.

Actually, that’s what it is. ‘Quirky, life affirming indie adventure’ is a whole cottage industry these days, but the fact that such games are now more prevalent should never dismay.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was a masterpiece of refined design and storytelling, and Sea of Solitude appears be something similar—this time dealing with a fantastical vision of depression that turns ordinary people into literal monsters.

Players take charge of Kay, who has sought out the eponymous Sea—or rather, a flooded city based on Berlin—in the hope that there is a cure for monstrosity. However, despite its name, she is not the only person in the Sea. Avoiding the other monsters of the Sea seems to be a major part of the gameplay. These tense encounters are likely to provide rhythm and variety to the adventure and keep it from being a just walking simulator. (Not that being a walking simulator is inherently a problem.)

Although published by EA Originals, one would do well to remember that EA the company does not actually profit off the Originals that they publish. With a focused story and themes that still are not often explored in bigger games, Sea of Solitude should be of great interest to single player fans in a month otherwise dominated by multiplayer titles.

 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Almost certainly the biggest single player release of the month, and tied with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 as another massive Switch exclusive, Fire Emblem: Three Houses might be exactly what single players need right now.

Lately the Fire Emblem franchise has exploded in both its popular profile and sales success, buoyed by a hunger for both deep anime RPGs and polished tactics games. Three Houses seems to have doubled down on exciting trends and features in both genres: particularly a Persona/Harry Potter inspired magic school setting and an even deeper tactical battle system that ditches the rock-paper-scissors for more nuanced character progression options. As with many Japanese RPGs, the story is also a major focus and hinges upon a time-jump.

The early part casts the player as a teacher at the Officer’s Academy, situated in the center of the game world and attended by students from the three most powerful nations. Five years later, the second and likely larger part concerns the drama between the player’s teacher and their former students, whose nations are now locked in a massive three-way conflict.

As is to be expected for a series finally coming back to consoles after a long time on the 3DS, Three Houses is a massive technical leap over its predecessors. The game boasts better realised battlefields, more detailed armies, and a slick animated style that appears much more consistent compared with the three or four different art styles on the 3DS.

With such improvements, as well as the overall pedigree of the Fire Emblem brand, Three Houses should have no trouble satisfying single player fans looking for a meaty middle-of-the-year RPG.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

The recent Wolfenstein revival series is such a remarkable achievement in traditional shooter design and great, if goofy, sci-fi worldbuilding that the co-op focus of this latest instalment is somewhat disappointing.

Yes, as with F.E.A.R. 3 and Dead Space 3, following a well-received second chapter the Wolfenstein series now pivots to a co-operative focused chapter. Though the game is not a mandatory multiplayer experience, combat encounters and puzzles have been redesigned to accommodate the two player mode, giving single players an AI-controlled partner and bullet sponge enemies.

However, all hope is not lost for Wolfenstein: why else would it be the third game on the list? The narrative has been pushed forward in time, as B.J.’s twin daughters are now in their adolescence, now giving players a glimpse at the 1980s of Wolfenstein‘s skewed universe. Additionally, the level design itself is more freeform thanks to development assistance from Arkane, the developers of the Dishonored series.

Will Wolfenstein: Youngblood successfully deliver more of the series’s goofy charm and crazy alternate reality? Almost certainly. On the other hand, will the game be as fun to play alone as in multiplayer? That remains to be seen. Last month’s E3 demo that raised such concerns was naturally only a snapshot of a game in development, so MachineGames and Arkane have had plenty of time to resolve these potential downsides to a co-op focused game.

Those are our three big single player games to look out for this month. Other interesting titles coming soon include Stranger Things 3 on July 4 and Attack on Titan 2 on July 5, both games hitting Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

On July 12 we will see the sequel to an almost-fantastic Minecraft-like RPG spinoff, Dragon Quest Builders 2 on Switch and PlayStation 4, as well as the Switch port of “anime Monster Hunter”, God Eater 3

The week after, July 19 brings us Switch-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, and at an undetermined time during the month Klei Entertainment’s anticipated survival-sim Oxygen Not Included will finally leave early access on PC.

Have we missed anything that you’re looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below and be sure bookmark OnlySP and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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