The gameplay of Warlords (from Interplay) revealed the strong Dungeons & Dragons role-playing influence on the generation of game programmers throughout the early 1980s.
These games, including the ‘official’ Dungeons & Dragons games released by SSI & TSR, managed to work around the speed and memory limitations of home computers by replicating turn-based rather than the real-time combat until real-time became the norm in gaming in the 90s from Wolfenstein and Doom onwards.
The secret to Wasteland’s addictive qualities was the wonderful script, witty dialogue, and non-player character (NPC) behaviour. Set in a post (nuclear) apocalyptic future, you play a ranger searching through a ruined Las Vegas, scavenger camps, and underground nuclear facilities.
Gathering together a motley crew of adventurers, the game begins at the Ranger Base where skills are selected then it is off into the desert in search of treasure – first priority, better weapons.
By the time you come across some of the stranger parts of the game (the Servants of the Mushroom Cloud Church for example) your party is armed with machine guns, laser rifles, and suited up in Kevlar and inflicting huge amounts of ranged weapon damage on robotic guards and heavily armed psychotic vigilantes in long, drawn-out turn-based combat, all the while embroiled in an evolving story of intrigue.
Home computer copying was rife in the 1980s with the plain old international postal system being used as effectively as the Internet is nowadays to swap games across the world. Game companies would employ more and more complex disk-based copy protection systems – but, in fact, some of the most effective seemed to be those that were simplest.
So, as a part of the copy protection for Wasteland, the game came with a booklet of ‘extra text’ – numbered paragraphs – which enhanced the storyline and provided critical clues – passwords especially – and these were referred to by the game from time to time. After reducing an enemy to a fine red mist, you would be told to “read paragraph 42”.
The booklet contained many fake paragraphs, several of which gave contradictory advice leading you off the mission if you tried to ‘cheat’. This technique, used by several other similar games around the same period, brings back fond memories of Choose Your Own Adventure books and other clunky attempts at ‘interactive fiction’.
Although a sequel was planned it was never made. Wasteland’s legacy continued 15 years later in the Fallout series and most recently Fallout 3 on the PS3 which all revive not only the setting but the black humour and aesthetic of Wasteland.