Friday, October 15, 2010

Barbarians In The Games: Knockoffs PWN The Original

Earlier this week, I considered writing about the Conan games that have come out over the years. The problem with that is they were all by and large horrible games, and two publishers released better Conan games the games actually based on the Conan stories. I'm sure the historically crazy Robert E. Howard wouldn't have wanted his hallucinations converted into horrible video games, but alas, they were.

Taito didn't screw up the barbarian mythos when they released Rastan in 1987. The game felt epic, even if it was simply a hack and slash platformer. The best part was that it never tried to do more than it needed to, therefore it did things well. All of the actual Conan games tried to do a whole lot more than they needed to, and that's where they primarily failed.

When Sega set out to make a barbarian themed arcade game, they actually seemed to draw direct inspiration from the 1981 Conan The Barbarian film. Golden Axe is honestly one the best series of games to directly draw from that line of stories. From the protagonists, who seem to be almost copycats of trio from Conan, to Death Adder's army, which is similar to Thulsa Doom's Snake Cult. Once Again, Golden Axe takes one thing and does it masterfully without leaving room for all the clutter found in the Conan games, especially that MMO.


  1. I'm sure the historically crazy Robert E. Howard wouldn't have wanted his hallucinations converted into horrible video games, but alas, they were.

    By the use of the term "hallucinations" I'm guessing you've seen "Conan Unchained," where Howard was presented as a paranoid barely-functioning nutcase who believed Conan's ghost was coming to him late at night to dictate his stories to him. That's a massive misinterpretation of what he actually said in his letters, where he was using similes to describe how writing Conan was so natural it was "as IF" his ghost was present. There's no evidence of Howard actually having hallucinations of a long-dead warrior king.

    I'd suggest you read Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, or at least Rusty Burke's "Short Biography of Robert E. Howard." Howard studies has made leaps and bounds over the last few decades, and commonly held "facts" have been soundly debunked. Howard was eccentric, true - what writer isn't? - but he's hardly "historically crazy."

  2. least you read that portion of my post. I get what you're saying, and if I find time, I'll probably do more research on Howard.

  3. Nice post. I loved Rastan and Goldenaxe in the arcade, and both stand up well today in terms of gameplay. It's a shame there haven't been classic Conan games of that level of quality.

    I can see where Taranaich's coming from on the Howard thing. Poor REH was smeared and lied about by editors and other people profiting off his work for most of forty or fifty years after his death; and only in the last twenty or so have a lot of those smears been debunked, once more of his personal letters came to be studied and his ex-girlfriend published her book. A lot of the Howard fans really get ticked when someone offhandedly parrots a derogatory comment about the guy.

    The key point of your sentence, of course, was that naturally Howard wouldn't want any derivative works based on his stuff to be crap. Yep. It would be cool if we could get a really great game based off Howard's stories. As I recall there are a couple of great ones where he's on an island/in a ruined city, exploring around and dealing with (and eventually defeating or escaping) ancient or sorcerous horrors. Imagine if you had a game with exploration and problem-solving like an old Sierra game, but with modern graphics, a bit more action, and a more grown-up, suspenseful tone. That could be pretty amazing, I think. The only real problem is that the way the character is perceived by the mass market would probably make the general public expect a pure action / hack & slash game.