The Electronic Arts I remember

A long, long time ago, back when Electronic Arts went by the abbreviation ECA, the company was not clearly evil. It turns out that they screwed Chris Crawford in the 80’s and undoubtedly weren’t the pinnacle of business ethics, but they also published good games. Every now and then, usually after reading a review of some terrible EA published game or news that they bought and destroyed a small developer, I reminisce about the good old days when the ECA logo didn’t make me cringe, but was actually a sign of quality. What’s that, you ask? You’re a snobby gamer who dislikes EA, too, but you wonder why they were once a respectable publisher? Like all good questions, this one can be answered with a list.

Archon II: Adept — 1984
The first Archon is a bonafide classic, but I still prefer the sequel. Both games play like Battle Chess (which came out after Archon), but the second has cooler creatures and more of an emphasis on building an army. Not to mention a badass intro tune. Some people aren’t happy that II changes the rules and makes Archon less chess like by putting more of a focus on the occupation of certain key squares. I think it actually makes the game more interesting, as well as a lot harder. Archon was designed by Free Fall, and one of the guys on the team was Paul Reiche III. Remember that name, he pops up a few times on this list.

Populous — 1989
This game made Peter Molyneux famous and is still an excellent time. The Armageddon command is sort of a rip off of the Apocalypse spell from Archon 2, but if you’re going to steal, steal from the best. Populous, widely considered the first God Game, puts you in control of a tribe of humans with the goal, of course, being to annihilate an opposing tribe. Besides the aforementioned spell, you, playing as a god, can also send floods and earthquakes to ravage the enemy’s lands (although often they end up hurting your own people. Stupid nature.) The key is to raise all of your land really high then flood the fuck out of the world, Yahweh style. Molyneux and Bullfrog later reworked Populous in Powermonger, but those too young to remember either just need to know that Populous is the spiritual predecessor of Black and White.

The Haunting — 1993
The first Genesis title on the list, this is also a very original game. You control Polterguy, a dead kid who must chase an Italian family out of their home by scaring the shit out of them. You can possess refrigerators, couches, mirrors, and a ton of other things and each item has an amusing animation of you freaking out the victim. Each possession costs ectoplasm, though, so you want to maximize the fear you induce. When you’re out of plasm, you don’t die, but rather are sent to the underworld where you must escape or suffer the dreaded game over. The Haunting is a little repetitive but it deserves to be remembered for its sheer creativity.

Hard Hat Mack — 1983
This is Electronic Arts first published game. I was very young when I played this on my brother’s C64 but I remember it being quite difficult. You control Mack, a construction worker, who must capture runaway jackhammers, fill in missing chunks of the floor, and collect lunch boxes. Some remember it as a Donkey Kong rip off, but I don’t remember Jumpman (I’m much to cool to refer to him as Mario) having to deal with OSHA representatives.

King’s Bounty — 1990
If EA hadn’t published this game on the Genesis I may have never found the Heroes of Might and Magic series. This is because King’s Bounty is Jon Van Caneghem’s predecessor to that amazing series, as well as the Might and magic RPG games. The game isn’t turn based and has some grating music, but a good 50% of the Heroes gameplay is present, including recruiting different creatures, finding artifacts, and the turn based strategy battles. The overall plot is a little thin, but basically you are tasked with capturing a bunch of villains and recovering the Scepter of Order. I prefer to go after Orbs of Knowledge, but Scepters can be fun. King’s Bounty was recently remade as Quest for the Dragon Bone Staff but since most game reviewers don’t know or don’t care to share gaming history, you may have not heard this. That reminds me, the newest update of the Archon series is Lucas Arts terrible Wrath Unleashed, which a few more reviewers seemed to pick up on.

Bard’s Tale — 1985
Although I can’t remember exactly, there’s a good chance this is my first RPG. Well, at least the first one I watched played. And damn did it look nice on my brother’s Amiga. This classic game was rather short, though, if I recall. Here’s a nice bit of trivia, Feargus Urquhart, who later went on to produce a number of Black Isle hits and form the Obsidian design studio was a tester for the Bard’s Tale Construction Set.

General Chaos — 1994
Sure it was tricky to control, but this game was friggin’ awesome. I still break it out from time to time, whenever I feel like shooting someone in the face with a rocket. You control five men who are armed with one of the following: rocket launcher, grenades, flame thrower, dynamite, uzi. Each weapon has its strategic use, though some are just better than others, which is why the game limits the number of each type on the field. A team of five flamethrowers would be too powerful. The squad based combat got even better if you managed to have three friends to play it with. A mostly forgotten gem of the Genesis, I recommend you look it up if you haven’t tried it.

Wasteland — 1988
I have to confess that I didn’t play this game back when it came out. With the help of DOS Box, though, I’ve been playing it on and off for the last month. For its time, the game is amazing. More importantly for me, it also was a direct influence and inspiration for the Fallout series. Ignoring the graphical differences, it’s pretty astonishing how similar the titles are. The setting is the same, many of the skills are the same, and the combat narrative…well, do “Rabbit is reduced to a thin red paste,” and “Thug explodes like a blood sausage,” sound vaguely familiar?

Mail Order Monsters — 1985
Paul Reiche III strikes again! And he designs another masterpiece. Mail Order Monsters would actually still be a great game since the design is so interesting. You start the game with some cash and with it you must buy a monster to fight with. There are a number of monster types, including the T Rex, the squid, the plant-thing, the wasp and more. Every monster has a handful of stats like intelligence, strength, and speed and after you win some battles you can improve these stats as well as purchase new weapons and equipment. Think of it as Monster Rancher with more emphasis on being awesome.

Theme Park — 1994
And Peter Molyneux strikes again, too! Theme Park is one of those games that you’re not sure you enjoy but you still dedicate hours and hours to, especially if you love to micromanage. One of the obvious reasons for the game’s success is the subject matter. Amusement parks are awesome and most people think planning one would be, too. Some of the micromanaging can get a little tedious, especially when you accidentally trap customers between ride exits and concession stands. Are these people unable to duck and/or jump? My fondest memories of the game include making the pretzels extra salty, forcing customers to buy more drinks, but then also making the drinks have extra ice so there’s less in each. That and upping the sugar content of the candy, which led to customers running around your park at manic speeds.

Racing Destruction Set — 1985
This and mail Order Monsters were my favorite Commodore games. I have very fond memories of spending hours making my own tracks, only to find they were impossible to race on. Like Mail Order Monsters, a modern version of Racing Destruction Set could be very good. It had a wide variety of cars and you chose your engine, tires, and some other parameters of the car you selected. Then you could also equip yourself with weapons like mines and oil slicks, but they weighed something so your car would be slowed down by stockpiling weapons. Then you selected what planet to race on, each having different gravity and graphics. Like Mail Order Monsters, this game has a great split screen 2 player mode.

Mutant League Football — 1993
Was this game even good? Most reviewers didn’t seem to think so, but to an 11 year old there was no question. Any game with a play that let you kill the ref had to be good. Teams were comprised of aliens, humans, skeletons, trolls and robots. My favorite team was the Deathskin Razors, but I can’t remember the name of my favorite skeleton running back. MLF ran on the Madden 93 engine and is likely the best game ever designed on any Madden engine. I also have a soft spot for Mutant League Hockey, which got even worse reviews, and still dream they’ll resurrect the Mutant League. But then they’d probably make it with photorealistic graphics, so what’s the point?

Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future — 1986
Did I love this game or just the intro music? Is there really a difference when you’re 5? Dan Dare is a British comic book character, so this game is my only experience with the pilot of the future and his sweet alien dog thing. The combat system was wonky, but this made you feel very vulnerable since you knew a fight would probably end in your death. Dan Dare also had some fun adventuring as well as very nice comic book styled graphics. Plus, there was that intro music.

Star Flight — 1986
More Reiche! Electronic Arts was good enough to bring this gem to the Genesis where I enjoyed many hours of flying around and mining for minerals. If you don’t know the game, think of Star Control with more diplomacy and exploration. Another classic for Electronic Arts, although the graphics were abysmal. They apparently made no attempt to update the five year old graphics for the Genesis version.

The Faery Tale Adventure — 1986
Maybe when this game came out it was good, but by the time I got the Genesis port it was a terrible waste of time. Only I didn’t realize this until I replayed it a few years ago. When I first played it I was in the 5th grade and it was spellbinding. You control one of three brothers, and when you die, you take control of the next brother. The battle animation is so bad it’s hilarious, and the Genesis version, at least, also has a save feature that doesn’t entirely work. This is because it rounds some of your stats up or something every time you load the game. By continually saving and reloading I managed to level the shit out of my character. Faery Tale Adventure is the worst game on this list but still reminds me of weekends at my friend Jordan’s house, so I guess I have to thank EA for it.

These 15 games are amongst the best Electronic Arts has ever published. The next time you find someone bashing EA just remember that they have done a lot for the industry, no matter how much you think they damage it now.

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17 years ago

Has anyone noticed that Valve and its Steam are becoming the next EA? EA was basically an outlet for developers to get their games published and was rather heroic when it first started out, but soon became too big for its own good. This is exactly the same thing that’s happening with Steam. Every developer sees it as a way to get their game to the public, and Valve just its there and waits for the check. They created a hugely dynamic and secure system, so it’s not without merit, but something tells me in the next few years, Valve will become as hated as EA is now. ANd I’ve always wanted to try out Populous. They keep citing it when introducing Peter Molyneux, a person favorite of mine, and I want to know what it’s like. 

17 years ago

I was just thinking to myself that I remembered when EA made good games… back in the Genesis days and before.  King’s Bounty and General Chaos are two of my favorite Genesis games, and The Haunting was interesting if not great.  We had (and still have, someplace) a copy of Mail Order Monsters but haven’t managed to get it working… disks are too fragile.

17 years ago

Mutant League Football was a HORRIBLE game – if you tried to play it like a real football game. The secret was to play on the goofy stadiums with funky gravity or pits, and at all times be sure that dead players could NOT come back to life. If you had replacement options on, it made it all stupid. But when part of the game strategy became killing the other team, suddenly it became a LOT of fun.

John H.
John H.
17 years ago

Lots of cool games on there, although some were actually clunkers (Mutant League Football and Haunting).  You forgot MULE though, widely admired by game designers and possibly the best multiplayer game of all time.Genesis Starflight, it should be said, looks vastly different from the PC version.  I think the Genesis interface is better though, and the play is still there.I also have a certain fondness for an old Commodore game called Adventure Construction Set, which is still state-of-the-art in many of its elements today.  (It has a tricky interface to get used to, though.)The Bard’s Tale is by no means the first RPG — the first computer game to follow the pattern now commonly considered as that of a role-playing game was Wizardry, which Bard’s Tale follows very closely in play style.  Other early games could claim the title however.

13 years ago

as old as this is, edge’s recent profile of EA reminded me of this and i’d like to return to it.

i do not think the current EA is blameless and virtuous, but i do think things there have improved some since 4 years ago (geez im old) when this was written. they may still iterate sports titles every year, and i occasionally feel abused by DLC practices, but they have published more (interesting to me) original IP* this generation than their cohort (ubi and activision). with activision being the current enemy of gamers everywhere, and ubi treating the wii like its owners are mid-potty training, ea seems the most palatable of the three.

*nothing in this comment is remotely fact checked. mostly i have liked a lot of ea games recently (esp if we can count bioware’s output as ea games) and think we should have it on record that we appreciate the effort.

13 years ago

I agree Pat – EA’s output has become much better over time. The problem is that not all of their games have sold that well. Meanwhile, Activision has opened the faucet for shitware even more, and have raked it in as a result. I appreciate the efforts of EA, but I fear that one day they’ll figure out what’s happening and change their mind.

13 years ago

i think the reckoning is coming for activision (with the huge and notable exception of blizzard). after gutting infinity ward (see: west and zampella, et al) i imagine the call of duty games will fall off in quality (arent the treyarch games already worse than the IW games; i dont play the series) and consequently in sales. guitar/dj/whatever hero sales have already started falling after their annual exploitation. what are the other big money sources for activision?

keeping in mind starcraft 2 and diablo 3 are/ are going to be massively successful.