a love story that lasts until today

From Bismarck to Age of Empires only ten years pass, and in that short space of time one of the genres most loved by players born in the 80s experienced an inordinate development, which laid the foundations of what we still play with the keyboard today. and the mouse. We talked, how could it be otherwise, about Strategy genre. It’s hard to think of a genre more tied to a single gaming platform than the strategy with the PC. Not only has it lived its golden age or its most prolific stages on the open platform, but even today, when genres and titles seem not to belong to a single gaming platform, it is almost impossible separate the PC from our mind when we talk about strategy, especially if we cover its past history.

And even with everything, it is terribly curious to think what the origin of the genre is, where it took its first steps and why it tied itself in the way it did to this open gaming platform, in a kind of “love relationship” that lasts to this day. Talking about this relationship is the objective of the text that you are reading right now, in which we are going to cover why the golden age of the genre happened, and talk about why it happened on the PC, a kind of annex to the text that we published already ago a few months on this extensive and magnificent genre. We invite you to join us once again on this curious subject.

From the battlefield to the gaming table

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Talking about strategy as a genre can be somewhat ambiguous. The non-militaristic definition of strategy is that of “taking thoughtful actions for a specific purpose”, a definition that, as you can see, can be associated with almost any aspect of life, especially if we are talking about something with a defined set of rules, as with games. However, strategy titles are relatively easy to identify, with a series of associated characteristics that make them recognizable and homogeneous within their gender.

War game 1824.

Kriegspiel 1824. The most famous Wargame of its time.

Much of the blame for this homogeneity is the origin of gender. The most remote ancestor of strategy video games are the so-called “War Games” -War Games in English-, or what is the same, recreations of controlled war action and subject to specific rules. These rules that characterize war games often revolve around the idea of large-scale decision making, relatively difficult to predict and subject to the player’s freedom of decision, that is, the player handles more information and their decisions attend to the impact in the medium-long term than in the common game.

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These games have an origin as distant as the war to which they refer, but they lived a major boom during the second half of the 20th century. With the first steps in the digital age and the popularity of personal computers and gaming devices, it was a natural fit for these kinds of games to start appearing in such media.

A few first steps marked by war

The advent of home consoles and personal computers brought a major change for strategy games. The application of machinery eliminates the need for calculations, the use of the screen completely eliminates the need for physical space on the board, as well as the need to find a large number of players to start a game, the Achilles heel of all games. table. As a result of the “digitization” of the strategy genre by adapting to the medium of video games, the genre became more accessible and less intensive.

Bismarck

Bismarck (1987).

It is already at this early stage of the genre when we can begin to talk about titles such as Eastern Front (1941), released for the 8-bit Atari in 1981 and considered one of the first strategy video games. The game is for a single player, where he must react strategically to the movements of the AI, ahead of future movements. Already in this title appear some of the usual mechanical references of the TBS (Turn Based Strategy) that would define in the near future one of the great faces of the genre, but they would not do it homogeneously. Games like Nether Earth or Bokosuka Wars flirted with mechanics that today we could limit within the strategy genre, but we were not yet talking about a genre in itself within our medium.

We would have to wait until 1987 to see these elements take root in the genre, with the release of Bismarck by Mirrorsoft to begin to see the elements of the War Game that we talked about in the previous section. well integrated into a video game. Bismarck is a mechanically lined TBS with its table and board counterparts, in which the management of our troops and the execution of our attacks are the core of the game.

Nobunaga's Ambitions.

Nobunaga’s Ambitions (1987).

That same there would be another great reference: Nobunaga’s Ambitions, considered the first “Grand Strategy” of our environment. The peculiarity of Koei’s title is the advance of some of his ideas in terms of territory management, relations between entities and resource management, moving away from the pure positioning of the games of the genre so far. With moderate success in both titles, and ports to all computers of the time, we can start talking about a awakening of the genre among the general public, greater acceptance, and what is more important: successful games to use as references for new developers.

RTS vs. TBS: two sides of the coin

Until the end of the eighties, the line that separated physical strategy games from the creature that was brewing in our midst it was not quite defined, but this situation would not last too long. The technical superiority of the video game over the physical medium prompted developers to develop ideas that they simply could not be included in a fluid and interesting way in physical media of the time; This exploration stage, together with the appearance of referents of different genres in our environment, led many of these developers to reiterate ideas and develop concepts that hybridized the experience of strategy video games.

DUNE II

DUNE II (1992).

It is distancing of styles between physical and digital media became clear with the appearance of the so-called RTS or “Real Time Strategy Game”, which, as its own name indicates, are opposed to the TBS and definitively dispense with the shift system that until its appearance had ruled with a fist Iron is the genre, to make concepts as “video game” as “Timing” the “Microgame” or the management of resources in real time, the new normal. As a curious note, the first recognized RTS is Herzog Zwei (1989), originally released for Sega Mega Drive, which would open the ban for the explosion of titles of excellent quality that we would have in the genre in the nineties.

The separation between these two approaches to the strategic game laid the foundations for the development of both slopes, since in both, essential references would arise on which to reiterate ideas, both within the video game and outside of it, being the mythical DUNE II (1992) the classic example in the RTS and the fantastic agglomeration of ideas of Sid Meier in the first Civilization (1991).

Civilization

Civilization (1991). Imagen de Civilization Wiki.

The great releases of both slopes would be well defined in the years after the two titles, with works such as the great Warcraft (1994) by Blizzard Enterteinment, and later Command & Conquer (1995), RTS has entered its golden age, crowned by the departure of the immortal Age of Empires (1997). Meanwhile, the TBS found themselves face to face with such transcendent works as UFO: Enemy Unknown (1994), Heroes of Might and Magic II (1996), or the second installment of Civilization with Sid Meier’s Civilization II (1996). The latter, for many Crown jewel” from the TBS Strategy Game during the genre’s golden age.

Solid foundations: the PC-Strategy relationship

It is considered that the golden age of the strategy genre on the PC ranges from the launch of the first Civilization to the end of the 20th century, a time in which every year we found references of interest with interesting proposals or revisions of ideas previously presented with great finesse.

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Although in later years we would continue to have some of the most recognizable works of the genre, especially after the settlement of three-dimensional spaces after a somewhat chaotic first years, we will disembark in a silver age in the first years of the new millennium, but we can hardly buy the importance of gender in the collective imagination of the players – if I may judge – during these years in the same way as in the late nineties, at least until the first decade of the 2000s.

What is undeniable is that both this golden age and the subsequent times of interest have happened, almost exclusively, on the PC as a gaming platform. A phenomenon that we attribute to three causes main:

  1. The appearance of the first references on the platform, which would be developed by the repetition that characterizes our environment.
  2. Peaks of interest in times of technological development, where the PC had a technical advantage versus other platforms.
  3. The evolution of the ideas and mechanics of the genre around the esquema de consl and conventions of the PC as a platform.

And there are three causes that we can easily corroborate if we attend to the releases of the genre and the requests of its public throughout the history of the medium, including our present.

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Although we could establish a series of conditioning factors at the social level, such as the audience developed on the PC as a platform against the youthful state of the console video game during the late nineties, this work does not correspond to the small journey that this text supposes. We are going to say goodbye with a simple question, if you are a fan of the genre, what game made you get hooked on the beautiful art of strategy?