Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Milestones : Warlords

PvP. Player versus player combat. Some say it's the end-all and be-all of videogaming. That there is no challenge greater or more worthy than facing off against a real person. While I disagree with the idea that PvP is all that there is to gaming, it certainly offers thrills and challenges that are unique and rewarding.

For me, it all began with the Atari VCS version of Warlords. While other Atari games had PvP combat (specifically the pack-in game, Combat), Warlords was the first one I experienced with four - player combat. With two sets of paddles, up to four players could fight it out for supremacy.

In Warlords, each player controlled a paddle which defended a brick castle in each of the four corners of the screen. A ball would fly around, and if it hit your castle, it took out a brick. Behind your wall of bricks there was a king, and if the ball hit the king you were out.

As the defender of your castle, you could both deflect the incoming ball or catch it, and thus release it at will toward your opponents. It made for some tense moments when you waited to see who your opponent would unleash the ball on. There were some smooth moves such as releasing the ball at a certain angle to make it very difficult to deflect, or faking an attack on one opponent and then suddenly whipping the paddle around to release it against another.

Everything about modern PvP was there with Warlords - the smack-talking, the intense rivalries, ganging up on someone if they were winning too much. And although the total win score was lost once you shut the system off, we all knew in our heads who was ahead at any given time.

With all the modern forms of PvP, the experience is a lot less pure - there are cheats, exploits, latency issues, and so much bile being spilled about it by so many people - that I sometimes wish I could go back to 1981, in that basement with my friends, and enjoy some Warlords again. But, time marches on, and PvP remains one of the most popular gaming styles to this day. For me, Warlords heralded this era, and in some ways prepared me for it.

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