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Chaos

Chaos

Like many small boys growing up in 1980’s Britain my first introduction to computing and computer gaming was the dreadful ZX Spectrum with its terrible colour bleed, clunky cassette loading and creepily tactile rubber keyboard. Most of the games I played on it were awful, but I played them because I had nothing else, but one was different. One was so good I still play it on emulators, occasionally, today.

That game was Chaos...

Chaos was the first (and until relatively recently the last) foray that Games Workshop took into computer game publishing, back in 1985. It featured up to eight wizards each of which could be human or computer controlled, trying to kill each other on a featureless battlefield. The wizards themselves were fairly puny so each had a randomly determined collection of spells. Some buffed the wizards, some were direct attacks, some were downright odd like Gooey Blob or Magic Wood, but most summoned creatures.

One of the many interesting things about Chaos was the fact that the more powerful creature spells had a higher chance of failing, so the player could choose instead to cast them as an illusion. Illusions always worked but could be instantly killed by the “disbelieve” spell that was available to all wizards and cast-able every turn. So every summons had an immediate risk/reward choice to make alongside it, giving the game more strategy than it might first appear. It appeared a very simple game on the surface but there was actually quite a lot going on under the bonnet (hood for those of you in the states). I’m not going to run it all down for you: you can read the rules and indeed play various versions of the game on this excellent fan page.

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Everyone I know who played Chaos loved it. Every turn, every move was crammed with tension, not knowing what on the board was real, or what the other players had up their sleeves to cast that turn or even whether any of the spells lined up would work properly. Inevitably we all had our own suggestions about how the game could be improved and by far the most common was that it needed a non-random spell selection as some spells were more powerful than others so starting spell selection often determined the winner. Duly a sequel to the game, Lords of Chaos, appeared which included this alongside other upgrades such as big maps with terrain and an expanded spell palette. And, whilst not awful, it was nowhere near as much fun as the original. Giving players the chance to choose spells just meant they always picked the best, reducing the variety and fun in the game. And big maps with complex terrain made it take too long as well as reducing accessibility.

But so many people loved Chaos that it was never going to be left to die. On 16 bit machines there was a little know game called Celtic Legends which was clearly inspired by Chaos and was pretty good, even if it got a bit repetitive. But with the retro-gaming explosion in later years there were numerous people making copies of Chaos, most of which fell by the wayside either being unfinished or falling into the trap of trying to improve the game and rendering it rubbish. I’ve already pointed you at one of the few successes.

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It struck me recently that it’d be an absolutely fantastic tablet or mobile phone game. So imagine my annoyance as an iPad owner to discover that it’s one of the tiny handful of games that’s available on Android but not iOS! I’m off to email the author about porting it – in the meantime I suggest you go back to my previous link and get playing it.

Matt Thrower

Matt is a board gamer who plays video games when he can't find anyone similarly obsessive to play against, which is frequently. The inability to get out and play after the birth of his first child lead him to start writing about games as a substitute for playing them. He founded FortressAT.com and writes there and at NoHighScores.com

11 thoughts to “Chaos”

  1. Have to say that as child of the 80′s my recollection of the greatest PC ever made the ZX Spectrum does not match yours.

    Sure looking back now and thanks to internet I can have a complete picture of the available technologies the ZX Spectrum can seem like the poor cousin of other gaming machines, the version of games available for multiformats were poorer in graphics on the ZX Spectrum but the essence of gameplay remained.

    But in time of limed information and in a country of limited economic resources ZX Spectrum was the greatest thing ever.

    UK was the home of Spectrum but thanks to fact that the machine was an actual PC, you could program the actual games you played on it, and that copying tapes was easy has having to two tape recorders, the Spectrum expanded trough Europe thanks to piracy. So for a price of NES game unthinkable for most wallets in my country I could go to my local computer shop and select more then 20 games from a catalog and the game tapes were created there on the fly. Of course for every game bought at the store it was replicated to every friend in the neighborhood.

    Is curious when I hear podcast with people recollecting there NES childhood were they played one game over and over again, the ZX Spectrum games were more like a buffet in a space of three years I probably played close to 100 games, and sure as you say many were bad and didn’t played many more time of it then the 3minutes it took to load it but many of them found a place in the tape deck for many afternoons.

    I don’t remember coming across Chaos, as I said limited information and buffet of games was easy to overlook a game that even for Spectrum doesn’t make a graphical impression, to bad because I can see that it would had made for some fun afternoon with friends.

  2. This sounds like it would’ve been right up my alley back in the day. Love the idea of the illusion versus creature spell failure mechanic.

  3. Oh I’d defend it as being the best value games platform at the time. I’d also say it had a decent shot as the best gaming platform overall at the time because of the things you mention: the Commodore 64 was a better machine but cost an arm and a leg more and didn’t have the gaming library or popular support to match, at least not in the early 80′s. However my poking fun at it is entirely with the benefit of hindsight: it’s only compared to what’s come since in the history of video gaming that it looks absolutely ridiculous. At the time it was absolutely awesome.

  4. Go play it then 🙂 The link is in the article. Shame none of the fan remakes properly implimented multi-player over a network rather than face-to-face (which was in the original).

  5. I have to say that looking back that the graphics or the awkward keyboards are not the things the make me say that was bad compared to what I know now. The endless load times, the failed loads, adjust tape deck and try again, those were the things that would be unutterable today, how did I spend the time waiting for the games to load. My answer is that I don’t remember playing alone very much, so there was almost always another person there to help pass the time, also most games were hard so even single player games you could alternate with a friend without getting very boring.

  6. Hahahahahaha!! All this time of you iOS users lording your precious exclusive Apps and board game ports over me. But now the shoe’s on the other foot (also got Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies for free so, um, take that).

    Never have played this game before now, but I’m liking it so far. Really need to read an instuction manual as its not clear what non-summon spells do until I use them (and sometimes not even then). Not proud to say I lost my first match to an easiest-level computer opponent.

  7. Go you! I decided yesterday to pick up an Android device myself – already have an iPad so best of both worlds. Looking forward to playing me some Chaos later 😀 And do read the instruction – they’re not very long. You can pick up the game through play and experimentation alone, but it’s easier and more fun just to read.

  8. That’s fantastic. Although it costs a bit whereas the android version is free – and I can’t honestly see myself playing an awful lot of other Spectrum games. But I wonder what else is in that Gollop collection … looks like it includes Lords of Chaos and Laser Squad. Okay, that could well be worthwhile.

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