Matt Chat 43: Archon

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Hi, folks. I'm back this week with a video about one of my favorite two-player games, Free Fall Associates' Archon (1983).

Also: Check out Bill's amazing response video that shows the original packaging and much more!

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Bill Loguidice
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That's what I wanted to

That's what I wanted to mention that I forgot in the response, Wrath Unleashed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wrath_Unleashed

I've talked about that game before. Instead of doing a 2D game board, it did a messy 3D game board that is very, very difficult to make out where anything is (much like a bad 3D chess set, only much, much worse). The actual battles were mediocre, but probably could have been passable had the board game part not been so bad. Again with the failure to update the Archon concept effectively...

A new Archon would make a tremendous Xbox Live, PSN or WiiWare game. I still have hopes someday to make one myself, though I'd make mine more like chess than the other send-ups.

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Chris Kennedy
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Yeah!

Well - I am obviously a big fan of Archon. Thanks for doing this Matt Chat, Matt.

I actually tried to acquire the Commodore 64 version for collecting purposes as well as comparison to the Atari XEGS version. Unfortunately, it wasn't listed properly. The seller said it was C64, however it was the IBM PC version. Regardless, I did end up with a nice, tri-fold version of it. The art is really great. I love those EA games. I don't have that many of them - just two, really. Legacy of the Ancients could be in better shape, but the artwork still looks nice. I need to do a write-up on that.

One point I want to make about Archon - People always talk about graphics, sound, control, and gameplay. Those that use the term gameplay hit on something that people should give more attention. Allow me to be a bit more specific - Pacing. Pacing is KEY - especially for arcade style games. One thing that Matt's video cannot illustrate is the pacing of the game. When you have the controller in your hand and a human opponent sitting next to you, the pacing of Archon causes a high energy I cannot describe. Seeing the videos of some of the other ports backs up my point. While I obviously cannot understand the pacing of a game I am watching rather than playing, it looked like one or two of those games served as an example that better graphics, sound, etc doesn't really matter if the pacing doesn't equal the original.

Good job, Matt. Another excellent game added to the library of Matt Chats.

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Matt Barton
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I agree. One of these days

I agree. One of these days I'm going to get around to making my "Matt Chat" supplementary podcast so I'll have time to develop these ideas properly. But, yes, I agree that gameplay is what makes games like Archon still fun and worthwhile today. I think it's safe to say that if there's ANY game from the early 80s that people are still playing and enjoying today, that's pure gameplay. As you get better and better audiovisuals, gameplay becomes less important (at least to most gamers). Thus, developers can trot out the same game year after year, with slightly improved visuals/audio, and bodda bing. On the other hand, classic gamers will often stick to an original (say, the C-64 Archon) over "superior" sequels such as Archon Ultra. I can imagine a young pup looking at A:U and thinking we're nuts to prefer the C64 version. They just don't get that graphics and such don't make the game.

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Mark Vergeer
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8bit Nintendo version...

Excellent show Matt, thoroughly enjoyed this week's episode on Archon.

I powered up my C64 and played a little Archon today and was amazed by the level of gameplay, but the battle sequences were difficult and the randomness of the outcome was what threw me off. As I do also own the 8Bit Nintendo version I put it in and played some of that afterwards and I must say I love the 8bit NES version. The battle sequences are fun and you feel you actually have more control over your creature and the outcome of the battles aren't as random to me.

5/5

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Bill Loguidice
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I'd be curious how you feel

I'd be curious how you feel there's a "random" element to the battles, Mark. It's hit or be hit, and starting power is determined by two basic factors - the color of the square the battle takes place on and the general shade of the board (i.e., dark/dark gives the dark piece a significant advantage). Also, I don't find the battle sequences to be particularly difficult. The computer AI is particularly susceptible to diagonal attacks. Naturally the "pawn" pieces and the other pieces that require melee combat are very difficult to utilize effectively, but that's fitting to their ranking, and you can make up for some of that by utilizing the terrain (by both hiding behind and striking from objects). Also, it's very easy to gain an advantage over the AI, i.e., making up for personal deficiencies in the action sequences through effective usage of the spells. I also like that there are different ways to win, for instance either killing all the pieces or simply controlling all of the power squares.

Like the NES version of Raid on Bungeling Bay, perhaps I was just spoiled by the C-64 version and my ability to use a joystick or the more straightforward presenation, but the playability for me just didn't seem the same. Perhaps all the visual trappings of the NES version (right down to the differing resolution) threw me off, as it changed the battle techniques quite a bit. For my money, the NES is another in a long line of wannabes, though it's certainly more successful than most. It's either the Atari 8-bit/XEGS or C-64 versions or nothing in my book. I must admit, though, I've never tried some of the other versions, like for the Amiga, so I can't give a definitive answer. All I've played are the Apple II, Atari 8-bit, C-64 and NES versions of the game, as well as Archon Ultra for the PC (ugh). I have, but have yet to try Archon: Evolution, which was the promising remake making use of the original code (or at least elements of it), but that was never 100% complete to my knowledge. Regardless, there are tons of Archon-like games, but none ever made much of an impact. I notice that some even call Mortal Kombat: Deception's Chess Kombat game an Archon-like game, but from what I recall in playing it, it was kind of a visual disaster (I'll have to drag out my copy again one day).

I think I could possibly live with 3D combat, but I'd find it unlikely I'd like a 3D board of any type.

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Mark Vergeer
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randomness...
Bill Loguidice wrote:

I'd be curious how you feel there's a "random" element to the battles, Mark.....

Okay perhaps 'Random' wasn't the best word to describe what my feeling is about the battles in Archon. The opponents behavior (AI) wasn't very sophisticated and were indeed prone to diagonal attacks. The whole movement of the opponents was very random in my view with them sometimes moving in your direction and sometimes just a random direction fleeing away without any real cause for that. This twitchy if I may call it random movement of the opponents is what bothered me about the game. Still it is a classic of course and for the time an excellent game.

PS3: MarkVergeer | Xbox 360: Lactobacillus P | Wii: 8151 3435 8469 3138
Armchair arcade Editor | Pixellator | www.markvergeer.nl

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Rowdy Rob
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Archon wasn't perfect! *GASP*

I greatly enjoyed the Atari 8-bit version of Archon. Like Bill, I confess that I played the pirated version, but later bought the game (Atari version). Where my copy of Archon is now, I have no idea.

Anyhow, as a fairly heavy Archon player back in the day, of course I used the strategic aspects of the game to my advantage, but in my opinion, the game was HEAVILY slanted to favor joystick jockeys like myself. I could beat anyone I knew just through the arcade combat aspect of the game. No matter how strategic my opponent played, I could pretty much wipe them off the board through my joystick prowess. In many cases, I could even take out their most powerful pieces by "clubbing" them with one of my pawns, even if the square's "brightness" was completely in the opponent's favor! And that was against human opponents; the computer opponent was ridiculously easy to beat. "Archon" often played out like a player-versus-player shooter, with "strategic elements" tacked on as an afterthought.

Sometimes I even let my opponents wipe out most of my pieces to give myself a handicap, then proceeded to clean their clocks with my few remaining pieces!

Essentially, the game had a feel much like "Unreal Tournament" online, where master players could annihilate moderately-skilled players, and especially newbies, making the game seem much less fun to the lesser players.

I didn't play much Archon II: Adept, but if I recall correctly, it not only had the same "joystick jockey" weakness, it might have made this problem worse! It had an "Armageddon" mode, where at a certain point, one player could declare "Armageddon" (or whatever it was called in the game), and the game was settled in a toe-to-toe "slugfest" between the two players. The end result was kind of like a soccer match that goes into overtime, where the entire match is settled on some goal kicks, i.e. entirely negating all the skill that went into the game up to that point. Needless to say, a good "action" player could settle the match easily over a less skilled opponent, no matter how strategically the opponent played!

The game should have had more concessions for strategic players. Perhaps skill levels that handicap the opponent, evening the playing field, could have been added. Or, perhaps more severe penalties for being on a "dark" square if you're a "light side" player, and vice versa. Perhaps slowing you down more, or slowing your rate of fire (more?), or whatever, might have made the game more competitive for "cerebral" players.

The game had its balance problems, but it was a very creative concept and well-executed, and would have made an excellent game for two high-skill "action" players. It's still a classic, but I would have liked to see highly-strategic players having a better chance against the action-oriented players.

Imagine a game that pits a strategy genius against an action genius, with various variations of tactical play styles inbetween, all equally effective depending on how well you play according to your style! Archon didn't achieve that, but it might have shown the way.

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Bill Loguidice
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First off, kudos to the

First off, kudos to the original developers for going with a radically different sequel. It would have been all too easy to just improve the audio-visuals and change up some of the pieces. With that said, in this case a by-the-numbers sequel would have been preferred in my opinion considering the amazing, but somewhat flawed base they had to work on. Improve the core audio-visuals and expand the piece abilities, as well as ratchet up the depth and subtlety of the AI and they would have really had something. It's a shame there was no Archon 3 from that era for the original platforms.

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Matt Barton
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Hi, Rob. Wanted to point out

Hi, Rob. Wanted to point out that Archon Ultra does have a handicapping feature. Maybe it was added to address the problems you raised.

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Matt Barton
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I think Archon Ultra had

I think Archon Ultra had some GREAT ideas, but it was just poorly implemented. It just needed more playtesting and a longer development cycle, I'm guessing. I can see where they were going and it was the right direction, but the implementation...

First off, I like the audiovisual update but it wasn't enough. I would have liked to see a lot more animation on the board, and the side by side worked better than the top bottom piece arrangement. I would also have liked better movement and control. For some reason, Ultra just handles weird. You don't get that tight, super-response of Archon on Atari 8-bit or C64. I usually don't harp on this kind of thing, but with this sort of game you really need precision. Ultra's control feels loose somehow.

What I did like was the secondary abilities of the pieces. It's cool to have an attack and a defense on the pawns, for instance. I think to make the most of it, though, you really needed a lot more health (or less damage). The battles are just too fast and frantic to even think about using those abilities or developing a strat. As far as I'm concerned, an equal battle (i.e., pawn vs. pawn w/o color advantage) could take upwards of 2-3 minutes. These battles are more like 10 seconds. Just not enough time to make them interesting.

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