Imagine, if you will, the early 90's. A group three or four of middle school boys huddled around a computer screen in someone's living room or study. The focus of their rapt attention is a terrain which looks like it was made in a few minutes in MS Paint on which were gathered a handful of tiny pixellated tanks and artillery pieces. The guy at the keyboard takes a thoughtful sip from his Coke and then lines up a shot. He carefully measures out angle and power, adjusting for wind and for the fact that, despite the game taking place outdoors, the borders of the screen were "walls" of rubber which would send even nuclear warheads bouncing around like superballs. Finally, the player punches the fire key with a singular force which has a sort of exclamatory nature to it, as if the satisfying clack of plastic key were a kind of battle cry. Everyone watches the screen intently as a tiny white dot, its arc traced by a white line behind it, is lobbed across the screen and down into a small valley in which another pixellated tank waits. The shot strikes earth and issues forth a massive explosion, not only enveloping the target but disintegrating an entire chunk of hillside.
The owner of the targetted tank waits with fist clenched, willing his tank's shield - represented by a white circle around it - to save it from impending doom. But fate has decreed otherwise. The shield falls with a shrill pc speaker whine sound blurb and the tank colorfully explodes into even tinier pixels while issuing a one-line lament of its demise.
Scorched Earth was a cherished part of my early gaming years. My friends and I loaded up the simple but incredibly enjoyable game many times to blast the computer and each other into tiny pixels using a variety of death-dealing and amusing weapons. It was a great time to be a gamer. Those days are, of course, their own moments in time. The same combination of wonder, companionship, and place are something I cannot replicate because I am no longer in middle school. But the game which brought us all together around a single keyboard is still around - a classic which has spawned many similar titles, including the incredibly enjoyable Worms series.
Version 1.5, the last release of Scorched Earth, is still easily available online as free shareware. It can be played using Dosbox. I do recommend that anyone who has never played it before give it a try because it is a real part of gaming history.
However, out of all of the various descendants of Scorched Earth, one has stood out to me both as a fan of the original and as a Linux gamer. That game is Scorched 3D.
Put simply, Scorched 3D is Scorched Earth with a 3d environment. It presents the players with a group of tanks and artillery set on an island or set of islands with the objective of lobbing heavy munitions at each other. Why? For what purpose are they engaging in this conflict? What are the ecological ramifications of disintegrating small islands? None of that matters. This is a game about tiny tanks and huge explosions. That is all we need to know.
Whenever you have an "update" of anything creative - be it a tv show, movie, video game, or what have you - I am suspicious. So very often these things just screw things up royally. Well, I am happy to say that Scorched 3D treats the original property with the tender loving care which a classically destructice game like this deserves. In fact, the designers have done their best to deliver an authentic experience of what the original Scorch (as we called it) would be if it was put into a 3d environment.
Among the things which carry over from the old classic are the basic mechanic of turn based artillery gameplay, the deformable terrain, and, very importantly, the massive arsenal. All of the great weapons are back - from the funky bomb to the sandhog. So are shields and other accessories. In short, it does not try to fix what was already a fantastic gameplay element.
Where the new game shows its improvements is, naturally, in the area of graphics. I found the environments to be impressive, varied, and enjoyable to play on. Perhaps the best part is the water, both in terms if how it looks and how it reacts to terrain being blasted away. Watching a newly created crater fill with seawater makes the game that much more fun.
Adding 3d to what was once a 2d game works extremely well in this case. The additional dimension adds a great deal of tactical thought that was not available before. Moving your vehicle was always important, for instance, but now it is even more essential. The terrain can become an asset or a liability, depending upon how you make use of it. I have played matches in which a tank nestled in a particularly tough to hit spot proved to be a real pain for everyone else. On the other hand, if you start a match in the middle of the open, expect to be a target. It's all part of the experience. And while all of this was present in the old Scorch, it is magnified and made more complex through the new iteration.
In the old days, we used to gather around a single keyboard in order to play Scorch. While that is still possible, the evolution of networking capabilities in games has opened up new possibilities of which Scorched 3D takes full advantage. It is easy to set up a game to play with friends or to join online games. If you play with friends. I recommend using some kind of audio chat - such as Ventrilo - because the best part of Scorch has always been the interaction with your buddies.
Overall, Scorched 3D captures the sense of fun which the old Scorch had to it. It continues the spirit of the original and is a great update for both those of us who played in years past and those who are new to the legacy.
Scorched 3D works in Linux, Mac, and Windows. Downloads are available on their website. You can also install the game via the Synaptic Package Manager in Debian based Linux distributions (including Ubuntu and Mint). Synaptic has a GUI available. However, if you want to use the terminal, do the following:
prompt ~ $ sudo apt-get install scorched3d
Then if you want to play the game, simply use the following command:
prompt ~ $ scorched3d
I played the game in Linux Mint and, aside from some sound issues which are probably related to the sound card on my Sony laptop, it worked quite well. When I played it on my desktop in Ubuntu, it ran with almost no issues, though again the sound could bug out at times. Since the game is 100% free, I will not complain. It is such a fine production overall.
And now for the links.
Scorched Earth Website: http://whicken.com/scorch/