Operation: Overkill is a BBS door game--a phrase that I'm writing for the first time in my entire life and still don't fully understand what it is. I mean, I looked it up on Wikipedia and everything. Here's the link. I like to consider myself a pretty smart guy, and I definitely understand the conjunctions and indefinite articles in the first two paragraphs, but I'm fuzzy on everything else. Although I was alive and young for it, I really missed the entire BBS era, much as I am doing with social media in the 2000s. Three decades from now, someone will be reminiscing about Candy Crush, and I'll have no idea what they're talking about and no frame of reference to understand it.
Without commenter HunterZ, who sent me some instructions for making the game work on my computer, I wouldn't be playing it at all. Having jury-rigged some kind of solution to mimic a BBS on my own computer (I think), I've gotten the game running, but I lack confidence that it will stay running, particularly since it's bent on kicking me out after a certain amount of time, and every time I want to play, I have to run a maintenance program that changes some things.
Operation: Overkill was created by Dustin Nulf, a programmer with a moderate game portfolio, usually as the audio programmer or music composer. This game was his first, and his online resume suggests he might have been in high school when he created it. He kept maintaining it throughout the 1990s; the version I was able to get running is 1.20, with a copyright date of 1996-2001. His c.v. says that he sold 3,000 copies.
The title of the game is somewhat confusing. Almost every web site and database has it as Operation: Overkill II, with no word on the first game in the series. The game's main executable is called "OOII," lending credence to the II part, but its title screens generally just say Operation: Overkill. I say "generally" because the game has a variety of title screens that it chooses at random when you start up, and one of them does say "Part II" on it. None of the others do, nor does the copyright screen.
|This alternate opening screen is the only one to indicate that the game is "Part II" of something.|
The game takes place in 2060, decades after a nuclear war wiped out most of the human population. To avoid contamination of the planet's water supply, humanity somehow converted it to "water crystals," which serve as the world's currency. As if a nuclear holocaust wasn't enough, Earth was soon invaded by the forces of the planet Hydrania, ruled by a merciless commander named "Overkill." Overkill and the Hydrites stole most of the planet's water crystals. The remnants of humanity live in an underground complex, protecting the last of their precious water, sending scavengers to the surface to find food and more crystals. On the surface, they must contend with Hydrite marauders, mutants, bandits, and other assorted monsters. There is a vague main quest to find and kill Overkill, but it isn't well-elaborated.
|A bit of the in-game backstory.|
The game is all text, though with some occasional navigational graphics. It plays a lot like a roguelike, particularly since I assume death is permanent (I haven't died yet). In the base, which serves as a kind of "town level," you can buy and sell weapons, armor, and equipment, get healed, store money, practice combat, train to level-up, and interact with other players.
|The main base offers some basic navigational graphics.|
Characters begin with 18 strength, 21 dexterity, and 21 hit points, and they can enroll in a training program that makes small adjustments to the totals. At each level increase, they can raise one of the three attributes by 4 points.
|The brief character creation process.|
Outside, the wasteland occupies multiple "levels," each with coordinates extending from 0,0 to 24E, 29S. I assume the map is randomly generated for each new game, though I'm not really sure how this worked with multiple players. Not all the squares are used; the entire wasteland is ringed by impassable rock, and the interior has a variety of terrain, including mountains, water, swamps, desert, and radioactive areas. In my explorations of the first "level," I found a couple of missile silos (these just seem to serve as temporary camps where you can rest and meet other characters), an abandoned Air Force base, and a hole that goes down to the other levels; I guess the other levels are meant to be underground, but they have the same terrain as the initial one.
|The outdoor navigation screen. The infrared scanner shows that I'm on flat terrain (in the center). Flat terrain surrounds me to the west, east, and north, but south of me are impassable rocks. I've just encountered an enemy.|
|My map of the first "level."|
There don't seem to be any fixed encounters in the wilderness areas. Instead, you randomly bumble into enemies like scavengers, cobra-men, bandits, rabid dogs, and giant frogs. At least one non-combat encounter, with a weird gypsy named Aurora, moves randomly around the map. She tells you answers to questions for a sacrifice of your attributes.
|An encounter with the only NPC so far.|
Combat uses an interesting combination of real-time reaction and underlying attributes. Each round, a series of As, Bs, and Cs scroll along the screen in groups of 5, and the game tells you which one you're looking for. When your desired letter group appears, you hit SPACE or ENTER, and if you caught it before all 5 letters went by, you score a hit. At that point, damage is based on your weapon and strength. I think the speed at which the letters scroll by is based on your dexterity.
|A bit of the action combat system. I like the descriptors.|
For players that don't like the action-oriented system (or had laggy modems, I guess), there's an alternative system based on random rolls against your dexterity, but I found that I miss a lot more using the random system. Either way, for all its originality, combat offers few tactics, making it long and boring, and the game promises to offer hundreds and hundreds of them.
|Fighting using the "statistical" method gives me nothing to do but watch helplessly.|
Each character can carry both a melee weapon and a long-range weapon. The melee weapons range in quality and value from a steel chain up through a "TransAxe," an electric sword, and something called a "Tevix-Bahn." Ranged weapons range from a "Trialism" through a "Z-Tempest." Most of the weapon names are invented by the author, but the neat thing is that you can get a full description of each item in the base, making this one of the few games so far with item descriptions.
|This looks like the thing that Worf uses.|
If you have a ranged weapon, you have the option to squeeze off a shot at the beginning of combat. If your foe doesn't have a ranged weapon, that's a freebee for you. After that first round, the enemy closes with you and you have to fight with your melee weapon for the remainder of the combat. I don't know if there are any combats with multiple ranged rounds, but I haven't fought any yet. Even opponents with guns generally run into melee range after the first round.
|Usually, you can loot items after combat, but occasionally something like this happens.|
There are four types of armor, each with a specific number of "hits," and two types of suits: environmental suits (which protect against radiation) and combat suits. There are a large number of miscellaneous items, including ropes (for climbing up and down the levels), medpacks, "summoners" to increase the number of random combats, "Galacticoms" to enable translation, gas masks, and explosives. These things are all sold in the base, but I've found that it's easy enough to save money by waiting for enemies to drop them.
The annoying thing is that you can only carry 2 weapons and 5 inventory items at a time, making looting items for resale, which would otherwise be very lucrative, almost impossible. Apparently, you can build your own base to store items in--up to 100--but these cost over 100,000 water crystals, and I haven't possessed more than 15,000 at a time yet.
Like any good post-apocalyptic game, radiation and disease are problems. Your radiation level increases slowly as you explore the terrain. If it goes above 50%, you can't get back into the base, and if it goes above 75%, you start to lose attributes. I don't know if there's a way to cure radiation without returning to the medical bay at the base, but I've been doing that frequently. It's fairly expensive, and most of my money has been going to de-radiation. There's also a variety of diseases you can catch in the wasteland, including malaria, yellow fever, rabies, and polio. Fortunately, you can pay to vaccinate yourself against all of them. After a near-fatal bout with "Delyria," which causes you to move in random directions, I spent all my money on vaccinations against everything.
|Getting vaccinated. How the post-apocalyptic society managed to develop vaccines for all these diseases is unexplained.|
In about 2.5 hours of gameplay, I rose to Level 5. When I hit Level 5, I got a notice that future training sessions would cost 5,000 water crystals, and the experience and money rewards from creatures on Level 1 of the wasteland would be substantially reduced, making this one of the few games of the era to impose level scaling.
|An unwelcome message upon reaching Level 5.|
I've started to explore Level 2--though I don't know if maybe I should go to the Air Force base first--and have found more difficult monsters but better equipment. As I noted above, I haven't died yet. I don't know if the game gets a lot harder later, but so far I've found it easy to survive as long as I keep medkits with me and use them when I get below 50% health.
Operation: Overkill isn't bad, but neither is it offering anything particularly enjoyable. It's shaping up to be something like Fallthru with a smaller game world. I've had no leads on a main quest, but some of the things I was able to ask "Aurora" about, including launch codes for missile silos, the locations of keys to some kind of cells, and the location of an "Oracle," suggests a broader plot to come.
|My character on leaving this session.|
Naturally, I'm missing a huge part of gameplay by playing this by myself. Playing it on a BBS allowed players to talk to each other during gameplay, send each other e-mails, trade water crystals, form "squadrons," and kill and loot each other. I'm getting none of that, but then again I don't particularly want to play with other people. I guess I'm setting a standard here that as long as an online game offers a single-player experience, I'll play it if it's still possible.
I jumped into this game because I was having trouble getting back into The Savage Empire after a week's absence form it. These two in-progress titles are all that remain of 1990. Let's see if we can wrap them up this week.