Everyone's got that game they used to love but nobody else seems to remember it. This site it dedicated to those games. Check in each week for a fresh look at another hidden gem and weigh in on whether it should be remembered as a classic or not.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

General Chaos

Year: 1994
Developer: Game Refuge Inc
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: Sega Genesis
Metacritic score: Not available
VGChartz sales to date: Unknown

When trying to find the origins of the multiplayer online battle arena genre, more commonly know by its acronym MOBA, most people will probably point to the Warcraft III mod Defense of the Ancients, also lovingly abbreviated as DotA.  Some in-the-know gamers might actually think of the Starcraft custom map Aeon of Strife, which was actually the inspiration for DotA.  But I doubt anyone would consider the 1994 Genesis classic General Chaos, a game that as far as I can tell was the first to combine elements from real-time strategy and action games with a fixed isometric point of view (if I'm wrong, let me know in the comments).    Anyone who does remember this game will recall a fun game with a goofy sense of humor that served up one of the best multiplayer experiences the Genesis had to offer.

Designed by the same guys responsible for the arcade classics Rampage and Arch Rivals (as previously mentioned, the forerunner to NBA Jam), General Chaos pits the forces of Moronica, led by the titular General, against General Havoc's Vicerian army.  During the briefing before each battle you'll select from preset dossiers of soldiers, each varying in class composition.  There are five different classes on tap: machine gunners, rocket launchers, grenade chuckers, flame throwers and dynamite tossers.  You can also opt for a two-man commando unit which is a little easier to coordinate but you'll be at a numerical disadvantage since I've only ever seen the AI choose a 5-man squad.  The goal of each battle is simple: take the objective by eliminating the opposing force.  There are also various bonuses and power-ups scattered around each map which are definitely worth moving out of cover to collect.  

Boot camp offers a quick tutorial on the game's controls and mechanics, a good idea considering how different the gameplay was from anything else on consoles at the time.
You control all 5 soldiers in your platoon by selecting each one and using the cursor to move them into position around the map.  You can move them as one big group or position specific classes in different spots, but when you give the command to fire each unit will target the nearest enemy and open fire at once.  If two units gets close enough, it will trigger a cartoon style dustcloud brawl which will occasionally result in one-on-one melee fights.  If a unit goes down, there's a brief window to call in a medic that can return him to the fight but this ability is limited by the number of medical corps officers you have in reserves.  But explosives have an advantage with a chance the enemy will be instantly skeleton-ized resulting in immediate death.  Plus, the grenadier looks a lot like Chuck Norris so that's gotta count for something, right?     

With 5 different characters to control it was important to pay attention to the positioning of each unit.  Grenade and dynamite throwers could lob their projectiles from behind cover, but would be quickly cut down if moved into the open.
While the single player campaign was an enjoyable, if quick, romp the real fun was in multiplayer.  Both co-op and competitive modes were available and there were even options for up to four players for the 10 or so people who owned a Sega Multitap.  In co-op each player takes control of a two man commando unit of their choosing and proceeds to tackle the same campaign in single player.  This mode makes controlling each unit much simpler and a well-coordinated team can easily flank the enemy, provide cover or pickup the collectible bonuses.  The AI difficulty also scales up against two players so you'll need to work together to overcome the computer's numerical advantage.  Versus mode, on the other hand, can be insanely challenging against another human-controlled team.  In this mode, each player picks one general and proceeds to face off with either 5-man squads or 2-man commando units.  Picking the right group is critical because a skilled opponent can exploit any weaknesses much better then the limited mid-90's AI was capable of.  Random negative events like weapon jams or the aforementioned instant deaths help create a sense of, well, chaos that can swing the battle but overall the player more skilled at positioning their units will end up on top.

In co-op a coordinated team can overcome a superior force.  With their ranged units drawing fire while in cover at the bottom of the screen, the incredibly lethal flamethrower and launcher units can move in and wipe out the enemy.
Consoles have never been a very welcoming home to RTS games, and even one as heavily streamlined as General Chaos failed to find a wide audience.  Back when EA was still Electronic Arts, they were more willing to take risks on games that fell well outside the normSometimes this paid off such as with classics like M.U.L.E., Populous and Wing Commander, but inevitably there were bound to be a few duds in the mix.  Back when games were developed on shoestring budgets and could be published without taking on too much risk this wasn't a problem.  But in today's environment a sales flop can spell bankruptcy, so I fear we'll be seeing fewer games from big publishers that step outside the comfort zone such as EA's under-appreciated Mirror's Edge.  

So it was probably inevitable that General Chaos wouldn't find mass-market appeal, and it's likely Electronic Arts wasn't too upset by that [UPDATE: It wasn't completely ignored, it was EA's second-best selling original Sega Title the year it was released. Thanks to Game Refuge Inc. CEO Brian Colin for setting the record straight].  I can't recall seeing any ads for it and was unable to find any original reviews.  The game's notoriety as an overlooked Genesis classic and outstanding multiplayer experience seems to have grown louder over the years thanks to the echo-chamber effect of the internet, but replaying the game proves it's not just a matter of nostalgia.  I guess you could say General Chaos was always intended to occupy the "value" space, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing in the days when many purchases came from browsing the bargain bins.  Before the budget gulf between AAA-titles and shovelware was measured in millions of dollars it was possible to find games from smaller developers that were every bit as great as the heavy hitters released by Nintendo, Sega, Konami, Midway or Acclaim. 

They might not be modeled after celebrity likenesses, but that doesn't mean they weren't a fun batch of characters. Seriously though, that one dude totally looks like Chuck Norris.
This is one game that could really work well on mobile platforms.  Using the cursor to position troops was better implemented then in a lot of more recent RTS ports to console, but still no replacement for a mouse.  Being able to select and move troops with a few quick taps would be a far superior control scheme.  The brevity of the overall campaign and how it's broken down into isolated battles is a natural fit for the kinds of experiences people want in mobile games.  It's true you'd lose the fun that comes from playing side by side on the same couch, but being able to play co-op or competitive matches online would certainly make up for that.  You could even get the chance to experience 4-player support without needing a rare system add-on that was only supported by a handful of titles.  The points system, which was only ever used in the post-battle performance reviews, would lend themselves to an integrated leaderboard system with minimal adjustments.

Game Refuge Inc. is still around today, and they even seem to have shifted focus to the mobile/casual space.  With less then a dozen employees, they may not have the resources available to port this classic to iOS/Android.  But their website also claims they are trying to ramp up capabilities so if you're a programmer looking to break into gaming maybe send in your resume and then get to work on this Genesis classic.  Or if you lack coding skills just bomb their Facebook page until it gets made.  Either way, this is one under appreciated gem that deserves a second chance.

War.  War never changes.  But gaming does, so let's bring back General Chaos on  mobile platforms so we can get back to hilariously simplifying violent conflict.
Have you played this game?  Is there a game you remember being great that no one else seems to have heard of?  Sound off in the comments below, and be sure to Like us on Facebook or Follow us on Twitter!     

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  1. Great blog! Keep the good work!

  2. Wow. Its always great to hear from folks who fondly remember our early work. Especially this title, which was our first as an independent development company.

    It wasn't completely ignored, however, it was EA's second-best selling original Sega Title the year it was released, ...and to this day, we still get more Fan Mail about GENERAL CHAOS than any other game we've ever done.

    So here's a little news flash for all those that have asked for it over the years:
    I am very pleased to announce that GAME REFUGE has started working on the long-awaited Re-Make.

    Brian Colin,
    CEO Game Refuge Inc.

  3. You heard it here first, folks! General Chaos is headed to the battlefield once more, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for this remade classic!

  4. WHOA! Talk about COOL man!!!!

  5. I hardly ever buy games. But this is the one game I remember best; simple, strategic, fun and no motion sickness ... I would buy in an instant.