But it was the side of the 3D real-time strategy wars that seemed to lose. The future it described - one where the lie of the landscape and the scripting of events would, as in action games, define the scope of the tactics - has only been echoed ever so distantly by the Total War series. For the most part, RTS games have taken on a pallid and over-familiar hue. While there are obvious highlights (Warcraft 3, Dawn of War, Homeworld) none of them took up the gauntlet thrown down by Ground Control. Nothing tried to improve upon the idea and reject resource management and based building. No one had thought to take it further. No one had taken the future that I, and presumably its developers, had seen in Ground Control and tried to make something from it. Even its sequel, years on, lacked the stripped-down simplicity of the original and its quietly brilliant expansion pack.

When I came to review that sequel, there were some grumblings from my editor that I couldn't leave the past alone and just "review the sequel on its own merits." But how could I? The sequel had created what looked like a dead end. It brought resources back in, and overdid everything with layer upon layer of overwrought design. The elegance was gone. Even worse, the future I had been promised was gone.

Games have to go forward. They have to believe in the future, and they cannot do so as a groundless generation X, divorced and alienated from the achievements of their parents. The past is littered with suggested futures, some still possible, others abandoned. Some really were dead ends and others still inspire us today. But whatever clues that past may hold, I don't believe that we can go forward without them.

Jim Rossignol is a writer and editor based in the South West of England. He writes about videogames, fiction and science.

Comments on