From the pages of the past, ads of yesteryear – Twilight 2000

Simple, straight to the point, and it even shows off a screen of the 3D driving that was in the game. Twilight 2000 was one of those tactical sims that could have been awesome had it not been for its brutal difficulty, the result of which was often due to bugs or by the design of the mechanics themselves.

Twilight 2000 was a tabletop RPG that had first arrived in 1984 from Game Designers’ Workshop whose library consisted of a number of notable classics such as MegaTraveller, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, and hardcore military wargames covering nearly everything from WW2 to WW3.

Twilight was notable for its hard representation of conventional warfare and what a limited nuclear exchange might result in with the focus on how the survivors might find a way to live after it. The war started in 1995 and escalated into a series of smaller nuclear exchanges in 1997, though how you define “smaller” is largely irrelevant given what has happened anyway. But because a total exchange didn’t wipe all of life from the world, there were still people around along with what is left of several armies still duking it out even though society has literally fallen apart.

In most cases, they’re the only real authority left. They, or whoever else has the most weapons whether it’s a small town gang to a mercenary army taking over a good chunk of what used to be a nation whose central government has utterly collapsed. A few nations still stand, but they’re not the happiest places on Earth and continually struggle with issues of martial law and the waves of survivors looking for food and shelter storming their borders — resources that they jealously guard by shooting first and asking questions later.

Source material was based off of real-world weapons and organizations breaking everything down into usable stats for in-game adventures. It was a fantastic system that, like a number of others, stepped away from the familiar fantasy milieu of sword and sorcery. Before Fallout or Wasteland made post-apoc adventures popular, games like Twilight 2000 were doing it way before in living rooms everywhere.

In 1991, three years after Wasteland made waves in 1988, Paragon Software took the systems used in Twilight 2000 and made a DOS game out of it, pitting a player and a squad of 20 hand-picked soldiers from many nationalities and skill sets to stop a would-be despot from taking over what is left of Poland. Published by Microprose, it was one of those rare post-apocalyptic titles to see shelf space.

The character generation system alone puts to shame most of those being used today allowing players to drill down individuals to a dizzying plethora of elements from basic statistics to languages, skills such as computers or motor vehicles, to survival skills such as foraging and melee and even their home country. Characters learn all of this from selecting a branch of the military, the career path they followed, and then simulated it by picking the skills they learned during the course of their training as they earned rank after rank until war actually breaks out.

It was an incredibly deep system and with 20 people that would make up the team, a diverse and multi-lingual set up was almost a given. When you drove vehicles, the game even simulated it using a novel 3D first-person view.

The only problem was that the actual gameplay was horrendously bugged and limited in what you could actually do in combat versus the tabletop version. By sticking closely to the rules of the tabletop game in certain ways, the actual PC game didn’t come off as well as it could have in others (such as the interface). Two updates were released for it, one which fixed a number of bugs and another that updated the graphics. From what I’ve read, both were direct from Paragon’s technical support.

Unfortunately, the game didn’t do very well, likely because of the bugs that users had encountered along with the repetitive, and often highly deadly, random encounters that could kill everyone in one go. As hardcore as the tabletop was, it doesn’t seem as if there was much of a margin for error for players to get a grasp on the PC version, either, which didn’t help its case. At least a friendly GM could alleviate some of the difficulty to ease new players through the deep systems that GDW had put together. There was no such comfort on the PC side.

As a result, it was the only Twilight 2000 game to come out for PCs. It would be bundled again with Space 1889 in 1996 as a re-release and now exists only as abandonware allowing players with DOSBox to try it out for themselves and see how long they can make it through its multi-hour battles.

As a harder piece of post-apocalyptic fiction on PCs, however, it’s a notable title in that regard for attempting to envision in a realistic sense what the world might have been like if the Soviets never fell and if they and the rest of the world decided to finally go at it and what the world would look like afterwards, answering the questions that tactical sims from the likes of SSI and Avalon Hill have been asking since the eighties.

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3 responses to “From the pages of the past, ads of yesteryear – Twilight 2000

  1. As a result, it was the only Twilight 2000 game to come out for PCs

    Yes and no — Paragon did release the “Twilight’s Ransom” text adventure as well, set in the same universe. Paragon must have had some licensing deal with GDW, as they not only made the Space: 1889 game but also two MegaTraveler games.

    • I agree, Paragon seemed to enjoy the kind of relationship with GDW that SSI did with TSR,

      On Twilight’s Ransom, I’m seeing a conflict of info out there. I did a little digging and while a few sites parrot text saying it’s based on the Twilight 2000 world, leafing through the manual on this site (http://mocagh.org/loadpage.php?getgame=twilightsransom) makes the game seem like it was independently developed as hard boiled detective IF instead? The only thing both games seem to have in common is the Twilight name unless I’m missing something. If I am, please let me know!

  2. I was also parroting that HOTU misinformation; looks like it’s just a coincidence that they published a game about “Twilight” something else while also publishing a Twilight 2000 adaptation.

    The big question is, who missed out on the pile of cash to be made adapting the Twilight books and movies into a game?

    There’s a rumour that after being chewed up and spat out by Microprose, Paragon principal players ended up founding Take Two Interactive, which would have put them on an astronomical trajectory totally out of proportion to the success of their earlier games.

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