Legionnaire (computer game)

Legionnaire (computer game)

Infobox VG| title = Legionnaire

developer = Chris Crawford
designer = Chris Crawford
publisher = Avalon Hill
engine = custom
released = 1982
genre = strategy, real-time tactics
modes = single player
ratings = N/A
platforms = Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, Apple II
media = Cassette, floppy disk
requirements =
input = joystick

"Legionnaire" is a computer game for the Atari 8-bit series created by Chris Crawford in 1982, and released through Avalon Hill. Recreating Julius Caesar's campaigns in a semi-historical setting, the player takes command of the Roman legions in battles against the barbarians. Similar to the earlier groundbreaking "Eastern Front (1941)" in terms of display and general gameplay, "Legionnaire" added a real-time computer opponent, and is one of the earliest examples of a real-time tactics (RTT) game.

Crawford had written an earlier "Legionnaire" for the Commodore PET in 1979, his platform before moving to Atari. This was a fairly simple game using character graphics and featuring a limited amount of logic. After writing "Eastern Front" Crawford was looking for ways to use the new scrolling-map technology introduced in that game, and decided to re-write "Legionnaire" for the Atari.

Like "Eastern Front", the "Legionnaire" playfield consists of a large grid of square cells with various terrain features displayed on it. Unlike "Eastern Front" the new map included altitude, displayed as a series of contour lines. Movement was effected by the contours as well as the underlying terrain, making positional combat an important part of the overall strategy. The screen showed only a small portion of the entire map at one time, smooth-scrolling around it when the joystick-controlled cursor reached the edges of the screen. Unlike "Eastern Front", the map contained no cities or strategic locations, and the game started with both forces placed at random locations on the map.

The player took the side of the Romans, playing the role of Caesar, giving orders to the various legions represented in pink. The computer played the barbarians, in blue. There were three types of units; infantry was represented by a sword, cavalry as a horse head, and Caesar's own Imperial Guard as an eagle. Orders were given to the units by moving a cursor over them with the joystick and then holding down the joystick button; existing commands would be displayed as a moving arrow, and new orders could be entered by pressing the joystick in the four cardinal directions.

"Legionnaire" was a real-time game. While the user was entering the orders for their units, the computer was calculating moves for its own units. A basic form of multitasking was implemented by having the "easy" jobs of reading the joystick and recording the user's inputs during the vertical blank interrupt (VBI), while the computer AI ran during non-interrupt time. The player was forced to search the map for the enemy, and then attempt to gather their units into a fighting line on favorable terrain. The challenge was doing this quickly enough before the enemy forces arrived and attacked your units piecemeal. As in "Eastern Front" the AI was not particularly strong, but the real-time action made the game more difficult, as well as eliminating several "tricks" one could use to fool the AI.

The game was, however, not very difficult overall. It lacked any strategic component driving the gameplay so the player could simply move to an advantageous position, form up a solid line, and wait. In combat the Roman forces were much more powerful than the barbarians, and would win any one-on-one fight. The scoring system attempted to make up for this, awarding higher points for faster victories. In pursuit of a higher score the player is forced to seek out and attack the barbarian units on terms that might not be as favorable, and without quick retreats after combat, might result in encirclement. Wargames are generally not interested in scores, however, only wins and losses. Crawford wrote in "Chris Crawford on Game Design" that he considered it competent, but "...certainly no masterpiece. It was good experience for me, but I would have spent my time better had I moved on to something that fired my imagination."

"Legionnaire" was the last game Crawford would release using the "classic" "Eastern Front" engine. His next game for the Atari was "Excalibur", which used a different model of interaction based on moving from room to room within a virtual castle. When Atari collapsed in 1984 he turned his attention to the Macintosh computer, releasing the famous "Balance of Power" in 1985.

External links

* [http://www.atarimagazines.com/creative/v9n12/132_Legionnaire.php Creative Computing vol. 9, no. 12] ; review by James V. Trunzo.

* [http://www.atarimagazines.com/compute/issue38/048_1_REVIEWS_LEGIONNAIRE_FOR_ATARI.php Compute! issue 38 / july 1983] ; review by E. P. McMahon.

* [http://www.atarimania.com/detail_soft.php?MENU=8&VERSION_ID=2959 atarimania.com] ; Atari "Legionnaire" information and scans.

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