Music and sports cars are like peanut butter and chocolate.
The classic 80’s television series Miami Vice is notable for showcasing many aspects of popular culture but one of the pioneering trademarks of producer Michael Mann is the pairing of music with long shot scenes. The best known of which is from the series’ pilot episode “Brother’s Keeper” which features the Phil Collins song “In the Air Tonight” paired with a travel scene in the iconic Ferrari Daytona Spyder.
Unusual camera angles showing the lights of Miami reflecting off the car’s bodywork and wheels, along with punctuated dialog give the scene a dream-like quality that goes well with the situation the characters find themselves in, racing to confront the early series villain, Esteban Calderone. The long scene alludes to the popular conception that time slows down in stressful situations and gives the viewer the feeling that Crockett and Tubbs may not make it through alive.
Well, if you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand
I’ve seen your face before, my friend, but I don’t know if you know who I am
Well, I was there and I saw what you did, I saw it with my own two eyes
So you can wipe off that grin, I know where you’ve been
It’s all been a pack of lies
In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins
These types of scenes mix two mediums for an effect that is stronger than either used alone. This is something not easily replicated in other mediums such as books or role-playing games, though computer gaming can emulate the effect these days due to realistic graphics and big budgets in triple-A titles for licensed music. Despite books and role-playing games not being able to mix mediums well, these type of iconic scenes have served as the inspiration behind many written word examples as authors strive to invoke a similar slow time, flashback effects.
I know I used lots of Miami Vice inspiration when running Top Secret/SI games as I like the undercover, gritty effect more then the over the top James Bond style of story. Even with some of the camp of the Miami Vice show, there was a literal gold mine of ideas presented for underworld games.
Always loved a good espionage game, so I decided to homebrew an homage recreation of the classic Top Secret/S.I. box artwork using things I had laying around the house.
Always loved a good espionage game, so I decided to homebrew an homage recreation of the classic Top Secret/S.I. box artwork using things I had laying around the house. The retro-props scattered about the image are from the wonderful Dark Adventure Radio Series CDs produced by the HPL Historical Society.
I’ve left the actual Top Secret/S.I. logo off the image for a couple of reasons. One, I didn’t want to tread too heavily on “Fair Use” laws and two, I just couldn’t get the font to look right 🙂
They share themes of simple, hackable rule mechanics that trust in referees to make judgements rather than exhaustive pages of unbending rules. If there are pages of rules, they are guidelines for the referee not weapons for the players.
So what differs between classic old school gaming and the old school revival [OSR] role-playing game movement you ask? Well, like most things involving more than two people, opinions vary.
The OSR RPG movement tends to stick to an end point defined by the Moldvay/Mentzer editions of Dungeons & Dragons in the early 1980s. This generally allows the original versions of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, RuneQuest and Traveller to join the B/X or BECMI D&D sets on the OSR roster. They share themes of simple, hackable rule mechanics that trust in referees to make judgements rather than exhaustive pages of unbending rules. If there are pages of rules, they are guidelines for the referee not weapons for the players.
That cut-off point in time excludes some great classic games that I enjoyed thoroughly in my youth so OSR doesn’t exactly describe what I’m going for here on the blog. I’m therefore defining classic old school gaming [COSG] as expanding to include excellent RPGs first published in the 12 year span known as the Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan presidencies. For those of you not familiar with the chronological mile markers of the “Peanut Farmer” and the “Gipper”, it is a period of time starting in January of 1977 and ending in January of 1989.
This time period contains both the great first generation of games but also the remarkable second generation that was built on the shoulders of the first with interesting mechanics and new licenses from Marvel, Star Wars and Middle Earth IP holders. I enjoyed many games of both generations with my personal list of memorable titles below. There are of course other games that fall into the time period like Victory Games’ James Bond 007, Columbia Games’ HarnMaster and Palladium’s Robotech, but I am keeping the list to ones I personally owned and played.
Dungeons & Dragons Basic/Expert [Moldvay] – TSR 1981
Dungeons & Dragons Basic/Expert [Mentzer] – TSR 1983
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons – TSR 1977
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Ed- TSR 1987
Gamma World – TSR 1978
Star Frontiers – TSR 1982
Top Secret – TSR 1980
Call of Cthulhu – Chaosium 1981
GURPS – Steve Jackson Games 1986
Middle Earth Roleplaying – Iron Crown Enterprises 1984
Traveller – GDW 1977
Twilight 2000 – GDW 1984
Traveller 2300 – GDW 1986
Star Wars – West End Games 1987
MechWarrior – FASA 1986
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay – Games Workshop 1986
Many of these classic titles have gone on to have multiple successful editions over the decades, a testament to the charm and uniqueness they brought into the gaming landscape.
Unfortunately, not all my original copies of these games successfully made the move with me from the Midwest to the South in the early 90’s while attending college. I am still mad about not having my original Ravenloft isometric map over 30 years later. The recent establishment of the PDF marketplace for out-of-print games and print-on-demand has luckily allowed myself, and many other gamers/collectors, to reacquire these classic old school titles.
So that’s my take on what classic old school gaming is in a nutshell. The same nostalgic Carter-Reagan period can also be used to capture classic old school movies (Escape from New York, Aliens, Blade Runner), television (Battlestar Galactica, Miami Vice, Magnum P.I.) and books (The Shining, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Name of the Rose). So while I can’t promise not to color outside the lines on this blog, this period in time defines the culture that influenced a lot of the entertainment I consumed so I’m using it as a handy reference. Plus I’ve never seen anyone else define their gaming using Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan so I’m hoping for points for originality from the judges.