A creation of programmer, designer, writer, theorist, and industry gadfly Chris Crawford, Balace of Power is an ambitious geopolitical simulation of the contemporary world circa 1985. Its original incarnation on the Macintosh appears to be lost, meaning we must piece together how it worked by reading reviews and playing a later port to an early version of Microsoft Windows. Fortunately, contemporaneous reviews of that Windows version all mention how similar it is to the Mac original. Balance of Power places you in charge of either the United States or the Soviet Union, seeking to extend your sphere of influence over as many as possible of the sixty other countries in the game in a high-stakes game of Cold War brinksmanship. It’s a grandiose concept indeed, and becomes even more so when you consider the sheer amount of information Crawford has packed in — stuff such as number of physicians per million people, average daily caloric intake, and average school enrollment for each country. Not only would earlier machines have drowned under such a tsunami of data, but making it accessible and relatable would also have been nearly impossible. In Balance of Power, it’s all organized into neat menus and windows, as fine an example of the Mac’s ability to make information visually immediate and relevant as anything that came out those first couple of years. Before too long all grand strategy games would be like this. Significant as it is as a waystation on the road to Civilization, Balance of Power is also a huge landmark of the serious-games movement. Simply put, this game has a rhetorical agenda. Boy, does it have an agenda. Pushing your opponent too far results in nuclear war, and the most famous piece of text Crawford has ever written.

You have ignited a nuclear war. And no, there is no animated display of a mushroom cloud with parts of bodies flying through the air. We do not reward failure.

» Macware The Digital Antiquarian This passage is from a great long read about early Mac software and games. The digital antiquarian goes on to critique Chris Crawford’s choices leading up to this feedback for a fail state. It’s woth your time.

February 28, 2014