Friday, 5 July 2019

Princes and PlayStations

Ugh, was it really January when I last posted? That optimistic beginning to a year full of gaming and blogging? And work. A year full of work. Lots of work. Don't worry loyal readers...reader...anyone? I still have every intention of keeping up with this blog, it's just that a slight tweak to my job role has quadrupled my workload, so that's been fun. It hasn't meant I haven't done any gaming, as we'll see in a sec, but in my spare time I've been prioritising gaming over blogging, so we haven't seen many words appear here.

So if I have been gaming, what I have been up to? Well, unfortunately not the games I'm supposed to be playing on the list. I haven't got any further with Deathtrap Dungeon or Heroes of the Lance. I did wonder about giving them up and rolling again, but I got pretty far with Deathtrap Dungeon before I paused, and I love a bit of D&D, so I think I'll stick at them for a while longer (though I'm not sure when I'll actually get back to them). There has been another change, though, that's slightly shifted my focus. I may have mentioned it was coming a while back, but Sony this year stopped providing PS3 games in the PS Plus service - they now only feature a couple of PS4 games per month. Now, I don't own a PS4, so I'm essentially only paying that monthly fee in order to keep access to all of the old PS3 titles that I've got as part of Plus. So I figure I'd better darned well get around to playing them. I'm also acutely aware that the PS5 will be along soon and that one day Sony are going to just turn off the PS3 servers and I'll lose everything, so I need to get through that backlist if I'm ever going to play these games. Annoyingly, as far as I know, there's no easy way of telling which games in your download list are part of the Plus service, and which you've bought. Even if you can tell, there's no way of sorting the list by that criteria, so the only answer is just to play everything. That was kind of my strategy anyway, but I'm trying to focus on it now. I'll quickly run through everything I've been up to, but I won't be doing full reviews of the games so far.

So, yeah, PS3 is definitely my focus for heavy stuff, but I've also dipped into a couple of really light PC games when I wanted a 5-minute game. I've finished a couple of those, which are West of Loathing and Spectromancer. West of Loathing is a commercial release from the team behind Kingdom of Loathing, a free browser game. I used to play Kingdom of Loathing waaaay back - I want to say at university, but it must have been later than that because it was in Flash. I dunno, it was a long time ago, anyway. It's an RPG/adventure game crossover with really sparse stick-man graphics. The main draw is the humour; it's a really funny game. There are absolutely still some solid gameplay systems behind that, but it's such a warm-hearted, funny game that it keeps you coming back. The game's not for everyone, but I'd still recommend it to anyone, because sometimes you just have to give things a try. It's not perfect by any means, but it's generous enough that you can't help liking it.

The other game was Spectromancer. This was an early computer card game overseen by Richard Garfield (of M:tG fame), but it didn't do particularly well. I played it a bit when it first came out, so had already made it a little way through the campaign and I've now finished it off. It's quite different to Magic in that you don't have a hand of cards that changes throughout a match. Instead, you have a deck of cards that are all face up on the table and each turn you choose on of those cards to play. You also don't have 'Land' cards to generate mana, but instead gain one mana per turn in each of your 'suits'. The playfield is also completely different. Here, you only have 6 slots where you can play a card, and the opponent has the same. Each turn after a creature was played in one of those slots it will attack. If there's a creature in the slot opposite then it will damage that creature. If there's not, then it will damage the opponent. It's as simple as that really. There's a little strategy, but not really that much, so it's quite a simple game to get your head around and play. Unfortunately, that simplicity also means it gets boring quite quickly. It was fine for a while, but I don't think I'd go back to it.

Those are the two PC games. I'll just quickly run the PS3 ones, as this post has already taken me too long! First up was Ni No Kuni, which is a sprawling RPG with a dash of Pokemon thrown in. It's made by Level 5 in combination with Studio Ghibli, so it looks absolutely gorgeous. It really is like playing a cartoon at times. I played through it with Max, and he loved it. At one point he even tried to learn to play the theme song on his recorder at school! I think it was probably a bit too slow-paced for him at times - he just wanted to get ahead with the story, so I took over the grinding (of which there was a lot). The main story arc and core systems were good. Combat did have some depth, but to be honest it was the kind of depth you could completely ignore and just button-mash through. The monster-raising feature was a little broken. At its heart, leveling up your little monsters was fine, but it would have been way better if your reserves had leveled up as well as the main team (even if it had been a bit slower). It takes a looong time to level creatures up, and there are hundreds of different creatures you could choose (with each one having different evolutionary paths, so if you wanted to see them all you'd need to capture and level up multiple copies of each creature). We just stuck with the same monsters all the way through the game, which served us absolutely fine, and they still had more levelling to go even after we finished the game. The later creatures may have more powerful final forms, but there's no way I'm dropping my current high-powered creatures in order to start leveling again all the way from zero. I don't have time for that. Actually, that goes for characters as well. A new character joins your party toward the end of the game, but I never used them once. I already had a team I'd been developing for most of the game, why would I break that up to start again with someone new? I don't know. There might have been one point in my life when I'd have done that kind of thing (I did spend hours grinding with Aerith in FF7 to learn all of her limit breaks even though she **spoilers** dies not long into the game), but now it just seems wasteful. If you want me to use someone new, then drop them in at the same level as my existing party so I can try them without penalty. Anyway, that's enough time ranting. It was a good game overall and I enjoyed playing through it with Max. I've even gone and bought the sequel on Steam, so I'll get to that some time in the next 50 years.

The other two games on PS3 were Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Prince of Persia: Warrior Within. They're old PS2 games, but I have the remaster bundle on PS3 that I'm playing through. I played Sands of Time on PC when it first came out and absolutely loved it. It's a fantastic game that played beautifully while introducing a lot of new concepts. It doesn't quite hold up as well as I remembered, but it's still great fun to play and I'd recommend it to anyone. The sequels are, unfortunately, just not as good. Warrior Within came out at the height of gaming's dark emo period, and even at the time it raised quite a few eyebrows for just what a tonal change it was. Sands of Time was tonally bright and breezy, while Warrior Within is absolutely over the top dark and gloomy (or 'mature' as teens would have it), with a ridiculous metal soundtrack pounding away. That all wouldn't have been too bad, though, if the core gameplay was still there, but they seemed to completely misunderstand what it was that made the original such a fresh and great game. For example, the dagger of time that allows you to rewind your last few seconds of gameplay is at the heart of modern Prince of Persia. It allows you to perform special moves, and if you mis-time a jump or try a path that doesn't work, you can just rewind and try again. That's fine, and is present in all three games. In the first game, though, they are generous with the sand needed to perform these feats, constantly refilling your tanks so you can always rewind your mistakes or experiment with special moves. It's a joy to try something, rewind and try something else. You can't spam it, because it does run out, but when you want it it's there. In the sequels, your sand is limited and only given to you at specific times, so you have to hoard it and only use it when absolutely necessary. It changes it to a last-ditch escape button, which the developers probably thought would make things more tense and exciting, but it just sucks all of the joy out of it. In the Sands of Time, rewinding is an amazing power. Enhancements in games are often called powers, but this was a POWER. We, as gamers, had never seen anything like it before, it challenged the very idea of a game as a linear narrative. It was mind-blowing and so exciting to use. Why they chose to restrict the use of that power in the sequels is just beyond me. No matter how dark and edgy your game is, never stop making it fun. As a result, the games are much more frustrating with many more deaths and slow reloads required. They also introduced 'Dahaka chase' sections, where you're chased by a creature and must escape. Essentially, it turns the game into a QTE but without the button presses flashing up on screen. Personally, I loathe those kinds of sections where the only way to get through them is to keep failing until you've learned the patterns required to succeed. I'm not talking about skill and practice, that's fine, I'm talking about problems that you can't know the solution to until you've failed. For example, a crossroads where the left path is death and the right path is survival. You only have time to make one choice - if you picked the right one, well done you, if you picked the left one it's a slow reload and you have to do the whole event again. It's just not fun. By all means make it hard, but at least give me the chance to get through it on my own merits the first time through. That's a long rant, suffice it to say that I didn't enjoy Warrior Within anything like as much as Sands of Time. The third game, Two Thrones, was meant to be a return to form - with the main character being literally half new prince and half old prince - and I was looking forward to it, but so far it seems to be a bit too close to Warrior Within for my tastes. It's not terrible, but I'm looking forward to getting it over with and moving on to the modern reboot and seeing how they handled that.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Hello 2019!

Gosh, is it really that time already. Happy New Year to my loyal readers (that should probably just be singular now). Definitely not a vintage year for the blog. Last year was chock full of DIY on the new house and work craziness with a big book taking all of my time. I don't feel like I played much at all, so it'll be interesting to see the stats. 2018 had by far the least posts on the blog, so I'm sorry about that. I'll try and get more done this year. On with the stats:

This time last year we started out with:
   Done: 597
   Total: 4579
   Completed: 13.0%

Here's where we stand at the start of 2019:
   Done: 646
   Total: 4775
   Completed: 13.5%

Which means, for all you maths fans out there, my totals for the year were:
   Done: 49
   Total: 196
   Completed: 0.5%

So, all down on last year. The Done score is actually higher than I thought it would be, but I think an awful lot of those are ones I skipped. I had a lot of games last year that I couldn't get working or just didn't have time to really delve into. The Total score is also not going down as much as I thought. I did buy a few things in various sales, but I thought my bundle buying had actually been down quite considerably...I was obviously wrong. I know I did go a bit crazy in one sale... It does feel like there are actually less games that I'm interested in now, so I'll see how that pans out in 2019. This is also the year that Sony are dropping PS3 from the Plus free games, so I'll have less from there, too. I can't remember which month that is, though...May?

I can't really remember much about what I played last year except there was a lot of DOOM and a lot of random old DOS games that rarely worked. I also moved through a few more PS3 games, but they were a bit glossed over. Worst game of the year, then? Let's have a look back over the list. Hmmm... The Adventures of Fatman? That was pretty rubbish. Shoppe Keep was pure awful, and I had quite high hopes for those shop assistant/dungeon crawler games. The Last Ninja games were disappointing that I couldn't get them to work - I really wanted to play through those, and have done ever since the beeb days. I didn't enjoy Freedom Planet, but it wasn't a bad game. Nope, I'm going to give my worst game of the year award to...Prehistorik. That was just an absolute turd. It was one of the few I actually played from beginning to end, and I was miserable every second of it. Just rubbish.

So, after all of those bad games, that doesn't leave much room for what my best game might be. DOOM was certainly the most modern and polished game, but I've already given Doom enough love, and I actually didn't feel the modern versions as much as the originals. Nuclear War was surprisingly enjoyable, but it wasn't the best game of the year. No, the award probably has to go to Monster Slayers. I love a good card game mechanic, and this one fit the bill perfectly. Good deck building, fun combos, nice card advancement and an overall addictive game. It pays a big debt to Dream Quest, which I also loved, and I think it's only right that one of them should sneak in as GotY. 

Leading into 2019, I've got two new games that I've barely looked at - Heroes of the Lance (which I played on my gran's Spectrum many years ago and didn't get very far with it then) and Deathtrap Dungeon (which I remember well from the magazines of the time, but I've only played the first level to see if it worked). Hopefully I'll make some progress with those before too long. I've also just downloaded the new batch of PS Plus games, so my list's out of date already. Oh well, onwards... 

Have a great New Year, and may it be more full of Monster Slayers than Shoppe Keeps.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Pipe dream

Dear me, this isn't going well, is it? Pipes looks like a perfectly serviceable little game. Nothing special, but of its time. I can see exactly what I need to do - use the different pieces of pipe available to me to build a pipeline from the water main to my house (or houses if I up the difficulty). I can move my little plumber around easily enough, zipping him between places ready to lay some pipe. The only problem is that I can't work out for the life of me how to purchase and lay pipe. I've pressed every button on the keyboard, but nothing. I can imagine exactly how the game would play, so it's not a big issue, but it would have been nice to have been able to see the happy faces of the occupants of the house when I switched on their water. Ah well, let's hope for something better.

Next up on the randometer is...Bedlam 2: Absolute Bedlam! I don't have the first game in the series so I'll be playing this one straight.

...AAARRRGGGHHH!!! This is getting a bit ridiculous. After a bit of fiddling, I managed to get the game running (the setup program thought it should be running in a 32-bit version of Windows, but I managed to manually extract it all and get it running under DOS). It loads up fine, the menu is fine, the mission select is fine...then the mouse seems to hang on the weapon select screen. The mouse works fine on the other screens, and I know the game itself isn't hanging because the keyboard still responds - I can hit Esc to go back to the main menu - but I can't move the mouse over to hit the Play button to get on with the game, and no other keys seem to do anything. I'm cursed. At least it's going to massively inflate my otherwise-woeful completion stats for the year!

Next up on the randometer is...Deathtrap Dungeon! Interesting. Let's hope this one works.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Drivin' Hard to War

Well, this might be the quickest run through of four games since...my last post. First up, Hard Drivin'
seems to be missing from my files, and I just have a copy of Race Drivin' in its place. Oh well, no great shakes. As for Race Drivin' itself, I can't quite work out whether it was the next game in the series or Hard Drivin' 2, but I'll go with Race Drivin' as that seems to be the slightly ropier version, but to be honest, they both appear to be incredibly similar games. Both games begin with you selecting manual or auto transmission on the car you want to drive. (I remember it used to be a really big thing whether you chose manual or auto in racing games back in the day - changing gears was a real badge of pride back in those days! I can't think of many modern racers that bother with gears at all - definitely not arcade ones. It's just an extra faff when all you really want to do is accelerate or brake.) Once you've chosen your car, you choose your track (HD2 has more cars and tracks available). There are opposing racers, but I found the biggest challenge getting to checkpoints and staying on the track. You can only spend 10 seconds off road before you get hoiked back onto the track, which is a bit of a shame, as it might have been fun to try and find shortcuts amidst all of that featureless wasteland. Trackside objects are in 3D, which is pretty impressive, and you also have bridges and jumps in the game and looping tracks that mean you might drive under a bridge one minute, then loop around and drive over it the next. Doesn't sound like much now, but hey, it all felt new back then. There are also cars driving toward you on the other side of the road that you have to avoid (or not). It's the kind of thing that might have been fun in limited doses, but it's completely ruined by the baffling decision to have it all controlled by the mouse (I'm sure you could change to keyboard somehow, but I couldn't work out how). Moving the mouse from side to side steers you, the left button speeds you up and I think the right button slows you down, but that never seemed to do much. It's horrendous. I guess the reasoning was because it gives you some kind of analogue control as opposed to the hard digital of a keyboard, and you do start to get used to it after a while, but it never stops feeling horrible. No thanks. Next up on the series list is the Dragonlance action games. I remember these being pretty horrible back in the day, so it'll be interesting to see how they hold up!

I'm also going to very quickly gloss over The L.E.D. Wars. As I guessed at, it's an old Windows game and doesn't run nicely at all. It does run, which I'll give it some credit for, but the mouse scrolling is completely messed up. It's an RTS, so there's a lot of clicking on units and moving them around the map, so scrolling is fundamental. Unfortunately, the screen scrolling seems to be completely random, sometimes it'll zoom past at 100 miles per hour, other times it won't budge at all (the usual reaction). It'll behave differently depending on which direction you're trying to move the mouse in, but even the way it behaves there will be completely random. You might be able to move up a bit, but then can't move down, then you try to move up a bit more but can't, but it does suddenly let you move down but skips to the bottom of the map in 3 nanoseconds. It's just impossible to play. What I did see looked like it might have been fairly standard fare. You have a basic command vehicle that can build other buildings, and different buildings create different assets, soldiers, resources, etc. So far, so similar. The only thing that stood out were the rubbish mission briefings, but then only because I've got a sneaking suspicion your boss is played by Swen Wicke, head of Larian Studios. Anyway, it wasn't going to work, so I'm not going to hang around.

Next up on the randometer is...Star Command Deluxe! Hmmm, looks like yet another '90s Windows RTS. And...it plays just like one, i.e. not at all. Early Windows games really do struggle under Win 10. Could be a growing issue. Oh well, looks like it's off the list for now.

Next up on the randometer is...Pipes! Looks like an early edutainment game. Shouldn't take long.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Skippin' Shame

Another month gone by without any posts. I really need to get back into the swing of things, and the Last Ninja games and DinoPark tycoon are not the games to do it. I'm just going to zip through them here and move on, which is a terrible cop out but I've run out of energy this year and I want to play something good before we hit 2019.

First up, DinoPark Tycoon. Tycoon games are never that high on my enjoyment list, and this one's no different. I spend enough of my days bored by spreadsheets, and I don't really enjoy the nitty-gritty of cash flow and hiring toilet cleaners. I don't mind the complexity of a good rpg, so that can't be the sole reason; maybe it's just because business bores me. This game is made for a younger age group, so is slightly easier to get into than other entries in the canon, but only slightly. I only played it as long as I did (and that wasn't long) because I like dinosaurs. It's very much the usual story as with all these types of games. You have to build a park - getting the right kinds of pens and food for the right kinds of dinosaurs - and put in enough maintenance staff and entertainment to keep the place running, then open the doors and theoretically watch the money roll in, then rinse and repeat with bigger dinosaurs. That's a massive oversimplification because I just didn't play it for long enough, but in the time I played it didn't give me any reason to think it might pan out differently.

Next were the two Last Ninja games. I was kind of looking forward to these because I had some fond memories of being frustrated by them on the Beeb, but I just couldn't get the controls to work. The joystick controls wouldn't play nice, and the keyboard was all over the place, sometimes buttons would do one thing, sometimes they would do another, and sometimes they would do nothing at all. Not great in a quick-reaction arcade game like this. I don't remember ever having control issues on the Beeb (other than the 3 different
length jump buttons), so it must be an emulator issue. The Last Ninja 2 controlled slightly better (apart from not being able to get him to face the right way), but attacking people in both games is frankly ludicrous and I couldn't kill anyone without losing at least one of my lives in the process. At least in the first game people have the decency to stay dead (I think), in the second game, they're back up and at you after a few seconds - not what you want when it took one and a half lives to knock them down in the first place and when you're still struggling with the controls and navigation when the guy gets back up and wallops you. It's a shame because I did really want to get through these two games and finish what I started all those years ago, but it was all just waay too frustrating, and with the control issues I had, I'm not even sure I could have finished them. Ah well, onwards!

Next up on the series list is Hard Drivin'! Never my favourite game series, or genre, but I'll give 'em a few laps. Next up on the randometer is...The L.E.D. Wars! Looks like a '90s RTS. Strangely enough, developed by Larian Studios - they of Divinity fame. Be interesting to see how it turns out. It's a Windows game, mind, so have to see if it'll work...

Monday, 5 November 2018

Nuclear Winter

I'm done with Nuclear War (in life, as well as gaming). My first impressions of the game weren't great, but I warmed to it once I got the hang of the combat flow. Basically, you control a nuclear power duking it out with 4 other powers - last one left alive wins...I think, I never actually made it out of a game alive. Each country takes one action per turn - building your stockpile, preparing nukes, launching nukes, preparing defenses and propaganda. Each leader has a different personality and their outlook on each other leader changes as the game goes on. It's best to play leaders off against each other and let them deal as much damage to each other before their focus changes to you. You can't just spend your time stockpiling, though, or the other nations will notice and all attack you, so you have to vary your actions each turn. Each nation starts with 5 cities, and as cities become destroyed you lose the ability to build as many weapons per turn. It doesn't take too long to play, as it's basically a downward spiral of destruction - cities can never be rebuilt, and you can only gain population by using propaganda to lure people from other cities or from random events. One quirk is that when a nation is destroyed, they automatically launch their remaining stockpile at random against the remaining players. This prevents stalemates and rapidly brings about the endgame. The only problem (and the reason why I've never survived the game) is that this also happens when you destroy the final city, so even though you've destroyed the opposition, their bombs still rain down on you at the end and (usually) wipe you out. It's possible that you could survive it if you had enough cities left, but I've never managed it. Maybe it's supposed to be a metaphor for the real world - there are no winners in nuclear war!

Next up on the randometer is...Five-a-side Soccer! Great, an ancient DOS football game. This one probably won't take long.

In fact, I'm going to give up on Five-a-side Soccer. I tried it over lunch today, and I just can't get it to control very well. It's way too fast on normal DosBox cycles, and when I slow it down to manageable levels the controls don't respond. So...sorry Five-a-side Soccer. Honestly, I don't think I'm missing much - the graphics are extremely rudimentary and I couldn't make any kind of movement or action..

Next up on the randometer is...DinoPark Tycoon! Looks like a semi-edutainment management game where you build your own Jurassic Park. I'm not the biggest fan of tycoon games, so we'll see...

Friday, 2 November 2018

freeDone planet

Another delay (work is still hardcore), but I've finally finished Freedom Planet. It's a throwback to the Sonic games of old in just about every sense. Here, you play a dragon who can do spin attacks rather than Sonic's bouncing, and these spin attacks can also give you an extra bit of lift to clear long gaps. There is also a speed boost attack like Sonic's, but here you can also shoot up in the air to reach new areas or clear long gaps. It also has a power gauge and you can only use it when the gauge is full. Boosting drains the whole gauge (which refills fairly quickly), and spin attacks drain a little of the gauge. This is basically just to stop you chaining spin attacks followed by boosts. (There are other characters with other moves, but I'd had enough after the first one.) It's all done in a retro style, which looks fine and sounds good. I have to admit that I didn't really enjoy the game that much...actually, I have to admit that I don't really enjoy the Sonic games that much either. You zoom through the stages at high speed, which is great and all, but I personally like to take my time and see the sights. Each stage is then followed by a boss fight. This has the same Sonic rhythms of easy stage followed by difficult boss, but here, both of those are even more exaggerated. The stages here are mostly so easy that there's almost no point to them. You can just run through to the end jumping between platforms without really bothering with the enemies for the most part. As the stages go on, there's a bit more thinking - the odd switch here or keycard there - but they're all fairly straightforward. Then, you reach the bosses, which are almost all near impossible the first time that you encounter them. They're just cheap and no fun. Even when I'd fought them a few times and learned the patterns, defeating them still felt like a chore rather than anything fun. I don't know, it just never grabbed me... oh, and the voice acting is horrible, soooo grating, with long, long cutscenes between each stage. Normally, I'm a man who loves cutscenes and a story, and I can't understand why people skip them, but these were just awful. A tedious story with hideous voicing. Ugh. I don't know, some people absolutely love this game, so it's obviously just me, but it just never clicked. I made it through to the end, and that's what matters!

Next up on the randometer is...Nuclear War! Looks like a strategic '80s DOS game of blowing people up. Might not take long...

I've also had a few goes at the Last Ninja games. Not getting very far at all (which is exactly how I remember them) and I'm feeling like giving up on them (I'm in one of those moods!). One big issue is the keyboard controls, which just don't seem to work how they should. Still, I'll give them a fair shake and see if I can get any further.