Monday, 17 December 2012

PlayStation 4

Just a quick post to say AJGJERJGERIGJ $I$#TJ$@#$T RGJ ERGJEKGJREKRJG.

The flippin' PS3 has just died again after barely a month, in which time I played it for maybe half an hour. And it's still got a disk stuck in it, which is great. I think it's fair to say that the original model has reached the end of its natural lifespan. My first PS3 lasted about 4 years, its refurb replacement from Sony lasted about a year, and this latest one lasted only a couple of months. When I spoke to the guy on the phone this morning he said that they were no longer providing refurb original units, so I guess they'd realised it wasn't worth it, too. Why did I want a refurb every time rather than a new model (which I was offered every time)? Because of backwards compatibility. The original could play PS2 games, but the new models can't. That means, unfortunately, that I now have no way of playing PS2 games (well, I have an original PS2 in the attic, but I'm not sure Kate would let me have that out downstairs). I think I might have a look into how PS2 emulators have come along on the PC. Last time I looked they could just about do homebrew, but that was years ago. I don't know if my desktop machine would be able to run it sufficiently, but I got hold of a knackered old work laptop last week (still more powerful than my old PC) that I'm hoping to get up and running as a gaming rig. It barely boots at the moment, and I think the problem is with the memory, so I'm going to get hold of some new RAM and see if that works - if it does, then it'll be a cheap new computer for me. If it doesn't, well...it'll be a heavier bin bag this week.

So, in summary, computers are rubbish and evil. I'm onto my fourth PS3, and it better bleedin' work when it turns up later this week.

Friday, 14 December 2012

It's a Pirate's Life For Me

Out last week and busy this week, so today's the first day I've had a chance to get back on the game wagon. It took a little while to remember how to play I-War, but it's pretty fun now I'm back on board. I'm still stealing my way up the ladder as a pirate, but there's been quite a bit of story progress at the same time. I joined a clan and worked my way up their ranks by doing various missions, and I've just been asked to join the next clan above them. Like the previous game, the missions are all very diverse and interesting - for example, my latest was to pick up a bunch of old offline gunstars (basically floating laser turrets) and, of course, something went wrong when I went to pick them up and they all came back online and immediately identified me as a threat. Luckily, they were faulty (that's why they were offline) and had intermittent power failure, so I had to sneakily dock onto each one when the power was down and send my engineer on board to neutralise them. As another example - the mission I've just started involves space graffiti, I've been given a paint droid and I need to fly it out to a rival's base and sneakily spray-paint the visiting governor's ship without him noticing. I've also been getting a bunch of useful cargo and have started trading and upgrading my ship - nothing that exciting, some new weapons and shields and a slightly better engine, but it feels like I'm making progress. It's generally good fun, but one thing has irked me a bit, and that's that you'll randomly get incoming distress calls from freighters being attacked by pirates. Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, it makes the game a bit more dynamic if you suddenly get called away to do things, but it always seems to happen right in the middle of another mission, and can screw things up if you leave half-way through a mission to answer their calls for help. So, what I've started doing is just ignoring them, which feels a little wrong. "No, sorry, I can't come to save your life, I'm mid-way through painting an awesome tag on the side of this ship..."

I'm also stricken with bad, BAD, man flu. I may not recover.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Independent Woman (at war)

So, I plumped for I-War 2 in the end. I've got a super-secret day off  (shhh!) and I wanted to play something I knew might be fun. And was it fun? Ummm, yeah, after a while. To begin with it was the most irritating thing in the world ever mainly because they'd changed the controls around after the first game and it took me ages to get the hang of using them. After a while (and a lot of deaths), I did manage to work it out and things got easier after that. I managed to get through the prelude section (where you play a younger version of the main character) and then onto the main game itself. I'm currently doing the game's version of grinding, which in this case is space piracy. I forgot to mention that you play a space pirate in the game...I'm sure he's going to be honourable in the end...but at the moment I'm just flying around robbing innocent people, which feels a little, well, weird. I started off pushing things too far, trying to steal multiple loads before heading home and always dying in the process, so now I've settled into a rhythm of robbing one or two ships and then quickly heading back to save. It seems to be working okay, but it's darned slow going. I was hoping I'd be able to quickly work my way up and start upgrading my ship, but so far I haven't upgraded a single thing (or even seen anything for sale). There's a manufacturing section of the game where I can create new things, but I think I need blueprints before I can do it. It involves vapourising the cargo I currently have to trade, so I haven't tried it yet. I have seen some blueprints for trade on the boards, but I don't have the requisite items they want to trade yet. Anyway, it is good fun, I just wish I felt like I was getting somewhere a bit more. The other good thing about it is there's a lot of hyperspacing around various systems, which takes a while and means I have time to sit and type this while in mid-travel. Oop, I've just arrived back at my base, better go. Off work next week, but I doubt I'll have much time for gaming, so things should resume the following week.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Time Flies When You're Having No Fun At All

Just a quick update to say there has been no update. End-of-year work is still ruling the roost and I've barely touched a game since the last post. I did try and have a quick go at Bloodwych a couple of times only to get immensely frustrated at my lack of being able to even get out of the first room. I considered rage quitting and moving on to the next game, but I felt I should give it a bit more of a chance. So, I dug around my room for a bit and finally found some graph paper. Yep, I'm going back to the old school and mapping the sucker. I haven't had time to make a start on it yet, but I'll do so before the next update (if I don't go off and play I-War 2 instead). I have a couple of days off now, so hopefully I'll be back feeling refreshed and a bit less manic next week.

In other news, the new PS3 appeared in good time last week, but when I tried to put my bigger HDD in I found that some idiot had obviously used a power drill to put the mounting screws in and completely stripped the heads. Yay. So I rang them up again and they're supposed to be sending me out a new hard drive enclosure. They said they'd send it straight away, but no sign of it yet. AAARRRGGHHH. Why aren't these things ever easy? Needless to say, the PS3 won't be getting any love until I've got the proper HDD in (and probably not much after that...poor PS3).

Monday, 12 November 2012

Work = Life

Not much time for anything at the mo', so just a quick update. I did finish the mission pack for Independence War, so I'm moving on to I-War 2: Edge of Chaos on the series list. Not much to say about the Defiance mission pack - it was always going to be more of the same, I guess, but it really did feel like just more of the same, and I really didn't feel like it. It told the other side of the main war in the first game, but it ultimately wasn't that interesting. There were a couple of missions where things were done a bit differently, e.g where you had to be more stealthy...but stealthy in a space game isn't that great. It essentially boiled down to sitting 30 kilometers away from my target with all my ship's systems powered down watching a few blips on my radar and waiting for them to disappear. Not fun. Especially not when you move slightly and immediately fail the mission. Anyway, the sequel, by all accounts, is a completely different beast. It's more like, say, Privateer compared to Wing Commander. Less of a mission-based campaign, and more of work-your-way-up career. I'm looking forward to the change of emphasis and pace (though a bit worried that it might last forever).

On the single game front, Descent to Undermountain turned out to be another disappointment. Not in terms of gameplay, because I didn't actually get the chance to play the game (although it is supposed to be a bit rubbish, so I'm probably not missing much). I spent a while creating a character (lovely character portraits, by the way), and then set off to start my life as a hero by wiping out a small band of marauding kobolds. I entered the Yawning Portal tavern which contains (as you might guess) the entrance to Undermountain. I winced at the appalling 3D graphics and ugly, ugly sprites. I entered the first door in Undermountain and...CRASH. I tried again a couple of times with the same result and swiftly gave up. Oh well, onwards!

The next game on the list is...Bloodwych! It's an RPG from '89, popular on the Amiga and ported to the PC. I've heard it's a pretty tedious game, but hey, it's always worth a go.

In other news, my $#&@ing PS3 died again over the weekend. Long-time blog readers may remember it died right back when I started this, so I'm pretty annoyed that it's bricked again, especially as I've hardly played it this year due to the arrival of a certain wonderfully cute baby. Anyway, the good news is that Sony agreed with me that it shouldn't have blown up again so soon, so they've agreed to fix it for free. I rang them up this afternoon and there's a bloke coming to pick it up tomorrow, and a new one should be sent out within a week. So, pleased with the service even though I'm totally disappointed with the product.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The End of the Corridor

Well, Corridor 7 was a bit up and down...or left and right. Whatever, it wasn't as bad as I thought. The music was pretty funky, and I liked some of its neat little features, such as invisible bad guys you could only see by using your night-vision goggles, or the morphing bad guys who'd disguise themselves as office chairs or pot plants, and then jump and shout at you when you least expected it. But, there were also the bad bits, mostly down to its age - constantly getting stuck on furniture when running around, the same wall texture plastered over the whole level (which doesn't help when every level is a maze), appalling hit detection, incredibly repetitive game play, and so on. There are a couple of things that make it stand out from the standard shooter - first up, you have to kill every enemy on a level to complete it; and secondly, instead of finding the exit once you've killed everyone, you have to make your way back to the elevator where you came in and hit the down button. The main problem with that way of doing things is that levels don't have any sense of progression, you're just running around a big square maze and shooting things, and then going back to where you started...rinse and repeat for 30 levels. The reason that I got through it so quickly is because I played it on easy mode, and on easy mode you only need to kill 10% of the bad guys on a level, not all of them. That means if there are 50 enemies on a level, you only need to kill 5 of them...and you'll probably do that in the first couple of rooms of a level. And because you only need to go back to the lift where you started from, you just turn round and walk a few steps and bang, you're on the next level. So, it does make it way easier than having to kill every monster on a level, but hey, the game's not that fun and I didn't want to hang around with it. Oh, and coming back to why it was so badly maligned at the time of its release, it came out in 1994, the same year as Doom 2, but this was still based on the old Wolfenstein engine. I can't imagine anyone anywhere would pick this over Doom.

So, up next on the randometer is...Descent to Undermountain! Ooh, I always fancied playing this back in the day. By all accounts it's terrible, but hey. As the rubbish name hints at, TSR licensed the Descent engine and somehow shoehorned the Forgotten Realms into it. I have no idea how it's going to play.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Busted by Ghosts

Hmmm...something's out to get me at the moment. Another buggy game - Ghostbusters II crashes whenever I try and accept a mission. Oh well, at least I'm moving through the list a bit quicker. I just realised it would have been a perfect Halloween game, too. From what I saw of it, the graphics looked fine for the time, it had some nice digitised speech and, of course, the funkiest of theme tunes. I was quite looking forward to giving it a whirl.

Next up on the randometer is...Corridor 7: Alien Invasion. Ugh, I remember from the PC mag reviews at the time that this was one of the lowest rated games ever. It's a bland Wolfenstein-era shooter. Yay.

Monday, 29 October 2012

I Have 18 Holes

Short post day today. I didn't realise when the game popped up, but Poko Memorial: 18th Hole Miniature Golf was made back in 1987. Nothing wrong with that, but sports games of that era don't tend to age well. You've probably seen the screenshot by now (hey, it's one I actually took!), this is not a graphically intense game. That doesn't really mean much to me, but what really matters is that it's not a well controlled game. I've played a few golf games in my time (and there are more coming up on the list), and one thing you absolutely need is the ability to hit the ball in any direction. You don't have that ability here. There are 16 positions that you can place your club in around the ball, which means that most of the time it's actually impossible to aim the ball directly at the hole. That's not a great thing. You also have 10 different strengths you can hit the ball, but anything above 1 (or 2 at a push) is going to cannon it off the green, so there's really not much point in the other amounts. Maybe it'd be more fun playing against a friend with a few beers (hey, that would actually be MUCH more fun), but on it's own...nah. Onwards, then.

The next game up on the randometer is...Ghostbusters II. Well, I certainly ain't afraid of no ghosts, so this should be fun.

Didn't Survive

A quick update - I loaded up Survival to see what it was like and noticed there were a few odd bugs - things that meant I couldn't actually get anywhere in the game - and it didn't match the text description I had on file. A bit of digging revealed that I'd pulled the text from the wrong game on MobyGames, this was a different game called Survival, and a bit more digging revealed this was actually an unfinished, unreleased game - hence all the bugs. It's a pity, because it actually seemed quite interesting from what I briefly played of it, but there was one particular bug with buildings not staying built, which meant that I couldn't actually progress with it at all. So, without further ado, on to the next game...

The next game on the randometer is...oh blimey...Poko Memorial: 18th Hole Miniature Golf. Well, I can't see it sticking around too long, anyway!

In other news, I finished Alex Kidd, and have now moved on to a game that I always wanted to play after seeing it in games mags at the time, Alisia Dragoon.

Generalissimo Fantastico!

Well, with a mixture of satisfaction and disappointment, Fantasy General is finally over. It was a great, and very absorbing game, and that final battle was blinking hard...The only thing wrong with it was that I didn't realise it was the final battle. Turns out I didn't get to fight Mr. Big Badguy. I destroyed his lieutenant in an epic battle, stormed his throne room, and was greeted with a text box. A well-written, but painfully small text box. I was all set up to make this the first game that I actually took my own screenshot of the final screen to put up on the blog...but I wasn't expecting that little text box to be the final screen, so I didn't capture it. After every single island so far I'd been reward with a graphic of my warlock bestride the conquered continent...but for the end of the game I get a text box. I'm still stunned by it now.

...Okay, I take it all back. One YouTube search later reveals there is a short ending animation that is missing from the dodgy Underdogs copy that I have. That'll learn me for dealing with shadily downloaded goods. I could only find a German video, but it looks like it does the job of wrapping things up (even though you still don't actually get to fight the bad guy. Anyway, the best news is still that it's finally finished, and that it was a great game. On to the next game, and let's hope it's a shorter one!

And the next game up on the randometer is...Survival: The Ultimate Challenge! Oh dear, this doesn't look like a short one at all. From the description it's a kind of cross between an RTS and a hardcore survival sim. Hmmm...mixed feelings, but on we go. I'll also try and make a bit more progress in I-War and get that expansion pack polished off.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Isle of Aladdin (Sane)

The fifth island (or rather, archipelago) of Fantasy General is finally complete - on to the last one! The fifth was actually quite a bit shorter than the others, as it had me hopping through a bunch of small islands on my way to the final showdown. So, the end is tantalisingly near now...but I don't think it'll be finished this week. It's the final week to get December books into production so I'm swamped with editing. Hopefully things will calm down a bit next week (but there always seem to be a last few urgent chapters that sneak through). Still, it's close, and I can't wait to move on to another game. I've completed the tech tree now, so I've unlocked every unit available to me. I think different starting characters have different units available to them (there's definitely a 'Beast' tree that I can't access), but I don't think I'm going to be playing through the game again as another character...although it actually is strangely tempting. Damn this game! At the top of my tech tree I unlocked Phoenix Hawks and Phoenix Knights. You can probably guess from the similar name that they have a similar power, and that is the ability to cast a raise dead spell. I don't know if I've discussed it yet, but there are two types of unit damage in Fantasy General - wounds and deaths. Wounded members of a unit can be recovered by resting for a turn, but dead members stay dead until the end of that battle. That has been a constant throughout the game so far, and it's always a careful balance between how far you can push a unit before you have to retreat and rest, or in the case of a unit with a lot of dead members, whether you need to withdraw them from the battle entirely and keep them safe. Units gain cumulative experience that they keep across battles, so it makes sense to try and keep as many of them alive as possible. Anyway, the Phoenix units are immensely powerful because they break this paradigm. Their raise dead spell recovers all dead and wounded members, and they're both fast enough units that they can retreat when necessary, cast raise dead, then zip back into the fray. They're expensive initially for sure, but they generally stay alive a lot longer than other units, and now I've finished my research I've got nothing else to spend money on other than replacing and upgrading old units. The evil cackles are building at the back of my throat, and my unstoppable Phoenix army is rising up to wipe out everything that stands in its path. MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAH.

In other news, I was up before Max this morning and I managed to complete Aladdin while making his Ready Brek. It's weird, I remember playing the game on both the Megadrive (which I just completed) and the SNES - and it was one of those releases where each version was a completely different game. I remember bits and bobs of both, the post-jumping on the SNES version, and the sword swiping on the Megadrive, but weirdly enough, I don't remember the final boss battle of the Megadrive version at all, only the big snake of the SNES. Maybe we just never finished the Megadrive version at school? Anyway, the final boss was actually a bit of a let-down. The SNES version was a massive beast that you had to take down, while the Megadrive just has a little firey snake that's about the same size as your own character sprite. He doesn't move at all, just sits there and spits fire at you, and the only way I could work out to beat him was to jump over his fireballs and throw apples at him. So far, so boss battle, but the odd thing was that the only place to stand and do this (that I could find) was far enough away that the snake was actually off the screen. So I had no idea how well I was doing or even whether half of my apples were hitting him, I just carried on jumping and throwing until the 'Level Complete' screen flashed up and the credits started to play. Oh well, it's another one done. Next up on the phone is Alex Kidd and the Enchanted Castle. It's another one we used to play at school, and I'll write more about that another time. Just quickly, though, I remember being hugely disappointed by it.

Friday, 19 October 2012

The List

I've just added a link to a Google doc containing the full game list on the right. It's correct as of today, but I'm not sure how often I'll update it. Let me know if you can see it - I'm not sure if I set the permissions correctly.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Fourth Island

A super quick update post to say that I finally completed the fourth island today in Fantasy General. I always get a bit of a rush as I finish the final few battles of an island - you get that unstoppable feeling as the majority of the map belongs to you and the final few bastions of enemy occupation fall. Unfortunately, that high can only lead to a depressing low when you start a new island and it's back to square one with a ton of grinding battles before you. Only two more islands to go...I'm getting there.

In other news, I finished M.U.S.H.A. (Metallic Uniframe Super Hybrid Armor) on my phone. It's another Megadrive shoot-em-up. Not much to say about it really...it's amazing how short these shoot-em-ups are when you use save states! Playing Aladdin at the moment - takes me back to my school days!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Lined in Blood

Short post today, but I wanted to get a quick weekly in. Been a very busy week at work this week (I've categorically done the most work in a week since records began), so even less game time than normal. Suffice it to say, I haven't got the fourth island in Fantasy General finished. My goal was to try and hit an island a week, but I couldn't manage it. I'm almost there - I reckon another two or three battles to go - but I've run out of time and I'm away for a long weekend tomorrow, so no gaming to come until Tuesday. I keep meaning to say something about the writing in Fantasy General. The overall campaign is nothing original - you need to beat Mr. Evil...that's pretty much it - but the incidental writing is excellent. Every battle has a couple of paragraphs of introductory text that draws you into the narrative, explaining the enemy's current movements and the goals and necessary outcome of the upcoming battle. There are also little snippets of text when you capture the shrines and temples on each map. For example, in one of the temples in my last game I found a scene of slaughter where the enemy had mercilessly wiped out a herd of unarmed centaur on the sacred ground of the temple. In the middle of the bloodshed was a lone survivor driven mad with the shock and horror of his experience. On seeing us, he immediately attacked us as a new evil come to desecrate the temple. Okay, so essentially in game terms it's just that I entered the temple hexagon on the map and a centaur warrior was spawned to attack me, but the little bits of writing really pull you deeper into the game and make each battle more of an experience rather than just staring at a bunch of static icons and numbers on a hexagonal map.

I have, though, managed to finish Castlevania: Bloodlines on the Megadrive/my phone. It's a pretty short game (there are some sub-40-minute speed runs on YouTube), and actually a bit easier than I thought it would be. I always thought the early Castlevania games were pretty hardcore, but it wasn't too bad at all. Admittedly I did use save states, but I consider that a necessity when playing in short bursts rather than cheating. Anyway, I'm quite enjoying the stolen minutes of emulator phone gaming. No idea what I'll play next there yet.

The game list grew a bit this week, too. With over 3000 games there, I suddenly realised the other day that even if I managed to finish a game a day, it'd take me 10 years to get through them all...and I'm barely even doing a game a month at the moment. Ah well, I figure I'll be quite a happy chap if I'm still playing old DOS games when I'm 50.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Battling away

I meant to try and get a post in last week, but didn't quite get around to it. Suffice to say that nothing much has changed since then. I'm now onto the fourth island in Fantasy General and still enjoying it greatly, but I've discovered that there aren't only four islands, there are six, so I've still got two more to go. I have to say that even though I'm enjoying it, that discovery did fill me with dread a little. It just feels like it's taking a long time for a game that I feel like I've mastered (the basics of) now. There are more units to unlock, but they're all just incremental updates of previous units. I've seen all the mechanics that the game has to throw at me (as far as I know), so all the computer can do now is make larger maps with more, and more difficult, enemies on it. It means every level is just a longer war of attrition rather than a new challenge to be discovered. As I said at the beginning, I'm definitely still enjoying it, so it's definitely doing something right, but I'm also definitely feeling like I want the game to be over soon. If this was the last island that would have felt about right...another two to go is going to be a bit of a grind.

In other news, I'm also playing through a few Megadrive games on an emulator on my phone. The phone has a proper joypad, so it's not as bad as all that fiddly on-screen nonsense (it does still give me terrible hand cramp after a while, though!). Anyway, I sneak in a quick go every now and then in the evenings when Kate's on the phone to her mum. I recently finished Aero Blasters (a scrolling shoot-em-up), and I'm currently working my way through Castlevania Bloodlines (otherwise known as Akumajo Dracula, alphabetical-order fans). I think I'll add these to the list as and when I finish them rather than going through and putting them all up now (and making the list another thousand games long!). GoG had a couple of terribly tempting sales recently, too, so the still-to-play pile has been increasing at a worrying disproportionate rate to the games I've finished. Surely there'll come a day soon when GoG doesn't have anything more to offer me?

Friday, 28 September 2012

I-Warred

Just a quick post to say that I finally finished the I-War campaign. There wasn't actually that much more to do from my previous post. I did get a couple of decision points, but I ended up forming a new breakaway faction rather than joining with the indies. I realised that the reason I didn't get to become an indie pilot is because coming up next is the expansion disk - Defiance, which is basically the same background campaign, but this time played from the indie point of view, which I'm actually quite looking forward to. The missions are really nice and varied, so as long as the expansion disk carries on in the same vein then it should be fun. I also noticed that there is an obvious stat on the mission breakdown that lets you know which path you took in that mission. Looking back through my mission history, there are actually a lot of missions that had different paths...I'm afraid to say that I'm not going to go back and explore them. You could argue that I'm not really completing the game if I don't play through every bit of it, but I want to move on. Anyway, I've played through one story to the end, and that's enough for my rules. So yeah, next game in the series is the Defiance add-on, which I'm guessing will probably take as long to play as the first game if it really does mirror the main background campaign. Unfortunately, it doesn't count as a finished game until I've done the add-on as well. Bah.

In the meantime I'll be turning my attention to Fantasy General and trying to get through that. I've just finished the second continent (of 4, I think), so I'm roughly half-way through, although the later continents have way more (and much longer) battles than the first couple, so there's still a good chunk of game to go. And it really is good fun. I'm having to become a bit more strategic as the enemies get tougher, so I'm trying different troops as some of my earlier guys perish (which is actually not a good thing, as troops gain experience while they fight on the battlefield).

Monday, 24 September 2012

The little game that could

Quick update to say I completed Velocity over the weekend. I mentioned before that it's a PlayStation mini that I've been playing on and off in early morning time before Max is up. It's a really lo-fi, cheap game - nothing you couldn't have made in Flash back in the day, but it's full of great ideas and perfect execution. I said it could have been made in Flash, but actually it needs a controller. The precise controls and natural muscle memory are essential.

I guess it's ostensibly a shooter, but it doesn't really feel like one. You play a space ship and you fly around shooting things and rescuing hostages, but the really important central idea is that you can teleport. There are two different types of teleport, short form and long form. Short form is for zipping around the screen - jumping out of trouble (or into it), leaping over obstacles or reaching far away rescue pods. Long form works slightly differently: here you drop a marker that you can then teleport back to at any time. This is used when the path splits and you need to hop back so you can take both branches, or when you need to shoot a switch that opened a barrier further back in the level. It's all introduced slowly and naturally throughout the early levels, and the level design throughout the game's 50 levels is exemplary. Everything is designed perfectly to make use of your crafts unique abilities. You also have a couple more of those abilities - an infinite supply of speed boost for zipping through the levels (and some of the levels are timed, so you'll need that extra speed), and an infinite supply of bombs. The bombs are another neat feature; you have lasers, but they only fire forward, whereas your bombs can fire along any of the four compass points. So you'll often have to fling bombs down thin side passages, or bunny-hop over a switch then flick a bomb behind you to hit it and open up the electric barrier just in front of you. And the levels combine all of these things to perfection. The pace is wonderfully varied - some levels will be panicky, hair-raising races with the boost button held down all the way, others are slower-paced explorations with multiple long-form teleport marks dropped behind you so you can jump back and forth around the level visiting all of the branches to rescue all of the survivors. It's great.

There are also secret capsules you can find that open up bonuses - challenge levels or even mini-games like Space Invaders and Thrust that you can play. There's also a nice system to unlocking the normal levels. When you finish each level you get a certain number of XP for the time you finished it in, the amount of survivors you rescued and the amount of points you earned (from shooting bad guys and picking up pods). Each of the normal levels requires a certain amount of XP before you can open it. At the beginning of the game you don't really notice this at all, as pretty much as long as you complete the previous level then you'll always have enough XP to open the next level, but as you near the end of the game you start to notice that you no longer have enough XP to open the next level so you have to go back and replay the previous levels to earn a few more precious XP. Normally I'd absolutely hate something like that, but it's done really well here. For one thing, the levels are short and fun, so they don't outstay their welcome, but the best bit is that you don't have to do all of those things - survivors, points and time - in one go. You can do one run at super speed, just getting the minimum amount of survivors and rushing to the end, another to explore and pick up all of the survivors, and a final run to shoot everything and gain the maximum amount of points. And you don't need to get a perfect score on every level to open up all of the levels, so you can pick and choose which bits you want to do. If you like the speed runs then you can focus on those and just pick up a few extra points here and there from getting more survivors; if you want to spend time exploring and getting maximum points then you can do that and ignore the speed runs. It's a really nice system and works exactly how you'd want it to - lesson to designers, if you want to make a player go back and replay your game, then think about it from their point of view and make it fun for them.

So yeah, this is the smallest, shortest, and cheapest game I've written about so far and I've written loads about it. Why? Because it was great fun. The whole thing perfectly captured that elusive 'feel' that makes a great game great. It was focused on its idea and didn't spread itself too thinly or jam too much in. It even has a well-written back story that you learn more of as you play through it. All in all, a lovely little 10 out of 10 gem, and one I'd highly recommend.

Friday, 21 September 2012

I-War update

Nothing completed this week, so just a progress update. Both games on the go are pretty epic, so I may be here for a while. I'll start with Fantasy General, as I haven't done much of that. I've just got off the first island which mostly contained training missions. I think there are four islands in the game, and things are already starting to get tricky. It's a fun and absorbing game, though, with some nice touches. In my last battle, for example, I rescued a guy who can make mech units, which massively increased the amount of troops I can enlist and research - I wasn't expecting that at all, as I already have a pretty massive quota of normal and magic troops that I'm experimenting with and researching. Options wahey!

Independence War is amazingly hard, amazingly complicated and amazingly engrossing. I don't think I've ever played a game where I've died so many times on the training missions, let alone the rest of it. Even the very first training missions caused me many restarts. It's only a simple 'fly through the hoops' affair, but a) if you hit the hoops then you die, and b) I kept losing track of the final hoop and running out of time trying to find it again. The next training mission was similarly tricky - you had to make use of the Newtonian physics to dock with container pods then accelerate and undock them so they carried on going in a straight line at that velocity. Essentially you had to use this process to fling a bunch of pods through a ring. Good fun once you get the hang of it, but again, it took me quite a few goes to clear it. Anyway, I'm making progress through the game slowly but surely. I've no idea how big it is, but it seems to have been going for a while now. It definitely hasn't outstayed its welcome, though, and the reason for that is the engrossing storyline and the excellent mission structure. The missions are immensely varied, I don't think I've had to do the same thing twice, and there hasn't been a single straight 'fly here and shoot this' mission. Admittedly a lot of the missions are disrupted by 'indies' attacking you, but that's kind of the fun of it. A few of the things I've had to do...weapons test a new super gun, fly scientists to investigate an asteroid, repair a broken navigation satellite, safely 'catch' an antimatter pod that was on a collision course with a space station...oh, and I've met aliens a couple of times, but they've only been really fleeting encounters. On the story front, I fly a navy ship, and we're in a battle against the 'indies' or independents. Normally, I'd have expected a plot twist where I'd realise the navy is evil and the indies are fighting on the side of right, and I'd switch over and blast the oppressors, but that hasn't happened - or even been hinted at - yet, and I've been playing for a while now. I'm pretty sure this game does have a branching storyline, so it would make sense if I could go indie or navy...maybe it's already happened and I wasn't aware of it? (Hmmm...that reminds me of a song...indie navy, you can sail the seven seas, indie navy...etc.) So yeah, story-wise, there's the whole background battle going on, the aliens - who I'm sure are going to play a larger part, and I've picked up some kind of ghost-in-the-machine AI with the personality of a long-dead war hero, so presumably that's going to go somewhere, too. To be honest, I've got absolutely no idea where the story's heading right now, but I'm enjoying the ride. Until next week, then, or until I actually complete something.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Back from the future

A quick mini update to say that I finished Telltale's Back to the Future series over the weekend. I played a bit of it during my bathroom fitting gaming week and have finished it off in the early mornings when I've been up with (or before) Max. It's a nice gentle non-violent game, so I don't mind him seeing it, and there's no action really, so I can easily drop it if he wants me to go off and help him teach an elephant to fly. In fact, Max just calls it television, I don't think he's even realised it's a game.

I played and enjoyed Telltale's Sam and Max series a while back, and this was much the same in process, though the story and puzzles felt a lot more natural. I didn't get on with it at all to begin with, but as soon as the story kicked in I started to enjoy it more and more. If you like graphic adventures, I reckon it's one of Telltale's best.

In other brief news, I couldn't resist trying both games and doing their first training missions. Fantasy general was great fun - it felt a lot like HoMM and its ilk. I can see it getting very complex very quickly, though. I-War wasn't quite what I expected. I think I was getting it mixed up with Freespace when I though that it was an arcade game. It's actually a simulator with a full Newtonian physics model, and looks like it's going to get incredibly complicated (with a 118-page manual!). I think it's one of those games that's going to demand a lot of attention, so I'll try and stick with it for a bit.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Noid avoided

Well, for a quick CGA platformer it wasn't too bad. Ridiculously frustrating, as games of that age often are, but still very playable. The game involves you delivering a pizza to the top of a skyscraper with a 30-minute time limit. The tricky thing is that along the way, the 'noids' are trying to stop you. They do this either by knocking you over and then jumping up and down on the pizza, or they simply fire bazookas at you, which seems a little more extreme. You come equipped with a pretty decent jump, so they're not too bad to avoid, unless they come in massive clumps - which they often do. In those situations you have a limited supply of 'noid avoiders', which basically kill everything on the screen. They're also a life saver when you have to open doors with keys and have to sit through the key fumbling animation before the door opens. You can still be hit during this animation, and if you try to move at all then you have to go through the whole thing again. Luckily, using a noid avoider doesn't count as moving, so they're a life-saver when you're trying to get through a door and hundreds of noids are jumping at you. The other major obstacles are falling floors. Certain sections of floor will drop you down to the level below, but you have no idea where they are until you walk over them. It's annoying when you do run into them, as they usually end up dropping you down right into the path of a missile on the level below, but actually they're not quite as frustrating as they sound because you soon learn that the safest way to traverse the levels is by jumping anyway, which means you usually leap right over them without even knowing they're there. Then we come to what I found was the most annoying part. There are also telephones sprinkled throughout the game that you can answer. As far as I could tell, you have no way of knowing who's going to be at the other end until you answer it, and 9 times out of 10 it's a noid who immediately blows you up. The other times it's a bonus life or noid avoider. No problem, you think, I just won't answer any of them, but the other thing you get from the phones is a code to open one of the final doors, so you have to take your chances and get blown up a lot. For all I know there might be one phone that always gives you the code - I didn't play it enough to find out - but if it's random then it seems hugely unfair to me.

Anyway, it's another one done. I love these quick games! Next up on the randometer is...Fantasy General. It doesn't seem that long ago I was wondering what the game was that would get me into strategy war games. This could be it. It's basically SSI's acclaimed Panzer General but with a fantasy coat of paint. It's not going to be a quick game by any means, but will hopefully be a fun one. I think I definitely will jump into I-war next, though, and give that a blast.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Rai-done

Not much to say about Raiden. I had a quick go on it today, but it keeps crashing after the third level and it doesn't look like I'm going to be able to get any further. Turns out it's the same game I've played a bit before on the Megadrive, called Raiden Trad there. No idea what the official difference is, but I don't remember the MD one being quite as hard as the PC one. Generally, a lot of that's down to the system (and emulation thereof), the PC just isn't made for vertical shooters - the keyboard is a terrible input device for it (though I did finally get the joypad working), and suffered wildly varying slowdown, being incredibly fast when nothing was on the screen and incredibly slow when there was tonnes on there. That's probably a Dosbox fault, but it still didn't make it much fun to play.

As for the game itself, it's a fairly typical and fairly difficult shooter. You have to shoot everything that moves while trying to collect power-ups wafting around the screen. As far as I could tell, there are two types of main fire (laser and fire), and two types of missile (homing and straight - make your own jokes there). That's not a great deal of variety, but every additional power up you get adds a power level to the weapons, so they get a bit more exciting every time. Except if you're anything like me then you'll only see the first couple of power levels before you die again. Also, normal missiles seem utterly pointless, homing ones are infinitely better. I guess that's why the power-ups run in sequence, so once you kill a certain craft then it will start as M for missile, then after about 10 seconds it'll switch to H for homing, so you need to avoid getting the power-up for long enough until it's changed to what you want. So there's all that stuff putting me off it. Although it's nowhere near a bullet hell shooter, there are still enough bullets and enemies around to make it really hard to get anywhere without running into something, and I'm rubbish at shooters. But the thing that I hated most about it is that it has enemies that fly in from behind you. I'm one of those cautious back-of-the-court types who likes to only move forward for pick-ups, etc., but if you do that in Raiden you'll generally be dead in seconds without even knowing what hit you. The game forces you to take on an aggressive play stance, always fighting up the field and attacking the enemy bullets rather than running away from them. I guess that was my biggest problem with it - I'm a shooter coward, and the game wanted to change me. As (someone) once said, you can't change the nature of a man.

Anyway, enough of that. Good to get another quick one out of the way. Next up on the list is...Avoid the Noid. Hmmm, this was a promotional game for Domino's Pizza back in the 80s. No idea what it's going to be like! Not sure whether I'll hit this next or try I-war. If this looks like a quick one, then I might just push through it quickly and add another one to the done list.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Septerra Cored

It's finally done. I won't write too much about it here, as I've already done a couple of posts on poor old Septerra, but I can't tell you how glad I am to have finally beaten it. It definitely did outstay it's welcome a bit. By the end there was just way too much backtracking through samey dungeons, and every one was full of exactly the same kinds of switch maze...walk to one end of the dungeon to flick a switch that opens a door at the other end of the dungeon, so walk all the way over there to find another switch that opens another door back at the other end of the dungeon...repeat ad nauseam. They did a few things to try and lighten the tone - some combat initialisation sequences were quite fun and the backgrounds were always quite nice, but the mazes were just...ugh. The story and setting were good, and they did just about carry the weight of the game, it's just a shame the gameplay couldn't have had the same level of uniqueness. The ending when it came was quite quick and a little odd. The developers were obviously banking on the game being a success and they'd planned for a sequel, but that unfortunately wasn't the case. So in the end, the game is left with a bit of an enigmatic conclusion...things that happen in the final scene aren't explained, and the final prophecy isn't at all what you expect, but unfortunately isn't at all explored either. I won't spoil what it was, as I'm sure you're all going to rush out and buy the game right now...but it was a bit of an anticlimax. Ho hum.

Next up on the game pile is...ooh, the SSI Buck Rogers games added to the series list - looking forward to those, but the next single game is...Raiden. It's a top down shooter, which'll be an interesting change of pace. Unfortunately I've also just read a review saying it's "one of the worst shooters I have ever played". Should be fun.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Three core years and 10

I'm trying to do a post a week, but I really don't have much to report here. My folks have been down on holiday, so off a few days this week seeing them and the rest of the time in the office has been manic. Still, the point of this blog is the games, so on to them! I've only had time for a couple of quick sessions of Septerra, but I've made a little progress. One thing I can't fault the game on is the story - there are lots of twists and turns (maybe a few too many) with characters following their own motivations and affecting the story. I am getting a tiny bit of quest fatigue, though. There are too many instance of "Aha, well done for bringing me the the great Ankh of X, now if only I had the great Seal of Y we'd be able to use it. The great Seal of Y, you say? Oh, it's just a little trinket, to make it you'll need to locate the two parts of the supreme Fishing Rod of P and combine them with the Tricorn of Q, which can only be done at midnight in the forest of A, to enter which, you'll need the Key of B." And so it goes on. I don't mind that too much, as it generally moves the story along, the biggest problem is that it involves interminable back-tracking.

A key element of good game design, as far as I'm concerned, is to keep the game moving and not bore the player. If I've just fought through a massively long dungeon filled with evil (EVIL) switch mazes, and I've just killed Eric B. Badguy, then whatever you do, don't make me trek back through the whole dungeon (doing the switches in reverse...again) just to get back to the world map. That is not, never has been, and never will be fun. It's incredibly tedious, slows everything down, and bores the heck out of me. It's not really even worth it for the grind at this point, as I feel like all of my characters are at a good enough level now (they've all learned all of their abilities, so more XP is just a case of a few more hit points). So, that part of the game I'm finding hard. In general, though, I'm still enjoying the game, and I think that is mostly due to the story and the characters. It is starting to feel like it's outstaying its welcome, though, so hopefully the story will start to wind up soon. Oh, and I also read another review of the game where the reviewer commented on the fact that he also didn't find the map button until half-way through the game, so it wasn't just me being dumb. Ho hum. Maybe next week's post will be more exciting.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Apple Core

Not much to report this week. Gaming has slowed right down to a smidge of Septerra Core here and there over lunch. It is definitely an epic game, though - 7 different game worlds stacked within each other, and each one has a bunch of locations to visit and trawl through. I have finally got my own ship, though, so I can now travel between worlds at will, which makes things a lot easier. It's a slow game, too, lots of traipsing back and forth between areas with enemies that respawn when you re-enter. Combats are never easy enough that you can just breeze through them, so each fight takes a little while, and there are a lot of fights. I feel like I'm slowly getting somewhere, though. I now have the first part of the two-part key, which I think is the game's main objective, so hopefully not too far to go. It's a good game, but it always feels like it could be better - the graphics are alright, but they could be better, the combat's okay, but it could be better, the UI's not bad, but it could be better...it just needed an extra 5% polish in every area and it could have been something really great. As I say, it's definitely a good game and I'm definitely enjoying it, there's just always that niggle in the back of my mind that it's not quite right. Oh, and after getting myself lost in pretty much every area so far, I finally pressed Tab on a whim and discovered to my surprise that there is actually a map! I'd been cursing the game for it's lack of one every day up to that point, and it turned out it was me who was the idiot all along. I did read the manual, I promise!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Booty Quest

It's the end of the week of gaming, and what have I got done? Umm...pretty much nothing actually. I ended up dipping into a bunch of things rather than focusing on getting some games finished. I never went back to Shadow of the Colossus - it felt slow paced, and I wanted something quick. On the PS2 front, I did finish Mashed, a top-down racing game. I only had one more race to go from when I last played it, so it didn't take too long. I only finished the bronze cup, not gold or silver, but I think that's good enough for me. It's really best when played multiplayer, anyway. I also dipped into Champions of Norrath - a game I used to play years ago with a couple of friends but I never finished. I started afresh and spent a bit of time with it, but didn't get too far. What else...I did another couple of levels of The Incredibles. It's probably one of the most frustrating games I've ever played (a birthday present from my brother - he has a habit of buying me terrible games). Just thinking about it makes me want to throw things at walls, so I'll move on.

On the PS3 front I did actually finish something - Ratchet & Clank Future: Quest for Booty. It was a kind of half-game that they released to fill the gap before the full game came out. It only took a few hours to play through, but it was good fun throughout - a very straightforward, fast-paced, constantly moving 3D platformer, just what I was looking for. I also dipped into Flower for a relaxing glide through the grass, had a brief return to Metal Gear Solid 4 now they've added trophy support, but didn't get anywhere, I finished a few more levels of Cuboid, and I removed Lead & Gold from the list after a quick run around because it's multiplayer only. But with all that jumping about, the one game I kept coming back to was Borderlands. There's something really compelling about the way it keeps dripping new things to you - every mission finished opens up something else to do or somewhere else to go, and each mission doesn't take long, so you're constantly moving forward. There's also the much-vaunted random guns, which keeps your weapon loadout fresh, as you're always picking up something new and better - or just different. It has that horribly brilliant one-more-go factor that kept me playing until too late in the night on too many nights. It's a long game, too. I don't know how far through it I am, but I've just finished all of the missions in the first town. I'm level 21 or so, and there's a trophy for hitting level 50, which I figure is the highest you can go, so going by that reckoning I'm probably near half-way through the game. No idea when I'm going to finish it, but it's been great fun. Highly recommended.

Not much to report on the PC. I've still been chipping away at Septerra Core over lunch, but it's slow going. Normal service of 5 minutes a day will now be resumed.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Showed Gregory Horror

So I did complete Gregory Horror Show that night, but it took a lot longer than I thought. The last few souls were a right pain, requiring multiple reloads. The flippin' clocks were perhaps the worst; I constantly ran into other guests while trying to escape from the crazy Clock Master and then get over to where his son was hiding out while he had collapsed - and, of course, every time I died there was a long, unskippable cutscene before I could start the sequence all over again. Fun. Actually Angel Dog was a close second in the annoyance stakes, but for a different reason. It wasn't so much that I died a lot (although I did a few times) but that time moves so slowly in the game. You can only get Angel Dog's soul when she's watching the football on the hotel TV, and the football is only on at a certain time of day. I think she's the only one that has this restrictive time to grab her soul, but I can't remember the earlier characters too well - it's years since I did them. Anyway, it just so happened that the time that I last saved it was 9pm, and the football started at 6pm, so I basically had a day to wait out until I could catch her. Time passes very sloooowly in this game - you can sleep to pass a few hours, but you can only sleep once in a certain time period. You can also read a book to pass an hour or two, but books are important resources (they heal and increase your health gauge) so you don't want to waste them. You can also purchase time fruit in the exchange store, which passes a couple of hours when eaten, but there's no money in the game, so you can only get the fruit by exchanging some of your other items for it...which you may not want to do. So anyway, I thought I only had an hour or so of the game to go, but it ended up taking more like 3 or 4 hours to finish, which was mostly spent watching TV while I was waiting for time to pass in the game. Not a very productive evening in my quest for backlog domination! I did finally finish it, though, and it has perhaps the most depressing ending ever - essentially you're a clinically depressed person who constructed this hotel as a shell to hide from the real world, and when you finally break out of the hotel back into the real world you realise that you still can't cope with the pressures of the world and retreat back into cosy world of the mad hotel. Heartwarming stuff!

Next up on the PS2 pile is Shadow of the Colossus. I loved Ico, so I was looking forward to playing this. I only gave it an hour or so, and it is beautiful, but it's way harder than I thought it would be. I died numerous times just fighting the first colossus. I did finally beat him, and I think I've got the hang (ooh, pun!) of the grip system now. I was out in meetings all yesterday and didn't get back until late, so I just had a quick blast of Borderlands when I got back. It was actually refreshingly fun, so now I'm wondering whether I should go back to SoC tonight or just stick with Borderlands...hmmm.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Gabriel Burned

I had the week off last week, which actually meant much less time for gaming rather than more. I did, however, just squeeze in enough to finish off Gabriel Knight 3. The gameplay continued as you'd expect, with only a couple of obligatory - hey, now we're in 3D, why don't we have some 'cool' arcade sequences - bits at the end. Those bits took a few retries, but it was helped by a generous checkpoint system that meant you never had to go too far back when you fluffed. The story took a bit of a turn for the weird, though. As if it wasn't enough to have the freemasons and the priory duking it out, they also threw in vampires, immortals, another secret order who I was never to sure about, the Scottish claim to the throne of Europe, and Jesus himself. It should be noted that the vampires were actually involved from the beginning, but they were mentioned in a comic that came with the game and detailed the backstory, but GOG don't have the comic in their download package, so the beginning of the game essentially makes no sense. Thanks, GOG. Anyway, I thought the conclusion was all a bit rushed and crazy, and they probably would have been better off just focusing on one or two secret societies rather than trying to tie them all in together. Still, it's done, and it was an enjoyable end to an enjoyable series. I thought the adventure aspect worked in 3D, and I liked some of the puzzles - the SIDNEY computer was particularly fun.

Next in the series list is Independence War - a space game that I think is more Wing Commander-style arcade action than Homeworld-style strategy. I don't know a lot about it though, other than I remember gawping at screenshots of it in PC mags back in the day. They look like a fun couple of games. First up, though, I'm going to turn my attention to Septerra Core on the singles list - looking forward to a nice RPG.

Also, although I had last week off and didn't play much, this week Kate and the kids are away because we're having our bathroom done, so the evenings are mine, all mine! I'm going to try and focus on the poor old PlayStation, as it hasn't seen any love in a while, and in particular the PS2 games, as I'm pretty sure the old PS3 is going to blow up one day and I'll have to get a new model replacement with no backwards compatibility. So, with all that in mind, I returned last night to Gregory Horror Show. I got about two thirds of the way through it back in the PS2 days, but haven't touched it since the PS3 arrived. It's a weird little game, with a beautiful art style and sense of humour. You're stuck in a strange hotel and have to capture the souls of the other guests by spying on them and noting their habits to work out their weakpoints. I only spent a little time with it last night getting a feel for it again before I wasted the rest of the evening watching the rubbish old olympic closing ceremony...there's four hours of my life I won't be getting back again. Anyway, I reckon I should be able to finish it off tonight with a bit of luck, and then I'll see what other treats I can find in the pile.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Knight moves

I plumped for Gabriel Knight, and I've given it a quick couple of sessions. It still feels very much like the first two games even though the technologies are completely different, which is a good thing. I wonder if Tim Curry's voice over helps to bind things together in that regard. It's based on the same (now debunked) mythology as The DaVinci Code, and I'm a bit of a sucker for those "enhanced archaeology" stories - The kinds of things that Indiana Jones/Lara Croft/the Broken Sword games focus on, too. In fact, Indy and Broken Sword have both covered this tale before from a different standpoint, too. So far, Gabriel Knight is pretty firmly following the Holy Blood, Holy Grail tale, and is set in Rennes-le-Chateau. I have no idea how the story is going to go, so we may see some crazy mythical situations popping up later. The game is split into time chunks, with time moving forwards once certain tasks have been completed. Because there's no actual timer, it means you have plenty of time to wander about soaking in the ambience and chatting to people, which is nice and keeps it feeling like an adventure game. As I say, I've only been playing for a little while, so I've only really done one puzzle - the infamous cat-hair moustache. I actually didn't think it was that bad, it's pretty well signposted and if you get Gabriel to look and think about everything then he'll pretty much tell you what you need to do. I've seen a lot of stick being given to the fact he makes a moustache when the guy he's imitating doesn't even have a moustache (until he draws one on the passport), but I think the reason given in-game is good. He knows he looks nothing like the guy, so he needs a big distraction - the moustache - which will draw people's eyes so they won't look at the rest of the face too closely. Makes sense to me.

Anyway, enough waffle. I'm enjoying it so far and I'm looking forward to playing more. I'm also playing another little game, Velocity, on the PS3 in the odd morning where I get up earlier than the kids and have a spare few minutes to play. It's quite fun, so I might write more when I've finished it.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Link lost

I gave up on Uplink last night. For all my love of randomness, it's a randomly generated LAN that's caused me to quit. I played it for a while longer and finally managed to get one of the 10 files I was supposed to be downloading. That took me about an hour of constant hacking in to the system, trying to get to the file server, then getting kicked out. It was no fun, and I'm not going to go through that again for the other nine files - I'm not even sure I'd be able to get all the files, as they involve scrolling down a long listing to find and download them and that takes time, which I don't have. The problem is that the LAN is randomly generated at the start of the mission, and once it's generated it's set in stone for that username. The only way I can regenerate it is to start the game again from scratch. I'm not doing that. LANs are made up of connections between various computers with modems and wireless links in between some computers that mean you have to log out and log in again to the new point in the LAN in order to carry on your trip to your ultimate goal, the mainframe. Once you reach the mainframe, the sysadmin is notified and he begins to track you through the LAN. It then becomes a game of seeing how far you can push your luck and stay in the system before you're caught. You can see the sysadmin's progress on your screen, so you can disconnect at the precise moment before he'll find you. So far, so tense and involving, and when it works, it works well. As I say, LANs are randomly generated, so you never know what the route is going to be to reach the mainframe, but once it's been generated that particular LAN remains in place, so you can always log back in through the back door you identified the first time through. Again, when it's great, it's great. I hit an issue in my game, though. The final link on my LAN is a modem that's connected directly to the mainframe. That's great in the fact I just need to log in once and I'm right at the modem, but it works the same way for the sysadmin. As soon as I log in and hit the mainframe he's after me, and because he's only one hop away, it only takes him a couple of seconds to find me. The majority of those seconds are taken up with getting through the password and voiceprint access, so I get no time at all in the file server itself. If there was just one more link in the chain between the modem and the mainframe then this mission would have been easy, but as it is, it's nigh-on impossible. I've looked for help everywhere online, but the only solution seems to be to restart with a new character and hope for a better randomly generated LAN. I just didn't enjoy the game enough to go through that again, sorry.

Next game up on the randometer was Operation Market Garden: Drive on Arnhem, September 1944. It's an old hardcore strategy wargame from 1985. I've never been a big fan of these kinds of games - I've never had the patience or the inclination to understand them (or sometimes even to get through the manual), but I'd like to give the genre a proper go - and there are a lot of them on the list. Sadly, though, this isn't going to be the one to get my attention. It's a very old game, and the interface leaves a lot to be desired. I couldn't work out many options for each unit, so I was basically just moving around and attacking enemy units. I thought I was doing quite well - I'd killed 5 out of 10 German units and not lost any myself - but then the game abruptly ended because I'd failed to hold a strategic point in the allotted time. I didn't even know a) that I was supposed to be holding a point, or b) where any such point on the map was, so away to the done (or disgraced) pile it went.

So, next up on the randometer is...Septerra Core: Legacy of the Creator! Ooh, fun. It's a game I bought on GOG way back when and I'd always fancied giving it a go. It's a console-style PC RPG, made in the JRPG style (but by Western devs). The graphics all look a little goofy because of it, but I loves me a good RPG, the goofier the better. Looking forward to this, and I'm looking forward to Gabriel Knight 3 on the series list...Ooh, I don't know which one to play first!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Fteam Fummer Fail

I was going to write a post about how rubbish the Steam Summer Sale was this year, then I realised I'd already spent a bunch of money on it. Ho hum. I'll write it anyway.

The Steam Summer Sale was late, really late. No one in England noticed because we're not having a summer this year, but the rest of the world was up in arms. There was a whole lot of speculation and detective work going on to try and work out when it was going to happen. People were excited; they wanted to throw their money at Valve. And then it happened. And it was rubbish. Perhaps we've been spoilt recently, but the last few Steam sales have been excellent. They involved achievements being hidden in games, which when earned gave you bigger discounts/freebies. I'm not so stupid that I don't recognise that as blatantly trying to get more money out of me, but at least it made it enjoyable. Turn the sale itself into a game - it's a brilliant idea, and it was very successful. It also made me try out those random games I'd bought in past sales and never played, and it was one of the reasons why I started this blog. It made me want to play PC games again.

This year, there's nothing. I guess it must be a lot of hard work to organise something like that, but still...rubbish. To make it worse, the sale itself doesn't even seem that great. It seems that sellers have really bought into that whole "Set a massively high initial price, then heavily discount it" thing that other shops have been doing for years. I work in an industry where we sell things online, so I know all about the need for companies to stick falsely high RRPs on products because you know how much Amazon is going to discount that by. It's a rubbish process where no-one really wins. Hopefully soon buyers will realise that big discount does not mean good value and we can return to some semblance of normalcy. I know it's been going on for quite a while now, but it really feels like it's come to a head on Steam at the moment. Publishers know that there'll be a 75% Steam discount, so they whack another 50% on the RRP. Case in point, Super Meat Boy. It currently has a 75% Steam discount, so it costs...2.99. That means the RRP is 11.99. 11.99 for Super Meat Boy!??!?! Surely absolutely no-one in their right minds would pay that? I picked it up in one of the many, many indie bundles that it's featured in. I think I paid about 2 pounds for 5 games. That's the kind of price it's been for at least a year. Even the discounted price of 2.99 seems really high for it.

Anyway, I'm going off on a rant, so I'll stop. My main point was really that the sale prices this year seem much higher than they have been in recent years, and from my point of view as a purchaser, that's rubbish. As I say, though, it still hasn't stopped me buying. I set myself a limit of no more than 2 pounds per game, but I still managed to find a few games at that price hidden away from the main sale, which I snapped up.

As far as game progress goes, I've made some headway in Uplink. I've done three of the main storyline missions, but I'm stuck on the fourth. I'm in a LAN for the first time, and no matter what I do, I keep getting caught by the sysadmin. I think it's because I had to come in through a modem line, and that modem is only one link away from the mainframe so the sysadmin only has to move one hop and he's got me. I can't find a way around it at the moment, but I'll have another go at lunch today. The game's feeling a bit stale for me at the moment, so if I can't make progress soon I may just call it a day and move on (especially now I've added another bundle of games to the list!).

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Lairy Dragon

So I finished up the other two Dragon's Lairs. They only take about 5-10 minutes each, so I guess they're the very definition of games for this blog, but my god they're hateful. The second and third games are basically exactly the same as the first but with different graphics (not better, just different, and possibly even worse at times). The gameplay is the same, but they've managed to make it even more irritating. How? By increasing the number of actions that you need to take per section. In the first game there were only 2 or 3 actions per section, and when you die you go back to the beginning of the section so at worst you only need to repeat a couple of actions every time you die. The second game makes this harder by having those actions come along much quicker, and often right at the start of a section, so as soon as you enter a screen you have to press a button immediately or you die again. The third game combines this higher speed with many more actions per section, so you might need to perform 5 or 6 high-speed actions in a section. Fail at one of those, and you've got to go all the way back and do it again. HNNNNGGGGGGRRRR. I hope I never have to see another one of these again (frantically checks list for Space Ace....NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!)

Next up on the series list is Gabriel Knight 3. I completed the other two just before starting this blog, and I enjoyed them greatly. It's got to be one of the only game series where each game uses a completely different technology. The first is a classic point and click, the second is a FMV special, and the third is a full 3D adventure. I did make a start on it just after finishing the first two, but my savegame got corrupted somehow and I couldn't be bothered to go back to it. I'll probably focus on Uplink first and see how far I can get with that.

Infirmo

No joy with Inferno. It's a shame because I actually did want to play it. I remember it well from games mags at the time, so I was keen to give it a go. I tried a few different install packages and tried installing in different locations, but nothing. I just kept getting a missing file error. Oh well, no use crying over broken games, it's on to the next series in my list...Dragon's Lair.

Like thousands of other people, Dragon's Lair wasa revelation to me when it first came out. My young eyes couldn't quite believe that such graphics were possible. Every other game at the time was still made of pixels the size of your fist, but Dragon's Lair was literally like playing a Don Bluth cartoon. Of course the actual game was horrendous, but it was almost worth that pain to see the next few frames of animation.

The PC version isn't quite as good in either respect. The graphics are nowhere near the level of the laser disc original (although they're still not bad for the time) and the gameplay is even worse, if such a thing is possible. In the arcade you saw a flash of light on the part of the screen you were supposed to move towards so you at least vaguely knew what you were supposed to be doing. Those hints are sadly absent from this version. That's not quite true, a couple of them are there, but not enough to get you through. Dragon's Lair is essentially one big Quick Time Event (QTE), but where in modern QTEs the button you're supposed to press will flash up on the screen, in the PC version of Dragon's Lair you've just got to guess which button you're supposed to press and when you're supposed to press it. As you can imagine, it's not easy. I mentioned that it's important when you press a button, and it is - you can't just hold a button down or mash it because the game keeps the commands in the keyboard buffer. If you hammer Left five times to make Dirk leap to the left over some lava, you'll then find that he continues trying to go left at the next intersection even though your finger is lodged squarely on the Up button. I guess it makes some kind of sense, but it's as annoying as hell. Of course, the problem was that I didn't know the game was doing this, I was just desperately mashing direction buttons trying to get Dirk to do something...anything, and all he'd do was fall to his doom. I couldn't make it past the second screen no matter how hard I tried. I only made it past the first screen because that's what plays on the rolling demo when the game starts up so I knew what I was supposed to do. In the second screen you find yourself in a flaming hallway with the tiles falling away beneath you. The top tiles fall away first, so the obvious thing is to jump down to the safety of the lower tiles. Easy, even I could work that out. Then a door opens to your left, so it must mean you have to jump over to your left? Death. Okay, how about jumping to the right to those other safe tiles? Death. Jumping down a bit more? Death. Drawing my sword to jam it into the side of the chasm and then flip over it and through the door? Death. Okay, I give up. The problem isn't just knowing which direction to go in, it's knowing exactly when to move, one step at the wrong time or in the wrong direction means...Death. Poor Dirk died so many times, over and over and over again. I found a playthrough on YouTube and tried to follow it. I still died multiple times, but I did at last make it off that second screen. What did I have to do? I had to jump up once to plant Dirk's feet on either side of the hole that opened up beneath him, then jump up again to launch Dirk into the air, and then I could finally hit Left to send Dirk through the open door. How the heck was anyone supposed to work that out. I wonder if anyone did manage it without a walkthrough at the time. Anyway, in some respects that was one of the hardest parts in the game - fighting the lizard king guy was equally tricky, as was making it up the final steps, but once you've dipped your toes into a walkthrough, it's impossible to turn back! I still died many, many times, but I finally made it through and rescued Daphne...man is she ugly in the PC version! Worse than Queen Slug-for-a-butt, this was Princess Slug-butt-for-a-face. Ah well, I guess it was worth it just to see the End screen and be able to turn it off. (NB: the image at the top is from the original...I couldn't find a good pic of the ugly Daphne, and I wasn't going to play through it again to get one.)

What's next? Oh, I forgot to mention that the animation from the original game was so big that they decided to cut it in half for the PC. The first Dragon's Lair PC game has you venturing into the castle to rescue Daphne, and the second has you escaping from it...with exactly the same gameplay, graphics and controls. AAAAAARRRRRGGGGHGHHHHH.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Epic fail

I had a smidgeon of spare time last night so I decided to give that first Epic mission another go now that I know what I'm supposed to do. Wiping out enough mines proved pretty easy, and I was soon on my way down to the planet's surface to take out the radar station. It didn't take long to find it (it was smack in the middle of the map), so I zoomed up and started blasting - mindful of the fact I was on a timer and it was counting down fast. I spent an age shooting at it and...nothing happened. Time ran out and the mission ended. I tried again; same thing. I tried again and again but didn't seem to be able to do any damage to the radar dish. I re-read the mission description in the manual and lo and behold in the last sentence it does make passing reference to the fact that there just might be some kind of force field around the radar. So, try again, through the minefield, back to the planet and this time rushing around trying to find a forcefield generator. After a bit of aimless wandering I found something that looked suspicious (the name on the missile lock screen just says "unknown"), so I did what all good heroes do and shot it. Bang goes the building and up goes the completion percentage - I'm on the right track! And then the timer runs out and I die. So I try again, safe in the knowledge that I know what to do this time. Through the minefield, down to the planet, kill unknown, yay! My completion percentage has only gone up by about 4%, so I figure there are more of these generators around. I fly around to find the next one and...time runs out. Death. This is getting less and less fun by the second. I soon find out that by some glitch in the game logic, if you crash your plane then you lose a life and the timer is reset (normally when the timer runs out it ends the mission no matter how many lives you  have left). Actually, the game does justify the lives thing, it's actually ships rather than lives. You're just a nameless, expendable pilot, but what matters is the golden ship that you're flying. It's made from the miraculous "epical material", and they only had enough of the material to build three ships - hence your three tries. Works for me. Anyway, with this new knowledge I was able to fly around and find a few more generators (note that you have extremely limited fuel, too, so aimlessly flying round wastes both fuel and time - they really didn't want you to win this game). I destroyed all the generators I could find and got my completion percentage up somewhere around 90% - time to hit the radar, thought I. But when I got there the radar had disappeared. I could clearly see where it used to be, but there was no sign of it...What?!?! And then the timer ran out and I died.

I'm afraid to say that after that I rage quit and called it a night. I woke up this morning wondering if maybe the radar had blown up because I'd been knocking out all the generators - overloading its power or something - and maybe there were just a couple more "unknown" buildings that I had to find and hit and the level would be over. So I turned on the computer and then remembered that I hadn't just rage quit last night, I'd rage quit and deleted the game. Oh well, I wasn't enjoying it that much anyway. On to its sequel, Inferno, voted the 44th worst game of all time by Computer Gaming World. Yay! I tried to install it this morning, but it keeps complaining about a missing file. I'll give it another go later, but it looks like I might not even get to try it.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Timed out

No updates recently because work has consumed my life. I switched over to a new team a couple of weeks ago and I've been up to my eyeballs trying to get up to speed with the new stuff while still working through all my old stuff. No sign of it letting up anytime soon, but I thought it'd been too long without an update.

Uplink - I've only had a quick blast, started off very interesting, you play a hacker and have to take on various missions to earn money in order to upgrade your kit (software and hardware) so you can take on harder and more lucrative missions. It all sounds very RPG-like, and I guess it is in a way, but I'm finding it all a bit samey. I normally don't mind a grind, but I'm not getting a good enough sense of progression here, and there's no goal to aim for. I'm increasing my hacker rank, but I'm not sure what that does for me other than open up more missions, and those missions are all just randomly generated "steal X document" or "change X bank account" and so on. I dunno, maybe there is a story there and I'm just not seeing it yet. I don't feel like I've given it long enough yet, so I'll keep playing, but I hope something happens soon...the game must have an ending, mustn't it?

Epic - I've started the first mission a few times but not managed to get anywhere in it yet. There's a great cinematic intro and backstory for the game, all feels very Battlestar Galactica, so I'd love to make some headway in it and see what happens. In essence, the sun's about to explode so the human race has to evacuate earth and fly to another galaxy where a suitable new planet has been located. The only way to get there, though, is to fly through the territory of an enemy nation, which is seen as an act of war. That's cutting it a bit short, but you get the gist. So, you're part of this huge armada of ships, and it's your job as a fighter pilot to protect the convoy and lear a path to the new planet. Your first mission has you clearing a path through a mine belt and then flying down to a planet to destroy the tracking station there. So far so good. You launch your ship and find yourself in a huge mass of other ships, presumably the armada. You orient yourself on the waypoint marker on your HUD and jam your finger on the thrusters...only to find the waypoint marker disappears. You fly around for a bit and orient yourself on the marker again, only to find the same thing happening. What gives? I tried this mission quite a few times, flying around trying to find where I was supposed to go but not getting anywhere. In desperation I looked on YouTube and found a playthrough video there. Guess what...that armada you start in? Turns out it's actually the mine field you're supposed to be destroying! That's why the waypoint marker kept disappearing, because you're already at the place you're supposed to be. I couldn't believe it, nothing anywhere in the manual or mission description hinted at that. And it's not like the mines all look the same (or at all like mines), they're all completely different shapes and sizes, that's why I assumed they were the ships of the armada. Anyway, I haven't had time to go back to the game and try the first mission again yet, so I'll add another update when I do.

Final thing, although I haven't had time to play any games I still seem to have found time to buy some more. Damned GOG sales. The Steam summer sale should be starting soon, too, and I doubt I'll be able to resist its thrifty charms. I'm an idiot.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Done with Divinity

Had a bit of time on a day off today and I finally, FINALLY finished Beyond Divinity. It was a heck of a grind and nowhere near as much fun as the first game, and I'm really, really glad it's over. The ending continued the bad design decisions. The actual surprise at the end was good, but they then went in for a little too much exposition. They essentially retold the entire game - admittedly I had forgotten some of it - in narrated cutscenes without really adding anything new. I don't know if it was meant to be an 'aha!' moment once you knew the final reveal, but it didn't really add anything. It's a shame, I love an epic RPG as much as the next guy, probably a bit more, but this just didn't do it for me. Ah well.

Next up on the series list are Epic and its follow up Inferno. Space flight games that I don't really know much about. I think they're more arcadey than, say,  the Elite-style Privateer, but we'll see.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Pucks

And I'm back. Sports games are never my favourite genre (not single-player, anyway), so I wasn't going to stick with this for long. It was actually quite fun for what it was. Controls were smooth on the joypad and there were only a few players on the rink at a time, giving you plenty of space for glory runs. That's actually not a bad thing because, unlike most other sports games, you control the same player throughout the match, so once you pass it the computer then controls the guy with the puck until you happen to get it back. I guess it does give you more of a feeling of actually being on a team, but, as I said earlier, it does also increase your tendency to hog the puck. There's also fighting involved when two players have a bad collision - the titular face off. This has become a standard in ice hockey games, but I think this may have been one of its first occurrences (don't quote me on that). In other ice hockey games I've played, the fighting was over quite quickly, but here it's much more drawn out with both characters being able to move around and use two different punches, almost like a proto-Street Fighter! Actually, I have to admit that the fighting wasn't that fun. It took so long (or maybe I was just so bad at it) that it left you itching to get back to the hockey action. The other notable thing at the time was that this was an unlicensed game, which I think annoyed some people, but I don't know the first thing about ice hockey teams, so it didn't bother me at all. Anyway, I played a few games and enjoyed my time with it, but I'm not going to pursue it any longer.

Another multi-post day, and things are moving again! Next up on the randometer is...Uplink: Hacker Elite! Interesting. It's a relatively modern game (although 2001 isn't *that* modern) that I bought in a Steam sale a while back. I don't know much about it other than the fact you play a hacker. Looks fun.

Fatman tongued

That's the most horrible post title I think I'll ever write! I had a bit of extra PC time last night, so I played a couple of games quickly. Tongue of the Fatman was without a doubt one of the worst fighting games I've ever played. The control system was the real problem - it was all on the num keypad and gives me hand cramp just thinking about it. There were some nice bits like being able to bet on the outcome of the fight and being able to buy items to help you in between bouts, but the actual fighting itself was so atrocious that I couldn't continue with it. Good graphics, good atmosphere with loads of really quirky characters...just writing about it does make me want to give it another go, but no, I don't think I can face it. (And just so you know, that title screen image is actually animated - he does indeed sit there and rub his nipples.)

So, I went for the next game on the randometer. This time it was... Face Off! Nothing to do with the John Woo flick, it's an old ice hockey sim. I'm going to stick to one game per post (for screenshot reasons), so I'll be back in a mo' with my thoughts on the game.