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.