Thursday, 18 December 2014

Panicked Apples

Another quick one (it's been a good day for getting through some games!). Apple Panic is a clone of Space Panic, and similar to Lode Runner, but the game I know it as is Monsters for the BBC B. It was one of my earliest games on the Beeb (I probably still have the beautiful old AcornSoft boxed copy somewhere, and I have fond memories of it. This is basically the same game except for one thing... the speed. I know I could tinker with DosBox's settings, but I consider it a challenge attempting (and failing) to play at superhuman speed. It took a while to find the keys, but after that I was digging holes like a madman. Unfortunately, time ran out before I could actually catch a monster, but hey. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Neuromancer! The graphic adventure based on the William Gibson story. I read the story many years ago at school...can't remember much about it, though. I did recently read through a blog playthrough of this game, though, so I do have a rough idea of what I need to do. Should be fun.

The Doh Hole

It turns out Beyond the Black Hole is some kind of weird Pong-proto-Breakout mish-mash. It was actually pretty fun. You control a paddle on either side of the screen (there are walls on the top and bottom), and both paddles move in unison using the keyboard or mouse. On the screen are a bunch of items that you need to hit with your ball. So far, so standard. The odd thing is, the ball doesn't actually hit the items when it passes over them, instead you have to press the action key to kind of swing the ball. It doesn't hit at the moment you press the key, but about half a second later. That's weird enough, but the ball also switches direction. This means you can effectively keep moving the ball within the playing area without it actually hitting the bat. It doesn't really work out like that because there's a delay between the times you can hit the action button and the ball moves pretty fast, but it adds a unique dynamic. The 'bricks' themselves can also work in different ways. I didn't get very far (you only get one life over 35 levels, although you can start at the last level you reached but with half fuel...I'll get to that), but one level had pool balls as the 'bricks' and if you hit a spot ball first then you needed to make sure you then hit the rest of the spot balls before moving on. If you hit a stripe ball out of order then the ball would turn into some kind of evil bug. Also, if you hit the 8-ball before clearing the rest of the table then all of the other balls re-appear. Again, it gives a very unique twist to the usual game style. The other thing was fuel. You have a limited fuel supply that constantly drips down as you play. If you miss the ball you lose a big chunk of fuel, and I think you lose a little bit every time you hit the action key. This means that essentially there's a timer every time you play. I'm not a great fan of timers, but it adds tension to this kind of action game. So, a surprisingly fun little game.

Next up on the randometer is...Apple Panic! Don't know it, but it sounds like a basic arcade game from 1982.

Bald to the Bone

Baldies is unfortunately another victim to my current mood! This time I did get hold of the manual and read through it, but a) the manual doesn't explain much, and b) the game doesn't seem that fun. It's a very basic RTS...in fact, I'm not even sure you could call it that. I guess it's got a bit more in common with Settlers or games of that ilk. You start with a bunch of 'standard' baldies. These guys breed in houses to create more baldies and they build up your 'red' energy bar when outside. There are four basic 'unit' types, breeders, builders, scientists and soldiers. You can instantly switch a baldy between types without any penalty, so you always have quite a fluid number of units. Builders can build new houses, and they can also change existing houses into one of four types corresponding to the four units. Scientists can make inventions, from basic things like pit traps up to complex systems like helicopters. Needless to say, I only ever saw pit traps. You can use these inventions to defeat the enemy baldies. And that's basically it. It kind of sounds interesting, but nothing really made sense to me. I couldn't really make my guys do what I wanted, and although you can pick people up and tell them to go somewhere, when they get there they immediately just run off and do their own thing again. For example, I grabbed a bunch of soldiers and dropped them on an enemy thinking that they'd destroy him. One off my guys biffed the enemy, while all the others wandered away. In the meantime, the enemy stood up and wandered off himself. Great.

So, I'm sorry Baldies, but it's not to be. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Beyond the Black Hole! Never heard of it, and no idea at all what it'll be like.

Tapped Out

Tag Team Wrestling was as quick as I thought it would be, it's just taken me a while to get around to writing it up. For such an early game, there was actually quite a bit of strategy in the bouts. Your wrestler can run around the ring and can perform a selection of 8 special moves depending on which direction you press when you hit the action key. There isn't much more I can say about it, though. I never won a bout, and barely landed a hit, so I don't have much insight into the workings of the game. Still, it's another one down. Oh, and one for the trivia fans - there is a team of wrestlers here called the Strong Bads, and apparently this game is the inspiration for the Strong Bad character from Homestar Runner. Who knew?

Next up on the randometer is...Kasparov's Gambit! It's a chess game from a few years back. I'll give it a quick go, but won't spend too long. I'll probably update this post with a note on it later today.

And...there we go. It's a chess game, not a lot to say. As you can probably guess from the title, the gimmick here is that this one is endorsed by Gary Kasparov and has a video of him giving various soundbites as you play your game. I especially like making the first move in a match, and it's revealed that move is the Finkel-Dinkelman opening, first used in 1926. And there was me thinking it was just a random piece. It also features a bunch of tutorial videos, but I didn't get into those. The AI plays a good game, no doubt about that. I'm certainly no grand master, and I haven't played a real game in years, but I know my way around the board. The computer still managed to put paid to me pretty quickly, though. I did manage to make Kasparov exclaim "I didn't expect that move!", but I'm not sure if that was a good thing or a bad one... probably bad considering I lost. Kasparov will also say things like "Watch your rook" and then take it. Thanks, Gary. Might have been a bit more helpful if you'd told me that before I'd made the move. Anyway, it's a very competent chess game, but I'm not going to spend any more time with it. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Storm Master! I've never heard of it, but it sounds like a weird fantasy strategy/management/zeppelin simulator hybrid. By Silmarils, so say no more. I'll give it a go. Have a feeling it may be another quickie, though, as I'm in that kind of mood.

And I'm spent. Bit of a cop-out, but it's all in French and looks a bit weird and complex. Another day I might have tried to find an English copy of the manual and work things out, but not today. As far as I can tell, you are the controller of island A and you're fighting island B. The only way you can attack them is using air ships, and the stormy weather makes that hazardous. Luckily, you have wizards who can control the weather. So, you need to build up your stocks to get enough money to finance some wizards and soldiers and aircraft (and crew), and then send them all off on a jolly jaunt over to island B where they will rapidly slaughtered because you have no idea what you're doing. Oh, I forgot to mention, you also need to design your own airships (basically, adding sails, propellers, etc. to a hull) and get them to fly against the enemy. Luckily, there's a Test button, so you can see if your air ship will actually make it off the ground in the first place. All of mine exploded on take off, but it was a fun diversion. There also seems to be some kind of spy/assassination mechanic, but I couldn't work it out. You see, I'm starting to convince myself now. It does sound intriguing, but no, not today.

Next up on the randometer is...Baldies! I remember this one coming out. It's an RTS that came out at the time when everyone and his dog was making RTS games, so it'll be interesting to see what makes this one special.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Four down, Five to go

Ultima 4 is finally done and dusted after 20 years or so since starting it at school. I still have a slight hankering for playing through the Master System version...I know it's crazy, but I think it's the music pulling me back more than anything. Those tunes have been sitting in my head since first hearing them, and this PC version just didn't scratch the itch. The rest of the game was pretty much as I remembered it - the shrines and the mantras, the location of the wheel and the skull, the bell, book and candle...all these things are burned in my memory (when I forget so much useful stuff). I think we did pretty much finish the game back at school, it was just those final dungeons that were the sticking point, and they still were with my current playthrough. Ultima 4 still has the horrible half-first person, half tactical split in the dungeons, and the clunky first-person sections are so old-fashioned and horrible. I really hope this is the last we see of them. I don't remember them on the SMS, so it must have been purely tactical battles back then. Oh, and I finally found the missing shepherd! She was actually just outside the city walls and you had to run through some poisonous swamp right at the entrance to the city in order to find her. No wonder I never found her at school, there's no obvious indication that there's anything good down there, and all of the other party members are in really obvious places, so we never thought she'd be somewhere so out of the way. Ah well, at least it means you don't actually have to be a shepherd yourself to finish the game - I was a fighter in this one, which was a bit boring, but that's where the gypsy's questions took me. I'm going to try importing this character into the next game and see how that goes.

So, onward to Ultima 5! I know next to nothing about this game so it's going to be interesting to find out what it's like. The rest of them are quite well known, so this one feels like a bit of a dark horse. I know 6 is the first one with the fully revamped graphical engine, but hopefully 5 is a little improved - especially in things like dungeons, as I mentioned. We'll soon see. I've also got Conquest of the New World, which I haven't looked at yet. They're both fairly deep games, so I'm not sure which to pick up next. To be honest, my fingers have been wandering back to Borderlands 2 for a bit of quick-fix action, so I might spend a bit more time there before I dive into one of these. It's almost the end of the year and it would be nice to get another game under my belt, so maybe I'll put Conquest on hold for a minute and pick up another from the randometer...oh, go on then. I'll pick up Conquest as my first new game of 2015.

So, next up on the randometer is...(ha - the first thing it brought up was MtG for the series list...as if I need any more of an addiction to Magic right now) ... Tag Team Wrestling! A CGA wrestling game all the way from 1985, sounds perfect.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Cut the Red Tape

Bureaucracy is done and dusted. It was an interesting game, but I find it harder and harder to get back into old (or new) IF games nowadays. I'm a words person, so I *should* like reading games made of words, but I kind of feel like when I want words I'll read a book; when I want a game I want to play. I suppose the 'interactive' bit should be what sets this apart, but these games usually only have one 'true' narrative arc anyway, so your interaction doesn't really affect the story that you're reading. All you can do is make a mistake and end the story prematurely and then go back and try and read/play it again. It doesn't feel satisfying to me. Now this is definitely a recent thing - I used to love text adventures back in the beeb days - so I don't know if it's just because IF games don't lend themselves very well to short bursts of play, they require you to play slowly and be invested, or because my brain's moved into a more flighty adult mode. Anyway, whatever it is, I just don't seem to have the patience for them like I used to. This game in particular doesn't help that feeling. This is a game that's designed to frustrate you, it's all about getting annoyed with the illogical bureaucratic system and trying to cut through it, but going face to face with illogical bureaucracy isn't really something that I want more of in my life! There are deliberately arcane forms to fill in, people that you have to talk to multiple times to get the answers you need, rings that you need to run around in order to get anywhere, locations that will become inaccessible to you at random intervals. These kinds of things just aren't that fun...they're not meant to be. It reminds me a bit of when the Spellcasting games decided they really did want to be college simulators...I play games to get away from that kind of thing. Anyway, time to move on.

Next up on the randometer is...Suspect! It's another Infocom text adventure, and this time you have a limited time in order to solve it. Eek, not exactly what I wanted next!

And...it doesn't work. There are files missing from the zip so there's nothing to run. Have to admit, I feel a little bit relieved. So, next up on the randometer is...Log!cal (yes, with an exclamation mark in the middle). It's a puzzle game where you have to arrange balls into groups of four. I'll have a go, but it should be over with quickly.

And...that was quicker than I thought. Another non-starter. This time all that was in the zip was a crack for the game but not the actual game itself. That'll learn me for downloading dodgy copies of games! Okay, third time lucky. Next up on the randometer is...Conquest of the New World! This one's a GOG purchase, so should all be working! It's a long-form strategy game as far as I know, so I'll see if I can clear Ultima 4 first, then come back to this and give it my full attention.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Kicked Off

Well, that didn't take long. Kick Off is very much a step back to the heyday of Sensi and the early FIFA games. It took a while to work out the passing and shooting, but I got there in the end. There's no man-to-man passing here, it's all hit and hope. The ball fires out directly along the direction your player is facing, and it's then up to you to get someone on the end of it. The computer AI isn't great at doing this for you - you'll often find that when you play a through ball to someone up the field, by the time the ball gets near to him the computer has already run him off in a completely different direction. The solution is to kick the ball then quickly switch to the intended recipient and get him on the end of the pass. Shooting is a similar mechanic with the amount of time you hold down the shoot key denoting the power (and height) behind the shot. Scoring does seem really hard. I didn't score once in the time I played it, but then the computer never scored against me, either. I even left the room for a couple of minutes to sort out the kids (I couldn't find a pause key) and when I came back, the computer still hadn't scored against me. The other funny thing about it is the sliding tackles, these go on for quite some distance, and if they connect then the player that was hit goes flying for about a third of the length of the pitch! And that's not even counted as a foul (I did check, and fouls were turned on), I'd hate to see the tackle that does count as a foul. Anyway, it was quite fun for a short spin, but it was never really going to be a keeper. (...a Keeper...get it? Of course you do. It wasn't even a joke.)

Next up on the randometer is...Bureaucracy! It's an old Infocom text adventure written by none other than Douglas Adams. Should be interesting.

Chasing the Crownhole

It's been a while, so a bit of a summary post here. First up, I completed Chaser. It was a fairly standard FPS with more of a story than most. The themes are loosely based on Total Recall, with various mind-swapping shenanigans and an ending that leaves things open for the sequel that never was. Gameplay-wise, it's mostly standard, with some odd ideas that are thrown in once and never appear again. This leads to a few slightly frustrating issues, for example, there's one area you need to escape from by climbing a grate...that's the same as hundreds of other grates in the game that haven't been climbable. A similar thing happens with one section of wire you can blow up, but every other section of wire that looks like that in the game is invulnerable. Little things that could have done with slightly better signposting. There are maybe 10 weapons in the game, but they all perform in much the same way, and there were four, maybe five of them that I never used at all. There's a 'bullet-time' ability that is never referred to in the game and I didn't use it once - it feels like they threw it in there but didn't really know what to do with it. It's a long and varied game, though, with plenty of action to keep things moving at a lick. There's a good bunch of different levels, such as one set underwater in a ship graveyard (that plays a bit like Descent), one that sees you holed up in a light-house sniping targets miles away to provide your comrades with safe passage, another that has you in a mech suit defending a base from enemy mechs and planes. It doesn't work perfectly all the time, but it keeps up your interest in the game. The start of the game has you working in a mafia-led city (that felt a lot like Kingpin), then you're off to Siberia, a rocket launch facility, and Mars, amongst other places. I enjoyed all the travelling about, though it did feel a bit drawn out in some places. Some bits were also annoyingly hard, and there were a few too many places where I got hopelessly lost and was wandering around for ages before finally escaping. It really felt like with a bit more play-testing and polish, this could have been a fantastic game. As it is, it was merely a good one, but that's okay with me.

Next up was Manhole. I had this listed as the first game by the developers of Myst, but it turns out it wasn't that at all. It was instead a homebrew conversion of an old Game and Watch title, so you can imagine the gameplay was pretty simplistic. Essentially, there's a bunch of streets with manholes missing and you can temporarily place a manhole over one of these holes to prevent pedestrians from falling in. As the game goes on, the pedestrians come thicker and faster and it soon becomes impossible to save them all. A small, fun and addictive game to while away the odd minute here and there.

Finally, I also had a go at Defender of the Crown. I know this is one of the most beloved of Cinemaware titles, but I just couldn't get on with it. I think the big problem with all of the Cinemaware games is that they depend a lot on perfect timing and, as such, they don't emulate very well. I could spend ages tinkering with DosBox, but I just wasn't in the mood. I managed to win a few sword fights, but jousts seemed completely beyond me, and the computer seemed way overpowered in the standard game. He'd be attacking with super-armies made up of hundreds of knights while mine still consisted of about 10 footmen each. Ah well, I'll just have to assume it was better on the Amiga and leave it at that.

Next up on the Randometer is...Kick Off 3! Oh dear. I'll give it a quick go tonight, but I can't see it lasting long.

I've also been playing a little Ultima 4 but haven't got very far in it, Fate led me to a fighter this time, so I've been wandering around doing good deeds. Back in the old days we were convinced you had to be a shepherd to win the game, and to this day I'm not entirely sure if that's true or not. I don't think it is, but we'll see.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Not Their Finest Hour

Just a quick update to say that I couldn't get Their Finest Hour to install, so it doesn't look like I'm going to be able to play it. I did get the EXE to run to the title screen, but after that it asks for disk 2...which I don't have. Ah well, it's not worth crying over spilt flight sims. Next up on the randometer is...Chaser! It's a little-known FPS from 10 years ago starring a man called, wait for it, John Chaser. I can't wait.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

UltiMag

Three posts in one day, I know! And to celebrate the fact, this post will have two posts rather than the usual one. Ultima 3 is done and dusted, and Exodus, in a Wizard of Oz moment, turned out to be not an evil demon but a computer. Yep, there may not have been any space travel this time, but this is the Ultima series' last hurrah in terms of sci-fi. From here on out (as far as I know) it's high fantasy all the way. You can definitely see the incremental steps leading the series forward, but this still felt like a very early game, and I can't wait to move forward. I have a rose-tinted view of Ultima 4 because I played the Master System version, which I know is much improved graphically and musically, so I'm slightly worried the DOS version is going to be a bit of a disappointment. Still, at least in that game I know most of what I need to do. U4 marks the start of the second trilogy, and it's where we meet (or rather, we become) the avatar proper. This is where the Ultima series took fantasy role playing in a more mature direction, with the quest being to become an embodiment of virtue rather than to kill some big foozle. Anyway, I'm supposed to be writing about 3, not 4! The beginnings of the quest mechanics are there in 3, but the overarching story moves on in great leaps and bounds in 4, and the quests become connected.

I also had a go at MAG. It's a pretty straight Rogue clone so I'm not going to attempt a perfect run to complete it, but it was surprisingly good fun. The graphics are the standard ASCII characters, and they do a good job of illustrating the environs and monsters, and leaving your imagination to fill in the gaps. There was no character creation this time, you just jump straight into the dungeon, but everything else feels familiar - randomized scrolls and potions that you need to identify, lack of food, cursed weapons, wands to zap, and so on. The only thing I didn't find was a shopkeeper; I collected loads of gold, but never found anything to spend it on. That's probably just me being rubbish at the game, though. Like all good rogue-likes, it was really compelling to play and I'd happily spend my time going back to it...if time was something I had. Not in this lifetime!

Next up on the randometer is...Their Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain! An old WW2 flight sim. Can't say I'm looking forward to it that much, but I'll give it a go.

Furious Without Wings

Okay, a bit of a cop-out, I admit, but I couldn't even take off from the aircraft carrier. I couldn't find the manual, so I was flying blind. I managed to start the engine and fly off the end of the ship, but then couldn't work out how to lift the nose and actually take to the sky. That meant the result of every one of my sorties was the screenshot you see before you, a rapidly sinking P-51.

Oh well. Next up on the randometer is... MAG! Apperently it's an ASCII rogue-like from the 80s, but I've not heard of it before. Sounds like it might be time to go back and give Ultima 3 a bit more of a spin. I've made a bit of headway in my information gathering, but it's pretty slow going.

Unlucky for Some

I actually managed to complete something on this year's magical game day! XIII was a game that was obviously meant to succeed. It's a beautifully polished thing with some top-notch talent attached to it (including voices by David Duchovny, Eve, and Adam West...though I didn't recognise any of them until I saw the credits), and it ends on a 'to be continued in the middle of a big conspiracy. Unfortunately, sales obviously weren't what they wanted and a sequel was never made. I think it's a combination of the cel shaded graphical style not gelling with the masses and the slower pace at a time where FPSs were all about speed and gritty realism. Of course, those 'real' games look pretty terrible now, while XIIIs cartoon graphics still look beautiful. I loved my time with it - I much prefer a slower pace to my shooting games, always hanging back and sniping rather in-your-face blasting, so XIII really suited me down to the ground. There was a good selection of weapons (including many mundane items you could use for knocking people out) and a few fun gadgets to play with. The story was pretty fun and pacey, though a lot of the characters did feel a bit paper thin - I guess because you need to read the comics to fill in the blanks (something I'd love to do). There were a couple of nit-picks - a few too many 'escort' missions and instant death situations, and a checkpoint-based save system that sometimes got a bit frustrating - but otherwise it was a great fun game, and one that I wish they had released a sequel for, I'm itching to know how the story ends.

I also had a quick playthrough of Vector TD on the PS3. It's a mini, and a Tower Defense game (as you can probably guess from the TD of the title). The other part of the title you can probably guess is that the graphics are glowing vectors, giving it quite a clean style. It's a short, fun game, but it gives up all its content in the first few minutes, meaning there isn't much to go back for. There are some nice bonuses that you get every few waves for defeating a special enemy, but otherwise it's a fairly standard selection of towers.

Next up on the randometer is...Hmmm...Counter Strike - I've played it before and it's multiplayer only, so I think I'm going to mark it as complete here and move on. So, really next up on the randometer is...Wings of Fury! I've not heard of it before, looks like a side-on arcade flying game. I might have a quick look now and if it looks like it's going to take a while I'll switch back to Ultima 3.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Grandad Turismo

It turns out Gran Turismo HD Concept was even more of a demo than I thought. There's only one track and a handful of cars, all of which had already been unlocked years ago by my brother who played it for about 10 minutes when he visited once (he likes driving games). So, I had a couple of races and then called it quits. It's the first time I've played a current-gen (okay, you can probably call it last-gen) driving game in years, and the last time I played this I hadn't yet learned to drive myself. Coming to it now after driving a real car for a few years, I'm amazed how absolutely unlike the real driving experience it is. Sure, I'm only playing on a standard pad, so it's never going to feel like a wheel, but it all just feels so floaty and light. You don't really have any kind of connection with the vehicle or the road at all. I guess that's a real problem with driving games - most people don't spend their time slaying dragons, lasering aliens or flying spacecraft so it's a lot easier to suspend ones disbelief. On the flipside, most people do spend a lot of time driving, and we're used to all of those tactile sensations and being fully aware of our surroundings. You could probably recreate a lot of that with a few hundred pounds of specialist equipment, but meh.

Another one down. Next up on the PS3 list is Fable (on the Surface). I had a quick go on this and got hugely annoyed by the odd save system - you can't save at all during the hugely long tutorial - but now I'm in the world proper it's starting to open up. Away last week, so no gaming, and it feels like this week's going to be busy, but I have some free time next week, so hopefully I'll be able to make a bit of headway in Ultima 3 and XIII.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Stick Men Rescued

Another one down! Stick Man Rescue was one of the old PlayStation Minis series, and it definitely lived up to the mini part of its name. Still, I'm not  complaining - 30 levels with each one only taking a couple of minutes is exactly the kind of thing I need more of. As I mentioned before, the basic premise reminded me of Volcano on the beeb - you control a helicopter and have to fly through hazards to pick up your stranded fellows and bring them back through said obstacles to your base. In Stick Man Rescue you have to fly through different levels of a battlefield/fortress with various evil stickmen trying to kill your own brave rescuees. This includes things like dropping bombs on them, running them over, firing missiles at them, and so on. Your helicopter can only carry four men at a time, so you have to prioritise which men you pick up first. You also have a few weapons of your own - a machinegun that you can use for shooting enemy stickmen and a variety of powerups such as missiles and flamethrowers that you can either use to destroy enemies or their weapons, or sometimes to remove barriers, such as the flamethrower removing an ice barrier. It's a very simple, very quick game and a nice one to tick off the list. Next up on the PS list is Gran Turismo HD Concept. This was basically a free demo of the next Gran Turismo game that they gave away on PSN years ago - it was actually the second thing that I downloaded on the PS3...7 years ago! Blimey. I don't know how much content there is, but I think it's just a couple of tracks and a few cars. I've already made my feelings on racing games known, and this is only a demo, so it probably won't last long.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Tanked

I gave it a try, I really did, but M1 Tank Platoon is just not the game for me. Part of the problem is that I didn't have the keyboard overlay - I probably could have found one and printed it...but I wasn't that dedicated. This made it really hard to even get through the tutorial. The manual speaks in very generic terms to cover all control systems so, for example, the first thing it asks you to do is locate the pause key so you can stop the mission and read the next instructions...it took me a long time to find the pause key (Alt-P, fact fans), and that one at least uses an obvious letter. The rest of the keys have been a massive process of trial and error, and often you can only see the effect of a key while you're looking through that particular view (there are 4 different views/roles you can take in the game). The manual is a 200-page thing of beauty full of history and tank facts that would have kept grognards happy for many an hour perusing the side turret armour thickness of a T-80m84...but it doesn't do much for me. I can see why it's such a well-regarded game, it's full of detail and authenticity and is an amazingly powerful engine for its age, but I just can't get on with it. Apologies for the poor show, but it's time to move on.

Next up on the randometer is...XIII! Ooh, quite looking forward to that. It's a cel-shaded FPS based on a French comic series. My bro used to have it on the PS2 and I remember giving it a quick go, but never really got far into it. Should be fun. I'll head into Ultima 3 next, though.

One for joy, Two for sorrow

Ugh, Ultima 2. That is a game I never want to revisit. I knew it had a bad reputation, but I thought that meant it would be a bad Ultima game, and not just a bad game. I was wrong, it's a terrible game. The first Ultima actually wasn't too bad - it had some bonkers ideas and not much in the way of story, but it was still an enjoyable game and didn't outstay its welcome. Ultima 2 is just...ugh. The worst bits of the previous game are still here - space travel, weird levelling system, confusing quest progression - but they've added loads more rubbish on top. The monsters are crazy hard starting out, and will swarm you, you run out of food incredibly easily, dungeons are present and pointless, moongates are introduced, but they travel through time instead of across the world map...and so on. It's a really hard game to get into, and feels like a backwards step. There are also some weird technical limitations, for example, the game saves your character to a specific file, and also saves the positions of monsters. I presume in the old days you'd save all of this stuff to a separate player disk and then wipe the contents of that disk when the player died. On a hard drive, it means opening up the player file in a text editor and deleting the contents. I only managed to do this with the player file, though, not the monster one. That meant that whenever I died and restarted (which was frequently), all of the monsters would still be in the same position. So, if a group of evil monsters killed me last time, then said group of baddies would still be in exactly the same place when I restarted ready to kill me again. Not fun. I usually play mage characters, and mages in Ultima 2 don't start with any spells - no biggie, you might think, just have to grind for a bit to earn the money to purchase some and become a magic-missile-tossing death machine. Unfortunately, of course, mages are pretty awful fighters, so when starting out you'll be slaughtered with alarming frequency, and once you died once, when you respawned the chances were that you'd be immediately killed by exactly the same monster again. I found myself exploring a bit of Sosaria as the mage that I wanted to play, dying, restarting as a fighter a few times to clear out the monsters around me, then restarting as a mage again to explore a bit more. Not ideal, and not fun. I guess I should have just stayed as a fighter (and did in the end), as it turns out that mages are rubbish in Ultima 2 anyway. It turns out that the ability to actually cast spells on the overland map (a pretty fundamental ability for a mage) was removed in this game, so you can only cast spells in a dungeon...which you never need to go in. Anyway, I finally managed to grind around and proceed with the main quest, and ultimately travel to the time of legends and defeat Minax, Mondain's evil apprentice. Even that final battle was a horrible chore, with Minax teleporting between two corners of her castle whenever she got badly injured, meaning I had to run from place to place fighting hordes of demons in order to hit her again. After a few tries, I realised the only way I could do this was by spamming "negate-time" coins, which stop monsters in their tracks for a short while, and then running around them to get to Minax. That of course meant an awful lot of grinding for said coins. Yay. Anyway, it's done and I'm never going back to it. Next up in the series is Ultima 3. This is widely considered a return to form and sets things on the right track that leads to Ultima 4 and subsequent glories. My enthusiasm has been slightly dampened after Ultima 2, but I'm still looking forward to it. I had a quick go at M1 Tank Platoon, and it's a fairly hardcore sim/wargame, so not really my cup of tea. I'll have a good read of the manual and see if it gets more fun (I know it's regarded as a classic in its genre), but I can't see myself sticking with it too long.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Ms. Mass Pac-Pix

A bit of a round-up post today. First up, Mass Effect. I finally finished Mass Effect 3 and thus the whole of the Mass Effect saga (so far). What can I say, I loved it. It's a uniquely epic space opera where you pull your team of heroes from humble beginnings through to the end of life as we know it. Things changed throughout each game, but all in all the combat and exploration were fantastic, with a hugely satisfying collection of quests and diversions. Even after, Lord knows how many, hours of playing the three games, my first thought on finishing it was - "I wonder what would happened if played it this way with that character and those sidekicks...". If it wasn't for the immense backlog towering over me, I probably would have started it over, and I don't feel that way about many games. So it's good; no, it's great, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to nitpick for a while. First up, the mechanics of the game are sometimes a bit too bare. Obviously it's a game so it's going to have mechanics, but it wants to be a story, and it succeeds in some respects as a story, but some of the mechanics get in the way and destroy part of the magic and nuance. The most obvious example of this is the conversation system - it works well, but it never really gives you any choice. You can either be good or evil, there is no grey area, and the good and evil choices are always in the same place on the conversation wheel. So basically, take the top-right option for every conversation and you'll be a paragon, take the bottom-right option and you'll be a renegade. It basically removes all conversation choice after the first time that you decide whether you're going to play as good or bad. After that, it's just joypad muscle memory to select the conversation options for the entirety of the three games. As I say, it works as a game mechanic (and the writing and voice work are generally top notch), but it's in no way a conversation. In some ways, you don't really need the two good and evil pathways, just having a system of actions and consequences would have felt much more natural and alive. If you need to keep the mechanism for game tracking reasons, then keep it hidden, don't score me on a good and evil tally of points, let me be who I want to be. The other mechanical nitpick I wanted to mention was the combat system. In some ways, I can't really comment on this because I played the game on normal and I didn't try to enjoy the combat, but essentially I just pressed one button throughout the whole game. There were no strategies or tactics - at best I ducked behind a wall for cover, but the majority of the time I didn't even bother doing that. I just used my auto-targeting biotic fireball to zoom over and fry every enemy. Some enemies had shields or armour, and there are weapons and powers in the game to target those specifically, but those things didn't negate my fireball, they just slowed it down. Essentially, instead of taking one shot to kill a baddie, it might take two or three...that's not really a hardship. There's also a system in place where weapons have weight, and heavier weapons slow down your biotic recharge time. That could have been an interesting system, but essentially it just made me focus even more on my over-powered fireball and completely ignore weapons. It meant that for the whole game I only carried one, light pea-shooter with me and left the other weapon slots empty so I could maximise my recharge time. There were what, 80-90 weapons in the game maybe, and I used one of them. Of course, you can say that was my choice and blame it on my play-style (and you'd be right), but the game never gave me a single reason to alter that play-style - I never faced a single encounter I couldn't deal with by pressing my one button. Of course, I could have played it on Insane difficulty and maybe that would have forced me to use different tactics (although I'm curious to know now if it actually would...), but it would have been nice if the game had pushed me to try different things a bit more...maybe a few enemies immune to biotics, or just immune to fire, or put me in a situation where my biotics have been neutralised, or have a consequence to excessive biotic use...there are tons of ways it could have been done. On the plus side, it meant that I never had to wander round looking for ammo! One final quick nitpick springs to mind before I get started on the main one (yes...it's coming), the sidekicks. Yes, there are some great characters there, and again, they have some great writing and voice work...my criticism is that they're kind of pointless. You can only take two of them with you on a mission, and most of the time you'll take your favourite two along on every mission. Again, maybe on Insane difficulty there is a more strategic choice in who you take...maybe a bruiser for mission X, maybe a biotic for mission Y...but really, I doubt it makes much difference at all. I think there are a couple of things that could have been done to improve this. Firstly, they could have gone the Baldur's Gate et al route and not have every companion traipse along in my party. Have them available to me so I can go back and pick them up if I want to, but why make me drag them through space with me for not other reason than to make me feel guilty for not using them? I had the only Prothean alive in the galaxy with me, and all he did for the entire game was stare into a pool of water. Why not have him stationed on the Citadel teaching the lessons of his civilization or learning the lessons of ours - I could still grab him if I needed him, but otherwise he would be doing something useful with his time. My other suggestion would be to have more missions where your choice of companions was dictated to you - this happened to some extent with a few missions, but it could have easily been done in a lot more. Oh, and the mechanic for scanning planets for information was an utterly pointless hang-over from the previous game, there was no reason at all to have it here.

Right, that's the minor points out of the way...the elephant in the room is, of course, the ending. To be honest, I would have had no problem at all with the ending if it hadn't been for all the internet furore. It would have been a bit of a "meh" ending, but so many endings are, and it wouldn't have bothered me in the least. But because of all the uproar I did study the ending more than I would have, and I do agree it could have been handled much better. There is so much history and lore both in the wider Mass Effect universe and in my player-created story that they had a million options they could have taken. The most obvious of which would have been to have had me and the allies I'd spent hundreds of hours building up actually make a difference at the end...that would have been one route, but I'd have accepted others that had something to do with the history the game had set up and accumulated. What I do find a bit odd is that instead they chose to introduce an all-powerful macguffin in the last minute of the game and have everything I'd done up to that point be completely irrelevant. The star-child route they did go down doesn't even make any sense...why would this omnipotent being who's controlled the fate of the galaxy for countless millennia suddenly decide to instead ask a lone human her opinion on how the future of the galaxy should play out? As I say, it doesn't really bother me in any way, it's just a game, and game endings rarely make much sense, but even so, as game endings go it was a pretty rubbish one. I do want to re-state, though, that the game series is absolutely fantastic - I criticise things for a job, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy them.

Okay, that took a lot longer than I thought! A couple of quick ones now. First up, PixelJunk Racers. I didn't really get on with it the first time around, and things weren't any different for the second lap. I don't really enjoy racing games that much as a rule, and even this top-down arcade slot racer didn't really do it for me. Even the controls messed me up. They're incredibly simple - the track is made up of a number of "slots" and you move between these slots by pressing left and right - that's how you move around the track and avoid other cars. Easy. The problem is that while pressing left might move your car up when you're travelling in one direction, it'll move you down when you're moving in the other direction. It's relative to the movement of the car and makes perfect sense, but for some reason, when the car's zipping round a tortuously twisty track, my brain just can't cope. I found myself constantly hitting the wrong direction and having my car plough into the back of another driver. It just wasn't fun and I wasn't improving. Next up on the PS3 list is Stick Man Rescue! It's an old PlayStation Mini that was on Plus years ago. It looks a lot like Volcano that I used to play on the Beeb (I even made a Flash version of it!). I'd guess it's based on an arcade game, as may of the titles of that age were, but I can't see anything obvious. Essentially, you control a helicopter and have to fly through obstacles to rescue people and get them back to base. Looks like good clean fun.

Finally for this post, there's Ms. Pac-PC. Well...not much to say, it's Pac-Man. I played it for a while, and it seems pretty authentic, but I'm not going to dwell on it. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...M1 Tank Platoon! It's a well-respected war game, but I don't know much more about it. I'll hit Ultima 2 first.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

ATAC to St. Cyril's

10 bonus points for getting the film reference in the title. It's what I think of every time I hear the word ATAC. Anyway, I think I'm done with ATAC. I'm afraid I didn't win the war on drugs, but I did blow up a few drug convoys, which has to count for something, right? ATAC is a peculiar beast; it's a mix of two genres thrown together, a flight sim and a strategy game. The flight sim part didn't work brilliantly for me (that may be as much to do with my general rubbishness at flight sims as anything else), so I chose to focus on the strategy aspect. The game is quite happy for you to leave the flying to the computer, and the manual suggests this as an option...but I didn't have that much success. According to the manual, the AI pilots improve as they complete missions - just like a real person playing would - the problem is that there really isn't much room for error in this game. You only have 8 pilots in the whole game, and once they're gone, they're gone. Even from your very first sortie in the game, the drug barons seem hideously over-equipped. You have a maximum of 4 planes or helicopters that you can send out at any one time, and the enemy thinks nothing of retaliating with 6 or so planes of its own along with ground-based anti-aircraft fire. My guess is that dogfighting is a lot easier if you fly the plane yourself, because my AI pilots just got murdered out there. Even one-on-one the enemy would win more often than not. And that's just against planes - against ground targets you have no chance in the strategy view. Your jets have a tendency to just disappear mid-way to the next nav point, and you can only assume that it was hit by a SAM en route. You can gain more intel about the area by dropping helicopter supplies, but to do that you have to fly an unarmed helicopter (you can't carry supplies and weapons) into enemy territory. I did this a couple of times, but it didn't make a discernible difference to my intel. And then, even if your jet does make it through to the target, there's no guarantee that it will hit it. My pilots seemed to be quite adept at missing with a full payload of bombs and air-to-ground missiles. Again, maybe the AI pilots are supposed to improve over time, but they just don't get the chance. I neglected to mention that even if your guys do make it through to the convoy itself they're not safe, there appear to be Columbians armed with surface-to-air missiles sitting on top of each wagon, and your jets will be shot down with alarming regularity. As I said, maybe this is all much easier if you fly the plane manually, but that didn't gel with me, and the manual did say I could play strategy-only. The thing is, I can see that this could have been a really cool game, and maybe it was at the time. If I could get through the first few sorties with any pilots alive, then I could have really got into the strategy side. It's good fun gathering intel and deciding what armaments you're going to need and which planes you're going to send where. You have fine control of the route they take using waypoints (though reacting to events strategically during a mission could have done with a bit of work), and it's great fun to set things up just-so and then hit the launch button to set your hawks aloft. The problem is that they don't come back. The manual states that the drug barons grow in strength as they earn more money and can afford better weapons and this sounds great in theory - there are 4 drug cartels working in the area and it could have been fun to balance that strategy so no cartel grew too strong while slowly trying to destroy them. The problem is, they should have started the cartels off at a lower level from the outset, and then have them grow as the campaign progresses. I get it that it's supposed to be a difficult mission, and the whole point that your military team has been sent in is because the cartel's have grown way too powerful and are getting out of control, but I do think that's losing sight of the fact that this is a game. If I can't even make it through the first mission without at least 2 of my 8 pilots dying, then I don't feel encouraged to continue. It's a shame, because the game definitely has potential, but it's just too unforgiving for me at this point in my life.

Next up on the randometer is...Ms. Pac-PC! Looks like an unofficial remake of Ms. Pac-Man from the early '90s. Should be a quick one. I might blitz through that before Ultima 2.

In other news, I finally finished Mass Effect 3 yesterday. I've written enough here for one day, so I'll try and put up a post about it tomorrow. Next on the PS3 list is going back to PixelJunk Racers 2nd Lap. I didn't really get on with it last time, but I'll give it another shot and see - don't think I'll stay with it long, though.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Mondead

I finished up Ultima 1 at the weekend. It's a pretty simple game at heart, but an odd one. The first three Ultima games are very much Richard Garriott finding his feet before settling into the Avatar groove we know and love with Ultima 4. As such. Ultima 1 has some pretty wacky happenings - the most well known of which is the sudden trip to space midway through the adventure, but more on that later. To win the game, you have to travel around the world visiting kings and doing quests for them. Certain quests bag you one of four gems, and once you have all four gems you have to jump in a time machine and go destroy the wizard Mondain and grab the power gem he was...ummm..doing something with (the story's pretty flimsy, and I've forgotten the details already). So yeah, there's a time machine, but actually all it does in game is teleport you to the wizard's lair at the end, so it may have well just been a magic portal. You also notice after a while that although you begin by buying horses for travel and swords and shields for equipment, before too long you're buying land speeders and blaster rifles. This is a game that has no desire to stay within the traditional bounds of Tolkienesque fantasy. Anyway, the manual tells you that these kings you need to visit are basically pretty mercenary people and not at all nice to each other (a bit like real medieval kings, I guess) and every castle has a prison cell with a captive princess locked inside. These princesses provide the best source of XP in the game, so if you want to level up (which you need to in order to trigger the final quest, then you need to rescue them. In fact, you need to rescue one princess in order for her to reveal the location of the time machine. So far, so typical fantasy. So, you want to rescue the princess; how are you going to unlock the door? By using the thief's unlock skill? No. By using the mage's unlock spell? No. You need to have the key, and who's got the key? The annoying jester. Can you pick-pocket him? No. Can you talk to him? No. You have to kill the jester to get the key. This random act of violence has the palace guards chasing you - quite rightly - so you have to slaughter them, too. The jester has one key, and there are two prison doors, only one with the princess in. This means that 50% of the time you'll have the key to the wrong door and will have to leave and re-enter the castle to make the jester respawn so you can kill him again to try for the key. It's ridiculous, and this needs to be done to proceed with the game. The soon-to-be-avatar, if he is the same person, has to commit mass murder on a huge scale for absolutely no reason but because. That's not all, though. To further proceed with the game, one of the kings tasks you with stealing exactly nine items from his stores. There's absolutely no reason for this, he just orders you to do it. I was a mage, and not the best thief, so I was caught stealing quite a lot by the palace guards. If you're caught, the only escape is to slaughter all the guards and flee the palace, then re-enter and try and steal again. I can see now why parents did think that these games were having a detrimental effect on their children if this was how heroes were supposed to behave! And oh yeah, the space bit. The final vehicle that you can buy in the game is the space shuttle. One of the princesses that you rescue tasks you with becoming a space ace before she'll reveal the location of the time machine. So, you jump into the space shuttle and zip off into space where the game completely changes and you have to jump around the galaxy, stopping to refuel every now and then, and shooting down 20 alien invaders. It's weird, very weird, and feels like it's only there because Garriott had written a nice starfield generation program and wanted to use it. Other than that, the rest of the game is an obvious mechanical evolution from Akalabeth. The wireframe dungeons are basically the same, with an overworld segment built on top of it. It was actually quite good, simple fun in a crazy way, and it didn't outstay its welcome. Also, I liked the way that at the end of the game it tells you to press Ctrl-Alt-Delete to restart!

Next up on the series list is Ultima 2, which most people consider the weakest game in the series. It's also a step back in the graphics. The first game was remade in EGA, but Ultima 2 never got that treatment and remains in its CGA glory. First, though, I'm going to have a look at ATAC and see what that's about. Oh, and I just noticed that Ultima 1 finished takes me to my magical 10% completed target, yay!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Hare-brained

I bust through Bugs Bunny's Hare-brained Adventure at the weekend. For an old CGA game, it was actually still quite fun. It's a very simple premise, you have to run around a castle (at least, I presume it's a castle, maybe it's not?) trying to find 4 keys that will open the door and allow you to escape. There are 150-ish linked rooms, each room being a single screen and having exits to other rooms or a chute to another floor. Each room has an assortment of holes in them (you can't fall down them, they're just barriers) and a number of weird creatures that keep appearing the longer you stay in the room and inexorably home in on you wherever you are. The creatures follow the same rules as you and can't cross the holes in the floor, so you spend your time weaving around the holes trying to get the creatures stuck in the scenery so you can escape to the next room. They're slower than you, so it's not too hard. If a monster hits you, you lose a life. You also have a couple of tricks up your sleeve in the form of potions and bombs. There are two potions, one that makes you invisible so the monsters no longer track you (though they can still kill you if you run into them) and one that allows you to levitate over the gaps in the floor, which is incredibly useful for evading monsters. Both potions work on a timer, so you only have limited time with them. You also have a variety of bombs that you can pick up around the castle and throw at the monsters. These have various effects - slowing the monsters down, shrinking them, blowing them up - but generally they all have the effect of pausing the monsters pursuit of you rather than actually getting rid of the monsters. In the end, I found the only one of these accessories I actually used was the levitation potion, the others weren't really that useful. The other obstacle is the mad scientist who's trapped you in his castle (maybe it's a laboratory?). He only appears if you hang around in a room too long, and he takes a direct path to you, ignoring all obstructions. If he hits you, then it's game over no matter how many lives you had. He moves pretty slowly, though, and doesn't show up that often if you keep moving, so he's normally not a problem. His only real danger (which goes for the normal monsters, too) is that he always enters the screen through a doorway, so you'll sometimes have a very cheap death when he spawns in the doorway you're just about to walk through. The castle has a regular layout, so once you understand it (I actually mapped it with pen and paper...I'm an idiot) it's pretty easy to find your way around. basically, the central keep that you start in is completely pointless - 60-odd rooms that you don't need to go in at all. You just need to take a couple of chutes down to the ground floor, then just run up the four corner towers, each of which has a key at the top, then back down to the ground floor and out of the front door. Once you have the route down pat, it doesn't take long to complete the game at all. Annoyingly, the ending screen shows up for all of half a second, so I missed getting a screenshot of it. Still, it was a surprisingly fun game - borne out by the fact I've written so much for a simple CGA maze game from the '80s!

Next up on the randometer is...ATAC: The Secret War Against Drugs! Looks like some kind of crazy early hybrid of strategy and flight sim. I'll be hitting Ultima 1 next, though.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Unrealabeth

I finished Unreal 2, and I really liked it. Weirdly, this game garners a lot of dislike on the net. I think it's because it was quite different to the first game and didn't continue the story. Personally, I didn't think much of the story in the first game, so it wasn't really much of a worry. Also, there was a feeling that this was all about the engine and the game was just light cloth draped on top. I don't know about that - the game does look beautiful, so much so that at times I was surprised my aging rig could play it, and there was plenty of imagination in the scenery; the planet-sized organism was particularly great. A lot of vitriol was spewed at the fact it's quite a slow game for a shooter, and I don't deny that, but it suited me down to the ground - I always play shooters slowly and methodically, and I hate the ones that are so fast you can't tell what's going on. (N.B. I never said I was good at FPS games :) Obviously I'm in a minority here, because This was the last real storied Unreal game, it was all Unreal Tournament from here out, and that's an incredibly fast jump-all-over-the-place experience that I can't get on with at all but the community absolutely loved. I know I slightly dissed the story of this one, but it actually had its good points. The crew were fairly well defined (though I wish they'd chosen some slightly more appropriate clothing for the female lead), and their (spoilers...but this is a pretty old game) death at the end was a shock. I kept thinking they were going to perform the old videogame trope of somehow coming back to life or jettisoning off the ship at the last minute, but nope, full points to the game for doing that.I wish the my revenge on the bad guy hadn't been a cutscene, though. In fact, the end game did come quite quickly - I was expecting a couple more levels once I'd found all the artifacts and they'd been linked together, but it all came to a head very quickly. As far as I'm concerned, that's no bad thing. All in all, very positive from me. The Unreal series wasn't what I expected and I'm glad I played both games. As I said, there are plenty more games in the Unreal series, but they're all Tournament games, and I don't own any of them, or have the desire to.

Next up on the series list is one of the reasons why I started this blog, Ultima. I've always wanted to play through the Ultima games in order, but have never got around to it. There are 9 core games in all (plus a few on the side) and I've played three of them, 4, 6, and 8. I'm looking forward to playing the others, especially 7, which was widely lauded as being one of the greatest RPGs ever. I'm going to play them all on PC, though looking at the graphics, I'm slightly regretting that. I played Ultima 4 on the Master System (we spent ages playing this game at school), and that version has waaaaaay better graphics than the PC version...and sound, and controls. I'm really tempted to play the console version here, the only thing stopping me is that on the PC you can carry your character across through 4, 5, and 6, which I really want to try. We'll see. (Update, I've chosen to apply some fan patches to the games that update the tilesets - basically using graphics from the later games in some of the earlier ones. I know it's not a 'pure' experience, but I really want to enjoy my time with these games!)

In fact, it's been a while since I started to write this post and in that time I've completed Akalabeth (retro-fitted as Ultima 0), or at least I've become a knight and seen as much of the game as I want to. Apparently there is a 'final' ending if you complete the tasks on difficulty 10, so I might try that if I'm feeling crazy. It's a really basic dungeon crawler with no story to speak of. Great for the time, of course, but I'm really here to see the main Ultima storyline!

In other news (this is turning into a long post), I've decided to put Pharaoh on hold. Not because I'm not enjoying playing it, just because each level is taking hours and I don't really have that kind of time to invest at the moment. I might generally skip over those kinds of open-ended deep strategy games, as I want to move with the list. So, next up on the randometer is...Vikings! It's an edutainment adventure game, might actually be a fun one for Max to try if it's any good. ... And that didn't last long. It's an old Windows game, so it won't run in Dosbox and it won't run under my version of Windows. The graphics are just missing. I can click around and sometimes hit a button which makes the odd thing appear, but that'll take me through to another blank screen, and so on. Oh well, next up on the randometer is...The Bugs Bunny Hare-Brained Adventure! Never heard of it, but I can imagine how it's going to play already. Should be a quick one!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Reality Bites

It's been a while since the last post. In that time, I have completed Unreal and its mission pack, Return to Na'Pali (or Napoli as I prefer to call it), and also finished off a little indie game/story called Actual Sunlight.

Unreal carried on in pretty much exactly the same vein for the rest of the game. It was an enjoyably solid shooter, but I did find it dragging on a bit toward the end. Those story elements that I enjoyed at the beginning of the game soon devolved into basically just saying "you need the red key to open the next door". Don't get me wrong, it was still way better than the nothing that you get from Quake, but it didn't go anywhere near as far as I wanted it to. The mission pack was a little better in that regard in that alongside the little bits of in-game text, there were also spoken journal entries between each level that added quite a bit of flavour. The other issue that I had with the game was how dark it was; this seemed to be especially bad in the mission pack. I ended up having to use a cheat to spawn new torches whenever mine ran out because I was so fed up with squinting into the screen trying to see things. I don't mind a bit of tension with things leaping at you from the dark, but when I've killed all the baddies in the area and I'm just trying to find the exit it all get a bit frustrating. All in all, if I had to pick a side in the age-old debate, I think I'm still in the Quake camp. Unreal has a bit more colour and a bit more story, but Quake's gameplay just feels a bit purer, and that visceral hit is ultimately what I look for in an FPS like this. Up next is Unreal 2. I did have a quick look at it, and at first glance the engine looks way better than Unreal's. There were beautiful, colourful vistas with long draw distances...I just hope the game lets me explore them and doesn't immediately throw me down a dark corridor.

On to Actual Sunlight. This is a really short well, Story I guess, I don't know if you could call it a game. I got it in a bundle a while back and thought I'd give it a quick blast because I'd heard it didn't take long. Graphically, it looks like a SNES-era RPG, but really the graphics are just a framework to hang the text on, and there's a lot of text. It's basically a snapshot of the life of a depressed nobody and how the events in his life drive him, ultimately, to suicide. Yep, it's not a light-hearted tale. The text - did I mention there's a lot of text? There's a lot of text - is largely made up of bleak vignettes and interior monologue from the main character. He also imagines himself in various situations - a gameshow, speaking with a shrink, etc. - and we hear those tales and how he reacts to questioning. At the start, you're not really sure whether to laugh at some of these situations, but it soon becomes clear that it's all deadly serious. With all that, though, I couldn't really feel myself identifying with the character much, or rooting for him in any way. I think that's partly due to the fact that you are largely an observer in this drama. Your actions don't really have any effects on the story. That's fine if all you are doing is reading a story, but because the experience is presented as a game, I kept on wanting to have more input and to somehow make the character my own. Because it can't be judged as a game, I think you have to judge it as a piece of writing, and unfortunately I don't think it's an amazing piece of writing. It feels like a very personal project, but as anyone who's done any writing will tell you, personal pieces are the hardest to do. It sometimes feels mawkish, and that it's trying too hard, and there were times where I felt it wanted to push the target audience's buttons too much. There's a reason why most games aren't about overweight, lonely, depressed gamers... So, yeah, it was very interesting to play through, but I wouldn't do so again, and I don't think I'd particularly recommend it either - not as a game anyway.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Strike Three

It's been a while and the amount of minutes I've played Ishar 3 can be counted on half a stumpy finger. Well, that's not quite true. I did pick it up again a couple of weeks back but the game crashed and I hadn't saved it, so it effectively meant I may as well have not played it. So, I'm calling it a day on Ishar. I am a bit disappointed with myself - I did really want to get on with the series. It was always something that I'd seen as a child and thought looked amazing, but it just wasn't to be. Every time I played it - any of the games from the series really - I just felt like I banging my head against a brick wall. I just didn't enjoy a second of my time with it. So that's that. I'm not so much of a masochist that I'm going to try and continue with it.

Next up on the series list is Unreal. I have Unreal, its mission pack, and Unreal 2. I'd always been a Quake boy back in the day, and had never tried Unreal, so I was interested to see what it would be like. From the reviews of the day I remember, I assumed it was going to be a lot like Quake just with fancy multi-coloured lighting all over the place. I played a bit of it last night, and that assumption is kind of right, but it makes it feel very different from Quake's relentless brown. What I didn't expect to find, though, was a story. I always thought Unreal was going to be just a stock shooter with a flimsy back story, like Quake, but was surprised to find log entries lying around and screens giving out pertinent information. It's all very welcome - I'll have to see how it pans out. One annoying technical issue is that for some reason it starts up and runs fine the first time I play it, but if I shut down Unreal then the next time I try and start it up it just completely crashes my computer. Not ideal at all! I guess it's some junk left in memory, or something, but I can't work it out. It is rather putting me off playing it, though, my poor old PC doesn't like that kind of stress.

In other news, I've only played the first mission of Pharaoh after installing it weeks ago, thought I'd get through Unreal first. It brought back some great memories, though. It has a beautiful intro movie and a really good sense of place that sets it apart from your standard SimCity-alike. Oh, but it has also got a horrible over-reliance on firemen. I forgot how easily fires start in the baking Egyptian sun! I've also been playing a bit more Mass Effect 3 and am making some headway. It's hard to know how far through it I am, as it feels like the earth's about to be destroyed any second from the very first minute you play. I've picked up a bunch of allies, though, and got a few war readiness points (or whatever they're called), so I think I'm around the half-way point. I'm still loving the game and the series, but there are a couple of niggles. First up is the way multiplayer is integrated - basically, if I don't play multiplayer (which I'm not going to) then I lose half of my war readiness points...That's just a staggeringly stupid design decision. Okay, maybe make it so you can gain a few more points by playing multiplayer if you really want to integrate it, but make me lose my hard-earned single-player points. Crazy. And they show you that information every time you start the game - look, you've lost 50% of your points - not the way to make me smile, Bioware. My other niggle is with the design of your ship (and it's lasted throughout the series). After pretty much every mission, you're recommended to travel through the entire ship talking to your crew to get their feedback on the mission, and it takes forever - literally half an hour of mostly sitting through loading screens. I don't even mind the talking so much, but when I'm done, why not let me call up the star map (to plan the next mission) from anywhere on the ship? Why do I have to run back to the lift, wait for the lift to load the next level, then run from the lift to the star map every time? Sounds small, but it bugs the heck out of me.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Axel: F. Must Try Harder

What do you mean, you don't remember Beverly Hills Cop: The VR Missions?? Yes, I couldn't resist giving it a quick go last night, and five minutes later, that was enough. Beverly Hills Cop is super glitchy running in DosBox. I probably could have spent a while tweaking the settings, but, to be honest, I didn't think it was worth it. There are four levels to the game, and luckily you're allowed to select any of them from the main menu, so I feel like I've seen all there is to see. The game is a weird mish-mash of all of the favourite genres of the early '90s. The first level is a side-scrolling brawler where you kick, punch, and roll your way through a warehouse full of thugs. Except there doesn't appear to be any kind of life bar, and I found myself dying inexplicably after a few baddies had passed. The second level is a driving game, which was way too responsive in DosBox, and the slightest nudge of the wheel sent me careering off the road. The view was a bit odd, too, you could see the interior of your car, but also see your car on the road in front of you (at least, I assume it was your car). The third level was a Commando-style shooter that sees you running up the screen and storming the mansion. Except, where on Commando you can see all the bullets and dodge them, here the bullets are invisible (yours and theirs) so you can't see either where you're firing or who's shooting at you, leading to some more inexplicable deaths. The final level is where it gets weird. Here, you're in the mansion looking for Mr. Big, but the whole thing is done as a wireframe FPS. You wander around the level shooting or avoiding the 'guards' (some spinning polygons) trying to find your way to the big bad guy. I never did find him - there were some lifts, but I couldn't work out how to use them, so I never got off the ground floor. So, an interesting game, but not one I'll be returning to.

Oh, and the music. Of course, you get to hear Axel F playing at the menu screen, though nowhere else in the game. Unfortunately, for such an iconic piece of music that's perfectly suited to the bleeps and bloops of early computer speakers, the developers instead chose to try and emulate a synthesizer sound. They did a passable job, but it just makes the whole thing sound really muddy and washed out, when it could have been a really clean chiptune. Bit of a wasted opportunity if you ask me.

Next up on the randometer is...Pharaoh! This is a Sim-City-ish game set in ancient Egypt. I've owned the boxed copy for years and used to play it quite a bit. It'll be quite fun to get back into it. Definitely Ishar first, though.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Bodies Counted...About 3 Rats

Aaaannnddd...I'm not playing that. Operation Body Count is truly abysmal. I think it's up there with Bad Rats as one of the worst games I've played on this blog. I gave it a quick go after installing it just to see what it was like, and there's no way I'm going back. It's Wolfenstein-era graphics, but with none of Wolfenstein's charm and playability. The textures are awful and muddy, the controls are awful, there's no fine aiming so you just have to point your gun in the vague direction of the creature and hit the trigger, there's no indication that you've hit something until it dies, your gun graphic is so big that it obscures most of your view, the engine runs so shoddily that I had to ramp up DosBox to even make it playable...all in all, it was just terrible. The manual did actually have one intriguing tidbit - apparently there are AI allies that fight alongside you. That must be one of the first instances of allies in an FPS game, I've certainly never heard of it this early. Still, I had to laugh when I read that you could set the allies into different modes such as attack mode and follow mode... in attack mode they stand still and fire, and in follow mode they're so focused on following you that they can't fire (i.e., the AI can't handle both things at once!). Unfortunately, I didn't play the game long enough to find one of these allies. Hopefully you'll see what I mean from the screenshot how bad it is...the textures make it impossible to see any corridors, or indeed anything (and apparently there are 'hidden' rooms for you to find, too!). Anyway, that's enough for me. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Beverly Hills Cop! Yup, the game of the film, from 1990. Should be fun.

Rushed Through the Kingdom

Not a great deal to say about Kingdom Rush. I finished it last night, and it was a pretty standard tower defence game. There are only four basic tower types, but each has a split upgrade path, allowing a total of 8 different (but quite similar) towers. For example, your basic soldier tower can upgrade into either knights or barbarians, each with different abilities, and so on. It's originally an iPhone game, so that's the reason for its simplicity and for its bite-size level design, which suited me down to the ground. Actually, on that point, it would have been good if they'd included some kind of fast-forward option. As with all tower defence games, once you've got your initial towers set up, there's not much you can do until enough money rolls in to build a new tower, so fast-forward lets you zip through that downtime. To be fair, Kingdom Rush does introduce a couple of ways you can interact with the action during that time. First, you have a hero unit. The hero unit is under your direct control, so you can send him to trouble spots to help out. I did move my unit a couple of times, but most of the time I just left him by one of the monster spawning points and let him level up. The second thing is that you have a couple of powers on cool-down timers. You can use these powers fairly regularly to affect the action. The first power is a couple of bonus troops that you can place anywhere on the screen and use to bolster your defense in that area. These were incredibly useful, and I used them constantly throughout the game. The second power is a quick meteor shower that you can use to target troublesome enemies. I didn't tend to use this as much as I perhaps should, but it was good to have around in emergencies. I played through the whole campaign in casual mode. Each level also has a couple of extra challenges that you can do on it (usually adding a limitation to the map, such as only allowing you to use a single tower type), but I'm not feeling compelled to play through the entire game another couple of times just to get those achievements. It was a good game for what it was, and didn't outstay its welcome. There are better TD games around, though, and hopefully there are a couple of them on the list that I'll get to one day.

As a quick aside, this is one of the most up-to-date games I've played. The game is still in development (and still a bit buggy) and it was expanded while I was playing it with some new levels. From the empty areas of the map, I guess they're going to continue expanding it, but I don't think I'll be revisiting it.

Next up on the randometer is...Operation Body Count! Oh dear, I hadn't heard of this before, but it sounds terrible. Long-time readers (hey, there must be at least one) may remember Corridor 7, the not-so-good Doom clone that I completed a couple of years ago. Well, this is the game the developers made before that. It's another Doom clone, but purportedly far worse than Corridor 7 that succeeded it. Yay. I guess this is just what I need to force me to play Ishar 3! I did actually make a start on it and got as far as creating a new party before giving up. I'll head back into it as a priority.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Short Strides

Well, I didn't mean to, but I had a quick go at Strider, and it turned into a slightly longer go at Strider, and before I knew it the game was finished. I think the version I had must have been cracked because I didn't seem to be losing any lives. Even so, I don't think it looked special enough to make me seek out a different version. I have to say, I'm going to have to check out a Let's Play on YouTube or something because the ending was rubbish. I finished the game and all I got was a bloke saying that the test simulation was complete and now I was ready for the real challenge. The game then restarted from the beginning. I played through the first level again, but it all seemed to be exactly the same so I'm not sure if there would have been another ending if I'd played through the whole thing again. ... Hmm,just checked and no, it has a completely different, but still a bit rubbish, ending. Also, watching the arcade version it makes me realise how terrible the PC version is. Hardly any enemies, hardly any power-ups, no moving platforms, no backgrounds to speak of, no music (the original music was cool), and so on. It's an incredibly cut down version. Ah well, it's over now. Onwards.

Next up on the randometer is...Kingdom Rush! It looks like a fairly standard Tower Defence game, originally made for mobile and then ported to PC. I really do need to hit Ishar 3, too. Not tonight, though.

Fable Tabled

Away last week, so not much happened. I did have a chance to try out Fable on the Surface and it seemed to work fine. I decided to play Surface games on the big TV downstairs (it keeps the tablet cooler and, hey, it looks better), so I'm going to add those to the PS3 list instead of the normal list. Yes, I know I have a lot of lists. The good news is that means it's time to spin the wheel again.

Next up on the randometer is...Megapede! An old-school clone of Centipede with ASCII graphics. I might just have a quick go at it now and see if I can ring all of the juice from it.
...
And I'm spent. I don't think I'll be playing much more of that. It's actually a pretty fun and faithful adaptation, but I was always pretty rubbish at Centipede, and that fact didn't change with this version. Still, it's another game to tick off - yay. Onwards.

Next up on the randometer is...Strider! Gosh. I played Strider a bit back in the day but I was always fairly rubbish at it (there's a pattern emerging here). I think we used to play it on someone's Amiga at school, I don't think I've ever tried the (1989) PC version before, though. I should try and hit Ishar 3, too. That fills me with dread a bit. but there's better games coming up on the series list that I want to get to.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Chronomastered

At lunchtime today I finally polished off Chronomaster. I was wrong about one thing - it's not an FMV game, it just has lots and lots of bad '90s pre-rendered animations. The style has a certain charm, and it's good for what it is...but it's pretty fugly. Other than that, it was a fairly standard adventure set in a unique premise (penned by Roger Zelazny) - in the far future you're on a mission to track down some pirate leaders who organised a massacre on a distant world. Each of these pirates is in their own pocket universe, giving rise to a lot of extremely varied locations. The puzzles are pretty much all of the standard 'use object from inventory on other object' style, but they were all fairly obscure. There were some that I don't think I would have got at all without the help of a walkthrough. I didn't use it all the way, though, I made a lovely map of a crazy maze all on my own (I considered scanning it in to put with this post...but it's not that exciting). The other thing was that the game was extremely slow. The main guy, Rene, walks incredibly slowly, and there is a loooot of walking to do. The aforementioned maze was particularly frustrating on this point because there was so much wandering around and backtracking while I tried to map the place. Oh, but as a massive plus point, it does have Ron Perlman as the voice of Rene. This was in his early-early days, but he lends it a sort of bored but obliquely fascinated charm. Another one down. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Oooh, Fable! Lionhead's magnus opus (it's got to be better than Black and White, anyway). I think the others are all XBox only, but the first one is on PC. It won't run on my old machine, so I might try and give it a go on the Surface tablet...it'll be an interesting experiment, and might mean I return to Ishar 3 on my old machine to play them in tandem. I am very much looking forward to Fable, though. My claim to Fable fame is that I playtested it at Lionhead while there for a job interview. They asked me to come back in a different position, but at that point I'd already accepted another job...ah, what could have been. I wonder if they acted on any of my playtesting suggestions? I also had a go on another game in development - BC - while I was there. I don't think it was ever released...a shame, it was quite fun from what I remember.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Somewhere Nova the Rainbow...

It's been almost a month since my last post, and I've barely had time to play anything. It's not all Hard Nova's fault - work's been super busy and we've got builders in at the moment, so my lunch free time has been rather compromised. There was also the Steam and GoG sales, which I succumbed to a little, even though there wasn't really much there that I wanted (I was going to say 'needed' then, but since when have I ever needed more games!). With all that in mind, I'm going to move on from Hard Nova and hope for something quicker and simpler up next. First, though, a little about Hard Nova. Hard Nova is a good game; it's a fun game; it's a game that's so much better than Ishar...but it's a slow game. In it, you play a space mercenary trying to discover and neutralise the threat that's facing the four star systems that you call home. You get to command a squad of mercs (and you can hire more members), fly a space ship, and navigate around planets in your landing shuttle. It's of a similar age to the Ishar games, but what makes it so much more enjoyable than them is the writing. Ishar is a French game without a great deal of text in it. This was probably done for reasons of internationalisation, but it makes it a much more empty experience. When you play an RPG, you want to get involved with the story and characters, but in Ishar all of that is very thin on the ground, and what little there is is rendered in a strange tongue (e.g. the greeting, "Warm tear"), which I guess is supposed to add flavour, but it just makes it even less approachable. Hard Nova, by comparison, has great writing. There's not masses of it, but the conversations with NPCs feel fresh and realistic. Your character has conversation choices, and the NPCs give appropriate responses. They're not really branching systems like those of modern RPGs, but they create a good illusion of it. The limited inventory system drove me a bit mad, but other than that, I was really enjoying my time with it...but it's weeks since I last played it and I just haven't got the heart to return to it now. I'm also starting to realise that much as I want to, I'm never going to complete all of the games on my list, it would take too many lifetimes, so I should start cutting off those I've had a decent run with. I've been doing it more recently anyway, but now I'm going to make it an official rule (in my head) so I won't feel so guilty for quitting them...I'm a bit crazy like that! I feel like I've seen everything Hard Nova has to offer in terms of systems and gameplay - it would have been nice to finish the story, but to be honest I've forgotten where I was in it anyway. Onwards!

The next game up on the randometer is...Chronomaster! It's an adventure game that game out in the dodgy rendered graphics/bad FMV era...that sounds like a bad thing, but I love that era, so I'm looking forward to this one. I remember it in mags, and think I may even have played a demo, so I'll hit this before returning to the lists for Ishar 3. You may even find that things move at Walkthrough speed - don't hate me.

In other news, I did just have a quick blast of 10,000,000 at lunchtime today...and won it! It's another one of those games I've been playing in odd 2-minute snatches here and there (it's a conversion of an iPhone game, so made for that type of play). I'd previously unlocked all of the equipment upgrades possible, but hadn't hit the magical score. Well, phew. It feels good to actually finish something!

Friday, 13 June 2014

Ishan't

I know, I'm a quitter. There's just something about the Ishar series that I'm really not feeling. They're all glacially slow, but that's to be expected of role-playing games of the time, and isn't too much of an issue. But I think it's that combined with the bugs that are doing it for me. I hit another one last night when playing Ishar 2 where I ran into a bad guy and the attack buttons just stopped working. I could still spin around on the spot, and the enemy could still attack me, but I couldn't fight back at all. It'd been ages since my last save, and I just can't face loading it up and going through all that again. It also doesn't help that there's barely any story to speak of in these games. Sure, there's a general overarching kill the big foozle quest, but that's literally all it is. It's very hard at times to know where to go or what to do, and there are a lot of dungeons and towns where every wall texture looks exactly the same, so it's incredibly easy to get lost. Actually, for the towns you can call up a map, which helps a lot, but the map interface itself is really slow to use, so it's not the kind of thing that you want to do every other step. I used to absolutely love the Eye of the Beholder series back in the day, so it's not flick-screen dungeon crawlers per se, there's just some thing about Ishar that rubs me the wrong way. At least, I hope it's that rather than me turning into a grumpy old man that doesn't have the patience for these games any more! So, I'm going to move on to the last game in the series. I had a quick look at a let's play on youtube for Ishar 2 to make sure I wasn't missing any important story revelations at the end, but you literally just get a screen saying The End, so I don't think I missed much! I think I'll actually switch to Hard Nova next, and then come back to Ishar 3. Hard Nova's another RPG of a similar age, so it might cause similar frustrations, but it's going to be nice to have a bit of a change of scene. Of course...there may be a small delay in proceedings while I spend every evening watching the world cup instead...we'll have to see how that goes.