Monday, 31 March 2014

Computer's a Banker

Well, I didn't win Monopoly. To be honest, I don't think I've ever won a game of Monopoly in my life, and I've played enough of them. The rules were pretty much all there in this version and faithfully adapted, but I was never going to spend a great deal of time on a two-player, text-only version of the board game. The computer beat me fair and square - he romped around the board buying up everything and surfing on Chance cards, while I followed in his wake, landing on all of his properties and picking up tax cards. In that way, it was very similar to every other monopoly game I've ever played. I enjoy the board game, for all its faults, but like so many board game conversions, it's only fun when you're playing against real people. 'Nuff said, time to move on.

Next up on the randometer is...Power Drive! It's an arcade-style rally game. They're never my most loved titles, but I'll give it a go.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Excelled!

Excelsior: Phase One is done and dusted. Very old school and very enjoyable. I wrote a bit about it before, so I won't go into it in too much detail here. The endgame carried on ferrying me to opposite corners of the continent, which got a little trying toward the end, but it was fun enough to carry me through. No big ending fireworks, just a couple of screens of text, but that's fine with me. I started up Phase Two hoping to bring my original character with me, but unfortunately that wasn't the case. I didn't talk much about the character choice in Phase One - there were the standard types and a few weird ones, same goes for races. I chose to go with a half-elf scholar, which was about the most broad character choice possible - goes with my 'gotta see it all' personality. Ultimately, though, I don't really think that character choice makes much difference other than different starting ability scores and equipment choice. There was some great flavour there, but no real mechanical difference. I think the devs must have realised that because in Phase Two there are no different characters or races. You are a blank slate and you define your character as you play. Engine-wise, it's a spitting image of Ultima 6 this time around, with a similar keyword conversation system and in its visuals. I've only played a couple of minutes so far - sorting out some kind of diplomatic wine crisis, but it feels as fun as the last game (though the movement feels a bit shonkier).

I also tried to play Black & White for a bit longer, but I just couldn't get into it so I've decided to shelve it. I'm a bit annoyed with myself, because games like this that I've owned on disk for years are kind of the reason why I started this quest in the first place, but there's something about it that just rubs me up the wrong way, and I really don't enjoy playing. With that in mind, there doesn't seem much point forcing myself to do so when there are so many other games I could be playing. Speaking of which, Next up on the randometer is...Monopoly! The 1985 computer version of the board game. I'm not at my computer now, but hopefully I should be able to rattle through that one pretty quickly next week.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Excelling

A quick Friday update to say I'm still really enjoying Excelsior: Phase One. I've no idea how far I've got in it or how much I've got left to go - every time I finish one quest, I'm given another one, and on it goes. I'm some celestial 'fixer' who's been sent down through time and space to sort out the disturbance in the force (as it were) in Lysandia. The back story doesn't really do much except act as a framing device and I guess explains how the two games in the series can be connected but set on completely different worlds. The graphics are very basic - pretty much a spitting image of what you'll see in Ultima 3/4, but they do the job well enough. The writing is good, with interesting characters and good little side stories. There isn't tons there, but what there is is pleasant enough. The combat is very easy to use (stand next to someone and hit A to attack) and there are some good, varied spells to cast. Even one for killing chickens, which I tried once in town and then immediately got murdered by the town militia for destroying someone's livestock! The dungeons are fun without being too frustrating - lots of mazes and puzzles, but I haven't been dead-ended yet. The one problem I do have with it is that there are tons of fetch quests and travel between towns can take an age (and the things you need are *always* on opposite corners of the map). Some sort of teleport/rapid transport system would work wonders here. At one point in the game you pick up a balloon, and I thought I'd be able to use it to travel, but alas, it's only used as a meteorological device in one of the quests. There is an object that you can drop then cast a spell to immediately warp to it, which is great, but obviously that only works with one location. I'd have preferred something that allowed me to warp to a number of towns, or something. It's a small complaint for what is a surprisingly enjoyable little game. I hope I'm going to wrap it up soon, I'm really looking forward to the next one in the series.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Graduated

I polished off all of the Spellcasting games in a wham, bam, no more please ma'am, style. They get progressively better as the series goes on and technology improves. The goods - they are pretty funny in parts. Steve Meretzky is a text adventure legend (hence the name of the company), and some of the best lines are his little throw-away quips that had me chuckling. The majority of the puzzle humour where he tries a bit too hard is more at the groan level, and some of the cultural humour just went right over my head. The bads? We'll get to them. The series is set in Sorcerer Uni, and you play Ernie Eaglebeak making your way through three terms (each game is usually set over a week) and foiling the dastardly plans of your evil stepfather, Joey Rottenwood. Being an apprentice wizard, you travel about the place finding new (crazily named) spells and using them in imaginative ways to progress through the story. The first difficulty I had with it is a cultural one, and is no fault of the game's. Starting just with the title, we don't (or at least didn't in my day) have this n01 naming for courses, and the whole US university system (fraternities, hazing, etc.) is totally alien to us in the UK. Sure, I know about it from numerous film's and TV shows, but I'm not familiar with the system in any detail. That hurts with the humour and it hurts with some of the puzzles. Meretzky really embraced the university theme, especially in the first two games, so you have to make sure that your character sits through a certain number of lessons or you'll fail...and it really does mean sitting through them - typing 'wait' 30 or 40 times as an endless stream of nonsense scrolls past you. Some of it is key to the puzzles, so you have to pay attention lest you miss something, but it's just sooooo boring. Yes, a lot like real uni in that respect, but I'm not sure it was really a good gameplay decision. The game is also set on a strict timer, which is something that I abhor, especially when you have to spend literally hours of your day sat in lectures. In a game like this I want to be able to explore my surroundings and try things out, but you just don't get the chance. Some days are a bit kinder with the actions you need to perform, but others have you running around like crazy and restoring every 5 minutes because you've run out of time to get everything done. Yes, a bit of tension does help some games, but I'm not really convinced it helps adventure games like this where half of the fun is talking to random people and trying random things and laughing at the ridiculous lines you get. Another example of game mechanics gone awry is the island of lost soles in the first game. Your mission on this island is to travel around restoring the souls of the inhabitants. This is all done by guessing the person's name from the objects you can see on each screen and casting a spell on said object. For example, you might see a coarse rug for cleaning boots by a door so you'd then restore 'Matt', and he'd appear. No problem with that, it's a fun little puzzle that fits the game...but there aren't just 2 or 3 people you need to restore, there are... 80. Why? Why is that ever a good idea? It just smacks of Meretzky showing off that he can do this sort of thing. And some of the names are so obscure that I'd never heard of them (I had to use a walkthrough in the end). Again, some of that is definitely a cultural thing, but it's still inexcusable. I will give the games one plus point here, though, in that some of the puzzles did have multiple solutions to them, which was quite surprising. For example, there are multiple ways to get out of the first room in the game, and on the island of lost soles one of the screens had a couple of lavatories together - I guessed the name was Toulouse, which was accepted (even with a nice riff on what a French guy was doing on the British part of the island), but in the walkthrough I noticed that they'd gone with Lulu. There were probably many other examples of this, and it's a nice touch. I seem to have written quite a lot here, so I'll wrap it up now. I can't finish without mentioning the lewdness of the game, though, as it's one of its biggest selling points. The games can be set to nice mode or naughty mode, and the naughty mode has much ruder language and imagery (though nothing *that* rude...though it is the game I've taken the most screenshots of so far!). There was some stuff that prudish old me was quite shocked to find in a game, such as the infamous elephant scene which is pivotal to the game (and still appears in the nice version), and even causes one of the main characters to die from shock when he sees it. They're good adventure games, but overall I think I preferred Eric, and that's probably mostly because the humour wasn't so US-centric and I laughed more often. There was a planned fourth game in the series, but it never saw the light of day.

The next games on the series list are Excelsior: Phase One and Two. I'd never heard of them before running into them in my backlog. They're a couple of shareware RPGs from the early 90s. I loaded up the first game for a quick go last night and got totally sucked in. It's very much based on the early Ultimas, both in technology and feel, and I'm really enjoying it. Lots of travelling round a large world map visiting towns and fighting badly animated foes. I've explored about half of the main map so far, and I've found the first of the three amulets that I've been tasked with recovering. I've been taking tons of notes this time from conversations with various folk, so I've got a bunch of stuff I need to do. It's a great break from the Spellcasting series, just what I was looking for. As for Black & White, the longer I'm away from it, the less I want to go back to it. I'll force myself to one day. Oh, and I foolishly bought an indie game bundle containing 30-odd titles (with more being added), so the numbers have shot up a bit...d'oh!

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Bucked! Rogered! Cubed!...ummm...

Yep, Matrix Cubed is complete, and what did I get for my endeavours? A black screen and a DOS prompt. Thanks, SSI! Anyway, stepping back a bit, after my last post, I realised that the base I was looking for was on the planet I was already orbiting, I just had to fiddle through the areas I didn't have a passcard for to find the one area that I did. After that, I was hurtling toward the endgame. Well, maybe hurtling is the wrong word, but I passed the point of no return to the NEO base. I jumped on a living ship (with a hint of Spelljammer about it) and flew off to Jupiter where amongst other things I found 'Jovian Dragons', which looked like a straight palette swap from one of the D&D gold box games. Felt a bit jarring in a sci-fi setting, but hey. I went through the massive living ship, uniting pirates and stormriders (who I later learned are GIANTS - see pic for one doing a lovely dance), and then on to the stormriders' university. I had to beat back an invasion here, which was quite fun, but then came the slightly unsavoury penultimate mission. The stormriders had been created as genetic slaves, and their 'owners' were the ones who raided them earlier. So, fair enough, the two didn't get along. However, the stormriders' (ostensibly the good guys) solution to this was to create a plague (the game's own term for it) to wipe out their masters. They were bad guys, yes, but the genocide of an entire race doesn't feel like a particularly 'good' solution. But my guys didn't bat an eyelid (and there was no in-game way for me to refuse). If I wanted to get the last scientist on my side and complete the game, then I needed to go ahead and release the plague. I'm beginning to understand now why the rest of the galaxy don't like us NEO guys...we're a bunch of evil &$%*s! Anyway, I did it. What choice did I have? (I hope I'm not judged on that decision when my time comes.) We then proceeded to the last area of the game where we spent way, way too long defending a ship from waves of bad guys so the scientists could do their work. Then, when it was over, Buck and Wilma sailed in, congratulated us, and quit to DOS. I barely had a chance to read the congratulations screen  - there was no prompt to acknowledge the message like normal, it just flashed on the screen and then C:\. I checked some other people's Let's Play videos to see if I was missing an ending sequence, but they were all the same. Ah well, a disappointing ending, but I enjoyed the majority of the game more than Countdown. It felt more balanced and more varied in its environments and quests, good stuff.

Next up on the series list is Spellcasting - 101, 201, and 301. It's a series of text adventure games similar to Eric the Unready (same author, same publisher, same engine). One of their big selling points (well, it was for me at the time whenever I saw them advertised) was that they were a mix of racy humour and fantasy - perfect for teenage geeks! I've always fancied playing them, so it's going to be interesting to see what they're really like. Eric came after these games, so I'm guessing these are going to be a bit rougher than that one, but we'll see. I'll also try and do a bit more Black & White.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Matrix Progress

More sick kids this week, so not much time for gaming. I have made a bit more progress with Matrix Cubed. I think I must be about half way through it at this point. The game feels longer than Countdown and has more varied environments. For example, I've battled through a holographic prison cell, a 25th century pirate radio station, and a ratwurst den amongst other places (ratwursts being mutant rats, of course). It's all in the name of tracking down a bunch of scientists to build the Matrix device (I've completely forgotten what the Matrix device is supposed to do - don't tell Buck - but I'm sure I'll hit some more exposition soon). In fact, exposition is sometimes a bit thin on the ground in this game. I seem to remember there being a lot more of it in Countdown. As an example, at the moment I'm supposed to be tracking down a scientist in the PURGE (the evil guys) base, and that's all Buck tells me to do, but I've no idea where in the galaxy the base is. I'm sure I must have been told once upon a time, and I probably should have written it down, but I'm so used to games keeping journals for me that I haven't been writing anything down. I am enjoying it, though, but the combats are giving me a little grief. One of the worst things, and this goes for all of the Gold Box games, is loot. When you complete a battle, you'll get a ton of loot, but the vast majority of it (in fact, pretty much all of it) is much worse than what you're carrying. I guess it makes sense, if you defeat 10 Martian Warriors then you're going to be left with 10 space suits and 10 laser pistols, but it would have been nice for them to perhaps just highlight the stuff that's better than what you currently have - kind of like in the D&D games where it highlights any magic items amongst the hoard of junk. Anyway, I'll keep trecking through it and will hopefully get it signed off next week.

I'm afraid to say I haven't touched Black and White again yet...one day. I did also start on Mass Effect in a fit of naughtiness. I don't know if it was all the Buck Rogers getting me in the mood for a space epic. I haven't got very far in it, only the first area and one side quest, but it looks pretty fun. I might continue chipping away at it in the background.