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 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 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.