Monday, 2 November 2015

Train in Vain

I know, I know, I didn't give The Train the time it deserved - I didn't even get off the first level - but it's late and it wasn't much fun. The first section of the game consists of you shooting out snipers in a distant station. You have to move the crosshairs to the lighted window and fire before their own shot hits you. If it gets too close then you have to duck. There's also a guy running across the trainyard in the distance. I figure you're trying to protect him, as he seems to move a bit further every time you shoot a baddie, but it took me about 10 minutes to have him move five steps, so I'm giving up on this one. Sorry, The Train, I'm sure you were a good game once - you seemed quite interesting - but you caught me in the wrong time (and 30 years too late). Ah well. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Turok: Dinosaur Hunter! I didn't even know I had this on PC. I remember playing it on the N64 years ago. Be interesting to see if this still works under Win 10.

Twomb Raidered

Tomb Raider 2 is done and dusted. It's basically more of the same, but I'll sum up a few things here. First up, I didn't enjoy it as much as the first game. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy it, just that I preferred TR1. Most of that is about the level design and the amount of enemies. TR1 was very much about empty, unexplored spaces that were inhabited by a few wild creatures, but not much else. In TR2 there are a lot more human foes. They don't particularly make the game any harder (in fact, I'd say the recurring 'boss' humans in the first game were trickier to kill), they just serve to get in your way and slow you down a bit. I much preferred the feeling in the first game where the true enemy was the environment. That game had plenty of levels where the whole thing was an elaborate puzzle, but there wasn't so much of that this time around. It's not all bad news, though. I did actually like some of the level innovations here - I enjoyed the 'real world' locations, such as cities and buildings more than I thought I would. I enjoyed the Venice section and the Himalayan monastery. The sunken shipwreck was fun for a bit (I liked the upside-down level particularly), but it dragged on waaay too long, and I don't think underwater levels are particularly Tomb Raider's strongest point. The story - what there was of it - also didn't really go anywhere. That's actually one aspect that I am looking forward to improving. The first game didn't really have much at all, and the second game had a few cut scenes, but not really much to speak of other than the manual telling me a bit about the dagger. I can't wait to get some proper story elements to drive the game forward and bring a bit more meaning to each level. I don't know how much that will really improve in the third game, but the first cut scene I've seen was already much better.

There were only a couple of new moves introduced: zip-lines, which were fun but not really that integral to gameplay, and vehicles, which in general handled terribly, but didn't overstay their welcome, and were a nice diversion from the main game. I don't want vehicles to necessarily become a much bigger part of the series (but I think they do), but they made a fun, quick break from the core gameplay. They also added flares to light up dark areas, but I only really used them a couple of times throughout the adventure. There was also a bit more graphical polish - higher resolution, which is good to have, and some more polygons and frames of animation, but otherwise it's business as usual. I've started the first level of TR3 and that makes some more integral changes to the moveset - a duck and crawl move, and a sprint - that feel like much bigger additions (they've also changed the sidestep keys to what used to be Shift+turn, which has confused the heck out of me, but I'm sure I'll get used to it).

Next up on the series list is TR3 and, as mentioned, I've already had a quick go at the first level. If nothing else, that shows that I'm still keen to play these games. They definitely got something right in those early Tomb Raiders that is keeping me firmly hooked. And I'm very glad to see that they still have the 'save anywhere' feature in the PC version. I'm hoping that stays, there's nothing worse than those horrible save crystals in the PS games (oddly, they do actually have save crystals in the PC version, but they simply serve to refill your health. Maybe they couldn't be bothered to remove the graphics from the game when they ported it?).

In other news, I dug up the manual for The Train, but I haven't been able to give it a decent go yet. I did have a quick go, but died instantly because I couldn't figure out the keys - hence the need for the manual. I'm still not planning on staying long on it, but I'll see how it is.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Impatient

More of a non-post, this, but I felt I hadn't put anything up here in a while. Work's very busy at the moment, so not much time to play. I've done a little more Tomb Raider, but it's slow going. I tried the first level of Impire, but it took an absolute age, and it looks like one of those games where you have to do the same base building at the beginning of every level, so it's only going to get slower from here on out. So, I made the executive decision to throw Impire back on the pile. I just don't have time for it at the moment, and I want something a bit quicker paced to jump into. To the randometer, Batman!

In other news, my Steam Link and Controller turned up a couple of weeks ago. I haven't really had a chance to experiment with the finer features of them much yet, but the main reason I got them was so I could stream the Lego games down to the living room and play them with my son on weekend mornings. And it's been great! We've mostly been playing the Lego Marvel game, but he's really getting into it. He's not *that* good yet, but he's getting there! I'll make a geek of him yet.

So, next up on the randometer is...The Train: Escape to Normandy! Hmm...not exactly what I was hoping for, but I'll give it a quick go. Can't promise I'll stick with it, though. Looks like an old DOS game from 1987 where you're in control of a train in occupied France trying to escape the Germans. Funnily enough, it was also released in Germany with a title that translates as "The Train: Only You Can Defeat It". Not sure if that meant it was completely turned round and you were playing the Germans trying to destroy the train! (Somehow I doubt that one.)

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Worl of Good

I finished the final levels of World of Goo over lunch today. It's a truly excellent and more fun than you'd think game. It takes the basic premise of a bridge building game, but instead of boring old planks and rivets, here you're building with goo. The goo is lovely stuff, able to form connections with other goo balls (the number of connections depends on the variety of goo) and form (semi-) rigid structures. These structures very rarely stay still, they're constantly jiggling about as you add more connections to them, or as the unused goo balls travel along the structure, or simply as the wind blows across the level. You have to build structures to reach the exit pipe on the level where all of the remaining unused goo on the structure will be sucked up. You need to save a requisite amount of goo balls per level. And that's basically it. The beauty of the game abounds in the charming graphics and sound, but the heart of what makes this so fun is the amount of ideas packed into it. It may be slightly odd to compare this game to Mario, but there's a similar sense of inventive and impish fun running through every level. New ideas arrive every level or two and then are discarded as even more new stuff comes in. The game is constantly kept fresh with new goo balls or new ways of building or new methods of control. Levels are rarely as simple as 'build a bridge from a to b', even though that's essentially what you're doing every time. There's also a great deal of humour in the game, from the strange signposts that introduce each level and give insights into the goings on, to the bizarre backstory that frames the game. I've no idea what was really going on in the story, but it was glorious nonetheless. The game was also perfectly suited to my style of play, with each level only taking a few minutes so it was easy to drop in and drop out. I can't recommend it enough - it's fabulous. I even managed to get Max playing it by persuading the powers that be that it was educational (well...it is!). One of the best games I've played in a while. If I had nothing better to do then I'd happily try and get all of the OCD challenges for every level, but I'm afraid that's not going to happen in this lifetime. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Impire! Another modern-ish game on Steam. This one looks a bit like a remake of Dungeon Keeper. Bizarrely, I've never played Dungeon Keeper (other than a demo), so I'm not really sure what to expect. I think I'll hit Tomb Raider 2 properly first. I've progressed through a few more levels, but there's still a lot more game to go. It's still fun, but it's no TR1.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Jonesing Around

I just can't do it. Jones in the Fast Lane just isn't fun for me. It's exactly as I remember it, you have a 'board' that you move around with spaces that represent locations - places like the bank, a shop, university, burger bar, etc. Each of these locations has a special function or two, so you can buy various foods at the burger bar or you can get a job there, and so on. You spend each week (turn) working, eating, and getting a better education (so you can get a better job), and so it goes on. It's very, very repetitive, and is especially boring when playing a game against the computer. One thing that Jones is definitely not is fast! Each turn takes a while especially toward the end of the game where you and the AI are both traveling around a lot of different places on the board doing different things, and you have to sit and watch the computer's turn in real time...even reading all of the messages that pop up on the screen for him. It's just tedious! Ah well, maybe it would have been more fun in multiplayer, but it's just no fun for me. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...The Orion Project! I've never heard of it. Apparently it's a shareware space shooter, so will hopefully be a quick one. In the meantime, I'm making my way through TR2. I finished the Venice level last night - exactly as I remember it from cover disc demos - so it's onwards to the unexplored reaches of the game. It definitely hasn't quite got the same magic of the first game, though. Too many enemies and not enough standing around in silent contemplation.

...Aaand that didn't really work. It runs at the Speed of the Puma (TM), with asteroids flying at infinite speed towards you from every direction. Even slowing DOSBox right down didn't help at all. It basically looked like a very simple version of Asteroids - your ship is in the middle of the screen while space rocks head in your general direction, but I couldn't really get far enough into it to see if things changed later on. Ah well.

Next up on the randometer is...World of Goo! Looking forward to that one. It was one of the original indie darlings and I've owned it for years, but never played it.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Sayonara Shannara

I finished up Shannara over lunch today. There wasn't much left for me to do after my last session, just get through the Hall of the Kings, defeat the big bad (book) and watch the ending. It's a bit of a strange old game, developed by Legend Entertainment (they of the Spellcasting games, and many others - strangely enough, the randometer has thrown up quite a lot of their games, so I've played a good chunk of their catalogue). Legend began life as a text adventure shop, and it shows with Shannara. There are overland sections that don't really do much, and combat sequences that don't really do much, but the heart of the game is in the adventure sections and that's where it shines. I don't know if Terry Brooks had any hand in the dialogue and descriptions, or if it was left to the hands of the Legend crew, but you can tell it was written by someone who knew what they were doing. Even though the story follows some strong fantasy tropes (uniting disparate tribes to reforge a broken sword and defeat the big bad), it does it in some entertaining and sometimes surprising ways. The game also includes (if I'm not spoiling it too much) the only party character death that I can think of where you have to actually kill the party member yourself. It's quite a powerful sequence where you have to kill your closest friend (who you had a bit of a crush on) in order to save their soul and free them from becoming a slave to the big bad. It's particularly galling as you've just come from a town of healers, but there's no way back to them in time. I've no idea if there is any way to prevent her dying, but I couldn't find it. The rest of the game is a fairly standard but well balanced graphic adventure with an extra dollop of character conversations. I don't remember how far we got in it before. I don't remember seeing the ending before, but some of the other sections evoked very strong memories, so I know I played through some of it. There was the odd bit of head scratching and poking around the screen for the tiny group of pixels you needed to click to move onwards, but it was generally pretty straight forward. I don't know if this game was based on any of the books or if it stood alone - I remember reading a few of them at school, but can't remember what happened in them at all. Over all, it was a pretty fun adventure, and fun to see it through to the end.

Next up on the randometer is...Jones in the Fast Lane! Oh blimey - I remember this one well. It was one of the many dodgy games my friend's Dad got from Bahrain back at school. It's essentially a computer board game, but playing through your character's life. We played it quite a lot in the day, and found it the weirdist thing ever (I also remember not liking it much at all!). Ah well, I think it'll be a quick one anyway.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Scion-tific!

Tomb Raider 1 is finished! Gosh, it took a long time, and I had almost 300 saves by the end of it...I'm so glad I'm on PC rather than the silly old save crystal-bound PlayStation. I have a horrible feeling that save crystals do make their way into the PC series later on, though, boo! I've completed this first game before, but I don't remember it being quite as huge as it was. Weirdly, I remember the first levels really clearly and the last level really clearly, but a lot of the stuff in between was hazy. I still think it is a masterpiece of design. That's not to say it's perfect - it does drag on a bit, some levels have too much back-tracking, and it's easy to get lost on certain stages with no idea how to proceed - but it has a very clear vision and follows it through beautifully. There are arcade segments, sure, but it's much more of a puzzle game than an arcade game. All gaps are carefully measured and pillars precisely placed, the entire architecture is built upon Lara's different abilities, standing jump, running jump, jump and grab. Everything fits together perfectly and feels absolutely solid. Sure, it's a perfectly contrived environment, but it feels like a real space. I want to say that the sparseness of the graphics helps by allowing you to project your own extra details onto the environment, but at the time, when these were cutting edge graphics, it still felt like that. And boy do you feel it when you run round a corner and manage to stop Lara inches from the edge of a cliff...or even worse, when you don't. There's something about Lara and her movement, and the environment and its sense of place that allows you to inhabit it much more easily than many modern games. It doesn't have the overblown dramatics or self-referential wink that so many modern pretenders have, it's all about Lara stuck in that cave searching for a way out. You move step by step, sometimes literally slowly stepping through a level, stopping to gaze around, trying to locate any out of the ordinary ledges that you might be able to reach. There's very little waymarking, like the ridiculous white paint along every ledge in the modern Tomb Raider. Here they trust you to stop and look, carefully taking in your environment and judging your abilities. There aren't many games like it anymore. Slow games. Observing games. Planning games. Those are my favourite bits of Tomb Raider, when you've emptied the level of whatever Atlantean horrors (or fluffy wolves) are hiding there, and you're left all alone with just the echo of the wind and those huge, beautifully 3D spaces to navigate. I mentioned the verticality of Tomb Raider before, and how it's completely missing from the modern game, but it's completely true, and I feel it all the more now I've finished the game. The huge final tower ascent is an amazing level, and I can't imagine anything like it in the modern game. They tried to make the environments so realistic that they forgot what the heart of Tomb Raider was. It'll be very interesting to see what Anniversary - the modern remake of this first game - is like. I'm half tempted to play it now so I can make a direct comparison, but I think I'll stick to my timeline. It's tempting to look back at the Lara Croft phenomenon and see only the magazine cover shoots and impossible body models, but there's much more to why Tomb Raider became so famous - it's a fantastic game. I'm very much looking forward to Tomb Raider 2 and seeing where my adventures will take me (and finally having movable hair!). I remember the Venice level from the demo that was on cover disks at the time, but I don't think I've ever played the full game. First, though, I'm going to see if I can get through Shannara. After I'd been playing it for a while I remembered that I had played it before - maybe at school or in the holidays with school friends - and bits of the game started coming back to me. I don't remember it being that big a game and I'm already a way into it, so hopefully it won't take too long.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Dogged

Well, ironically Dogfight runs like a dog. I really wasn't in the mood for it, and the game didn't do much to help that. First up, I couldn't find a manual (though I didn't look *that* hard) so I had no idea of what the controls were. Basic steering's with the cursors, and main guns fire with Space, so that got me through for a bit, but I had no idea what accelerate/decelerate, etc. were, so I didn't get very far with any missions that required taking off! The game actually looks like it could have been quite fun back in the day. There are time zones (WW1, WW2, Vietnam, etc.) with a pair of famous aeroplanes from each era - one from each side. So in WW2 you get Spitfire vs. Me109, etc. There are a few different game modes, the main ones being a campaign mode for each era and a dogfight mode where you can just pick a couple of craft and a starting position, and then let rip. This was the mode I played the most, because the campaign missions all required taking off! The game has a very simple flight model and, as I mentioned, it ran terribly in DosBox, so I didn't really have much fun with it. It's a bit of a shame, because I'd much prefer an arcadey dogfight game to a more serious sim, but this one just wasn't doing it for me. Onwards. I did finally get back to Tomb Raider tonight, though, and managed to finish off another level, so that's something. Still got a bunch more to go, but I just got the second piece of the Scion, so I'm getting there.

Next up on the randometer is...Shannara! I read a couple of the Terry Brook's books that this is based on back at school, but I can't remember that much about them. Interested to see what this is like.

Monday, 7 September 2015

The Iceman's Doneth

Codename Iceman is not an experience that I want to repeat again. I came very close to quitting the game in frustration on numerous occasions, but made myself struggle through to the end. And that was with a walkthrough! Without one, the obtuse puzzles would have driven me mad long ago. Actually, they're not really even puzzles as such, just horrible know-it-or-you-don't niggles. It really feels like the designer saw a James Bond film once and thought that it was completely wrong, missing all of the complexities and hardships that real spies face. So he set out to make a game that would tell the truth of a real espionage mission. The problem is that people don't really want the truth when they watch James Bond, they want the escapist fantasy. The truth is boring. If you're familiar with the designer's earlier games in the Police Quest series, then this is a concept that you'll be very familiar with. Like in that series, you have to go through the humdrum facets of the job in excruciating detail. For example, in one part of the game you have to fix a broken mechanism. A metal cylinder has become broken, and you need to replace it. James Bond would have just shoved a pen in there, or something and hey presto, it would have worked. No such suspension of disbelief here. Here you have to find your calipers and carefully measure the existing cylinder, then go to the machine shop, find the right size of cylinder, nut, drill bit, etc, mill the cylinder down to the required thickness, sand it smooth, drill the right sized hole in the end, find the right sized pin to go in, and then insert the whole thing back into the machine. And that's not the only incident of that kind of craziness. It takes all of the fun out of being a spy. If it was only those sorts of issues then I would have been fine with a walkthrough, but by far the worst parts of the game were the arcade sections in the submarine (and to a lesser extent in the van). As far as I can tell, the whole thing is just trial and error. Even if you know exactly what you're doing then success is still based on a random chance. That kind of thing is just inexcusable in an adventure game like this. And the submarine section isn't just a little bit, it's about half of the game. Oh, and the dice game, I can't believe I almost forgot that! Not only do they create a part of the game based entirely on chance, but they also limit the number of reloads you can make at that point in the game! Designers, if your players are spending ages reloading one particular section, then that should tell you that section is broken and needs fixing. You should not then go ahead and make it even more broken and frustrating. It's just a crazily annoying game. I don't know how people got anywhere with it back in the day. There was much more that I wanted to write here, but I completed the game a few days ago and wrote this on my phone back then. The draft's been sitting on Blogger for a while, and in that time I've completely wiped the game from my memory. That's how much I enjoyed it. And what did I miss to only score 257 out of 300!? Bah. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Air Duel: 80 Years of Dogfighting! Oh dear, if there's one thing I'm not in the mood for right now, it's an early '90s flight sim. Maybe I'll try and get a bit further with Tomb Raider. Maybe I'll go bang my head against the wall.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Journey's End

It's been a while since my last post - travel, holidays and work have all taken their toll, but I finally got around to a session and finished Journey: The Quest Begins this evening. It's an odd game, if it's really a game at all, and my feelings on it swung wildly from love to hate as I played it. It's basically a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book set to PC. It's all text based with static images for each scene, and once you've read the text you get a set of actions that you can choose to perform, or decisions to make. That's it - exactly like a CYOA book but without the page turning, and save games instead of fingers jammed in multiple pages in order to go back on previous decisions. It started out great - the graphics are nice and the writing is excellent, and I found it really enjoyable to wander about this new land. I even didn't mind it the first time one of my characters got destroyed without warning because I was happy to go back and try new things and read more... The first time... the subsequent times were less happy. And therein lies the big problem with the game - there is only one correct story running throughout it, and any deviation from that will result in a game over. All of those choices are really illusionary because there is only one right option. Even worse, the game is happy to let you carry on playing, thinking you chose correctly, but really you're walking dead and just don't know it...and might not know it for a long time later until you're suddenly blocked because of a choice you made hours ago and there's no way to go back and fix it. This is where you'll be using saved games a lot...I hope you saved at every location under a different filename? (Hint: I didn't.) The most egregious example of this was the end game - and I've read numerous people on line ranting about the same thing. Your wizard only has a limited supply of reagants to cast spells, and the game will let you think that your clever solutions to earlier problems where you used spells to escape from danger was all fine and dandy and was the correct way to play the game. It's only when you get to this penultimate screen that the game kindly tells you that you've run out of the necessary reagants and therefore you're dead. That's it. You don't get any option to get out of it another way, you're just dead. When you do die, the game offers you hints as to how you might have solved the puzzle, meaning you can usually load up a save game and do it correctly this time, but in this case the game's hint is that you shouldn't have cast so many spells earlier in the game. Great. Thanks. There's no way of you knowing at which point you cast the wrong spell or could have done things differently, so it's right back to the beginning for you to try and make your miserly way back through the game. Except there was no way I was doing that, so I cheated. And the cheating took me hours! I had to try and hex edit the save files, but there was no obvious storage place for the reagant amounts. I ended up having to cast a spell, save under a different name, then compare the save games to try and find what had changed. Of course, you can only cast spells at certain points in the game, so I had to start from a saved game miles back so I could identify the point and then go from there. Ugh. It was not easy, but I made it in the end and finally managed to get back to that penultimate point in the game, and this time made it through. And then I got to the final screen. Yay. The other thing that the game has a habit of doing is suddenly expecting you to remember an insignificant detail that popped up hours back in the story line - maybe one person's name out of the tens of unimportant names you're given, or a greeting in a language you had no idea was important enough to write down. The final screen has you trying to remember the colour of the reagant residue left on your mage's fingers after he cast a particular spell way back in the game, and then mixing the different coloured reagants to recreate it. There is absolutely no reason why you'd know this information. All through the rest of the game when you've needed to cast a spell you just click on its name and 'bam', it works. True, the game does tell you the colour of the residue after every spell, but there's never any hint that it's information that you should be paying attention to. It's also different in every game, so there's no way you can just look it up online. Oh, and just to make it more fun, it's not just the colours you need to pay attention to in order to mix the correct spell, there's also suddenly a 'fine' and a 'course' version of each colour, solely to double your frustration. In other words, even if you had for some reason remembered the colour of the residue, there's still no way you'd be able to know if you should be using the course or the fine powder, or a mixture of both - oh, and don't forget the random 'pinch' of a third reagant that's necessary but impossible to know about beforehand. The only way I could do it was to brute force try every combination until I hit on the right one. Yes, it took forever, but therre was no way I was letting the game beat me after all that! So yeah, I started off really enjoying the game, but soon grew to loathe it, and it's a shame that I can't recommend the game to anyone because of the sheer unavoidable frustration that it causes. The writing is lovely, though (even though it owes a heavy debt to Tolkein), and it's almost worth playing through the first few scenes just to get a feel for how fun a text adventure could be, before it all goes horribly wrong. It reminds me of a game I haven't played - King of Dragon Pass. (Can you be reminded of something you haven't done...maybe preminded? Hey, I've invented another new word!) I look forward to playing that one many years down the line.

Next up on the randometer is...Code-name Iceman! It's a Sierra graphic adventure by the same guy who did the Police Quest series. I actually read a play through of this not that long ago, so I probably know the solutions to half the problems - looking forward to giving it a go and hopefully powering through it. I also need to get back to Tomb Raider. Win 10 seems to have settled down after its early hiccups, so I've no excuse not to.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Raided

I had a bit of free time with no family around at the weekend, and managed to complete the 'new' Tomb Raider on the PS3. I've been playing it alongside the original game (until Win 10 borked my DOSbox - not sure what happened there, but I hope it's not going to be a big issue...I'm wondering whether it might have been more sensible to stick with Win 7 for a bit), and it's been very interesting to compare them. The new game has clearly changed direction, following Uncharted and similar games away from level-as-puzzle, and toward an open world (-ish, the game is still made up of very clearly defined areas that you can travel between, rather than being truly open). I guess they wanted to make it more story-driven, but for a game that's supposedly all about setting up the origin story for Lara Croft, they made a right hash of it. The characters are all stereotypical cut-outs, and you never feel any connection to them or feel any sense of loss when they invariably get murdered. I did enjoy the combat, but it didn't feel particularly Tomb Raidery, it was just a pretty standard cover shooter. I think it's actually handled much better in the original Tomb Raider (in concept rather than execution) where it's more about your battle with the wildlife as the only inhabitants of these undiscovered places. Once those combatants are gone, it's all about the loneliness and the sense of exploring the space. The sound design of the original Tomb Raider is beautiful - really enhancing your sense of being the only human in this place - it's all echoing water and wildlife and the wind rushing through these ancient carved corridors, rather than the bombastic and cinematic of the new game. That's where a game doesn't have to be like cinema. We don't have to constantly rush on to advance the plot. With games - in an aspect strangely more like staring at a painting in a gallery rather than going to the cinema - you can stop and explore your surroundings. That's what Tomb Raider has always been about for me, the ability to look around and work out where you want to go next, and how you're going to get there. The Secret Tombs in the new game were a slight nod towards this, but it's telling that the developers didn't feel brave enough to include this more sedate, puzzling aspect in the main game story - perhaps they were worried that gamers would then get stuck and be unable to progress with the storyline?

I also found it slightly odd that while we have Lara as the great female protagonist, at the same time we have her rescuing a weak female damsel in distress. Was it really necessary to follow that trope? The story could have gone a million other ways. (And on a similar subject, I'm also not entirely sure why every enemy had to be a burly (often Eastern-European sounding) male. Sure, you can maybe spin it out as "they're the only ones the cult allowed to survive", but a little variety might have been nice. Ha, maybe a few more examples of dangerous wildlife would have done it - sure, shotgunning gorillas in the first game was never politically correct, but it felt thematic.

Oh, and my final point is about the verticality. The first Tomb Raider games really gave me the willies - sorry, I don't know a better term for it. That brief sensation of physical panic when Lara looks down - or almost falls off - from a high ledge. The simple graphics, but strong physicality of those early games invoke a strong unconscious reaction in me that the modern game just didn't at all. I don't know if it's because in the modern game, you never had to look around and climb down from anywhere once you'd reached the top - the radio tower highlighted in the video is a case in point - once you reach the top of an area you'd always just magically zip-line down or the game would cut to you at the bottom. I don't know if the developers felt it would be boring to climb down the same thing you've just climbed up, but they're not the same thing at all. Climbing down is difficult, and it involves always looking down - reinforcing the sense that you're in a high, dangerous place, and forcing you to constantly consider your own mortality. Again, I think perhaps the developers were worried about the pace of the game and that modern cinempathetic (hey, I made a new word) gamers wouldn't have the patience for it - but please, developers, have a little faith in us and in your game. Have the confidence in your creation to let us explore it. If it's an enjoyable, exciting place to be, then we're not going to get bored by it.

It's not that I didn't enjoy the game - I did - but it didn't feel like a Tomb Raider game, and I missed that. Luckily, I've got all the old games to enjoy, so it's back to Tomb Raider 1 for me now (as long as Win 10 lets me).

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Jousted

It turns out that it wasn't the original Joust version that I had, but a VGA homebrew remake from the '90s, which was a pleasant surprise. It was entirely faithful to the original (from what I remember), but with slightly smoother graphics. The basic premise of Joust is that you're some kind of knight on a flying bird that looks a bit like an ostrich (I know ostriches can't fly). You have to knock the opposing knights off their perches; the trick being that you can only do that if you attack from above them from the front, or from behind them. They move fast, and your bird only has a short, hoppy flap, so you need to keep mashing the flap button to stay aloft. It's quite a skill but not too hard to master...when it's one-on-one. Of course, in each successive wave you get more opponents on screen at once, and the level layout also changes - for example, you start off with a solid floor to the level that you can walk on, but this rapidly turns into a lava pool as you progress, meaning that touching it now will kill you. Once you knock a knight from his perch, an egg? will bounce down that you can pick up for extra points - more points the quicker you get to it, adding to the frenetic nature of the game. There's also a timer on each level. Once the timer runs out, a pterodactyl? enters the arena. This guy is very fast and absolutely lethal, he'll swoop down and kill you in seconds. As far as I could tell, there isn't a way to defeat it, but I could be wrong. Anyway, the whole thing is good clean fun, and you can see why it was such a popular arcade game. You can also play with two players, which would be excellent, but obviously there's just me here. Definitely recommended for a bit of a blast.

Next up on the randometer is...Ha, that's weird. I was just reading an Elder Scrolls retrospective and thinking how fun it would be to play them again, and up it pops. Added to the series list, and definitely looking forward to it, but it'll be a very long time before I get there. Anyway, next up on the singles list is...Revolt of Don's knights! As far as I can tell, it's a completely awful first-person RPG, so yay! Hopefully it won't take too long. Back to Tomb Raider in the meantime. It's a much bigger game than I remember, with each level taking ages to get through, but I'm still thoroughly enjoying it.

Well, luckily, Revolt of Don's Knights doesn't seem to work at all. The version I have just crashes DosBox every time I try and run it. Onwards! Next up on the randometer is...Journey: The Quest Begins! It's an old Infocom text adventure hybrid...kind of mid way between an old text adventure and a newer point-and-click adventure. Looks like it might be quite fun.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Boston Left Undefended

I think I'm done with Defender of Boston. Have I completed the game? No. Have I completed the first mission? No. Have I managed to accomplish anything at all? No. But it's not for want of trying. Actually, I did manage to do one thing. I tore up a t-shirt into strips to make string. That's got to count for something, right? I would actually quite like to play this game - in fact, it's still running in the background as I type this and that's exactly what my character is doing, still running in the background and getting nowhere. It all started off well, it had some interesting character creation with some fun skills. I made some kind of ninja character with high dexterity and ninjitsu, with a smattering of listening and spot checks so I could find hidden things. Straight away, I begun by investigating my surroundings. I found a few items (including the aforementioned t-shirt). I found the long letter giving me my quest and it all sounded quite interesting. I set off out of my house in high spirits and followed the East path at the nearest crossroads. And I walked, and I walked, and I walked. As mentioned, the character is still walking in the background now. He's been walking for about half an hour, following a twisty-turny road that has led to absolutely nowhere. It must have been programmed for a purpose, but I haven't had a single encounter or found a single landmark. Nothing. (I just checked in, and he seems to have swum miles out to sea. I've just turned him around so he heads back to land again.) Emptiness is a problem with many ambitious shareware efforts, but this is just crazy. (Ooh, I've just been attacked by an elk...in the sea...it missed me.) The only injury my character has received so far is when I walked into a table in the dark back in my house. I suppose I could start a new character and head West instead of East, but quite frankly, I can't be bothered. I've seen some people call it a hidden gem online, and there's virtually no data on it, so it would be quite fun to have a decent go at it...but...no. It's time to move on.

Next up on the randometer is...The Reap! It's a shoot-em-up from the late '90s. Apparently from the same guys who've done the recent Super Stardust and Resogun games on the PlayStation. I remember the name from mags at the time, but I don't think I've ever played it. Should be a nice change of pace.

Hmmm...small problem. Turns out it's an old Windows game, and it's not going to run on my new 64-bit system. Hope that's not going to be too much of a problem with Win games! Oh well, onwards! Next up on the randometer is...Joust! Yep, that Joust from 1982 with the knights on ostriches. Should be a quick one. I'll load it up tomorrow.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Anacreon...and on...and on...

Well, I've kind of finished Anacreon. It's a big and complex thing, big and complex. I started off with the ASCII version from the '80s, and then in my hunt for a manual to try and make some sense of the game, I discovered that it was still being updated. So I downloaded the latest version and that's what I played through to the end of one scenario. Anacreon is a huge space 4X game. The first empire ended thousands of years ago and many planets are only now rediscovering space travel. Yours is one of those. You kept some of the old secrets alive, and you're now starting out on the road to, well, on the road to conquer the galaxy. The game comes with a bunch of pre-built scenarios. As far as I could tell, they're the same ones that were with the game back in the '80s. The beginner scenario that I took was to find and defeat some pirates who had been terrorizing one sector of space. Of course, I pretty much had to forcefully conquer every other planet in the system in order to do that...there isn't really any diplomacy on offer here, which is actually a bit of a shame. You start by sending out probes and learning a bit more about your immediate surroundings. Planets can be of various types, and various technology levels. They might teeming with billions of inhabitants and a standing army, or they might be desert worlds with few people living on them - easy pickings, but not much good for establishing a base on. Different planets can be put to use for different things - mining for minerals, synthesizing chemicals, and so on, with different types of planets having different specialities. You have to settle the planets - getting enough food is the most important thing initially - and then get them working efficiently into their given role and contributing to your empire. Once you've got a good backbone of material production, you can set to work building more ships. As your technology level increases, you can build better ships and start constructing huge technologies such as space fortresses or warp gates. And you'd better be doing all of this quickly, because those pirates will be harassing your fleets and building up their own empire as you go. You'll also see revolutions and unrest on the worlds you've conquered - usually people get upset if you leave a large military force there - so there's a bit of busy work transporting troops around and keeping people happy while putting down riots where they occur. It was fairly slow-paced, but I enjoyed my time with it. The only thing I didn't get was any kind of ending acknowledgement. I destroyed what I think were all of the pirate worlds within the allotted time limit but nothing happened. I then waited for the time limit to expire, but still nothing happened...the game just carried on. I don't know if you're just supposed to do your own victory dance when you win? Anyway, the other thing is that the game is really supposed to be played multiplayer - either PVP or co-op. Obviously, I didn't try that, but I think it would have been great fun. So, it's another little gem that I was expecting not to like, but turned out really enjoying.

Next up on the randometer is...Defender of Boston: The Rock Island Mystery! It vaguely rings a bell, but I don't really know anything about it. I'll keep picking at Tomb Raider in the mean time - it's a much bigger game than I remember. I've had a little free PS3 time in the evenings recently, too, so I've made a start on the new Tomb Raider there. It's been interesting comparing them.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Boom and Bust

The Boomtown is a strange game. It's not really an RPG as such, more of a post-apocalyptic survival sim. You start in a shelter with a variety of goods and food with you, then have to set out and brave the new world to find new materials and survive. There are essentials like meat (which you can hunt for), veggies (which you can grow) and water (which you can get from lakes), but you'll also find other things like lumber (for building - also works as an emergency fuel source), fuel (I'm guessing this is charcoal - you seem to get it from forests), metal, parts, and so on. You slowly explore the world, heading back to your shelter when you start to get tired. You also don't want to spend too long out in the world, as dangerous events take place. I had a mutant jump on my car and bite my leg (sending my radiation through the roof), a tornado that whisked me up and dropped me off on a random part of the map, and a vast sandstorm that, as far as I could tell, covered the whole of the map with sand. At that point, I couldn't find anything else. It didn't occur to me to actually just standing still and trying to dig in the desolate sands to see if anything was there (you do sometime find random things, like jars of peanut butter), instead, I ran around trying to find some kind of marker in the sand until I collapsed from exhaustion. Unfortunately, the game then crashed asking for another map disk, so I never got to see the world when I woke up. You create your own random world at the beginning of the game, and you can play it multiplayer and invite other people into your wasteland. Of course, I didn't try that, but it actually sounds kind of fun. I played the game on the easiest difficulty level (and still died) but there are a ton of different options to play with to mould the world to your liking. It's an intriguing game - especially for its age. I'm going to call it a day for the sake of moving on, but it feels like it's a bit of a hidden gem that was way ahead of its time.

Next up on the randometer is...Anacreon: Reconstruction 4021! It's an ASCII space strategy game from 1987. I might take a quick look, or I might just hop back to a bit of Tomb Raider. I've played the first two levels of TR, and it's as fantastic as I remember. Beautiful level design and set pieces, with a verticality you don't tend to see so much in games any more.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Tanked Magnetically

I know, I know, I'm weak. According to a YouTube walkthrough, you can beat Magnetik Tank in about 8 minutes. Should be easy, right? I've had about 10 attempts now, and I've managed to get about a minute in. Magnetik Tank is hard in a way that many old '80s Spectrum games were hard. You only get one life, and if you die you're sent right back to the beginning. I wouldn't mind that so much if it weren't for two things - the death/intro cycle takes longer than my average life, which gets frustrating fast, and secondly, compounding that, when you die you get an annoying French guy laughing at you, and the intro consists of said annoying French guy taunting you in French. I've no idea what he's saying, and it's probably a good thing he doesn't know what I'm saying back at him. While most people think of things sticking together when they think 'magnetic', here's it's the opposite, it's more like mag-lev trains. That means that instead of sticking to things, your tank slips and slides all over the place. That's kind of the point of the game, but it doesn't make it fun. You have to guide your tank through an Ultimate-style isometric maze trying to find...actually, I have no idea what you're trying to find. The final screen of the walkthrough appears to show you firing at some kind of flashing gem, but I have no idea what that signifies or why you're doing it. Things you touch will kill you instantly, and the sluggish controls combined with the slippery surfaces mean that you'll be hitting things an awful lot. 8 minutes. 8 minutes...it's not that long...I keep thinking I should go back and stick this one out, but I really just can't be bothered. Onwards.

Next up on the randometer is...Visions of Aftermath: The Boomtown! It's a post-apocalyptic RPG from the late '80s...could be fun.

Remembering Amnesia

I played a bit of Amnesia last night, and finished it off over lunch today. Needless to say, I used a walkthrough. In some ways, I think it probably wasn't a bad way to play the game. Amnesia is huge - it covers every street in Manhattan, and all the subway lines, too. It was also written back in the late '80s when there was no way on earth a single disk could hold the data for all of those locations, so Amnesia is a very empty game. You could spend days wandering lost through the streets (luckily, the US system of street grids helps a lot with computer games), and the map that comes with the game is invaluable (or a regular NY map would do). You start out with nowhere to live and no food or money. Time passes quickly in the game, so your first priority is to find somewhere to rest. Then you have to beg passers by for money until you can afford some food. That is your basic existence - begging, eating, sleeping, maybe washing the odd windscreen for cash - until you stumble upon your first clues to finding out just who you are and what happened to you. The story was written by an award-winning author, and it shows. The text is excellent, and the story really gripping, but the game is really lacking. There's just too much emptiness and lack of direction - that's why I think playing with a walkthrough was a decent way to play, so you can experience the full story without the frustration. The plot spins around all over the place and it's not until the very end where the pieces finally slot into place and you get the answers you've been looking for. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would, but that's probably much more to do with the fact I love a good story rather than the strength of the game itself. I'm not sure I'd recommend the game, but the script's available online if you just want to read the story. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Centauri Alliance! It's a sci-fi RPG from the same guy (and era) who wrote the Bard's Tale. I've never heard of it. Slightly mixed feelings about this one...I like the sound of a sci-fi RPG, just as long as it isn't full of darned dungeons and spinners! Interestingly, apparently you can import characters from the Bard's Tale and a bunch of other early RPGs (such as Ultima), so I might look into that.

... Ah, looks like it's for the C64. While I could go dig out a C64 emulator and try and get it running, I'm going to stick to DOS and call this one done. The manual does make it look quite cool, but...no. A bit of a cop out, I know, but I need to get through the list somehow. So, next, next up on the randometer is...Magnetik Tank! Never heard of this one, but it's a French game from the '80s, so who knows!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Returned to Castle Wolfenstein

I finally finished off Heinrich I, the big bad guy from RtCW at lunch today. I kept hanging back trying to pick him off from a distance and kept getting absolutely murdered by flying ghosts. I ended up checking a walkthrough to get some tips to defeat him because I was dying in seconds every go. Turns out all I had to do was get on the platform that he was standing on and then no ghosts appeared. With that craziness out of the way, he was pretty easy. That kind of ties in with the way that I like to play these games. I'm a complete FPS coward. I much prefer to stay as far away as possible with a sniper rifle to getting up close and personal with baddies. Of course, 9 times out of 10 that's impossible and games force you in close (just like here), but I'll still do my darnedest to run away and snipe. I'm rubbish. Luckily, RtCW has quite a few stealth/sniper sections interspersed with all the close quarters fighting, and those were definitely my favourite parts of the game. I really enjoyed areas like the French town where you had to sneak through the streets silently disposing of the enemy and taking out 5 key Nazi targets, That was a great level for me. I also liked the missions where you were parachuted in at a distance and had to make your way closer to a base, enabling you to pick off targets quietly before entering the building. All good. I didn't much like the paranormal levels, though, where you were going toe to toe with various undead and mostly consisted of wildly strafing and firing as many guns as possible (and often running out of ammo!). Still, all in all, it was a very enjoyable game. Some decent variety in the missions (including a hateful timed one, grrr), some fun locations (though some were a bit too dark for my old eyes), and decent weapons (the silent sniper rifle will always be my favourite, though I quite liked the satisfyingly inaccurate rocket launcher). It was quite old school, but then I'm an old school guy so it gets a big thumbs up from me. I don't have the most recent Wolfenstein. game, so this marks the end of the series for me. It's been quite a fun one to play through, having three distinct eras of games so far apart, but thematically feeling quite...I was going to say coherent, but that's not quite true. It's evolved coherently, but there isn't much linking the original game to the latest one - the first was quite a gritty prison break out (and in again), whereas the last is a gung-ho blastathon with a paranormal edge. Still, Nazis. Nazis keep it all together.

Next up on the series list is the Tomb Raider games. This is definitely one I've been looking forward to. The original Tomb Raider was such an amazing game at the time. I played it for ages (and the boxed copy is just on the shelf behind me), and I've played through a few others in the series, too. Turns out I have 11 Tomb Raider games (not including the ones on handheld), so I'll be at it for a while! I'll try and hit Amnesia first, though. Maybe get that out of the way tomorrow.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Vikings Lost Forever

I can't do it. I just can't. My blood pressure's rising just thinking about it. The Lost Vikings is one of the most frustrating experiences ever. There's nothing inherently wrong with the design of the game - you have to guide your three vikings through the levels using each of their unique abilities, and the puzzle aspects of the levels themselves are fine. It's just so darned unforgiving. The slightest error and one of your guys will die...and if one of them dies then it's game over. Actually, that's not quite true, if one of your guys dies then the game allows you to carry on playing with the other two, but it's impossible to move on to the next level if you don't finish it with all three, so it's utterly, utterly pointless. Thanks, game. Along with the instant death at every opportunity, you also have to deal with every animation happening a little bit too slowly. Baleog with the bow fires too slowly, so you'll die. All of them recover from their moves too slowly, so you'll die. The switch between vikings happens too slowly, so you'll die. And don't forget, when you die you have to go right back to the beginning of the level and start again...and then you'll just dies in a different part of the level...probably earlier than you did before. It's all so, so frustrating. I played through 15 levels, and that was quite enough. I think there are 35-40ish in the whole game (going by the number of worlds), so I got almost halfway through and I consider that a great achievement! Could I get further through the game by brute-forcing every level? Probably, yes. Do I want to? No, no, no and no. I can kind of imagine it might be a bit more fun multiplayer, but that would come with its own problems. So, it's off to Valhalla with the Lost Vikings. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Amnesia! No, not the recent one, apparently it's a 1986 text adventure featuring 4000 locations across Manhattan. Can't say I'm looking forward to that much! I'll play through a bit more Wolfenstein first. I've got through a few levels and it's pretty good fun so far.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Speared Destiny

I was away last week at a conference, but I managed to get a tiny bit of gaming done in the evenings. I managed to make enough progress with Spear of Destiny that I was able to finish it off tonight. There's really not much more to say about it. It's Wolfenstein, just more of the same. It's one long campaign rather than short episodes, but that doesn't make any functional difference. A couple of new enemies are introduced on the final level - when you get transported to hell - but other than that it's mostly just shooting the same people with the same weapons. I played on easy difficulty because I'm a wimp, but I still died quite a few times. The level design didn't seem quite as tortuous as some of the mazes in the first game, but the enemy placement was better thought out with a lot more guys sneaking up behind you and surprising you. I'm very glad it's over, though. It definitely started to get a bit much towards the end. Next up is a more modern game, Return to Castle Wolfenstein. I've already tinkered with it a bit and it's a breath of fresh air graphically. Still seems really difficult, though...I'm rubbish at FPS games!

I've done the first 'world' in The Lost Vikings and even that was a bit of a slog. It's slow going, unforgiving and extremely hard. I'm not sure if I'm going to finish this one, but I'll give it a bit more of a go.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

WolfenStoned

I finished the final episode of Wolfenstein 3D over lunch today. I have to admit I used a map to find my way around some of the mazes that I was getting stuck in, but other than that it was a pretty fun game. Things I forgot about Wolfenstein, no. 1: you collect treasure. I'd completely wiped this from my mind. You actually run around picking up grails and crowns, etc., which seems very old-fashioned now. In fact, the game was very much score based. I guess Doom was as well to some extent, with its summary of kills, secrets, etc. at the end of every level, but it was beginning to move away from it and focus on the game itself. Thinks I'd forgotten, no. 2: There are only 3 guns in the game. Okay, there's a knife as well, but if you're down to that (which you will be on occasion) then you're in trouble. Luckily, they all use the same ammo. There's pretty much the same number of baddies, too, with a couple of extras added as the levels go on. The level progression is really weird, too. The first 3 episodes have the build up to you destroying Hitler, then the next three drop back in time and act as a prequel to the first three (and the Spear of Destiny expansion drops back again before those three). I know story was never really its strong point, but all that constantly going backwards in time does feel a little bit weird. Oh, and this is the first time that I'd played the original Wolfenstein before the 3D version, and you can really see the similarities - the enemies, the voices, just the feel of it - for such completely different games, they still create the same atmosphere. It's good to have mouselook working even back then (even though there's no up or down), but strafing is surprisingly awkward. Strafe was still bound to a single key back then, and as soon as you press that key then it affects the mouse movement as well, which is disconcerting. It meant that I basically only used strafing for the bosses, and even then I didn't really master it. I don't know if proper strafing arrives in Doom, or not until later. We'll have to see.

Next up is the Spear of Destiny expansion, which is basically more of the same. I think I'll take a break for a bit of Lost Vikings first. Gosh - I was just uploading the screenshot and I noticed that I only had 1 ammo left when I defeated the final guy - phew!

Monday, 15 June 2015

Tore Down the Wall

I thought I'd take a quick look at Tear Down the Wall, and it turned out to be such a simple game that I think I'm done with it already. It's quite a fun little concept for a puzzle game, but doesn't really lend itself to much replayability. Essentially, the computer throws up a random wall of differently sized bricks. You take it in turns to select a brick, and then all of the other unsupported bricks above it fall down, scoring you a point per brick. So. it's just a question of picking the biggest brick at the bottom that's got the most loose bricks above it and watching the havoc ensue. Unfortunately, because of the way it works, each game only consists of 6 or 7 clicks because a well-placed click can easily take out a quarter of the bricks on screen. It's very easy to get into a position where you only really need one decent click (mid-way through the game) to win it and get into a position where your opponent can't possibly come back to win it. And, of course, the computer can do the same to you. It really nullifies any strategy - what little there was. And that's about all there is to it.

Next up on the randometer is...The Lost Vikings! Now this is definitely one I remember from back in the day. I definitely played a bit of the demo. Not sure if I ever played the full game. It's a bit of a Lemmings-y puzzle platformer where you control three vikings with different abilities and have to solve puzzles to get them all to the exit. Should be fun (and possibly a little frustrating). I'll probably intersperse this with levels of Wolfenstein 3D. I did have a quick go at Wolf, but found myself getting lost and annoyed in samey corridors with no map.

Got my Doge Hat On

I had a go at Machiavelli: The Prince over the weekend, and I think I'm done with it. I played a short easy game (basically the tutorial from the manual plus a few more turns) and managed to win, so that's good enough for me. I know that playing that level doesn't give me the full experience of the game, but I don't have time for the full game and I'm happy with what I've seen of it. Actually, for all my trepidation, it was a really fun game. I normally find these trading sims a bit impenetrable, but this one had enough of a Civ feel with all the exploration that it kept me hooked. As you can probably imagine, the game involves setting out with your little fleet from Venice, discovering new cities to trade with and setting up lucrative trade routes. As you explore, you discover new cities that deal in different commodities, and try to find the most lucrative routes, balancing length and profit. As you make more money, you can purchase more craft, covering land and sea trade. You can also delve in a bit of politics. My game was so short (and I only played against the computer) that I didn't really get into this much, but you can also do things like bribe senators for influence, become doge, buy cardinals, become pope (!) - which allows you to do things like call a crusade, or excommunicate other cities. You can hire slanderers to badmouth other players, or arsonists to burn down their warehouses. You can raise mercenary armies to attack other cities, or watch in horror as your own cities are ravaged by the Black Death. You can host lavish parties to raise your popularity, or increase the price of indulgences to increase your income from cardinals, being careful not to trigger the Reformation (no, really). There's much more to the game than that, it's a really deep and complex beast, yet felt accessible and fun to play. I can imagine it would be great fun in multiplayer with the right people and an infinite amount of time. As it is, I'm done. Onwards.

Next up on the randometer is...Tear Down the Wall! Never heard of it. Apparently, it's a puzzle game from back in 1990. I'll give it a quick go, but can't imagine it hanging around too long. In other news, it's the Steam Summer Sale, which in previous years I've managed to resist. This year, though, things are different. I foolishly created a wishlist a while back of missing games I have in various series a while back, and Steam has been pinging me with deals on those...some of which are pretty good...even though I blatantly don't need any more games. I am an idiot.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Beyond Castle Wolfenstein

I'm going to kill two birds with one stone here and call both of the original Castle Wolfenstein games done. I didn't complete either of them, but I'm certainly done with them. They're both very similar, and the second game - Beyond Castle Wolfenstein - is very much an evolution of the former - Castle Wolfenstein. In both games, you play a character whose job it is to navigate the maze of rooms in Castle Wolfenstein, avoid guards, find *something* and reach the end. In the first game you're a PoW trying to find the German war plans and escape the castle, and in the second game you're a resistance member trying to find a bomb to plant in Hitler's conference room and then escape. Both games play very similarly, and therein lies the problem. They were undoubtedly very innovative at the time with digitized voices, randomized maps and enemy/treasure drops, stealth gameplay, increasing difficulty levels, and separate movement and firing controls. It's that last one that is the sticking point. It's probably what would now be called 'twin-stick' control, but in those days that meant two hands on the keyboard (there is also a joystick option, which might have worked better, but I didn't use it). It is really hard trying to run around with one hand and aim and fire your gun with the other, especially when movement's so stuttery and if you hit a wall then your weapon is automatically holstered. To its credit, it's not really meant to be a shooter. It's much more about stealth - putting on guards' uniforms and sneaking about undetected. That mechanic didn't really seem to work well for me, though, I also had issues with grenades, which I couldn't get to work at all. You only get one life, as such, but when you die or are captured then you begin again from the start of the level, but all of the dead enemies stay dead. The map is only regenerated when a) you ask it to be, or b) you shoot a crate of explosives by mistake and blow the whole place sky high. The problem is that if you go round shooting guards willy-nilly then the SS start coming after you. These are super-strong soldiers who will pursue you relentlessly and stay in the same place on the map when you respawn. Normal bullets don't seem to have any effect on them (and I couldn't get the grenades to work), so the only way to defeat them is to pull a gun on them and get them to raise their hands in surrender, then search them and remove their bulletproof vest, meaning you can then shoot them normally. It doesn't always seem to work, though, and that led to many of my frustrations. Sometimes you'll search them and not find their vest (even though they're still wearing it), and other times they just won't surrender. Both things mean you're basically stuck because you can't get past them and they remain there even if you die. Ultimately, the games led me to almost Tintin levels of frustration, and that's definitely a sign that it's time to move on. As I say, they're definitely extremely innovative and pretty fun games for their time, but they're a little too frustrating for my modern, shallow tastes.

Next up is Wolfenstein 3D - a game that needs very little introduction. I played the shareware levels a ton when I was younger, but I'm not sure if I ever completed the full version...I'll see how much I remember.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Escaped the Sun

Urgh. Urrggh. Urrrggghhh. Anyone expecting Infogrames to have learned any of the lessons of the horrendously difficult Tintin in Tibet was sadly mistaken. Prisoners of the Sun builds on the frustrations of the previous game and magnifies them ten fold. This is a game built of pure hatred for the player. Random people will instantly kill you. Every jump is pixel perfect or you fall to your death. The time limit (I forgot to mention the timer in the last game) is even shorter. And this time there is even more back-tracking and maze-like levels than before. You will virtually never complete a level on your first go because you'll still be getting your bearings and time will run out - meaning instant death and back to the beginning of the level you go. It's evil, evil, evil. But I was determined to beat one of these darned Tintin games. I came so, so close to throwing my computer out of the window on so many occasions (Waterfall level, I'm looking at you), and I'm not ashamed to admit that I followed a Let's Play video on YouTube through certain levels to make sure I was going the right way, and in the end...in the end...I blinkin' well finished it. If achievements had existed back then, that would be an instant platinum. I love the Tintin comics so much, but the games...the games...never again.

Next up on the series list is the Wolfenstein games. The series actually starts back in the '80s with Castle Wolfenstein and its sequel before we hit the '3D' version that we all know and love. I'm not sure what those first two games are going to be like, but I'm looking forward to the id days.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Tibet-you-lose-this

Well, that must be one of the most hateful games ever, and I've played a few of them. Tintin in Tibet was made in the SNES/MD heyday and you can see that it was made for consoles first and ported to PC. It's a very typical platformer of that era, much like Aladdin and its ilk - dodge falling boulders, jump pits, that sort of thing. One thing that I will say is that it looks beautiful - especially after the previous CGA efforts. Just like the comics. But like those platform games of years ago, it's incredibly hard. One false move and it's instant death and you have to start the whole level again. There's something about Tintin in Tibet thought that makes it feel like it's got way more of those pain points than some other of those platformers did. Jumps are just that little bit wider, you don't see obstacles until a split second later...that kind of thing. If they'd just toned down the difficulty a little then it would have been a much more fun game - and I don't think this is just middle-aged me talking, I've read a lot of comments of people at the time saying they couldn't even get off the first level. It's that kind of game. Every level gets more and more frustrating than the last one. It's the kind of game that breaks joypads. I was determined to finish it, and made it to level 12 of 14 before having to call it quits. I'm stuck on a snowstorm level that I just can't get past. Essentially, it's the usual obstacles and pits level, but with a strong wind blowing you backwards making jumping those pits virtually impossible. Or in my case, actually impossible. I watched a video of the last couple of levels, and they look even more hateful than the one I'm stuck on now, so I don't feel like I'm missing much by not getting there. Prisoners of the Sun next, and I just hope it's not going to be as evil as this game...

...But I have a feeling it might be.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Looney

That's enough of Tintin on the Moon for me. It's one of those games from back in the day where every level is almost a completely different games in itself. I only made it as far as the first two, but the manual tells you what the others are like. It's from '89, and firmly set in the CGA-only era of the PC. There was an Amiga version that looked really nice, but the PC was horrible, horrible, horrible. The first stage sees you take off from the earth and you control Tintin's iconic space ship flying through the void in a Space Harrier-esque fashion, dodging asteroids and picking up blue and red spheres before your energy runs out - the blue ones are extra energy and you need to pick up 8 of the red ones to finish the level. It was absolutely impossible until I turned down the speed in DOSbox, then I was able to get through it. The next level is a platform affair where you have to run around the ship putting out fires and defusing bombs, and trying to catch the evil Jurgen. This is as far as I managed to get because my fire extinguisher ran out and I couldn't work out how to refill it. These two levels repeat a few times until you get to the last level, which involves landing on the moon itself. I just watched a Let's Play of the Amiga version, and it looks so much easier than the DOS version. Theirs is lovely and colourful and it's easy to make things out. In CGA it's virtually impossible to spot the fire extinguishers or the bombs to defuse. I don't know why they didn't call it Destination Moon, as that's the title of the book, and you don't actually play on the moon itself at all in this game. Ah well, I've given it a go.

Next up in the series is Tintin in Tibet. Let's hope it's as short as the last one!

Marathon...and on...and on

Finally, finally Marathon is finished. I cleared the last level at the weekend. I think my biggest feeling is relief that it's over rather than anything else. The last few levels (especially the final one) were especially painful. There's no big bad guy to defeat at the end of the game, your final mission is to find two key cards and place them in the correct spaces on the level. You don't even have to kill normal bad guys, as you have helpers on the level who will destroy all opposition for you. So, one level, two key cards, no enemies. Easy, right? I think it took me longer than any other level in the game to complete it because the level is so huge, and feels impossible to navigate by memory. I spent ages wandering around trying to find the key cards; ages wandering around trying to find the slots to insert the keycards into; and then ages wandering round after I'd completed everything else just trying to find a terminal I could activate to trigger the end of the game. It just wasn't any fun. It compounded all of my frustrations with the series without sending things off on a high note. Even the story didn't really end that well. The whole thing got more and more cod-philosophical as the game went on, and ended on an oh-so-mysterious note that just wasn't satisfying at all. Oh, except the final word is 'Destiny', which no doubt excited all of the Bungie fans playing their current game (although I have no idea if the stories in them are at all linked). I dunno. I feel like I'm being hard on it. People obviously love the series, and it is a well-produced game...I just spent too long wandering huge empty levels to get any real enjoyment out of it. Sorry Mac-lovers, but Marathon's not for me. I'm very, very glad it's over.

Next up on the series list is the Tintin games. Bit of a weird one, as they're not really related in any way, but I'm going to play through them in order. I've tried a couple of them before and they were pretty awful, so hopefully they won't take too long. I'll probably hit these before I make a start on Machiavelli. I downloaded the manual for it and it scared me, so I'm putting it off as long as possible!

Friday, 5 June 2015

Limbod

Limbod? Limboed? Limbowed? Limbood? I have no idea. Anyway, I completed Limbo last night. It's a pretty short game with infinite continues...the kind of game I like. It's basically a puzzle platformer full of instant deaths, but as soon as you die you start again just where you left off, so it's never a huge problem. The great victory of Limbo, though, is in its feel. It has a beautiful soft, silhouetted art style and a very gentle soundscape and pace. The puzzles are nicely thought out and mostly intuitive. There was only one place near the end where I didn't realise I could interact with signs to change gravity and had to have a quick look at a walkthrough. Other than that, it was pretty smooth sailing. That's not to say I didn't die. I did. Many, many, many times, but the instant continue mechanic meant it was never a big issue. There's basically only a left, right, jump and interact button, but they manage to cram an awful lot in with those simple controls. There are plenty of block puzzles, gravity puzzles, jumping puzzles, switch puzzles, alien mind worm puzzles...oh, and spiders. Big, beautifully animated spiders. It was really enjoyable, and a good change of pace. I also loved the fact it could be completed in a couple of hours, maybe less. More games like that, please!

Next up on the randometer is...Machiavelli the Prince! Hmmm, a management game focused on trading set in medieval Europe. I can't say I'm hugely looking forward to it, but I'll give it a go. First up, though, I'm going try and finish off Marathon Infinity. I think I'm about halfway through, maybe more, and I can't wait to get it over and done with. I've said it before about the other games in the series, it's not a bad game by any stretch, but the levels are so big and so easy to get lost on that I just find it infuriating!

Friday, 29 May 2015

A Town Called Malice

Yes, Prophecy of the Shadow does indeed contain a town called Malice. This one's full of mad monks, I'm not sure if it's the same one Paul Weller sang about. Anyway, I have finished the game. It's a bit of an odd one. It's presented as a bit of a 'starter RPG', with only a couple of stats for your character and a very short and straightforward quest. It was okay, but a little boring, and very, very slow...mainly just in the speed that your character walks. And, of course, there's a lot of backtracking across the map at this slow speed. There is a transporter system built in, but the gates themselves are so far off the beaten track that it's often quicker to just walk between the two points anyway. Bit of a waste - it would have been a great shortcut if it had worked. There's also a spell you can use to mark a place on the map and then teleport to that point at any time. This is good on the few occasions that you get to use it, but you only get to place one marker, which meant I tended to keep the one marker back in the middle of the map when it would have been nice to have a temporary one to be able to jump back to the start of dungeons after I'd finished them. The game also allows you to choose the path of a fighter or a mage (or both), and it kid of steers you toward mage being the one you were destined to take, but actually, mages are rubbish. Well, they might be good if the combat system gave you any chance at all of getting off spells before you're slaughtered. As it is, it makes much more sense to focus on being a pure fighter. That way you get a decent stat boost in your health/strength stat and you can actually hold your own in a fight. The couple of times you actually need to cast spells in the game can be done without much magic training, so there's little reason at all to follow the mage path. It's a shame, because there are actually some quite cool spells that are completely wasted. Oh, the story's also eerily reminiscent of Baldur's gate at the beginning...you live a sheltered life with your mentor until one day he's mysteriously killed and you have to head off on your own to find out what happened while being pursued by assassins...that's about as far as it goes, but it's enough to bring both games to mind.

Next up on the randometer is...Limbo! It's a beautiful looking silhouetted platformer from a few years ago. I played the demo on the PS3 a while back. Should be fun.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Snickers

I finally finished Marathon 2 over the weekend, so it's time for a few thoughts on the series so far. Generally, I'm a little in two minds about Marathon. I think I prefer my shooters a bit more visceral. I like the straightforward blasting of Doom over Marathon's slightly slower paced, and a little more cerebral side. In Marathon, it really feels like the levels are the stars of the show, not the enemies or the weapons. There's a lot more back story (which, to be honest, I didn't find that interesting), and it feels like you're progressing through something more epic rather than just mindlessly romping from one level to the next. In some ways, it's even the complete opposite of Bungie's later opus, Halo. Halo is more about the enemies, and wide open levels are built to exploit their AI, allowing them to flank you, etc. In Marathon there is no enemy AI (obviously there is, but it's basically just run towards the player and shoot), and the levels are much more confined with twisting corridors that loop around and over each other. In some ways this was necessitated by the technology of the time, but it's really interesting to compare the two games. All that sounds good, and there's no denying that Marathon is a good, solid game. There are things I don't like about it, though. I found it very easy to get lost in the levels, and the automap is next to useless. It's great that it's there, but a 2D map of a 3D level where higher paths almost always run over the top of lower ones was never going to be easy to read. This is made worse by the fact that there is a lot of backtracking. It doesn't have Doom's keycards, but it has switches, which are essentially the same thing - you still have to travel to point A to be able to open the door at point B. It's an obvious mechanic to push a character around a level in FPS games, but it's almost a little frustrating - it just feels like busy work. I know these games aren't supposed to be anything like real life, and this is just a snide remark, but come on, why would you have a switch on one side of a level that opens the door on the other side of the level? Anyway, the level design was one frustration. The other was the save system. Every level has save terminals where you can save your game as many times as you like - so far, so good. The problem is that you have to find these terminals, and they're not always in an obvious place. This leads to problems where, say, you have a terminal half way through level 1 where you last saved, you then make it to level 2 and spend half an hour wandering around before you die from falling into some lava. You then have to go all the way back to that previous save half way through level 1 and play through maybe an hour of content before you get back to where you were. I don't really mind the terminal system at all, but the one thing I really did want was an autosave at the beginning of each level. I don't think this would have harmed the difficulty balance of the game, but it would have eased my frustrations with it a lot. One of the main reasons why the Marathon games are taking me so long is because whenever I die, I really can't face going back and redoing everything that I've just done. Oh, and jumping, that's something that I know will annoy one of my readers. You can't jump in this game, you just automatically walk up small steps and your momentum will carry you across short gaps. The level designers will use this a lot, having chasms that you have to cross by criss-crossing between gaps, but it's really hard to judge how far you can actually 'jump', and it never feels satisfying. So that's Marathon. I've still got one more game in the series to go - Marathon Infinity (the name does not make it sound enticing to me). I think it's in pretty much the same engine as the other two - the first two games were also very similar (maybe because I'm playing remakes) with the second game bringing underwater travel into the mix...not something that I enjoyed at all! I've no idea what newness the third game will bring, but it'll be good to play it out and see where the story goes. I'll probably start it and pick up a level here and there, but I want to hit Prophecy of the Shadow next.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Baal Locks

So, Baal is pretty terrible. I had to slow things down in DosBox to make it playable, but that made the controls a little kludgy. To be honest, that could just be what they were like anyway. The PC port of the game is horrible compared to the Amiga version, but the basic gameplay is awful anyway. Apparently it's impossible to get to level 2 without cheating - needless to say I didn't make it that far. The problem is that not only is it very easy to die - touching an enemy, falling from a platform, stepping on a mine, etc. - but the game makes it very easy for you to become completely stuck at a dead end. You have a finite supply of fuel, and fuel pods don't respawn. So, if you use up all of your fuel and there are no fuel pods near you then it's impossible to continue. Great. And it's incredibly easy to waste fuel. Essentially, there are parts of the level where you have to use your jetpack to get from one pad to another, but you don't know where the other pad is (it could be anywhere on the massive level), and if you don't find it before your fuel runs out then you die. You're then teleported back to where you started from but with no fuel, so you're essentially stuck and have to start the game again. Ugh. I played it enough and got frustrated every time, so it's onwards for me.

Next up on the randometer is...Prophecy of the Shadow! Oooh, I always wanted to play this back in the day. It's an old SSI RPG, one of their first without the D&D licence and featuring digitised actors. I remember it looked pretty cool at the time. And I really must try and get through a bit more Marathon...never was a game more aptly named.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Scrolled

I had a couple more games of Scrolls over the weekend but for some reason the game just doesn't click with me. I've enjoyed most of the collectible card games that I've played (which is what Scrolls is), but this one just doesn't quite do it. The main difference with Scrolls to other card games is that here instead of defeating a single opponent's life pool, you instead have to destroy 3 of his 5 idols - with each idol having a set amount of health. When you play your own creatures to attack, you can play them into one of 5 lanes, so they can only attack one idol at a time. Also, by default, creatures don't deal damage when they're defending and they don't heal between rounds, so matches rapidly devolve into wars of attrition where you play a creature only to have it killed next go, so you play another creature and the same thing happens, etc., etc. You go on for a while doing this until a) you draw the right card to break the stalemate, or b) you draw the wrong card and die. You could argue that it's the same thing in most other games of this type, but with Scrolls there isn't really any other strategy, and the lanes mechanic really encourages the attrition mentality - you can't play it any other way except by dropping creature fodder. Obviously I didn't play it long enough to discover all of its intricacies, but those were my impressions. Presentation-wise, it's great, you get to see every monster attacking and the animations and art style are lovely, it's just not very interesting. None of the cards I saw inspired me or made me think about deck construction in any meaningful way - compare this with games like Magic, which has a mass of different mechanics and strategies. Sure, you can build some theme decks with synergies, like a rat deck or a knight deck, but you can't really mess with your opponent or react to anything they do (you can only play cards on your own turn), and I didn't see many 'meta' game cards. Maybe this stuff does exist and it's a better game than I'm giving it credit for, but the fact that this was the follow-up game from Mr. Minecraft, and the whole 'scrolls' thing with Bethesda gave it masses of extra publicity, and it still pretty much sank without a trace makes me think that actually my summation of it isn't that far off the mark. It's a perfectly okay game if you're bored and have nothing better to do, but mechanically it's just not very interesting at all. A bit of a disappointment. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...Baal! It's a platform run'n'gun from Psygnosis in the late 80s. I don't remember the game at all, so it'll be interesting to see what it's like. I also noticed there were a couple of games I hadn't marked as complete on the list, so there's a bonus couple more on the stats page.

Friday, 15 May 2015

My Bullet Hell

It turns out I'm about as good at bullet-hell shooters as I thought I was...rubbish. Actually, I did really enjoy Jamestown. It's a good introduction to the genre with the main levels being more like traditional shmups before the true screen-filling bullety goodness of the bosses. The game has a system where to unlock later levels you need to complete the earlier ones at higher difficulties. My first reaction to this was pure annoyance at having content locked away and having to go back and redo levels, but it actually works out pretty well. The levels are all pretty short, so doing them again doesn't take too long, and it does give you the practice that you need to progress further in the game. So how far did I get? Well, I beat the final level and reached the final boss. I beat the first form of the final boss, but the second form did for me. I played it again a few times, but I haven't been able to even get back to the second form again, let alone beat it. I really have reached the limit of my twitch gameplay skills. Still, I was pretty happy that I managed to make it that far. I think I probably could beat it if I played nothing but Jamestown for the next few weeks, but that wouldn't be much fun, and it would really hurt my thumbs. You can also play the game multiplayer, which I think would be great. Have to give that a go one day. Oh, and the story and graphics are great - it's an alternate universe where we conquered Mars in the 17th century, so England and Spain are still at war with each other over the colonies. It makes no difference at all to the game itself, obviously, but it gives it a unique and really nice feel. Good stuff!

Next up on the randometer is...Scrolls! This could be a bit of a weird one. Scrolls is the card game that Mojang (creators of Minecraft) made. I played it a little bit before, but wasn't *that* impressed with it. It's all very well presented, it just felt really slow. Obviously there's no 'end' as such to a card game, but I'll give it a bit of a play over the weekend and see how I get on. Oh, and Marathon. I really must get through Marathon. There's stuff I want to say about it, but I'll save it for a proper write up.