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!