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.