Organ Trail: Director’s Cut (Multi-Platform)

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Just like in Oregon trail, things break on your station wagon, friends get hurt. They may get bit by a zombie and you may be forced to put them down, or they may get dysentary, or one of 9 other diseases, and if you don’t heal them with medkits they eventually die. ~Grace Snoke

Organ Trail: Director’s Cut

Published by: The Men Who Wear Many Hats

Available for: iOS, Android, PC, Mac, Linux and Steam

Reviews on: PC and Android Genre: Choose-your-own-adventure Zombie survival

Released: Jan. 10, 2013

Depending on your age, you may remember playing the Sierra Games classic, Oregon Trail, at school. If you were really lucky, and your parents had a lot of money, you got to play it on an Apple II at home. Personally, I remember playing the game a lot at school and only getting to the end once. It was a hard game filled with a lot of hard choices for a 10-year-old. But it’s a game we look back on fondly.

“NAME died of dysentery” is probably one of the most common quotes people give from the game.

If you miss the game, or just want to revisit the classic, you can download it and play it through Chrome here:http://www.virtualapple.org/oregontraildisk.html

Organ-trail

But if you want to see the modern take on the game, which is what this article is about, check out Organ Trail – a morbid twist on the iconic Oregon Trail game. Produced by The Men Who Wear Many Hats and released Jan. 10, 2013, the game is available for purchase, download and play via iOS, Android, PC, Mac, Linux and Steam. You can play a flash version of their game, for free, here:http://hatsproductions.com/organtrail.html

They describe the game as “a retro zombie survival game. Travel westward in a station wagon with 4 of your friends, scavenging for supplies and fending off the undead; Faithfully recreated it as if it were on the Apple 2. Packed full of zombie mechanics, themes and references; this is a must have for any zombie survival fans.”

I first encountered Organ Trail at PAX East 2012 when it was still in development and was enamoured with the idea and kept an eye on it as it developed. When Humble Bundle had it as a part of one of their Android bundles, I immediately picked up the bundle so i could play and test the game on multiple platforms. It’s rare that I get the opportunity to play games on more than one platform and see how they compare to each other.

Organ-trail

You start the game learning there has been a zombie apocalypse. You have to fight your way to safety. As you are fighting, you are joined by a priest named Clements. He rescues you and asks you if you know of anyone who would be handy in this situation. You and him talk and head to D.C. to pick up your friends…in a station wagon.

I won’t spoil the story too much, but Clements isn’t with you for long, but gives you his diary to help you out, explaining how much of what things you need. You and your party leave D.C. to head cross country with the supplies you’ve scavenged thus far. Just like in Oregon trail, things break on your station wagon, friends get hurt. They may get bit by a zombie and you may be forced to put them down, or they may get dysentary, or one of 9 other diseases, and if you don’t heal them with medkits they eventually die. As you travel from city to city, you have to scavenge for supplies such as food, ammo, fuel, money, medkits and car scraps and upgrades to survive. You can also buy, sell or trade for items at each town or rest stop. Pay close attention to the health of your car and your party members. Rest to heal, but know for each hour you rest you consume food. Repair your car when needed. You can even take on jobs at towns to earn money or parts.

Organ-trail

As you travel, you have to survive driving through a horde of zombies, being chased by zombie dogs and other animals or fighting off bikers and bandits. Factor in a day and night cycle and a weather system and the game becomes very interesting and challenging.

I have yet to reach the final location of the game on the West Coast on either PC or Android, but I have made it decently far before I died. The game creates a custom tombstone with a phrase of your choice when you die and your score can be posted to the leaderboards.

Gameplay: 8/10 for PC; 5 of 10 for Android
There is a huge difference in controls for this game depending on the platform it’s played on. For PC, the controls were great. You were able to aim your rifle with your mouse and move around better than when playing on Android. With Android, you can try to aim the rifle, but unless you are very accurate with your fingers and you don’t slip up, it’s hard to aim and hit the zombies coming after you.

Organ-trail

 

Graphics: 9/10 for both
If you keep in mind that the game is 16-bit and still looks good while being a stylized-retro game, you’ll understand why I rate the graphics 9/10. It’s not designed to look like a modern game. It’s designed to look like a late 80’s game and in that aspect they did extremely well.

Sound: 9/10
Also created in classic, retro tradition, the music fits the 16-bit game. If you’re interested in the game’s soundtrack, you can download all of the tracks, for free from here:http://hatsproductions.com/organtrailsoundtrack.html

Story: 8/10
The story is very simple, very easy to follow and in the same mindset of Oregon Trail. Long story short, you’re traveling West to escape the zombie apocalypse with your friends in a Station Wagon.

Organ-trail

 

Overall: 8.5/10
Packed full of zombie mechanics, themes, references and challenges, this is an extremely fun and frustrating retro zombie survival game. If you liked Oregon Trail as a kid, this is another game you would enjoy on any platform. If you want to test it out before you buy it, play the flash version linked above.

Disclaimer:  Author purchased the games through Humble Bundle and chose to review the game with her purchase.  No codes were given in exchange for review.

Containment: The Zombie Puzzler

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Containment: The Zombie Puzzler

Do you like games wtih zombies?  Do you like puzzle games?  What if there was a game that put those two things together?  There is.  Learn more about Containment A Zombie Puzzler in this review.

Containment - The Zombie Puzzler

I recently acquired Containment A Zombie Puzzler through Indie Royale’s May Hurray Bundle.  Having heard of the game from a number of friends who are game developers as well as hearing about the game being selected for PAX 10 this year and seeing as a part of the bundle, I decided to get it.  Fast forward to July and I finally got around to playing it.

Unlike a lot of zombie games, this is not a shooter.  This is not a see how long you can survive.  This is not a run for your life, you’re going to be eaten by zombies, nor is it close to Plants vs. Zombies.  It’s a true puzzle game WITH zombies and boss zombies you have to fight.

Containment - The Zombie Puzzler

The game has two play modes:  Campaign and Survival mode.

In Campaign mode, you play through three acts which tells a story of how the zombie apocalypse started, what people are doing to survive.  The story is actually pretty entertaining and leads into new puzzles as you go on through the story.  Each act has 5 parts.  Depending on how good you are at puzzles and how fast you are at moving people around in the game will tell you how long it will take you to complete it.  The campaign will take at least 2 to 3 hours to complete.

Containment - The Zombie Puzzler

In Survival mode, you have to complete puzzles quickly.  You get rated on how many zombies are killed, time it takes to complete and how many survivors you have.  There are 3 different survival modes and you can rank up against other s in the game Leaderboard depending on how well you do.

Both versions are a lot of fun to play, but I have to say that Campaign mode gets harder and harder with new zombies and new bosses to defeat at each stage and Survival mode gets harder the further you get into the game.

Containment - The Zombie Puzzler

Did I mention that the zombies can turn your puzzle pieces into zombies?  I think I forgot to mention that.

I mentioned this was a puzzle game.  You get 4 types of non-zombies:  The Soccer Mom (as I call her) dressed in Pink, Army Dude dressed in Green. Police Officer in Blue and Anarchist in Orange.  To defeat the zombies, you have to surround on four sides (corners do not apply) with the same color.  You can surround groups of zombies.  Zombies on the edges only have to have 2 sides (sometimes three sides) before they are killed.  The colors vary each time for the fighters.  As you use them, they disappear and more fill in from the top.  Continue matching colors as you can until you defeat all the zombies.  But you have to do it quickly, otherwise the zombies will keep eating your defenders and you will run out of defenders and lose the round.

Containment - The Zombie Puzzler

You get bonus points for various events in the game, such as if you trap zombies or have a cascade effect. A cascade effect is where defenders drop down into a region and can automatically surround and kill a zombie already there.

Containment - The Zombie Puzzler

A nice feature of the game is you can restart individual blocks in an act, or the entire level.  It’s up to you.  If you fail, you get to chose where to restart as well.

Overall, as a puzzle game, this was pretty fun, especially as it tells a story.  In addition to putting puzzles together, you get bonus items to use (grenades, firebombs, airplane attack, etc.) but you also kill your people with those attacks.  There are also areas where you can interact with the environment to blow pieces of it up.

Containment - The Zombie Puzzler

There are also additional mini puzzles in the game.  For example, in one act, you need to surround several power supplies with defenders of the same color.  While defeating zombies and preventing zombies from walking into the group and turning them.   This game definitely makes you think.

The only downside of the game is the freaky repetitive noises.  The sounds get quite annoying after a while.

If you like puzzle games and zombies, this is a great game to add to your collection.  This is available on PC through Steam, as well as for iPads and other iDevices through ITunes.

For more information on Containment or on the development company, BootSnake Games, you can visit the following websites:

Game Rating: 4/5

You can also check out this video by bootsnake games  to see some gameplay:

Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom

Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom (1982)
By: Sega Genre: Shooting Players: Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 23,297 (one credit)
Also Available For: Master System, SG-1000, PC, MSX, Commodore 64, Commodore VIC-20, ZX Spectrum, TI-99/4A, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari XE, ColecoVision, Coleco Adam, Intellivision
Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

It may have taken a few years but it still wasn’t long before the first few licensed video games started to appear. One of the first such games to grace an amusement arcade was this example, by my beloved Sega no less, and was based on the (mis)adventures of Captain Rogers. Well, I say ‘based’ but this is a game that, name aside, has pretty much nothing to do with the source material – something that would become a familiar story in the years to come – but as we all know, that doesn’t necessarily make it a sucky game, just an unfaithful one. Planet of Zoom, for example, takes the form of an into-the-screen shooter. Nothing unusual there for a 70’s sci-fi show, I’ll grant you – plenty of shooting done in most of those. However, as long as it might have been since I’ve immersed myself in the gallant exploits of Buck, Wilma, and Twiki, nothing else from the game seems familiar.

Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

Actually, now that I think about it, I can’t even be sure that we’re playing the game as Buck! Oh well, whoever may be at the controls, it’s your job to guide their ship through a tonne of dangerous stuff, and the best means of doing this is by blasting the crap out of it all. To this end, the ship offers unlimited use of its cannon, and you can also move it around the screen freely and increase or decrease its speed as you see fit. Each round is divided into eight stages (or sectors) of which there are three types – trench (as seen in the screenshot to the right), open space (next shot down), and planet (bottom shot) – but the object of each is the same; namely, to either fulfill an enemy quota or to finish within the time limit. If you can take down the required number of enemies before the time expires, you’ll move on to the next stage with any remaining time awarded as bonus points. If the timer runs down before you do this, you’ll still progress but with no bonus.

Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

Most of the stages merely pit you against various kinds of oncoming enemies which include many flying saucers, hopping ground-based buffoons, red/purple versions of your own ship (almost), fast winged vessels, and angry-looking grey/red craft. As well as being mighty dangerous by themselves, most of them can also fire missiles and stuff at you, and there are also a few other hazards too. One of the trench stages features a series of barriers with gaps on the left, right, or middle, one of the planetary stages has a load of weird slalom-style gates (which offer only your continued existence as a reward for passing though them), and there is also a stage featuring a much larger boss ship which, for some reason, attacks with its back to you allowing you to simply blast all four of its engines to see it off. Defeating this befuddled clot isn’t too hard and each time you do it’s on to the next round where the stages are in a different order.

Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

This process goes on forever as far as I can tell, which means things could potentially get more than a little repetitive. Fortunately, the action is fast and involving enough to keep this from setting in too much. The stages all look the same each time they’re repeated but they work well – the scrolling is pretty fast and the enemies move quickly via some superb scaling. The colouring is also impressive with lovely pixelly explosions, nice shaded skies, and even some occasional eye-melting psychedelic effects on some spacey stages. The sound is a little more basic, consisting only of a constant blooping sound (the ship’s engine?), as well as shooting and explosion effects. They’re loud though, and do contribute to the enjoyment of Buck’s adventure which is a pretty decent one. I think it’s clear Sega’s inspiration for Space Harrier lies here, and the later game is understandably the one that’s more fondly remembered, but I was pleasantly surprised by its spiritual predecessor which is more playable in some ways as well as being slightly easier. Buck and friends may have a pretty limited involvement but they can still be fairly proud of this.

RKS Score: 7/10

Rise of the Dragon

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Rise of the Dragon

Rise of the Dragon is set in Los Angeles in the year 2053.  It’s a surprisingly mature-themed game, with drug overdoses, criminal behavior, and gruesome deaths all important plot elements.  The player assumes the role of William “Blade” Hunter, a private detective tasked with quietly solving who gave the Mayor’s daughter a fatal dose of a new designer drug, MTZ.  It seems MTZ creates monsters by altering its users’ DNA, and the Mayor is very torqued that his daughter turned into one, but not enough to call for a public investigation.  That’s where Blade comes in.  Along the way, a dire threat to L.A. is uncovered involving MZT and the head of the Chinese mafia, Deng Hwang, “The Dragon.”

Rise-of-the-Dragon

 

This game was a visual masterpiece, with its game backgrounds and portraits all hand drawn by Robert Caracol, of Dark Horse Comics fame, and ran in 256-color VGA.  The critics agreed, and Rise of the Dragon received the “Special Award For Artistic Achievement” in 1991 by Computer Gaming World, arguably the most influential PC gaming magazine at the time of the game’s release.

Rise-of-the-Dragon

 

Rise of the Dragon plays out in a real-time environment.  Blade has only three game days to solve the mystery, and the clock is ticking.  Every action costs time, especially travelling from one area of the game map to another.  Strategic play is a must, here, as time of day is an important game element, and must be accounted for.  For instance, some locations are accessible only at certain times, such as City Hall.  More importantly, Blade isn’t a super-human, and needs sleep.  He’ll doze off around 1am every evening, no matter where he is.  This leads to the amusing instance of Blade collapsing on the street and falling asleep, which quickly loses its charm when you realize that he was robbed during the night and you’ve randomly lost important inventory items.  In short, it’s best to get Blade home before he turns into a pumpkin.

Rise-of-the-Dragon

 

The real-time environment also plays out in character interaction.  What Blade says and does to each character will influence his future interactions with them or their friends (or enemies).  This can have devastating effects on game play as a snide remark that seemed so appropriate at the time can limit Blade’s access to important game areas, and make the game’s ending untenable. Again, it’s best to save before any character interaction to avoid running into a dead end (or use the hint book…but I digress).

Rise-of-the-Dragon

 

Rise of the Dragon was a moderate success for Dynamix, neither setting the PC game sales charts on fire, nor being a dismal failure, and was released on several platforms: IBM-PC in 1990, Apple Macintosh and Commodore Amiga in 1991, and a modified version for Sega CD in 1993.  It sold well enough to warrant a sequel, Heart of China, set in the 1930s, but the sequel parade ended there.  Regardless of how it fared, Rise of the Dragon remains a classic PC game that the pcgamerverse has forgotten, but well-worth the time to replay!

Lost Planet 2

Lost-Planet-2-

Everyone knows that it’s more fun to read a bad review than it is to read a good one. One thing you learn quickly in journalism school is that it’s also more fun to write a bad review. This simple fact has led me to always let myself cool off before writing a piece on something that has gotten under my skin. Even with this cool down period, I still find myself cursing Lost Planet 2.

The original Lost Planet was released in early 2007 for the Xbox 360 and later for the PC and Playstation 3. The third-person shooter showcased battles against massive bugs called the Akrid and impressive snow-covered environments. The story focused on Wayne, a young man who joins up with a group of Snow Pirates to combat the nefarious plans of NEVEC, your typical evil corporation.

The unmemorable story was given a pass because of how fun it was to jump in mechs known as Vital Suits (VS) and blast away soldiers and Akrid alike.

Lost Planet 2 receives no such pass. Now, in addition to an even more forgettable story, gamers must slog through a fundamentally broken game.

Lost-Planet-2-

Set a decade after the original, Lost Planet 2 features six episodes, each told from a different perspective. The snow-covered world of EDN III has been thawing for 10 years, causing an increase in Akrid activity. Many rival factions are fighting for the precious thermal energy (T-ENG) that is harvested from the big bugs. The plots of each individual episode intertwine in various ways but the ties are not strong enough to form a decent narrative. Characters in each episode are interchangeable thanks to Capcom’s decision to mask every character in the game. Your armor clad heroes are so indistinguishable that in one cutscene I believed my character had been killed, when in reality it was just a teammate that looked identical to the protagonist.

Lost-Planet-2-

The few times the plot gains momentum it fails due to the game’s pace-killing mission structure. Each episode is divided into chapters and each chapter is divided into several missions. The missions last at most 15 minutes, so any action packed sections end just as they really get going. Some of the shorter missions barely last five minutes making the front and back-end loading and statistics reports jarring and disruptive. Breaking up the chapters in this manner seems even more pointless when you consider the fact that you can’t save your game between missions.

The episode environments are varied but you’ll end up doing basically the same thing in every one. While the game tells you that the objective is to take control of a train or cause a mining drill to spin out of control it always comes down the same thing: taking control points. The T-ENG data-posts from the original game seem to be the most important thing on EDN III. These points are apparently the only control scheme on the planet so every mission has you capturing all of the posts on the map while shooting waves of faceless goons.

Lost-Planet-2-

While gaining control of the precious posts various small forms of Akrid will harass your squad and every so often a massive Category-G beast will show up. The battles against these colossal Akrid should be the thrilling highlights of the game. In reality they’re just as tedious as the standard objectives. Everyone weapon in the game, including those attached to the various Vital Suits, slowly chip away at the Cat-Gs’ life bars. The battles start out thrilling but a few minutes in it devolves into shooting the glowing weak point with your pea-shooters until the bug drops.

The Cat-G fights showcase just how little thought was put into Lost Planet 2′s design. In the very first encounter you’ll be forced to spend 15 minutes slowly killing the Akrid with the default machine gun. As the beast rises out of a lake you get a great view of Vital Suits and rocket launchers. The problem is, they’re on the other side of a door that doesn’t open until after thebattle. All the wonderful toys are for mopping up leftover Akrid while activating, you guessed it, data-posts.

Lost-Planet-2-

The design missteps drive the fun from Lost Planet 2. The clear focus on co-op makes playing solo an exercise in futility. The mini-map doesn’t indicate the altitude of objectives making finding data-posts in cluttered levels more tedious than normal. There are quicktime events peppered throughout the cutscenes but they’re so infrequent that it’s easy to put the controller down and forget they even exist. When one does pop up you have to fumble to find it and input a single button press. I know just about everyone complains about QTE-heavy games but putting just a random few into a title doesn’t solve anything. Unlocks provided by a slot machine more likely to give you nick-names than weapons, the fact that when hit you can’t fire back, being knocked-back by every attack (often sending you off a level), atrocious AI; the list of poor ideas grows more and more as you play the game.

Then there’s the unnecessarily convoluted controls. Buttons are given four or five uses causing you to often do the exact opposite of what you meant to. Want to transfer T-ENG to teammates so they can heal themselves? Press triangle and L1. Press triangle a split-second too soon and you’ll switch weapons instead. Press L1 a split-second too soon and you’ll throw a grenade at your pals. To activate a data-post you repeatedly tap circle. That also happens to be the button for melee attacks. I often found myself smacking data-posts with the butt of my rifle instead of activating them. It’s also sprint so you could very well just run past the posts.

Lost-Planet-2-

Capcom also expects you to read the game’s manual. While this is something I frequently do, major features should also get a mention in the in-game tutorial. The dodge roll, an very important maneuver, isn’t even referenced in the control page of the options menu. By the way, it’s executed by pressing X and L3 at the same time. Yes, dodge rolling forces you to either use the uncomfortable claw method of holding the controller or take your thumb off the right stick, causing you to lose the ability to stay focused on what you’re escaping from.

Also omitted from the game’s tutorial are the T-ENG powered weapon caches. The glowing boxes require an infusion of the precious energy to open up. The weapons inside are almost always worth the sacrifice but if you don’t read the manual there’s no clue about how to open them.

I desperately wanted to like Lost Planet 2. Capcom’s MT Framework engine does a stellar job making the massive Akrid and environments look great. The music conveys an epic feeling and the front-end menus are well-crafted. The game isn’t completely devoid of fun. Playing with friends greatly improves the experience but in the end it’s still a prime example of wasted potential. For every thing the game does right there are three or four truly awful design choices. Lost Planet 2 is easily the biggest disappointment, so far, of 2010.

Lost Planet 2 was developed and published by Capcom. It was released on May 11, 2010 for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. A PC version will be released on May 18, 2010. A copy was purchased by this author for review on the Playstation 3.

Micro Machines

Micro Machines - sega genesis

Micro Machines (1991)
By: Code Masters Genre: Overhead Racing Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis
Also Available For: Master System, Game Gear, SNES, NES, Game Boy, CDi, PC, Amiga

People will always have differing opinions of things. Whether it’s games, films, music or anything else you can think of; there will always be at least one person that worships something and another who hates it with just as much passion. However, generally speaking, good things are regarded as good by the majority and likewise bad things remain bad. This is as true of video games as anything else but there’s bound to be a few people that dislike well-regarded games and that includes me – it was the whole reason I created the ‘Overrated!’ feature here at Red Parsley of course. I’ve only covered four games so far though, which suggests it isn’t something that happens too often, but if there was one game I always had at the back of my mind to add to the feature, it would be this one. I don’t think there’s any game so universally lauded that I dislike, but I caught a lot of flak for its omission from my recent Top Five so I figured it was as good a time as any to address the issue!

Micro Machines - sega genesis

Micro Machines themselves – the little toys – are pretty cool. I’ve even collected a few such as the range they released based on the awesome Babylon 5, and when the game was released it was met with universal acclaim from reviewers and players alike. I’ve always been keen on games of this type so I sought it out with the utmost haste. Being equally keen on my splendid MegaDrive, it was this version I plumped for and first impressions of the game were… superb! The presentation is outstanding with nice cartoony intro and options screens which give you the choice between single or multi-player games. The latter offers the choice of ‘Single Race’ or ‘Tournament’ for two players while the former allows you to choose between ‘Head to Head’ or ‘Challenge’ games, and it is the first of these that I prefer by some way which is basically the two-player mode but against a CPU-controlled opponent.

Micro Machines - sega genesis

Before starting you first need to choose your own character as well as your opponent’s from a selection of eleven cartoony human oafs whose skill level supposedly increases gradually from one to the next. You’ll then race each other in your various miniature vehicles over a series of courses based on household locales. The first, for example, sees you racing powerboats around a bubbly bath tub! Other vehicles include Sports Cars, Formula One Cars, Tanks, Turbo Wheels (buggies), Warriors (hot rods), 4×4’s, and Choppers, and they are raced around the house on things like desk tops, breakfast tables, snooker tables, and even around the workshop and garden. All race locations feature items and obstacles appropriate to their setting which most of the time make themselves unwelcome. In the two-player Single Race mode you can choose a vehicle which is then raced over its ‘home’ course, but in all other play modes the courses are arranged in order and you have to win one to see the next.

Micro Machines - sega genesis

Unfortunately, this is where the problems start, at least as far as I’m concerned. The single player Challenge mode features a series of twenty four races which includes several courses based on each house location with corresponding vehicle type used. Races are against three CPU vehicles with very simple rules – complete the required number of laps and finish in the highest position possible. If you finish in the top two, you can move on to the next race. If not, you’ll lose a life. All the other play modes feature one-on-one races, whether that’s human vs the computer or another human. On the left side of the screen are eight coloured circles – four red, four blue. The object is to turn all the circles your own colour which is done by getting far enough ahead of your rival that they drop off the screen. Each time you manage this, a circle is filled in your favour. This can make races very short or immense endurance contests depending on the skill and luck of the participants, with the latter playing a notably more prominent role than the former in my experience.

Micro Machines - sega genesis

There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, in all head-to-head play modes, by their very nature you’re frequently racing high up the screen with little warning or view of upcoming corners and obstacles. Secondly, the design of the courses, while original and very appealing, also leaves masses of obstacles all over the place which not only slow you down if you hit them, but are also very easy to get stuck behind. On top of that, many of the courses take place on a table or something similar which means slipping over the edge and crashing to your doom is also commonplace. I can’t really say the courses gradually increase in complexity and difficulty as you might expect, either – the course that makes me most angry is only the third, and the one after it is a piece of cake! As annoying as all this stuff can be, it’s all manageable in slower vehicles like the 4×4’s or Tanks, but when you have to zoom around courses in fast, skiddy vehicles like the Sports or Formula One cars, mistakes come often which soon proves immensely frustrating.

Micro Machines - sega genesis

It might seem like a game that’s hard to get pissed at judging by the screenshots though. As mentioned, the presentation is fantastic, and the audio is great too, with plenty of catchy tunes and various noises. Graphically, there are no flashy special effects or anything here and it’s easy to see why the game looks more or less the same across a variety of systems, but it’s still very pleasing on the eyes nonetheless. It’s certainly a mighty colourful game and the appropriately tiny vehicles all look nice enough as they career through the smoothly-scrolling courses, but the varied backgrounds and the great attention to detail is where the work has really been done. Most of them show great creativity and are filled with a conveniently-arranged mess befitting their setting. For example, the breakfast table course is marked out by Cheerios (or something similar) and has various foodstuffs dotted around like waffles and fruit. On-course obstructions are caused by spillages such as baked beans, and there’s even a cereal-box jump!

Micro Machines - sega genesis

Most of the other courses are just as detailed and imaginative, and discovering their various sights and features is highly enjoyable the first few times you race them. However, as amusing and comedic as the game may be, the object is still surely to make progress and win races while having fun, not instead of? Success comes from driving round the more difficult courses time and time again until you can do so blindfolded; until you can do so without making even the tiniest mistake. Doing so is immensely tense/exciting during the race and immensely satisfying afterwards, but this is likely to happen far less than the alternative which I at least found incredibly frustrating and rage-inducing: winning, winning, doing well, BANG! … stuck behind trackside object, near-instant last place… racing, racing, doing well again, regain the lead, skid a teeny bit too far on a corner, fall off the table, near-instant last place, racing, cross the finish line in last place, lost a life… GrrrrrRRRRRR!!!!

Micro Machines - sega genesis

Okay, I know I’m probably going to take a right kicking from the legions of Micro Machines fans who loved and still love this game and its sequels; I know its faults that annoy me so are mainly limited to certain courses on which the faster vehicles are used, and even then can be found in many other overhead racers (though not nearly so prominently, I submit), but I can scarcely recall any gaming experience that makes me as angry as this one is capable of doing – something which is much more pronounced in the Challenge mode in which you have to manage to go without making a mistake for much longer than the short bursts of skill/luck required in the other modes. Control of the vehicles is flawless though, admittedly, and with two players, both of you are as disadvantaged as each other I suppose (unless one has had a lot more practise!) but winning is still often more down to luck than skill.

Micro Machines - sega genesis
Based on my prior experiences with this game I was preparing to give is cursory play to refresh my mind, then duly unleash the diatribe it deserves and give it a very low score, but I suppose I have to begrudgingly admit that I enjoyed Micro Machines much more this time. It’s still reallyannoying though, and frequently so – some times I’ll play it and do extremely well, even having enormous fun in the process, then catch myself thinking “this game is great, I was wrong, I’ll give a glowing review!”, but then my next session with it makes me angrier than ten Incredible Hulks and I end up smashing stuff up. The ideas behind the game are amazingly great and there’s many laughs to be had here, but in the end, this is a great example of a game that can be effing awesome and incredibly annoying, often within seconds of each other! Does that make it terrible game? No, I guess not, but it’s not a great one either in my opinion, sorry.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9m08miUSCHI[/youtube]

RKS Score: 6/10

 

Gauntlet

Gauntlet_Atari

Gauntlet (1985)
By: Atari Genre: Maze / Run ‘n’ Gun Players: 1-4 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 20,332 (starting with 2000 health)
Also Available For: Master System, MegaDrive, NES, Lynx, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, Apple II, Atari 8-bits, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the ‘Maze Games’ feature here at Red Parsley arrived at the Gauntlet series for a review but the decision to return to it wasn’t a hard one. This is mainly because it’s one of my favourite games but I’ve actually spent surprisingly little time with the arcade original. The decent conversion for the Spectrum occupied much of my time in the late 80’s before the fantastic Gauntlet 4 arrived on the MegaDrive (basically a conversion of the first game but with tonnes of extras) and occupied much of my time in the 90’s as well! The series certainly has its detractors, though, who argue that it’s repetitive and frustrating. I definitely didn’t agree with them back then but perhaps time has dulled the appeal of Atari’s classic. Henceforth, I shall find out…
Gauntlet_Atari

The basic gameplay of Gauntlet (and Dandy – see below) must surely be known by near enough all gamers by now but for the benefit of those who have somehow missed it, it works like this: between one and four players can play simultaneously but first each needs to choose a character from the four available – Thor the Warrior (who has good fighting strength), Thyra the Valkyrie (who has strong armour), Merlin the Wizard (who has strong magic), and Questor the Elf (who is the quickest). From then on, your party (or maybe just you) are faced with an unending series of overhead-viewed dungeons filled to the brim with malevolent beasties intent on shortening your adventure! Whether they do or not is entirely up to you though, as each coin you insert gives your character health points and you can insert coins, and therefore play, forever if you want.
Gauntlet_Atari

There are six types of enemy altogether – Grunts, Ghosts, Demons, Sorcerers, Lobbers, and Death. All of them except Death are created endlessly by generators placed all around the maze-like stages which have three strength levels with each monster they create being of the same level. The generators can be destroyed in the same way as the monsters they produce – either by shooting or fighting them one at a time or by collecting potions and using magic which clears some or most enemies on screen in one go. The strength of both of these attacks depends on the character chosen although special potions can also be found occasionally which boost an aspect of a character’s abilities – extra shot power or extra armour, for example. Watch out though – a pesky thief appears now and then and it’s these abilities that he’s most keen on stealing. Deaths appears in smaller numbers than the other enemies but they can only be killed by magic – otherwise they’ll drain 200 health points before disappearing. Grrrr!
Gauntlet_Atari

The stages themselves are each around two screens wide by two screens tall, although some loop instead, and they are usually designed in as maze-like a way as possible. Most include several paths, some of which are often dead-ends. There are usually many doors blocking off sections that must be opened by finding keys and some stages feature teleporters which move you to the nearest similar device. Treasure chests for bonus points are abundant but far rarer are special medallions that grant temporary invisibility (the enemies home in on you as far as possible otherwise) which are a welcome, albeit brief, reprieve when they are encountered. Each player character gradually loses health points as the game wears on anyway but contact from enemies does of course reduce them much faster so it’s a good idea to keep an eye open for revitalising food which comes in two forms – cider, which can be shot, and what looks like roast dinners, which cannot.
Gauntlet_Atari

As original and distinctive as it seemed at the time though, the concept of Gauntlet may not have been entirely born in the futuristic labs of Atari’s secret underground bunker. Ed Logg, credited as designer of Gauntlet, may or may not have had one eye on an Atari 8-bit game called Dandy, released two years previously, while putting his game together but the two titles certainly have some similarities. Whoever was responsible though, Gauntlet was the game which rose to prominence and it’s one that’s attracted and maintained a sizeable fan-base over the years. There could be many reasons for its enduring popularity but the simple fact is Atari’s game was available to a much wider audience, and arguably came at a much more convenient time as well.
Gauntlet_Atari

Another reason for Gauntlet’s success over that of Dandy could simply be that it was better. It has a huge number of stages for one thing – a hundred unique dungeons which appear in random order from the eighth one onwards, and after the hundredth stage they start repeating as well so it’s a game without end! The cast of characters, both heroes and villains are also very memorable too. The differing attributes of each – shot strength and speed, magic power, fighting ability, armour, etc – meant that everyone had their favourite even if the differences between them became purely cosmetic once a few of the special potions had been collected which each boost one that character’s attributes accordingly. The relentless onslaught of enemy creatures pouring from their respective generators meant that you rarely get a minute’s peace too!
Gauntlet_Atari

The enormous abundance of evil creatures to slay may make Gauntlet a tough slog for the most part but it’s rather impressive from a technical point of view. All sprites, objects and pieces of wall and floor take up one square on an unseen grid of 15 x 15 which makes up the visible play-field so everything is more-or-less the same size. This doesn’t take much processing power with regards to the inanimate parts of each stage of course, but the sprites are all animated, detailed, and there are absolutely masses of them nearly all the time. It’s still pretty impressive now so you can only imagine how mind-blowing it was at the time! Of course, this did present a challenge to the talented programmers charged with converting the fab game to home systems but even then the results were mostly spiffing!
Gauntlet_Atari

Sadly, the audio here is almost silent though. There are a few simple sound effects but no in-game music which is hard to get used to since the fantastic MegaDrive conversion that I’ve played so much has had an equally fantastic soundtrack added. Breaking the near-silence now and then though, is the famous voice of the unseen dungeon overseer who offers occasional advice and support. He may sound a little ropey today but back then he was a revelation and his many comments have proved to be almost as enduring as the game itself! Indeed, despite the inane wafflings of the many naysayers, Gauntlet is still great fun and a highly enjoyable challenge. Yes, it is repetitive, as most games in the early years were, but not many of them offered four players the chance to unite and fight evil monsters to the death! Even for the solo-player, the lure of seeing new mazes or achieving a new high-score is enough to keep you playing. A timeless classic that offers a near-unlimited helping of simple, addictive adventuring. Still hate those bloody Lobbers though. Grrrr!

RKS Score: 9/10

Test Drive

Test Drive

Test Drive (1987)
By: Accolade Genre: Driving Players: Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Atari ST First Day Score: 7,460
Also Available For: Amiga, PC, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Apple II

There are a few games you could credit with the surge in popularity of racing games on home systems during the 90’s but the one that sticks in my mind most is probably The Need For Speed on the 3DO. Not only was this unexpected release fantastic but it was also quite realistic. The many, manysequels that followed it soon went down the manic, arcadey route rather than continuing the approach of the original and this is also true of most of the similar games that starting appearing. Amongst my favourite of these were the Test Drive games on the PlayStation. The series had undergone a ‘reboot’ around this time (purely coincidental, I’m sure) but the first games in the series actually had a lot more in common with the original NFS.
Test Drive

In fact, I had forgotten just howsimilar the two titles are until I played Accolade’s game for the first time in about twenty years for this review! There’s no options before starting the game aside from one important one – the selection of your car. The choices here include many of the supercar favourites of the day – Porsche 911, Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari Testarossa, Corvette, and the good old Lotus Esprit Turbo. Each comes with a detailed stats screen to help you make your choice, after which you’re on the road, ready to go. The game is viewed from the driver’s perspective and each car can only be driven with manual gears, and it’s a full gearbox too, not the usual ‘low’ and ‘hi’ gears! There are five stages altogether with each separated by a stop at a ‘gas’ station where you’ll discover your average speed and points earned.
Test Drive

The stages are all segments of the same road which winds along a clifftop, movie-stylee – one side is sheer rock with the other side presumably consisting of a drop of equal sheerness! Normal traffic passes along the road in both directions now and then, although it’s not too busy, and there are also police radars which will summon a police car if you go too fast. There’s no time limit or other vehicles to race so you can approach the presence of the rozzers one of two ways: either go too slowly to bother them, or the way I’m sure most gamers will choose – go as fast as possible to outrun them! The supercar you’re driving isn’t a Daytona stock-car that will bounce around all over the place though – they’re very delicate things, even more so than I would’ve thought. Not only does hitting the rock face or another car cause you to crash (indicated by a smashed windscreen) but even revving the engine too high will result in obscured vision too!
Test Drive

Fans of the original Need For Speed will no doubt find most of this very familiar but it appears that Accolade got there first! Indeed, Test Drive must have surely been the first ever ‘supercar simulator’ and it’s the opportunity to drive these amazing cars that provides the game’s biggest draw. To that end, it’s a pretty good game. Each of the cars handles differently and the roads, which later on feature the odd oil spill or pothole, are good fun to drive along. Graphically, I remember being mightily impressed with this all those years ago but the intervening years have seen it age considerably. The presentation screens are still lovely but the in-game aesthetics less so. The oncoming cars (and occasional big rig) aren’t too bad but the scaling can be quite poor. If you’re travelling at any decent speed they’ll often seem to appear from nowhere prompting panic-lunges to try and get out of the way in time!
Test Drive

Don’t think that the absence of any kind of time-limit means you can crash as often as you want either – five wrecks equals game over here! Talking of which, one area that Need For Speed improved dramatically is the crashes. EA’s game was famous for its spectacular comings together but the spectacle here begins and ends with the broken glass in front of you. Even the track-sides and backgrounds are rather dull too, and the sense of speed isn’t great, although there is a handy rear-view mirror. So, the visuals might have aged somewhat, which is understandable with this kind of game, but I’m confident the audio was never any good, or at least this version. There are a couple of short (and not especially nice) tunes but the in-game sound is restricted to a horrible engine sound and that’s it! So, this is certainly one to play with the sound turned down, but is it one to play at all?

Well, like NFS, I think Test Drive was probably made as more of a technical showcase than as a thrilling and involving racing game. Accordingly, there’s really not much to it – no opponents, no car upgrades, no forked roads, and certainly nothing as radical as a championship or tournament mode. What there is, though, is pretty good. No time-limit or opponents also means you can relax and drive how you want to rather than be forced to tear through the stages like a maniac, although having said that, the between-stage pit-stops do encourage you to up the ante (as well as provide the odd lairy ‘motivational’ comment) and the lure of improving your average speed is quite strong. It is all over pretty quickly though, so that, along with the number of superior examples of the genre on the ST and Amiga, means that this original probably won’t hold your attention for long

RKS Score: 6/10

 

Pitstop II

Pitstop II

Pitstop II (1984)
By: Epyx Genre: Driving Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Commodore 64 
Also Available For: PC, Amstrad CPC, Atari 800, Apple II, TRS-80
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

Pitstop II

One of my many objectives when starting this humble blog was to finally force myself to try out some titles on the systems that have gone largely ignored by me over the years. The first one to enter my mind was the mighty C64. I may have become somewhat distracted since, but the process began with the pair of ‘Exploring the C64‘ posts for which I requested some game recommendations from seasoned C64 veterans. One of these recommendations was Pitstop, a game that turned out to be so bad I immediately thought I’d been the victim of a practical joke. Subsequent research, however, has revealed its sequel to be substantially better thought of. It’s taken me a good while to work up the courage, but here I shall find out if the ‘Pitstop’ name has been redeemed…
Pitstop II

It’s no surprise to find that it’s an F1-based game once again but it’s immediately apparent that it offers far more than its prequel. Impressively for the day, it’s a one or two-player game but regardless of which you choose, the game employs a split-screen viewpoint anyway – player one occupies the top half of the screen and drives a red car, player two occupies the bottom half and drives a blue car which is controlled by the computer in one-player games. The pre-race options screen offers you the choice of three difficulty levels, you can set the number of laps (3, 6, or 9), and you can select any of six real racing circuits from Europe and the US. As the name hints at, however, it can get a little more complicated than that.
Pitstop II

As well as the ‘red’ and ‘blue’ cars, there are also a seemingly unlimited number of other racers pootling around the circuits, at a much slower pace of course, which means they’re pretty much just there to make your life more difficult. That’s to be expected with a game of this nature but unlike most similar games, or at least ones from this time period, you also have to be careful how you drive as not only can you run out of fuel but you can also wear out your tyres too. Driving too fast around corners too often, for example, will soon see your car squeal off to the side like a burst balloon and stop dead. This, as well as the fuel situation, can be overcome by making one of the titular pit-stops. These can take some time but are unfortunately necessary if you want to make it to the end of a race in anything resembling a decent position.
Pitstop II

Mercifully, the CPU car also makes pit-stops from time to time as well which makes this a surprisingly fair game. It looks a lot nicer than the first game too – it’s far from a stunner but streets ahead of the hideous original. Control of the cars is a bit odd to start with – they feel very skiddy, as if you’re actually playing a bobsleigh racing game or something, but it’s fine after a bit of practise. There’s no in-game music here either, but apart from these minor grumbles Pitstop II is notable improvement over the original which scared me so. You’ll probably tire of the one-player game before too long but this was meant as a two-player game and in that capacity it’s fantastic. It’s still hardly the most complex racing game, even for its time, but Epyx have certainly made this a much more enjoyable game than the first effort.

RKS Score: 7/10

Renegade

Renegade (1986)
By: Technos / Taito Genre: Fighting Players: Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 29,800
Also Available For: Master System, NES, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Apple II

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

Poor old RKS has a tough life as a gamer. Despite being relatively normal in most ways, I only have few friends who share my interest in this particular subject and only one who also likes retro games, and he lives far enough away that I don’t see him often. When we do meet up, one type of game we nearly always play is scrolling fighting games, but it only occurred to me recently that we always play the same few: Double Dragon, Final Fight, Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, etc. Upon realization of this, I decided to give a few other examples a try to vary our rare gaming sessions a little. One of the first games I thought of was Renegade – one of the first such examples of the genre and supposedly also one of the best which, alarmingly, is yet another title I’ve never gotten around to trying. Playing it for the first time for this feature, however, revealed that it’s not strictly speaking a scrolling fighting game at all. Hmmm.

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

As most of you probably already know, each of Renegade’s meager four stages are quite small. They do scroll, but are only about four screens wide – a space which is populated by different ‘hoodlums’ on successive stages as well as a boss character who becomes active once only three of his henchmen remain. Your job as the unnamed (in the arcade version, at least) vigilante is merely to beat the crap out of them. You can move in eight directions and there are three buttons – one attacks in the direction you’re facing, another attacks behind, and the last performs a jump. A double-tap of either direction allows you to run and you can attack while doing this or jumping. Even the most basic enemies require numerous hits to defeat but you can knock them to the ground fairly easily at which point you can straddle them (oo-er!) and continue smacking them up. It’s also possible to grab an enemy and perform a throw but they can grab you as well. All of these moves can also be performed on the boss characters, but since they’re stronger the attacks are often less effective.

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

The four stages take place on a subway platform, a harbor  an alley, and the gang’s hideout, and each is home to unique enemies. The amount of energy their attacks cost you is dependent on what they attack you with. Some have only their fists but others are armed or even riding motorbikes. Thugs wielding knives or guns can even kill you outright with one hit, and this makes an already rock-hard game harder then ten adamantium-coated diamonds! You only get one life, you see, and unusually for an arcade game you don’t even have the option of adding coins to continue. I’m not an especially gifted gamer, admittedly, but I was having so much trouble I even had to resort to fiddling around with the DIP switch settings. However, despite changing the difficulty to easy upping the lives to the maximum of two (!), I was still making little headway. The extra life wasn’t much use as it makes you start the stage again anyway, so I decided to try a more strategic approach of running around and picking off thugs only when an opportunity presented itself. And then I ran out of time instead!

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

Even some sneaky tactics such as knocking enemies off the end of the railway platform on the first stage usually backfired as I was knocked off instead. Boo hoo. It’s quite a nice-looking game though. Stage graphics are good and the sprites, whilst not too numerous, are varied, distinctive, and animated fairly well too. The sound isn’t bad either, with average music but pretty good effects and even the odd snippet of speech (“Get lost, punk!”), and it’s an exciting, action-packed, and enjoyable game to play, but that difficulty means that any enjoyment is usually short-lived. Even having not previously played it, I knew that Renegade was a landmark title that brought with it several innovations, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so unforgiving! Arcade games are usually tough but would a continue feature have been too much to ask? Renegade is actually a Western ‘localisation’ – the original Japanese game is part of the ‘Kunio-kun’ series, so I’ll have to give that a try to see if it’s as tough. For now though, I’m either a wussy who needs a lot of practice, or by jove, Renagade is a toughie – too tough for me!

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Co6e7cg7DSQ[/youtube]

RKS Score: 6/10

Nexus 2: The Gods Awaken announced on Kickstarter

Nexus 2 - The Gods Awaken

Nexus 2: The Gods Awaken announced on Kickstarter

HD Interactive and Most Wanted Entertainment have announced the next stage in their quest to develop a sequel to their highly-rated Space RTS game Nexus: The Jupiter Incident, with the company launching a campaign on high-profile crowdfunding site Kickstarter to supplement their own financing.

“Nexus 2 is a very special project for the company”, said company director Mike Horneman,  “Nexus was our first game, and we still have many of the original team-members on board, with full plans in place for what we’d do for a sequel”.

Nexus 2 - The Gods Awaken

Launched in 2004, the game was highly acclaimed as one of the best spaceship battle games ever made, and continues to attract fans even to this day.

“We re-launched the original Nexus on Steam a while ago, and even now we see a substantial amount of new players buying the game each month”, said Horneman. “We have a very vocal fan base, and know that there’s a large number of people out there who would love to see a sequel made”.

 

HD and MWE are looking to finance the project with a mixture of their own funds supported by crowdfunding.

“We’re happy to put a large chunk of our own resources into making Nexus 2”, said Horneman, “but realistically we cannot fund the whole project ourselves. So, with Kickstarter, we can offer all our fans out there a chance to be part of the Nexus 2 project.”

Nexus 2 - The Gods Awaken

“The more you pledge, the more you will benefit; from thanks in the credits, through special boxed editions, right up to designing spaceships that will appear in the game. The largest donor will also receive a completely unique version of the game, where he or she is the hero, complete with facial likeness and voice over. We’re all very excited!”

You can find more info on the game as well as the funding details here

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhZQEvg1V0Y[/youtube]

About the Developer

Most Wanted Entertainment was formed when a band of Hungary’s hottest games talent joined forces with Dutch games company HD Interactive to create one of Central Europe’s longest-lived and most prolific game developers. We have launched games across many platforms, including PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Nintendo DS, iPhone/iPad in all sorts of genres.

Strategy and tactical games are our greatest love, however, with products like Joint Task Force and Nexus: The Jupiter Incident being some of the titles we are most proud of.

With our ranks still numbering most of the original Nexus development team, no other developer can match the experience, insight or love we have for this classic game.

www.mwent.hu

 

Alien Syndrome

Alien Syndrome (1987)
By: Sega Genre: Run ‘n’ Gun Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 96,400
Also Available For: Master System, Game Gear, Sharp X68000, NES, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

Like many game companies in the mid-to-late 80’s, it seems almost certain that Sega were also bitten by the ‘Alien’ bug, so to speak. That is to say, they drew inspiration from the Alien movies for one (or some) of their games. The fact that this release came the year after the super-successful sequel to the classic 1979 film would tend to back up that theory as it’s a game that may seem familiar to some fans. Rather than a gound-based colony, however, it takes place in a series of seven spacecraft. These were presumably craft operated by humans but they have become overrun by hideous alien creatures of various descriptions and their human crew taken prisoner. It therefore falls to Ricky and Mary, two suspiciously Space Marine-like soldiers, to liberate each ship in succession and eradicate the alien scum that now dwells within.

Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot
The interior of each craft is viewed from an angled overhead perspective and usually consists of a maze-like series of corridors, rooms, or open areas linked by walkways. The human captives, or ‘comrades’, are dotted around the scrolling stages and a set number of them must be rescued (by touching them) within a pretty strict time-limit before the exit is unlocked. This inevitably leads to a much larger and more dangerous alien boss who you must shoot the crap out of before moving onto the next ship. Each stage has unique enemies, usually two different kinds, and from the second stage onwards an infinite number of them are produced by Gauntlet-like generators. Destroying these will finally stem the flow of alien filth and allow you to cleanse the stage. If you want to, that is, as the only actual requirement is to rescue those pesky comrades.
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

Blasting the idiotic aliens does take up valuable time of course, but it also makes the game a lot more fun! Each new alien encountered looks and acts differently to the last. Some can spontaneously reproduce, others chase you, but most of them are able to shoot at you. A single touch from any alien or one of their projectiles is enough to take a life from Ricky or Mary but surprisingly the aliens are just as fragile – from the first stage to the last, a single shot is all that’s required to take them out. Except for the bosses, obviously. Typically, you start the game with a pea-shooter gun which just about does the job, but its range and rate of fire is somewhat limited. There are four other weapons available, however – laser, flamethrower, napalm, and a rapid-fire cannon – which, impressively, not only have unlimited ammo but also last forever as long as you don’t lose a life.

Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshotIt’s also possible to collect up to two small guns that follow you around and shoot backwards every time you shoot your normal weapon which can be shot in eight directions but only forward. These, and all the other weapons, can be collected from panels on the walls where you can also find bonus points and maps that show the basic layout of the stage as well as the location of the remaining comrades. Points are awarded at the end of each stage for any remaining time and for any comrades rescued beyond the quota but, if you’re like me, you probably won’t see too many of them! I usually tend to play games in a very meticulous way, trying to do everything and see everything, so I found the time limits to be quite tight. Aside from that though, Alien Syndrome isn’t an overly tough game and is actually, dare I say it, even pretty fair.
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

Part of the reason for this it that the aliens are defeated by a single shot from whichever gun you’re carrying at the time (even the one you start with) but it also helps that their movement doesn’t seem to conform to any repeating patterns. Their appearances are apparently random and their movement is seemingly dependent on your own, so your progress is pretty much just down to your own ability. Accompanying you on your refreshingly-unfrustrating mission are some tunes and sound effects which aren’t too bad, although not especially memorable, but about the only thing I don’t really like about Alien Syndrome is its graphics. It’s running on Sega’s System 16 board which I`m not hugely fond of at the best of times and this means that most of the colours used are rather pale and drab and there`s some quite unpleasant patterns used for the stage floors. That aside though, there’s little to complain about, and some of the aliens look great!
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

This is particularly true of the big and imaginative bosses and there’s quite a few different normal sprites too. The two playable characters don’t look much different and are even less different to play as but they’re not there to provide a bit of variety – they’re there to facilitate a two-player game, and they do that well. A few differences between wouldn’t have hurt anyway though, I suppose! Oh well, it’s still an enjoyable game, for one or two players, and proves to be a very addictive one as well. The stages themselves get bigger and more complicated but are never overly large or complex – this is a game that’s about fast and frantic shooting and nothing more, and with the ever-increasing hordes of aliens in the later stages, you’ll need to be precise as well as fast! It’s a shame it doesn’t look a bit nicer but if you can handle the offensive patterns, this is a game that’s aged well.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1jkQ-NM1UE[/youtube]

RKS Score: 7/10

Cat Interrupts Reporter By Climbing On Her

cat_and_reporter

We have seen reporters fall down, curse and get in fights, but sometimes a “bad thing” can happen to a reporter that is pretty cute. Apparently the cat in the video is already around that area and decided to get in on the report.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGBy6SO43rs[/youtube]

Nights: HD Release

nightsintodreams

Nights: HD Release

Fans of the classic Sega Saturn game have something to celebrate as HD release of Nights into Dream will be coming this fall. About 16 years ago, July 5th, 1996, Knights was released for the Sega Saturn featuring a unique gameplay style, beautiful graphics and an awesome soundtrack. The HD release will feature updated graphics and features such as trophies/achievements, and leaderboards.

nightsintodreams

Chris Olson, Vice President of Digital Business at SEGA, said in the official announcement: ”The SEGA Saturn offered many unique gaming experiences, and NiGHTS into dreams… stands out as one of the most recognizable titles that found a home on the system. We’ve gotten a lot of requests about this game over the years, and are very happy to be able to give both former Saturn owners and new players a chance to play it in its most beautiful form to date this fall.”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSHcbnu49lI[/youtube]

Currently we only know that the game will be released in the fall for the PC, PSN and XBLA. As we get a firm date, we will bring it to you. The retro releases continue out of Sega HQ as word of a HD release of Jet Set Radio is slated to be released around the game time.

Fans, Get Ready for Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops: The Line is set to be released by 2K Games on the 26th of June, for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. Fans of the series and those who enjoy games of a similar genre, like Gears of War and Uncharted, should enjoy the action scenes in Spec Ops: The Line.

Specops the line- gameplay screenshot

The makers of Spec Ops: The Line drew inspiration from the film Apocalypse Now and the classic novel Heart of Darkness for the creation of underlying moral dilemmas faced by the characters in dark, hellish settings.

The game is set in a post-apocalyptic Dubai, after a sandstorm has left most of the city dead and buried. Captain Martin Walker and his elite Delta Force Bravo team attempt to locate and recover the remaining survivors, including US Army Colonel John Konrad. The name of Konrad is a reference to the author of Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad.

Colonel Konrad remained behind along with his men and some of the citizens who couldn’t evacuate in time. A weak distress signal is picked up that indicates that he’s still alive and so Walker and his team must deal with outlaws, navigate through treacherous sandstorms to find their men.

Specops the line- gameplay screenshot

Both the website and trailer hint that Konrad may have stayed in Dubai against orders for his own motivations. More of the mystery will be uncovered when the game is released.

Spec Ops is a military game franchise that was originally created in the late 90s, primarily for PC, PlayStation and Dreamcast. Each version of the game had completely different narrative and characters, and took the hyper-realistic third person shooter game to the next level of coolness.

The first two games released in the 90s, Spec Ops: Rangers Lead the Way and Spec Ops: Ranger Team Bravo, were well-received and won plenty of fans.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abLv46Juyu8&hd=1[/youtube]

The latest version has voice work by Nolan North who has featured as many different characters over the years including Dead Pool in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Nathan Drake in Uncharted and Desmond in the Assassin’s Creed series. He is a charismatic voice actor who lends a lot of believability to the character of Captain Martin Walker.

Finally fans can rejoice! The long wait for the release of Spec Ops: The Line is almost over.

Derek James: Polyclef Software

Derek James - Polyclef Software

Name: Derek

Title: Owner & Founder

Company: Polyclef Software

gyruss

Favorite Classic Game: Gyruss & Zork

Why is this game your favorite: I’ll actually pick two. For classic arcade action, my favorite was probably Gyruss. Why? Because I thought tube shooters were cool…it was like Galaga, but in a circle! And I also really thought the electronica-style Bach music was cool.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hF2m7EW9_lM[/youtube]

For the PC, the games I remember the most fondly were the Zork and Enchanter trilogies from Infocom. Text-based adventure and puzzle-solving games are obsolete now, but I really thought the blend of storytelling, puzzle-solving, and interactivity was very immersive and compelling. Myst was a great continuation of this style of game in graphical form, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for Infocom’s games.

Distorted Poetry: The creation of an Indie Gaming Company

[youtube id=”Cgo4TV2QzKg” width=”633″ height=”356″]

When we started, we decided to first make games for the iPhone. This was a pretty easy choice for us purely because we both had prior experience working on iOS games and we just about had all the equipment we needed.~James Booth

Distorted Poetry: The creation of an Indie Gaming Company

Running an indie company really is a bi-polar condition and I mean that in the nicest and worse possible of ways.

DistortedPoetry_Logo

It’s been almost a year since we set-up Distorted Poetry. At the start there was just two of us, now we have almost ten people working on our games. At the moment we develop for iPhone and PC/MAC and we are registered with Nintendo to develop games for the 3DS as well. We wanted to be taken seriously as an indie, so we delved into a lot more of the business side of things as well, which requires a completely different mindset.

When we started, we decided to first make games for the iPhone. This was a pretty easy choice for us purely because we both had prior experience working on iOS games and we just about had all the equipment we needed.

The first project we had in mind was a rhythm based game with interactive musical elements. I love creating music and really wanted to create a game where the player actually feels like the music is progressing because of their actions. We got a prototype up and running quite quickly and we felt there was a lot of potential in this game. After about a month on this project we decided to put it on the back burner, it was a great idea, but to do it right we really would need to spend a year on it. Time we didn’t really have for one project with no money coming in.

The interesting thing was about two or three months after we put our musical project “Impulses” on hold. We read about a game from Cipher Prime called Pulse. Not only did it have a very similar name, its gameplay and visual style was somewhat identical to our prototype.  I guess some people would call it a coincidence, but for me I didn’t look at it like that. For all the ideas and creative people out there it’s inevitable that multiple people can think of the same idea. All you can really do is try and develop the idea and get it out as fast as you can!

Speaking of ideas, we next worked on a real unique and arty game. It sounded like it could work on paper so we started developing a prototype. With every iteration we eliminated what didn’t work and added something new. Within a month we went from a very niche arthouse game to a very accessible more traditional game which we named Petri-Dash.

 Petri-Dash icon

The game really was designed by iteration, which was such a unique way to design a game. It felt exciting but ultimately took us longer to make the game because there was no fixed plan set in stone. Petri-Dash was released in November and while sales started off promising after a few days they started to get lower and lower and lower. It really was eye opening to see how quickly you can get lost on the App Store.

Sure, we had little spikes here and there (such as when the game was updated) but we can’t exactly call the game a financial success. We have recently supported a new completion based platform named Player Duel to see if that can get us extra sales, but ultimately I don’t know what else we can try, if you don’t end up featured on the charts, your probability for success is very very low.

iPhone Retina GUI PSD

So what comes after Petri-Dash? Well it’s our new game called “Rundle’s Rolling Adventure” for iPhone.  This is a much bigger project than Petri-Dash, lots more levels, lots more art, lots more music, and lots more polish. We are almost at Alpha with this game and are hoping to release it in March 2012. Just before we started this project I thought I could try and use that initial idea for Petri-Dash again, thinking I had thought of a new way it could work. After about a week it all went away again and we created the character Rundle. One day I will get that idea into one of our games! Or someone else will beat us to it again…

Beyond Rundle’s Rolling Adventure, we are branching out onto PC/MAC as well, so we have some exciting and unique games set for those platforms, Anyway thank you very much for reading and if you wanna get in contact like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

Peace and Love,

www.facebook.com/DistortedPoetry

www.twitter.com/distortedpoetry

Zork: Grand Inquisitor

Zork - Grand Inquisitor - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

In 1996, Activision released Zork: Nemesis, a visually-stunning game, but with an overtly dark theme and a serious – even intense – game atmosphere, very unlike any other game in the Zork series.  (So dark, in fact, that the Infocom label was not included on the box!)  Nemesis was a great game, but something had to be done to bring back the humor and irreverence of all things Zork.  And so, a year later, in 1997, Activision released a new game in the Zork / Enchanter series, set 580 years before Return to Zork, and with an eye to bringing the series back to its roots – Zork: Grand Inquisitor.

Zork - Grand Inquisitor - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

The story behind Zork: Grand Inquisitor was fairly basic: magic has been banned by the merciless Inquisition, and the Dungeon Master has been trapped within a trusty adventurer’s lantern.  The player is called upon by the Dungeon Master – “I shall call you ageless, faceless, gender-neutral, culturally ambiguous, adventurer person. AFGNCAAP for short. ” – to restore the magic outlawed by the Inquisition in Quendor.  To do so, AFGNCAAP must locate the lost Zorkian magical treasures of the Coconut of Quendor, the Skull of Yoruk, and one of the Cubes of Foundation, with which a torrent of magic will be released, defeating the plans of the Grand Inquisitor and his minions.  Sounds easy, right?

Zork - Grand Inquisitor - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

The technology used by Zork: Grand Inquisitor was a modified version of the Z-Vision game engine first used in Zork: Nemesis.  A full lateral sweep of 360 degrees was available to the player, but not any vertical movement (with a couple of exceptions based on unique scenes at GUE Tech and at the Flathead Mesa).  Human characters were portrayed by actors in full motion video, while non-human characters, such as Marvin the Goatfish, were clay models which were then digitized and animated.  Zork: Grand Inquisitor used lighting effects to draw the eye of the player to explorable areas, permitting the player to spend more time engrossed in puzzle-solving rather than the standard mouse click-fest and hunt-and-click routines of many adventure games.

Zork - Grand Inquisitor - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

The voice acting was superb, with Hollywood-class talent giving life to the various characters, which included Michael McKean (as the lantern-trapped Dungeon Master, Dalboz of Gurth) and David L. Lander (whom many will recall played Squiggy inLaverne & Shirley, as the font of ridiculous proclamations, the Voice of the Inquisition).  Some of the actors involved who had both visual and audio parts included Dirk Benedict as Antharia Jack, Rip Taylor as Chief Undersecretary Wartle, and Erick Avari, as Mir Yannick, the pompous, over-his-head but desperately attempting to fake it, Grand Inquisitor.  The effect was to improve the gameplay, especially during cutscenes, which can be excruciating when players are forced to watch the programmer’s second cousin who once acted in a school play gamely work their way through a script. *shudder*

Zork - Grand Inquisitor - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Zork: Grand Inquisitor received good reviews (PC Gamer Magazine gave it an Editor’s Choice award and scored it at 88% in its May, 1988 issue, while GameSpot scored it as a 8.0 “Great”).  The biggest fault that reviewers agreed upon was that it seemed too short, and a longer visit in this archetypical gamer universe was wished for.  Now that’s a complaint any developer would like to hear!  It was released for both Windowsand Macintosh platforms, and played the same on either one.  Also, a DVD version was released in 1998, which also included the full version of Zork: Nemesis as an added bonus.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82fq5ylrOgg[/youtube]

Never forget who is the boss of you. ME!  I am the boss of you!“  Combining the visual appeal of Zork: Nemesis with the humor of the original series, Zork: Grand Inquisitor was a laudable addition to the Zork milieu, and certainly a worthy entry into this Game of the Week series.  Bluntly put, this game is well-worth a playthrough, especially if you are a fan of the Zork series!

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

Sound Blaster Recon3D Fatal1ty Professional Review

Sound_Blaster_Recon3D_Fatal1ty_card

For many, building a gaming system is all about the processor and video card. People will take the time to research everything about the processor speed or video ram, but when it comes to the sound card that duty is given to the motherboard. In the 90’s almost every gaming rig had a sound blaster inside, but today, far too many leave it up to the mainboard and far too many are missing out.

Now, let us be fair, onboard sound can be pretty good. I personally have used on-board sound and I thought it was just fine. The trick is you do not know what you are missing until you try it out and see the difference. It is like going from 720p to 1080p you will notice the difference especially in games with 3D sound effects or where having true surround sound is important.

First, we start with the Sound Core3D. This is a quad-core audio processor that allows all the technologies running within the card to function at peak performance. Sometimes you might see within games that you can crank up the sound quality, but it might lower performance, not with this card.

Sound Blaster Recon3D Fatal1ty Professional - Box

Next, we have the THX TruStudio Pro, which is all about realism. When you are playing a game like Battlefield 3 or World of Tanks, you want the sound of the bullets and explosions to sound real. It is all about immersion and that is what 3D surround sound does, it makes you feel as if you are right there just as much as high resolution graphics does.

Crystal voice is all about audio communications, which is so important in today’s games. Ever listen to horrible sounds via Ventrilo, Team Speak or Mumble? It is not always a bad microphone or that the person never uses push to talk. Many of the times, it is just a bad audio card or setup and crystal voice fixes that allowing you to adjust your settings within the control panel so you come through clear without the need to yell.

Staying in the world of voice the beam-forming microphone I found is great for voice communications. We talked about push to talk, but sometimes in some versus games you might need to be able to constantly talk and what is great about this microphone is it creates an acoustic zone suppressing noise outside that zone. What does this mean? It means when talking your speaker noise is less likely to be heard allowing you to speak freely without others hearing your background noise. I tested this in games like BF3, Star Wars the Old Republic and League of Legends and it works like a charm.

Connections

If you have been reading our previous hardware reviews you know I am rocking the Diablo III headset and it works perfectly with the Recon 3D. This card has a dedicated headphone amp that provides the power needed for high quality headphones, which is important since many gamers are spending the big bucks and high-end headsets and the last thing you want is an underpowered device running them.

Finally, we have the Dolby Digital Live encoding which allows you to connect your system to a home theater system using a single cable. I personally have not tried this function yet, but for those of you with a home system this could be the perfect piece to finish your setup particularly if you watch television and movies or listen to music within your office.

Setting it up was a snap. The back of the card has color-coded connections with clear markings of what goes where. I have a 5.1 speaker system with a center speaker and sub and was able to connect my speakers within moments. Just remember that if you have existing onboard audio you will want to disable it because Windows will use it by default and you might end up wondering why you do not hear anything.

Sound Blaster Recon3D Fatal1ty Professional - Control Panel

The microphone while small has a very long cable which is good for people like myself with a large desk and I noticed while configuring the mic that I do not have to speak loudly or lean into the mic which is great.

Once the software was installed, I opened up the control panel and viewed the various options for configuration. For the novice, don’t sweat it. There are a lot of settings you can change, but right out the box you will notice the difference in quality without changing anything.

Sound Blaster Recon3D Fatal1ty Professional - Control Panel

For the most part I only played around with the equalizer because I wanted to create different profiles for games, movies and music and anyone who has ever used Winamp EQ or another audio program will see how to adjust the highs, mids and lows.

The speaker/headphones setup is also nice because it allows you to adjust for the difference between the two devices. A lot of times you will want to boost the forward speakers or lower the bass with headphones and all this can be done on the fly.

Sound Blaster Recon3D Fatal1ty Professional - Control Panel

Under the Crystal Voice, settings you can boost your mic output or adjust the noise reduction making sure you sound perfect within games or just normal voice chat.

Overall, the Recon 3D Fatal1ty changed my view on sound. I can hear people sneaking up on me in first person shooters and immerse myself in the battle music of SWTOR. For those of you who take your gaming seriously a top-notch sound card is a must because it does give an advantage just as much as a better monitor or video card does.

Sound Blaster Recon3D Fatal1ty Professional - Control Panel

Besides that, being able to enjoy movies and music with high-definition sound truly makes your computer the main entertainment center, so if you spend a lot time with your PC then you want a great audio experience and the Sound Blaster Recon3D Fatal1ty Professional sound card delivers just that.

The Interview: Johnathan Wendel: Fatal1ty

Johnathan Wendel -Fatal1ty

I’m sure everyone who has played an FPS, RTS or even PVP game in a MMO sees themselves as a pro gamer. Johnathan Wendel, better known as Fatal1ty, is not only a true professional gamer, but also a business man and philanthropist. Last year you saw his gamer profile and Obsolete Gamer had a chance to ask him some questions.

Tell us about your early days of gaming. What was your first video game experience?

First video game experience was playing games like Microsoft Flight Simulator on PC and some Ikari Warriors on the Nintendo.  I did mess around with Atari, but I never owned one.  Mostly played it when I went to friends’ houses, etc.

At what point did you realize you had the talent and want to become a professional gamer?

I guess when I was 18. One of my good friends, Eric Paik, who was a pro gamer and traveled a lot, told me I was very talented and should definitely go to a tournament.  You will win money for sure!  So I saved up about $500 and went off to Dallas, TX and won a qualifier and took 3rd at my very first pro tournament winning $4,550.

Johnathan Wendel -Fatal1ty

So your first professional match was playing Quake 3, what was it like your first time playing competitively? 

Exhilarating!  I was amp’ed every second and wanted to play to my full potential.  It was a do or die experience for my gaming career as I was putting all my money on the line.

Tell us about how you train and prepare for tournaments?

Play about 8 hours a day in the virtual world working on my movement, timing, strategies, fighting skills and hearing the sounds of the game.  I want to be so knowledgeable about the game that if I hear a pin drop or an item picked up from anywhere on the map, I know exactly where my opponent is at all times and where he could be in the next 5 seconds.  Predicting your opponent’s moves is very important.

Personally, what differences do you notice between playing in a tournament solo versus with your team?

I’ve done both extremely heavily but I feel, in a solo environment, you can only blame yourself if you lose.  When you win, you know you won and when you lose, you know you lost.  I enjoy it the best, when the game is in my hands to win or lose.

Johnathan Wendel -Fatal1ty - Motherboard

Tell us about a day in the life when you were actively entering tournaments?

My routine was to play 4 hours, go run 2-3 miles, have lunch, play another 2 hours, relax and play another 2 hours before 4 AM so I could wake up and repeat it the next day.

Many people still don’t understand professional gamers, are there any myths or stereotypes you would want to address?

Most professional gamers are actually in shape and have a pretty good social life in their virtual and real life.  We mostly come from some other competitive sports that we played forever as kids and we’re able to use our skills of hand eye coordination and out thinking our opponents just like we do in our traditional sports.

Which game did you like competing in the most?

PainkilleR was a great game to play because we had a full season where we traveled for almost 18 months, continuously playing all over the world and winning loads of money.  It was also the biggest payday of my career in competitive gaming, taking home $150,000 for the World Tour Finals in NYC.

Johnathan Wendel -Fatal1ty

Do you still have people trying to challenge you to this day?

Yes, I actually go on tour promoting my products to distributors and buyers in different regions of the world, and I do exhibition/show matches for the crowd/press at these events.

What made you want to start Fatal1ty Inc?

I wanted to create a brand that a gamer who lived in the battlefield understood what competitive gamers wanted and needed in order to experience their game at the highest level.  When people shop at the store or online, I want them to know that when they buy a Fatal1ty product, they’re buying a Gaming product.

Thanks for the interview and game on,

-Johnathan ‘Fatal1ty’ Wendel

The Lost Vikings

The Lost Vikings - Sega Genesis - Gameplay Screenshot

Lost Vikings, The (1992)
By: Silicon & Synapse / Interplay  Genre: Platform / Puzzle  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis
Also Available For: SNES, GameBoy Advance, Amiga, CD32, PC

Now that I think about it, the sub-genre of platform/puzzle games, on which I am rather keen, is a little obscure as genres go, but the combination of two older and exceedingly popular types of game has proved to be a fantastic partnership. Examples have taken many weird and wonderful forms over the years and one of the most interesting (though not necessarily best) is of the sort that includes multiple characters with differing abilities. This was of course made popular by the great Lemmings. Dozens of similar games soon appeared and most were average at best, but The Lost Vikings is a pretty rare example of another game taking that premise, putting a different slant on it, and actually succeeding.

The Lost Vikings - Sega Genesis - Gameplay Screenshot

Starring as the multiple characters in this game are the Vikings of the title who are indeed lost. Actually, ‘captives’ might be a more appropriate word as our three Nordic friends have apparently been abducted by the curiously-named Tomator, emperor of the alien Croutonian Empire, who has been collecting unique and interesting specimens for his intergalactic zoo. They obviously weren’t confined very effectively though as they immediately set out to escape their shackles. To do this you must guide them to the exit on each of the 41 levels (or 37 in the other versions) which are set over various themed worlds (through time, of course!). The first is apparently set within the Croutonian spaceship but others include an Egyptian one (obviously), Pre-Historic, and even toy/food-related ones (not sure what time-period it’s supposed to be though!).

The Lost Vikings - Sega Genesis - Gameplay Screenshot

Before I get carried away though, I’ve just realised how rude I’ve been by failing to introduce the stars of the show – the Vikings themselves! So, say hello to Erik the Swift, Baleog the Fierce, and Olaf the Stout! As you may have guessed, they each have unique abilities so you must use them all as a team to successfully finish each level. Erik can run and jump around the platforms and can also smash down certain walls by headbutting them, Baleog is equipped with a sword and bow (with infinite arrows) with which to battle the various enemies, and Olaf has a large shield which protects him (and indeed the others if they’re behind him) from enemies and hazards, and he can also raise it above his head and glide down from high places.

The Lost Vikings - Sega Genesis - Gameplay Screenshot

To complete a level you must succeed in guiding all three Vikings to its exit. On the first level this takes about one minute but as you go through the game the levels get larger and more complicated as you might expect. They are multi-tiered and most feature ladders, colour-coded keys/locks, switches, and various monstrous and not-so-monstrous enemies. As you progress you’ll encounter more and more obstacles and features such as spring-pads, moving platforms, and even a device that inflates our heroes allowing them to float! The enemies take many forms usually related to the environment you’re in. The pre-historic world, for example, features vicious cavemen, small dragons, and… umm… snails. There’s also numerous guns and other projectile-firing devices around, and a touch from any of these things, or indeed falling too far, will cost the unfortunate Viking one of his three health points.

The Lost Vikings - Sega Genesis - Gameplay Screenshot

Contact with some of the hazards found in the levels, such as spikes or electric forcefields, can cause instant death too, so careful planning is required for the most part, rather than charging around recklessly. Fortunately, hit points are replenished each stage and there are also a few items that can help you such as various foods to replenish your energy and smart bombs to clear the screen of enemies. These items can be transferred from one Viking to another too, depending on who’s most in need, which further emphasises the teamwork aspect of the game which is so prevalent. In fact, in some versions of the game (including this one) it’s possible for you and a friend to control more than one Viking at once.

The Lost Vikings - Sega Genesis - Gameplay Screenshot
As I mentioned earlier, after the success of Lemmings there was a good few games released that tried their own take on the ‘multiple characters with differing abilities’ formula, but in most cases it either seemed unnecessarily tacked-on or that the developers put too much emphasis on it, forgetting to create decent stages for them to explore in the process! Luckily, Silicon & Synapse (who would later become Blizzard Entertainment of Warcraft fame) got the balance just right with this amusing adventure. The levels are well designed for the most part and before each one there’s some humorous banter between the three Vikings (via speech bubbles). They all have unique abilities but they are simple too, and all vital for successful progress through the game’s ever-tougher levels.

The Lost Vikings - Sega Genesis - Gameplay Screenshot
Aesthetically, The Lost Vikings is pretty average. It doesn’t really need flashy graphics and, whilst there is a lot of colour and some nice backgrounds and foregrounds, it’s certainly not ground-breaking either. It’s the same with the sound – effects are kept to a minimum and the music suits the game well enough but isn’t particularly memorable. As with all games of this type though, it’s other aspects of the game’s design that counts, such as level and character design. Happily, near enough every aspect of the gameplay is spot-on. The Vikings themselves are appealing (helped by their entertaining chatter) and are easy to control, and the difficulty curve is reasonably well-balanced too. The only problem is that there’s something of a ‘trial and error’ aspect to some sections of the game, and if you make a mistake and kill a Viking it’s all the way back to the start of the level, and they can get pretty big and complicated later on! Still, each level has a password and it is addictive, with the unique abilities of each Viking making for an interesting and fairly originally-designed game that’s well worth a look.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-1wmfle9-8[/youtube]

Retro King Simon is a 36 year old guy from England, and likes lots of stuff, including retro videogames, movies, and anime. You can check out his blog here – Red Parsley.

RKS Score: 8/10

SimCity: The City Simulator

Sim City - PC - Box

If there ever was a game that you weren’t really sure if you were playing a game or using an educational tool…but you didn’t care because it was so much fun, SimCity: The City Simulator was it.  Published by Maxis Software in 1989, SimCity was written by a young Will Wright (he of the incredibly addictive The Sims fame), and would go down as one of the most influential and popular games in gaming history.

In SimCity, players had to construct an entire metropolis starting from nothing but a bulldozer and random terrain.  Along the way to full city status sims begin to populate your city and make demands.  They may need more housing or shopping centers; perhaps crime is rampant and a police station is needed; maybe frequent brown outs are creating a demand for a new power station; perhaps your sims are bored and want a stadium…and so on.  Meanwhile, the city needed just the right level of taxes to encourage growth, yet still pay for all those fire and police stations.  Random emergencies could wreak havoc on your city, with tornadoes devastated entire zones, earthquakes leveling buildings, airplanes crashing and resulting fires requiring immediate response.  If you guided your city with a steady hand, your tax coffers filled up and your sims considered you Simsville’s best Mayor ever.  If you failed to keep on top of the ever-changing developments within your city you could find yourself in the ranks of the unemployed.

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

Although the core of the game was designed for open-ended gameplay, the game also included scenarios which revolved around achieving a specific goal within a certain time period.  These were based on both past situations as well as possible futures that urban planners had already had to solve or were in the process of planning for.  The past scenarios included dealing with crime-ridden and an economically-depressed Detroit in 1972; a post-earthquake San Francisco in 1906, and rebuilding Hamburg at the end of World War II (this one was only in the IBM PC, Amgia, and Atari ST version).  Future scenarios included Boston suffering a nuclear plant meltdown and Rio de Janeiro flooding from global warming.  There was even a fantastic scenario based upon the classic Godzilla movies, wherein the player had to rebuild Tokyo after an attack from the King of the Monsters.  Further scenarios were released in the SimCity Graphic Set 1: Ancient Cities and SimCity Graphic Set 2: Future Cities.

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

The path to SimCity’s initial release wasn’t an easy one.  Originally titled “Micropolis,” Will Wright, its creator, developed it for the Commodore 64, a platform he had previous success in with the now-classic, Raid on Bungling Bay.  By 1985 the game was ready to go, but he couldn’t find a dance partner willing to publish it, as the powers-that-be struggled with its open path gameplay and lack of winners versus losers.  He believed in the potential of what he had coded, so he partnered with Jeff Braun (a successful publisher of font packs for the Commodore Amiga) and founded Maxis Software in 1987, and sought the rights to publish his game with his own company.  After two more years of code changes and legal wrangling (which included cementing Broderbund Software as Maxis Software’s distribution agent), SimCity was brought before the gaming public.

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

Interestingly, although Will Wright had originally coded Micropolis for the C64, the first platforms SimCity was released on were the Apple Macintosh and the Commodore Amiga, followed by IBM PC (MS-DOS) and then the Commodore 64.  EventuallySimCity: The City Simulator would be ported to the Atari ST, ZX Spectrum, Commodore Amiga CDTV, Amstrad CPC, and even the Super Nintendo.   The game was, of course, a smash hit, and garnered several gaming awards, including: Best Computer Strategy Game (Video Games & Computer Entertainment), Game of the Year (Computer Gaming World), Best Consumer Program (Software Publisher’s Association), and many, many more.  Its legacy is also well-recognized, earning a top ten position on the still-respected Computer Gaming World’s 150 Game of All Timelist.

 

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

The legacy of SimCity is more than just accolades, as its incredible success motivated Maxis Software to publish many variations on the theme: SimAntSimIsle,SimCopterSimLifeSimFarmSimEarthStreets of SimCitySimTown, and SimSafari.  Maxis even picked up the publishing rights for two similar Japanese games, A-Trainand Yoot Tower (which was renamed SimTower to take advantage of the sim-craze).  SimCity also spawned several sequels and remakes, including SimCity Classic(updated for Windows), SimCity Enhanced CD-ROM (which added FMV to the SimCity experience), SimCity 2000SimCity 3000, SimCity 4, and SimCity Societies.  And, of course, there is a direct link between Will Wright’s SimCity: The City Simulator and his epic seller, The Sims (and all its subsequent sequels and expansion packs).  Clearly,SimCity had a huge impact on the gaming universe.

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

Sadly, Maxis Software did not last as an independent company.  Although Maxis had been partnered with Broderbund since its inception, by 1995 they hired their own sales team and launched their IPO, taking Maxis public for the first time.  Unfortunately, the buzz from SimCity 2000‘s success had long worn off, and the pressure to fulfill the stock analysts’ projections took its toll on the company.  Wright and the other designers were pressured to abide by a strict deadline in 1996, with Maxis’ management team demanding all four games in development by released.  The designers complied, but the games they published that year did not catch the gamerverse on fire (I’m looking at YOU, SimCopter), and the share price of the new company which had such an incredible history slide precipitously.   In 1997, Electronic Arts made $120 million stock offer that they couldn’t refuse, making Will Wright and Jeff Braun very wealthy young men.  For his part, Braun became the biggest shareholder of Electronic Arts, and gave him the ability to invest in a variety of technology companies.  As for Will Wright, the money afforded him the time to do what he most loved – and did best – in developing new games.  Thanks, Electronic Arts!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzHVcvZw_7Q[/youtube]

If you’ve never played SimCity: The City Simulator, you’ve missed out on an integral piece of gaming history.  For a retro gamer, it’s still as fun as it always was, which is a sign of just how well it was crafted by Will Wright.  Between great gameplay and a long-lasting legacy, SimCity deserves to be on anyone’s best games of all time list.  Pick up a copy and see for yourself!

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

The Interview: John Wilson – Zenobi Software

Zenobi Software, the Rochdale Balrog, the Cat and the Cockroach were responsible for over two hundred excellent -nay, classic- ZX Spectrum text-adventures. Oh, yes, and quite a few Atari ST ones too. What’s more, John Wilson -a.k.a. the Balrog- the man behind it all is here to enlighten you and me on how things happened and what the future holds. Read on, hop over to the lovely official Zenobi website, grab a DVD with its rich retro offerings, ask for a freebie and come back here to discuss retro 8-bit interactive fiction. After all Zenobi will feature heavily on this blog for quite some time.

Zenobi Software Visual Medley

Tell us a bit about yourself, oh Balrog. Some info on the cat might be nice too.

Fast approaching my 62nd birthday, I was born in Edinburgh (Scotland) in 1947 and moved to South Wales (Cwmbran) at the age of 12. Lived there for a few years and then moved to North Wales (Flint) before enlisting in the Royal Air Force in 1964. Served in various places… as far apart as Valley (Anglesey) and Seletar (Singapore) before settling down in Rochdale in 1970 where I still live to this day. As for the ‘cat’ that is simply one of my many ‘alter-egos’… now, that is a ‘first’ for you and your readers, as I have never admitted to that before. ‘Cat’ is a good one, unlike ‘Cockroach’ who is an evil, mischievous little sod.

Why -and more importantly, how- did you start Zenobi? Were you all alone in this, erm, adventure of sorts?

Had been unemployed for a number of years and during a ‘careers interview’ I blurted out ‘To run a software house’ in answer to one of their questions. Being me, I decided to stick with that choice and Zenobi Software was formed in 1984/85. Like everything in my life, since I met her, my Ann was with me in this enterprise. Without her help I would never have made the success of Zenobi Software that it was … if it ever was a ‘success’.

And the focus on text-adventures on the ZX Spectrum? How did you decide on that?

Because they were what I was ‘into’ at the time. I had been given a ZX81 by a mate and then ‘upgraded’ to a ZX Spectrum … the only things that seemed reasonable to play on these machines were ‘text adventures’ (the arcade games did not appeal) so those became my passion.
ZX Spectrum

Weren’t you afraid of actually competing against bigger software houses?

I am never afraid of a challenge and to be quite honest I never envisaged myself as being in ‘competition’ with anybody. The whole idea of the project was simply to get MY games out to the general public. Things just got out of hand a touch and grew far bigger than I ever imagined.

You’ve created a fair amount of admittedly brilliant, tough, inspired and generally hilarious adventures. Which ones are you favorites? Was there a certain way your games were designed? I mean, really, where did all this inspiration come from?

Of them all, the original ‘Behind Closed Doors’ has to be my favourite, if only for the fact that it was written, tested and finalised in less than 24 hours. However ALL of them are my ‘children’ and just as in real-life I never choose favourites.

How did you come up with those intricate puzzles?

Pinched all the ideas from ‘real-life’ incidents. All it takes is a little imagination and you can convert anything into an ‘adventure-situation’. Alas, I am very lucky to have the kind of mind that can come up with ‘ideas’ without too much thinking… I used to dream them up as I typed them sometimes.

What about them weird names, settings, loading screens and stories?

They are all part of the twisted mind that I have been blessed with… that and the ability to ‘bend’ things to suit. Give me a ‘topic’ and I can generally sit down and just type out a story (complete with characters, plot, descriptions etc) and do all this as I go along. Much in the same way that I am typing out this interview. No preparation, just ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ as my old Dad would say.

Now, as Zenobi published quite a few games from a variety of authors/designers, could you give us some insight as to how this bit actually worked?

Simple… I was unable to produce enough games (personally) to meet the demand, so decided to use the services of other authors to meet the quota. I spread the word I was on the lookout for new games and they just came flooding in.

In retrospect, which would you say were the finest moments in/of Zenobi?

Getting the first game-review published (‘The Boggit’ in PCW), being awarded ‘Mega-game’ status in Your Sinclair and being voted ‘Best Software House’ (the FIRST time).
Atari St

Why stop after the Atari ST games?

It was no longer a viable proposition to produce NEW games for either the ZX Spectrum or the Atari ST . ‘Sales’ were no longer high enough to warrant the financial outlay and I felt that it was stupid to keep squandering my OWN cash on a losing cause.

Any other platforms you developed for?

Not really, though we did produce ’emulations’ of ALL the original ZX Spectrum titles to suit the Commodore Amiga, Mac, PC, Sam Coupe and QL. Not to mention every form there was of the ZX Spectrum… i.e. Plus D, +3, Tape etc.

Oh, and do you still play games? Any thoughts on their current state?

Nope… my real passion has always been music and these days my spare time is spent listening to that. My CD collection numbers in the ‘tens’ of thousands… you can believe that or not!!

Considering there is a strong Spectrum retro scene, a very lively interactive fiction scene and an obvious revival of the adventure genre, well, what does the future hold? More games? A book per-chance?

None of the above. I still write the odd short-tale, but they are either just for my own amusement (and end up in the desk-drawer) or else they get put on the web-site where they bore everybody to death. Though I have promised myself that one day I will bring the ‘Korat’ tale to its eventual conclusion… if only for my own peace of mind

Finally, you do still feel the Zenobi love, don’t you? Mind you, feel free to add anything else you think would be vaguely appropriate and/or titillating.

The ‘Zenobi Love’ .. just what the f*ck is that? Zenobi Software was a part of my life, is still a part of my life and always will be a part of my life – it has nothing to do with ‘love’ it was (and still is) the ‘driving-force’ behind my existence.It was a dark rainy night and Balrog was slumped over a plate of mince & tatties when there was a gentle ‘tap’ on the kitchen door. “Bloody visitors .. and at this time of night as well!” growled Balrog as he flicked the errant pea(s) back on to his plate and shuffled off in the direction of the knock. “John Wilson ?” enquired the chubby-faced gent stood in the pouring rain. “Come in Tam ..” grinned the Balrog and ushered the gent, and his companion, into the warmth of the kitchen. “How do you know me?” asked the gent. “Saw your picture in PCW when you were awarded the prize for completing ‘The Ket Trilogy’ smiled Balrog, flicking on the switch for the kettle and reaching under the worktop for some cups. “Tea or coffee and how many sugars ??”

So it was that ‘Tartan Tam’ encountered the Balrog for the first time … a true story!!”


Evolution: Indie development in Russia and one company’s transition to the U.S.

The year 2011 – the year of hopes – is coming to its end and it is time to sum up the results. It is about six years of own game projects’ development and 11 years in the gaming industry. Next year means new goals!  For sure, they will be more ambitious than those in 2007, when the idea of Deep Black project was only emerging.

deep black

What was it like?

In the far 1997, when I was 18, I first saw PlayStation console.  I worked for a company that was doing semi-legal localisation of gaming software at those “wild” times in Russia. Working for the company was something beyond description – there were not more than 3 similar companies in whole Russia at that time.  I was very interested in software development and it took me three months to do first “game” that would successfully run on a modded PS1 console. That game earned me 1000 USD, which was very decent pay at that time in Russia – taking into account that I did both programming and drawing.

Starting with 1999, I worked as a producer of western products in the Russian market. It was easier, than developing games myself. My core tasks were to find indie games developed on GNU and buy them to publish in Russia. Indie developers were surprised, that they could earn some money in Russia.  Later there were Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox and much more game systems.  Semi-legal companies would become legal or disappear, owners of companies would change, but the localisation issue was still important. A DVD-format came to Russia.

biart_logo

It was in 2002 when I decided to set up my own company – Biart.  A first version of the company’s logo was introduced and then changed in 5 years’ time.  We were a young team and didn’t think about business-strategies – things were going well anyway. So we started experiments with design, internet services, opened three sound-recording studios and two authoring studios.  And  I hoped  that one day we would  have enough potential to develop own gaming project. So why didn’t we start developing our own game at that time? It was because we understood that we didn’t know the market well.  Besides, we felt that everything had its time. You cannot force yourself.

In 2005, I met an indie developer with an interesting concept and as I also had similar ideas, I decided to make it a commercial project.  So I made up my mind to go into the project and started searching for a script writer, team, and product placement partners etc. We had a small office and some money to finance the development. The development took us a year. We worked hard and devoted our souls and hearts to our work.

So in 2007 Diver: Deep Water Adventures appeared on PC platform. Deals were good at that time and we decided not to play with royalties and prefer a flat fee scheme. Publishers were more adequate then compared to the period after the economic crisis. Publishers were hungry for games.

But our German publisher cheated us and we did not get the last payment from them. It was a guy from Gost Publishing who sold rights to Frogster without paying to the U.S. No need to say that Frogster assured us that they had paid it all. Stephane Gonod – the guy from Gost Publishing – disappeared and half a year later announced himself bankrupt. It is funny that a year ago he set up a new company in cooperation with an ex-Frogster employee and when we accidentally met at a conference, his only words were “Shit happens”. God will judge him.

So the project was released and there was a question – what’s next? I always strive to set new, more complicated goals, so development for PC was not so challenging for me anymore. Everybody was talking about game consoles and I realized that we should slow down with Diver 2 for a few years and devote ourselves to own multiple platform technology’s development.  And accordingly, our new goal was now to create own engine for next-gen titles. I sent an inquiry to Microsoft and a miracle happened – we got a status of an official developer! Thank you guys, if not for you, we would most definitely remain one of those numerous PC-only developers from Russia. So I was one of the first who brought Xbox 360 devkit to Moscow. It was not easy at all to deal with the Russian customs, but once again, thank you to our account manager – Alistair, you are the best!

There was another challenging task – where do we get people and how do we get a team if nobody in Russia can program for consoles, optimise the code and – most crucial – artists do content of very low quality level.  But as they say, believe and love what you do and you will find people who will believe in you and in your project.  Another hint – feel and understand who you are going to employ, for someone without experience is able to learn and the other is only going to “eat” your budget.  Speaking of numbers – it took us a year to experiment with staff and content. The real development itself started in late 2008 – 2009, when the team got skilled enough.

PS3-Deep-Black

The project’s original title was U-Wars. Later we renamed it to Deep Black. Platforms – PC and Xbox 360. It is a third-person shooter with key moments being fought onshore and underwater. Special underwater mechanics, jet pack etc.  The idea of the game appeared after I read various articles about special underwater operation forces. We started doing a game about these Special Forces but then I changed my mind and we did it in the sci-fi genre, abandoning the previous script.

[youtube width=”600″ height=”480″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FPSF8-d28Q[/youtube]

The period of active development of the game was 2010. At the same time, we went into agreements with publishers and started working on PlayStation 3 version of the game. It was not easy, but for sure it was a challenge for the team!

2011 is a year of the technology’s optimisation and content polishing. And now I am going to tell you about all drawbacks we had. I think this may be interesting.

  1. Content

We replaced our game designer three times. There are no experienced game designers in Russia, who know how to do shooters. In 2011, I took over and we spent the entire summer polishing and balancing the game.

We should have done feature cuts earlier. It hurt to cut when we had to do it later. Still even after the cut there were 10 hours of gameplay there. We also cut some game mechanics. Gradually you come to understand that it is better to do less but in decent quality.

The pipeline settled by the development’s final stage. I relied upon level designers’ common sense and some of them were wrong when incorrectly putting emphasis in level design.  For instance, level designers used to pay too much attention to places; a regular player would run by within three seconds and would not notice.

Our major problem was that we lacked experience. As a result, too many iterations.  If I started the project now, I could economize not less than 1.5M USD (total to-date budget 4.2M). The pipeline and exact task setting – this is what counts. When you feel that your ship is going in the wrong direction, do not be afraid to change your staff. I said good-bye to those who didn’t match our dream team in 2011. If you are an indie, fire those who only work for their salaries and who do not go with the level of your team.

  1. Technology

First, there was weak understanding of the architecture and some mistakes of the lead programmer.  Let me put it like this: we were unlucky with our technical architect and had to re-do the technology three times before we dismissed him.  Integration of new features to the render was changing the pipeline in terms of art. As said above, it took us one year to experiment with the technology and develop first toolset. To me, it was like a joker in the pack – the arts and programming departments would set some terms, but in reality it appeared that nobody had control of the situation. Difficult? It was. Especially when you invest your own money. And your employees do like to experiment 🙂 As a result – we finally got a working technology for Xbox 360 and PC in 2010… But our publisher then wanted PlayStation 3. I have to admit that we were afraid of it. And not in vain.

At that moment we had strong guys in our team and decided that we could do it. We got the hardware in August. And we realized that we had to do the impossible – once again re-write the whole architecture of the render and do refactoring of the engine, as our engine was not ready for PS3 architecture. And in October we had to show the Playable to the publisher.

Gritting their teeth, guys got down to work and analysed the entire code in every detail.  The publisher waited patiently for something playable for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. I, as a producer, had to look into it too – it was a serious step to do considerable refactoring of the code. But I trusted the guys and they did it.

biengine

At the same time, we provided for the possibility of the engine to easily add new platforms, as well as mobile platforms. The previous code was designed for Xbox 360 and DirectX. The new one became a real engine. Within three months a playable for PS3 was available. …. But how slow it was! 🙂

In 2011, while doing a team test and fixing multiplayer for Xbox Live and PSN, programmers were focused on optimisation of the engine code and PS3 render. Numbers? Ok! We raised these two-three times for Xbox and four times for PSP! We had 25-35 fps on PS3 without Cell optimisation.   At the final stage of development. We even used to joke about Stereo, but had already dealt with feature cut and knew the importance of total concentration on our tasks.

We reduced our staff by middle of 2011 and left only key people. It was clear now that it was not enough to do a game and fix critical bugs. One has to pass certification! And, let me tell you, this depends on the quality of testing. It is tough, as you start finding weak points in the code, when something hasn’t been considered well.  And at the same time, you keep on spending your money… And you do postpone your other projects. We had a three month delay and moved release date. Very hard times…

On the whole, the project lasted a year longer than planned. On the one hand, it was due to PlayStations 3 porting, on the other though, because of overestimation  of own abilities.

What now?

We started developing concepts of two new projects in mid-2011 and are planning to release Depth Hunter game about underwater hunting and treasure hunting  by December, 2011.  It will be released for mobile platforms later. Yes! We are indeed developing a version of our technology for mobile platforms – IOS, Android.

And Deep Black is going to become MMOTPS. We are going to launch it as a Free-to-Play by the end of next year. Depth Hunter for mobile is going to be Free-to-Play too. We are eager to work on free-to-play for consoles. I do believe that this is going to be of top interest in 2012-2013.

We have registered an office in the USA (Delaware) this year. So far it is our legal HQ, but we are looking forward to getting money for Deep Black to move to the USA. Unfortunately our business is in Russia and it is getting more difficult to search for investments here, in Russia. Unreasonable loan terms and local investors who are eager to get a controlling interest at once make it challenging to do business in Russia.

The political situation in Russia is not predictable too. People talk a lot about it and do not trust the government. Guys, we do want to work and develop games, rather than wait for another revolution!

A Russian Association of Game Developers and Publishers of Game Industry and Interactive Technologies (http://www.radit.ru/) was set up in 2010 by a number of Russian companies. We were trying to promote development of simulator games and gain support to develop an equivalent of, for example, “Canada” in Russia.  But in our country you can only do business if you pay bribes. I spent two years and a lot of money trying to change things. I have held two conferences ACGI (2009, 2010, http://www.acgirussia.com/), but soon realised that they do not need us. I have no intention to have anything in common with the current authorities any more.

So at the moment I am busy transferring our contracts and licenses to the US, dealing with registration issues and searching for investors/ partners for a long-term cooperation.

We have always tried to develop not only original and quality games, but also high-tech games. I think that we have coped with our task in 2011. I am sure that we will cope with our new challenge – move to the US – in 2012.

Six years after the company set-up, we are facing a new stage of the company development. I am sure that the upcoming 2012 will bring success to all our games!

Konstantin Popov

Founder & CEO of Biart Company

Star Wars: Dark Forces

With the release of DOOM in 1993, the gaming industry went into overdrive in coming up with similar games using the first-person perspective.  Some games, such a as Heretic and Hexen, simply licensed id Software’s game engine.  Others choose to build their own 3-D first-person shooters from the ground up.  LucasArts Entertainment was one of the latter companies, and Star Wars: Dark Forces was their first stab at the genre.

Star Wars - Dark Forces - Box

Box cover for the 1995 game Star Wars: Dark Forces

Released in 1995, Dark Forces was the first Jedi Knight game, though the original release did not use the “Jedi Knight: Dark Forces” tagline.  Later re-releases would, however. The story revolves around a mercenary called Kyle Katarn, an ex-soldier of the Empire who now works freelance for the Rebel Alliance.  After a minor interlude wherein Kyle steals the plans for some obscure new Imperial weapon called the “Death Star”, our hero is tasked with investigating General Rom Mohc and his plans for creating a new weapon for the Empire: the Dark Troopers.

 

Star Wars - Dark Forces - Gameplay Screenshot

The game plays out over 14 levels in which Kyle takes on a variety of low-level enemies, such as stormtroopers, Imperial Officers, Gamorrean guards.  Kyle visits famous locales from the Star Wars universe, such as the Imperial capital, Corsucant, the “Smuggler’s Moon”, Nar Shaddaa, and the Imperial Super Star DestroyerExecutor, and interacts with classic characters such as Jabba the Hutt and Mon Mothma.  There are the obligatory cameos by Darth Vader and Boba Fett, but there’s no interaction between Kyle and them.  (Which is probably a good idea, as any of the heavy-hitters of the Star Wars universe would be able to use him as a mop at this point in his fictional career).

 

Star Wars - Dark Forces - Gameplay Screenshot

The action is in the first-person perspective, and unlike DOOM, you can look up and down for your enemies, all the better to locate and eliminate them.  Although later in the game series Kyle hears the call of the Jedi, there’s no lightsaber action in this game.  However, there are plenty of other weapons to keep you interested, including the Bryar pistol, the standard stormtrooper E-11 blaster rifle, thermal detonators, the absolutely awesome Stouker concussion rifle, and the Dark Trooper assault cannon (the best way to take those bad boys out).

 

Star Wars - Dark Forces - Gameplay Screenshot

Dark Forces was released on three platforms, all CD-based.  Its initial release came in MS-DOS format (PC), followed quickly by a Macintosh version, and finally a Sony PlayStation (PS1) version a year later.  Both the MS-DOS and Macintosh versions are similar to each other, and play well, but the PS1 version suffers from the translation, and is an inferior game.

 

Star Wars - Dark Forces - Gameplay Screenshot - Playstation

The game was a tremendous hit for LucasArts, generating close to a million units sold, and ranking one of the top-selling games of the 1990s.  The critical reviews were also very favourable, with many comparing Dark Forces to id Software’s masterpiece, DOOM.  Of course, with both critical and financial success came the sequel parade, and LucasArts knew a good property when they saw one.  Dark Forces spawned Jedi Knight, which was an even better game than its predecessor (and which begat its own sequel and an expansion pack!).

Star Wars - Dark Forces - Gameplay Screenshot - Mac

Box front for the Macintosh version of Dark Forces

All in all, Dark Forces is a very good game and should be on any retro gamer’s resume. If you haven’t played it before, consider giving it a little time in your retrogaming play list and help Kyle Katarn stop the threat of the Dark Trooper program once and for all!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RR1qrAi3gL0[/youtube]

The Secret of Monkey Island

It’s very difficult to write a blog that focuses on the best retro games without reminding everyone about the gaming joy that was The Secret of Monkey Island, released by LucasArts Entertainment in 1990, to rave reviews from both game critics and the gaming community as a whole.

The Secret of Monkey Island

The Secret of Monkey Island cover art.

Monkey Island was an adventure game wherein the player assumed the role of young Guybrush Threepwood, a wannabe pirate looking for the way to become one of the pirate fraternity.  The Pirate Leaders give him three tasks: Defeat the island’s Swordmaster, Carla, in insult sword fighting; steal a statue from the Governor’s mansion; and find buried treasure.  Along the way he will meet a cast of wacky characters, while finding both true love with the beautiful and intrepid Elaine Marley, and a bitter, lifelong enemy with the ghost pirate LeChuck.

The Secret of Monkey Island

The Secret of Monkey Island insult sword fighting.

The quest process is one of the great strengths of Monkey Island: non-linear story telling.  It does not matter what order Guybrush completes his tasks in, so a player never feels unduly railroaded through the plot, and can explore the game world at will.  Another key strength that makes this work is that Guybrush does not die as a result of a wrong course of action.  Even jumping off a cliff cannot do our hapless hero in, which frees the player to try unusual actions in any circumstance, just to see whether the game programmers anticipated it.  (Actually, there is one way for Guybrush to expire – and only one – in the game, which involves hanging around for longer than 10 minutes underwater.)

The Secret of Monkey Island

Guybrush Threepwood is running out of time…

The guiding force behind The Secret of Monkey Island was Ron Gilbert, who based the game’s ambience and feel upon his experience at the Disneyland attraction Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as on the novel On Stranger Tides, by Tim Powers, which was the inspiration for many of the game’s characters.  He went to the point of writing a series of short stories based on his ideas for Monkey Island, which he used to help convey the spirit of game to his creative partners, Tim Schaffer and Ron Grossman.  All three used the stories as a blueprint for creating the game, and as a place marker for keeping the project vision focused.

The Secret of Monkey Island

Another tight spot for Guybrush.

The Secret of Monkey Island used LucasArts’ SCUMM engine, and the fifth such game to do so.  Players interacted with the game environment by choosing a verb and an object to interact with, and the game would provide a response.  Examples of the kinds of commands are LOOK AT, GIVE, PICK UP, OPEN, CLOSE, TALK TO, PUSH, PULL, and USE.  Part of the fun of Monkey Island is to see how many responses are programmed into the game depending on what actions you choose!

The Secret of Monkey Island

It’s the Pirate Life for me!

The Secret of Monkey Island migrated to several platforms: MS-DOS, Macintosh, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, FM Towns, and Sega CD.  It was a smash hit for LucasArts, thus guaranteeing a sequel – Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge – which was also a huge seller.  In fact, the Monkey Island franchise has had many sequels: The Curse of Monkey Island, Escape From Monkey Island, and the various Tales of Monkey Island Chapters.  Its popularity continues today with the downloadable Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition release.  Gamers just keep coming back the Monkey Island universe, a sure sign of a classic gaming franchise!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_CTE5Xx_1o[/youtube]

Pirates of Silicon Valley movie review

Pirates of Silicon Valley movie review

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates

If you care at all about computers or technology or business or the future, this is a movie you MUST watch. The movie goes hand in hand with other amazing technology business movies such as Micromen and The Social Network. This movie shows you how the megacorps we know as Microsoft and Apple started, according to writer and director Martyn Burke. It was also based on the book “Fire in the Valley” written by Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine. I’m not saying it’s exactly what happened, but it’s close enough. I used to obsess as a kid wanting to know the exact details of the true history of something but I’m not a time traveler so such details no longer bother me.

It’s easy to watch the movie as they have multiple copies of it on youtube.

The movie shows two camps: Apple with its technology loving engineers and hippie turned businessman turned devil and Microsoft with its college nerds who love to play poker and jocks turned executive geniuses. You get to see Steve Jobs go from this rebel non-conformist into him signing over his soul to the devil to then becoming the devil himself. Gates is just ambitious from the start and his ambition never wanes.

Like all pioneers, nobody at their time took them serious or understood what they were trying to do. They were creating a revolution in technology, in the way we live our lives (especially if you’re a computer person like me). Think about where we would be without the personal computer. Even the things that came after, like cell phones, smart phones, laptops, mp3 players, the internet, social media… none of that would be possible without the work of engineers and businessmen such as these. I’m not saying they were the definite cause for all this but they were major contributors. We must also accredit other people such as all the fine people at Altair, Commodore, Atari, Nintendo, IBM, Sega, Sinclair, Acorn, and more.

Back to the movie… The movie shows both sides eventually doing whatever it needs to get ahead. The movie is not called The Super Nice Nerds of Silicon Valley, it’s The Pirates. Yes, they WILL cut your throat if you are in their way to success. Now, I’m not saying they’re as evil as wall street or the banks that just robbed the world, but they’re no saints!

A recurring theme in the movie is to get people to want what they don’t really need necessarily, which you might not even have yet but you want them to want it, creating demand (and getting the money to get it made).

One of the most important scenes is at the 1977 tech show when Gates tries to talk to Jobs, explaining what they were doing at Microsoft, only to get blown off by him, which in turn starts part of their war against each other.

The best part of the movie is probably when Microsoft sells DOS to IBM. I’ll let this clip speak for itself:

The other best scene of the movie is when Apple gets the GUI from Xerox. I couldn’t find a video of that clip to post here. It is also really interesting when an Apple employee confronts Gates telling him that instead of Apple thinking IBM is big brother that they don’t realize that Microsoft is their true enemy. He points this out to Jobs while he was trying to woo the Apple employees during a conference by showing them the famous 1984 Apple commercial.

Microsoft had the foresight to see that without software the hardware did nothing. Sure, you could have the most incredible monster machine but if nobody can do things with it, who would buy it?

Gates reminds me a lot of myself. He is characterized as being a very good poker player, the kind who will never let you know how good or bad of a hand he has and will make you make the wrong decision. Especially in the beginning, he uses a strategy of making you think that he has many business deals going on, when in reality he had none. Both sides did that actually. He got in trouble with the law, especially speeding (that’s me!), and doing other crazy things (not so much me, well, actually…) such as wrecking his friend’s car. Throughout the movie and in real life, he is a very competent negotiator.

Steve Jobs was just evil to me all throughout the movie. In real life, I still don’t like him, which is funny because I hated everything Microsoft for many years when I was younger, but in reality I didn’t like how he reacted to being informed at the number of record suicides at the Foxconn factories, which make a LOT of Apple products. The transformation this movie shows goes from stoner hippie to egoist pioneer to evil business genius. I just think he’s a real asshole. Through the movie he kept denying that his daughter Lisa was actually his.

Throughout the movie, the characters I enjoyed the most were Steve Wozniak (the Woz) and Steve Ballmer. I felt bad for the Woz because he just wanted to create and then he had to deal with all the drama and bullshit from Jobs, as well as seeing Jobs putting down people and destroying the Lisa. Woz was always trying to do the right thing, like not fuck his friends out of stock or treat employees like subhumans. I felt terrible for him when he quit the company after Jobs had pretty much created a civil war inside Apple (Macintosh vs everything else). Ballmer was just a total trip. He was this crazy jock that would always have the common sense, especially when it came to getting girls, that Bill Gates and Paul Allen did not have.

As a movie critic I give this movie a score of 7 out of 10. As a computer geek I give this movie a 9 out of 10. I think Micromen was a much better movie, about a similar topic. The music selection throughout the movie is excellent and I was really shocked by this as this was a made-for-TV movie. Noah Wyle as Jobs just blew my mind, which you might know as the science teacher from Donnie Darko. John DiMaggio was great as Ballmer, which is a real treat because he is usually known for his voice work in cartoons such as Futurama and also voice work for many video games.

Go watch it.

DotEmu to offer Gabriel Knight Series

Gabriel Knight

We are always happy when we see classic games made available for more and more people and DotEmu is doing just that. Launched in 2007 Dot Emu offers classic games reprogramed and enhanced for use on today’s PC, MAC’s, iphone and even online.

Recently DotEmu announced a partnership with Activision to release their Gabriel Knight series for Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 DRM-Free. The series includes the games: GABRIEL KNIGHT: Sins of the Fathers® ($5.99), THE BEAST WITHIN: A Gabriel Knight® Mystery ($5.99) and GABRIEL KNIGHT® 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned ($5.99).

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQYuXBqR9T4[/youtube]

You can check out these titles here.

 

Baku Baku Animal

Baku Baku Animal - Sega - Gameplay Screenshot

Baku Baku Animal (1996)
By: Sega Genre: Puzzle Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Saturn First Day Score: 17,250
Also Available For: Arcade, Game Gear, Master System, PC

After the unprecedented success of Tetris, a good few companies jumped on the ‘falling block’ puzzle game genre, and one of the biggest offenders was Sega. After buying the rights to Columns, it soon snapped up Puyo Puyo too. None of these addictive games, however, was to appear on their new Saturn console, so instead Sega came up with their own game, and quite an original one it was too! The King (of somewhere) is apparently looking to hire a zookeeper to look after the animal-mad Princesses pets! The game is basically a test at a job interview. If you win, you’ll get offered the job! Like the games before it, the action takes place on a single screen, in this case divided vertically down the middle. Player one controls the action on the left side of the screen, and player two or a computer-controlled opponent controls the right. As is usually the case with games like this, the concept behind the gameplay is a simple one. Sets of two blocks drift down the screen, one after another. Pictured on each single block is either a food or an animal. All you have to do is match the food with the animal that eats it!

Baku Baku Animal - Sega - Gameplay Screenshot

There are five different animals in the game and each will eat only his favourite food when he lands on some (monkeys eat bananas, mice eat cheese, etc), but since food blocks appear more often than the animal ones it’s best to group foods together as much as possible. This is the best way to play the game as chain reactions can occur this way resulting in not only larger scores for you, but will also see a load of random blocks dumped on your opponent’s side of the screen! This will obviously not only screw up their attempts to do the same to you, but will also push them closer to the top of the screen which results in game over. The longer the game goes on for, the faster the blocks will fall down the screen. Occasionally, a pair of coins called ‘BB Coins’ will appear in place of a food/animal block. These will make any blocks they touch, and any other blocks of the same type on that player’s play field disappear.

Baku Baku Animal - Sega - Gameplay Screenshot


There are two play modes to choose from in Baku Baku (plus a secret third one) – Arcade and Ranking modes. Arcade mode is the same as the arcade version as you might imagine. Here, you will challenge a series of opponents until you get to challenge the Princess. Beat her and win the game! Arcade mode is also where the two-player action is to be found. The ranking mode is for one player only, and is more or less the same as the arcade mode except your opponents carry on forever. Beat as many as you can and then receive a ranking for your playing skills such as number of attacks, number of chain reactions, and the least amount of time elapsed. Also featured is a hall of fame and a movie viewer, both accessible from the options screen where it is also possible to alter the difficulty level and increase or reduce the number of different animal types.

Baku Baku Animal - Sega - Gameplay Screenshot

As with most puzzle games of this nature, its simplicity means the technical strain on the host system is kept to a minimum. It’s a nice, colourful, happy looking game though, and features a decent rendered intro detailing the story. The animals themselves are particularly amusing when they grow bigger to eat the foods! The music and sound effects are also suitably happy and upbeat (there’s even a ‘bangin’ dance remix hidden on the disc), and that’s pretty much the case throughout the game. You know what you’re getting with games like this and, whilst there are no real surprises and the one-player mode won’t last you long, this is still one of the best games of its type. Everything about it is top quality and it’s a lot of fun, especially when challenging a friend. A novel and amusing take on the much-copied falling block game and one well-worthy of your time.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GMzVGK0V5Y[/youtube]

RKS Score: 8/10

Dark Age Of Camelot: The Second Coming


Hell yeah, I choose this deceptive title to make you think we had sort of insider information to a sequel for Mythic’s MMORPG Dark Age of Camelot. You must be pretty upset with me for that and disappointed in the world knowing that a second chance at an upgraded DAOC isn’t coming any time soon. Grim days I tell you, reader.

Hopefully you haven’t left yet so I can tell you about what I really wanted your attention for. Yes, it does involve Dark Age of Camelot.

We’re listening, you fat piece of shit.

Thank you for staying tuned. How long has it been since you’ve enjoyed the glory of RvR? No, I don’t mean the abortion of RvR that was present in Mythic’s failed Warhammer Online game. I mean real RvR. The kind where three realms go head to head on a battlefield, sieging keeps, slaying epic beasts, forming alliances, and claiming the rights to the world’s most powerful relics.

I know your mind is fluttering with thoughts of a time long ago where PvP in an MMO was actually interesting and purposeful to your entire faction. What would you do if you had a chance to revisit the past? Would you take the reins of life and steer them into the right direction?

Yeah, Umar. Cool story, bro. We can always resub to DAOC and its dwindling population, new rule sets, or play on classic servers for a nominal monthly fee.

Yes, that’s true. You could do that or…

You could play the sonuvabitch for free on the Uthgard Free Shard server. Yes, I said free. It is a DAOC emulated server with all the classic rule sets and additional content added from the staff.

The population is healthy and the community is active. All the instructions to download the game and get it working takes no longer than 5-10mins once the game has been installed. Enjoy your crusade as a proud member of Albion, mystify the world with your fairy magics in Hibernia, or bathe in the blood of the mighty as a Midgardian. That’s it. I have nothing else to say. Go play, haters.

Spooks

Spooks Gameplay Screenshot 1
Well, in a nutshell: Spooks is the first creation of a person named “The Ivy”” along with a very small team, it’’s a freeware adventure, it looks good, sounds ok, is size-wise a very modest download and anyone who is smart enough to have reached this review, shouldn’’t have any trouble downloading it from the xii games website. And to wet your appetite, here is a nice screenshot:Nice, isn’’t it?
Spooks Gameplay Screenshot 2
Of course it is, and it should be enough to convince you to have a look and to stop me from writing this review. Problem is, Spooks is a very good game, and one worth having a (slightly) more detailed look at. First of all the graphics are unique, mostly in grayscale and with a rather innovative use of color. Then, the three very important pillars of a comedy adventure game are there: the story is good (albeit a bit short), the dark humor is sarcastic and actually funny, the puzzles are varied, interesting and decently implemented.
Spooks Gameplay Screenshot 3

Naturally, as Spooks is the Ivy’’s first foray in adventure game design, not all is rosy (what a weird and subtle pun -–eh?). Puzzles are a tad on the too easy side, which isn’’t necessarily a bad thing, as is for example the lack of obvious hotspots, which eventually leads to some annoying pixel-hunting. Other minor problems include a few quite obvious time-triggers, lack of a full soundtrack, the inclusion of one (easy yet uninspired) Myst-style puzzle and a lack of polish here-and-there.

On the plus side, the dialogs, handled with a typical multiple-choice interface, are very well written, the finale is unexpectedly unexpected, the Sierra styled interface works in an okay way, and as I’’ve already said everything is fine and dandy. Even the lead character is like Diamanda Galas in joke-mode. I guess that in order to find out more you should rather download and play the game. Here are more screenshots, and a hint on the plot: It’’s about ghouls. The female kind. That should do it. I’’m sure I’’ve convinced you to have a look.

Spooks can be downloaded from the AGS website.

That’’s an (eight) out of (ten).

Bubble Bobble

Bubble Bobble - Arcade Gameplay Screenshot 1

Bubble Bobble (1986)
By: Taito Genre: Platform Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 180,180
Also Available For: Master System, Game Gear, Saturn, PlayStation, X68000, NES, GameBoy Color, GameBoy Advance, Nintendo DS, FM Towns Marty, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Apple II, MSX, PC

What more can be said about this all-time great? Whilst perhaps not as well known as Mario or Sonic, the cute dinosaurs of Bubble Bobble are just as iconic to many gamers, myself included, and have now appeared in a lot of games on nearly every system ever created, in one guise or another. My first encounter with the bubble-blowing twins was in ‘Kwiki Meals’, the cafe near my college. It was here that I ventured every lunchtime to play Bubble Bobble (and eat a burger), and I was often late back to class! It was the game that first brought the great Taito to my attention and they’ve been one of my favourite companies since. Sadly, both Kwiki Meals and the arcade masterpiece it once housed are now long gone but I’ve had a regular fix of Bubble Bobble ever since.

Bubble Bobble - Arcade Gameplay Screenshot 2

Most of you will know the drill by now – Bub and Bob have been turned into dragons by the evil Super Drunk who has also kidnapped their girlfriends! In order to get them back and be restored to Human form, they must battle their way through a hundred rounds of multi-platformed, monster-infested caves until they can face, and hopefully defeat, Super Drunk. Bub and Bob, who start each round in the bottom left and bottom right corners of the screen respectively, must clear each single-screen round of baddies in order to proceed to the next. To do this you must trap them in bubbles which both Bub and Bob can blow at will. The bubbles fly forward quickly, before floating up the screen being carried by the air currents in the caverns. Freshly-blown bubbles are surrounded by a shiny orange aura until they are a certain distance away and it is only during this brief period that enemies can be trapped in them.

Bubble Bobble - Arcade Gameplay Screenshot 3

Once an enemy is trapped in a bubble, it must be popped quickly to kill it, either by touching it with the spines on Bub and Bob’s head and back, by jumping on it, or by pushing it into a wall. If you fail to pop it quickly enough, it will pop by itself, and the re-released enemy will be angry and much faster. It’s also possible to bounce off bubbles instead of popping them when you jump on one or fall on one from above. This is an essential skill to learn as sometimes it’s the only way to escape from part of a level or reach some high platforms. Bubbles also stick together if they touch each other, whether they contain enemies or not, so if you time it right you can cause a mega-pon chain reaction meaning mega-points! There are eight different types of standard enemy altogether and each has his own movement patern. Learning these are obviously the key to success here, but don’t take too long – if you stay on one stage too long, the undefeatable Baron Von Blubba will appear and stalk you until there’s nowhere left to hide!

Bubble Bobble - Arcade Gameplay Screenshot 4

One of this game’s many memorable points is that it jointly holds the record with its own sequel as one of the most fruit laden game ever (this is a good thing)! Items are spilled on a platform somewhere in the level every time an enemy is vanquished and other items appear seemingly out of nowhere now and then. There is an enormous amount of them to be found, some of which are very useful, particularly the umbrella which skips several levels, and there are power-ups and various kinds of screen-clearing smart bombs too. Some other items are even available in different colours, varying their effect. Also appearing liberally are lots of different fruits, gems and foods which can be seized for bonus points. Additional bubbles sometimes get ‘blown’ onto the screen by the air currents running through the caverns, and included amongst these are ‘special’ bubbles which, when popped, unleash special powers. These include fire bubbles, which spill fire which scorches enemy’s, lightning bubbles which sends a enemy-killing lightning bolt across the screen, and water bubbles, which send a torrent of water cascading down the platforms killing all enemies in its path. The last kind of bubbles to be found contain letters. Collecting them will gradually spell out E-X-T-E-N-D down the side of the screen. Complete the word to clear the round and get an extra life!

There are many more little intricacies and nuances to this game and to be honest, I could go on all day about them, but discovering them for yourself is one of the things that makes Bubble Bobble as great as it is. Despite initially seeming random, almost everything you do has some sort of affect on the game, from how quickly you finish a round right down to a particular digit of your score when you reach a certain point. Many games have been called classics over the years. Whether they truly are or not depends on your definition of the term I suppose, but few are as genuinely timeless as Bubble Bobble.

The cute, colourful graphics which are full of character, that music by Zuntata which could just be the catchiest tune of all-time, the flawlessly structured gameplay, the fiendish stage design, the fantastic fun of jumping around the platforms trying to time an attack to perfection, playing the game with a friend, it goes on and on. It’s regularly sited as one of the greatest games of all-time, and it’s hard to argue. Bubble Bobble isn’t just a single screen platform game, for many it’s the single screen platform game! It’s certainly true that it’s among the most enduring platform games of all-time and that kind of lasting adulation can only be for one reason…

RKS Score: 10/10

DCUO: Qualms With The Game And A Plea For Fixes

Bat Family DCUO screenshot
Bat Family DCUO screenshot

DCUO: Qualms With The Game And A Plea For Fixes

This is a copy/pasta of a post I made on the DCUO official forums.

I am writing this in hopes that SOE sees this and takes the time to actually start some sort of plan to save their latest MMO DC Universe Online. I am not calling in the apocalypse of this game but I am simply stating that right now it has been poisoned by bugs. I have played many MMORPGs and since World of Warcraft’s release there haven’t been many AAA MMO launches. Many games falter in their idea to cash in on the WoW craze and create clones and other games try mechanics that just seem to fall flat because they failed to fix game breaking bugs before release. I don’t have much faith in many of the MMO’s coming out in 2011 but I did feel and still do feel that DCUO was going to be the one to stand with the greatest potential.

Lawl? Did u not hear of Star Wars TOR, newb?

Okay, fellow forum readers. Yes I’ve heard of Star Wars but I do not have high hopes for that game as I generally don’t see things with rose tinted glasses. But this is besides the point. I don’t want to banter SOE with “IM GUNNA QUIT AND GO TO ” bull. I don’t want to put out an angry, unproductive statement out that does nothing but sound like another QQ fest. I want to state what I think they need to fix in order to prevent this game to going into a crippling decline.

People in my guild r already leaving, newb! Dis gaem is a failure.

I understand that people are leaving but people always leave MMO’s in their first month. It’s a common thing to see a mass exodus of people leave one game, talk highly of the new toy, and then pinch a loaf all over that toy, and go back to another game that presents the same grind or what not. That isn’t a great argument at this point as it is a common thing amongst MMO gamers.

Now that I have the generic forum responses out of the way, let me get into my issues with the game and why they are stunting to its growth.

League Chat Breaking

Never have I played a game where a chat is broken. Shout is never broken, yet somehow, some way, League chat breaks. How are groups of people supposed to connect to enjoy the game together? No one plays an MMO to play it in solidarity for everlasting months. The thing that keeps people playing is 1) Yes, content, but we’ll get into that later and 2) the ability to form bonds with fellow server mates for an enjoyable experience.

Those of you who have spent time with guildies or leaguers and just goofed off racing around cities, griefing someone as a group, or just doing something pointless can attest to the good times that can be had with friends and clansmen. Even without additional content, good friends can make a game last awhile, probably not as long as a game with constant content, but they’ll last longer than the average solo king player.

League Chat breaking over and over seems like an easy bug to fix as most MMO’s don’t seem to screw up their chat systems. This is the first time I’ve ever witnessed this kind of issue in anything ever. Without League chat, what’s the point of a League? How can people communicate or introduce themselves to one another? No bonds are made thus no establishment is set into the game’s community causing a rift of players to either leave to where they came from or hold out until the next MMO that will save them.

Queues Breaking

I can see how this is an issue that can take awhile to resolve but it should have been resolved early on towards the end of beta. Some sort of contingency plan should have been brought up to fix the issue if queuing loads being too dramatically hectic is causing them to shatter. If it isn’t the load of players using the queuing system that is breaking it, then what is it? What is so difficult to fix that it has taken two weeks for someone to still not figure out?

A lot of games have a ton of levels for you to grind through so it takes awhile for major sums of their player base to hit the endgame cap. DCUO makes you super right away by making hitting 30  a quick and easy thing to do. This is mostly because most of the content is for level 30 characters. That is great but when most of this content is governed by the queue system, well that is where the main focal point of the game’s design seems to get blinded.

How is a game that promotes fast leveling and quick end game experience supposed to last when their main method of entering these adventures is blocked by a queue system that breaks too often. PvP queues, Duo queues, Alert queues, all broken. The only queue that seems to work is The Vault and that is completely aside from anything else as it just teleports you to a single player map.

But OP! You can run to Arkham, Containment Facilities, and many more!

That’s true, poster. You could run to those instances. I, for one, have been. I refuse to allow a broken queue to stop me but when I can’t do my duos or get into certain instances, I feel like I’m being cheated. I’m not saying that SOE owes me Marks of Triumph (though, that’d be pretty nice.) but I do feel like I’m paying $15 a month to be blocked out of content I was able to play earlier in the week.

Watchtower Crashes

This bug personally hasn’t affected me but I can see where the issue can bother some people. In WoW, when Eastern Kingdoms or Kalimdor crashed, you couldn’t get on your character in that continent. However, there was another continent always available for both factions.

When Watchtower is down, you’re locking out a good chunk of one faction while the other isn’t hindered at all. This is an increasingly difficult issue because if queues aren’t working, and Watchtower is down, so goes your cross city travel system.

Bugs I Can Deal WIth For Now

There are certain bugs I can handle right now because there are work arounds for them, but that doesn’t mean to ignore them.

I can deal with the platform in Star Labs arena being exploited by flying enemies contesting the node from underneath since I’m a pro and took grounding abilities.

I can deal with the loot bug at the end of an alert where if I hit L before seeing the “overall data” chart  I won’t get to roll on the item. I already know to wait but I can see where a ton of people would be having an issue over this. (Protip: Leave the instance and you can still hit need out of the alert and the item will go to you and show up in your bag.)

You Sound Mad, Bro! Do You Like Anything About This Game?

Yes, I like this game and unlike many people I have faith in SOE. I know EQ2 was a pile of garbage but they really turned that game around. If it released maybe 2-3 years ago instead of 6 it could have been a contender, it could have been a somebody! They dish out content in that game constantly and it’s great to see a company throwing resources into a dying game like that (though they probably wouldn’t admit EQ2 is suffering.).

Of the MMO’s I’ve played at release, this game is pretty solid and enjoyable. I know they’ll keep pushing out content because they understand how big DC is right now with Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, the upcoming Green Lantern,  the role DC heroes play in children’s media, the announcement of the new Superman flick, and the success of Smallville.

The combat system isn’t something you find in any MMORPG to date and it works out for the action packed fluidity of the comic book genre. I never thought the class system in this game would work because class systems tend to fail in most Super Hero MMO attempts but I think this is probably one of the best implementations out there and I have no issues with the balance of paper, rock, scissors. I enjoy the three class trinity synergy and the ability for anyone to DPS.

The excitement of being able to fight side by side with notable characters, heroes and villains alike, adds to the feel of the game. The voice work is grand and I hope they can keep it up, unlike in EQ2 where they stopped their voice acting in newer installments of content. With Time Warner having some role over the development of this game, though, and their ability to profit from it as well, I can see the voice acting remaining relevant  if the game remains a standing contender in the current 2011 MMO battle.

So as you can see, I am satisfied with the game. I am still hyped up and enjoying everything I possibly can right now with DCUO. It’s fresh, different, and exciting especially with friends. I would like to keep it that way.

I know that SOE is planning a huge update of content in February but please do try to fix the bugs as well first or simultaneously. Additional content is useless with a dwindling player base.

 

The Story of First Star Origins: How Bad Economic Design Can Ruin a Good Game

First Star Origins logo
First Star Origins logo

A Background

Most people have probably never heard of a little online RPG titled First Star Origins. It appeared and “disappeared” rather quickly and silently. It was mostly only known to close followers of games created by the developer and owner of Unfun Games. I’ll quickly fill in anyone outside of the know of this tiny little company. Unfun Games developed a number of online RPGs with the title “First Star” in the name of each. It began with “First Star Online” which had a decent following for a new 2D online RPG at the time. Eventually, the source code for the server and client were up for sale and spawned games like “Terra World”. Unfun Games continued to make FSO 2 & 3 along with two tactical based online RPGs. First Star Origins was the most recent game.

First Star Origins had a new idea that sounded fantastic. Let the players build the game. Give them the content and they can build the world. And indeed they could. Players could purchase land in “squares” from the website (similar to Second Life), gather resources, and build a great number of things. It almost sounded too good to be true. From houses to mansions; from fences to interior furniture; from starting a farm to setting up a shop with an NPC to buy and sell items, players had a large amount of freedom in building the world. Players also had a large amount of crafting options in making equipment for their characters. Players could level up a number of skills related to crafting, battling, treasure hunting, farming, taming animals, fishing, etc. Finally, players had the option to build mines that would generate gold and ore. So, it actually played slightly like an RTS at times.

First Star Origins screenshot
First Star Origins screenshot

What Went Wrong

What a bunch of amazing ideas! How could anything possibly go wrong? The answer to that question is bad economic design and lack of support. Bad economic design made the currency useless and thus made shops, the auction house, and treasure hunting useless as well. Typically, in games, we interact with NPCs where we exchange money for items and vice versa. The value of those items are predetermined by the game designer. In online RPGs, the value of items can fluctuate based on factors such as how easy it is to obtain money, how easy it is to obtain items, and what the predetermined price of various NPC sold items are in the game. Supply and demand also play a large role and is the primary reason why item prices can be very different on different servers in MMORPGs. But it’s the NPCs that give the money actual value because the money would be useless otherwise. And that’s what happened in this game. There were no NPC shops and nothing could be done to the gold to give it a useful purpose.

In real life, gold has value for many reasons. It cannot be tarnished or weakened and is not affected by other substances. This allows it to maintain throughout many years in almost any environment. Gold can be used in jewelry and other crafts. It is also a nonrenewable resource. Today, it is commonly used in electronics. Gold has maintained its value better and longer than most, if not all, other monies and commodities throughout history. It is for these reasons and many more that gold has been used as a medium for trade all over the world for over a thousand years. Game money doesn’t have these traits and so it is up to the game designer to make sure that money has forced value.

In “First Star Origins” there were no NPC shops to make a use for gold. There was no way to use gold in crafting or anything else. The only use for gold was a one-time purchase of a boat for 5000 gold. This was a small amount of money and was only useful to brand new players. As a result, players refused to trade in gold. Instead, they traded in ore, wood, seed, information, and other useful resources. If a player built a shop, they were forced to use gold as a means of exchange for items so players never took shops seriously. The auction house did the same thing. Players could pan for gold or “treasure hunt” as it was known in the game. This was only useful as a skill to increase the player’s level. This easy access to gold also caused a great level of inflation to what already had no real value making it almost impossible for new players to ever have enough gold to purchase even the most basic of items in some cases. It was a good thing that it was easy to obtain them through other means.

The Decline

Players still enjoyed the game for a month or so. The more hardcore players kept playing for as long as three or four months. But the novelty soon wore off and the game lost purpose. Economic design played a major role in this. A serious lack of content, updates, quests, and other features also played major roles. Eventually, people stopped playing entirely and the game was abandoned by its creator (though the server and website are still up). It was a sad end to a game that had incredible potential. This should serve as an important lesson to designers attempting new ideas in games or real life. It is important to thoroughly think out the consequences of radically new designs and test them well before implementing those ideas in video games or anywhere else. Or else that great idea might just become obsolete.

Aileen Bautista: Dinoroar Interactive

Dinoroar Interactive logo
Dinoroar Interactive logo

Name: Aileen Bautista

Company: Dinoroar Interactive

Profession: Founder and CEO

Favorite Classic Game: Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?

Quote: For a 1991 MS-DOS game, this was my absolutely favourite PC game when I was growing up.  I remember playing this game with the likes of “Gods”, “California Games”, and “Doom”.

My fondest memory was catching Carmen Sandiego, feeling all awesome that I caught the bad guy.  For an educational game at that time, it definitely didn’t seem like it.  I was having too much fun trying to capture suspects and travelling around the world.  I also enjoyed getting my missions and playing “detective”.

This was definitely one of those games that made you want to play it continuously until you caught Carmen Sandiego.

Bio: I’m the founder and CEO of Dinoroar Interactive. (www.dinoroar.com)  You don’t see a lot of girl gamers who take action and start their own games company these days.  I guess thats why I started one.  I wanted to produce games that I like to play, things that are fun and that challenge me- but also taking into consideration smart and quirky gaming situations that people want to be in.

The team at Dinoroar are pretty mad and consists of a vast array of super nerdy talented people that are committed to creating excellent and exciting games and products for all our loyal gaming followers.

Our focus is basic interaction- which means that the team provides smart, quirky and entertaining situations for you to be in.

 

Dinoroars’ innovative and interactive products and games gives anyone (of any age) an excuse to enjoy themselves for that brief moment in time.

Dinoroar memory loss
Dinoroar memory loss

Project: Memory Loss Games App. just recently released in the Apple App Store (for iPhone/ iPad/ iPod Touch at its introductory price of $3.99USD) and will also be available on Android and Symbian Market (release dates of Nov-Dec 2010)

Project Info: I wanted a game that was simple yet challenging and with this brief came up with our games app- Memory Loss.  It’s a skillful game that will get you HOOKED on its game play. Trust me this game ain’t for the light hearted.

 

It has 10 smartly created scenarios and the player will have a certain amount of items (and time) for to memorize the scene- then, it flips over to the actual game, where you have 60 seconds of play time to try and find all the items you saw previously.

Only ultra-super-duper tech head nerds will fight to the death to finish this game. (Like the Dinoroar team)  Will you be up for the challenge?

Memory Loss Games App. just recently released in the Apple App Store (for iPhone/ iPad/ iPod Touch at its introductory price of $3.99USD) and will also be available on Android and Symbian Market (release dates of Nov-Dec 2010)

 

 

 

 

APB. I Think U Dun Goofed

APB logo
APB logo

Long, long ago in the summer of 2010 there lived a game called All Points Bulletin. It was a large sandbox-ish Grand Theft Auto online that took developer Realtime Worlds millions to create. For many, it was a brief stint of entertainment that was hindered by hacks, broken mechanics, and normal players being dominated by gamers who memorized the map and all the good camping spots. For some, it was a new age Wild West where you could roam the city freely and reap havoc on a grand scale against friend and foe.

Of any game out there it had the most amazing character customization option to date. People were creating Ninja Turtle Gangsters with a van to match. People made pedophile theme gangster with Pedobear etched on the side of their vehicles. The game had so much to offer cosmetic hogs that it seemed it could hold a respectable player base for that option alone at least.

But what happened? APB just didn’t seem to hit its expected highs and hit unexpected lows. Was it because of the game? Was it because there were no commercials or real advertisements? You’d think a game like this would have millions of GTA fans drooling all over it. Unfortunately for Realtime Worlds, this isn’t a dream that would become a reality. On September 16th, 2010 the game would breathe its last breaths as it was announced they would be bringing it offline. All the servers came down and that was the end of this Gangster Vs Vigilante Armageddon.

However…

Recently it was announced that free MMO publisher Gamersfirst was going to resuscitate the corpse of APB and release it within the first half of the next year under a Free to Play model. While it does seem they intend to bring back APB, it certainly feels like it is going to be zombified rather than returning to its true former grace.

The team developing this game under Gamersfirst is Reloaded Productions, a group that has been working on an original RPG for the past year or so and has released nothing under its belt. None of the former the employees of Realtime Worlds are even involved in this Rebirth project.

This Free to Play model wreaks of failure as well. Former players of APB will most likely not even be able to play as their old characters and would have to start over again. Why is that? Well, legal issues from Realtime Worlds indicate that they can’t release databases with customer information so this release of APB would be more of an APB v2.

Exactly how will this F2P model work? It has been confirmed that players may “lease” weapons and purchase a premium status that expands on the creation tools. Let me allow this to set in. It expands on nothing. Reloaded Productions isn’t expanding on the current games creation tools. They are holding back options that this game was released with and are now charging players to unlock the only real great thing this game had going for it.

What was the point of this purchase? Everything about this rerelease suggests that this game will be an abomination beyond all abominations. While it hasn’t been released yet and I am talking out of my ass, the confirmed changes in the team, the monetized plan, and the withholding of the games key feature just makes me uninterested in the future of APB.

How can a developer who didn’t create this game and doesn’t even know how to manage the Unreal 3 Engine that it was based upon make this game a future success. That’s like asking me to work on it your trigonometry homework. Just because I’m part Asian doesn’t mean I know math. The same goes for a “developer” who acquires a game they didn’t work on and expecting to be able to reverse engineer something they don’t understand.

I wouldn’t suggest jumping back into APB if you’re really looking to get into this game again. Just get Grand Theft Auto 4 and play online if you’re looking for a shootout jamboree. With all the mechanic flaws this game had under Realtime Worlds, there is no possible way that Reloaded Productions is going to be able fix any of the mistakes the original team failed to correct firsthand.

Nils-Holger Henning: Bigpoint

Bigpoint logo
Bigpoint logo

Name: Nils-Holger Henning

Company: Bigpoint

Profession: CCO

Favorite Classic Game: Need for speed

Quote: Need for Speed is one of the first 3D Racing games and even today this game makes a lot of fun. The sequel titles runs on different platforms like PocketPC´s and Playstation what makes this game a very cool game.


Final Fantasy XIV: A Fantasy I Want No Part Of

FFXIV online logo
FFXIV online logo

E3 2009 took us by surprise when Square-Enix opened up with the trailer for Final Fantasy XIV. It wasn’t expected to be announced and was rather hush-hush until the presentation. What really blew people away, in my opinion, was its suggested release date. When an MMO is normally announced to be in production you expect 2-3 years from that date or more for the game to be complete and released. Releasing such a big brand name in such a short time made me insinuate that this project must have been in works for quite some time in silence. As with most utterings of a Final Fantasy game being released, high expectations are hoped to be met by their fan base. Can Square-Enix bring out a AAA title in such a short time frame? The company certainly has not released anything close to AAA quality in quite some time and this MMORPG must have occupied many of the company’s resources for its production.

Final Fantasy XI was a highly acclaimed MMORPG in Japan and did moderately successful worldwide. With the juggernaut that is World of Warcraft, a company like Square-Enix seemed like the most powerful competitor to steal some WoW’s players. The time to capitalize on the market of people waiting for the next big MMO was netted in by this announcement. With Star Wars: The Old Republic not ready to debut until Spring 2011, Final Fantasy XIV had a chance to pull in a strong player base of MMO nomads.

As the release date began to draw near, open beta was announced and it was time to check out what Square-Enix was hiding behind the curtain. After getting my beta invite email I decided to follow the instructions. I was taken to a link that I had assumed would have a registration key and login section to get this fixation underway. Instead, the link took me to a portal with the “requirements” to play the beta. There were no links to sign into my Square-Enix account and the page was outright inadequate. Their “System Requirements” section on the page just directs you to another page with the information on the minimum system requirements. This portal page was completely and utterly useless and vague at best.

I finally decided to just go to the Final Fantasy XIV official page to login and see if I can find a registration code. Finding any reference to this code in my account page was impossible and adding Final Fantasy XIV to my service only asked me for a code anyway. When I finally did find the code page, they had closed registration codes for the time being and will release more at a later date. After spamming the refresh button a million times I eventually did get this code for my wife and myself to play.

Finding the download section for the game was another hassle as it wouldn’t open up the torrent file at all. I eventually had to find it off another site to begin the patch. My download time for this nearly 8GB file was 5 weeks. My wife’s download time was an hour and thirty minutes. After some surfing on the internet I saw a ton of people were having a problem with the game patching in a reasonable time frame. I guess we got lucky my wife’s download was speedy. When her download finished I just transferred a copy of the completed files to my computer so we could get started.
Now, onto the meat of this review. The game itself.

Performance: My machine is fairly new so I’m not even going to rate the performance based on that. My wife’s unit is older and has an Intel quad-core clocked at 2.40GHZ, 4GB of DDR2 memory, and an ATI 5870. The game ran beautifully. There was little to no chopping even in the populated cities with the settings set to max. Particle effects offered zero lag and the game probably ran the smoothest out of any next-gen MMORPG we’ve played in the past 3 years. For an open beta, this was highly impressive. Any midrange computer can handle this game at full settings with just a bit of tweaking if a hitch ever came up.

Controls: Developers of this game came out straight and said this game was designed to have the UI revolve around the use of a controller. Just like in Final Fantasy XI, this unrelated sequel of sorts incorporates the use of a controller even for the PC. It is not keyboard and mouse friendly at all. For God’s sake, you can’t even hotkey anything. For some of the most simple tasks you have to take a journey through a plethora of menus for miniscule options. It is ridiculous, cumbersome, and ill planned. Yes, the game is releasing for the PS3 and these controls must be comfortable for them but guess what? They aren’t releasing the PS3 version until sometime next year. What is the purpose of releasing the PC version with this horrid UI and control scheme if the focus of its movement isn’t even releasing until the following year? It makes little to no sense. It seems to me they are releasing this version of the game just to make the deadline “promise” they made at E3 2009.

LOL Wut Pirate Final Fantasy XIV
LOL Wut Pirate Final Fantasy XIV

Sound: Classic Final Fantasy sounds make their appearance in this game. It is clear and sounds great. The music really puts you in that role-playing mood if you’re into that sort of thing. It shoves you into this world and makes it come to life. As always, Nobuo Uematsu knows how to compose some grand and fantastical musical choices. Unfortunately, all this goes to hell the moment the voice-overs pop in. The studio that handled the voice acting must have hired the student’s from Ms.Spifz’s High School English Class. The actors sounded as though they were involuntarily picked to read aloud to the class the next section of The Great Gatsby. The voices are uninspired, bland, and lacking any emotion. The music sets you up for this grand adventure and then the actors from Twilight decide to make an appearance as voice actors and ruin the entire mood. I felt blue balled.

Gameplay: I know this is what you all have been waiting to hear, so here it is. The game immediately tosses you into this adventure to go kill whatever furry monstrosity is waiting for you in the newbie area, the inauguration for every great RPG adventure. If it isn’t stomping on giant rats, its killing boars or bunnies. After going through a thousand clicks to accept the quest, I opened my map to see where I should begin my journey. The newbie zone was right on the edge of town. Guess where they started me? At the OTHER side of this 5 mile city! Not only was it difficult to find my way around but I couldn’t leap down staircases to make shortcuts. And with that we bring up my biggest peeve in anything ever!
I hate games that don’t let me jump.

I don’t care how good it is.

I hate not jumping.

Walls that were two feet high were preventing me from crossing the fastest way possible. I had to trek all the way across the wall just to get around. I can shoot fireballs from my hands and cleave through the sturdy flesh of an Orc but I can’t hop over a small bump in the ground. I hate being bored in groups and not being able to prance around the dungeon as we continue onward. I hate not being able to cancel my spells with a small little hop. The lack of a jumping feature takes away from the gaming experience for me. I can’t even vault over the damn thing like in Gears of War.

Go To Hell Taru Final Fantasy XIV
Go To Hell Taru Final Fantasy XIV

Finally reaching the newbie area was probably the most frustrating part of the game. The mob I needed to kill sparsely speckled the newbie zone and the amount of new players looking to kill this mob were outnumbering its spawn rate. The hotbar techniques only correspond to the number on your NUMPAD. I couldn’t find any other way to map it elsewhere for more convenience. After spending maybe an hour searching for three of these mobs without any luck I decided to uppercut a Dodo bird which kept running by me constantly. Instead of considering its level, I shoved my lancer’s spear into his face and I was quickly dismembered in only a few seconds. As I laid dead on the ground I began to wonder when my release timer would come up so I could respawn. After a minute of waiting I began to realize why I saw so many dead players that hadn’t released their corpse earlier in my adventure. There is no release button. You have to excavate through your menu and find a “Return” button to get released to a spawn point. Nicely done, Square-Enix. Your vague manner really helped me there.

After calming down and letting my heart rate return to a safe set of beating, I decided to return to town and try out the crafting professions. I always liked fishing in an MMO so I decided to take up Fishing as my career choice. I needed some money to buy some of the equipment needed to pursue my profession so I sold some vendor trash and went ahead on my new path. After equipping my pole and bait I went ahead to begin the process of being a bad ass fisherman. After spending 4 minutes wondering how to even begin fishing since the keyboard controls were complete garbage, I got on my way. The whole fishing endeavor was much more complicated than I thought. I had to choose my depth, the quality of the water I was fishing from, and the casting point. When the message that something had bit my line appeared, I had to begin a struggle with the fish to drag it out of the water. You have to constantly “Jig” with the fish back and worth as it tries to take the line till the fish is too tired to struggle and you capture him. It’s basically the combat mechanics of a Pokemon battle. I found fishing way more enjoyable than the actual game’s combat since I spent most of the time running around with my spear trying to find rats to poke. I could easily see someone making their crafting profession their main source of entertainment in the game as it is rather enthralling.

The fatigue system was something I didn’t really experience as I gave up just way too soon on this game from sheer lack of enjoyment. From what I’ve been told by friends and from other sources, you can’t barrel through the game. Powergamers will not find any euphoria in this game as the fatigue system penalizes you for using one class for too long. After 8 hours of gameplay, your character will hit a block in progression that will offer them no experience points. They will have to change classes and try something else for another eight hours. Each week the debuff is cleansed and you are allowed to continue on with the class that was previously penalized. What does this sound like to me? It sounds like this game is probably two-thirds complete and they are putting roadblocks so they can successfully complete their endgame. By the time the PS3 version of the game releases, I prophesize that this system will be scrapped since the game will be officially completed.

Final Verdict: This game falls short in so many places. It is beautiful and quite breathtaking. It isn’t as user friendly as one would hope. Newer gamers to the Final Fantasy Online universe can easily get lost in the complexity of its interface and mechanics. It does require a bit more patience than most MMOs and getting the hang of it right out of the box isn’t something that will come easily. A small fraction of brain power is needed to solve the puzzles of the menu and to get used to some of the mechanics for the crafting professions. If you’re looking for something to dive into right away, this isn’t the game for you. If you’re looking for a powergaming experience, this game isn’t for you. If you enjoy excelling in one area, this isn’t the game for you. If you’re looking for beautiful graphics and dream inspired settings with an enjoyable RPG experience filled with the wonder and adventure of killing large rats and Dodo birds, this is the game you’re looking for! Overall, the game failed to grasp my attention for longer than five hours.

For something that was expected to take the MMORPG genre a step forward, this title took two steps backs and one step forward. What was expected to be a monsoon of intrigue and JRPG adventure ended up becoming nothing more than a minor swell lost in a sea of upcoming MMOs.

Maniac Mansion review

I rarely do it but Today is the day that I most definitely will! I’ll start the review from the very end of it – the score. Why? Well, reasons may be many, some more other less probable but what the truth is, is that I, as most mammals do, only tend to try to simplify my life. I consider vast majority of my readers at least to be mammals, so I suppose they like things plain and simple as well. That said, if I mention the name of the game and the score, it’s obvious that all the old bastards such as myself will nod their heads in understanding and move away to other, more recent or less well known game reviews and those who still don’t know it (are there any gamers who don’t know IT!?) may find the score high enough to lure them into a quick read. For those that’ll stay and waste five minutes going through my endless blah, blah, blah, here – Maniac Mansion gets 9.5 out of 10. Thank you! Goodnight!



Maniac Mansion was developed and released by LucasFilm Games LLC (now known simply as LucasArts) in 1987 on Commodore 64 and then in 1988 on all other major platforms of the time – Amiga, Apple II, Atari ST, DOS & NES/Famicom. And since all these represent different points in wide range of 8 & 16 bit machines, the game version varies slightly in terms of graphics & music depending on given machine’s capabilities. Have no fear though, over the top, B-class movie-like gameplay remains the same on all of these. And that’s the only thing that really matters here, right?! Right!

Maniac Mansion DOS EGA Title Screen
DOS EGA – Title Screen

From the technical point of view Maniac Mansion, often called MM, was a novelty of sorts. It introduced SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) engine that revolutionized Adventure games genre offering a complete point and click interface instead of typical at the time – text based interface. It utilized now well known Verb + Object operation, where verbs would be a set of actions that player could take upon various objects in the game World. It’s easily noticeable that games that followed for years after used or based their own engines on SCUMM as it not only simplified interaction with the game but made it more fluid, life-like, so that the player would not get distracted by mis-typing lengthy boring-ass commands or using wrong words in former kinds of interfaces. On top of all that MM was the first adventure game that presented the player with more than one character to control simultaneously. Player could switch between them whenever he/she felt like it or needed to.

Maniac Mansion Amiga Main Hall
AMIGA – This is how the Mansion’s Main Hall looks like. It holds quite a few neat secrets as well.

Taking Video Games technology available at the time MM did not stood out in any other area really – graphics were OK but not mind blowing and lacked loved and cherished by everyone Rivers of Blood(tm)… Well, there was *some* blood in the game but hardly enough to keep a gore-hungry, silly TV-shows raised teens at peace. And music? Apart from truly awesome opening theme and few sounds (not on all systems though) during gameplay were practically abundant. Looking at the back catalog of games I played over the years, I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s not the graphics or even sound and music that makes a good game…

Maniac Mansion NES Secret Lab
NES – Secret Lab ain’t that secret no more…

Maniac Mansion, from beginning to an end is all story. Story, that is simple, short but drives the player from the first minute when he choses three of the seven available characters (one fixed though) to the last second of gameplay, or till he fails. Yes, in MM one can fail and not complete the game just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time or doing something unnecessary… And why would one wander around doing odd things, digging holes in piles of shit instead of following the flow of the story? Because, lets say that you love cheesy B-class movies that are so bad that they actually are really good… Now, in this World MM would be an absolute king and queen of those movies, all rolled into one!!

Maniac Mansion c64 screenshot
C64 – This is where it all began 20 years before…

You play the role of Dave and two of his friends who have to save Dave’s girlfriend Sandy (even those names seem as if the were taken out of an under budget production made for 75 cents and a promise of mention in the final credits) from the hands of mad scientist – Dr Fred Edison – and his army (well, actually only few) of mutated Tentacles… Sounds cheap & cheesy? It should, the story is so simple that honestly I don’t see it ever getting any better. At least not in 1987, when I was no more no less than six years old and Maniac Mansion was like reading a book that I could actually take part in and it did not suck.

Maniac Mansion Apple II Library screenshot
Apple II – Library – The source of all knowledge… And funny smells…

I’m not gonna spoil this truly awesome game for you by telling you about all the inside jokes, puns and 80’s pop-culture references because I know you’ll enjoy it far more discovering everything by yourself. All I’ll mention is the game offers huge re-playability value due to the fact that all the secrets and gags cannot be found on one playthrough. For one, the characters player choose at the beginning all have unique personalities and respond to same situations differently and may even need to find different ways of solving similar problems. Also many, many things in this game lead to failure but failure through tears of laughter as authors did not kept the best stuff only for actions progressing the plot. And this is exactly what makes a great game – when failure is *also* an option worth taking. ^_^

Maniac Mansion Atari ST kitchen screenshot
Atari ST – There’s no kitchen without chainsaw and some mature cheese.

Maniac Mansion, even though it changed the face of Adventure games genre forever cannot be treated like pure adventure game only. I’d say it’s an interactive movie with adventure and arcade elements at heart. Some puzzles must be timed perfectly to complete, other require smart switching between chosen characters and using their positions and available actions at just the right order. And at another time you’re sitting there watching the game unveil its cinematic sequences just to add depth to the story. Please, pretty please, with a rotten turd covered cherry on top, notice that I used italics whilst mentioning cinematic sequences. Oh, darn, I’ve done it again…

Maniac Mansion c64 tentacle
C64 – Tentacle in its full 8-bit awesomeness…

Why only 9.5 out of 10, if the game clearly was the next Bible!? Or Bible 2.0, if you please (I expect a lot of hate mail now, he, he… ^_^)!? Well, it sure was fun playing it and I even recall one time when as a child I played it with two friends, each of us taking a role of another character… It’s not difficult to guess we did not fare far in the game… Maniac Mansion is just awfully difficult at times, presenting the player with numerous dead ends upon reaching which there is no choice but to reload the game. Or even many time & monkey-like agility based puzzles that one may repeat time after time until perfecting them, so that he/she could progress just that little further in the game. Honestly, sometimes when I play it it feels as if my head was split and someone pissed inside – there seems to be the brain there but my reflexes just ain’t what they’re supposed to be, short-cutted or something. Or maybe I’m just getting old, that’s all? That said, all the humor, re-playability and utterly awesome setting of Old Mansion that holds unknown secrets and a lonely kidnapped girl do make me wanna play it again… Today… Must fight the urge to play the darn gameMust not choose the system nowI am the master of my own mind & willAhhEhhBollocks! I’ll give this bad boy one more roll. ^_^

POD: Duke Nukem Forever

Duke Nukem Forever hail to the king

This game was the running joke for my friends and I for so long. We called it Duke Nukem for-Never because we thought it would never come out, but it looks as if finally the duke will have his day. 2K and Gearbox announced the long awaited game will be released for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC next year.

“All great things take time… a lot of time,” said Christoph Hartmann, president of 2K. “After a hiatus from the video game world, Duke Nukem is back and better than ever. The return of the King from the glory days of shooters will satisfy our patient, die-hard fans, as well as a new generation of bubble gum-chewing, flat top and shades-wearing bad-asses. Make no mistake about it – Duke Nukem Forever is a testament to the era of when shooters were bodacious and fun.”

For those of you lucky enough to be at PAX you will get to see the game in action. Now the question is with all the hype and time between its original release and when it finally comes out next year will it still be a hit?

“Hail to the king, baby! It’s unbelievable, it kicks ass and it’s totally going to happen!” said Randy Pitchford, president of Gearbox Software, “Gearbox has enabled die-hard key Duke Nukem franchise builders and skilled veteran game makers to stand together and deliver. All gamers deserve a happy ending and after all of us gamers feeling the full range of emotions about Duke Nukem Forever, I am thrilled to be in a position with the trust, power and means to make it happen. Am I crazy? Balls of steel, baby, balls of steel!”

Well we know they are excited and we will see what the fans that checked out the game at PAX thought. For now here are a few humble screenshots.

More to come.

The Obsolete Gamer Show: Episode 8

Build vs Buy PCs
Build vs Buy PCs

The topic of building a pc or having it built for you is not new, in fact I wrote about that very subject earlier this year. However we wanted to ask some of the people who make a living offering custom built systems what they thought of the building versus buying debate and so we reached out and ended up having three great conversations on the subject.

We began the show with my recounting my first showing up at the Red-Eye Lan party with my Compaq PC and being almost laughed out of the building and from there learned that being a real gamer meant building your own PC. Then I began working at Alienware and from that side I saw how having a great team put together and support your own rig is pretty awesome in itself. Both Ignacio and I agreed that while it is true that almost anyone can put together a system it takes a little bit more to build a great gaming or high end PC and if you can find a good company who will offer you support and a reasonable price then why not go for it.

We wanted to get our guests take on it and were happy to be joined by Chris Morley, chief technical officer for Maingear PC, Justin Melendez, co-founder of LanSlide PC and John Blain, consumer public relations for Dell/Alienware.

Each company has a different way of doing things, but the overall goal is the same and that is to give the customer the best computer they can at a price they can afford with a support staff they can depend on. In fact they will tell you that if you have a love of building a PC then go for it. However, it is not for everyone and if you decide you want a well-built system then do you research and be informed before you make your final choice.

Obsolete Gamer would like to thank our guests for coming on the show and we covered much more than just PC building and buying. So have a listen and tell us what you think.

Click here to listen to the podcast on the OGS page

Or download our podcast from Itunes

POD: Homefront

Homefront logo

Today’s Picture of the Day comes from the THQ game Homefront. I first heard about Homefront shortly before I went to E3 and learned more about it once there. I like the story behind the game and it does look like it will be a load of fun.

Here’s the story:

The year is 2027. The world as we know it is unraveling after fifteen years of economic meltdown and widespread global conflict over dwindling natural resources.

A once proud America has fallen, her infrastructure shattered and military in disarray. Crippled by a devastating EMP strike, the USA is powerless to resist the ever expanding occupation of a savage, nuclear armed Greater Korean Republic.

Abandoned by her former allies, the United States is a bleak landscape of walled towns and abandoned suburbs. This is a police state where high school stadiums have become detention centers, and shopping malls shelter armored attack vehicles. A once-free people are now prisoners… or collaborators… or revolutionaries.

Join the Resistance, stand united and fight for freedom against an overwhelming military force in Homefront’s gripping single player campaign penned by John Milius (Apocalypse Now, Red Dawn). Stand alongside a cast of memorable characters as an emotional plot unfolds in this terrifyingly plausible near-future world. Experience visceral, cinematic first-person shooter action as you fight your way across Occupied USA using guerrilla tactics, and commandeer military vehicles and advanced drone technology to defeat the enemy.

Multiplayer brings epic warfare to the online arena as infantry, tanks, attack helicopters and combat drones battle across huge, open battlefields. A rich feature set offering layers of tactical depth combined with a game-changing innovation in the multiplayer space will set a new benchmark in online warfare.

Check out this trailer about Homefront’s backstory.

Now on to the screenshots.

Which genre had a bigger impact to PC gaming RTS or FPS games?

Panel Discussion microphones
Panel Discussion microphones

What pulled you into PC gaming was it the fact that a new type of gameplay was created that just couldn’t be found on console systems? For many PC gaming took time to get into not only because of the cost of the systems, but that some of them took work to get running. However, the rewards were great for those who ventured into the world of PC gaming and through today some feel consoles are killing the PC gaming market (besides MMO’s) there are still millions of PC gamers out there.

If you look past the MMO’s and Flash games what would you find on these systems. Which would you find more of FPS, First Person Shooter Games or RTS, Real Time Strategy Games? Obviously with the recent release of Star Craft II I am sure you will see a Battlenet icon on many gamer’s task bars, but overall, who had the bigger impact on the PC gaming world?

In my opinion it is FPS games and this is coming from someone who loved to play RTS games and even turn based games. For me it was games like Wolfenstein, Rise of the Triad and of course Doom that had me going to Egghead software to slam three hundred dollars on the table for a Western Digital 750mb hard drive to build my first custom rig.

When I went to my first LAN party here in Florida it was the guys from Red-Eye that showed me how to use mouse look in order to properly use the hook in Lithium Quake 2. Now don’t get me wrong, StarCraft, Warcraft, Total Annihilation were also a big part of our LAN gaming, but it was games like Tribes, Duke Nukem, Shogo and Doom 2 that ruled our playtime.

We asked our panel of industry insiders their opinion on the question.

Aaron Hunter from Playtechtonics Inc wrote:

I would have to go with FPS. Granted in the PC platform, RTS is bigger than it is on other platforms like the consoles. But even so I’d go with FPS having a bigger impact.

Juan Gril from JoJu Games wrote:

In my opinion, Starcraft on RTS, and Quake on FPS.

Chris Skaggs from Soma Games wrote:

I’d say RTS. Where FPS had a huge impact on hardware and game design. I think RTS brought a ton of previous non-gamers to the table for the first time and kept them there.

Danny Greig from XGEN Studios wrote:

I would say the FPS has had a larger impact on PC gaming but not by much. Doom/Doom 2 and Quake had just too much impact on PC gaming to ignore; I don’t think any RTS has had the impact of those games.  Blizzard has basically owned and dominated the RTS genre which has had a very large impact on the PC gaming industry but falls just short of what the FPS has done in my opinion.

Jason Shankel from Stupid Fun Club wrote:

In terms of technology and broadening the appeal of the PC as a platform for gamers, I’d have to go with FPS.  In the early days, FPS highlighted the power of the PC as a gaming platform with superior performance to consoles.  There simply was no other way to play DOOM or Quake except on a PC.  The RTS on the other hand highlighted the power of the keyboard and mouse as an input control, but was not fundamentally limited to the PC.  It would have been possible to play Dune II on a console.

In terms of creating a genre that is uniquely PC, I’d have to go with RTS.  Today, consoles perform roughly as well as PCs and there are many shooters available on console.  And even though FPS controls are still superior on a PC, FPS is certainly no longer a PC-only genre.  Yet no one has really cracked the RTS nut on consoles.  With no technological barriers to clear,  RTS is a genre that’s simply best played sitting up with a keyboard and mouse, not reclining with a console controller.

If I have to pick one answer, I’m going with RTS.  The FPS made a bigger initial splash, but the RTS has endured as a uniquely PC genre and thus had a longer lasting impact on that platform.

David Warhol from Realtime Associates wrote:

I’d say first person shooters.  They survived longer as a genre, and people talk about Quake and Doom a lot more than they do Starcraft (I).   Me, I’m not a fan of the FPS genre.  I think there are more first person shooters as there are Phil Collins ballads… and they are largely just as indistinguishable from one another 🙂 .

Gary Manica from Smashing Ideas wrote:

Easy answer for me.  I want to say RTS games because I prefer them, but realistically they don’t come close to FPS games to me.

FPS games in general have been one of the (if not the biggest) pushers of hardware development on a PC for many years running.  Dev houses constantly refine massive engine libraries to push more and more polygons and maintain the minimum framerate that crazy FPS players demand.   Engines like CryEngine, Unreal, Source, idTech, etc provide a platform for, and push developers (hardware and software) to really go above and beyond while being able to use a mostly pre-built framework.  The tech they build in these engines has been filtering down to other gaming genres for decades now.  And there is a reason that other genres are adopting FPS aspects to them.

There are many instances of amazing RTS games out there, with a lot of really good ideas.  But I don’t think they affect the industry as a whole to the scale FPS games do.

So what is your take? Let us know your answer by posting in our forums below. See you next week.

Mafia 2 Release Party Miami

Mafia 2 Release Party Miami by Honorabili

Our friends Kevin Wasielewski and Hector Penton at OriginPC invited us to come to the club Grand Central Miami to celebrate the release of the Max Payne/GTA/Saints Row clone sequel Mafia 2. Grand Central itself was a nice club. It seems to be a converted train depot.

Here are some pictures of JA Laraque and some hot Mafia 2 models to get your attention. Hey, sex sells!

The event was free and open to the public.

I got a chance to play the Mafia 2 demo on the PCs that were doing the demo of the game by OriginPC. As far as my impression of it goes (just based on the demo and me playing and beating the original Mafia 1), the game seems a lot easier than the first game with your guy regenerating health if he doesn’t get hurt within a certain amount of time, a trend in many recent games. Mafia 1 was really brutal from what I remember in the last time I played it. Mafia 2 itself is nice eye candy and the version of the game I played was using the latest and greatest 3D gaming technology that was supplied by NVIDIA. I spent a good amount of time talking to Andrew Coonrad, the Technical Marketing Analyst from NVIDIA. He informed me (and I agree) that we will see this 3D technology implemented in a lot of future games. I think it works really well with games where stuff is being shot at you like FPS games or stuff like Descent as well as a lot of racing games.

The rest of the time I talked to a lot of local gaming people, drank about 7 cups worth of cranberry & vodka, downed a bottom of a local drink called Game Juice (which they make in Medley, FL and it tasted somewhat like Mountain Dew Baja Blast mixed with some other flavors), and talked about the future of gaming and a ton of science fiction movies with my friend Nery Hernandez, CTO of Monkey Plum Media.

For the most part they had a bunch of hip hop music playing really really loud.

As far as loot goes the event dropped a nice XL Mafia 2 shirt as well as a bunch of posters, stuff we can give away to you guys in the future. 😀 They had a contest where they randomly picked whoever screamed the most and gave them free shirts and copies of the game for PC, PS3, or XBox 360.

Overall, I will be playing Mafia 2 shortly (and probably comparing it more to the original game if I review it).

Blizzard’s New World of Warcraft Expansion Targeting Their Original Player-base?

WoW Kobold
WoW Kobold

Warcraft Expansion Targeting Their Original Player-base

Rumors have been coming down the grapevine that Blizzard is moving away from the traditional attitude of making each expansion easier than the last. The audience that they garnered in during Wrath of the Lich King seem to be involuntarily entering a new “old” era of World of Warcraft. Not only is the expansion revamping the old vanilla zones but it seems that old combat rule sets are about to follow in. Are they attempting to isolate their WOTLK Ez-Mode audience that has been showered in epic loots for sneezing in the right direction? It sure seems so.

Some Beta contestants have been mentioning that level 81 greens in Cataclysm are stronger than epics that drop off of Arthas in WOTLK. Sound a bit familiar? The same formula was used in Burning Crusade where you could replace your entire Tier 3 set and weapons by level 64 with vastly more powerful “uncommon” gear. On top of this change, they are putting the “epic” back into purple by making blues a much more common drop. Testimonials from people in Beta have been mentioning they have yet to have seen a purple item. They are mentioning that the abundance of blues are the equivalent of seeing a warrior in Valor Armor with a purple from Stratholme or UBRS before Molten Core came out. In Vanilla WoW, when you saw someone with an epic, even just one, it really meant that item was purely epic because of the miniscule chance something like that would drop. Is there a reason Blizzard is reverting to this style of loot dropping? Some players are so upset about this they have even vented their rage on the forums how there will be more blues in Cataclysm than in WOTLK. One possible troll stated even if the blues have stats that are equivalent to a purple they refuse to have to raid to get purple colors now. A bit immature? Well, that’s WoW’s community for you.

Another homage to the old school playing style of World of Warcraft will be the return of Crowd Control! That’s right, Mages! You can start Polymorphing again! It had seemed that during WOTLK, CC had become a thing of the past and players would do the simple thing and just body pull and use Area-Of-Effect spells to burn everything down quickly. Healers would just spam their fastest heal and keep the tank up constantly. In Cataclysm, Blizzard (and something beta tester can attest to) mentions that combat difficulty has increased significantly and just nuking everything that is still moving isn’t going to work anymore. Players are going to actually have to use their crowd controlling abilities to keep pulls safe.

Tanks are also going to have a bit more of a problem now because healers are being forced to use more than one heal to keep them alive. Yes, they are making healers have actual heal rotations because they are making their spells more mana hungry. Tanks hit points won’t be able to keep up with massive bombardment from 9 mobs at once any longer. It looks like Blizzard is trying to make all players fill a more important and diverse role in a group even in lowly dungeons.

Is Blizzard looking to bring back players that have left and also bring in new players that haven’t been spoiled by WOTLK easy handouts with the new Team Jacob race? If this is the case, how is their majority audience in WOTLK going to fair when Cataclysm releases? The expansion still has awhile to go before their release date and there are always more features and additions to throw in but if this is the course that they are going how negatively could this impact their current population?

Fury of the Furries review

Fury of the Furries is a side scrolling platformer with puzzle elements, published by Kalisto in 1993 on Amiga & PC. And a year later on Mac. The main difference between PC and Amiga versions (as I never played the Macintosh one) is the number of colors displayed on a screen. PC uses 256 of these whilst Amiga only 32. They are mixed and matched smartly however, so the difference is bearly noticeable. And in some cases I would’ve sworn that PC outing settled for only 32 as well.

Fury of the Furries PC title screen

The story line is quite dull and doesn’t shine above the early 90’s average for these kinds of games. You’re left in charge of four creatures that look a whole lot like critters. And critters were round, spiky haired, hedgehog like aliens who came to Earth to destroy the life on it in 1986 movie by the same title. It was a mediocre movie, I must add.

The pilot must’ve had one drink to many…

Anyway, in Fury of the Furries unfortunately, you are not mind-bent killing machines from space, but peaceful creatures on a mission to save your king that has been kiddnapped by the so called “the wicked one”, who in this game represents the ultimate evil. The four fur-balls you’re left with, differ in colour and set of abilities, which have to be properly utilised to complete each stage. Does this sound familiar to The Lost Vikings? Well, It should, because apart from being much bigger AND better game, they’re both quite alike.

Watch out for the Homing Bees!

As I was saying Furries you’re in charge of are all unique – the blue one is the only one that can dive and also it shoots bubbles in water. Green one is your friendly neighborhood spider-man. Well, it doesn’t walk on walls but has a line/grappling hook that it can swing on or use to pull objects when necessary. Yellow one controls fireballs of various power and the red one bites the dust – literally.

Another one bites the dust… This time literally!

The further you go the more time you’ll spend planning on how to complete each level since often you’ll find yourself with only one or two of these fur-balls available and sometimes not even through the whole stage but only at certain areas. And in the World of Fury of the Furries there’s many things that can kill you – starting from sharp spikes and pools of acid to mutated bees and other oddly shaped figures of game designer’s sick imagination.

It’s a small World… Not!

And since we’re on the World subject – the adventure takes place in a huge island divided into 8 regions which are then split into seperate levels and many hidden areas. Each region has unique feel and challenges to them, so mastering all will definitely take a lot of time and patience. After completing first two regions you’ll realize that you’re losing lives as often as cattle in an average sized slaughterhouse. Well, at least I did, since the difficulty goes through the roof starting with the third.

Fury of the Jungle… Starting from the third region onwards the game becomes uterly punishing and unforgiving.

Because, Fury of the Furries requires not only clever planning, but also mad gaming skills and in later levels some sick timing, which platform games of the 90’s were well known for. Fury of the Furries is no exception here. And nothing says challenge more than dieing 20 times in one level in less than 30 seconds from starting to play it, each time… Yeah… And that’s only second stage of third region that I’m talking ’bout here…

Why does the shark don’t give a damn about a dude on a surfing board but goes straight for me as soon as I get anywhere near the water!?

Fortunately, the game offers an extra life every 100 coins that you collect and since there’s loads of these in hidden areas, it’s an incentive to look for them from the start. And it’s not unusual for a level to have more than two secret sub-levels hidden behind the palm tree, in a pile of dust or under the shootable block of concrete for instance, so you’ll find yourself checking all possible places looking for those quite early.

Gotta get that money!

As I said before the story is not what makes this game special. The gameplay is. In fact, Fury of the Furries is so AWESOME that once you’ll start playing it, by the time you stop, you’ll realize several hours, days, months or even years have passed, the Earth is a nuclear wasteland, and you somehow missed the Armageddon. OK, that may not be entirely truth, but Fury of the Furries is a top notch game and a one of the best of it’s time and genre.

Spider-man, spider-man, the amazing spider-man…

In my opinion Fury of the Furries is one of those games that aged like wine does, it got better. Actually, it aged exactly like one of those very expensive wines, one that is so good and pricey that nobody even knows how it tastes like. Sadly, the same can be said about this game, as it never got the attention it deserved. When countered with platformers we got to play these days, all being easy, casual games, Fury of the Furries holds a serious challenge and completing it even on the easiest of levels will be time consuming. But also fun and rewarding.

Ripping bubbles in water…

All in all, it’s a great game worth time invested in it and a cheap buy as well. You can get it on eBay for peanuts and running it will require no more than some basic DOSBox skills or WinUAE configuration practice if you settle for Amiga version and don’t happen to have the real one. Like the best game reviewer on YouTube – Gaming Mill – would’ve said – Overall I give it 9 and a half out of 10. So, Thanks for reading, please leave a comment and make sure you give Fury of the Furries a try as it’s gonna be time and money well invested.

This is the end…

On the side note Fury of the Furries as a franchise has been sold by Kalisto a year after it’s premiere to Namco which then released it on SNES, Gameboy and PC (again!) as Pac-In-Time leaving most of the game untouched (in PC version), altering only the way the main character looks like – since there was only one of them in Pac-In-Time – Pacman – and how he accesses all of his abilities. Also if you don’t care much about owning original, Fury of the Furries is considered abandonware on PC & Amiga and can be downloaded from Abandonia & Planet Emulation sites respectively for each of the platforms.

Click here to get the official Fury of the Furries soundtrack.

Frontier (a.k.a. Elite II)

Frontier_elite2_box

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

That’s how you roll in style in space…

Well, this quote from the famous Star Trek series, that crippled many of the young geeky minds, can easily be applied to describe the game of Frontier. In fact this and MUCH more! But, let’s get to the heart of the thing while it’s still beating…

Departing from Matthews where dogs bark with their asses…

Frontier was developed by David Braben and released in 1993 by Gametek and Konami on various Amigas, Atari ST & PC. It’s a sequel to Elite hence why it’s often addressed as Elite 2 and predeccesor to First Encounters – which is also known as Frontier: First Encounters or simply Frontier 2.

100,000,000,000 Planets in Frontier sounds unbeliveable but it’s all truth!

But enough of the boring details, let’s spill some blood on this one… Frontier is a game of undefined genre. It’s a wild mixture of simulation, strategy with adventure and role playing elements. And as much as it seems that this kind of mix’n’match would not work out it actually does and the game is no less than brilliant! It’s a true sandbox experience where you have no laid out route to game’s completition and no scripted time or area predefined events. In fact, you can play it as long as you want and how you want. That is until you get killed or die in a far out system left with no hope of survival because you’ve spent the last of your money on slaves instead of fuel aiming for quick and illegal profit…

It’s not only mining colonies and military bases in Frontier, there are some modern settlements here as well…

The game World, or Universe to be more precise consist of just a bit short of 100,000,000,000 (!!) planets and moons. There’s also 82 kinds of missions/services generated randomly, so chances that you’ll run out of things to do and places to go are quite slim. In the World of Frontier you can become anyone you want! There’s many routes you may wanna progress in, like mining, piracy, trade, bounty hunting or working for one of the multi-system organizartions and picking either of the choices does not mean that you won’t be able to follow another if you decide to do so later on.

There’s plenty of random generated missions to go through, ranging from passenger/cargo transport to spying/assasination requests…

Loads of trade commodities, ship equipment, ship kinds and different fraction promotions, provide for a long and exciting gameplay. In fact when you start of you’ll find yourself in a small settlement with a very basic ship equiped with what seems like garbage and only 1,000 credits to spare and will have to take a long and hard route before feeling safe and comfortable in the dark World of Frontier. But this is exactly what makes this game so special – it does not lead you by hand mission after mission, instead it drops you somewhere in the middle of cold and dark nowhere and tells you to deal with it! And you will have to, cause otherwise you’re not a real man (or woman, since I don’t wanna sound sexist here).

Space: The Final Frontier…

That said, Frontier is a truly excellent product shadowed only by the fact that it is not a game for all.

Many people may not appreciate its hardcore „kill or die” approach and difficult beginnings. But those who decide to go through tough initial period usually fall in love with it because it’s an entertaining and deep experience that rewards patience.

Cobra MK I – it’s not a killing machine but I’ve flown worst.

It’s really impressive how HUGE game David managed to fit on one floppy and how well it worked out in the end especially that it is mainly one person’s effort. The game looks and plays the same on all systems yet all of these had some unique and system specific bugs in earlier, unpatched releases. Bugs like famous wormholes that allowed for huge jumps over great distances in Universe using just a tiny bit of fuel or „earning” money by endlessly „trying to sell” a passengers cabin with passengers still in it…

Each “dot” even if it has no name displayed here is a seperate solar system with its own planets and moons.

Frontier is quite cheap on eBay as it was fairly popular in the early 90’s, and hence many copies are still sold for prices that are easy to swallow. Same as with earlier reviewed Fury of the Furries, Frontier is widely considered abandonware and can be downloaded from Abandonia or Planet Emulation for PC & Amiga respectively, and run through either DOSBox or WinUAE.

Apart from these two ships and the crew on this station… In space noone can hear you scream.

As much as I’m a firm believer that any game that let’s you become a Space Pirate and not only blow people to pieces with various rockets, plasmas and lasers, but also trade slaves, drugs and radioactives, deserves an easy 10 out of 10, I won’t give it. I’ll settle for 8 out of 10 because as I mentioned before not everyone will find Frontier enjoyable – it’s a difficult game with no tutorial or hints and can just be a bit too overwhelming for a Sunday player.

Attacking other ships near Space Stations may turn their defences against you, ultimately bring an end to your Frontier life.

UFO: Enemy Unknown

UFO: Enemy Unknown is a turn-based tactical strategy game with managerial and role playing elements published in 1994 by MicroProse Software on PC and various Amigas and later on on Playstation.

X-COM_-_UFO_Defense_Coverart

I wondered for a while how does one properly explain what ingenious creation like UFO is, compared to other similar games. And found no answer… So I decided to give it a whirl, play it for a while and see how I felt about it after years long brake from seeing it last. That was a HUGE mistake! A catastrophe on an unthinkable scale! I can’t stress how much time I’ve „wasted” playing it, though it was not a waste per se. Well, as you might have guessed by now, the game is not bad by no means. In fact when I started playing it I couldn’t stop until I beat it. And beating UFO takes a lot of time and patience as the game in its early stages especially is quite unforgiving. Going through it however, with all its ups and downs left me with a clear view of what I wanted to share here with you… So, let me get to it straight away…

In the beginning there was chaos…” And there is loads of it in UFO as well, especially for a first time player. There’s tons of screens, stats and settings that may seem a bit overwhelming for a person looking for a quick strategy fix, but if you decide to take your time with it and learn everything that there is to learn about the game it will reward you hundredfold! With long, deep (Oh, yeah, I said it!) adventure, that when completed will leave you disappointed… Badly… Because you’ll instantly want MORE!

UFO or X-COM as they call it in the US is a product built upon the idea that could’ve easily been transformed into three different, smaller games. First of, there’s the strategy – Globe View – in which you build your bases, send intercepting ships to shoot of alien vessels and direct your troop transport crafts to various missions – like alien terror attack, alien bases or earlier mentioned shot down UFOs. Sounds cool? Good, because it is!

ufo_enemy_unknown_01

Then there’s a micro-managerial – Base View – where you decide on your base’s buildings placement and purpose. Each building has it’s price, time it takes to put up and also provides certain commodities – like living areas, research laboratories, defences, hangars or even alien interrogation rooms, so thinking the layout through is a must. In here also, you buy, sell, research & manufacture various kinds of weapons, ships, equipment & technologies. And this is where you train, equip and prepare your troops before they get sent on a mission that most of them may not come back from.

And last but most definitely not least – Tactical View – where whilst on a missions you’ll lead your soldiers turn by turn to their painful and bloody deaths… I mean to victory against bad and ugly alien invaders, which vary in kind power and abilities! Yes… Well, initially some of your troops are bound to meet their maker in the field of battle when put up against overwhelming alien force. As they progress in game though – earn experience & gain skills, each mission will become more and more bearable until eventually with help of high tech equipment and armor designed by your team of smart bottle-bottom-like glasses wearing scientists you’ll start earning a bit of advantage. I wouldn’t hold on to that hope from the start though as that will not happen until you’re many, many hours into gameplay.

ufo_enemy_unknown_02

Because UFO punishes the slightest mistakes in tactical approach, you will have to be prepared for some serious losses when playing X-COM for the first time. That is good however as if it was not so challenging it may have not end up being so AWESOME… After all, it is fun to spray long series of bullets through purple coloured alien brains. But what’s even more enjoyable in my opinion is starting your way with your soldiers brains being spread on a pavement and slowly earning your way through the alien horde whilst learning their genesis, weak and strong points and researching means to counter them effectively.

In UFO: Enemy Unknown one can see many influences by the earlier games, games like Laser Squad or Civilization, from which UFO took what’s best and mixed into something even better. Funny enough Civilization was released by Microprose as well and Laser Squad was developed by the same team that wrote UFO. Coincidence? I don’t think so… Anyway, as I mentioned before UFO could very well be three separate, good in their own kind games but instead Microprose opted for mashing it all up into one tough but entertaining behemoth of a creation that takes many evenings to complete and keeps you on your toes through out it until the very last minute of gameplay.

ufo_enemy_unknown_03

All versions of the game are virtually the same gameplay-wise with only some minor engine differences. Differences like Amiga version having two separate release branches, one with 32 and another with 256 colours graphics (all other systems get 256 only) and a bit better music and sound effects. Playstation outing being least playable out of the lot due to the limitations of pad control compared to the mouse. All that said, any version you manage to pick up will provide you with dozens of hours of fun and challenge, and that’s what UFO is all about!

MicroProse released two continuations to UFO – X-COM: Terror From The Deep & X-COM: Apocalypse. First being direct sequel with some minor gameplay setting tweaks & alterations and second released in high resolution but with reduced micro-management scale from the whole World to one huge Metropolis. There’s been some spin-offs developed as well but mostly were not worth any attention as they fared into different genres, badly I must add. Independent Developers have been craving to shadow the success of original, releasing many similar games, especially over the last few years. Unfortunately none of them came even close to perfecting balance of gameplay and its mechanics, and MicroProse’s original is still King of the Hill when in comes to tactical anti-alien warfare.

ufo_enemy_unknown_05

It took me two weeks of serious gaming before I beat the game and I only managed to do it on normal difficulty level. Can’t wait to see what happens if I raise it a bit even though UFO was challenging enough the way I played it. Overall I want to give UFO: Enemy Unknown 15 out of 10 but I can’t, so I’ll settle for what’s available at hand…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dupngnAS6yk[/youtube]

PC version is still on sale (well, again not still) and can be purchased on STEAM either separately or as a part of the Complete pack where it is sold along with both successors. Alternatively if you still own your original disks they can be easily used to install and run it through DOSBox. As for Amiga outing, the game same as the platform has been forgotten for years and is only available to download as an abandonware at Planet Emulation website.

Moonstone: A Hard Days Knight review

Have you ever wondered what would’ve become of a child of Cool and Awesome? I know, I did… And what if that child hooked up with Great and their kid became Rad that in turn done it with Super, getting her pregnant in the process?? Well, wonder no more! What we’d end up with would be an odd hairy & stinky behemoth – CoAweGraDSu. And if the name’s too long or weird sounding to you, let me rephrase it, so it’s more understandable – Cool, Awesome, Great, Rad & Super above all – Moonstone!

moonstone
Moonstone PC title screen

Yes, Moonstone. A rock that fell of a big, round slice of Cheese that hangs on a night sky bringing all vampires and other darkly creatures to life, or death. I don’t know, I’m not an expert on these… Anyway, what I know a lot about is a video game of a same name & that’s what we’re going to talk of today.

Weird drug-related rituals have been known for ages… And loved for ages…

Moonstone: A Hard Days Knight is an action hack’n’slash game with role playing elements in fantasy medieval setting developed and released by Mindscape in 1991 & 1992 on Amiga and PC respectively. Both versions look and play nearly the same & use the same palette of 32 colors, but PC version seems a bit more radiant & Amiga outing sounds much better… And freezes your computer more often, but that may just be me and not a common case. Anyway…

I guess it was and always will be that the blonde ones are the most popular…

The story unveils you being one of four knights summoned by the old and wise (or drugged as they certainly appear to be) druids to fullfil their request of finding the sacred Moonstone, neccessary to save their land. The story has many twists and turns to it whilst still being simple and enjoyable. In very short find the Moonstone, bring it to druids, save their realm – and most of all stay alive whilst doing it.

Beware of the red bastard that burps with fire and feeds of brains… Or so I heard.

Wether you choose to play alone or with friends, the game involves all four knights with CPU taking control of unused ones. Each starts in a different region of a map, ridden by different creatures and dangers. But all have to go through a same, awesomely BLOODY path to complete the game. How gory this game actually is? Well, let’s say that having an upper part of your body bitten of by a dragon or head choped by rivalring knight is not a very brutal way to die in Moonstone…

It’s not important how many you’ve taken with you if you fell in the end…

Between chopping, stabbing, cutting and running away for your life (yes, this may happen to you as well, especially when followed by a huge fire-breathing dragon) there’s many activities that a knight in the World of Moonstone can participate in. Such fun things as gambling, visiting a seer seeking an in-depth view of your future, shopping or even looking for an aid from a lonely Wizard that lives on top of Abandoned Tower – kind of like Saruman from Lord of the Rings did. All the best things that true knights enjoy doing when not killing, raping or drinking… Or all these in a same time!

Missed me! You blind, acne ridden, bad breath bastard!

There’s many ways casual player can die in Moonstone, but there’s also many ways a careful one can develop in it. The role playing elements in the game are mostly seen through skills developing along with the gameplay and equipment upgrades that can either be obtained by means of trade or by brutal murders. Both equally enjoable, yet only one of them costing you virtually no money. One could argue that it’s not enough to aspire to a role playing game, but that’s fine because Moonstone does not try to appear as one. Instead it stands for what it is – fun, gory and awesomely enjoyable Party Game – if you happen to be twisted and have friends that thrive in surrounding of blood and other inner body fluids. On the other hand if you do, it’s probably good that you and your friends play games and not go out on a killing spree that one would expect you to. ^__^

Go on, son! Go on, son!

Moonstone has that board game feeling to it, with map view played in turn based mode and encounters being more lively real time combat decided purely by player’s own skills and equipment. After few failed playthroughs the game becomes easy. In fact if you died in all possible places in all possible ways, eventually you learn what, when and how to expect in the World of Moonstone. However since the graphics are so polished – beautiful hand drawn sprites and backdrops – and gameplay is enjoyable to the point of bringing Mortal Kombat to shame with its rivers of blood and pain virtually spread all over through the whole game time, Moonstone is utterly fun time killer and a very good Party Game.

Darn Critters! Who would’ve though they can attack from above?

It took me a while to decide what should be Moonstone’s final score. On one hand I think it deserves 8 out of 10 for a single player experience, on the other 10 out of 10 in multiplayer mode… Because nothing says fun more than bringing few friends together just to chop off a limb or two of them, then steal from them and finally leave their still warm corpses to rot in a puddle of their own blood. I’ve made my decision…

Yeah… You sure told me… People did sure know how to swear back then…

False Start

ps3 slim
The race to the next generation of consoles may have already started, but how certain are the predictions? First it was David Reeves of Capcom with his suggestion of two to three years. Now Murray Pannel, head of marketing for Ubisoft has predicted a similar time scale.

To a large extent this would make sense. Previous hardware generations have been about five years, and there has often been an advantage for the machine to launch first. However, once the design of a new machine has been started, technology can overtake what has been put together.

There is a very large counter-argument that the next generation is further away, and that is the strategy of both Sony and Microsoft to produce new add-ons for their current consoles. The “slim” SKU’s for both were a stop-gap, a way of improving the quality of the base machine, although for Sony fans the removal of backwards compatibility is a sharp pain that can only be eased by the rumoured “HD Classics” range. But Kinect and Move are both aimed at expanding the potential audience and creating a new wave of software that will last for years.

Sony confidently predicted a ten-year lifespan for the PS2, and that has come to pass. They are now suggesting a similar tenure for the PS3, and it could be to their advantage. This year has been a strong one for Sony with exclusives and good sales on the back of the PS3 Slim, and another good Christmas with interest in Move could push it further. Meanwhile, Kinect is going after the Wii’s audience to a large extent. Microsoft still has the edge in online gaming for many with Live, but the gap has narrowed. Moving on from the 360 may not suit Microsoft either, now that is making good profit and building its user base.

So where does Nintendo fit into this? The 3DS is clearly one important part of its strategy, but rumours of an HD Wii or Wii 2 refuse to go away. Could the big N once again pull a surprise out of its sleeve, continuing its “disruptive” policy? And will the familiar franchises keep the hardcore gamers satisfied alongside the new and expanded audience?

There is another joker in the form of the cloud gaming systems, OnLive and Gaikai. While OnLive has now launched in the USA to a mixed response, the news that games from Electronic Arts will be available on Gaikai is a major coup. These devices will, however almost certainly be fixed technology with frequent updates of the firmware, relying on a fast broadband connection to provide both the data and much of the processing power. It remains to be seen how they cope under the huge stresses of multiplayer gaming.

Whatever, the outcome will be good for gamers. Competition promotes development and innovation, whether it’s the mobile games on the touchscreen of an iPhone or the complexities of a PC strategy game. Next year, or maybe the year after, the real race will start.