Beneath a Steel Sky

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Beneath a Steel Sky

Ah, the point-and-click adventure – a genre so fondly remembered yet so close to extinction… ~Lewis Packwood

The fortunes of these most traditional of adventure games took a nosedive with the demise of the Amiga and never really recovered; the kids got into their fancy new ‘Grand Theft Autos’ and ‘Tomb Raiders’ and rapidly lost interest in figuring out how to combine broken string with some mud in order to create a mask with which to frighten the temple guard into giving you the key for the dungeon. Actually, when you put it like that it’s probably not surprising that the popularity of these games waned – after all, one of the best points about Grand Theft Auto is that you never have to spend twenty minutes painstakingly combing the screen with the mouse in a bid to work out whether you’ve missed picking up an essential item. “Ah, so that tiny yellow-green blob 14 screens back was actually a key!” is something you’ll never hear uttered by players of GTA.

Beneath a Steel Sky - Amiga - Gameplay Screenshot

 

Of course, I’m doing the genre a disservice – for all the frustrating back-and-forth wandering and pixel hunting there were a hundred more golden moments of ‘Eureka!’-style puzzle solving, not to mention elaborate plot twists. For, of course, ’tis in the narrative where these games truly excel, and Beneath a Steel Sky was a shining beacon in this respect. The developers even went so far as to create a mini-comic to be shipped with the game, detailing the events leading up to the opening credits.

 

Set in a dystopian future Australia, the comic describes how the main character, Robert Foster*, is raised by Indigenous Australians after a helicopter crash in ‘The Gap’ (the Australian Outback). He learns electronics and builds himself a robot, Joey, who becomes your companion throughout the game. Upon reaching adulthood, Foster is kidnapped by stormtroopers sent from Union City (a possible future Sydney), and his tribe is murdered. The stormtroopers have been sent by LINC, the mysterious computer mainframe that controls the city.

Beneath a Steel Sky - Amiga - Gameplay Screenshot

 

The game proper opens with a jaw-droppingly animated (for the Amiga) sequence as the helicopter crashlands in Union City and Foster escapes. It emerges that in this ruthless future world, cities comprised of mammoth skyscrapers have swallowed up most of the remaining liveable land. Working class citizens are confined to the upper levels of the city, whereas the leisure elite luxuriate below (‘beneath a steel sky’, geddit?). In order to confront LINC and learn the truth about his past, Foster must evade security and work his way down to the lower levels.

Beneath a Steel Sky - Amiga - Gameplay Screenshot

 

If the set-up sounds a little similar to Mega-City One in Judge Dredd, then it’s no coincidence – Dave Gibbons (of 2000 AD and Watchmen fame) did all of the artwork for the game (including the mini-comic), and every screen simply drips with cyberpunk chic. At the time it looked astonishing, and even now the dystopian backdrops are capitivating. The anticipation of what graphical delight awaited you on the next screen was almost as much of a draw as the fantastic plot.

Beneath a Steel Sky - Amiga - Gameplay Screenshot

 

Even though the game plot was more serious than some of it’s point-and-click contemporaries (e.g. The Secret of Monkey Island), BaSS still managed to squeeze in a fair amount of humour, mostly of the British variety (i.e. double entendres and sarcasm). Indeed, the fact that the game never takes itself too seriously is one of its most enduring features (Gears of War take note – non-stop, po-faced machismo is more likely to make gamers laugh derisively into their sleeves than empathise with the characters).

Beneath a Steel Sky - Amiga - Gameplay Screenshot

 

Of course, it wasn’t all a bed of roses. The chief problem with the game was it’s sheer size (in terms of memory space anyway): the Amiga 600 version of the game came on a whopping 15 floppy disks (which I believe is actually the most disks used by one Amiga game – correct me if I’m wrong). This meant that backtracking through screens might involve several bouts of disk-swapping and loading, which became very tedious very quickly. Luckily I upgraded to an Amiga 1200 after I got BaSS, which meant that I could load the game in its entirety onto the 1200′s mighty 60 megabyte hard drive.

Blimey, it’s crazy to think now that my current mobile phone has nearly 67 times more memory than my old Amiga 1200…

Beneath a Steel Sky - Amiga - Gameplay Screenshot

 

The other major problem with the game was the problem shared by many point-and-clickers – that of the obscure puzzle. To be fair, BaSS was relatively good in this regard compared with some other examples in the genre, but even one of the first puzzles in the game (which involved wrenching a rung from a ladder to use as a crowbar) had me backtracking between screens for AGES. And of course, all this was in the days before GameFAQs.com (God bless you GameFAQs! Sing hallelujah, for yay, the days of becoming frustratingly stuck in video games hath endeth!).

watchmen_characters

Of all the games on this list, I’d rate BaSS in the top five games I’d like to play again, which just goes to show how much of an impression it left on me (if you fancy giving it a go yourself, you can play it for free using ScummVM). Interestingly, it seems that point-and-click adventure games are starting to make a bit of a comeback, chiefly thanks to the Nintendo Wii and DS. The laid back pace of the point-and-clicker is perfect for the older end of Nintendo’s gaming spectrum, and the Wii remote and DS stylus might as well have been custom made for playing this kind of game… With talk of a Director’s Cut of Broken Sword to be released for the Wii and DS, as well as the release of a new generation of point-and-clickers (e.g. Sam & Max: Season One, The Secret Files: Tunguska), perhaps this is the start of a point-and-click rennaissance?

In the meantime, here’s a clip of BaSS to whet your appetite – this is the CD-ROM version of the game, which used voice acting rather than text (although, inexplicably, everyone seems to be American, even though the game is set in Australia…).

Interstate ’76

Interstate_76

Interstate ’76

Oh yes, A lot of people that know me, tend to forget that I was once deeply involved in what I consider to be the dark ages of my gaming journey. The PC-gaming era.. It wasn’t all bad, it started great with the DOS/Windows 3.1 era where I didn’t have to worry about performance of games or anything, as I was still getting used to the simple factor of console gaming (I sold my SNES to put towards a 486 DX4 100Mhz with 8MB RAM, a 1MB video card and 540MB storage 1995), all I had to worry about was fuffing around with autoexec.bat and config.sys.

Interstate_76

As soon as Windows 95 came out and changed the way we played games on the PC, especially when developers started to make games to run in Windows, it was saying goodbye to command line interfaces, and hello to icon-doubleclicking. Interstate ‘76 was one of many titles which will always remind me of the better times of PC gaming. Even though I was trying to run a game which required a Pentium 90 with 16MB RAM.

Interstate_76

i76, released originally in 1997 was based on the same game engine used in Mechwarrior 2, which was yet another classic DOS series.

Interstate_76

The game is set in the mid 1970’s where there was an oil crisis in the United States. You play as Groove Champion, the main antagonist (who is set out to find out who killed your sister), alongside with your partner Taurus and the mechanic Skeeter. The story unravels more to find that the villains have a plot to destroy the main oil supplies across the US and Groove alongside with Taurus have to stop them.

Interstate_76

As I said, i76 is based on the Mechwarrior 2 engine, meaning you drive around in 70’s muscle cars armed to the teeth with guns/missiles/etc, with full customisation on what weapons are used as well as the working condition of them (as you get to salvage car parts from missions after destroying enemy vehicles).

Interstate_76

If there was one thing I was fearing before getting this game as of late, as well as back in 1997, was how on earth was I going to control a car with a keyboard? Well I was actually quite impressed with the controls considering that a keyboard is digital and well steering wheels generally are analogue. No, the controls are great in this game, I’m really impressed. Graphics were typical of what to expect from the late 90’s as shown below in the screenshots:

Interstate_76

The cutscenes are minimalistic yet adding a style which works for such a game.

Interstate_76

And the soundtrack is amazing, composed by Arion Salazar, who of course is the founding member of Third Eye Blind. Very funky and a strong 70’s feel to the music. Here’s an example of the Title song:

Interstate_76

The Nitro pack, which is the mission pack that comes with the i76 pack you get from GOG, puts you back further in time where you play as Taurus and Skeeter alongside Groove’s sister Jade before she was murdered, and in this mission pack it focuses more on the many auto-gangs in the desert.

Interstate_76

Considering the amount of levels you get, the customisability of your vehicle (for single player AND multiplayer), to get the Interstate ‘76 Arsenal pack for US$6.00 is, well.. there’s no excuses to not add this to the collection once again. This is a fantastic re-port of a classic Windows 95 title, which now works on XP, Vista and Windows 7 also. For this review, I ran i76 on VMware Fusion for OSX in a Windows XP Virtual Machine. End result was perfect and performance was not an issue on a 2GHz+ iMac.

R-Type Dimensions

r-type-dimensions

If there was one thing I would not expect to do on a next-gen console, is to play games from the older generation. Boy was I wrong! Even though I do own a SNES and a Master System 2, I still happily play old and new titles on my Xbox Classic, the 360 and the Wii. The 360 and the Wii offer access to their exclusive online stores, and amongst the titles on there are a lot of old games from the older consoles. With that said, a lot of companies lately are remaking classics (and doing quite a faithful job of it as well!) Enter R-Type Dimensions.

r-type-dimensions

My past experiences with the R-Type games weren’t overly immense. A brief stint at a Timezone in Sydney back in the 80’s , the rental-to-almost-purchase on the Master System 2 in the early 90’s, and a sequel on the SNES (R-type 3). A frustratingly hard game? Some could say that, but I’ll go with exuberantly challenging. For those who don’t know what R-Type is, it is a side-scrolling shooter, think 1942 but with a side-on perspective. The storyline is that there’s the evil Bydo empire invading the universe, you are a pilot of a small ship sent to stop this evil.

r-type-dimensions

Okay, not much to it really, but this is the kind of game, where the storyline doesn’t mean a thing, and gameplay is where it matters. R-Type Dimensions is a faithful remake to the original game on the arcade. The graphics have been enhanced to a more modern (3D) feel, and I’ll be honest, they (IREM who were the original creators of R-Type, Tozai, and SouthEnd) did an amazing job of keeping the remake faithful to the classic, also by including an option to swap between HD and Classic graphic mode flawlessly, as the High-def visuals were rolled over onto the originals (Plural, yes, it includes R-Type I & II).

r-type-dimensions

The game was, and still is very challenging, getting to the point that many levels can not be passed easily unless you have 1-3 seconds of invincibility after you die, and a new ship appears. You have multiple power-ups, one of them infamously is your satellite, which is mounted to the front or rear of the ship, and can be jettisoned at will and returned back to the front or the rear of the ship. With the usual speed-ups and missile power-ups, you will find interesting methods on attacking the hordes of enemies, and figuring out how to defeat each end-level boss without losing 50 or so lives.

r-type-dimensions

Speaking about the lives, there is also an infinite mode, meaning you have unlimited lives to plow through the game with. The challenge there I suppose is to see who can finish the game with the least lives. There is also a co-op mode which would be beneficial for plowing through such a hard game.

On the XBLA for 1200 Microsoft Points, some would argue that the price for title like this is questionable. R-Type Dimensions is definitely a title for those who appreciated the original on just about any platform since it’s release.

4.5 out of 5

Pros:
– extremely loyal remake to the original
– ability to swap between new and old graphics
– challenging

Cons:
– Price may be questionable
– Plenty of moments where you could lob your controller across the lounge room from frustration

Kinky Island

kinky island - pc game - indie game - gamplay screenshot
Kinky Island is most definitely not a game about alien invasions and will not replace Mass Effect 3. It is, or more accurately will be, an indie point-and-click adventure with a sexy twist. Actually, it will be a game about sex. Just like the original Larry. Or, well, obviously inspired by the Land of the Lounge Lizards but set on the aptly named Kinky Island.
kinky island - pc game - indie game - gamplay screenshot
Basically, Kinky Island will be a game created with the ever-handy and very freeware AGS development tool. It will most obviously be a pretty naughty offering too (rumors speak of -wait for it- full frontal nudity), sporting quite a bit of humor, lovely pixel-art graphics, traditional gameplay, over 30 locations, 20 fully animated characters and some hopefully interesting puzzles.
kinky island - pc game - indie game - gamplay screenshot
Problem is the game was supposed to happen ages ago. Its intriguing, not particularly safe for work and most playable demo has been around since 2006 and can still be downloaded from the AGS forums. But, after that cheeky peek at a smart and properly sexy game and for almost five years nothing much seemed to happen; until, that is, the original team decided to revive, expand, improve, polish and eventually publish the project.
kinky island - pc game - indie game - gamplay screenshot
What’s more and as this new attempt at Kinky Island will be a vastly more ambitious take on the naughty, humorous point-and-click sub-genre, the game will apparently be commercially available. Provided, that is, you too dear reader help it out via its IndieGoGo campaign. You will find there a ton of exciting goodies and all the relevant info you might ever need.

iCade 8-Bitty Retro Wireless Game Controller Review

iCade-8-Bitty

I always felt that smart phones and tablets were a perfect platform for retro gaming and though you do not need a gamepad to enjoy those classic games, it vastly improves the overall gameplay giving you that old school feeling of playing on your NES.

The first thing I noticed when I received my 8-bitty is the NES inspired design. The pad feels a lot like the old NES control complete with the button layout except the 8-bitty also features two top buttons. The fake wood paneling on the side is a nice touch and the buttons on the 8-bitty feel sturdy so don’t worry about going button mashing crazy.

The back of the controller has a panel which you can remove with a small screwdriver in order to access the two AAA batteries inside. It also features an on/off switch which is great to save battery life. When you turn the pad on and it is paired with your device you will see the blue indicator light on the top left.

Let’s talk games. The 8-bitty works with classic gaming applications like Midway Arcade and Atari Greatest Hits. You can also see a list of compatible games the 8-bitty works with. Now I use it mostly for emulators on my Android phone including the MAME4droid which works perfectly with the 8-bitty. Nothing beats loading up some Final Fight and being able to use a real controller that is durable and comfortable to use.

Now one might wonder why you would want to carry around a controller almost as big as your phone. Also, there may be some conflicts with some games, mainly iOS games where you may need to play around with the button configuration or you may have to use strange button combinations in order to play. However, as more games accept external controllers this will become less of an issue. The truth is, as great as smart phones have become some of the classic games like Megaman and Castlevania still play best with a good controller and at $29.99 the 8-bitty fits the bill.

Java Based NES Emulator

nes
This post could have been a rant about Nintendo’s censoring policies of yore, focusing for example on the convenient paradigm of Maniac Mansion (for NES, apparently). Of course, it’s not.It’s a simple, albeit glorified, post about a link. A link to a Java-based NES (or Famicom, accordingly) emulator, wisely code-named Andre’s NES Emulator. Visit it and play such classics as Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, Punch Out, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Mega Man and Castlevania. Each one of them a piece of gaming history. Each one of them quite free and without the need for any downloads.

Oh – it almost slipped my mind – here’s the link. Have fun, but don’t break anything.


The Interview: Dr Peter Favaro

Dr. Peter Favaro was the man behind the excellent Alter Ego life-sim and also one of the few psychologists deeply interested in the Internet (think Tendrilmedia) and video gaming. What follows is quite obviously an interview with said gaming legend regarding both the past and the future. Have fun reading it and feel the retro gaming nostalgia …uhm… feeling.
Alter Ego disk
It’s been quite some time since Alter Ego hit the shelves and impressed the press. Have you designed any other video games since?

Well, Alter Ego was to be followed by a game called Child’s Play -a humorous simulation about raising children, but Activision fell on financial hard times and had to be scrapped. The project manager was someone named Brenda Laurel, whom everyone first referred to as “The Lizard Queen” in the early days of the Internet.

Since then I have had some game ideas. One is finally coming to fruition. It’s Internet based and code named K-OS.

K-OS? Will it be an MMO sort of game? Could you describe it briefly?

Only briefly. People purchase computer generated DNA. They feed, train and teach the creature that forms from it. The creatures meet in a virtual world on line, fight, consume each other’s attributes until one becomes most superior. You know, the kind of touchy feely activities psychologists are known for.

Any idea when it should be available to psychologist adoring masses?

Well a lot depends on how much time I can slice from my media business which is doing quite well right now. My guess would be Winter 2007.

So, back to the old days, if you don’t mind. Alter-Ego. How would you describe it in a couple of sentences?

Alter Ego was a life sim, written in a tongue in cheek style which permitted people to explore the consequences of their decision making. It was built on a foundation of hundreds of interviews I conducted with people about their most memorable life events. Combined with stuff I just made up!

AlterEgoBoxBack

And how did you decide to undertake such an apparently mammoth task? What was your inspiration? Your PhD in psychology perhaps?

Actually, it was the other way around–it was my love of game design and the prospect of making some money. Psychology was a way of breaking out of the pack of other designers.

Hehe… A cunning plan indeed!

Well, its more than that, although I am cunning. Technology is by nature an exploitative enterprise. You have to strike while the iron is hot and you need to innovate in order to achieve that. That is what juices me up about working in this business and that’s why I rarely sit in a room with people who tell me about their anxieties.

Alter Ego, despite being critically acclaimed, didn’t sell very well. Why do you think this happened?

It sold well enough to buy me a house and a car. However, it did not sell like Mortal Kombat.

Why? Well, the egoist in me thinks it was before its time. It was developed during a period of gaming that did not know what a game activity was. It came after the initial shoot em ups and after some Zelda like stories, but was quite different than both. People have been begging me for years to re-do it.

Actually, should you re-do it, it would still be innovative and unique… Creativity in the mainstream gaming media seems to be at an all-time low… Or not?

Well, a project like that needs some cash behind it. It would have to go through a big developer like Sony. It would also have to be multimedia because that’s what turns people on -and well it should be- better for the nakedness and the killings and all. However, large developers wisely stick to their franchises–sports games, carjackings, and war themes. I don’t know if it would make it past the funding stage.

Then again, the Sims did it… And it was the only truly successful spiritual child of Alter Ego.

Yes it was, damn it. Can’t do the Sims again though; it would be me imitating an imitator of me.

AlterEgoScreen

How surreal and psycho-confusing….

Thank you. If someone would toss a few million my way, I am sure I could come up with something.

Which reminds me, have you played Timothy Leary’s game? Actually met the man? Helped him with his game?

Only by phone. Tim was an interesting sort of fellow. Lots of ideas about technology but no real clue. On the other hand, I don’t like people mucking about with my stuff, so I learned programming from the ground up. I am actually quite a technical person.

But where did you learn game-design and coming up with intuitive and never before seen interfaces?

I think game design is a function of a person’s idiosyncratic way of living. To some, life is just one big game. HA!

Wow!

I just realized what that implies about Alter Ego.When I was younger I used to make up games to amuse myself and to torment my little sister.

Did you ever hit her with an Alter Ego manual, then?

No, she was already too old and strong to mess with.

Sisters, tsk… Like reviewers really. Remember any of the reactions and/or reviews back in the day Alter Ego was released?

We all grew up in Brooklyn and had to learn to street fight relatively early in life.

Oh people loved it, the reviews were excellent with the exception of two guys from Compuserve who hated it because it relied on manipulation and was nothing more than a simulation based on psychology. Imagine! I laughed my ass off when I read that review.

Besides laughing at reviews, what else did you enjoy from the Activision era?

Well, also, loved the perks. Activision was big on treating their designers like rock stars. It was hilarious that when we showed at Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas we were always right near the porn stars!

Now, one final question. Which games did you recently enjoy?

I like the online multies. World of Warcraft is a good game -causing quite a stir with parents who say their kids are too involved in it

Well, parents can be funny, but WoW is a huge and all consuming time sink….

Sure, but you can expect more of the same. People are becoming more vegetative, and the more they veg, the more they will be looking for these kinds of activities.

Now, that I’ve never thought. Quite the vicious circle really…

There’s a reason televisions are getting bigger and bigger, and if you listen to Bill Gates everyone of them will have a web browser built in in just a few years.

Actually, quite a few anarchist believe that a color TV equals a black ‘n’ white life…

I can see that, but what’s going to stop the deluge? Nothing.

I see. Now, care to add anything else?

Well, only that there will always be a fascinating interplay between people and the widgets they keep themselves occupied with -and in that there is still a lot to learn, explore and exploit.

Thanks so much for the interview. Oh, and good luck both with K-OS and Tendrilmedia!


The TI 99/4A

Ti 99 4A - Long Version
TI 99/4A, usually referred to (well by us gnomes at least) simply as the Texas Instruments, was the first computer I ever touched and the only computer of mine I just can’t remember where to find. Damn! This Space Invaders cartridge was so utterly amazing, and so unbelievably better than its Atari 2600 version, I’d just love to play it again… Show it to them silly Atari loving kiddies. Take it out for a beer even. Ah, the days, the days…
spacebandits - TI994a game

 

Nostalgia aside though, the TI 99/4A was also a rather impressive machine for its time. It was 16-bit, could output 256-colour graphics, had an almost proper keyboard, could use Atari’s digital and quite lovely one-button joysticks, could load programmes via tape or cartridge, was immensely expandable and had loads of RAM (that was 16Kb actually). As for the games, well, a visit to the TI-99/4A videogames house should convince you. For the rest, watch this commercial (and please avoid the dreaded Bill Cosby one):

 


Interested for more? Great, here are some sites you might just enjoy:


CD gaming from the late 80s

It was 1992 when CD-ROMs became widely available to us gnomes. And, let me tell you, we were thoroughly impressed. Even felt like digital entertainment pioneers, like taking part in some sort of video game revolution. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (mobygames entry here) in FMV astonished us more than C-3PO astonished the (much hated) ewoks, and Sierra’s Jones in the Fast Lane (mobygames entry here) made us hopelessly worship the new medium.
Sound-Blaster-Pro
The Sound Blaster Pro. The gnomes’ entrance to CD gaming.

 

Little did we know how outdated we were. How pathetically passe, even by the low late-adapting standards of gnomish society.You see, oh patient and wise reader, CD gaming had hit the mainstream gaming market since the late 80s. The very late 80s actually, or to be more precise since December 1989, when Codemasters (then publishers of such classics as Dizzy, Ghostbusters and Jet Bike Simulator, now found here) released their famous CD Games Pack, an impressive collection of 30 games all on one CD. The compilation was available for 8-bit home computers like the Amstrad CPC, the Spectrum and the Commodore 64.CDgamepack.2

The CD Games Pack. Obviously via Blitz Games.
On to some impressive CD Games Pack facts, then(besides of course providing then-next-gen fun to 8-bit owners):

a) No CD-ROM drive was needed, as any audio CD-player would do. Loading software (on tape or disc) and a cable (connecting the CD player to the joystick port) were provided to make said miracle happen.

b) The games loaded faster and more reliably than their tape counterparts.

c) It didn’t cost much more than an average game.

d) It was a definite commercial flop. Go figure…

[UPDATE] Apparently the brilliant online version of the fondly remebered CRASH magazine has a review of the CD Games Pack. Read it here.

Retro Love: Buy a Dreamcast

Sega Dreamcast Logo

It’s been quite some time since I’ve got my brand new, but also (and that’s quite an oxymoron) second hand, SEGA Dreamcast, and let me tell you, I am as happy a punter as one can be. I’m a 100% converted and a newborn SEGA fanboy (well, not a boy in the full sense, but you get the idea… at least I’m not in my thirties just yet). I’m also rather thankful to the Dreamcast Junkyard for fuelling my DC obsession.

All things considered I’m thankful to dear Mr. Elderly too, for providing this blog’s comments space with a healthy dose of Irish surrealism, but that’s definitely none of your business. All you should focus on is buying a Dreamcast (unless of course you already got one, in which case you should consider buying a second). Why? Well, because…

1) It’s a matter of price.

The Dreamcast is dead cheap. You should be able to buy a brand new one for less than 80$ (that’s 60 euros) over at Lik-Sang (try clicking on the banner at the end of the article to see for yourself), or follow my example and buy a second hand one, either at e-bay or at your local second-hand-store-bazaar-whatever for quite a bit less than 50$. And this is paying for a 100% current-gen console.
Sega Dreamcast Console
the Dreamcast (via)

2) It’s the bleeding hardware

It doesn’t only look smart, it is smart. SEGA’s Dreamcast is miles ahead from both the Nintendo 64 and the PlayStation, even though it’s not as powerful as the PS2 or the GameCube. It sports a RISC 128bit CPU capable of 360 MIPS (N64 ~120 MIPS, PS1 ~30 MIPS), a special edition PowerVR2 graphics processor, that can cope with 10 times PS1’s polygons, 16MB of RAM, a 1 Giga “GD-ROM” (aka fancy, fast and easily pirated CD-ROM) drive, brilliant 64 channel audio and a modem. Yes. The first console modem ever. Oh, and European players will apparently enjoy full 60Hz PAL support.

Sega Dreamcast Motherboard

the insides of the beast (via)

3) It’s the brilliant (and admittedly very cheap) games

With more than 300 games, the Dreamcast has something for everyone, except perhaps for us poor football minded maniacs. Most used (and abused) games should be picked up at ridiculous prices of 5-10$ (less in euros, even less in pounds), while published titles include such brilliant gems as Soul Calibur, Rez, Sonic Adventure 2, Rayman 2, Phantasy Star Online, Quake 3 (you might even be able to track down Half-Life), Metropolis Street Racer, Shenmue, Ikaruga, Crazy Taxi 2, Jet Grind Radio and the quite legendary Samba de Amigo.

Soul Calibur - Sega Dreamcast Screenshot

Soul Calibur

 

I could actually go on and mention at least a dozen more distinctive and defining games, but I’d rather mention something else. Dreamcast games are still being produced! Have a look at the 2006 released Under Defeat or the forthcoming Last Hope shooter.

Under Defeat - Sega Dreamcast Screenshot

Under Defeat

4) It’s the innovation and the quirkyness

And I’m talking innovation, beside the Internet connection or the PAL ting. The Dreamcast controller featured a brilliant analog stick, the now-standard shaped triggers and interestingly the Virtual Memory Unit, or VMU. This VMU thingy was far more than a memory stick. It plugged into the controller and used its little LCD screen to display relevant game information or graphics and even was a wee version of Gameboy, as it also functioned as a completely separate portable handheld gaming device (from hell). VMU games can be found right here, but searching and googling around will lead you to quite a few more cyber-stashes.

Sega Dreamcast VMU

the VMU (exposed)

 

As for quirkyness, one could mention the DC Keyboard, the Fishing Rod, the quite new-at-the-time Vibration Pack and above all Dreamcast’s Wii capabilities.

5) It’s the scene

By saying the scene I’m talking of the vibrant DC emulation, demo, homebrew and even amateur journalism community. On the Dreamcast you see, one can play anything from old arcade, to MegaDrive, Amiga, Atari, Gameboy, Playstation or NES games. There’s even a ScummVM port that makes those old Lucasarts adventures of yore DC compatible. Then again one can listen to MP3s, watch DivX videos, see the Dreamcast get pushed to its limits and play zillions of Tetris versions. All of these courtesy of the scene.

To start tasting sweet freeware offerings (you will need DiscJuggler to burn things on CD) try the following links: DCEvolution.net, Dreamcast Homebrew, IGN Dreamcast, Dreamcast @ pout.net.

6) There is no 6

Go on. Buy one! It’s cheap and powerful, but also quite the retro machine. Oh, and the Wii isn’t out yet.

The ZX Spectrum Bible

Actually, more of the ZX Spectrum PDF emulation Bible, but this would be too long a post title… Still, oh wise and cheap-ass retroheads, just click here and you’ll get yourselves the brilliant 82 pages long PDF of the aptly (and rather eloquently) named The ZX Spectrum on your PC. Brilliant, educating, handy, quite free and sporting a nice cover, this is as retro as an ebook can get.

 

Sweety Puzzle

Sweety Puzzle - Gameplay Screenshot
Non-gamers are Nintendo’s Wii little target, non-gamers were the people the PlayStation turned to gamers all those years ago and non-gamers are the market casual games are aiming for. But what are casual games (ask the masses in their booming and state-shattering voices)? Well, according to Wikipedia they are “a category of electronic or computer games targeted at the mass audience, which are peculiar for their simple rules, engaging game design, require no time commitment or special skills from an end user as well as comparatively low production and distribution costs from producer“.

 

Sweety Puzzle - Gameplay Screenshot

A wise and brief description, that so just happens to perfectly fit the subject of this quite modest review: Sweety Puzzle. A quirky, simple and extremely addictive indy-game that comes from Thailand. Yes, Thailand-Asia. A beautiful country you really should be visiting. But, as usual, I digress. Ahhh, yes, Sweety Puzzle. Haven’t played a game like this for years: elegant, fun, retro looking and with fine music playing in the background.

Sweety Puzzle - Gameplay Screenshot

The game feels like the mutant offspring of Go, Tetris and Columns. You place colored candies on a pink grid, rotate them, and apparently try to make them go pop! before you run out of time or space. It is actually one of those things that are better experienced, not described. So, just visit Sweety Puzzle’s homepage for a hefty demo; then come back here. I have not finished yet.

 

Sweety Puzzle has an excellent learning curve and a few very tiny glitches, mostly centered around its not-so-well Thai to English translation. It costs less than 7$ or 6 euros. Ok. Now, I’ve finished.

That’s an (eight) out of (ten).

For a downloadable or Java demo (or a purchase) of Sweety Puzzle click here. For an Independent Gaming Sweety Puzzle review, here.

The CD-i

It danced, it singed, it was good for audio, video, Karaoke and CD+G discs, while at the same time (not literally, mind you) it played games. The CD-i you see, oh dear retro-minded reader, had a decent library of gaming and educational software. ~Konstantinos Dimopoulos

The CD-i

It’s really weird feeling nostalgic for a console never actually owned, played or in any way experienced… Still, the CD-i was the second CD console I ever craved (promptly following the equally unsuccessful CDTV). And it was ads like this (via), that spawned my ungodly craving:
cdi-ad
Even though the console was a commercial failure, it was rather an interesting kit of hardware, that somehow managed to become the home of some weird, rare and quirky Mario and Zelda games. Featuring a 16bit 68000 based processor (@ 16MHz), 1.5 whole MB of RAM, a single-speed CD drive, optional MPEG-1 capabilities and dazzling 32k color graphics, CD-i was quite the home-entertainment hub Philips had wanted it to be.
It danced, it singed, it was good for audio, video, Karaoke and CD+G discs, while at the same time (not literally, mind you) it played games. The CD-i you see, oh dear retro-minded reader, had a decent library of gaming and educational software.
Litil Divil - CD-i
Top titles included Burn:Cycle, Myst, Dragon’s Lair, Litil Divil, Mad Dog McCree, Rise of the Robots and a dozen more.
Surprisingly (to me at least), the CD-i failed, and I never got one. Why? Guess it was a money thing. 1up, has more to add to the sad story. As for an emulator… Tough luck. There’s the freeware CD-ice that’s capable of emulating one game (Rise of the Robots, in case you were wondering), and the shareware Cd-i Emulator (free demo).

Both though need the CD-i’s ROM images. Tough luck. Again.


Wes Paugh: Fusion Reactions

100 Rogues logo
100 Rogues logo

Name: Wes Paugh

Company: Fusion Reactions, partnered with Dinofarm Games

Job Title: Lead Software Developer

Favorite Classic Game: Perfect Dark

Quote: This is the only game for which I think the term ‘even more perfect’ isn’t completely asinine. Goldeneye established paradigms for the genre that are rarely met with as great success by games with much larger budgets and much more content. Perfect Dark ramped up the formula in almost every way.

The difficulty of the game is cyclically reinforced by its pacing. Level / encounter design was woven brilliantly with story and non-combat objectives to provide non-life-threatening, but often intense, breaks, but I still felt free to explore at my own pace if I wanted. Further, each mission’s golden path was short (3-10 minutes), so they could each be brazenly unforgiving with to-the-second timing that had to be researched and rehearsed to be successful on the harder difficulties. And yet, it was never any less fun or intense going back to easier ones. I just felt more awesome taking the improved skills back in time.

Everything about Perfect Dark felt streamlined and polished, with enough to do to keep me satisfied no matter what experience I craved. Throw in a phenomenal multiplayer and it’s a formula that has kept me coming back for a decade, especially with its recent XBLA rebirth.

Bio: I began working for Fusion Reactions just under two years ago, with prior experience on Vicarious Vision’s Spider-man 3 as a scripter, with a degree in Software Engineering from RIT.

Fusion Reactions had decided to develop an iPhone game, somewhat on a whim. A roguelike RPG called 100 Rogues was born of our partnership with Dinofarm Games in Westchester, NY. Where our team brought software know-how to the project, Dinofarm’s Keith Burgun and Blake Reynolds brought design, music and artistic expertise.

My current work is the continued support for 100 Rogues, with more character classes, worlds and monsters, and features they require. I am currently the iPhone Game’s only full-time software developer.

Project Name: 100 Rogues

Project Info: 100 Rogues is a re-imagining of a genre of games called roguelikes. The genre is defined by strategy against a wealth of opponents with esoteric and widely varied abilities, including the world itself.

Set across a series of 3 dungeons (at time of writing), the player must navigate downward between floors, encountering new monsters and defeat each dungeon’s boss, becoming stronger along the way.

The game currently has 3 unique player classes (Crusader, Wizard, and the recently shipped Scoundrel), each with their own combat advantages and strategies focused around the skills they can learn as they progress.

Although the game is relatively short, completing it is no easy task, and could scarcely be called the point of playing. Randomly generated dungeons, permanent death without chance of reloading from a save point, and different skill-tree decisions make each play through a unique challenge that can take month of practice to reach and defeat the final boss.

Production values also raise 100 Rogues beyond the traditional roguelike, with fully-animated pixel-art, which gives the game a distinct, rich look. We poke fun at genre conventions relentlessly, too; the primary quest-giver nearly passes out from boredom as he hands down the done-to-death ‘Go Kill Satan’, and one player class is actually one of a race living, breathing skeletons… only she, in particular, has been killed and reanimated.

The game is constantly expanding and moving forward, with a fourth player class and world already in the works, a challenge mode with strategy puzzles that will continue receiving additional content, and a bevy of new game modes and features ahead.


Article Source: http://100rogues.com

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. ^_^

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…

Free Stuff – Play Value, the history of video games

Play Value Logo
Play Value Logo

If you want to learn in general about the history of video games, check out this web mini show made by On Networks called Play Value. From the 50s to Atari to Nintendo to Commodore to Sega to Sony and Microsoft, it covers pretty much most major events.

http://www.onnetworks.com/videos/play-value