Posts Tagged ‘amiga’
Well, this is an interesting development. It looks like someone has decided to remake the classic ’90s arcade adventure Flashback for modern platforms. And when I say “remake” I mean “remake”, not “re-imagining”. It’ll have posh new graphics but the gameplay and levels are, apparently, going to be the same.
It’s been such a long time since I played Flashback for anything more than about ten minutes that I can’t remember whether it stands up well or now feels very dated but its reputation and my memories suggest that this might well transfer quite well to modern HD graphics and I’m always happy to see something that might attract people to the joys of 2D gaming.
There really is precious little to go on at the moment so why not gawp at the picture off in the top-right there? Pretty.
Of the number of first-person, realtime CRPGs that cascaded into the market in the years following FTL’s seminal 1987 Atari ST title Dungeon Master the best known is still probably Eye of the Beholder. This excellent title, programmed by Westwood Studios and incorporating the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons ruleset and world, proved extremely popular and spawned a sequel – Eye of the Beholder II - which many fans believe surpasses the original, as well as a third game which nobody does. Taking control of a party of four adventurers, the player entered the sewers under the city of Waterdeep looking for the troublesome evil that plagued the city, progressing through a mixture of combat and puzzle-solving. Taking in the aforementioned stinky sewers, spider-infested dwarvern ruins and dark elf lairs the game had the feel of a fantasy epic, despite taking place entirely underground, and continues to have a fanbase to this day. There’s only one problem: which version to play. You see, the two most popular versions are those for the Amiga and MS-DOS machines; the Amiga has the far superior sound effects but the DOS version has 256-colour VGA graphics which look much better than the 32-colour Amiga port. It’s a toughy – pictures or sound, daddy or chips?
The thing is, there’s no need to make that choice. There’s actually a little-known unofficial port of EOB which brings both of these together but, more crucially, adds something even more important.
You see, despite generally being very good and still offering a great deal to modern gamers, CRPGs of that late ’80s/early ’90s era tend to put people off for one very simple reason: the player needs to make maps to progress and because this in the era before games had automapping (largely for reasons of RAM, I’m guessing) which meant maps had to be done the old-fashioned way: pen and graph paper. What was barely tolerable then is intolerable now and only the most patient retronaut would bother to break out the pad of squared paper and get cracking when they could play something that draws the dungeons for them instead.
So, when mixing-up the graphics of the DOS version with the sound effects of the Amiga version they naturally threw-in an automap as well.
So enough background, how do you play it? Well, sadly it’s not a fancy-pants Windows port along the line of the one done for Dungeon Master that you might have expected. It’s actually a version for AGA Amigas which runs from hard disc only, although it works through an Amiga emulator too if you can be arsed setting a HD up on it. As for where you can get it, that would be here.
And now you can all run off and solve the great mystery of Eye of the Beholder: why this brilliant enhanced port is so obscure and why people don’t do things like this more often…
Happy New Year for the Space Year 2012, I hope you had a good Christmas and all of that. Now, where were we…?
This is the first part of a story about two games I’ve been playing quite a bit over the holiday period. They both have the same designer (Peter Molyneux) and share a lot of the same DNA but are separated by ten years and represent very different evolutionary stages of gaming. One is Populous II: Trials of the Olympian Gods and the other is Black & White.
Populous II I bought from Good old Games for the distinctly un-princely sum of $2.99 (that’s less than two quid in real money) during their Holiday Discount period (it’s over now, you’ll have to pay a mammoth $5.99 for it instead!). I have a lot of good memories of playing the Amiga version in the ’90s and the PC version is largely the same only with higher-resolution graphics, a few new features on full-screen mode, one extra spell and (as was typical in the early ’90s alas) poorer sound. For those who aren’t aware of Populous II it’s a god-game (in fact I think the first Populous may have been the originator of that particular label) where the player takes on the role of one of Zeus’s many demi-god children and must fight numerous opponents taken from Greek mythology (starting with figures like Pan and other demi-gods and ending with the gods of Olympus themselves) over an incredible 1000 different levels. Each level is an individual world containing followers of both the player and whoever you’re up against as well as having a number of rules (eg in some worlds water is fatal and others not, in some worlds you can raise and lower land and in others not).
To complete a level you have to defeat your opponent demi-god or deity which means you have to wipe-out his population of followers either by slowly defeating them or massively outnumbering them, building up enough mana to use a godly power called “armageddon” and have everyone change into a mythical hero and charge towards a big ruck from which only one side’s followers will emerge victorious. There are other powers to help you win as well and these are slowly handed-out to the player as he or she progresses through the game. These include the “papal magnets” which provide a focus for your followers, various godly powers (including destructive powers like rains of fire and earthquake as well as subversive ones such as the fonts which change the allignment of any army which walks through them) and the heroes, based on characters from Greek mythology, who the player’s leader (identified by the tiny papal magnet which floats next to him/her) takes the form of and who then march into the enemy’s land to do mischief based on who they are (Perseus fights people, Helen of Troy leads them away etc). Your followers will build houses and cities based on the amount of farmland they have access to so you spend a lot of time manipulating the geography until its nice and flat so that your people can multiply.
Populous II takes ages to get going, so to speak, having so many levels and a gentle learning and difficulty curve. What makes it work, though, is that it’s plain fun and the range of things you can do means there are numerous potential strategies to win. For example, on earlier stages its easiest to just create farmland, have your followers settle it and build-up mana for armageddon, the computer being too slow and dozy to build up his own followers quickly enough. Later, though, the computer gets faster and more aggressive and starts sending his followers into your territory and using godly powers to trash your land meaning you have to respond in kind and can use godly powers, heroes or even just standard armies to invade and take-over his land and defeat him more quickly (speed brings higher scores, quicker advancement through the levels, and sometimes more experience). The Populous titles have often been criticised for being “land-flattening games” because, early on especially, this is what you spend most of the time doing but the fact that you end up mixing this up with a little warfaring, self-defence and godly wrath as the game slowly opens up its wide range of features means this is a simplistic criticism. Flattening the land is also, believe it or not, quite satisfying and nimble mouse-clicking makes for faster victory (indeed, Populous II is arguably as much an action game as strategy).
Whenever I return to this game I’m surprised by how well the gameplay has aged, how much fun it still is to play and how it manages to suck you in for hours despite the more rational part of your brain claiming that there’s not quite enough variety, largely because despite all the godly powers and no matter how much you might enjoy it you are still just spending an awful lot of time flattening land. Like Black & White, which I will talk about in the next few days, Populous II is a product of a starry-eyed ideas man but in this case his grand plans have somehow created an addictive, absorbing action-cum-strategy title which offers the player a great deal of potential strategies but ultimately has less depth than I think he imagined although is arguably better for it. Can the same be said for Black & White? Does it marry the enjoyable gameplay to real depth? Ooh, let’s see in a few days shall we…
Footnote: a data disk was released for this game called The Challenge Games which took place in Japanese, rather than Greek, mythology and had both a conquest game and a series of levels based around puzzles. As far as I know, this wasn’t released for MS-DOS computers and isn’t available on GOG, a shame.
Chances are you haven’t heard of Time Bandit. You’ve probably heard of Time Bandits, of course, because it’s the brilliant 1981 fantasy flick directed by “the American Python” Terry Gilliam, everyone’s heard of that except boring bastards. But Time Bandit is completely unrelated, sharing nothing but a similar name. And it’s a shame that you’ve probably not heard of it, because Time Bandit is in its own way just as brilliant.
If I’m being honest the reason that I’ve heard of it is because of the aforementioned link: I came across a game called Time Bandit on the Amiga, wondered if it had anything to do with the film, loaded it up and realised that it didn’t. But after a couple of hours worth of play I realised that that’s not important because Time Bandit is a brilliant mixture of videogame styles with an ingenious non-linear progression.
Originally appearing on the relatively obscure TRS-80 home computer in 1983, Time Bandit was later ported to the Amiga and Atari ST in ’88 and it is these versions which were most popular (and which I am concentrating on). The easiest way to describe Time Bandit is to say that it’s a Gauntlet-style top-down game which borrows elements from other games including Pac-Man and Bomberman as well as text adventures (yes, really!). The player travels through time visiting different worlds (and a signpost which gives information about progress so far and the option to save the game) via a main Mario/JRPG-style scrolling play area; these various worlds, all of which can be accessed from the start, are split into 16 stages and in each stage the basic goal is to open the exit and escape at which point the player is returned to the level selection area and has the choice of either re-entering the world just visited and attempting the next level which will be more difficult or of tackling a different world and returning to the next level of previous worlds later on. Whilst playing a level of a world, which uses the same top-down scrolling display as the main selection stage, the player can simply concentrate on reaching the exit, take time out to grab as much treasure as possible dotted around the world (score for treasure in a level increases for each treasure taken so the first will be 100 “cubits”, the second 200 etc) or even take a quest or solve puzzles that can be found in the level. The worlds themselves are very diverse covering various time zones (hence the game’s name) and include an Enterprise-style starship, medieval castles and even a Pac-Man-style maze. They’re also full of ‘orrible things which spawn from (apparently indestructable) points on the floor and patrol the rooms and corridors. Our hero can dispatch them with his laser/plasma/whateveritis gun earning cubits as he does so; and depending on skill and bravery in doing so, earnings for beastie-shooting increase, reducing again if the player shows a lapse in heroism.
If the above description confuses the hell out of you (and I don’t blame you) try watching this YooToob vid of someone playing the Atari ST version and you might get the idea.
Like many great videogames, it’s better to discover Time Bandit and its wealth of features and surprises (barely scratched in the above description) for yourself. It’s not perfect – a time limit on levels would have stopped score-scumming and the text-adventure aspect, whilst a nice touch, would have worked better as some kind of icon-based arcade-adventure instead. Nonetheless, this game is great fun, addictive, and pleasingly barmy and despite the mixture of game styles sounding utterly bloody absurd on paper it somehow works. They really don’t make them like this anymore, although to be honest they didn’t really make them like this back then either.
Oh, and there’s a two player simultaneous option as well…
If you pay any sort of attention to the links I keep somewhere over there -> on the front page of this bloggo you’ll know about Amiga PD. Don’t let the rather-spartan name put you off, it’s one of the few good resources for independent Amiga software of yesteryear there is on the internet and an excellent recent development has been the appearance on the site of a number of interviews with indie programmers.The interviews are accessed by going to the main site (which I linked to previously, although given that you all can read and can spot the telltale blue colour and underscore of a link I don’t know why I’m bothering to tell you that, maybe it just feels good to get my wordcount up) and choosing “interviews” from the drop-down menu.
Of particular note are interviews with David Cruikshank (who was responsible for the recently-rediscovered Hydrozone which I wrote about a wee while ago), Tony Warriner who worked on the now-freeware adventure classic Beneath a Steel Sky and Adrian Cummings who worked on unfairly-neglected indie platformers like Tin Toy Adventure during the twilight of the Amiga’s commercial life when most developers were pursuing the doomed (ho ho!) goal of trying to re-create a certain ID Software first-person shooter on standard A1200 hardware.
Many of the games are now freeware and links for some of them are provided in the interviews. I’m going to give a particular shout-out for Dave Parson’s Trog! (also known as Og!) which supplies this article’s piccy-in-the-top-right and which is a likeable and surprisingly-tough side-scrolling indie platfomerer in the mould of Wonderboy and which, frustratingly despite being rather good is nonetheless only available to us as what must be described as a second-rate version. I’ll let you read the interview to find out more.
Those of you out there with an interest in fairly obscure 1994 Amiga indie titles (and that’s probably most regular readers of this ‘ere weblog) will be delighted to know that Hydrozone, the demo of which graced an Amiga Action cover disk back in the days of John Major, Criminal Justice Bill protests and The Rednex, has now been released in full as freeware.
There’s a little story behind this good news. A few weeks ago someone posted to a thread on the English Amiga Board about tracking-down the authors of old Amiga indie commercial software to find if it could be published on the web as freeware and someone asked whether anyone knew where a full version of an old Skull Army Software game called Hydrozone could be found. A week or so later who should appear on the forum thread but the original programmer of said game, having been alerted by one of the thread’s other posters, who told us that he still had all his old titles on disk and, having transferred them all to PC for emulator-friendliness, he would be tweaking them, fixing them up and releasing them to the Amiga community as freeware. The first out of the door is Hydrozone itself now updated to V1.02 (only 16 years after the original release) and available by following the link on the forum post here. And as if that’s not enough he’s thrown Speed Racer FX, the sequel, onto the same disk.
Hydrozone is essentially a first-person racer game with some shoot-em-up elements. The nearest equivalent I can think of is the trench sequences from the old Star Wars arcade cabinet. The screenshot above-right doesn’t really do the game justice, you really need to see it move. There’s a YouTube video of the game in action here if you need more persuading.
Download, play, enjoy; and if you can be bothered let me know what you think!
In other news, I’m back in employment again (woohoo) on a six-month contract which means I have less time for sitting about and writing about old video games so this blog might get updated a little less regularly in future; maybe two or three times and month (which is going to be hugely different to recent updating speeds, obviously).
And, no, I’ve not finished the Cecco articles. Exolon is up next…
One of the annoying things about being a fan of independent games for old systems is that there are so few sites catering for them. There are many sites which list games and provide downloads (some of them even do it legally) but they tend to concentrate on the commercial releases.
So it’s with a great deal of happy happy joy joy that I can tell you all that a new site has appeared with a large number of Amiga “Public Domain” (ie freeware) releases available to download along with some commercial titles (which the site maintainer claims to have obtained permission to host) and C64 games. The site is called The Games Coffer. I suggest you clicky on over there and check it out.
Oh, woe is me! There’s two games that I really want to write articles about (Times of Lore and the silhouette-based Blade Warrior) but they’re going to have to wait because both games are proving more complex to play than I expected. But let’s not worry about them right now, let’s worry about the forgotten game of yesteryear I’ve decided to dig-out and talk to you all about instead: that would be Electronic Zoo’s Treasure Trap (1989) for the Amiga, Atari ST and DOS (I’m playing the Amiga version for the purposes of this review).
The plot is very straightforward – you’re a treasure hunter in an old-fashioned diving-suit who’s been lowered into the wreck of a ship called the Esmerelda and have to explore it and loot all the gold on board. That’s it: no “emotional journey”, no cut-scenes, no “moral choices” to make, no sub-B-Movie plotline written by hacks to get in the way of the game. Modern game developers take note! (rant over).
Anyway, enough about my personal issues with the current gaming scene, what does Treasure Trap play like? Well, if you glance around the couple of screenshots I’ve provided around the screen you’ll notice that it bears more than a passing resemblance to Knight Lore, Head over Heels and other 8-bit isometric; and, unsurprisingly, it plays a bit like them as well. The player character can perform the usual moves in four directions plus a jump; he can also collect keys (which come in the form of various shapes) and carry three at at time for the purposes of unlocking doors. The gold bars are collected automatically on contact and on many of the screens can only be reached by solving basic puzzles in order to reach them – usually of the “push this box here, use it to reach that platform” variety that will be familiar to anyone who’s played this type of game before. Of course, our hero isn’t alone in the depths of the ship and there are various underwater menaces which take one of his lives on contact. These include crabs, eels, stingrays and some really really annoying mines which home in on you. The only thing the player has to combat these are ‘smart fish’, friendly fishies which eat hostile creatures; you start with two of them and get more if you collect lots of gold bars (presumably they’re attracted to shiny things, like some kind of aquatic magpie). So, in the main, the player has to avoid the nasties and use smart fish sparingly. Treasure Trap came at the end of a decade which had seen its fair share of isometric arcade-adventures and it seemed to be attempting some kind of minor evolution. It all moves faster and smoother with the more powerful sprite-shifting powers of the 16-bit machines and shadows, much-missed from older titles and necessary to identify where a lot of blocks/monsters actually are in relation to other things, are actually present in this game. It’s also possible to save the game each 50 bars of gold you collect – there’s none of the play-it-all-through-in-one-load problems that we had in Head over Heels and the like. It even has a map which is fills in as the player progresses in surprising detail – this is (as far as I know) unique in isometric adventure games like this and a quite welcome feature.
But despite all that, it doesn’t succeed in beating these older games. The puzzles and screen designs in Head over Heels and Hydrofool (an older aquatic underwater title where you played a robot that looked like Stan Laurel who had to pull plugs out of a giant aquarium – I’m not making this up) were much more devious and well-thought-out than in this game; and it’s not just that the puzzles aren’t as good, some rooms just seemed generally ill-thought-out with enemies that were too hard to avoid and gold that was hidden away from view (although the letter “G” on the gold indicator on-screen does flash if there is gold on a screen still to be collected). There’s also less of a sense of progression; the older titles had considerable freedom of movement, as does this, and weren’t linear but Treasure Trap feels like just one big maze of rooms rather than smaller, individual groups of rooms that need to be beaten and passed. It also has some ill-thought-out features like the “whirlpool” monsters who deposit the player in a random room on the Esmerdela; imagine if Head over Heels had had something like that! Players should have to persevere to see these later screens and work-up to their greater challenges gradually, not just be deposited in them at random!
Ultimately, isometric gaming didn’t die in the 1990s but it left behind the old room-by-room platforming arcade-adventure of the 8-bit entries in the genre and tended more towards RPGs (like Legend) or scrolling action games (like Skeleton Krew). Treasure Trap feels like a last hurrah of a type of game that was dying out in 1989 and, sadly, it’s more of a whimper than a bang. Worth a shot if you like this kind of game but you’d be better off playing some of the classic 8-bit games in the genre.
Ah, February; the month of cold winds and not-as-short-as-in-January daylight hours. Sorry I’ve take a wee while posting a new article, I generally hope to get one posted per week but I get easily sidetracked and, erm, become easily lazy. Now, where were we? Ah, that’s right: games.
I had hoped that this next article would be about the “action RPG” Times of Lore but, unfortunately, it’s taking longer to play and assess that game than I’d expected (ie it’s not a quick pick-me-up-and-play game) so instead I’m going to take a wee look at the 1991 Atari ST, Amiga and MS-DOS title Metal Mutant from Silmarils software.
When this game was published eighteen years ago (michty!) it completely failed to set the world alight. Reviews, it’s fair to say, weren’t terribly positive and it didn’t exactly jump out of the magazine pages at anyone doing a spot of browsing. I mean, the robots look nice and all of that but it’s all so green and drab looking; hardly the sort of thing that was going to inspire the average gamer to fork-out when there was Lemmings and Speedball 2 to buy instead. So, as a result, Metal Mutant is one of those games that was largely forgotten about; exactly the sort of game, in fact, that tends to attract me…
So, what’s it all about? Well, the plot seems to be some nonsense about a bunch of cyborgs being all uppity and turning against humanity. So, humanity decides to deal with this by, erm, building a cyborg and then sending it into battle against the rebel cyborgs. That’s sure to be good…
The player takes control of the cyborg in question. But – and here’s the almost-unique selling point of this game – this cyborg can transform into two other things. Namely a robot dinosaur thing and a, well, a sort-of robbie-the-robot-on-track tank-robot thing. It’s not exactly a T1000 but it’s fit for purpose, I suppose.
Gameplay takes place over a number of levels and completing these levels seems to consist of ridding the various screens of horrible nasties and collecting add-ons for the cyborg. These add-ons allow the three different forms the metal mutant (ah, you see where the title came from?) takes on to access additional abilities. For example, at the start the “original” cyborg form can’t use it’s axe-attack, an attack that involves it making its arm into an axe and twatting anything nearby, but it can do this once it picks up the necessary add-on. The monsters and hazards that confront our threefold hero are numerous and varied and the different forms and abilities need to be used to progress through the game. As an example, on some screens the player is attacked by a swarm of horrible wasp-like insects. Tank-things bullets are useless (nobody can actually shoot bees with bullets except that bloke in Save The Green Planet) as is cyborg’s axe; but dino-thing’s firey breath is great for turning them into roast wasps (a possible future-delicacy in these times of crunchy credit – you’ll be laughing on the other side of your face when you’re tucking into a bag of roasted wasps outside the local nightclub two years from now).
And it’s this working-out-what-ability-to-use-to-get-further aspect that drives this game. When you enter a new screen you are often faced with a puzzle or a nasty whose defeat requires a little thought as well as some rudimentary joystick skills. This arcade-puzzle feel means you have to engage your brain to some extent as well as your reactions and makes Metal Mutant… well… actually rather fun to play.
You see, despite all the “this is pretty shit” reviews that this got around the time (except from a positive review from the rubbish Amiga Action whose positive reviews were often the equivalent of a crap review) this game is actually pretty good and, for me, something of a neglected classic.
It’s not perfect: the graphics, as I’ve said are a bit “plain” in the old colour department, the sound isn’t great and I’m really annoyed that the player-controlled cyborg doesn’t transform in a spectacular animation but instead turns into some stupid stars before re-appearing in his next form. But, in spite of all that, this is way better than the reviews around the time it was released suggest and for that reason I recommend a casual look if you get the chance. You might well agree with contemporary reviewers but you also just might like it and want to spend some time with it. And, hey, it’s that sort of thing that this blog is all about. That and rubbish jokes.