Posts Tagged ‘amiga’

Ten Pints

29 September, 2014
A nice touch in all the Beast games is the mixture of olde world fantasy and sci-fi aesthetics.

A nice touch in all the Beast games is the mixture of olde world fantasy and sci-fi aesthetics.

Oh, Shadow of the Beast. You’ll read on half a dozen videogame nostalgia sites that it’s a “classic” and although I think that it’s fair to say it’s remembered fondly it’s really got nothing to do with the games in the series being good.

Shadow of the Beast and to some extent its two sequels is an example from an earlier era of the phenomenon of the “shop-front game”; the title that was left running on a monitor in attract mode in the window in order to get people to come into the shop and buy the game and, crucially, the machine it was running on (in this case the then-new Commodore Amiga). Beast, even to this day, looks and sounds gorgeous. It’s just a shame that the gameplay is so utterly flawed.

The first title in the series is a game that wanted to be an epic arcade-adventure set in a huge, open fantasy world; that’s very much what it’s clearly trying to be when you start playing. The player character can run either left or right and explore the environment the player has found themselves in which is full of forests, monsters and traps. After a bit of experimentation, though, it becomes clear that there’s only one way you can go in order to get anywhere in the game. And once you get there you’ll quickly discover that it’s like this all the way – run around, find the right swtich, find the right key, keep progressing until you reach a locked door because you didn’t get a key or flip a switch you missed half an hour ago. Gah!

Shadow of the Beast 2 upped the Arcade Adventure aspect and again presented an apparent open world whilst being just as linear and about twice as difficult as its predecessor. The sequel added much more interaction and plot to proceedings and was notorious for featuring a few puzzles which, if not completed correctly, left the player stranded necessitating a restart.

Shadow of the Beast 3 is considered by many to be the best of the bunch introducing levels (which can be played in any order) rather than a fraudulent open world, lives rather than a single energy bar, and some sometimes genuinely brilliant puzzles – more numerous and better than those in Beast 2 – which bring to mind those which appear in the indie arcade adventure LIMBO. Unfortunately, though, unlike LIMBO which allows checkpoints and endless lives to give the player multiple chances to experiment and complete puzzles, messing the puzzle up in Beast 3 means losing a life before you can try it again. Harsh.

So, a pretty and iconic series of videogames, but at the same time bloody infuriating and badly designed. Does this still sound appealing? Then you’ll be delighted to know that a number of enthusiasts are working on porting Shadow of the Beast and its sequels to modern platforms. They’ve attempted to improve gameplay with continues and the ability to save (the latter of which isn’t properly implemented); and only the first game is actually properly playable and completable. Regardless of their legendary flaws there remains something attractive about the Beast games and I’ll admit to sitting down and playing them again for a while and feeling the need to return. Maybe, despite their obviously flawed design, these were games that really do have that special “something” that makes people come back, even 25 years later. Or maybe, y’know, it’s just nostalgia and we all need someone to say “Dad, this game’s rubbish.”

(And if you don’t understand the title of this post then I’m now going to tell you. Ner.)

Prehistorik

4 May, 2014

Oh dear, how the memory can play tricks on you, and the recent memory at that. I thought I’d have a go of Prehistorik on the Amiga (originally available in Atari ST flavour) because, in my recollections at least, it was a fun platform game with a slightly-novel premise and good graphics.

You can kind of see where this is going, but rather than cut to the chase I think a little background is worthwhile. I get a weird Proustian rush from Prehistorik anyway because it came out around the time I first got an Amiga and it was reviewed in one of the first (perhaps even the first) copies of the (frankly terrible) Amiga magazine Amiga Action I bought before I had the sense to defect to the “better but not Amiga Power” Amiga Format. I seem to recall it got a reasonably good review in said rag (not all that difficult from what I remember) and, years and years later, I actually got to play it and “quite enjoyed it”. You run around a scrolling level bonking monsters on the head, collecting power ups and building up a “food” bar before completing the level and taking on some seriously massive boss monsters before progressing.

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Rather than go to the shops like any decent (prehistoric) human being, Rik thieves from peoples’ caves.

Prehistorik was actually just one of a small rash of “caveman” games that came out in the 1990s. Chuck Rock (featuring a villain who was the near namesake of, erm, Gary Glitter) is probably the best known one but there was also Ugh! (a clone of Space Taxi), the indie title Trog, BC Kid and the bizarre “mash-up” Joe and Mac: Caveman Ninja.

Looking at a still screen of Prehistorik it’s easy to see where the warm fuzzy memories come from. It looks colourful and attractive with nice, chunky, cartoon graphics. The end of level bosses in particular look absolutely smashing. Amiga and Atari ST games of the time generally looked a bit “flat” compared to the arcade-quality Manga-like pixel art the Japanese artists were creating for the console games but now, with everything from the era frankly looking inevitably dated, the European stuff has a certain charm. It’s a good-looking game, I’ll give it that. The sound is good too with a jolly, upbeat tune playing throughout and nice sampled sound effects (it’s particularly nice to hear both at the same time, something that was rare with the Amiga for reasons I’ve never quite fathomed but which I suspect involved Amiga musicians always insisting on using all four sound channels when composing leaving the game with a “my music or his sound effects!” stand-off for the player to resolve).

The problem is when you start playing. For a start, it “scrolls” in name only. It’s actually closer to a flick-screen title with the screen quickly jumping from right to left or vice versa as the player reaches the edge of the screen. This may be in large part because it was originally written for the popular but limiting Atari ST programming package STOS. ST ports were notorious for not taking advantage of the Amiga hardware anyway so you can just imagine how much clunkier one written using a BASIC package feels. Another problem is the collision detection which is really shonky with Rik constantly being “hit” by obstacles you could swear he’d avoided. But on top of these problems is the overall feel of the game, it’s probably a legacy of STOS but it feels very… 8-bit. There’s a lack of smoothness to gameplay with the absence of proper scrolling and some really irritating problems such as the aforementioned poor collision detection, the lack of precision in jumping and moving (Rik feels like he’s moving about eight pixels a time) and some shonky design (for example the monkeys throwing coconuts who always throw again once the first one hits rather than at set time delays meaning when Rik gets close he’s greeted by a flurry of missiles).

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“I’m gonna knock you out, Rik said knock you out”

Unfortunately, and I hate to say this, but Prehistorik just plain plays poorly; it feels amateurish and unpolished, something that was unfortunately a lot more common around 1991. Considering that at the time there were so many platform games for the 16 bits with half-decent scrolling and tight control the clunkiness of Prehistorik feels unforgivable. Still, at least they got the opportunity to put things right with Prehistorik 2 a couple of years later, at least let’s hope they will because that’s the next game I’m going to play for a couple of hours and then grumble about here.

Midwinter Remake?

14 January, 2014

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a good festive period!Image

Something that caught my attention this month was a report about the possibility of the late Mike Singleton’s classic open-world arcade-adventure-cum-strategy game Midwinter being rewritten for modern systems.

It strikes me as a good choice for updating anyway because it was always a game punching a little above the weight of the 16-bit systems it was developed for (erm, if that’s not rather a mangled metaphore). For those who don’t know, Midwinter sees the player in the role of a lone freedom fighter tasked with exploring the land of Midwinter (itself the creation of some kind of environmental catastrophe do-da or something) recruiting people to help him fight the standard evil dictatorship and ultimately bring peace and some semblance of freedom to the frozen country.

What makes it unusual, though, and so likely to be a bit more than just “Skyrim but with guns and gilders” is that gameplay is a mixture of real time and turn-based. The player recruits allies to their cause, performs all of their actions over a certain period of time and then takes control of the allied characters over the same period of time. This would add a whole new layer of strategy whereby, for example, the player moves a sharpshooter into position over a ridge, then leaves them there with the order to fire on enemies before taking control of another character who needs to cross dangerous terrain: now protected by covering fire from the previously-placed character.

Will it be like this? Will we even see it? Who knows, it’s being funded through Kickstarter which worries me as Kickstarter favours the very well known and I worry Midwinter is a little obscure (even Dizzy came a cropper recently). We can but hope, though (and contribute, of course).

You can read a whole lot more about the remake here.

M.I.A. Okay!

29 December, 2013

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Go, go, go bit of putty!

Happy Christmas! I hope you all “had” a good “one”. I was in Northhumberland, experiencing a mixture of beautiful cloudless skies with frosty mornings and terrifying, window-rattling storms.

Anyway, it being the season of goodwill and all that, System 3 have finally released the Amiga version of Putty Squad to the world at large, a mere 20 years after it was given glowing reviews in the gaming press and then vanished without a trace save for a couple of coverdisk demos. A spot of playing reveals it’s very similar to the released SNES version, although with controls designed around the one-button joystick most Amigas used in a way that works surprisingly well. There are a few downers such as the fingers pointing to the exit and (especially) the passwords not appearing onscreen for all that long. Keep a pen handy or, if emulating, be prepared to hit whatever pauses the emulation whilst you scribble the codes down. But apart from that, a quick play reminds you that this game is generally as brilliant as it’s ever been and well worth a shot when it’s going for nowt.

Putty Squad works on any AGA capable Amiga and comes on two disks. The ADF images (which can be ported to real disks – instructions provided in the download) are available from System 3 here. Happy, erm, puttying.

Eventually someone else gets it right

25 September, 2013

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LIMBO is basically the game that Shadow of the Beast III was trying to be, isn’t it?

Flashback to Flashback?

26 January, 2013
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Welcome back to the jungle!

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.

Better Beholder

14 August, 2012

I’ve been playing this game for a long time. That’s my excuse for the piss-poor, derivative names of the characters in my party.

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?

“And the best thing is, they can do it with proper graphics *and* sound!”

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…

Populous II: Trials of the Peter Molyneux

4 January, 2012

If you take too long to conquer a world monsters from ancient mythology start wandering across the sea and land causing all sorts of indescriminate trouble, a nice touch.

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).

A wee man representing the army of your leader leaves his villa. Maybe he's been forced-out by Coalition housing benefit cuts (satire! Or if you will, since this is ancient Greece, satyr)

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.

Time Bandit: no dwarves, no David Warner, lots of shooting

10 October, 2011

Mister Bandit goes wandering around a mystical cod-medieval landscape. Later he'll probably visit Ancient Rome, or starship.

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…


									

Indie-schmindie

14 May, 2011

Don't worry, it's not that dreadful American Barney thing

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.


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