Posts Tagged ‘windows games’

Ender, man?

15 September, 2014
"We don't need no steenkeeng Windows!"

“We don’t need no steenkeeng Windows!”

I suppose all good things have to come to an end and all eras must grind to a halt. No, I’m certainly not talking about the 1707 Act of Union (we’ll find out its fate on Thursday and, yes, I have my voting papers) but instead Minecraft as an independent videogame. It was announced today that the rumours were true and Mojang, that the studio which has been developing Minecraft over the last few years and created one of the truly phenomenal independent gaming successes of the last decade, has been sold to Microsoft. More alarmingly, the Mojang founders will also be leaving the company.

There has, understandably, been a wave of gloom and despondancy throughout the enormous Minecraft community, including me. I love Minecraft, I think it’s one of the greatest games ever made, combining the greatest creative tool since lego with an actual game requiring exploration, skill and strategy. The fact that it’s been a big hit with everyone from young children to adults who’ve been gaming for decades is testamount to its appeal. But another thing that has helped its success is its adaptability, being highly mod-friendly and in many ways parallel-developed by the community as much as Mojang. It’s losing this adaptability, and the spectre of one of the great evils of the modern software business – “micro transactions” – that has worried Minecraft players. Microsoft assure us it’ll be okay, but that’s PR, it’s what they do. They are, in reality, a hulking great corporation which regards our game as just another money-farm; it is truly sad to see the best kind of business taken over by the worst. I only hope the future is less gloomy than we all fear and that Minecraft continues to be a game that inspires and entertains more generations of players.

“What the frakk is this?!”

15 August, 2014

"My God, it's full of space mines!"

“My God, it’s full of space mines!”

Ages ago I wrote a short article about the indie Atari ST title r0x. I’d heard rumours of a new version for more modern platforms but thought nothing more of it until a few days ago when I discovered that r0x (extended play) has been published as freeware/pay what you want for Windows-based PC’s and the Ouya console.

And the best part of that news is that it’s cracking.

It has quite a few similarities to the original Atari ST game but introduces several new features. The most obvious of these are a front-firing cannon and a plethora of enemy ships. That might make it sound like r0x has been changed into a conventional scrolling shooter but nothing could be further from the truth.

Instead what we have is an ingenious highscore game that throws a whole lot of the rules out of the window. For a starter, very limited bullets. The most shots your ship can hold at any one time is nine. That makes weaving around blasting everything a bad idea. There are also smart bombs that destroy everything onscreen but you can only carry three of these at one time. For this reason, weaponry is used sparingly and carefully with much of the game involving dodging the space rocks and grinding for bullets. There are also numerous bonuses floating around including the crystals from the first game (much clearer and easier to see this time around), the lost cosmonauts from the previous game and enemy pilots which can be shot for bonus points if you’re willing to spare the ammo.

Yes, whilst bullets (and other goodies) can be collected from handy shootable supply ships, the main way to restore firepower is by grinding against the rocks which slowly restores ammo. This makes r0x ep feel entirely different to most games in this genre as you swap emphasis between avoiding, careful shooting and grinding. And that’s not all.

A risky way of scoring big points is to use the ship’s thrust. Press the appropriate button and your ship starts flying through the debris and enemy ships at several times its usual speed. The long you do this, the more a score multiplier goes up meaning that bonuses collected and enemies shot earn bigger and bigger points as long as you keep your foot to the floor. And, trust me, whilst it’s tempting, dodging those rocks and collecting those bonuses becomes a lot more tricky and at some point you’ll realise you’re close to crashing, release the thrust button, and cuss as your multiplier vanishes and the pace returns to normal.

r0x (extended play) is the best game I’ve played in ages. The “easy to learn, hard to master” feel makes it extremely addictive, it makes full use of modern widescreen monitors and has beautiful 16-bit style visuals and some cracking music. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to load it up and then have “just one game”; the fact that it’s free is just the icing on the cake.

You can get r0x (extended play) for PC and Ouya here. The score to beat, as of writing, is 198,265.

I’m Steamin’

23 July, 2013
Hotline Miami

“Someone get the Cillit Bang”

Did you get anything nice in the Steam sales, then? I got:

Hugely addictive, awesomely-soundtracked, repetitive in a good way, “retro-styled” (e.g. sprite-based and
actually a challenge) top-down violent psychadelic action game Hotline Miami.

Disappointing (although I’ve only played against the computer so far) but appealingly “looks like the
computer display in Wargames” global thermonuclear war simulator DEFCON.

Superb twin-stick shooter Bullet Candy.

Brilliant, ludicrously hardcore, visually spartan but aurally lush action game Super Hexagon.

Silly and entertaining parody of The Oregon Trail zombie strategy action title Organ Trail.

Middle Ages “shuffle things around a map and sometimes fight awesome battles” game Medieval Total War II
which, despite being about seven years old, still has fewer graphical glitches than the later Empire Total
War.

Anyone else get anything lovely?

 

EDIT: Realised I also picked up Time Gentlemen, Please and Ben There, Dan That for the price of a Tesco “potted noodle snack” but I’ve not played them yet!

Totally

1 July, 2013

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What’s going on here? FUN!

Totally Tiny Arcade is great, it’s just fucking great. I don’t want to explain too much because you should download a copy (it’s free) and discover it yourself but it’s basically loads of mini-games (think Wario Ware or Jonathan Cauldwell’s Gamex) , based on ’80s coin-op arcade games, played against the clock. Download, install, play, thank me later.

I feel obliged to point out that I discovered this lovely wee game via the excellent Free Bundle. Totally Tiny Arcade’s “home” website is here.

Recommend-o-me

14 May, 2013
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And not a Craig McLachlan in sight! (It’s a “Bugs” joke…. forget it)

A quick recommendation for a simple but addictive and extremely playable highscore game. Antibody is an arena shooter where the player controls some kind of bug in the middle of circular area which has to shoot up a whole bunch of other bugs which appear out of nowhere in waves. Control is ludicrously simple: the mouse rotates the player and left button fires whilst right button makes the player’s bug briefly shoot forward to get out of the way of projectiles or marauding beasties (although this needs to reset itself so can’t be used indefinitely). The enemies come in a range of sizes and with a range of attack styles and the action never lets up. There’s also a nice touch when your bug gets hit where, instead of just blowing up, it goes red and remains controllable just before asploding allowing you to direct it into the enemies that done you wrong.

Antibody (which I discovered via Free Bundle no. 6) is freeware and available here for Windows, Mac and Android based machines. You’ve 77,600 to beat, motherflippers.

Ravenholm or bust!

25 April, 2013
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This scene would be more exciting if I hadn’t shot all the bad guys first. Soz.

It won’t come as any surprise to readers here that I tend to play most games at a distance of several years from everyone else. Having an out of date PC until last year “helped” in that regard and replacing it has opened me up to the joys (and problems) of modern gaming. So, keeping to a theme, this article is going to be about Half Life 2, originally released in 2004.

I have my issues with the Half Life series. The original game, whilst undoubtably great fun, is largely the reason FPS titles moved away from the exploration and level-based gameplay that Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake had used and towards a more linear, continuous and (*sigh*) narrative-based structure. In short, Half Life is responsible for the modern phenomenon of the game as interactive movie, where the player’s role becomes travelling along what is basically a well-disguised rail in order to see more and more of a usually poorly-written B-Movie class narrative.

At first, Half Life 2 depressingly conforms to this structure. We open in an atmospheric, apparently open environment where it quickly becomes clear there is little game to play, for now at least, nor real exploring to be done in the matter of open-world games. There is a lot of tiresome moving around and setting-up of the narrative. What is striking, though, is how good everything looks. For a game that’s nearly ten years old, HL2 still looks absolutely stunning, helped no doubt by a variable set of graphic settings that were clearly supposed to help its longevity by taking advantage of pretty-much everything that graphics cards could do back then.

Eventually the game starts and our mute hero, Gordon Freeman, gets his famous crowbar and we can actually start playing rather than merely interacting.

And things get better pretty quickly. Yes, it’s linear, and sometimes comically so with planks and ramps showing the route the player is supposed to take in a manner that undermines the realist atmosphere the game clearly wants to create. And yet it still manages to have secret areas, hidden weapons caches and even, later on, whole buildings which can be optionally explored to grab more ammo, health or charge for Gordon’s suit.

Which key lets me choose the giant fucking fly swatter?

It also manages to mix genres nicely. A shooting gallery for much of the time, HL2 also occasionally presents the player with simple puzzles, often physics-based to take advantage of the then-new Havoc engine the game runs in. What really stuck me about these is the fact the game doesn’t offer hints as to what the player needs to do in most instances, preferring to let the player work things out for themselves. For this reason, although none of the puzzles I’ve encountered are especially brain-twisting, there’s a sense of achievement felt when they’re solved which many newer games, with their hand-holding approach to pacify a market of spoiled gamers who don’t want to try against their games, completely lack.

Credit also ought to go to the game’s art. The visuals, as I’ve said, are stunning on a technical level but the atmosphere created is exceptional. HL2 invokes a world in decay, specifically the feel of the moribund Leninist regimes in Eastern Europe circa 1989. Everywhere buildings are crumbling, paint is peeling, cars are rusting or burnt-out; the only signs of efficiency and proper maintenance are the tools of the ruling Combine dictatorship with its gunship helicopters, sleek black armoured cars and masked combat troops; it’s Stalker combined with THX 1138. Music is used particularly well, being occasional and therefore effective and memorable rather than pure background. A perfect example of the atmosphere the game is capable of creating is the infamous stage ‘We Don’t Go To Ravenholm’ which is still, for many gamers, a benchmark in terms of the sense of fear a videogame can create. The story, as far as I’ve seen anyway, is pretty basic: human resistance fights alien overlords guff. But the art that accompanies Half Life 2 is not about the story so much as the environment and the feel.

There’s also a real sense of danger in HL2. Although this game was published three years after Halo gave the world the recharging energy bar, it sticks to the old school system of health that stays down until you replenish it (although there are some nasty headcrabs which poison Gordon meaning his health drops to 1 and then grows slowly back up to its pre-attack level as the suit administers antidote). Although health packs are a regular find in HL2, it’s still possible for the player to find themselves in a dangerous environment with a small amount of health remaining and no idea where the next health pack will be. This is something videogames have abandoned in favour of the “hide and recharge” mechanic, an obvious sop again to spoiled gamers who don’t want to have to try too hard.

Throw in varied levels, different vehicles, lots of different enemies requiring different tactics and the fucking brilliant gravity gun and it won’t be a surprise to learn that I really like Half Life 2. It has its faults – the linearity of much of the game, the semi-regular interruptions of the gameplay so that characters can chatter the game’s B-movie plot at you. This might be a game that shows how the industry was moving towards interactive movies where plot and atmosphere takes presendence over gameplay and moaning kids don’t have to worry about having to work to beat a stage or think to beat a puzzle but at the end of the day it is still, at heart, a videogame. For that we should be thankful.

New Year, New Games (for me anyway)

9 January, 2013

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a good Crimbo and spent too much of it playing videogames to the annoyance of your nearest and dearest who wanted you to play Trivial Pursuit instead.

Over said period, I done discovered the following games so I’ll give you my early(ish) thoughts on them:

Just Cause 2

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I’ll just stand up here and look all moody like fucking Batman or something until some soldiers show up…

I was really excited about this as it looked like GTA: Made-Up Dictatorship and GTA: San Andreas is one of my favouritist favourite games ever. And… well, it’s mostly good but some bad. The player takes control of a hispanic man working for the US government with a couple of James Bond-ish spy devices (some kind of backpack with an endless supply of parachutes and a funky grappling claw) and as many guns and explosives as he can get his hands on who, after the usual slightly-annoying opening mission, is given a whole country (albeit a small island in the Pacific region) to explore and subvert (although his official mission is finding a rogue US agent or something) by shooting up soldiers and blowing things up. Fighting the dictator and his extensive army is great fun, there are loads of vehicles (cars, aircraft, boats) to steal and comandeer, and the grappling hook (which launches, attaches to something and yanks the player towards it at speed) takes much of the tedium out of, say, climbing mountains. The only problem is that whilst in many ways this feels like the GTA titles it’s all a bit samey. The GTA games are like real worlds in that each location feels unique whereas here all the bases, towns and cities feel generic and the rest is mountains, fields, forests and desert. Still fun, but could have been better.

Left 4 Dead 2

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“Daad, you killed the zombie Flanders!” “He was a zombie?!”

A mate bought me this for Crimbo because he wanted someone to play with online. Unusually, this is pretty-much designed for online multiplayer with no real single-player campaign (you can play it this way but the computer has to stand-in for the other players). This is enjoyably old-fashioned at its heart having precious little story, no in-game cutscenes, and gameplay that feels like Gauntlet with the stylings of a modern FPS. The only thing is it’s quite intense and you feel the need to unwind after playing it; play it for hours at a time and you might start seeing RUNNING ZOMBIES out of the corner of your eye.

Crusader Kings II

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“Soon, I shall be King of a weak and divided medieval Scotland!”

Years and years ago I used to play a DOS game called Medieval Lords: Soldier Kings of Europe. It had very primitive graphics, if there was sound then it was beeper-based, but it was fascinating and absorbing if you’re a massive history nerd like me. It took place in Europe in the Middle Ages and the player would take control of a ruler, anything from the Emperor at Constantinople to the head of a small Barony. After that they would be able to raise armies, build castles, declare war and try to both expand their territory whilst defending what they already controlled from rival rulers and rebellions. Along with this the religious politics of the era played a substantial role with crusades etc. Crusader Kings II has similar gameplay but with far more detail and beautiful, atmoshperic graphics and sound and, interestingly, the dynasty you control (you play the heirs of your character if he dies) can lose control of, say, the Kingdom of Denmark and be left with a small-ish fiefdom from which you can plot to return to the throne using your own small court of henchmen. I’ve barely scratched the surface and I love it, and the alternative history it allows you to spin, already.

Matty plays the Humble Bundle

24 September, 2012
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Here we see one of the sideways levels. Presentation is easily Shatter’s strong point (something this particular screenshot isn’t showing at its best, to be fair).

For anyone who doesn’t know (and that’s the majority of you, to be fair) I have a brand new PC with proper gaming capability and all. This means that, at long last, I can play some of those exciting post-2003 games everyone’s been talking excitedly to me about over the past near-decade whilst I ignore them and play Egghead 5 or something (which is very good, by the way).

Anyhoo, along with obvious games of the moment like Skyrim and stuff I’ve needed to catch-up on like Portal I’ve also been dipping my toes into modern indie gaming a little more with the help of the latest in the excellent Humble Indie Bundle series. Naturally, I thought it would be a nice idea to give a quick review of each game on it here in the order that I first played them.

So, we start with Shatter.

Generally called Breakout clones, this genre really owes its popularity to the arcade hit Arkanoid. The gameplay is deviously simple: the player controls a bat and has to bounce a ball (or, on some occasions, balls) around single-screen stages, hitting all the blocks until the screen is cleared and the player can proceed. Unlike most games in this genre, the playing area can be verticle, horizontal and even rounded on some stages so “up” and “down” the screen is relative. It also has a “story” mode separated into unlockable worlds with bosses to overcome. Shatter is very much a hi-tech, glowy, 21st century take on this genre and thus should have everything going for it. There is, however, a quite major problem.

On tackling the game’s story mode the first couple of levels introduce the player to a few game concepts. You might find this laughable given that this game is a Breakout clone but it does, in fact, have a few tricks of its own. We’re shown the “suck” button which, when held down, attracts things (including the ball) towards the bat. This might seem ridiculous were it not for the fact that destroyed bricks release dozens of “shards”, floaty, glowing blue things worth points. Pressing “suck” drags them towards your bat as well as the ball. Nice, a clever risk-reward mechanism.

Then, shortly after this, we’re introduced to “blow”. It has exactly the opposite effect. Meaning that along with the shards, your bat can blow the ball away. A little experimentation revealed that with the minimum of skill, this means that the bat will barely even need to touch the ball on many levels and the ball can be easily blown around the “upper” three quarters of the play area. This might have worked a little if the shards (which are also, of course, blown away) escaped out of the “top” of the play area, thus meaning points are lost. But, alas, they just gather in a big blue mass at the “top” until, when the ball is safely heading towards the “top” of the screen, they can safely be sucked into the bat just before the ball is blown back again or (occasionally) deflected.

I played the whole of the first world and part of the second and this mechanism seems to be there all the time meaning the game completely lacks the rush to deflect a speedy ball that makes Breakout games such a challenge and instead becomes a far simpler mixture of Breakout and Air Football. Add multiple balls that can be released at will and numerous power-ups (as well as that why-the-fuck-are-people-still-using-it “Continue” mechanism that makes sense in coin-op conversions but looks daft elsewhere) and this is a game with a lot of features but not a lot of challenge.

Shatter looks and sounds gorgeous, as so many indie titles do these days, but it’s a poor excuse for a Breakout-style game seemingly geared towards those modern “gamers” who care more about flashing lights and giving their fingers something to do than honing any kind of real skill. For those of us who actually like to be challenged and, occasionally, exasperated with a game that makes us work to proceed, to be honest you’re better-off digging-out Batty or Arkanoid instead.

Endless Ports Most Beautiful

8 July, 2012

“I’ve got mixed nuts and raisins!” “Wow!” “Salted cashews” “Oh boy!” “Better, more colourful graphics” “More more more!”

One of the best damn Spectrum games of the last year or so is Endless Forms Most Beautiful, a superb, tricky, platformer which combines old-school and new-school ideas (8-bit gameplay married to randomly-generated levels). I was therefore both surprised and delighted to discover that it has been ported to Windows-based PCs by the superb retro-style coder Locomalito. I say “ported” but this is really a remix of the original game with numerous new features (which I won’t go into – it’s better you discover them yourself, although if you look at the picture on the right you might notice a chap who looks a bit like Sid Spanners) as well as 16-bit style graphics and sound and a two-player mode making the whole thing into a sort-of coin-op game from 1987 that never existed. Oh, and it’s freeware.

More information and download here.

Black & White: find out who Peter Molyneux really is?

10 January, 2012

Black & White's gorgeous graphics are certainly its highlight, with incredible attention to detail and a real feeling of manipulating a living, functioning, world.

So we’ve had a look at Populous II from the “mind” of Peter Molyneux and which I decided is a god-game which actually, in some ways, subverts its deep strategic intentions to be an entertaining and quite fast-moving clickabout which is fun even though it’s largely about flattening land. So what of the other game?

Well, Black & White came out in 2001 and is also from the “mind” of Peter Molyneux. It’s quite obvious when you start playing the game and have a flick through the fairly-hefty manual that B&W (as I’m going to insist on calling it from now on because it’s quicker) is the spiritual successor to Populous and its sequels even if it isn’t officially part of the same series. This is, once again, a god-game and, yet again, the player is up against rival gods using both followers and godly-powers to claim victory in a succession of landscapes.

There are, however, striking differences in gameplay. The main one of these is the addition of the creature, a hugh animal which becomes, in a way, your representative on the earth and wanders around under simple artificial intelligence “experimenting” with eating stuff and chucking followers around or whatever. The player, who is represented in-game by a floating hand, can slap or stroke the creature to “re-inforce” good or bad behaviour; what this means is entirely up to the player. This means the creature can, theoretically, be trained into doing tasks for the player like running about gathering-up food from farms for the granary or, if you’re a meanie, kicking the poor followers about and keeping them in line.

Indeed, the possibility of being a “good” or “bad” god was the driving force and selling-point with B&W, “find out who you really are” as the game’s tagline has it. Godly powers include everything from being able to grab fish from the sea and chuck them into the village food-store, to throwing followers around, to hurling fireballs and lightening. All of these things understandably make an impression on the mere mortals wandering around on the ground and increase belief in the player’s god. At a temple, worshippers dance around creating mana which is needed for the godly powers. The player can determine how many of his or her followers are worshiping at any time and is responsible for making sure they’re well fed and rested. The followers themselves build villages with buildings although the player-god can micro manage by creating scaffolds and dictating what should be constructed. Each village has a radius of influence which the player-god can act within meaning that, say, if a player village grows enough that its influence reaches an enemy village the player can start hurling fireballs or people around in it; this increases belief in the player god in the village: get enough and the village is yours.

Unlike Populous II, B&W has the very modern feature of some kind of narrative  - largely explained by a “good” and “bad” character who accompany the player throughout the game and who are actually quite good fun – involving evil gods being horrible and kidnapping the creature and the like. This is the first thing that I feel goes against the game: I like the way Populous II is just a series of challenges getting slowly but surely more difficult whereas B&W has relatively few stages that take a long, long time to complete. The second thing that goes against the game for me is how this is achieved: impressing rival villages is actually rather dull and building up your own, interesting at first, becomes tedious and more like work than fun. I actually spent about an hour playing this where I was doing nothing more than picking up rocks and fences and stuff and throwing them at an enemy village to build-up belief.

None of this actually means that B&W is a bad game. There’s plenty to do and, unlike Populous II, there really is wide strategic depth in there but unlike the older game, after early enthusiasm it starts to feel more like a way to spend a few hours rather than something that’s actively a lot of fun. Reviewers at the time felt the same way: early excitement and praise for the visuals (which are, by the way, superb even 10 years later) and high scores gave way to disappointment as the much-vaunted creatures (which is, incidentally, one of the game’s most interesting features) were revealed to be difficult to keep tabs on and were actually captured or crippled in some way for several of the game’s levels, and the interaction with the villagers which seemed to promise so much variety was revealed to be mostly picking them up and throwing them or assigning them various tasks. Molyneux has, with B&W, created a very nice, very interesting idea for a game that isn’t quite as fun or as intriguing as it sounds on paper.

If you liked the Populous series then B&W (which you can doubtless pick-up for peanuts these days) is worth a look, although I found it became more work than play after a while, even if it does look stunning. There’s a sequel, Black & White 2, which came out a few years later and which I haven’t played but which may well fix some of the gameplay problems in the original. Maybe I’ll find out and let you know some day.


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