Archive for the ‘General games’ Category

“I will not play this game as the image only changes 30 times a second”

25 October, 2015
Let's not mention that kickstarter, tho'

Let’s not mention that kickstarter, tho’

I’m as happy as anyone else (that’s happy, you cynics!) to hear news of a new version of Crystal Kingdom Dizzy for the ZX Spectrum but I can’t help but worry a bit about this…

“will feature a 50fps engine, renewed graphics, more animated sprites”

Oh man, have the Framerate Police got to the ZX Spectrum community as well now?! How will they feel knowing it can never be in HD (“Bro”)?

“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.

“Savage!”

7 August, 2014
"Plunges into an orgy of violence wielding his trusty"

“Plunges into an orgy of violence wielding his trusty”

That last post? I thought I’d update you. It turns out that Savage has a ludicrous loading system whereby the intro sequence is loaded as a full program which then simply runs. Old man beardy doesn’t just waffled about Savage and how he’s fuelled by gravy or something before it lets you load the main game. No, you have to reset the computer and load and run the main game. I can’t tell this using emulation (where it’s fiddily enough to do this) but if they had both of those programs on the same side of the tape back in 1988 they can get fucked. Seriously.

Anyway, Savage is better than I thought it would be. It’s fundamentally like Trantor: The Last Stormtrooper in that it’s blatantly style over substance with lots of day-glow colour and ludicrous amounts of pixels flying everywhere in a “who says the Speccy can’t do particles?” stylee. But there’s also a reasonably cunning little scrolling shooter in there where the player actually has to think as well as react. For example, certain creatures when shot drop magical barriers which last a few seconds and both protect the player and attack enemies making them fairly essential in a game where the bad guys sap energy fast and just running and shooting mindlessly won’t cut it. Later on there’s also some barrels which can be jumped but if shot drop life-giving green bottles which are useful when fighting the mini-boss waiting in the room at the end of the corridor. And that’s just the first level, level 2 is apparently a bit like 3D Deathchase but with big scary face things and level 3 involves flying a massive bird about (I’m not entirely sure these were all originally part of one game in the beginning, come to think about it). Anyway, it’s basically quite good, even though I can’t get by the bit with the sinking platforms and the lava. Bwah.

The toughest obstacle in 8-bit gaming…

22 July, 2014
"Fired by rage"? You're telling me.

“Fired by rage”? You’re telling me.

…is clearly this old bastard. Every time I try to play Savage he pops up with his fucking white beard and scrolling waffle and I have no idea how to make him go away so I can play the game. I’m sure I’ve been told before and that it’s some kind of emulation quirk or something. And now Savage is this month’s WOS “Game Club” game and I have to find a way past him. Arrrgh!

Magic, Knight

19 October, 2013
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Spellbound takes place in some kind of medieval fantasy castle. But it still has a working lift. Well, mostly working.

Partly because David Jones is remixing the first Magic Knight game, Finders Keepers, and partly out of nostalgia I’ve been playing a bit of the “windimation” Magic Knight titles for the 128K ZX Spectrum recently and playing them again makes me realise something: there’s nothing quite like them before or since.

If you don’t know the Magic Knight games then here’s a quick primer: there are four of them – Finders Keepers, Spellbound, Knight Tyme and Stormbringer. Rumour is that there was to be fifth game in the series complete with twist ending about the identity of Magic Knight but it never appeared. Finders Keepers I’ve talked about before but following that game the series took a completely different turn.

In the last three games the player controls Magic Knight once again but this time he is thrown into three much more story-based adventures with a mixture of action gaming (especially in Spellbound and Stormbringer) with puzzles and object manipulation in the arcade-adventure style. Magic Knight can perform dozens of different actions which are accessed, cleverly, through a window-based command system accessed by pressing “fire”. Amongst these actions are spells, explaining our hero’s odd name. Magic Knight isn’t alone in these later games either, they are inhabited by various weird and wonderful characters who, strangely, only move when MAgic Knight is off-screen. Along with the window-based command system the non-player characters are one of the things that makes this series unique for its time. Magic Knight and the NPCs have statistics with things like strength, magic level, food level and tiredness. This system seems to have been designed specifically for Spellbound, which revolves around looking after the wellbeing of various mythical/historical characters, but was used in all of the last three Magic Knight games. Because of this, characters can get grumpy and unco-operative or just fall asleep. It’s quite a simple way of creating an environment that feels “alive” but it works.

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S3 E3! Do you see?

If you’ve not played any of these games then I’d urge you to try them. They were released for a wide range of computers but the definitive versions are the 128K ZX Spectrum ones (there are also cut-down 48K versions which the conversions to other platforms were based on, even the Atari ST version of Stormbringer!). They’re flawed games in many ways with high difficulty and occasional frustration, Spellbound‘s need to keep its cast of characters in good health whilst dodging bouncing balls and solving puzzles being a prime example. And the puzzles themselves can be a bit obscure. As an example (and this really isn’t a spoiler because you don’t want to fanny around finding this out on your own) you learn quite early in Spellbound that Magic Knight doesn’t have enough strength to complete the game so he needs to recharge it. The solution seems to be a bottle of “restorative fluid” found early in the game. But to make it work you have to, erm, give it to a certain character then take it from him and you magically get your strength back. This was considered an acceptable puzzle in 1985. There are also a number of “instant death” rooms, a dirty trick even back in the ’80s and unacceptable now. All I can say is save often.

But even though these games can be frustrating, they’re also clever, intriguing and like many great games of the era give a real feeling of achievement when puzzles are solved and new areas and characters are “unlocked”.

My personal favourite is Knight Tyme which has a sci-fi theme, although I’d suggest playing Spellbound first to get a “feel” for the series. Give them a go, they’re not perfect but they’ll reward a bit of time spent with them and, like I said, I think they’re pretty unique.

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.

Jim Bagley’s ZX81 Racing

14 February, 2013
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Broom broom

Legendary ex-Ocean programmer and general 8-bit person of fame, Jim Bagley, has released a hi-res racing game for baldy inventor Sir Clive Sinclair’s ancient ZX81 home computer, a platform notable for its lack of hi-res graphics as standard. It goes by the excellently-literal title of Jim Bagley’s ZX81 Racing and I’ve not played it yet, partly because I haven’t installed a ZX81-capable emulator on the new PC yet, so I’ve no idea if it’s great or shite but I provide a linky here to the announcement thread so you can all download it, try it yourselves, and make “neeeeeeoooowwwww!” noises and stick your finger in the air like Sebastian Vettel if you’re good at 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.

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.

Retro City Rant-page

17 December, 2012
RCR allows the player to indulge themselves in lots of horrible '80s hairstyle. Player is currently sporting some kind of crazy big hair and '70s tache combo.

RCR allows the player to indulge themselves in lots of horrible ’80s hairstyles. Player is currently sporting some kind of crazy big hair and ’70s tache combo.

The first test of any videogame is whether it’s fun. Not if the graphics are good, not if it has an “incredible storyline” that makes idiots try and compare videogames with cinema (whoever said “I had a great time last night playing Lawrence of Arabia and beat my train-destroying record?” Exactly), not even if it’s original. No, what makes a great videogame, primarily, is the player having lots of fun.

And for that reason, based on my first two hours of play, I’m declaring Retro City Rampage a great game.

What makes it even better is that it has everything the snotty games-are-art crowd turn their noses up at: the graphics are knowingly 8-bit and cheesy as is the music, the plot is preposterous nonsense more in love with referencing ’80s and ’90s culture than anything “serious” and the hero is a deliberately empty vessel called “Player”; he doesn’t even have features in-game.

And yet this game scores where it matters: it’s superb fun. I spent yesterday playing in-game stages that referenced – in gameplay and looks – everything from Frogger to the NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Commando, chuckling at the sort of daft shop names and in-jokes that used to make the GTA series such fun (and hopefully still will in the future) and engaging in some of the most entertaining videogame police chases I’ve had since I first picked up GTA Chinatown Wars, more than three years ago. I’m sure there’s more disappointing stuff in it later on, there usually is with these things, but right now it’s been good stuff all the way: engaging, good, silly, fun.

If you’ve ever used phrases like “games are a mature medium comparable with cinema now” or “the best thing about Zombiefest IV is the conflicted central character” then Retro City Rampage probably isn’t for you. If however you still think jumping over mutant telephones in Manic Miner is fun and don’t think Pac-Man has anything to do with Citizen Kane then you should probably give this a try. The only downer for me, so far, is the price which I think is a little steep at $14.99 (£9.29 in real money). It’s currently going at a reduced price on GOG.com though and you might be able to get it cheaper elsewhere.