“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”)?

“Yer PAW!”

4 August, 2015
One of many instances where Rigel's Revenge uses graphics instead of text to

One of many instances where Rigel’s Revenge uses graphics instead of text to “describe” something to the player

I’ve recently been working on a whole load of writing which has just about come to fruition so it’s got me thinkin about another creative project to get my “teeth” “into”. And I’ve decided it’s going to be an IF (Interactive Fiction, a wanky new name for what we used to call “text adventures”) game, one for the Spectrum to be specific, one written with PAW  to be even more specific.

The route that took me here basically started with me sitting on a train from England playing with Spectaculator on my tablet. One of the games that comes with the full version is Zenobi’s Jekyll and Hyde game. Playing it again (IF games work brilliantly on tablets, btw) reminded me not just that I like IF, but that I like ZX Spectrum IF in particular. There’s something about the chunky display, the likeable “click” noises so many Spectrum IF games have when you type and the weirdly attractive pixel art that appeals to me. The 8-bit era has an interesting history of IF, including the first game I can recall having been given a certificate by the BBFC (CRL’s Dracula, in what felt more like a publicity stunt than anything else, was given a 15 certificate; they later released Jack The Ripper, a game which was given an 18 certificate) and a huge and very active homebrew scene, much of it focused around the aforementioned Zenobi software.

I think my affection for ZX Spectrum IF goes beyond nostalgia, though: one of the main reasons I love Spectrum IF is a game that I got round to playing years after I sold my Spectrum – Rigel’s Revenge.

I’m not sure what it was about this game that grabbed me back when I played it via emulation (on an Amiga 1200!) back in 1996. It might have been the atmospheric setting, might have been the likeably pulpy sci-fi storyline, might have been the excellent use of graphics as description as well as illustration. Whatever it was, I played it for absolutely ages, got past lots of puzzles, reached the second load (in the ’80s, a lot of 8-bit IF needed to be loaded in separate parts to get all of the adventure in there) and promptly got stuck. Maybe I should go back to it and try and do it all again, and complete the bugger this time.

Anyway, the Matty PAWed IF game will probably be in development for months but I’ve a few ideas to build on and it’ll be interesting to see the results, especially if I actually get the damn thing finished unlike far too many of my projects…

Does the “D” stand for “Derek”?

22 July, 2015

“In the footure, we all wear red jumpsuits with grey patches”

A friend of mine recently punted me in the direction of indie cyberpunk-ish isometric game DataJack which is very nice and all that and I’ll maybe write something about it here in the next month or so.

But what I wanted to talk about was what DataJack immediately reminded me of – the largely-forgotten 1991 arcade-adventure D-Generation.

When it came out, D-Generation won plenty of praise from the press for its gameplay but was criticised for its visuals which had an outdated, even amateurish look to them. This was a couple of years after Shadow of the Beast and only two years before Doom; 16-bit software was expected to look impressive. D-Generation didn’t and for that reason largely passed an awful lot of people by.

But discovering it again, what’s notable apart from the still-brilliant gameplay (a mixture of action and puzzle-solving) and unintrusive, Bioshock-style plot development (found largely via messages and through conversations rather than cut-scenes and exposition) is how little its “primitive” looks actually matter today and, in fact, how in the modern era of deliberately retro and visually spartan indie software D-Generation weirdly now looks more modern than a lot of its contemporaries.

Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any digital distribution retailers selling this game, so I can only link to its Abandonia page here. Note that the PC version doesn’t seem to have any joystick support, so playing or emulating the Amiga or ST version may be the best option for most people; there’s also a CD32 version if you can be bothered hunting-down/emulating that.

Perfect tens

28 June, 2015
IK+ - consistently The Shit

IK+ – consistently The Shit

Sorry for the long delay between posts, folks. I wish I could blame something other than my sheer laziness when it comes to updating.

Anyway, I’ve been putting a few highscores forward for the excellent highscore.com site in the last few days and playing Archer MacLean’s terrific IK+ reminded me of something: it plays pretty-much equally brilliantly on every single platform its been converted to, from ZX Spectrum to GBA. I can’t think of a single bad version.

The only other game I can think of that holds that accolade is Rainbow Islands.

There must be others, though, surely. I’m not counting anything from after about 1994 as when you get to the modern era the looks and differing capabilities of home gaming platforms start to disappear and everything ends up all *adopts Comic Book Guy voice* “1080p 60FPS or GTFO, bro’!” *whoops at the announcement of a new CoD game or something*

Bubble Bobble, maybe?

Twin Tiger Shark (V8?)

21 April, 2015
I can't get this far yet! I had to use this pic from the website as I was unable to screengrab my own game. Boo!

I can’t get this far yet! I had to use this pic from the website as I was unable to screengrab my own game. Boo!

I was saying to a friend recently that Taito’s excellent Flying Shark is one of those games that really sorts out the “cans” from the “cannots” when it comes to gaming. Finishing the first level of this fair-but-tough shooter feels like an achievement, let alone the full game. It really shows how much easier things have got in more recent years as many games move more and more towards being interactive playthings as much as, if not more than, a challenge to be beaten.

Anyway, I recently discovered Twin Tiger Shark by accident and it’s clearly influenced by Taito’s rock-hard classic. Whilst it’s not as punishing, it still puts up a pretty mean fight and has some lovely features including a power-up that brings a squadron of planes in to fight alongside you for a period as well as a first level boss which seems to be a nod to the classic scrolling 16-bit shooter Swiv.

You can get Twin Tiger Shark here. It runs in Java, unfortunately, but don’t let that put you off.

Influential imps

12 March, 2015
Zombies! Not enough of those in games, are there?

Zombies! Not enough of those in games, are there?

MidBoss is an interesting mash-up (gods, I fucking hate that phrase but what else am I supposed to say here?) of traditional roguelikes such as Angband and the old Commodore 64 game Paradroid. The player starts in a dungeon controlling an imp with little to boast about other than the ability to possess defeated enemies. So the first thing to do is take possession of a defeated rat, the next-crappest creature in the dungeon after the imp, and from there try to possess stronger and stronger creatures, taking on their special abilities permanently with experience, until eventually possessing one of those BDSM monsters from Dungeon Keeper or something. It’s more simplistic than some roguelikes (not necessarily a bad thing) and the possession mechanic makes it feel suitably unique in a very crowded genre. The isometric graphics are a nice touch too.

Midboss is currently in beta and the developers encourage you to vote for it on Steam Greenlight if you enjoy it. You can find it here.

Manuel

4 March, 2015

Manuel

Not the Great British Institution who got a rude phone call from Jonathan Woss and pseudo-political bell-end Russell Brand. This is an “infinite runner” freeware game which runs in a web browser and features a bloke on a skateboard and a proper old-school difficulty curve, no hand-holding for ages here. It’s also got a weirdly enjoyable “horrible” 8-bit style in-game tune which rivals even the title music on Heist 2012 on the Spectrum for, erm, avant-garde-ness.

You can play Manuel by pointing your web browser here. No, I haven’t fucked his grand-daughter.

Great Head (Over Heels)

22 January, 2015
Is that the doors from the Amstrad CPC version?

Is that the doors from the Amstrad CPC version?

Hello, and happy 2015.

Yes, this blog is still very much here. I neglected it for a few months because I was in the midst of a very stressful housemoving and neglected a whole lot of things, of which this blog is the least really.

Anyway, the new year is an excuse to get things back on track. Let’s start with a quick mention of the fantastic news that one of the greatest videogames ever published, 1987’s Head over Heels, is finally being converted to top Japanese home computer the MSX2. Expect something as swish as the conversion of Knight Lore and something that, unlike the generally-great 2003 PC remake, doesn’t mess up the room by allowing the player to land on top of the doors (grumble grumble).

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.)

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.