Posts Tagged ‘1980s games’

Making Willy Harder

27 January, 2016
JSWNightmareEd

Fuck your “walk through both kitchen rooms without any of the monsters hitting you”

Everyone who has ever played Matthew Smith’s classic 1984 platform game Jet Set Willy has surely had the same thought –

“What this game really needs is to be less easy. In fact it could really do with being much, much more difficult.”

Well, 32 years after the game was originally published it looks like someone has taken heed because a new ZX Spectrum remix of the original game has been released called Jet Set Willy: The Nightmare Edition.

The goal and map is much the same as the original game but pretty-much every room has been subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, altered to make an already challenging game carpet-chewingly frustrating. In addition to this, there are some other tweaks such as a new “nightmarish” in-game font, extra tunes and a few wee new touches here and there.

Hopefully, these will make up for your pulling all your fucking hair out.

More details and download links at this page here.

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Sab95

2 December, 2015

There’s been a bit of a buzz around the fact that Clive Townsend is

Sab95

Ninja kicks the shit out of, erm, some kind of troll thing (it’s the ’90s!)

working on an update to his classic 1980s platform-and-stealth ninja games Saboteur and Saboteur 2 (the latter featuring a female protagonist long before it made neckbeards and that Tory blogger with ice-cream coloured hair all angry on Twitter). Doing a spot of online googling about this lead to me discover that there was an unofficial Saboteur game released for DOS-based PCs in the 1990s. No really, it has a site and everything.

I’m intrigued, I’m going to play it and then, in a few days, I’m going to report back. It’ll probably be shite. The knocked-off Mortal Kombat stuff is already making me roll my eyes. But it also might be brilliant because, hey, you never know.

Meanwhile, information on Townsend’s official update can be found a his website here.

 

“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…

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?

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.)

“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!

Ghastly covers

18 May, 2014

Here’s a question for you – what’s the worst cover art ever to grace a videogame? I reckon most people would go for something bland and inconsequential, or maybe just something that’s poorly drawn like this cover art for the 1985 ZX Spectrum game Antteroo.

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“I dun a jump. Yay!”

But I think that would be to miss the point. A truly bad piece of cover art has to offend the mind as well as the eyes: it ought to be clear what it was trying to do whilst failing miserably, and it has to really, really insult the actual game it’s purporting to promote and illustrate.

And taking all of that into regard, ladies and gentlemen I give you the image that graces this article, the cover art for the (American?) Commodore 64 conversion of the (brilliant) arcade game Metro-Cross.

There’s so, so much wrong with this. For a start there’s the guy on the skateboard: he looks dazed and he’s scrawny, he’s the opposite of “cool” or aspirational. Then there’s the way that the central figure is a photograph which has been cut and pasted onto a crudely-designed backdrop like someone doing their first paid collage work. But what makes it even worse is the way it manages to combine several aspects of the real game (a sporty, skateboarding hero; a chequered background; a racing track) and manages to present them all in a way which bears no real relation to the game itself. It’s really quite an achievement and I can’t help but think that the designer was given the order “skateboarder, chessboard, some kind of road” and then found his work the subject of some kind of bet to get everything completely off.

And if you’re wondering why I’ve put “American?” in brackets earlier on, it’s because in the UK the home versions of Metro-Cross were published with the cover art below which manages to be everything that C64 art isn’t: representative of the game, futuristic in an “’80s” way and kind-of nice.

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And if you’ve never heard of Metro-Cross and don’t understand just why it’s shameful to give it such a poor cover, find out more here (where you’ll also find some arcade flier art that doesn’t have a gangly bloke looking like he’s about to sneeze either).

Trantor: Alas, Stormtrooper

18 February, 2014
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Come on in, lads! The atmosphere’s lovely!

I’m generally dismissive of the idea that retro-gaming is entirely about “nostalgia”. To me, that’s like saying that playing Scrabble or listening to The Beatles is about “nostalgia”. There are plenty of games from the so-called “Golden Era” of UK videogaming in the ’80s that I think have aged badly and that time has been particularly cruel to (especially the more ambitious games like the Freescape titles) and consequently don’t play very much. And, of course, there are plenty of modern games I’ve more than enough time for. Steam tells me I’ve spent nearly 100 hours picking flowers, failing to hit scarpering deer, and fighting rotting pseudo-vikings in Skyrim, the sad bastard.

But there are some games where it’s definitely all about the nostalgia and very little else. And one of those games is Trantor: The Last Stormtrooper.

Only a few gaming artefacts from the ’80s give me a proper Proustian rush and one of them is the demos given away on a CRASH covertape in October 1987. This was in the era before cover-mounted tapes were common amongst the gaming magazines, which were later reduced to flimsy pamphlets accompanying boxed tapes with gaudy cover art as the press indulged in an ultimately-destructive arms race of mostly-crap old commercial games given away “free”. No, back in 1987 it was “The CRASH sampler”. It was just a tape, attached to the front of the magazine with sellotape. And, unlike most of the covertapes which followed it, all of the programs on it actually worked. And one of them was a demo of Trantor.

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Very nice, now let’s see you actually fire whilst jumping, you posey, well-drawn get.

Trantor is quite an interesting game even if it’s not a small, well-remembered, part of your childhood. The demo (following a loading sequence involving a brilliant comic-book style loading screen which wasn’t used in the final release) opened with a lengthy animation showing an intricately detailed and animated spacecraft descending into some kind of pit. A bloke gets out, gestures to others in the ship and then dives to the ground as it noiselessly disintegrates. Even now it looks impressive, back in 1987 it was fucking incredible. And then the game, oh man. The demo gave us a couple of minutes of gameplay featuring a massive central sprite and colourful scrolling. It all looked ridiculously flash and slick. When the demo ended, the viewer was left with the impressive digitised “4-channel” music playing until the plug was pulled. Wham, bam, thankyou ma’am.

When it came out, I bought it, and played it, and really liked it.

And then, many many years later, I loaded it into an emulator and something had happened. I realised that it’s actually a badly designed mess of a game where random placement of often-essential items makes advancement somewhat arbitrary and awful design, fixated on aesthetics rather than gameplay mechanics, means that many enemies are nearly impossible to avoid and Trantor can’t shoot and jump because it’s important that he stick his flamethrower on his back when running, because it looks cool. Trantor is, in short, an early example of a lot of things that went wrong with videogames over the intervening decades: wow factor, presentation and aesthetic design trumping gameplay and enjoyable game mechanics. It’s Shadow of the Beast, it’s Ryse: Son of Rome.

And what’s worse is that I still “like” it, I still play it far more than I play a lot of much better games, new and old, that are more worthy of my attention and I think it’s a big deal when I manage to get quite far. And that, boys and girls, is not because it’s a good game, it’s because of nostalgia and fond memories of loading a tape stuck to a magazine into a ZX Spectrum +. It happens to the best of us.

If you’re intrigued but unwilling to mess around with “fiddly” emulation to play a sub-par game I’ve only a soft spot for because of a cover-mounted demo from 27 years ago then why not watch this YouTube longplay?

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.