Posts Tagged ‘amiga’

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…



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.

Hydrozone – now available in freeware

18 November, 2010

Those of you out there with an interest in fairly obscure 1994 Amiga indie titles (and that’s probably most regular readers of this ‘ere weblog) will be delighted to know that Hydrozone, the demo of which graced an Amiga Action cover disk back in the days of John Major, Criminal Justice Bill protests and The Rednex, has now been released in full as freeware.

There’s a little story behind this good news. A few weeks ago someone posted to a thread on the English Amiga Board about tracking-down the authors of old Amiga indie commercial software to find if it could be published on the web as freeware and someone asked whether anyone knew where a full version of an old Skull Army Software game called Hydrozone could be found. A week or so later who should appear on the forum thread but the original programmer of said game, having been alerted by one of the thread’s other posters, who told us that he still had all his old titles on disk and, having transferred them all to PC for emulator-friendliness, he would be tweaking them, fixing them up and releasing them to the Amiga community as freeware. The first out of the door is Hydrozone itself now updated to V1.02 (only 16 years after the original release) and available by following the link on the forum post here. And as if that’s not enough he’s thrown Speed Racer FX, the sequel, onto the same disk.

Hydrozone is essentially a first-person racer game with some shoot-em-up elements. The nearest equivalent I can think of is the trench sequences from the old Star Wars arcade cabinet. The screenshot above-right doesn’t really do the game justice, you really need to see it move. There’s a YouTube video of the game in action here if you need more persuading.

Download, play, enjoy; and if you can be bothered let me know what you think!

In other news, I’m back in employment again (woohoo) on a six-month contract which means I have less time for sitting about and writing about old video games so this blog might get updated a little less regularly in future; maybe two or three times and month (which is going to be hugely different to recent updating speeds, obviously).

And, no, I’ve not finished the Cecco articles. Exolon is up next…

New retro-games site

2 March, 2009

One of the annoying things about being a fan of independent games for old systems is that there are so few sites catering for them. There are many sites which list games and provide downloads (some of them even do it legally) but they tend to concentrate on the commercial releases.

So it’s with a great deal of happy happy joy joy that I can tell you all that a new site has appeared with a large number of Amiga “Public Domain” (ie freeware) releases available to download along with some commercial titles (which the site maintainer claims to have obtained permission to host) and C64 games. The site is called The Games Coffer. I suggest you clicky on over there and check it out.

Treasure Trap

10 February, 2009
Id like to be, under the sea, in an octopuss garden in the shade. Collecting gold.

"I'd like to be, under the sea, in an octopus's garden in the shade. Collecting gold."

Oh, woe is me! There’s two games that I really want to write articles about (Times of Lore and the silhouette-based Blade Warrior) but they’re going to have to wait because both games are proving more complex to play than I expected. But let’s not worry about them right now, let’s worry about the forgotten game of yesteryear I’ve decided to dig-out and talk to you all about instead: that would be Electronic Zoo’s  Treasure Trap (1989) for the Amiga, Atari ST and DOS (I’m playing the Amiga version for the purposes of this review).

The plot is very straightforward – you’re a treasure hunter in an old-fashioned diving-suit who’s been lowered into the wreck of a ship called the Esmerelda and have to explore it and loot all the gold on board. That’s it: no “emotional journey”, no cut-scenes, no “moral choices” to make, no sub-B-Movie plotline written by hacks to get in the way of the game. Modern game developers take note! (rant over).

Anyway, enough about my personal issues with the current gaming scene, what does Treasure Trap play like? Well, if you glance around the couple of screenshots I’ve provided around the screen you’ll notice that it bears more than a passing resemblance to Knight Lore, Head over Heels and other 8-bit isometric; and, unsurprisingly, it plays a bit like them as well. The player character can perform the usual moves in four directions plus a jump; he can also collect keys (which come in the form of various shapes) and carry three at at time for the purposes of unlocking doors. The gold bars are collected automatically on contact and on many of the screens can only be reached by solving basic puzzles in order to reach them – usually of the “push this box here, use it to reach that platform” variety that will be familiar to anyone who’s played this type of game before. Of course, our hero isn’t alone in the depths of the ship and there are various underwater menaces which take one of his lives on contact. These include crabs, eels, stingrays and some really really annoying mines which home in on you. The only thing the player has to combat these are ‘smart fish’, friendly fishies which eat hostile creatures; you start with two of them and get more if you collect lots of gold bars (presumably they’re attracted to shiny things, like some kind of aquatic magpie). So, in the main, the player has to avoid the nasties and use smart fish sparingly. Treasure Trap came at the end of a decade which had seen its fair share of isometric arcade-adventures and it seemed to be attempting some kind of minor evolution. It all moves faster and smoother with the more powerful sprite-shifting powers of the 16-bit machines and shadows, much-missed from older titles and necessary to identify where a lot of blocks/monsters actually are in relation to other things, are actually present in this game. It’s also possible to save the game each 50 bars of gold you collect – there’s none of the play-it-all-through-in-one-load problems that we had in Head over Heels and the like. It even has a map which is fills in as the player progresses in surprising detail – this is (as far as I know) unique in isometric adventure games like this and a quite welcome feature.

This screen is a bastard. Trust me.

This screen is a bastard. Trust me.

But despite all that, it doesn’t succeed in beating these older games. The puzzles and screen designs in Head over Heels and Hydrofool (an older aquatic underwater title where you played a robot that looked like Stan Laurel who had to pull plugs out of a giant aquarium – I’m not making this up) were much more devious and well-thought-out than in this game; and it’s not just that the puzzles aren’t as good, some rooms just seemed generally ill-thought-out with enemies that were too hard to avoid and gold that was hidden away from view (although the letter “G” on the gold indicator on-screen does flash if there is gold on a screen still to be collected). There’s also less of a sense of progression; the older titles had considerable freedom of movement, as does this, and weren’t linear but Treasure Trap feels like just one big maze of rooms rather than smaller, individual groups of rooms that need to be beaten and passed. It also has some ill-thought-out features like the “whirlpool” monsters who deposit the player in a random room on the Esmerdela; imagine if Head over Heels had had something like that! Players should have to persevere to see these later screens and work-up to their greater challenges gradually, not just be deposited in them at random!

Ultimately, isometric gaming didn’t die in the 1990s but it left behind the old room-by-room platforming arcade-adventure of the 8-bit entries in the genre and tended more towards RPGs (like Legend) or scrolling action games (like Skeleton Krew). Treasure Trap feels like a last hurrah of a type of game that was dying out in 1989 and, sadly, it’s more of a whimper than a bang. Worth a shot if you like this kind of game but you’d be better off playing some of the classic 8-bit games in the genre.

Metal Mutant – the threefold tin-man

1 February, 2009
Look in the box, see what you got!

"Look in the box, see what you got!"

Ah, February; the month of cold winds and not-as-short-as-in-January daylight hours. Sorry I’ve take a wee while posting a new article, I generally hope to get one posted per week but I get easily sidetracked and, erm, become easily lazy. Now, where were we? Ah, that’s right: games.

I had hoped that this next article would be about the “action RPG” Times of Lore but, unfortunately, it’s taking longer to play and assess that game than I’d expected (ie it’s not a quick pick-me-up-and-play game) so instead I’m going to take a wee look at the 1991 Atari ST, Amiga and MS-DOS title Metal Mutant from Silmarils software.

When this game was published eighteen years ago (michty!) it completely failed to set the world alight. Reviews, it’s fair to say, weren’t terribly positive and it didn’t exactly jump out of the magazine pages at anyone doing a spot of browsing. I mean, the robots look nice and all of that but it’s all so green and drab looking; hardly the sort of thing that was going to inspire the average gamer to fork-out when there was Lemmings and Speedball 2 to buy instead. So, as a result, Metal Mutant is one of those games that was largely forgotten about; exactly the sort of game, in fact, that tends to attract me…

So, what’s it all about? Well, the plot seems to be some nonsense about a bunch of cyborgs being all uppity and turning against humanity. So, humanity decides to deal with this by, erm, building a cyborg and then sending it into battle against the rebel cyborgs. That’s sure to be good…

The player takes control of the cyborg in question. But – and here’s the almost-unique selling point of this game – this cyborg can transform into two other things. Namely a robot dinosaur thing and a, well, a sort-of robbie-the-robot-on-track tank-robot thing. It’s not exactly a T1000 but it’s fit for purpose, I suppose.

Your feeble dinosaur-thing skills are now match for the power of the mutant side!

Your feeble swamp monster skills are no match for the power of the mutant side!

Gameplay takes place over a number of levels and completing these levels seems to consist of ridding the various screens of horrible nasties and collecting add-ons for the cyborg. These add-ons allow the three different forms the metal mutant (ah, you see where the title came from?) takes on to access additional abilities. For example, at the start the “original” cyborg form can’t use it’s axe-attack, an attack that involves it making its arm into an axe and twatting anything nearby, but it can do this once it picks up the necessary add-on. The monsters and hazards that confront our threefold hero are numerous and varied and the different forms and abilities need to be used to progress through the game. As an example, on some screens the player is attacked by a swarm of horrible wasp-like insects. Tank-things bullets are useless (nobody can actually shoot bees with bullets except that bloke in Save The Green Planet) as is cyborg’s axe; but dino-thing’s firey breath is great for turning them into roast wasps (a possible future-delicacy in these times of crunchy credit – you’ll be laughing on the other side of your face when you’re tucking into a bag of roasted wasps outside the local nightclub two years from now).

Everybody do the (robot) dinosaur!

Everybody do the (robot) dinosaur!

And it’s this working-out-what-ability-to-use-to-get-further aspect that drives this game. When you enter a new screen you are often faced with a puzzle or a nasty whose defeat requires a little thought as well as some rudimentary joystick skills. This arcade-puzzle feel means you have to engage your brain to some extent as well as your reactions and makes Metal Mutant… well… actually rather fun to play.

You see, despite all the “this is pretty shit” reviews that this got around the time (except from a positive review from the rubbish Amiga Action whose positive reviews were often the equivalent of a crap review) this game is actually pretty good and, for me, something of a neglected classic.

It’s not perfect: the graphics, as I’ve said are a bit “plain” in the old colour department, the sound isn’t great and I’m really annoyed that the player-controlled cyborg doesn’t transform in a spectacular animation but instead turns into some stupid stars before re-appearing in his next form. But, in spite of all that, this is way better than the reviews around the time it was released suggest and for that reason I recommend a casual look if you get the chance. You might well agree with contemporary reviewers but you also just might like it and want to spend some time with it. And, hey, it’s that sort of thing that this blog is all about. That and rubbish jokes.


12 January, 2009
Yeah, explore that dungeon! Grab that scroll! Pull that lever!

Yeah, explore that dungeon! Grab that scroll! Pull that lever!

I bring you some exciting news (cue ‘exciting news’ music which probably involves a pounding drumbeat and maybe some trumpets). A long time ago (well, 1994) an indie title was released for the Amiga called Knights; not the most inspiring name, I know, but bear with me. This was a two-player game whereby each player took control of a knight in armour and a brightly-coloured cloak (the colour of which could be determined before the game started) and explored a randomly-created dungeon attempting to beat the other player. How the aforementioned beating occured was decided before the game: it could involve just killing the other knight a set number of times, or escaping the dungeon, or retrieving an ancient book written by gnomes or something. There were loads of settings that allowed changes in dungeon size, quest-type, zombie and bat activity (oh, yes, our knightly friends were not alone down there if so desired) and several other things. It was hugely configurable and hugely fun.

There was only one real problem which is that the nature of the game meant that it helped to be unable to see what the other player was doing. The programmer’s solution to this was to split the display down the middle and suggest to the player that they tape a piece of cardboard to their tv/monitor to act as a divider with each player on their respective side of it. This worked, but it wasn’t exactly practical.

But now comes something new, now comes a remake of Knights which, excellently, features network and internet play meaning no more fiddly dividers. This is the best thing, if not ever, then certainly this week. All it really needs is the ability to set up dedicated servers a la many other freeware online games but I’m hoping that will arrive eventually if this takes off. And even if you’re not willing to play online the old two-player option is still in the remake, just find yourself a bit of cardboard and a chum and get, erm, knighting.

Colonial Conquest 2 – fight robots… in space!

20 October, 2008
It is the 90s, and there is time for rendered title screens.

It is the '90s, and there is time for rendered title screens.

Okay, with this game I’m going to try and run over the basics and then skip to the “what the hell do I think of it” part of the article because these damn strategy games and their fiddly interfaces and miriad of features are starting to piss me off. I’m trying to give a good impression here of what these games are like and it becomes frustrating when they incorporate so much micromanagement; you don’t get that in the likes of R-Type. Anyway…

Colonial Conquest 2 is a “giftware” (ie it’s freeware but if you like it you’re encouraged to send a gift to the author) indie title released for the Amiga in 1994. Essentially, this game is an amalgamation of features from two popular, older games: namely Sid Meier’s world-conquering (both in-game and literally) Civilization and the much older build-up-fleets-and-conquer-the-galaxy game Anacreon.

The plot is some guff about colonists fleeing a repressive interplanetary regime called, imaginatively, The Empire. The colonists arrive in an unexplored sector of space and settle on a planet before getting back in touch with the Empire (eh?) in order to beg for assistance (ah) which they don’t get. Well, not for free anway.

This is a human-occupied planet. Any similarity to Civilisation probably not co-incidental

This is a human-occupied planet. Any similarity to "Civilisation" probably not co-incidental

In CC2, the player starts on a single planet and the aim of the game is to develop that planet, develop a fleet and expand out to the other planets until you’ve gained control of the 26 different worlds that make up the in-game map. There is a two-player mode but given that I imagine a hot-seat version of this game would be utterly horrible to play most people will only be interested in the one-player version. In this version the player controls human colonists and the enemy is an alien race called “mechs” who are basically machines. The mechs have different units and capabilities than the humans and their way of playing is slightly different. More on that later.

Each planet’s surface is displayed as a small area of land split up into sea, plains, mountains etc. Colonists can initially either be “scientists” or be used to work the land for food or resources. Food goes towards feeding the colony and resources go towards building. Improvements like mining robots and greenhouses can be added to squares to increase the food or resource yield. In addition to this, powerstations supplying energy and various improvements like barracks (which allows colonists to become troops), hospitals and research centres can be built. Any scientists you have don’t just dick around, they contribute science (natch) which allows your tech level to increase allowing for more and better improvements. So far, so Civilization.

Once you build a spaceport you can start building ships. Many of these ships are combat craft (ranging from the crapping little fighters to the massive battlestars) but a few have specific purposes such as transporters which can carry resources or food, colony ships to transport colonists and colonise worlds, troop carriers which do what they say on the tin, spy satellites to scan enemy worlds and exploration ships which explore planets (and look rather like the USS Enterprise, in a nice little nod to that ship’s official mission in Star Trek).

This is the galactic map display. The planets all have really dull names and you cant edit them; its one of the few boooos for this game.

This is the galactic map display. The planets all have really dull names and you can't edit them; it's one of the few "boooos" for this game.

Oh, exploring planets. Here’s a thing (and the only purpose the Empire seem to have in the game). If you explore a new planet (either with an exploration ship or by founding a colony on it) you might find a new lifeform. If you do this then the Empire will reward you with warships or resources – the type/amount depending on the creature’s IQ for some unfathomable reason. This is a small part of the game but its a nice touch, hence its having a paragraph all to itself. Now, where was I…

Ah, yes, ships. Now, the main purpose of fleets is to attack and defend planets. And this is where I talk more about the mechs. As I said, the mechs are a machine race and they too are looking to conquer this sector. The way they go about taking planets is different, though. Rather than found a colony they instead have their mothership (a huge scary f*cker with the power of ten battlestars) come along and install an Alien Central Unit (a big industrial thing which seems to act as some sort of mech control centre) on the planet. On an uninhabited world it just churns out resources, improvements and ships (apart from the mothership the mech ships are the same as yours, except presumably piloted by machines) for the purposes of conquest. However, and this is a nasty little feature, if the mechs capture one of your colonies they turn the colonists into slaves and essentially work them to death building for them, keeping them alive only for as long as they are needed (sentient machines, just say “no” kids!). Losing a world and then sending a spy satellite there to find all your colonists being worked to death by the machines creates a real desire to recapture the world before they all die and smash those evile mechs to little pieces.

A mech-controlled world. Cold, sterile and inhuman. Brrr. Still, my fleet controls the skies above it, ha!

A mech-controlled world. Cold, sterile and inhuman. Brrr. Still, my fleet controls the skies above it, ha!

And recapturing (or capturing) a world needs troops and this is where the troop carriers come in. You need to win the fleet battle over a planet, have troop carriers with troops orbiting and then land them at which point a ground battle takes place. But the mechs don’t use soldiers, of course, they use mechanical tripods which are much stronger than soldiers so you need to outnumber the tripods to be sure of victory. Of course, sometimes one of your worlds is threatened by mech invasion and in that scenario you should make sure you have a large number of troops stationed on the planet to fight off the tripods otherwise your people will become slaves to the machines.

And that, basically, is the game – build, fight, defend, conquer, try not to lose too many citizens to mech enslavement and get scared when the mothership shows up. There is much, much more to the game – improvements like energy cannons to blast enemy planets for example – but I’ll leave them for you to discover because, despite being written in AMOS(an Amiga basic language synonymous with amateurish and largely crap games) and despite the average graphics (and no sound other than an annoying and very dated in-game tune) this is a deep, involving strategy game which can and I hope will enthrall anyone who plays it. Just be aware, though, it’s very very hard and the war with the mechs, although it takes a while to warm-up, can be an absolute slog. Still, don’t be daunted, get a copy (it’s free, you’ve no excuse), blast off and destroy the evil Mech Empire. Yes.

Oh, and if you were wondering, yes there was a Colonial Conquest 1 but it’s apparently not as good as this and I’ve never played it. So there.

Celtic Legends – Nothing to do with Football

16 October, 2008
Lovely title graphics, actually

Lovely title graphics, actually

So here we have our first strategy title (and I’m only going to do a few strategy games before moving onto a different genre/subject here: they’re complicated and writing the articles on them is a pain in the arse) – Celtic Legends. Despite the name this has nothing to do with Scottish football, nor does it have anything to do with the actual Celtic legends. In fact, this game is set in the completely mythical world of Celtika and, apart from the sounds of some bagpipes in the opening sequence (yes, yes, I know they’re not properly Celtic but they have associations), that’s all it really has to do with the peoples of ancient Britain. So, the name is a bit misleading but don’t let that put you off because what we have here is an interesting and somewhat neglected strategy title for the Amiga from the misty days of yore (1991).

Needless to say the actual plot isn’t all that interesting being some sub-Tolkien stuff about a mystical realm and ye powers of good and evil having a jolly good rukus; evil being lead by a wizard called Sogrom and good being lead by another wiz calling himself Eskell. The actual landscape the game takes place over is more worthy of note. The action all takes place over a number of islands in something called the Rochebrum archipelago. These islands are dotted with Cromlechs, a natural source of magical energy which look uncannily like stone circles only with a big magic star in the

he was probably dozing in a cave somewhere seconds before

My newly-summoned cyclops: he was probably dozing in a cave somewhere seconds before

middle. Thing is, these Cromlechs are places of worship for savages who regard them as sacred and the wizard-generals leading each side as profane and so will fight against either side to protect them. If either side controls a Cromlech it gets a boost to its magical powers (the savages don’t use magic, they think doing so is dirty) so they’re important tactical objectives in each battle. Oh, and the savages use the Cromlechs as “gateways” to the islands (which they presumably don’t regard as using magic – maybe they don’t realise it is magic and think all doors work like that, the stupid numpties) meaning if neither wizard’s troops control them then more of the scruffy buggers appear so that’s another incentive to capture them quickly.

So, that’s the background but the thing we’re most interested here is how it plays. Well, there are two different stages to gameplay: the big tactical map and the little tactical battles. Let’s have a look at these.

The big tactical map shows a mini-map of the current island; a bigger, scrolling map of the same; the armies of Sogrom, Eskell and the savages (incidentally, the savages can be switched off in the main menu making it a straight two-way fight but I think this damages the atmosphere of the game) and information about the armies and the magical power possessed by the two main sides. This phase of gameplay is essentially about moving armies around the map and occupying strategic areas. It also allows the player to split or join these armies, build new castles (more on these later) and zoom in to see any army at the smaller tactical level. Whilst the graphics used for the big tactical map phase aren’t brilliant they’re well-suited to function although I do think that the way the smaller map is laid out makes it seem much bigger than it appears in the scrolling map which has lead to a couple of occasions when I’ve misjudged the distance of an enemy army, but this is something you can get used to pretty quickly.

You uncouth villain! Allow me to teach you some manners!

"You uncouth villain! Allow me to teach you some manners!"

The smaller tactical level can be seen at any time but is usually used for when two armies meet. When this happens, the opposing forces go to battle using a turn-based system similar to that used by games like the Heroes of Might and Magic series. As well as hand-to-hand combat, magic-users can also cast spells to help, hinder or injure units on the battlefield. It’s worth mentioning the graphics on the small tactical maps – they’re rather chunky and cartoonish but full of character with the units gesticulating by waving their weapons around (with the exception of Sogrom’s sorcerers who don’t have any weapons and so wave their hands in the air, presumably like they just don’t care). Castles and Cromlech’s are of particular note since holding them provides bonuses. Both have magic stars allowing for the summoning of troops (and a handy escape-route for the wizard if he stands on the star itself and does his incantation) and holding a Cromlech gives 150 points of magic per turn whilst castles supply an extra 50 points of magic to their owner per turn and give the defender an advantage in battle since the attacker can’t use magic and the defender can summon extra troops whilst in battle. However, building castles uses up 2000 magic and they can only be built on plains. Oh, and the wee gargoyle above the entrance sticks his tongue out when someone passes below him which is a nice touch. The battlefields also have different designs based on the geographical terrain (eg swamps, mountains, plains) with some even having specific hazards such as the lightning in the mountains that can strike units dead mid-battle, and yes that is pretty f*cked-up but it does make the mountain-based battles quite tense. In addition, nearby terrain, castles of Cromlechs can be seen in the background of the battle screens. The presentation in these is really excellent, shows a lot of thought has gone into the game and provides plenty of atmosphere.

The big strategy screen. This is about as exciting as it gets here, really.

The big strategy screen. This is about as exciting as it gets here, really.

Now, Sogrom and Eskell have arrived on the islands without much muscle and they’re going to need more to both fight off each other and the savages. This is where summoning comes into play. Essentially, this is the same as troop-building in a modern Real Time Strategy title: as I mentioned earlier each side has a magic level which determines how many spells their wizards can cast in any one turn and summoning uses up magic so essentially magic takes the place of the resources in an RTS. The wizard-generals can summon creatures at any time provided the wizard’s army is somewhere where there’s a magic star (ie a Cromlech or a castle). Next the player zooms in on the army, then all the wizard has to do is move next to the star and cast the “incantation” spell and then choose which troop type to summon. There can only be eight troops in an army but the “split army” function on the big tactical map can be used to summoned troops to any army in a neighbouring square. This means that with a lot of magic, large armies can be summoned and deployed pretty quickly.

Whilst I’m on the subject of troops, both sides have their own specific forces. Eskell’s armies are made up of soldiers (lowly footsoldier types), lords (bigger blokes with more strength), magicians (like mini-Eskells), cyclopses (guess), angels, hydras and archangels. Up against this lot Sogrom has goblins, orques (who presumably can’t spell), trolls, skeletons (excellently, the manual says these are all of Eskell’s old apprentices he sent on suicide missions – what an exquisitely evile c*nt), sorcerers, dragons and demons. Oh, yes, and the savages have kobolds (who used to be human but went all wonky because of too much exposure to magic – just say no kids), wolfen (basically wolves on hind legs and a bit brighter), snakes and minos (ie minotaurs). I probably don’t need to tell you that the stronger creatures like Demons and Archangels take the most magic to summon whilst the weaker ones take less.

If you see this screen it is because you have f*cked up and the terrorists have won.

The terrorists have won. Happy now?!

So, essentially each island-based campaign becomes a contest to secure castle and cromlechs (and also build in the case of castles), summon creatures and overwhelm the enemy. Once an island is completed the player moves to the next island and has to do it all again. Weirdly, Sogrom himself always commands the opposing army and the stage ends with his defeat and yet he’s back in the next level with a whole host of new ‘orribles to defeat. Must be a resilient lad but then the bad guys very often are: look at a lot of ’80s horror films.

So is it any good? Well, yes, it’s pretty good actually (we’ve finally got to the important bit). It all looks and sounds quite nice and the battles themselves are pretty good even if the large strategic map is a bit boring (this would be a pretty dull game if it were possible to turn the battles off). I think my only real complaint is that there’s a large random element to the troops attacking each other meaning that a very weak troop can land a very damaging blow on a stronger troop and that stronger troop can respond with a very weak blow. Whilst a small element of this is good in strategy games it feels a bit overdone here and can undermine the strategic aspects a bit. The combat can also be a bit slow but it’s possible to use a “speeded-up” mode so that’s not really a big problem here. I also found the AI to be a bit stupid at times (it seemed rather fond of throwing a single orc orque into battle against me for some reason) but then this was published in 1991 after all. This game is no Laser Squad but it’s definitely worth a shot if turn-based strategy is your thing.