Posts Tagged ‘windows games’

Matty plays the Humble Bundle

24 September, 2012
Image

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

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

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

So, we start with Shatter.

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

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

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

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

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

Endless Ports Most Beautiful

8 July, 2012

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

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

More information and download here.

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

10 January, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank-Me-Not-Again-O-Something

10 September, 2011

I don't like having to fanny-around with GIMP making these "montage" pics. I hope you all know that.

Well, this is odd. Not that long ago I wrote a post about two games I had recently discovered and grown to love: one of these was the superb iThing game Forget-Me-Not and the other was the 27 year old ZX Spectrum platform/action game Frank N Stein. Apart from having eerily (are you sure this is the appropriate word to use? – Imaginary Ed) similarly-structured names these are both excellent pick-up-and-play titles. And, weirdly, I’m going to tell you about them both again or rather about updates to both of them. That’s right, both.

First we have the excellent, if not entirely surprising, news (which reached me via Stu Campbell) that Forget-Me-Not has been ported to Windows and Mac-OS based machines for free. It’s probably my favourite game of the year so far and if you even slightly like videogames you have absolutely no excuse to not download a copy and learn to love it as much as I do.

The second, rather more interesting, news is that Frank N Stein creator Colin Stewart has been busy slaving over a hot Spectrum (or, more likely, emulator but let’s not destroy the romantic image) and has produced a brand new version of his 1984 game. That’s right, 27 years after it was originally published to cries of “It has lots of little additions (like ice patches) that make it better” and “Overall, a good game” from CRASH magazine we have a brand new update of this classic platfomer with new features and extra levels. Stewart isn’t publishing the game until the 14th of September – exactly 27 years since its original release, but he sent a review copy to the Retro Brothers who have an exclusive review of the new version here.

Some kind of best of 2010 kind of thing

12 January, 2011

Happy New Year. Yes, I’ve been taking a wee break from writing this blog; Christmas makes it allowed! Anyway, since it’s a brand new year I thought it’d be appropriate to say a few words about some of my favourite games from the last year complete with appropriate linkys in the header. These are, as ever, in no particular order.

1. Hydorah

"Appease this natural wonder" is the best description for a level ever

A freeware side-scrolling shooter drawing obvious inspiration from both the Gradius and Darius series, this lovingly put-together game could easily have been published commercially 15-odd years ago for the Playstation or somesuch. Excellent graphics, brilliant music, branching levels, loads of features. The only real problems are that the in-game music has a bad habit of ending about a minute before the level actually does and that for hardened gamers its perhaps a touch too easy. Nonetheless well worth it for zero pounds/dollars/euros.

2. L’Abbaye Des Morts

History, Platformers, "Hidden gardens"!

The best 8-bit platformer in years that isn’t actually for 8-bit machines. This freeware game takes inspiration both from European history and ’80s European gaming but manages to create something quite unique. The mixture of object-collecting and puzzle-solving works well and the old-fashioned “chunky” graphics ooze class in a “1987” kind of way.

3. Desktop Dungeons

Oh noes! It's the level 4 meatboy!

Just as Strange Adventures in Infinite Space managed to create a space-faring strategy game that could be played in ten minutes, so this little freeware title managed the same with the (in)famous “roguelike” genre – explore dungeons, kill monsters, grab treasure. All without the dozens of control keys and hours of time lost. Unlockables help prolongue appeal. I’ve no idea why the “rogue” character looks like Hitler, though.

4. Horace in the Mystic Woods

Horace is "all white" and so is the game

Yes, it originally came out in 1995 for Psion Palmtops (anyone? No, me neither) but this conversion to Horace’s home platform, the ZX Spectrum, which Bob Smith dropped onto an amazed retrogaming community in 2010, is easily the best release for Celebrity Mastermind star Sir Clive’s 1982 rubber-keyed beast of last year. Despite bearing superficial similarities to Manic Miner this game, with its inertia-based movement, offers a different challenge. Superb stuff. Even if Horace is white for some reason.

5. Minecraft

Sound advice in 'Minecraft'

The only commercial (if indie) title in this list. I was bought this as a birthday present and it’s taken up far too much of my time. Despite the relatively crude graphics (which are arguably a plus since they mean that even older PCs can run it) this has proved a huge hit thanks to its true sandbox gameplay. Minecraft is, essentially, a game which dumps the player in a functioning world and lets them treat it like a lego set. A lego set with monsters which come out at night. Build giant underground lairs, mansions on clifftops, preposterously-tall towers. Then swear when a creeper blows bits of them up.

Thief II: The Non-Metal Review

18 September, 2010

I’m going to start this piece about Looking Glass Studio’s 2000 release Thief II: The Metal Age by pointing out that, actually, there’s not that much difference with the original Thief; indeed it uses a tweaked version of the same engine. Essentially, this game is “further adventures of Garrett” with a few new features (including invisibility potions and even a remote camera) but, in general, similar gameplay to the original title.

But I think it’s worth discussing why Thief II works so well. Whilst I doubt they were direct influences, it’s possible to trace this game’s spiritual lineage back to games like the original Saboteur! through Guild of Thieves, Inside Outing and even Bonanza Bros. The idea of the player having to sneak around a hostile environment avoiding danger if possible rather than confronting it head-on and ransacking buildings for treasure had already been tried in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras but it wasn’t until the post-Doom 3D FPS engines that it really worked and Thief was the first game that showed us what could be achieved. For starters, the player was able to explore the environment from a first-person perspective meaning that they could hunt for hidden switches and caches of gold as they would in the real world rather than typing “LOOK UNDER BED” or pushing a chair aside in an isometric environment (early first-person titles like 1987’s Driller had this freedom to explore to some extent but the necessary slowness of the gameplay made any real sneaking and guard-dodging antics impossible). The other main innovation was the use of light and dark: a player that could hide in the shadows (visibility being show with the useful onscreen “light gem”) and elude the watchful eyes of the guards this way rather than just moving when their backs are turned as in Bonanza Bros and Saboteur!. Using the shadows is a big part of the Thief games and demonstrates how much these titles were distancing themselves from the FPS games that were being churned out at the same times. FPS titles are shooter games, action games; the Thief series has much more in common with the original Zork, they’re about sneaking, exploring and grabbing treasure with the fighting being more of a secondary aspect to gameplay. For that reason playing them is a very different experience. When you hear guards you don’t run towards them, you try and stay away, hide in the shadows, or find a way of sneaking up behind them without being noticed and knocking them out (and then you have to hide the unconscious body); when you enter a room you don’t just dash through it, you search every nook and cranny looking for a hidden pile of coins or gemstone; rather than worrying about ammo the player instead worries about being seen. In this respect Thief II is actually a more “pure” realisation of the idea behind the Thief series than the first game since it sticks more to the looting and sneaking aspect whilst the original Thief tended to veer off into missions that involved the player finding their way around mazes and fighting monsters, something that there was already plenty of in other titles.

"Come out come out wherever you are..."

Thief II, as with the original, takes place in a weird game world that mixes aspect of medieval Europe with steampunk. Reinforcing the idea of this game as an extension to the original Thief, the first level isn’t an easy training mission but actually quite complex involving helping a young man rescue his beloved who works under guard in a mansion. It’s a classic example of how the Thief games work: the player is given a mission with a series of objectives but the level itself is full of treasure to be found and grabbed and the player can choose to do this if they so wish. Level two extends on this further by giving the player a ransacking mission involving stealing from various businesses who lease rooms in a large (and well-guarded) property in town. But, of course, it’s not as easy as breaking in and picking some locks – turns out the doors have mechanical locks that can’t be picked and need to be opened another way…

As usual there’s a plot woven through all of this and, cleverly, much of this is revealed by listening to the conversations of other characters as you sneak around which not only adds an atmospheric element of eavesdropping but makes sure that the storytelling doesn’t get in the way of gameplay. Once again the Hammers, a villainous cult from the first game, are involved along with a new group called the Machinists. Oh, and although I had to wait until the second level to hear it, the excellent made-up curse-word “taffer” appears again.

Although Thief II is basically more of an extension to the first game than anything else it’s arguably closer to the what the original game promised. Whilst Thief was supposed to be based around sneaking and stealing the developers couldn’t resist sending Garrett to forgotten tombs to fight zombies as well. Thief II seems more focussed on breaking into buildings, hiding in the dark, grabbing loot and dodging guards and it looks like there are rather less levels along the lines of “Down in the Bonehoard” with its infuriating maze-like tunnels and gas-breathing monsters.

Last time I was in town, I noticed that the whole Thief trilogy (the third game, Thief: Deadly Shadows, was written by a different team and used a completely different engine but continues the story of Garrett and has similar gameplay to the first two games) is now available in a compilation and, if you’ve never got around to playing any of this excellent, atmospheric and innovative series, you really ought to pick up a copy. To pass the Thief series by would be the act of, well, a taffer.

13th century European history inspires platform game

8 September, 2010

History and ZX Spectrum-style platformers together at last? Is it my birthday?

I’ll try and get the Thief II ponderings written-up in the next couple of days. In the meantime I’ll point you all in the direction of a new indie game. L’Abbaye des Morts (which was brought to my attention by Gnome) is a new platform game in the style of the classic ZX Spectrum titles of the ’80s, notably the likes of Jet Set Willy. Interestingly, though, this one takes as its inspiration the Cathar sect of medieval Europe and therefore combines two of my favourite things – retrogaming and history. For those who don’t know, the Cathars were a highly nonconformist Christian sect in what is now South-West France in the middle ages who flourished in the area and were largely tolerated and protected by the local Catholic nobility. However, a Crusade was declared against them and their protectors beginning in the early 13th century and leading to excommunication for much of the local nobility, war, persecution, mass-executions at the hands of the inquisition and, eventually, the sect effectively being made extinct. It’s an interesting, but inevitably depressing, story and if you want to know more I recommend reading Stephen O’Shea’s The Perfect Heresy.

In this game the player takes control of a Cathar, Jean Raymond, who begins the game being pursued by Crusaders and who takes sanctuary in an old church leading to him discovering an ancient evil…

The game can be downloaded from this site here. On my Windows XP machine, I found that the game tried to run in a window in Windows in Low-Res when it started which makes it unplayable; however, pressing “f” will adjust the game to fullscreen mode, solving this problem. Happy platforming!

EDIT: A new version of the game (1.1) has been written which fixes the display problem.

The votes are in…

23 August, 2010

…and the winner is Thief II: The Metal Age. Actually, if you’ve read the post previous to this one in the last few days you’ll know that anyway because I attached the result as an edit instead of waiting to announce it in a new post like this properly. Hem hem hem.

Lots of this kind of tomfoolery!

Anyway, yes, I’ll finally be playing a game I bought fuck knows how long ago and which has been sitting on a shelf gathering dust since then. I’m actually quite looking forward to it. I hope there’s lots and lots of characters calling people “taffers” and not too many zombies suddenly jumping into life when I walk close to them and giving me the shits as in the last game.

I’ll be playing it for the rest of the week and then, hopefully, put up some kind of review next weekend. I might even post some stuff on this blog about other things before then. Fancy!

Pick a game for Matty

14 August, 2010

Did you play it then? What do you mean “no, I had meaningful things to do that had a lasting impact both on myself and society?” There’s always time for a wee play of Uwol you bunch of miserables.

Pick a game, any game (as long as it's in this picture)

Anyway, for those who did give my challenge a go I didn’t manage to complete it but I did end one game with 205 coins, not far off the number needed to have Uwol leave the house a happy… whatever he’s supposed to be.

This weekend I have another request for you, but it’s not about “wasting” your “time” playing old “video” games. No, this time I need you all to help me decide how I’m going to be “wasting” my “time” for some of next “week” (that’s enough “humourous” use of scare-quotes – Ed). You see, I have these three games that have been kicking around my shelves for a while. Two of them were rescued from my local Oxfam Music in the last couple of years and the third one I’ve had for a ridiculously long time without ever getting around to playing it. So I need you lot to help me pick one. Then I’m going to install it, play it, and tell you what I thought of it.

The games are:

Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines – From 1998, the first game in the Commados series which Wikipedia tells me is a “single player real-time tactics computer game” set in Europe and Africa during World War II where I get to command a whole bunch of allied special ops-types of various allied nationalities (and one Irishman).

Full Throttle – Tim Schafer graphic adventure from 1995 released by Lucas Arts. Set in a dystopian future (a dystopian future, in a ’90s videogame? Surely some mistake!) and involving motorcycles. Reputed to be rather good.

Thief II: The Metal Age – I bought this ages ago because it was the 2000 sequel to 1998’s Thief: The Dark Project which I really liked and which remains one of the scariest videogames I’ve ever played. Not sure how well the whole “darkness” thing will work on an LCD monitor but, should you choose it, we’ll see.

If you have an opinion, let me know in the comments. Come on, make me play something!

EDIT: 22nd August, the votes are in. Thief II is the winner! Time for me to get my moss arrows out…

A couple of recs (contains fantasy lasers)

8 June, 2010

The next C64 game up for review is Tai Pan which is why it’s taking so long to appear. Tai Pan, for those who don’t know, is a complex trading game with a bit of RPG thrown in and needs a goodly amount of time spent playing it to understand and appreciate all of its ins and outs and roundabouts (so to speak) so it’s going to be a wee while before I get the thing written up. Until then, I’ve a couple of recommendations for you all.

Hurrah for Hurrican (and his massive weapon)!

First off is a homage to Turrican which came out a few years ago but which somehow passed me by. I’m still trying to decide if I like Hurrican or not. The graphics are excellent and the sound, especially the music, is very much in keeping with the original game. Unfortunately, after the excellent first level, the game starts bringing back rather too many of the original series “features” that should have been left well alone – things like floors that crumble suddenly underneath the player and other irritating traps. They’re slightly better implemented than they used to be, though (you actually seem to have a chance to avoid them this time around) and if you liked the original games then it’s still well worth a shot.

What do you call an entranceway five stories up that's also a scrolling shooter? Hydorah! Thanks.

The other, going by the name of Hydorah and which I found out about thanks to regular reader Gnome, is also a homage title; this time to Gradius and other classic scrolling shooters of the ’80s and ’90s. Early impressions are that it plays pretty-much as well as the games it’s paying tribute to although it might be a bit easy for those more used to the tougher old-school difficulty of the early Gradius titles.

So, give those a shot if you haven’t already (and let me know what you think in the comments) and hopefully I’ll get a review of Tai Pan up here soon (once I’ve actually managed to make a profit probably).

Hurrican can be found at this link here, whereas Hydorah is found here.