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Mike Read’s Computer Pop Quiz

October 1st, 2014

Written by: Rik

And you thought I was being facetious last time!

(More proper content soon, I promise, but just at the moment I only have the time and energy to dip into daft nostalgia items like this one).

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Unlike A Question of Sport (the TV show), Mike Read’s Pop Quiz isn’t still going in a revamped, modernised format (although apparently there was an attempt at bringing it back at some point in the fairly recent past) but, like A Question of Sport (the TV show), Elite did make a tie-in game of it during the late 80s (which, according to my research, was several years after the show itself had ceased its original run).

And, like A Question of Sport (the game), Mike Read’s Computer Pop Quiz is just like A Question of Sport (the game). In fact, you’d go so far to say that they’re virtually bloody identical. I mean they haven’t even bothered to change the cast of anonymous faces that you can choose from to make up your team:

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Hmm…don’t they look familiar? I suppose they have at least actually used a picture of Mike Read as the host, instead of Ian ‘Beefy’ Botham with his moustache erased. (Although the posed picture featured is slightly unnerving, almost as if they’ve used a shot from another product Mike Read promoted. The same is true of the pictures of Ian and Bill from QoS, it looks like they’ve just found random pictures of them from a sticker album or something. David Coleman looks ok though: I bet he came in and had a photo done specially for the game – what a pro.)

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The rest of the game follows suit: it’s QoS with some different backgrounds and music, and (obviously) the questions are about music rather than sport. Any potential for innovation, or variety, when it comes to each round has obviously been ignored, and don’t expect to hear any actual music except for the odd incidental jingle here and there.

As for how I fared, well, perhaps I’m not all that good with music trivia, or maybe it’s the fact that Read and – by extension, the BBC – were hopelessly out of touch with anything remotely hip or culturally significant during the 80s, meaning that many of the questions refer to a time and space now considered a depressing pop music wasteland, memories of which have since been encased in concrete and pushed to the bottom of the river of public consciousness, I don’t know, but, despite a few lucky guesses, I, um lost.

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To be honest, I only wanted to look at this one because I’d heard it was a hasty (bordering on mickey-taking) re-hash of QoS. But, you know, how dare they? How dare they destroy the memories of top-left corner moustache man, and his football knowledge, when he’s here moonlighting as some kind of rock music expert?

Next time: Sporting Triangles.

The sport is literally going on forever

September 25th, 2014

Written by: Rik

Hi there.

It’s the Ryder Cup this weekend, and in a remarkable piece of forward planning, here’s a review of a golf game: Sensible Golf.

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One of the problems with having an idea to tie in content with real life sporting events is that real life sporting events are happening constantly – as David Mitchell would say, all of them mattering to someone, somewhere, presumably. It’s become a bit of a cul-de-sac for me recently, so I’m in the mood for something different in the coming months.

Still, at least I got it finished before the event itself started this time. Good luck to both teams! (But mainly Europe, obviously).

Er…quite remarkable

September 24th, 2014

Written by: Rik

My wife sent me this list: Peculiar British Video Games You Won’t Believe Ever Existed (it was on Buzzfeed. I think they like lists on Buzzfeed).

Without sounding like some deathly-dull know-it-all retro bore, as someone both British and old enough to remember a time when a) Blockbusters and Bullseye were on TV and b) making tie-in games based on these shows didn’t seem like such a crazy idea, a few of them were actually familiar to me.

My interest was piqued sufficiently to dig out the ST emulator and revisit one of the games on the list, namely the home computer version of A Question of Sport:

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For any readers unfamiliar with the extremely long-running BBC show, its most recent incarnation is a multicoloured light-entertainment nightmare in which the former Rugby World Cup winner Matt Dawson and shifty ex-England spin bowler Phil Tufnell each lead a panel of guests through some sporting trivia while taking it in turns to shoehorn in some bad jokes or otherwise embarrassing antics to the evident discomfort of an increasingly exasperated Sue Barker.

Sue wasn’t always the host, though, and this game was released during David Coleman’s marathon stint as presenter, with Bill Beaumont and Ian ‘Beefy’ Botham team captains at the time. The format of the show hasn’t changed massively over the years, although it was a somewhat more sedate affair in the 80s, and the distinct lack of razzmatazz has certainly translated over to the home version.

After an extremely approximate rendition of the theme tune (in fact, it’s not the right melody at all but has obviously been written to sound vaguely similar, although for what reason it was changed, I don’t know – maybe they didn’t have the rights to the real music) you get to pick a captain (Bill or Ian) and two teammates (not real sportsmen and women but a random collection of digitised faces – most likely people from the developers’ office), each of whom has their own sporting area of expertise. The quiz itself then starts and you run through the various rounds from the real-life show.

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The thing that struck me most about QoS was how basic it all is: there are no graphics or sound, really, just digitised pictures and the odd spot effect. Otherwise, it’s just a load of questions about sport [well, obviously- FFG reader] delivered via a speech bubble. Even the infamous ‘What Happened Next?’ round has to be reduced to a text description of a scenario and a number of possibilities. It seems odd now that the strength of the brand alone was strong enough to carry such a thin product.

It wasn’t a great favourite in our house, with the focus on sport excluding anyone who didn’t really like, er, sport, and the trivia game of choice was the computer version of Trivial Pursuit. Still, I do have some memories of playing against my Dad, who constantly expressed irritation at the headache-inducing shimmering of the portraits in 16-colour mode (an effect sadly lost in the screenshots here) and my Uncle, who to this day has never owned a computer but seemed to enjoy it at the time (perhaps he was just humouring his nephew).

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With a game lasting only 20 minutes or so, I sneaked in a quick go earlier this week, and despite my efforts to load the questions in my favour by selecting Ian as captain and guests with football and cricket as their areas of expertise, it turns out my knowledge of 80s sport wasn’t sufficiently deep to secure a win. I always suspected that there weren’t many questions, and even in a single go it seemed that the same pool of multiple choice answers were re-used (eg two different questions on horse racing had the same four options as answers, in the same order). Rugby league and union have also been conflated into a single category – heresy!

Although they obviously have a limited shelf life, I do enjoy this kind of game, and revisiting this one reminds me that I once had a copy of Sky Sports Football Quiz, which a friend bought for me as a half joke, either because I made a comment about the cynical marketing and packaging of the game which prominently featured Kirsty Gallacher, or I made a joke about wanting the game because of that marketing (whatever the reason, I actually wouldn’t have bought it myself, honest.)

Actually…I say ‘once had a copy of’, do I still….? *rummages around in box of old crap*

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Yes!!! Oh, it’s for the PSX. I forgot about that.

Next time: Mike Read’s Pop Quiz.

look at you, hacker

September 24th, 2014

Written by: Stoo

System Shock was, for me, the greatest of the early first-person shooters. Known as the “Thinking Man’s Doom” it was slower paced than most of its peers, with more emphasis on atmosphere, story and exploration. Some of my fondest 90s gaming memories are of prowling around Citadel Station’s executive deck and hangar bays, ion rifle at the ready, listening out for the sinister babblings of murderous cyborgs.

Via Rock Paper Shotgun I recently learned of Citadel, a remake using the Darkplaces engine. Of the various new features on offer, one that immediately stood out to me was an improved set of controls. Shock had several great features but, to be frank, its control setup wasn’t amongst them. It used a mouse pointer to interact with the world, but not to change the direction in which you were looking, which was rather clunky. It also didn’t let you remap the keys. So bringing it closer to something like modern Mouselook would be very welcome, and would make the game rather more accessible to those who might have found it frustrating before.

Looking on the graphics side, in some ways the creator is keeping it pretty retro, sticking to the original textures. He mentions improving the lighting, but the biggest change is going to be swapping the old sprites for 3D models. I’m slightly concerned this won’t fit aesthetically, somehow, but that could be nostalgia talking. Maybe proper 3D enemies will be more dynamic and convincing?

So I’m uncertain on some counts, but also keen just to see what Shock is like when turning a corner and looking up at the ceiling doesn’t feel like working the controls of some sort of clumsy robot. It’s definitely worth giving a chance, anyway. The target release date is 23rd December, which sounds rather optimistic to me, but best of luck to the guy. Hopefully I’ll be able to report back here with some comments.

(Oh, also he plans on adding multiplayer. Which is something we tend to overlook here, sorry. No idea how that would work out).

The Serpent’s Curse

September 12th, 2014

Written by: Rik

I’m a bit behind with FFG stuff at the moment after my holiday (lovely, thank you) but new content is on its way soon. In the meantime, I’ve been playing a bit of Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse on my Android tablet. I’ve only finished the first part, but if they’re going to break the game in two, then I think it’s fair enough to share some thoughts on it without getting through the second.

It’s been interesting to be able to play it so soon after completing my write up of its predecessor. There are loads of good and interesting reasons for not leaving a big gap between games in a series from a review point of view, but even if they’re old and it’s possible to do so, I tend to fancy a change and, before I know it, a couple of years have passed and the memories suddenly don’t seem so fresh.

As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t feel particularly upset by the series’ move to 3D, but when presented with the lovely visuals on offer here, it does seem, in retrospect, a bit silly that it was ever deemed necessary. Broken Sword 5 looks great, and so do George and Nico, with their features – and dress-sense – finally returned to something like their former glory.

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The Paris setting also seems appropriate somehow. Even if could be seen as a cynical move designed to evoke memories of the earlier games, it’s a very effective one. I guess Nico does live in Paris, although what exactly George is doing there isn’t really adequately explained: he’s undergone another career change, working as an art insurance assessor, which just happens to mean that his and Nico’s paths cross again.

The locations feel a lot less empty than in The Angel of Death (even though they aren’t) and the jolly, cartoon-style presentation also makes the occasionally farcical moment much more palatable. (I didn’t even mind the pantomime version of London that features here.)

The difficulty level has been kept pleasantly low, providing the odd head-scratcher but nothing too bizarre. The script also seems better too, with fewer cringe-inducing moments from Stobbart, in particular.

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On the negative side, the story is again tricky to follow, with plenty of memorable individual moments but nothing that engages you to the extent that you’re ever really concerned about getting to the end and finding out what happens. Plus, there are some odd pauses in animation and speech at times that take some of the polish off and make things seem rather stilted.

Still, so far I rather like it. In fact, I think it has the potential to be the strongest game in the series. But I haven’t played the second part yet, and there have been enough uneven moments in previous Broken Sword games to caution me against getting carried away.

More indie games

August 23rd, 2014

Written by: Stoo

You know, I’m not above making the odd wisecrack about the indie gaming scene. I might say it’s populated by hipsters churning out titles with faux-retro graphics, yet more physics platformers and pretentious arty adventures where gameplay basically amounts to “click to continue”. This, however, is unkind of me! I should feel bad about being so snarky. The Indies do in fact do valuable work in producing innovative and imaginative games. That’s something we need as mainstream AAA stuff concentrates ever more on generic war shooters, MMOs and, I dunno, lots of Asassins Creeds?

So I thought I should take this time, in between my retro gaming adventures, to tell you of a couple of great indie games I’ve played lately. Both, for the record, on an android tablet.

One is Monument Valley, in which you navigate Princess Ida around a series of towers and other large structures. Various parts of the towers must be shifted and rotated to give her a clear path. The novel feature here is use of optical illusions and impossible level geometry, based on the sort of screwing around with perspective you can do when drawing a 3D space on a flat screen. It’s all a bit like walking around an MC Escher drawing. You can freely rotate your view of each level and, for example if it looks like two platforms are touching, then they are and you can walk across. Even if when looked at from another angle you know they’re nowhere near each other.

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It’s a very short and easy game; none of the puzzles are that difficult and there aren’t many levels either. Still, it’s all quite charming and relaxing. The artwork is abstract, lending the monuments a rather mysterious air. Sound, both ambient and little chords that play as you take actions, is used effectively to provide a soothing ambience. The only enemies are crows that just squawk and make a minor nuisance of itself. The game even manages to somehow make you feel attached to what’s basically a friendly chunk of Masonry. So altogether, a wonderful way to relax for an evening. Also at £2.50 I can hardly complain if it doesn’t keep me occupied for hours.

Also there’s The Room. This one is based around a series of wooden chests and boxes, each with multiple locks and elaborate mechanisms built in. Your goal is simply to get to the heart of each box. So you might be aligning sliding pieces on a panel, rotating dials to certain positions, or finding a key in a hidden compartment and trying to figure out where it goes. As you open one part of the box, some new puzzle is revealed. The interface maps finger movements to actions on the screen in an intuitive manner, so that you can easily open panels, push parts into place and so on.

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It’s the sort of thing where you have to be quite thorough, checking each part of the box for anything that can be interacted with. It’s not too frustrating though, just as long as you take the time to carefully check the boxes over from each side and work methodically. Ultimately it’s all quite satisfying when you figure something out, and hear the whirring noises as another part of the box unlocks.

Apart from the mechanisms being fascinating to fathom out, the game is also rather atmospheric. To begin with it’s a matter of the wood and brass chests and the dark, dusty rooms in which they sit. You can almost smell the varnish, and feel the aged oak under your fingers. There’s a sense of it all being rather old and forgotten, locked away in a basement for years.

Things then become even more mysterious when you put together a special eyepiece. This, when worn casts everything into shadow but also shows hidden markings such as fingerprints and occult-looking runes. This helps with certain puzzles, but also heigtens the feeling of something odd going on.

Then there’s the game’s backstory, which progresses through a series of handwritten note secreted around the boxes. Apparently the writer stumbled across a fifth Classical Element (ie to go with fire\earth\air\water). Honestly this aspect is kind of tacked on, but apparently the note writer was pretty scared of what he had discovered, and perhaps that’s why the boxes are so elaborate, to hide his findings. It probably also explains the eyepiece. So the story lends an extra layer of creepiness to the proceedings, as you follow the mysterious scientist down a path to something very strange.

Honestly I’m not sure that, at the end, I really knew much more about what’s going on than when I started. Then again, refraining from explaining too much is part of how the game becomes kind of unsettling. Your imagination is left to speculate in the gaps as to what exactly is going on, but you know whatever the truth is, it’s probably going to be disturbing. If that sounds inadequate and we still want more answers then, well, I’m guessing the sequel tells us a bit more.

If I have another criticism it would be that again the game isn’t especially long. However, it’s again cheap! So, a thumbs up to both games. Keep it up, industrious indie guys. Anyone reading, do feel free to comment and let us know of any other puzzles or adventures that are inexpensive and not too frustratingly difficult.

Touch My Tissue IV: “Did I show you my tissue?”

August 17th, 2014

Written by: Rik

Hello there.

From boldly going where no-one has gone before, I’m back on more familiar territory today, with the fourth game in the Broken Sword series: The Angel of Death.

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Captains log stardate 39395: The away team sucks. They’re all fired.

August 10th, 2014

Written by: Stoo

Hello everyone. We’re quite fond of our discussion pieces; they prompt us to try games we might not have otherwise noticed, they let us bounce ideas off each other and they also remind us is an amusing manner that we’re frequently actually pretty bad at videogames. Even though we spend a lot of time playing videogames. And we are, here, writing on a blog about videogames.

So here’s our latest offering: Star Trek: Away Team.

This beat is Mastertronic

August 7th, 2014

Written by: Rik

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Last week budget specialists Mastertronic announced they were moving away from the physical, retail market to focus on digital distribution. Essentially, this means the end of a number of boxed budget lines, including one of my own favourites, Sold Out.

I guess such a move is hardly surprising in the world of Steam and GOG megasales, and the bare bones, disc-only nature of the Sold Out releases mean that they don’t even have any appeal to collectors of boxed games who tend to want the original packaging, manual etc. (Incidentally, I remember the Replay line of budget games just having a yellow sleeve over the original packaging which you could remove and discard, and then pretend you paid full price, but I think they gave up on this after a while).

It is rather sad though for the generation of UK gamers who fondly recall impetuously taking advantage of the ongoing 3 for £10 deals (usually there was only one or two that you actually wanted, and you’d take a punt on something else to round out the deal). If the shop you were in didn’t have what you wanted, you could get the same deal ordering from Mastertronic direct.

It was great, particularly for the young, the hard-up, and the cheapskate – or anyone saddled with old technology, for whatever reason – for whom it gave an opportunity to sample ageing greats or unfairly-ignored games. Even as Sold Out titles were themselves discontinued, their re-release ensured a plentiful supply of second hand copies that could be snapped up on eBay for a reasonable price.

Going back further than that, of course, Mastertronic were masters of the 8-bit budget scene, offering games at a £1.99 price point, some of which were remarkably good despite never having been released previously (budget games weren’t always just old games for cheap, you know).

Are indie games the new budget games? What does the future hold for physical media? Who knows? Not me. All I want to offer now is a hearty thanks and farewell to the boxed budget title – it’s certainly given me a lot of gaming over the years – as well as the best of luck to the guys at Mastertronic themselves.

Favourite game intros: part deux

July 26th, 2014

Written by: Rik

Ok, so here I am shamelessly copying Stoo and looking back at some of my favourite game intros. I might just put a break in for those of you on the front page though, so all these embedded videos don’t slow the down site… *picks up hammer and chisel*
Favourite game intros: part deux continued »