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I hate you, harpy witches

August 12th, 2015

Written by: Stoo

Today’s lineup of RPG monsters that have been giving me grief are from Might and Magic 6.

disclaimer: it’s possible that my problem was simply attempting to fight some of these when my party was a bit under-levelled. It’s also possible that I’m bad at RPGs.

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Harpy Witches
These ladies manage to be obnoxious in two different ways. First up, they can cast curse on your party. This spell hits all four of your guys at once, and doesn’t appear to need to be aimed. It just instantly applies and so can’t be dodged. Since the harpies are often airborne, you may not even notice they are there until there’s a sudden blippy noise and a blue flash on your character portraits.
Once cursed, the combat effectiveness of your heroes is significantly reduced. They miss more often with their attacks, and spells have a high chance of failing. So the fireballs are fizzling and they’re shooting arrows randomly into the air as the harpies close for the kill.
There’s a remove curse spell, sure. But if you’re up against several harpies at once, they’ll just re-curse you all, several times over. BLIP BLIP BLIP. So decursing is only really viable if you can run away and then keep running and skirmishing.
Once in melee range, the harpies are not particularly hard hitting. However, each attack has a small chance of prematurely aging your characters. I’m not sure exactly what effect that has, but it’s probably not good, and I’ve not yet found any sort of reverse-aging spell. I don’t particularly want my guys getting knocked into middle age whilst milling around stabbing themselves in the feet.
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Fire Archers
A more straightforward problem, these ladies launch exploding arrows. They are, effectively, carrying rocket launchers. That’s fantastic news, apparently we’re playing Doom now.
The lesson I’ve painfully learned is that high-end enemies with projectile and spell attacks are a lot tougher to deal with than melee-only types. Turn-based mode makes you highly vulnerable as your party becomes a bunch of stationary targets. So I have to go over to the chaotic mess that is realtime combat, where it’s much harder to co-ordinate your actions. I found myself using the most ridiculous tactic of running in erratic circles, to throw off their target-tracking, whilst stabbing the “attack” button every time my characters were ready to use their own bows and spells.
source: crpaddict.blogspot.co.uk

source: crpaddict.blogspot.co.uk

Evil Eye
Good grief. Welcome to ranged-enemy hell. They bomb the hell out of you with elemental spells that also cause secondary effects like sleep or fear. Also you might expect a magic-based floaty head monster to be balanced by physical frailty, but the weakest version has as many hitpoints as a heavyweight like a dwarf lord or ogre chieftain. I’m going to come back and try this dungeon again later.
Just so this item isn’t entirely me complaining, here’s an enemy that is awesome!
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Lizard Wizard

I like these guys just ‘cos they sound like some sort of 70s prog rock band. They’re not especially challenging, most likely because off the vast amounts of LSD they’re taking, and also they’re more concerned with writing some 19 minute songs for their next concept album.

Need for Speed: The Mess

August 2nd, 2015

Written by: Rik

So, armed with a new computer, and with a recent Need for Speed review in the bank, I decided to check out some more recent entries in the series.

Following the relative disappointment of Carbon, EA Black Box, the team responsible for NFS games since Underground (on PC at least: they also did the good version of Hot Pursuit 2 on PS2 in 2002 – the PC version was developed by a different team and, by all accounts, wasn’t so great) were given two more bites at the cherry. Pro Street was derided as a dull track based racer, while Undercover’s attempts to return to the ‘roots’ of Underground and Most Wanted were considered largely unsuccessful. (Disclaimer: I haven’t played either – one day FFG may have its own opinions to offer, but for now, we’re only repeating those read elsewhere.)

I guess Michael Bay would have liked this bit.

I guess Michael Bay would have liked this bit.

Anyway, the license passed to other hands for a couple of years while Black Box worked on The Run, the 2011 instalment of NFS. The concept – a coast to coast race on the open roads of the USA – was very appealing to me, and although I was put off at the time by slightly smelly reviews, I was tempted back by cheap copies several years after the fact (it was ever thus).

As a kid, films like Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run were among my favourites, while Test Drive 2 and the original Need for Speed were the kind of games that promised something similar (within the limitations of the time). Despite technological advances, though, there has never really been such a thing as a great long-haul racer, with the low key charms of Euro Truck Simulator 2 being the closest we’ve come to a driving game that revels in the experience of getting from A to B.

The Run does look very nice, and it's not entirely without thrills - this ice-dodging section is particularly good.

The Run does look very nice, and it’s not entirely without thrills – this ice-dodging section is particularly good.

Hopes that The Run might be that game are soon undermined by a host of obvious flaws, including – but not limited to – a dreadful and somewhat underdeveloped plot, an unsympathetic main character, a desire to combine missions and scripted gameplay with the open road, and a misguided focus on Hollywood set pieces at the expense of open world driving.

You are Jack, a guy who – as far as we can tell – is in some financial trouble that appears to be entirely of his own making. Instead of being deservedly murdered by Chicago mobsters, he is instead bailed out by a woman called Sam – who, for reasons unknown, helps him enter a race called The Run, the prize money for which could ease his woes, in exchange for a significant cut.


Jack is the kind of dickhead EA think people playing the game would like to be.

Jack is the kind of dickhead EA think people playing the game would like to be.

Depending on your point of view, it’s either deliberately minimalist, or they didn’t have time to finish it. There was a big song and dance about Michael Bay’s involvement (although I think he just directed a trailer) and also regarding the inclusion of out-of-car sections using QTEs, so it’s a surprise that there’s so little to it, story-wise.

The main problem I have with the game is that you have to drive flat out all the time to stay ahead of opponents and – when they appear – the police. Inevitably, you’ll crash or go off road multiple times and then the game force-resets you back to a checkpoint, which sort of undermines the free-wheeling spirit of a drive on the open road. Also, there are action movie bits where you have to avoid gunfire and explosions – but, unlike a movie, you fuck it up several times because you don’t know what’s going to happen.

The Run is short, and your time (roughly 2 hours) is logged, implying that repeat plays are encouraged. Which would be fine if this wasn’t such a choreographed, rubber band experience in the first place. A slightly more realistic driving model, with more emphasis on being careful, some evident love for the vehicles available (like the original NFS or Test Drive Unlimited) and abandoning the story and associated set pieces altogether would all make this a more appealing proposition.

But, as it is, it’s a bit like watching a slightly crap film again – not too demanding in terms of energy and time commitment – but still not something you want to be doing.

warriors of ultramar

July 28th, 2015

Written by: Stoo

Gog have recently added to their lineup a couple of games based on the famous tabletop scifi wargame, Warhammer 40k. Which is great for those of us who feel commanding some space marines against the enemies of the Imperium, but never got around to finding a gaming club. Or can’t paint to save our lives. Or don’t particularly want to be hanging around a Games Workshop full of 12 year olds.

First up there’s Chaos Gate. It handles a bit like the old X-Com games: turn based, with each character allocated a certain amount of action points to move, shoot, reload etc. Your forces in each battle consist of a few squads of marines, facing off against their traitorous Chaos-worshipping counterparts.

I recall finding it a bit slow to start off with, largely due to the weedy standard weapons the marines carry. If you stick with it though, more interesting options are wheeled out. Like the Assault Marines who charge around the battlefield on jetpacks, waving axes and pistols. You also get Librarians which basically Wizards. Genetically engineered super-soldier wizards that is, because 40k rejoices in the outlandishly ridiculous. Also the Terminators, who wear even huger armour than regular huge space marine armour and are armed with a mix of shockingly powerful Gatling guns and giant hammers.

(Some users have reported issues with Chaos Gate crashing, see some advice from gog here).

Then there’s Final Liberation, also turn based but based on the spin-off game Epic, which depicts warfare on a much larger scale. So you have tanks, artillery and even Titans (which is what 40k calls giant mecha). This one pits the armies of the imperium against the green horde of the Orks. I recall it can be pretty challenging, unless you save-scum the hell out of it (who would ever do such a thing), as you have to constantly push forward to capture objectives to win a battle. Can’t just sit back and shoot, despite your massed ranks of heavy guns. Close combat is also a consideration – Orks on bikes don’t look like much at this scale, but they’ll do horrible things to tanks up close.

I have a certain fondness for the full-motion-video cutscenes, which are basically what you’d get if you took your local amateur dramatics society, dressed them up in 40k outfits and put them on top of late-90s CG. So basically a fan-film, I guess. I mock a bit, but they’re honestly more enjoyable to watch than that terrible CG space-marine movie released a few years ago.

There’s also Shadow of the Horned Rat , which is based on 40k’s stablemate, Warhammer fantasy battle. So instead of sci-fi it’s about pikemen and dwarves with crossbows fighting against rat-men and goblins. I’ve never played this one so can’t comment, other than to say it looks like it’s realtime. It’s also having icrashing problems, so might want to hold off until gog find a fix.

Status update

July 24th, 2015

Written by: Stoo

Hello everyone. Over the past few months you may have noticed this site going down for days at a time. This was down to some sort of recurring problem with the servers at our host Parcom.

So we’ve now moved to another host. Let us know if you encounter any problems! I think all the code and content has transferred successfully. I’m slightly concerned about some pages taking a while to load – but upon further thought that may not be a new issue. There are one or two clunky functions I added to the code, back when we first launched this version of the site a few years ago,  that could be slowing it down.

Frame rate woes

July 15th, 2015

Written by: Rik

The existence of this site, and my ongoing contribution to it, would suggest minimal enthusiasm for the latest gaming technology. Eventually, however, when a five year old game bought from a Steam sale for a few quid is downloaded and launched with moderate excitement, only for frame rates to fall noticeably below a fairly liberal view of what might be considered acceptable, one considers again just how long it takes the dusty old beast to boot up these days, recalls the time that the DVD drive woke up the neighbours, and reasons that it probably is time for an upgrade.

And what better way to test out the new machine than with the very game that prompted its acquisition? As I fired it up, however, excitement once again turned to disappointment, and then, to rage, as impatient tinkering with various settings failed to being about any significant improvement in performance. “The bloody thing ran better on my old machine!” I exclaimed aloud, to no-one in particular.

[It turned out, however, that Rik from the famous gaming website A Force for Good had plugged the monitor into his new PC’s on-board graphics socket instead of the DVI input on the 2GB card. It ran ok after that.]

The whole thing gave me an insight into the travails of the modern gamer, whose difficulties with recent AAA titles such as (checks internet) The Witcher 3 and Batman: Arkham Knight have been well documented. Without trivializing the struggles of frustrated Batmen everywhere, though, it did make me think back to the days when running your game on the minimum spec PC meant you were pretty much guaranteed a visual experience entirely at odds with the one suggested by magazine previews and the back of the game box.

While replaying Doom recently, a combination of its (admirable) ongoing capacity to scare and my own shattered nerves caused me to inadvertently stab at a random key which made the game world more blocky. Yes: more blocky, even, than standard VGA. This is what turning the detail down meant in those days. Adjusting the size of the game window was another option for FPS fans with a 386, with the smallest seeming unfeasible even for the most desperate of gamers.

For a certain generation, the prospect of running racing games in ‘high-res’ SVGA (640×400 for you youngsters) at anything approaching a playable speed was an impossible dream. Screamer’s SVGA mode remained untouched until people started revisiting it years later in the DOSBox era, at which point a number of stability issues were uncovered. Most of the time, though, VGA was acceptable, and playable enough for you to avoid cursing the publisher’s minimum requirements claims as bare-faced lies.

The PC port of Wipeout, though, was a notable exception. Already hamstrung by a control scheme that required a joypad with a number of buttons that exceeded what was actually possible on PC at the time and missing the licensed music of the console version, to even run it in low res fuzziness required a seriously hefty machine. For those on the minimum spec, though, an acceptable speed was accomplished only through significant sacrifice:

Needless to say, this wasn’t what I had in mind when I bought the game.

back to the Phobos Anomaly

July 13th, 2015

Written by: Stoo

Rik’s recent review of Doom prompted me to have a look at Doom Reborn, a mod for Doom 3 that recreates the levels of the first two games.

Doom 3 handled very differently to those predecessors – it was all about creeping around cramped corridors waiting for a demon to go BOO and leap out of a trapdoor at you. That’s largely a matter of level design though. I’m happy to say that the pacing of the combat here in Doom Reborn feels reasonably true to the originals. You have the more open levels, and also the running speed has been dialled up to Doom levels, which was rather ridiculously high when you think about it. Yet that Olympic sprinter-level motion is a key part of the shootouts in Doom – a rhythm of circle strafing enemies, or diving in and out of cover to avoid incoming fireballs.


Couple of observations – you can jump, which obviously wasn’t an option in the old days. Some windows now have an invisible barrier to stop you taking shortcuts around a map. Also, the basic soldiers do some sort of little sideways commando roll, for some reason.

The mod is in pre-beta and as such is still awaiting some features. For example you can’t actually save your game. Also it doesn’t yet support widescreen resolutions. Given this is being put together by some guy in his spare time, I suppose we shouldn’t be too demanding.

Some people, I’m sure would rather play one of the Doom source ports like Brutal Doom – that is, an upgraded version of that original engine. Or they might even prefer the pure unadulterated Doom as played in 1993 (which I think is what Rik went for). It’s a matter of personal preference. I do wonder that, if we’re going to play modernised Doom, it should be properly modernised with a current iD engine, and not something that is itself now a decade old. Still, it can’t hurt to have options when revisiting as essential a classic of gaming as Doom.

So I’ll continue to keep an eye on this mod. Although I do wish they’d try and recreate the original skybox texture. I miss those gloomy, foreboding mountains.

No-one likes the tuna here, asshole

June 28th, 2015

Written by: Rik

Hello there.

We return to the Need for Speed series for today’s review, of the 2006 instalment, Need for Speed: Carbon.


Strike Force Centauri

June 26th, 2015

Written by: Stoo

Terra Nova is on gog.com! A fantastic game that, as I recall, sadly went largely un-noticed and was a commercial failure. It really deserved greater success. My writeup from the elder days of this site is here.

It’s a sci-fi tactical first person shooter that puts you in command of a squad of elite soldiers. It also puts you in a suit of Space-Marine style power armour, loaded with lasers, missile launchers, sensor drones and rocket boots. The controls, whilst a bit clumsy by modern standards, actually work quite well with the gadgetry to give the game a bit of a hybrid feel, between shooter and one of the old big-robot games like Mechwarrior.

It also had a graphics engine that was rather advanced for the time – for example huge expanses of textured terrain with no fogging. Also, while it predates the use of 3d models for characters, each is built out of several jointed sprites, which at least adds a bit of realism and flexibility to the animation.

I recall I used to go charging madly amongst enemies using the defensive force field and madly firing short-ranged lasers to try and cut them down. There are probably more clever tactics available, especially if you use your squad properly. Other fond memories include rampant use of the rocket boots whenever in serious trouble. Also there are even one or two sneaky-stealthy levels where you’re in a more lightweight suit of armour on a recon mission.

Between missions there are a bunch of FMV cutscenes featuring out-of-work actors. Something about a remote colony fending off an earth-based dictatorship, and casting you as Commander New Guy in charge of the squad. They’re rather amateurish, but move the story along at least. We’re talking early 90s, back in the days when lots of video seemed like a good idea to make use of all that space on the CD.

So, bad acting aside, if this sort of your game is your thing at all, this is an oldie I thoroughly recommend.

Knee-Deep in the Dead

June 13th, 2015

Written by: Rik

Well, it took us long enough, but we finally got around to taking a look at Doom.

On a site as low-key as this one, it’s probably over-stating a case to call anything ‘much-requested’ or ‘long-awaited’, but in the context of FFG history, a very old request and a number of half-hearted murmerings in the comments sections of equally ancient blog posts does represent a significant level of anticipation.

*adopts movie-trailer voice* But now…the wait…is over.


God dammit, Antarans

June 4th, 2015

Written by: Stoo

Thanks to the combined powers of laziness and convenient digital purchases have, I’ve ended up buying games on gog that I already own. Because oldies on sale cost less than I’d spend on my lunch, and I can’t remember where the original CDs are stashed.

So that’s how I’ve ended up playing master of Orion 2 again, which was my favourite of the old 4X strategy games. Being the “ffg strategy guy” I am of course an expert of this game and can offer much advice on matters such as production queues and ship design…

haha who am I kidding. Here’s my strategy: 1: get to Orion before anyone else: 2: build ships with heavy deathrays 3: hope the Psilons don’t already have a fleet of 200 Doom Stars.

Bloody Psilons. Anyway though, I was sat down at a new game, colonising a few planets, building factories. Hoping my one rickety tin-can cruiser didn’t actually have to fight anything. Then I heard that dreaded music, and saw a familiar “through the gateway” cinematic.

oh, crap

oh, crap

Periodically, the game will have Antarans appear and attack someone. These guys work differently from all the other races (player or computer controlled). They don’t appear to control any planets of their own, they just pop up out of nowhere, raid a planet, then if not defeated they disappear. By late in the game they’re not a a maor problem, but early on they can pose a critical threat. Their technology is way ahead of anyone else’s. Their ships are loaded with devastating weaponry. They laugh at your pathetic cruisers and fusion beams.

Or they laugh at mine, anyway. Do my ship designs suck? Write in and let me know. But I find they stand up about as usefully as I would personally in a fight with Vin Diesel. I send them hurtling in to try and do some small amount of damage, then rely on fixed defenses and hope. If the attacking fleet is small, I might just come away unscathed. If my colony is large enough, there may still be something standing in the case of a defeat. Otherwise, it’ll probably razed to the ground.

There’s always a brief moment of panic and hope when you first hear the wooshing noise. Who are the Antarans going for? If it’s you, a moment of sorrow or at best grim resignation. Time to decide if making a stand is worthwhile, or if you’ll just be picking up the pieces after the Antarans are done. If it’s one of the other races, there’s a monumental sigh of relief. You’re safe and one of your rivals, at very least, has taken heavy damage to one of their colonies. and you have a few dozen turns before this all happens again.

Several attacks in a row can feel like your empire is being pulled apart one colony at a time. It’s rather demoralising. Now you can, before a game, totally switch off the Antarans. However, if they are present, so is planet Orion. That’s the one with the fancy technology that normally can’t be researched. Such as deathrays, and I do enjoy purple beams of destruction that make bad guys go kaboom. So I always keep the option on, even though it makes the early game a bit more tense.

The funny thing is, it also makes the endgame potentially easier. You do eventually get the chance to attack the hidden Antaran world, and the forces protecting it are, by this point in the game, underwhelming in strength. If you conquer it, you win the game, regardless of the status of the rest of the galaxy. Also though, the other conventional races can go a bit crazy, building monstrously huge fleets. Rows, and rows of massive warships, filling the battle screen. I think that’s down to a combination of hard-mode bonuses to AI players, and me taking too long to go on the offensive. I’m not sure the developers even intended enemy fleets to get that big, as I’m sure I recall error messages popping up saying the game engine had hit a hard limit on how many ships it could throw around.

So Antara becomes an easy back door to victory, albeit one that feels a bit of a cheat.