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Review: The Blackwell Epiphany

January 8th, 2019

Written by: Rik

Hi there.

As you may know, we’ve been covering Wadjet Eye’s Blackwell games over the last few months or so. Although this final chapter was released as recently as 2014, we didn’t want to delay our review because of our own entirely self-defined and arbitrary rules on how old games need to be to qualify for coverage.

So, worry not: here come the very important opinions of the respected gaming site A Force for Good regarding The Blackwell Epiphany.

FFG in 2018

January 5th, 2019

Written by: Rik

Happy New Year to you all!

Back by overwhelming popular demand (ok maybe not), here’s the return of our once-regular feature in which we take a quick look back at what happened on FFG over the last 12 months.

My recollection is that I didn’t do one of these last year because our productivity in terms of reviews didn’t really seem to warrant a retrospective any more, and that I’d been hitting the old football games particularly hard so any summary wouldn’t have made for especially varied or engaging reading. But looking back, I don’t think either of those things particularly hold true…so perhaps I forgot, couldn’t be bothered or was too distressed at the thought of the Christmas break ending.

Anyway, these days, for better or worse, we have more in terms of other blog posts and features that supplement the traditional diet of reviews, and so content is still fairly regular at least, even if we can’t cover as many old games as we used to be able to.

Stoo led the way in the evolution of our old blog from insubstantial throwaway thoughts to more considered pieces, and in recent years we’ve managed to produce a few that possibly deserved greater prominence on the site. To that end, this year we added our Best of the Blog page, replacing our dusty old General Articles section, which had remained stagnant, with only a handful of extremely ancient features, since some point in 2006.

One thing I found out in 2018: someone is still selling Zone Raiders for money.

One of my colleague’s regular features, Moments in Gaming, began last year but continued well into 2018. I was inspired to contribute a few entries of my own before realising that he’s spent considerably more time playing good and memorable games than I have, instead of mucking about about with lowbrow street-racing fare and deservedly forgotten footy titles. Inspired by MOG (as we shall never again call it), we opened the much more Rik-appropriate Vault of Regret, which allowed me to at least indulge in some whingeing about poor choices made over the years. And for Stoo to finally vent his frustrations with regard to Operation Flashpoint

The other big FFG news for 2018 was the introduction of our mobile site. It had been something we’d talked about for a long time, but we possibly put off doing anything on account of it possibly being too complicated to do properly without breaking the main site. I think it’s fair to say, although I didn’t do any of the technical stuff myself, that the whole process was easier and more straightforward than either of us anticipated.

As for the reviews, I personally made more of an effort to stick to the brief of the site as it first existed, in terms of covering games that made some sort of a positive impact on me. In some cases that meant stretching into the newer end of our permitted timespan, although I like to think that there was always at least a link to the old days, be it to a franchise that we’ve followed for some time, in the case of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, an echo of the overambitious interactive movies of the 90s as with L.A. Noire, or a reminder that adventure games with blocky graphics can be totally awesome and brilliant from Dave Gilbert’s Blackwell series.

NFS: Hot Pursuit 2010 – one of my favourite games from this year.

(I appreciate that might sound like a bit of a tenuous excuse for covering newer titles…but we’ve always tended to mix the proper oldies with coverage of ‘games from a few years ago’. In all honesty I think we might need to admit that we’ve reached the stage where we’re almost totally out of touch with the newest stuff in modern gaming and are increasingly likely to focus our interests on titles that at least have some connection to something we already know anyway, boring and middle-aged as that may sound. Perhaps revisiting the mission statement is something we should put on the to-do list for this year).

And there was older stuff, too. Stoo brought us some more authentic retro coverage, making good on our oft-repeated promise to ‘come back to one of the Sierra series at some point’ by ploughing through Space Quest III, and adding a review of possibly our first ever CGA-only title, Monuments of Mars.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed revisiting Apogee’s attempt at Super Mario Kart, Wacky Wheels, while playing Cricket 96 again took me back to a time where I wasted far too much time trying to extract maximum fun from a flawed cricket game instead of doing something more worthwhile (by recreating that exact same experience more than 20 years later).

Stoo was more kindly disposed towards Roger Wilco et al than I might have been.

Who knows what the future holds, but on reflection 2018 seemed like a relatively healthy one for FFG in terms of developing the site and, by our relatively modest standards, keeping up with regular content. As ever, thanks for reading, and we wish you all the best for the year ahead.

A little beige box

December 29th, 2018

Written by: Stoo

Since the release of the NES classic edition, we’ve seen numerous retro-consoles, all following the same basic idea. A tiny device, dedicated to and shaped just like a classic console or computer of yesteryear, preloaded with a selection of games. So far the SNES, Megadrive/Genesis, C64 and Playstation have all gotten the retro treatment, also the Neo Geo (I never understood what that was, so subtract 50 points from my geek score).

I suppose it was inevitable, then, that someone would try and get the PC onto the bandwagon. Behold the PC Classic:

You might think we should be all fired up about this. It’s a neat little box that you can plug into the TV, and it outputs classic PC games packed full of adlib music and pixelly graphics. Surely it can provide hours of nostalgic fun playing Doom and Commander Keen. It’s even the right shade of beige.

In fact last year we posted a couple of articles few articles speculating about the games we would put a hypothetical MS-Dos box, were it ever to exist. Now that concept is going to become a reality (if the Kickstarter works out) so I guess I should have my wallet on standby?

Yet I’m actually not feeling particularly enthused.

Let’s quickly recap the appeal of retro consoles: They’re novel little tributes to gaming machines of yesteryear. They make classic games from those systems instantly accessible, with none of the fuss of setting up emulators or hunting dodgy websites for illegal ROMs. They are literally plug and play devices, an instant blast of nostalgia for people with limited time.

Many MS DOS games, however, are already easy to play in a way that’s totally above board. You simply buy them from Gog.com, where they usually retail for $10 or less. They come bundled up with dosbox, and running them on windows 10 is (usually) no more trouble than playing a modern PC game.

That just leaves the charm of having a recreation of a classic device, and I’m not sure that’s enough for me. I’m not so attached to 90s beige that I want it adorning a separate emulation box, yet another gadget plugged into the TV. If I did want a “classic PC” I’d forsake the ease-of-use criteria, and instead hunt ebay for an actual 386, for the sake of preserving original hardware. (not that I have room in the house for such folly).

This doesn’t mean I’m about to disown our previous articles. For one thing, at the time I floated the idea of using a Raspberry Pi to build a Mini PC. I’ll stand by that because the Pi is a wonderfully versatile device that can be put to many different uses; it’s not a rather unnecessary piece of single-purpose hardware.

Also, our interest in idea of a PC Classic was mostly about the games we would put on it, so the hardware implementation is rather secondary. Probably the best way to do it would be to forget hardware entirely, and simply release a bundle on gog.com. Call it “best of the PC 1990-1995” or something similar, stick a handy front-end on it, price it attractively. That’s all that’s required.

That said, let’s try and look at this from a more positive angle. I’ve noticed it has an sd card slot, allowing users to add more games. That’s a welcome sight when other retro consoles are often stuck with whatever comes preloaded (unless you hack them). Now if you could boot this thing to a DOS prompt, and basically just use it as if it’s an actual PC, that would also add to the feeling of authenticity.

Also, even I don’t see a use for it myself, it could still be a gateway to classic games like Doom for more casual users. So I will at least keep an eye on further developments; I’ll report back when we know what games are included.

Hey, we could try and blag a free unit if we sign up on the website as an “infuencer”. We’re very influential.

Review: The Blackwell Deception

December 20th, 2018

Written by: Rik

Hi there.

Tonight we continue our look at the Blackwell series, with a review of the fourth game: The Blackwell Deception.

There’s a possibility of one or two more bits and pieces before 2018 is over. But these things often take longer than we might like.

Wishing you all the very best for Christmas and the festive season.

Review: OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast

December 9th, 2018

Written by: Rik

Hello there.

My friend and colleague has been bringing us coverage of some proper oldies recently – do check out his reviews of Space Quest III and Monuments of Mars.

For today though we have something more recent, although from a series that began in the 1980s: it’s OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast.

Review: Monuments of Mars

December 6th, 2018

Written by: Stoo

Hello everyone.

Our reviews here cover quite a few of the games from Apogee\3D Realms, from their platform games of the early 90s like Bio Menace and Commander Keen 4, to their forays into First Person shooters such as Rise of the Triad. I’d like to fill in the gaps eventually, the most conspicuous absences being Duke Nukem 3D and the rest of the Keen Series. For today though we’re looking at one of their more obscure platform games: Monuments of Mars.

New: Best of the Blog

December 2nd, 2018

Written by: Rik

A quick note about a couple of small changes to the site structure: we’ve put together a Best of the Blog page with links to some of our longer-form pieces and series over the years. As it says on the page itself, we wanted to find a way to highlight these and put them on a par with the reviews, which are all easily accessible from the menu.

We’ve also consolidated the handful of non-review articles which predated the introduction of the blog, previously filed under ‘General Articles’, into this page. Although we did want to preserve these old pieces, there seemed little point in having a separate, rather sparsely populated, section that was never going to be added to.

Hopefully this serves our intended purpose and adds something to the site. Any thoughts or feedback, do let us know.

Review: Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon

November 20th, 2018

Written by: Stoo

Hi all. It’s been a shamefully long time since I last wrote a review here, but today I have a new one for you! We’re returning to the realms of the Sierra adventures, looking at Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon.

Moments in Gaming: Ximelez and Castolo

November 11th, 2018

Written by: Rik

The Master League, Pro Evolution Soccer‘s career mode, was a source of many lost hours during the early-mid 00s. Taking control of the team of your choice (which, depending on your loyalties and the licensing issues of that year’s edition, may be a real club with authentic kits or an approximation with a borderline ludicrous name and an oversized flag on otherwise detail-free shirts), evenings and weekends would be spent ploughing through multiple seasons in search of glory, taking control of action on the pitch and transfer activities off it.

Regardless of the eccentricities of your team’s name, kits and squads were accurate and recognisable enough (and possible to edit, if you had the time and inclination), and with many players buying football games on the basis of taking control of their favoured side and current squad, the Master League sensibly added this option in Pro Evolution Soccer 4.

Before then, however, whichever side you chose, the real-life squad would be nowhere to be seen, replaced by a motley band of low quality misfits, a United Nations of crap players, generated by Konami specifically for use in the Master League. The names remained largely unchanged for several years, going back to ISS Pro Evolution 2 on the Playstation: there was, however, a bizarre widespread renaming process that took place between PES 2 and PES 3, the effects of which were to take a set of generic names that sounded vaguely realistic and alter their spelling in a way that made them just sound weird (right-winger Espinas became known as Espimas, while defensive midfielder Cellini was reincarnated as Celnili, and so on…I know misspelled names are a tradition in football games with licensing issues, but surely not if you’ve made those names up in the first place).

Replaying PES 3 now is a reminder not only of why critics and FIFA fans decried it as a largely joyless experience, but also of how the pleasure gleaned from earning those admittedly rare moments of joy kept so many of us glued to the series for so long. Early games and seasons are a slog, for the simple reason that these starting players are uniformly terrible and able, at most, to do one thing quite well. At the highest difficulty levels, eking out results requires the strictest of discipline: creating chances is reliant on methodical passing to retain possession, while free kicks and corners must not be wasted. At the other end, opponents are clinical and make the most of any defensive sloppiness. It truly puts you in the position of a lower league team, trying to make the most of what you have.

In a way, starting with the default squad is a harsh but effective tutorial, in terms of sharpening the skills required for success in the game, although it could be argued that it’s almost too effective, in that you spend so long learning to cope with poor players that when you finally buy the likes of Shevchenko, Rivaldo et al, it kind of seems like cheating.

Still, I wouldn’t go as far as some who seem to have formed a bond with these dreadful players across several versions of PES over the years, or even make outlandish claims that some of them aren’t even all that bad. Yes, in those early games, there are moments where you might be grateful for central defender Valeny’s pace, the reasonable wingplay of Ximelez and the aforementioned Espimas, or the occasional good free-kick from attacking midfielder Minanda, but frankly, I could never wait to get rid of them. Brazilian striker Castolo, in particular, flatters to deceive: capering about the pitch at a reasonable rate in his white boots, his performances sadly hampered by low shooting accuracy, which means he can’t hit a barn door with a banjo.

Personally, I instead save my affection for the initial crop of cheap and free transfer signings that you rely on for initial success (current crush: tricksy attacking midfielder Marco Ferreira, currently on fire for Leeds…I mean, Yorkshire, in Master League Northern Division 1). Sorry, Ximelez, Castolo et al: thanks for the memories, but you’re on the release list, and if no-one wants you, I’ll be stopping contract negotiations before they start.

Vault of Regret: Sensible Soccer

November 2nd, 2018

Written by: Rik

I’m not particularly proud of the fact that Sensible Soccer and I have never got on. Even our first, rather negative, mention of the series in the form of a now ancient review of Sensible World Of Soccer (which comes close to being filed under “20-something delights in mildly controversial opinion” or “that thing you like isn’t very good, actually”) came after approximately 12 years of trying and failing to see what everyone else loved about it. I owned the original Sensible Soccer on Atari ST and on PC, and would periodically give it a go in the hope that I’d catch on, before adding SWOS to my collection and, inevitably, hating that too.

There’s little point rehashing my criticisms here, especially as I recently revisited the series. My intention was to approach the games with a more positive and grown up attitude, finding the positives and keeping the snide remarks at bay – which I think I did – but I still couldn’t paper over the bare fact that I still didn’t really like it. Perhaps aided by a concurrent playthrough of the vastly inferior facsimile Football Glory, I found the original Sensi to be basically ok, but replaying SWOS told me that, while my sentiments in 2005 may have been crudely expressed, they remained largely representative of how I felt about the game.

And that is a source of regret, although so is my attitude during the early years of FFG: too keen to stamp on others’ nostalgia and delight in calling something dated and rubbish (although, let’s be honest, the latter can still be rather good fun under the right circumstances). Sensible Soccer and Speedball 2 were two of my most prominent targets, with your correspondent at the time clearly of the opinion that they owed their stellar reputation to a particular generation of games writers’ nostalgia for Amiga multiplayer during their university years.

Ha! That’ll never happen to me, man. I’ll never get to my mid-to-late 30s and be banging on about the games I played when I was younger. I’m better than that: I review games on merit. How does it stand up today, yeah? Is Sensi better than FIFA and Pro Evo? Is it? Is it really? “More realistic”, is it? With those silly little players and their big heads waddling around the pitch and punting the ball hither and thither? Better than the latest footy games with proper graphics and commentary and all that? Pipe down, grandpa.

That’s why we had so few sports games on FFG during the early years. At that point, I still played the latest ones, and the instruction to buy the latest update of whichever series is generally considered the best, seemed like fairly obvious advice: you’ll always have the time and the inclination to keep up, so this should be your default choice forever. The new ones keep getting better and better and make your old ‘classics’ look like shit, never mind the ones that weren’t even considered good at the time.

At some point, I must have realised how misguided all of this was and began (to some readers’ evident dismay) populating the sports section more regularly. Although not everyone may feel the same, I came to see the depth and breadth of old football releases, compared to the annual two-horse race we have now, a rather fascinating phenomenon and usually find something interesting to say about each of them. I also recognised that my own particular modern football series of choice had not, in fact, remained the best option forever and ever, but instead fallen upon critical hard times, and decided to make some time to write about what I considered its glory days.

But it wasn’t until recently that I finally understood that the wheel had turned full-circle: an innocent hankering for a bit of Pro Evolution Soccer 3, and the relative simplicity of getting it going on my laptop (not completely without hiccups, but never are the seemingly modest desires for an oldie stirred more vigorously than when it doesn’t seem to work for no particular reason) soon led to a Master League season, and to semi-regular evening and weekend matches. And, most significantly, to thoughts like “they don’t make ’em like this anymore”, “I miss the simplicity of the controls” and “modern games are too complicated, this just feels right.”

All of which are comments I would happily have mocked had they been made (and they have been made) about Sensible Soccer. It turns out, though, it’s actually fine, natural and normal to have nostalgic feelings for an old football game and not want to dive into the latest FIFA, without necessarily deriding the latter as too complicated.

What’s more, that feeling of getting back into an old footy game that you loved, playing a few matches and being unable to resist firing up a season or multiple seasons and diving full-length into it again, even if it involves repeating some of the same beats – recalling your old tactics, buying and selling some of the same players – is a great thing. It’s distinct and separate from tinkering with some of the mid-table stuff from the past, interesting as that can be, because while you might play, say, The F.A. Premier League STARS for a period sufficient to see how it all works and whether you can get good at it, you already know all of that going back to a Pro Evo (or even Puma World Football) and yet still feel compelled to play for hours, days and weeks.

I also now have more of an understanding of the section of Championship Manager fans who dismiss the latest versions of the series (now called Football Manager) to be far too complex and time-consuming, instead rallying around an older version (generally the 01-02 edition appears to be considered the pinnacle). This sizeable hardcore replay the game over and over again, sometimes signing the same great players, sometimes setting themselves contrived challenges, discussing results and sharing stories via Twitter. My own experience of replaying an old version was unsatisfactory, in that I felt that my alternative version of history had already been written – perhaps my mistake was trying to do exactly the same thing with the same club and players, and when I had less success than before it sort of damaged my old memories.

The Pro Evolution Soccer 3 Master League is a different story though. Can it really be 15 years old? [Yes – a reader]. And so in acknowledging an unapologetic nostalgia for old-school Pro Evo, a series he first played at university, this 37 year-old man comes to realise he is not, as it turns out, any different from, or better than, those Amiga-owning Sensi lovers after all.