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Adventurer’s Guide to Guardia, part 2

September 21st, 2016

Written by: Stoo

Hi all. Rik’s lately been moving house and my wife has immigrated to join me in England’s Green and Pleasant land, so we’re both a bit too busy for much gaming lately. However, I still have many wasted years of my youth to draw on for inspiration. So here’s the second installment of my guide to Guardia, the world of Wizardry 7.

Munkharama
The holy city of the Munk, a race of short red, robed guys who are big fans of alchemy and kung-fu. Features a picturesque (well, as close as the graphics can manage) lake and the infamously horrible spindle puzzle (just swim around the damn thing).

Also the Palace of the Gran Melange, a rather trippy section in Guardia’s version of an opium den. Intoxicated Munks ramble about whether or not dreams are reality, or something. Then you fight ghosts and witches, smoke something dubious, fall into an abyss, and meet a Sphinx which pontificates at great length about what defines a human being. Basically the game is taking some time here to indulge itself in philosophical musings. The walls of text are all worth it though as you end up with the mighty Sword of Four Winds.

This city’s main dungeon section, meanwhile, contains the bastard-hard Lord of the Dark Forest, but also an item you need to get your boat working.

Rattkin Ruins
The Rattkin are rodent people, as you might have guessed but they also seem to be modelled on contemporary criminal organisations. (Wiz 8 gave them New York mobster voices). So their elite warriors are called Razuka and their leader is addressed as Don. Their city is kind of a long walk to reach, and a pain to navigate, but it does have the game’s only dedicated archery shop.

A large portion of your time here is spent in “Rubi’s Funhouse”, some sort of abandoned and dilapidated amusement attraction. It’s a bit incongruous; I can’t picture any of the peoples of Guardia building a place like this. Seems more like a location you’d visit in one of the Arkham games. However, it should be pretty obvious that it’s going to be full of danger and murder. When fighting the Rattkin, that generally means getting showered with arrows and stones whilst their most poweful fighters slash away with poisoned swords. Also, just to make sure you’re stuck here for many hours, there are a bunch of slightly tedious puzzles based around activating various mechanisms. These are made all the more frustrating when you’re trying to find a switch to divert a water slide, or some item to trigger a pressure plate, and you keep getting interrupted by goddamn random attacks.

Witch Mountains\Giant Caves
This extensive region of caves and wildnernesses is based around mountains, which the game’s engine can’t draw any more than it can a tower. It doesn’t even have the capacity for backdrops. So you just have a bunch of discrete regions of rock and forest for progressively higher reaches of the mountainside, text descriptions, and once again your imagination fills in the gaps. Despite these limitations, the witch mountains do manage to feel a bit remote and exciting, a long way from the (relative) safety of New City. You won’t see many of the peoples of Guardia here, but there are plenty of monsters :giant fire-breathing crows, massive lizards and two-headed lions.

Somewhere around here there’s a cave populated by Giants, then an actual dinosaur that makes for quite an epic fight. There’s also a bit of a puzzler in another cave about finding out the names of a bunch of witches. Hint – you need to find a field in this region where some weird events occur, and something to help you better see what’s happening there.

Isle of Crypts
This little island in the middle of the ocean contains the entrance to a sprawling complex of catacombs that comprises the endgame.

Near the surface is a series of dungeons full of traps and dragons. Remember your fire shield, and also some random junk you picked up in Orkogre months ago. This is the easy bit, though. Further down you find yourself facing a labyrinth full of teleporters, that quickly leave you extremely disoriented. The trick is to realise each teleporter is just moving you vertically to another floor, and also to make careful maps on paper of exactly where each one takes you.

In the lowest reaches the game loses all restraint on its scifi-side and starts throwing giant goddamn robots at you. Once you reach this level you’re close to a final showdown with the Dark Savant himself.

Except he’s not actually the toughest foe down here. About midway through the dungeons you’ll find the Chamber of Gorrors, containing a bunch of unique, extremely powerful monsters. If you wade in unprepared you’ll get stomped flat, shredded and incinerated in about half a turn. However fights are totally optional, a challenge for players with high-level parties and a good understanding of how to optimise their characters combat power. Kind of like the Weapon fights in Final Fantasy 7.

 

An Adventurer’s Guide to Guardia

September 12th, 2016

Written by: Stoo

I’ve written before about some of the monsters in Wizardry: Crusaders of the Dark Savant. Today I’m providing a handy guide to the planet of Guardia, on which Crusaders takes place. This is the fantasy world in which I spent far too much of my time in my mid-teens.

I’m not going to give screenshots for each location because A: I don’t have them and B: the game is pretty samey-looking anyway, being based on very square designs and made entirely out of just four different tile-sets. Features like furniture aren’t even drawn on screen. The world is brought to life through the characters you meet, the monsters you fight, and the narrative text which provides evocative descriptions and occasional philosophical musings.

Or maybe it’s not brought to life and you’re just looking at bare walls. These were the elder days of cRPGs where you often had to let your imagination help you fill in the gaps.

Here’s a city!

Single-storey yellow stone buildings are very popular on Guardia.

Here’s some forest!

A Phoot in the Forest. Bash it!

 

Okay, that’s what half of what the game looks like. Let’s continue!

New City
This is the first city you reach, and serves as a hub for adventures and exploration of the wider world. It’s stocked with several shops and services for your party, as well as many NPCs to encounter. This is all quite normal for cRPGs.

However because this is Wizardry, it’s also full of monsters and bad guys who will try to murder you every 12 paces. Random encounters happen in cities just as much as in wildernesses or dungeons. I don’t just mean the bad end of town; every step (or attempt to sleep) you take has a chance of spawning an attack anywhere, including the peaceful abbey, a room in the tavern and the shed where the old sailor guy is trying to build a boat.

The eerie android servants of the Dark Savant are supposed to be keeping this place on lockdown, but they’re clearly doing a lousy job. Fortunately once your party passes level 10 or so, you’re strong enough to overpower most enemies here quite easily.

Ukypr
We never learn who originally built the jungle city of Ukpyr. It’s currently occupied by the Umpani, a spacefaring race of Rhino-like people who have come to Guardia searching for the Astral Dominae. If you come here you can join their army as a kind of auxiliary scout, go on a bunch of missions for cash, and learn how to use firearms.

The Umpani seem like a fairly benevolent bunch, especially compared to their main rivals, the spiderlike T’Rang and the Dark Savant himself. Appropriately enough, then, they only rarely attack in random encounters. Ukpyr still has its dangers though, as you will regularly find yourself fighting ghosts. The place is infested with angry undead spirits, swirling out of thin air and howling at you as they attack.

The lack of explanation, and the fact this is a military barracks and not some spooky crypt, just makes it all a bit more weird and creepy. What exactly happened here? Did the Umpani do this or were the ghosts already present?

Dionysceus
The mighty tower of the Dane, a race of powerful wizards. Well, it’s a tower according to the text. Crusaders’ graphics are basically intended for building dungeons. Tiles representing sections of floor, wall and ceiling are arranged to fake a 3D view of the world, same as the cRPGs Eye of the Beholder or Dungeon Master.

Such a system can handle forests and cities of single-storey buildings also; you just take off the ceiling in places. Anything with a vertical component is impossible, however. Everything stops about 3 metres above the ground. So you just have to take the narrator’s word for it, that you’re seeing a tower in the distance. Then the big stone.. thing you encounter is its base.

Fortunately interiors are separate maps anyway. Once inside you can ascend through the levels of the tower, each posing increasingly difficult challenges, sometimes with an element of puzzle solving. There’s a room entirely in inky blackness. On another level pits in the floor block yourr way, and stepping on each floor tile opens and closes pits, so you must figure out what sequences of movements gives a clear route out. Another level, kind of similar, has doorways disappearing into smooth walls, and opening again, depending on where you tread.

Also some Dane guy presents this as joining the mystics ranks of their order, and extorts money out of you every step of the way. I’d say screw that guy, but you probably will end up killing his leader and emptying the tower of loot anyway.

Orkogre castle
Here’s the easier way to fake a massive structure like a castle; put it all underground. All you see of mighty Orkogre, before you enter, is a ladder sticking out of the ground.

Your first major expedition after New City will probably be here. You’ll test your strength against Gorn lancers and rangers, possibly get slaughtered by the elite Ashigaru, and hopefully gain some new weapons and armour to upgrade your crummy starting gear

Then you reach King Ulgar, for whom you have an important message. As you stand there impatiently trying to deliver it to him, though, Ulgar launches into a lengthy monologue about civil war, treachery and his fractured kingdom. This goes on for several minutes. Then once you get your chance to speak, you must get it exactly correct. If you make a typo he attacks you. God dammit, reload.

Meanwhile in a lower level lurks the Shadow Guardian. I hate you, Shadow Guardian. If we all have our gaming Nemesis, that guy was mine. The abominable thing just toys with you for several turns, then casually wipes you out with an Aspyxiate spell.

City of Skies
Home of the Helazoid, buxom young women on rocket bikes. They’re basically a race made up entirely of goofy scifi pinup girls. We’re not going to launch into rants about depiction of women in gaming, over a little sprite in 24-year old RPG, but this is a little ridiculous.

Anyway for some bizarre reason, their city is filled with invisible walls. These don’t even show up on the in-game map. So your only option is to get properly old-school here; break out your squared paper and make your own maps. No justification within the game is made for this frustrating civic feature. I suppose it could be intended to thwart invaders, but, to even reach this damn city you have to kill a colossal sea monster, then fight your way through dragon-infested caves. I think they would already be a pretty difficult target.

It’s worth coming to the City of Skies anyway, and diligently making your map, since you can get one of the most powerful swords in the game here. Which is basically a light sabre.

You can go sleep at home tonight if you can get up and walk away

September 4th, 2016

Written by: Rik

Hi there.

Sorry for the radio silence: I always find August to be pretty unproductive, but this time I did have a genuine (but boring) excuse – moving house.

Anyway, time to get back on the reviewing horse with a look at CSI: Deadly Intent.

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Nes Mini, and other ways I could finally complete Zelda 2

July 26th, 2016

Written by: Stoo

Our main focus on this humble site will always be old PC Games, but we do have an interest in other forms of retro-gaming. I’m in the sort of odd position of being a fan of the NES and SNES, despite never owning either as a child (it was a PC-only household). Instead I just played on friends’ Nintendos whenever I could. Then around the tail end of the 90s, I discovered the wonderful world of emulation (you may remember Nesticle), and played through classics like castlevania and megaman 2 aided by vast amounts of save-scumming. A few years back I picked up a Wii, partly because of the appeal of the Virtual console, although that remains sadly under-used.

So I’ve been pondering the merits of the recently announced Nes Mini. It looks like a smaller version of the classic NES, has the old-fashioned square controllers, and comes with 30 games installed. It’s a very convenient means of revisiting some classic games, just plug into a TV and off you go. It’s also a legitimate nintendo product that avoids the legally dubious world of emulation and Roms (if you care about that). On the other hand, though, there’s no way to add more games to it. I was hoping for some sort of online store but, nope, those 30 titles is all it will ever play.

There is some instant nostalgic appeal to the thing but, thinking longer term I’m not sure I’d want to spend £50 on a device that locks me into a fixed selection of games for one system. I’d rather have either the true 80s authenticity of an actual NES, or the flexibility of some sort of emulation-based device.

For an example of the latter, I’ve experimented with setting up Retropie on a raspberry pi. This package consists of a bunch of emulators joined by a common interface, letting you play games for a whole host of different consoles and old computers. It’s not a good option for totally non-techy types who just want a plug-and-play device, as there is a fair bit of pratting around with configuration files and command prompts. However if you don’t mind all the tinkering involved, it provides a huge wealth of retro gaming options all packed into a box about the size of two packs of cards.

Alternatively, you could consider the the JXB 8700B, an android tablet with physical controls, plus hdmi output The range of emulators available on Android is pretty good, you’ve got your obvious choices like the NES but I’ve found the Atari ST and Lynx on there too. Of course any droid can run them, but, most are stuck with terrible touchscreen controls.

Then there is the Retron 5, which takes original cartridges for NES, SNES, their Japanese equivalents, Megadrive, Gameboy and GBA. Good for those of you who want to play old carts for all those systems but don’t have room for multiple consoles under the TV.

That’s just a few ideas. There are other emulation platforms out there, and also a range of NES clones that can take cartridges. Honestly though, I may just continue to play old console games the same way I have done for about 16 years now; emulators on a windows PC. I’m a creature of habit.

I Hate You, Inviso-Mutants

July 21st, 2016

Written by: Stoo

Given all this talk about the system shock remake, it’s time to include it in our recurring series where I look at some memorable RPG enemies and monsters.

You may question whether Shock should actually be classified as an RPG. After all, it lacks the sort of character progression and customisation mechanics we normally associate with the genre. You’re not building up attributes like strength and agility, and you don’t allocate points into skills such as guns, lockpicking and interpretive dance.

On the other hand, it clearly has much in common with Looking Glass Studios previous work, the fantasy RPG Ultima Underworld. Even if the mechanics are slimmed down there’s the same emphasis on atmosphere and exploration, on immersing the player in a strange and hostile environment. That led to attributes we didn’t associate with straight shooters of the time – a slower pace, an actual attempt at a plot, more of a structure to your objectives than simply finding keys. Then Shock’s own sequel put overt RPG stuff back in.

So I’m inclined to grant Shock a sort of Honorary RPG status. Or we could just open up the I Hate You series to other games anyway!

(pics taken from Karen’s System Shock Page)

shock_cyborgassassin
Cyborg Assassins
These guys aren’t especially tough, in fact they fold up like balsa wood if you turn any serious firepower on them. They are, however, damn sneaky. While most cyborgs make creepy distorted chattering noises these guys are totally silent. So are their weapons, because although they carry rifles they actually seem to throw shurikens at you. Also, LG liked to hide them in little niches and cubbyholes that you wouldn’t immediately notice when you first enter a chamber. So it’s easy to be caught unawares, with no idea the cyborg was there until you see your health going down. Or you might get distracted a the big noisy clanking security robot in the middle of the room, and not realise you’re actually under attack from multiple threats.
shock_invisi

Inviso-Mutants
Your first visit to level 3 is probably one of the toughest sections of the entire game, thanks to these manta-ray things. They have a powerful projectile attack that will kill you in just a few hits. They’re also highly durable, while most of the guns you’re carrying at this point are fairly weedy and can only slowly whittle the creatures down. On top of that they are, while not truly invisible, translucent and so can be hard to spot until close.

So you find yourself carefully peering around corridors, looking for that blurry shape flopping around near the floor. Then, when the coast is clear, you sprint like hell for the next doorway. When fighting one you can consider using up scarce ammo for the more powerful magnum pistol, or maybe trying a grenade. Although that may result in somehow throwing a grenade into your own face, due to Shock’s iffy collision detection.

top-tip: somewhere on this level is the laser rapier. It helps a lot! Also from the next level on the game pretty much showers you with ammo for better guns, so subsequent visits to this deck are less stressful.

 

shock_plant

 

Plant Mutants
Because Shodan has been reading Day of the Triffids and thought to herself “now there’s an idea….”. These wandering overgrown tubers infest the garden groves and fling seed pods, denying you the chance to sit down on the grass and enjoy a moments peace and a sandwich. They’re not especially powerful but they do tend to respawn at a high rate. The flechette is your friend here.

 

This one from http://lifein16bit.blogspot.co.uk

This one from http://lifein16bit.blogspot.co.uk

Cyberguards
I’m kind of cheating and including an entire section of the game here. This was the 90s, so we all figured that hacking in the future would consist of navigating a weird, abstract virtual reality. If that is to be true, technology needs to hurry up as it’s already 20 years later and I’m pretty sure hackers are still sat at a laptop using telnet sessions or something like that.

Anyway, in shock you have these mini-levels where you’re floating around wireframe tunnels looking for passwords and switches to open doors in the real world. Some players found these sections kind of disorienting since the game suddenly becomes like Descent, with no gravity and more 3-dimensional level design. Then of course the network has defences trying to throw you out of the system. Here in cyberspace, basically, Norton Anti-Virus consists of disembodied floating heads that shoot at you.

Hoping that I’ll be a part of you again someday

July 9th, 2016

Written by: Rik

Hello everyone.

It seems like a lot has happened since I was last here. I’m glad Stoo posted something about the System Shock remake because seeing the naive pre-tournament excitement of my football-based post at the top of the page was sort of making me feel sick. There was some other big news related to Europe recently, too, I think. [oh for God’s sake, don’t go there – Ed.]

Right. Here’s a review of one of those games that looked interesting at the time but I never got around to playing until now: Prey.

preytitle

A very brief return to Citadel Station

July 5th, 2016

Written by: Stoo

Night-dive have recently released a pre-alpha demo for their remake of System Shock, available on GOG and steam. It’s very brief, just a few rooms and corridors, probably less than 20% of the first deck. So there’s not a lot to comment on so far.

What we see keeps to the blocky level geometry of the original, although there’s detailing like pipework addedd to the maintenance corridors. Currently the textures are unfiltered and  it has been suggested there should be an option to keep them that way. The retro pixelly effect adds to that mixing of old and new that we have here, returning to a 90s game in a 2010s engine.

Only two weapons are present – the trusty lead pipe, and the Sparq. The latter retains its variable power settings. You fight the server bots, which are sort of like dustbins with flailing arms. There are also a few humanoid mutants and insectile repair bots. They all look like decent updates of the old sprites, although the mutants strike me as a bit more “undead abomination” than “science gone horribly wrong”.

…and that’s about it. Of course even what little we see could change a lot by the time this sees release. This is really just of interest to we hardcore Shock fans, keen for any scrap of information as to how this compares to the original. If you’re a newcomer, curious about this old game that we incessantly laud as one of the greatest classics of the 90s then… no need to rush out to download this. The kickstarter looks on track to pass its funding goals with ease, and then hopefully next year you can find out what all the fuss is about.

Good evening everyone, I AM Terry Butcher

June 10th, 2016

Written by: Rik

It’s the Euros! And in an attempt to build excitement for the forthcoming action, the BBC has compiled a series of video highlights of memorable moments from previous tournaments. One featured match that I didn’t immediately recall was Spain’s 4-3 victory over Yugoslavia in Euro 2000, secured in dramatic circumstances with a late winner.

I have fond memories of Euro 2000, despite the fact that England were awful and failed to get out of the group. They’d needed a play-off to get past Scotland and qualify for the tournament, and scraped through despite a dreadful performance in the home leg at Wembley. Just like the fuss surrounding current England captain Wayne Rooney, there was pressure on England manager Kevin Keegan to drop Alan Shearer for being too slow, with many suggesting Andy Cole as a replacement.

Shearer: 63 caps, 30 goals; Cole: 15 caps, 1 goal

Shearer: 63 caps, 30 goals; Cole: 15 caps, 1 goal.

Twice they lost leading positions, and Keegan’s insistence that England shouldn’t be written off following a narrow victory over Germany had more than a ring of his “love it” breakdown of a few years earlier. He eventually quit after a defeat to the same opponents in a World Cup qualifier, declaring that he lacked the tactical nous for the job. Still, I enjoyed the tournament, probably because as a first year undergraduate doing an arts degree, I could watch all the matches and drink a load of beer while doing so.

I became very familiar with Spain’s 2000 squad because they were my team of choice during that particular era of PES rivalry (ISS Pro Evolution 2) with my friend PG. You can develop strange relationships with teams under such circumstances: while famous names are guaranteed to start, the other members of the squad are endlessly rotated in an attempt to find the winning combination, and end up playing thousands more matches than they ever received real-life caps. During the course of an evening, a player could have gone from hero to villain and back again several times over. Having achieved legendary status in your head as a result of their exploits, though, they’d often be cruelly excised from the next game in the series, sending you scuttling to Wikipedia to find out what had happened to your fallen heroes.

Uncanny...

Uncanny…

And so it was with some surprise that I witnessed two such players having an impact in a real-life tournament, with strikers Alfonso and Pedro Munitis both scoring in the victory over Yugoslavia. Having only ever seen them in action in ISS, I was struck by how well their real-life appearance and physical attributes had been replicated in blocky and blurry PSOne form: I recalled Alfonso as a somewhat ungainly forward with floppy long hair and big white boots, while Munitis was a small, quick and irritating (I mainly used him as a salt-in-the-wounds-type substitute, for annoying PG with a late goal when victory already seemed assured). Both were immediately recognisable in the clip.

Un...canny...

Un…canny…

PG later revealed that he never feared either player, claiming to have more concerns about Raul and the “giant head” of Ismael Urzaiz. Despite Raul’s status as one of my squad’s star players, my assessment of his real-life counterpart as a talented but somewhat hapless player, representative of Spain’s general reputation at the time (possibly sealed by him missing a crucial late penalty in the Euro 2000 quarter final) meant that I never really held him in high regard, and I used to shove him out on the left wing. As for Urzaiz, his ISS representation wasn’t especially accurate but, revisiting the game now, the “giant head” accusations do appear to have had some foundation.

Can you spot the giant head of Urzaiz? Write in and claim your prize.

Can you spot the giant head of Urzaiz? Write in and claim your prize.

Goalscoring Superstar Hero

June 5th, 2016

Written by: Rik

Hello!

Ok, so I went down the rabbit-hole again and decided to revisit a game we first covered a number of years ago. Fortunately, doing so also led me to a place where I could come up with some new content, too.

This year, it’s 20 years since Euro ’96. (If Baddiel and Skinner released Three Lions today, they’d be singing about 50 years of hurt). So what better way to prepare for the forthcoming Euros than by revisiting some football games from the 90s?

Here we have coverage of Sensible Soccer, Sensible World of Soccer 96-97 and Football Glory.

sensititle

swostitle

fglorytitle

Hello, my friend. Stay awhile and listen…

May 13th, 2016

Written by: Stoo

Hello everyone.

You’ve probably noticed Rik has recently redone a few of the first reviews he wrote for this site, 15 years ago. There’s Toonstruck, a lesser known point and click adventure, and Speedball 2 for some violent future sport with that distinctive early 90s bitmap brothers art.

Well, I’ve gone and redone one myself – I thought it was time for a fresh look at Blizzard’s early action-RPG, Diablo.

This isn’t something we plan on doing a lot more of; we don’t want to get too caught up in tinkering with old content. Speaking for myself, I don’t produce enough new content anyway. Also I like having articles dated from about 2002 here, even if my own are the slapdash writings of a callow young man, just to remind the world how long we’ve been doing this.