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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 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 three 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, as the retro pixelly effect adds to that mixing of old and new, returning to a 90s game in n 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.

I hate you, Super Mutant Overlords

June 9th, 2016

Written by: Stoo

Welcome back to an occasional series where I grumble about some of the enemies that have been kicking my ass in various cRPGs. Today’s installment is Fallout 3, which isn’t actually the most difficult of games, particularly not compared to the hardcore RPGs of days gone by.

In particular the VATS mode, which is sort of a turn-based option, is overpowered. The game pauses, you choose enemies (and their specific body parts) to shoot, with each action costing a number of points. You queue up shots until out of points, then hit go and watch your commands happen in slow motion. Then you have to play in realtime for a bit until action points have recharged.

In principle VATS is a clever compromise between fallout’s roots as a turn-based RPG, and its modern first-person shooty incarnation. However, it’s rendered a bit too effective by a few other factors. Although enemies can still attack you while it’s active, the damage you take is cut drastically. Also, with late-game perks, you can automatically recharge action points for every kill made in VATS, thus removing the need for recharge time. So combat can sometimes become a bit trivial; you just queue up headshots and watch people fall over with minimum effort on your part.

That said, there are still some monsters out there tough enough to ruin your day. Especially if you have the Brotherhood of Steel expansion, which adds a range of high level monsters.

Now the answer to some of these might just be “bring Fawkes to help”, referring to the companion NPC who himself gets boosted to godly levels in the expansion, but you may not have access to him yet if you’ve left the main quest till late. Also he can’t go with you to the other expansions like Point Lookout.

All pics taken from the Fallout Wiki.

Super_mutant_overlord

Super Mutant Overlords
Super Mutants are the big guys who look and talk like a yellow version of the Hulk. The Overlords represent a huge leap in power over their lesser bretheren. For one thing, they have a huge reservoir of hitpoints. You can engage VATs, use up every point you have, and the things are barely scratched. Then they have the Tri-Beam laser rifle with its special “fuck they player up” abilities – a load of extra damage that ignores armour, and only applies when aimed at you.

So you basically cannot withstand a shootout in the open against these guys; they hit too hard and can take too much punishment in return. A good opening move is to sneak up close and unload your strongest gun into their face, but that only gets you so far towards putting them down. ust one of these in the wild with a couple of lesser friends is a challenging enough obstacle. A building full of them (as occurs in a few quests) seems downright hellish.

I was starting to dread encountering Overlords until my brain finally woke up and said, hey, why not use VATs to shoot the gun out of their hand! I’m sure smarter gamers would have thought of that right away. Once disarmed they may find (or spawn?) backup guns but those are nowhere near as grievously damaging as the Tri-Beam. Now your problem is far more manageable.

Feral_ghoul_reaver

Feral Ghoul Reavers
Exploring abandoned subways beneath the ruins of DC I step round a corner and find myself facing pack of Feral Ghouls. Stumbling across them unawares like this is sloppy, Stoo, I think to myself. Pay more attention to your surroundings next time. Still, these should be easy kills, let’s just line up some headshots with my trusty rifle –

oh crap it’s a reaver
run Run RUN

Like with these super mutants, there’s a whole family of Ghouls ranging from low-level monsters to top-tier monstrosities that while utterly destroy you if you’re unprepared.

There’s no gun to disable in this case, they just charge at you with frightening speed, and claw you to bits or hurl radioactive stuff. The Dartgun is a friend to you here; it does negligible damage but its leg-crippling effect greatly slows them down.

Point_Lookout_Tribals

Tribals
By late game you’re probably wearing powered armour, and carting around an impressive array of military grade hardware, advanced plasma guns and possibly even salvaged alien weaponry. Then you go to point lookout and suddenly find yourself in fight for survival against a bunch of cultists in rags carrying rusty shotguns.

For all my grumbling in these articles, obviously there should be something to challenge high level players. However, if I look at a tough enemy, I should be able to identify why they’re tough. There should be a rational explanation, according to the logics of the fictional world you’re exploring, as to why this person or monster is beating your face into the floor.

Let’s return to the mutant overlords for a moment. It’s an eight foot, muscular, radiation-fuelled brute with a triple-barrelled laser rifle. It makes total sense that such a creature would threaten you, even at your most powerful. Losing to these tribal jokers, however, is just faintly embarassing. It’s like a Need for Speed letting you rise through the ranks to buy a Lamborghini, then in the final race struggling to beat knackered old Ford Fiestas that for some reason handle like sports cars.

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.

In the late 22nd century, mankind took to the stars, to see what wonders the heavens offered

May 6th, 2016

Written by: Rik

Hello everyone.

Regular readers – if they, indeed, exist – will know that in recent years I’ve stuck quite closely to my comfort areas: namely, old football and racing games. Occasionally, I do get the taste for something a bit different, although often my attempts are thwarted by my own ineptitude and/or lack of patience.

Anyway, I’ve dipped my toe into the shallow end of the RPG water with a review of Space Siege.

spacesiegetitle

Returning to the past in World of Warcraft

April 26th, 2016

Written by: Stoo

Via RPS:

Blizzard On Vanilla WoW Servers

I’ve occasionally considered talking about World of Warcraft here; it was released in the tail end of 2004 which does makes it older than some of the other games we’ve reviewed. It felt a bit wrong to speak of it as an actual old game, though, given how much it’s evolved over the years. Expansions have brought new places to explore, new character classes and races, new dungeons and raids. Character class mechanics are constantly changing, re-balancing, and abilities come and go. The character graphics have received a substantial upgrade. New features like automated group-matching for dungeons add convenience.

Even the old world, where the original pre-expansion game took place, was comprehensively overhauled in 2010. A giant dragon tried to break the planet, you see. So running around the Barrens or the Wetlands is rather different to how it was a decade ago. The quests are all new, you meet different people, new castles and outposts have sprung up and old towns lie abandoned . Sometimes even the layout of the land itself changed.

Also, a lot of content that used to be aimed at max-level characters still exists but becomes irrelevant when new expansions are released. Once upon a time players at level 70 would raid Tempest Keep or Black Temple, for shiny rewards. Now there is no point; we all charge right past it, and past level 70. The monsters of those raids stand around forlornly, forgotten. We only care about raids aimed at the current max level.

WoW players are as prone to nostalgia as anyone else, and sometimes miss the Warcraft they used to play. So some clever folks have managed to set up servers running older versions of the game, some going back to the days before any expansions. No panda-people, no Cataclysm, no modern easy-mode levelling. Your level cap is 60 and you (or, er, your Dwarvern Paladin) will sweat blood and tears getting there, dammit!

So I guess this is where WoW does start to intersect with our interests here. I can totally understand the pull of returning to Wow as it used to be. I wasn’t around for the first days, what we now refer to as Vanilla, but I did sign up at the start of the first expansion, sometime early 2007. So I have my own memories of the Old World in its original state, and also Outland. I spent several weeks in the Barrens, fighting those damn quillboar and waiting for the Alliance to trash the crossroads yet again. I ran around the dungeons of Uldaman with a group who only vaguely knew what they were doing until an experienced warrior tank kindly showed us what to do. I loved Azshara, with its bleak empty coastlands,before an expansion turned it into goddamn Goblin city.

The game was in many ways far more of a chore back then; endless running back and forth long distances on foot just to complete “collect 12 badger arses” quests, the difficulty in finding groups for dungeons, the difficulty accessing half-decent gear if you weren’t in a raiding guild. The hunter pet-training mechanics were especially tedious.

Yet we old-timers look back fondly on those days. Some say servers had more of a sense of community, back before they all got merged, and group-finders removed the need to socialise. Some also say you had to earn your success more back then, without epic purple lootz getting handed out like candy. Plus, well, there’s always nostalgia. A hearkening back to those days when you first started WoW, to good times had with friends in you guild, and probably to when you were a more carefree twenty-something.

I’ve often thought I’d like to play on a classic server. How far I’d get though, I couldn’t say. Maybe I’d make it all the way to level 60, 70, 80, wherever they decided to freeze WoW in time? Maybe I’d join a guild of friendly, dedicated people and have great adventures raiding Karazan? Or maybe I’d run out of steam somewhere around level 32, release what a slog I have ahead of me, and realise god dammit I spent enough of my life on this game already! Seriously I could have churned out so many more retro-reviews between 2007 and 2013 if I’d never played WoW. I am not going back to that. No chance.

Anyways, what I failed to mention so far, but you’d know if you read that link at the start, is that is that these retro-servers are totally unofficial. So Blizzard doesn’t especially approve, and sometimes deploys lawyers (on griffon-back, from its shining citadel in Stormwind city) to shut them down. The obvious answer seems to be for Blizz to run some classic servers itself, but they apparently cite a bunch of technical difficulties. I’m surprised it’s that much work to install some old software on a bunch of servers but maybe making it talk to the modern battle.net infrastructure is the tricky bit.

They do mention turning off a bunch of the modern conveniences that speed up levelling, such as heirloom gear (fancy swords and armour you obtain on one character, then pass to another newbie hero that you create). So you’d take longer to reach max level, monsters would be tougher, you’d have to do more quests and search harder for gear. I guess that’s a compromise worth considering.