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Favourite game intros: part deux

July 26th, 2014

Written by: Rik

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

Come and be a part of football

July 26th, 2014

Written by: Rik

Hi there!

You may have noticed that there’s a major international sporting event taking place at the moment. [Yes - the Commonwealth Games - FFG Reader]. Of course, it’s the World Cup of Football! Who will win? It’s so exciting!

With a review that’s as up-to-date and relevant as this mysteriously reduced-to-clear limited-edition bottle of Budweiser, here’s International Superstar Soccer 3.

Bud-weis-er

(P.S: I don’t see what’s so ‘limited edition’ about putting beer into a tin shaped like a bottle. All the metallic taste of a tin, at the increased price of a bottled beer!)

favourite game intros

July 24th, 2014

Written by: Stoo

A well crafted introduction captures your attention, and entices you to dive in and enjoy more of the experience on offer. Maybe it starts an alluring story with characters you want to see more of. It might give you an idea of action you can take control of, or inspire you to go on quest, or take control of an empire. Or maybe it just looks and sounds awesome.

Go back 20-odd years and an intro usually meant some kind of VGA sequence with midi music. Later, full motion video became popular, built out of pre-rendered 3D graphics and sometimes the use of live actors. In those days it was generally understood that these kinds of intro would be more visually impressive than the rest of the game, given the limitations of the little sprites or boxy polygons that might make up in-game graphics.

In more recent years, though, game engines have increased in sophistication. So it’s more often the case that a game’s own graphics can be used to create a realistic and cinematic sequence, without the need for something created separately. The in-engine approach has in turn made it more popular to incorporate the into opening playable section of the game, rather than it being a purely passive experience.

This isn’t a list of Greatest Intros Ever because I don’t pretend to have widespread enough experience, and besides titles like that are rather clickbaity. Rather, this is just a few of my personal favourites in PC Gaming.

UFO – Enemy Unknown – 1994

This one is immediately eye-catching, drawn as a series of colourful, animated, comic book panels. Dynamic and exciting, it’s not exactly representative of the tense, cautious turn-based game to which it’s attached. Still it’s one of my favourites of its day, and it does at least show us what in general terms UFO is all about – aliens terrorise the population, X-Com agents swing into action to save the day.

Half-Life – 1998

A defining example of a great introduction that is incorporated into beginning of the playable game itself. We begin with the start of another day at work for Gordon Freeman. He travels through the Black Mesa research complex on a monorail, listens to announcements, gets grumbled at by superiors, finds his gear and shows up at the lab.

It might seem rather mundane, but it’s doing vital work in setting the scene. When suddenly something goes horribly wrong with the experiment, we’re already immersed in Gordon’s world, and ready to try and get him out of the ensuing crisis.

Thief – the Dark Project -1998

Moody and atmospheric, this one features some great hand-drawn artwork at a time when others might have used CGI. It introduces us to Garrett’s city and shows him going about a typical heist, and also gives some brief glimpses of the supernatural forces at work. So it sets the tone for the game in a highly effective manner.

Cannon Fodder – 1993

Photos of the developers in uniforms, presented as the cast of a war movie, along with a cheerful song about war and killing. This doesn’t remotely tell us what to expect of the gameplay, but it does set up Cannon Fodder’s irreverent satire on the brutal meat-grinder that is warfare.

(I’m cheating slightly here, that’s the Amiga intro. The PC version, iirc, lacked the vocals).

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis – 1992

An early example of the in-game, interactive approach to an intro. You have to solve a basic puzzle to get from one room to the next, and with each new room some credits are displayed. The interface is simplified from that of the main game, making this a gentle but intriguing beginning to the adventure.

Shoot opponents for score

July 21st, 2014

Written by: Rik

This month’s Retro Gamer had a piece on the old arcade game RoadBlasters, and its many home ports, and since it always was a bit of an old favourite of mine, I was inspired to give it another go.

But first, I was moved to revisit another, similar, title, also mentioned in passing in the RG piece. Overlander was a home computer rival to RoadBlasters, based around similar themes of fuel scarcity and, well, the combination of driving, avoiding death, and blasting other road users to pieces. Retro Gamer reckons that, “A lot of computer owners prefer this to the home ports of RoadBlasters, and it’s easy to see why…consider it to be the thinking man’s RoadBlasters.”

overlanderst

Hmm…well, that’s not how I remember it at the time, although the Atari ST version of RoadBlasters wasn’t really the best. Overlander was one of a number of games that came bundled with the family ST. I loved that pack of free games, because many of the included titles were the type that we never would have owned otherwise, with my parents favouring more critically-acclaimed and worthy efforts, such as graphic adventures, that the whole family could enjoy.

The main things I remember about Overlander are that a) it was pretty unforgiving and b) at various points you actually needed to conserve fuel by driving a bit more slowly (at least until you could buy the converter that made fuel more efficient). Revisiting it now, I don’t seem any better equipped to deal with the difficulty, to the extent that I haven’t even been able to verify whether my memories of the fuel conservation necessity are correct or not. It’s definitely not a patch on RoadBlasters though.

roadblasters

I first played RoadBlasters on the Amstrad CPC and, by the standard of most 8-bit coin-op conversions, it was pretty good. My favourite version, though, was the Atari Lynx port, which was super-smooth, lightning fast, and generally pretty awesome (a fact acknowledged by the RG article). I think it was possibly my favourite Lynx game, in fact, but although I still have my old Lynx 2 somewhere, I wasn’t about to go digging around for it and dusting it off. By all accounts the MegaDrive version is the best (exluding the arcade original of course) and thanks to the power of emulation (and, er, those places on the internet where you can find the things you might need to make emulation useful and fun) I’ve been wasting a few evenings chasing green and red fuel blobs and blasting those pesky motorbikes off the road. And crashing. And running out of fuel.

A long time ago I thought about hunting down a copy of Midway’s Arcade Treasures so this seems like the perfect excuse. And it has Spy Hunter too!

Ten out of ten for power…lucky to get one for accuracy

July 6th, 2014

Written by: Rik

Good day.

As the festival of football continues in Brazil, we bring you coverage of a game that’s as terrible as England’s performances: Actua Soccer.

actuatitle

This is a testing time when the choice is mine

July 1st, 2014

Written by: Rik

I don’t know about you, but I thought the Steam summer sale was a bit of a bust this year. In a way, of course, I’m glad, because it means I wasn’t too tempted to add yet more titles to the backlog, although I’ve long since fallen off the ‘no new games in 2014′ wagon.

One title I did pick up was Gone Home, which was one of the most talked-about games of last year – although, being an out-of-touch old so-and-so, I didn’t really pay much attention to that talk at the time.

For once, such ignorance probably did me a favour, seeing as you’re probably best off approaching Gone Home while knowing virtually nothing about it. I’m not about to ruin it for you now, either, other than to say that I really did enjoy it a lot.

GoneHome

All you really need to know is that it’s an adventure with plenty of exploration but virtually no puzzles, and it’s fairly short (2-3 hours max I reckon) – so if such things bother you, make sure you acquire it at an acceptable price point.

Any further explanation is pretty redundant. The mechanics will be obvious to anyone who’s ever played a game (and even those who haven’t), while uncovering the story in little pieces – from the very start – is pretty much the whole point.

(I should point out that such secrecy is advised not because there’s anything mind-bendingly shocking to uncover here, more that the uncovering itself is such a fundamental part of the game that to say anything beforehand is to spoil a rather large proportion of the overall experience.)

Having finished the game and taken some time to look at the reviews, the general consensus seems to be that Gone Home is a triumph, a touching and original title that also represents a refreshing counterpoint to the macho nonsense that makes up the majority of the gaming world. I’d go along with that.

Best of all, though, it’s set in the 90s. What more could you ask for?

Football is our love

June 13th, 2014

Written by: Rik

Hello.

It’s time for the World Cup. A time when people who don’t like football get bored by the constant talk of football, and everyone else gets bored by the people who like to go on about how much they don’t like football.

Anyway, in a vaguely topical update, we’ve reviewed a football game: Sensible Soccer: European Club Edition. (Don’t worry – it has international teams too).

sensiecetitle

Live the life

June 8th, 2014

Written by: Rik

Ahoy, mateys!

A tale of adventure on the high seas be awaiting ye, if ye dare follow the treasure map (by which we mean link) to a review of Sid Meier’s Pirates!

piratestitle

Diablo 3 by smoke signal and carrier pigeon

June 8th, 2014

Written by: Stoo

So the other day I posted some positive opinions on Diablo 3. This weekend I’ve had a chance to see it from another perspective, by trying to play on a crappy 1 Mb/s rural internet connection. Last night I didn’t have too much trouble, but today it’s unplayable; the game chucks me out a few seconds after logging in.

It’s especially galling when we consider that the console version works offline. I suppose the justification is, keeping a large portion of the game’s information on the server side is a defense against both piracy, and the sort of hacking that afflicted Diablo 2. With consoles, both of these are harder to do so the need for protection is reduced.

I’m back to my 57-jiggabits broadband tonight anyway. Still, it’s a reminder of the appeal of getting the happily offline-available Torchlight on our favourite DRM-free source, gog.com.

(PS I’ve no idea why the comments were turned off in my last post. Sorry!)

I enjoyed this a lot more than Nox. Turning in my retro-gamer card now.

June 6th, 2014

Written by: Stoo

Recently I finally caved in and bought Diablo 3. I’d been a bit wary of it over the past couple years; as I sometimes find action-rpgs become a repetitive chore to slog through. In fact I remember posting here a couple of years ago thinking I was maybe simply bored of the genre. However, for the past week or so I’ve been totally hooked, once again slaughtering my way through a host of Demons and picking up stacks of shiny loot. It’s just as addictive as this sort of faster paced dungeon-crawling experience should be. Blizzard have refined their arpg framework, making it ever more slick and user friendly, but also addressed problems that previously could make playing for more than a few hours tedious or discouraging.

Screenshot001

A lot comes down to how it handles development of character skills. Previously you had the “tree” system where with each level-up you were granted a point to gain a new skill, or upgrade an existing one, and with certain choices new options became available for next time. Originally in Diablo 2 your choices were permanent so if you made a crappy character or just got bored with the current abilities then, well, tough. The only option was to start again. Later patches let you reset skills, but only a few times. Titan Quest, following this sort of model, gave some reset options but only to a limited extent.

With Diablo 3 you basically have 6 ability slots for each character. Typically 2 slots represent stuff you’ll use constantly, so bound to mouse buttons, others are stuff like situational abilities, cooldowns and constant-effect. As you level you gain new skills to choose for each slot. So for the mage the primary slots might be stuff like the freeze ray, fireballs, lightning shots etc whilst the others are emergency teleport, defensive shields, or panic-button “root everyone in place while you run away” spells.

Each ability chosen can then have a further customisation option selected – so the wizard’s lightning might be one big blast, lots of little shots, one that adds freezing effects and so on. So it might sound like there’s a lot of options to choose here, and there are. But here’s the important thing – none of it’s permanent. You can change any or all of your chosen abilities at any time (except right in the middle of a fight). No choices affect how your character handles further down the line.

I guess some RPG veterans might bemoan the lack of lasting consequences in your character development choices. Myself though, I welcome it. I spend an hour with my wizard shooting magic missiles and freeze beams, then change tack and have him use the disintegration ray and lightning. Just for the sake of variety, or to field test some newly available options. It holds my interest for longer periods of time, and if I have a crappy build then, eh, can change it when I need to.

There are a few other minor quality of life tweaks – automatically picking up gold, unlimited ability to teleport back to town to sell stuff whenever I like. Also they’ve thrown in an item-crafting facility, which I think is quite popular in RPGs these days.

Diablo 2′s system of followers has been expanded on too. You have a choice of 3 characters each with very different abilities of their own. They also have their own personalities and backstories, so you can feel a little more attached to them as they follow you into battle I tend to take along the Templar as he complements the wizard quite nicely; he can charge in and get monsters attention while I hang back at a safe distance. Also he boosts the representation of Yorkshiremen in videogames. (I can’t think of many others. Sean Bean in Oblivion?)

Graphically I don’t think it was cutting edge for 2012 but I suppose that’s never been Blizzard’s priority. It does look good, though. I recall some fan gripes about it being too colourful, which is bizarre as vast swathes of the second game were yellow or green. It’s still got that ominous atmosphere to it, that reminder that you’re up against not just monsters but the forces of evil itself, crawling up from hell.

Regarding a couple of other concerns that were raised originally – that auction house that used real money is gone now. I don’t know exactly how players felt about it, for people but I imagine feeling pressured to spend ££ for weapons to participate in high-level multiplayer wouldn’t be fun. Also, the game does require you to be constantly online, as if playing an MMO. This doesn’t bother me personally as I have BT infinity, but it still seems kind of un-necessary.

So all round it looks to me like a sensible evolution of Diablo 2, and a great piece of work from Blizzard, accessible and enormously entertaining. I still giggle every time my mage hits the Archon button and briefly turns spitting death rays all round, and the game happily announces I’ve just scythed down 12 monsters in 2 seconds. Then pick through the resulting loot whilst Templar guy makes exuberant noises about how much fun that was. There’s still innately something super-repetitive about this sort of game, but from what I’ve seen so far they’ve set up the right sort of satisfaction and rewards to keep me coming back for more.