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Moments in Gaming: Thumbs Down

October 25th, 2019

Written by: Stoo

Warning: spoilers for Fallout New Vegas lie ahead…

The Fallout series is set in various locations around the former USA, a couple of centuries after civilisation ended in a nuclear apocalypse. For New Vegas (the fourth in the series), we focus on the Mojave desert. At its heart lies Vegas itself, miraculously largely untouched by the destruction that ravaged the rest of the country. Around the city are small towns populated by hardy, self-reliant folks. The Mojave is a dangerous place, afflicted by radioactive monsters and marauding tribes of raiders, but society is slowly rebuilding itself. The question is, what direction will this progress take? A return to the economy and governance of yesteryear, or something else?

Three major actions are pitted against each other, each working to a very different ideology As you work through the game’s main quest line, you can choose to support any one of the three, gaining their favour but potentially earning the enmity of the others. Alternatively there’s a fourth “screw you all” option. In the grand finale, you decide who will finally control New Vegas and the Mojave.

Moments in Gaming: Thumbs Down continued »

Soundtracks: Introduction

October 24th, 2019

Written by: Rik

Over the years we’ve branched out from being mainly reviews-focused to the occasional blog series or regular feature. There are various reasons for this, among them that we don’t have as much time to play the oldies as we used to, but it also adds a bit of variety to the content on the site. From our point of view, it makes things a bit more interesting and reflects the changes in gaming coverage that have taken place over the 15 plus years we’ve been going, and hopefully the same goes for you (although a recent survey of the site’s 7 readers was inconclusive: if you’ve not completed it yet, don’t forget that you’ll be entered into an exclusive prize draw if you meet the deadline).

In this series we’ll be looking at music featured in games – specifically, existing songs by real bands licensed by publishers for a soundtrack. A lot of coverage of gaming music focuses – correctly, perhaps – on original compositions or chiptune music and remixes, and this is undoubtedly a lot cooler than what we’re going to do here, which is basically talk about bands and their most commercially attractive material in the context of being plonked onto the menus of some publisher’s annual franchise instalment.

On the other hand, we’re in the business of looking back here, and while upon release it may be perfectly valid to cynically dismiss an expensively assembled collection of tracks as irrelevant in terms of the overall experience, digging through them after a few years gives us an opportunity to revisit those choices, those songs, and what they said about the time. Plus it’s an opportunity to have a bit of a giggle about some things that haven’t perhaps aged too well, and embarrass myself by revealing rather too much about my own preferences in the process.

Some ‘discs’ from the ‘days’ when you could ‘own’ your ‘music’.

My own qualifications in this regard can best be described thus: I had a healthy appreciation of most of what was popular once upon a time, during those formative years when such things seemed so important, and your choices and preferences were part of who you were, or so it seemed; and anything even slightly away from the mainstream made you extremely cool and original and definitely not just following a different set of pre-packaged tastes and trends.

However, since then, as with most things, I’ve gradually fallen more and more out of touch, and however I might try to listen to new stuff, my Spotify account is mainly used to access old albums that I’ve either lost or haven’t ripped audio from. But occasionally the corporate appropriation of music for gaming soundtracks has been successful and I have found myself getting into a band as a result of hearing them during a game.

So, basically I’m even less qualified to write about music than I am about games, although I do like reading about it: even those extremely sneery pieces that used to appear in the likes of NME and Melody Maker and still pop up in newspaper arts sections like The Guardian’s Saturday Guide, which seem able to extrapolate and express so much criticism of an artist or band from a particular single or album (which would, of course, drive the ‘objective games criticism!’ crowd wild as these pieces fail to note the ability of the singer to hit the right notes or the general competence of the guitar playing). I kind of like and admire their snootiness, while at the same time still considering them rather mean-spirited and not the kind of writing I could really pull off myself.

Hey, now, wouldn’t this be a good one to cover? We won’t be doing so, though.

My choices for this series will be predicated on the fact that I do think that’s there’s something interesting to say about at least some of the featured songs. Some other rules: we must have reviewed the game already, and the pieces will try to avoid repeating anything in the review (which will be linked to), while still talking about the music in the context of the game. But it’s likely we will also be going off on tangents at various points.

Also: this will be a discrete blog series, otherwise separate from the reviews themselves. While it would sort of make sense to bolt these pieces onto the relevant review as a side feature, those extras tend to be mainly for little additional tidbits and thoughts about the game, and more significant pieces tend to be rather hidden away there. Also, although we’ve done this in the past, the practice of adding new content to old reviews can be a bit jarring, especially if there’s several years between when the pieces were written.

So, there we go. We’ll get started on this shortly, so why not join us for a fun look back at some old music from the 90s and 00s?

Discussion: Her Story (spoilers!)

October 6th, 2019

Written by: Rik

Hello. Today we’re reviving our once semi-regular discussion format to take a look at a relatively modern title. For this purpose we welcome back to FFG, after a number of years away, our sometime contributor and unofficial third member, Jo.

The game we’re discussing is Her Story, released in 2015. Unusually for a modern game, it was based almost entirely around a large number of filmed sequences, and for the first time in many years, the much-dreaded (and completely nonsensical) term from the 90s, Full Motion Video (FMV), started to re-enter the gaming lexicon.

It’s really one of those games that you could go into knowing absolutely nothing, but, essentially, you spend your time watching footage from a series of police interviews with the same woman, regarding the disappearance of her husband. As you uncover more details, you’ll be able to search the database for more clips and eventually work out (more or less) what happened.

That’s probably about as much as we can say up to this point: this discussion will be extremely spoiler-tastic, so unless you’ve already played it, have absolutely no intention of doing so, or don’t mind having the entire story of something discussed before experiencing it for yourself, you’re probably better off stopping here.

Her Story was pretty well-received at the time, and we both liked it, so I’d suggest first enjoying this minimal teaser-trailer and then checking out the game itself, if it seems like it might be of interest.

Okay? Now here’s your final ***SPOILER WARNING*** before we proceed…


Discussion: Her Story (spoilers!) continued »

Review: A Golden Wake

September 20th, 2019

Written by: Rik

Hi there.

Here’s a funny thing: I usually feel bad if we go a while without posting a review. Now I feel bad that it’s been a few reviews in a row. Basically, I just feel bad about everything all the time.

Today we’re looking at a comparatively modern adventure: A Golden Wake.

Review: Olympic Soccer

August 24th, 2019

Written by: Rik

Hello there!

Football is a thing that some people like. Some other people, less so.

Here’s a review of a game called Olympic Soccer.

Review: Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse

August 3rd, 2019

Written by: Rik

Hi there.

Hope you’re having a good summer. The rusty old reviewing machine cranks into life again, as we take a look at the latest in the Broken Sword series, The Serpent’s Curse.

Review: 4D Sports: Boxing

July 21st, 2019

Written by: Rik

Hi there.

It’s been quite a couple of months away from FFG, but I’m slowly getting back into the swing of writing.

Today we have a proper oldie for you: it’s 4D Sports: Boxing.

Vault of Regret: Klik & Play

July 6th, 2019

Written by: Rik

I occasionally see complaints from those involved in game development expressing irritation that those playing or reviewing their games make sweeping statements about poor design or bad coding without having the first clue about either. Even though we’re in a quiet and extremely uninfluential backwater here, I daresay we’re guilty of making such statements on occasion too. Notwithstanding the fact that criticism of the end product is valid without necessarily being a criticism of the individuals involved or the amount of effort invested, it’s easy to forget how hard it is to put something together that works, never mind something that is critically and commercially successful, on time and within budget.

Like many people, I made the mistake of thinking that playing games bestowed me with the qualities required to make one, and during a certain period in my late teens, any shareware or commercial software that advertised itself as being “user friendly”, or not requiring you to learn any kind of programming language, became of particular interest. One early example was a programme called Illuminatus, which was actually presentation software (I think), but allowed sufficient interaction to cobble together a fairly terrible choose-your-own-adventure type affair with whatever hand-drawn graphics you could muster using MS Paint. Even so, I can’t recall actually producing anything with it, just a collection of half-baked and unfinished ideas that likely included far too much adolescent humour.

Klik & Play by Europress was a more appropriate piece of software for my purposes, as it focused on the easy creation of functional games, without the need to draw your own graphics or learn much in the way of code. I’m not sure if it was actually possible to make anything good, but it certainly made the process of getting stuff to move around the screen and interact with other things very easy indeed, and as such I spent more time than is healthy beavering away on a succession of unoriginal and highly unentertaining freeware titles for Windows 3.1.

Attempt 1 certainly didn’t lack ambition: my intention was to create a space shooter with an epic storyline, inspired by the likes of Wing Commander. And, like WC creator Chris Roberts, my focus was mainly on the story and cut-scenes, with the idea to staple on some generic 2D space shooter action afterwards.

Of course, I soon realised that I had neither the artistic nor technical skill to produce anything visually appealing, or anything that even actually worked, and the whole endeavour was soon abandoned not long after I’d begun trying to draw blue flight suits over the clothing of the stock character sprites.

Normally, this would have been the point at which I’d have given up entirely. But, after scaling back my expectations somewhat, I nevertheless persisted to the extent that I managed to produce four rather basic attempts at entertainment:

1. One-on-One Indoor Footy

Possibly my most successful title, in that I once saw two people I didn’t know playing it on one of the school computers, this was a largely plagiarised title heavily inspired by one of the bundled games, Go for Goal! (a title sadly not included in the version of Klik & Play currently available on the Web, but a quick Google does confirm its existence).

Like many of the bundled games, Go for Goal! was largely rubbish, and without minimising the scale of my theft, I think my changes did improve it. The original had giant players lumping a ball around a small pitch with goalkeepers moving about at random – it was less a football game and more a series of random collisions. My plan involved reducing the size of the players relative to the size of the pitch, turning the green playing surface to the colour of an indoor five-a-side arena, and removing the goalkeepers (I might have fiddled around with the ball behaviour parameters a bit as well).

Add to that a cheesy title screen using an image of ex-Leeds striker Toby Yeboah, a playful homage to the EA Sports “It’s In The Game” intro that was ubiquitous in the 90s (I recorded my own voice and increased the speed a bit so I sounded like a cartoon hamster on helium), and some player commentary by Barry Davies nicked from Actua Soccer, and you had the finished product. Hey, if you wanted to play a one-on-one indoor footy match between Gianfranco Zola and Dennis Bergkamp during which shooting was banned altogether, this was your only choice.

Thanks, MobyGames!

Vault of Regret: Klik & Play continued »

A shareware hero returns

July 2nd, 2019

Written by: Stoo

The Commander Keen series were the finest platform games to come from the Apogee stable. In fact they were probably the greatest best home-grown PC platform games from the dawn of the 90s. Yeah yeah, some would say I’m not setting the highest of bars there. Still I reckon the forth and fifth games, together known as Goodbye Galaxy, were worthy challengers to the generally superior range of platformers on consoles (or the cursed Amiga).

Apart from a little-known outing on gameboy advance, the series has been dormant since 1991. So I was surprised to hear Bethesda announce a new Keen for mobile devices.

Details are a bit thin on the ground so I’ll just copy-paste from the official site:

○ Nefarious forces threaten humanity, and only twin geniuses Billy and Billie can stop them. Grab a shipload of gadgets, cuz it’s time to kick some asteroid!
○ Help Billie and Billy rescue Dadmiral Keen in the solo story mode, or go helmet-to-helmet for sweet prizes and bragging rights in the real-time Battle Mode!
○ Arm yourself with an arsenal of gadgets that blast, bounce, and baffle your enemies in order to become the ultimate commander.

So I don’t really know what to expect. I assume it won’t handle like a traditional platform game, however, since they tend to be utterly crippled by godawful touchscreen controls.

The emphasis on gadgets fits with the theme of Keen being a child genius; in the original games he built his own spacecraft and blaster gun. Putting my cynical hat on though, and knowing how mobile games work, I assume you’ll have to spend lots of real money, to buy fake money, to buy the best gizmos.

There’s also a rather slick promotional video that basically looks like a trailer for a kids cartoon series. It’s a million miles away from the EGA graphics of my childhood. My need for nostalgia was however partially sated when I noticed some familiar enemies – the doglike Vorticons and the signature dopefish.

I guess I’m neither super excited nor particularly angry about this. Enough nods to the old games may tempt me to give it a try. What I do demand to know, however, is when we are getting the long awaited BIO MENACE remake???

The FFG Football League

May 31st, 2019

Written by: Rik

Some dull site trivia for you: the early incarnations of FFG didn’t have a dedicated sport section. Although we’d resolved to make sure we found space for a review of Puma World Football, it was buried rather incongruously among either the action or simulation titles. This was down to me more than anything else, and I distinctly remember my colleague asking if there were any other old football games worth adding. Not really, I replied, most of them haven’t aged that well and aren’t worth revisiting.

Ha! Well clearly I changed my tune on that at some point, or the second bit of it at least, given that we now have a reasonable selection of reviews spanning the 90s and 00s. And, given that football is a never-ending competition to find out not only who is the best but also to rank all of those others who are not the best, it seems appropriate to do the same with these games. So today we unveil the FFG Football League: our attempt to put all the football games we’ve reviewed into some kind of order.

Isn’t this just a thinly-disguised listicle, I hear you ask? Well, no, actually, and I’ll thank you not to be so bloody rude. Instead of working from the bottom up, spreading the list across multiple posts in order to dangle the carrot of the best games for as long as possible in an attempt to build to some kind of climax, we’re presenting a league table, starting at number 1. Just as with real football, it’s immediately obvious who will be at the top, followed by one or two surprises a bit lower down, and then a large mass of entries of roughly similar quality scrapping it out for the honour of being slightly less bad than those around them – and a meaningless final position.

So here’s how it works: football is a game of stats, and the table doesn’t lie, Gary, so rankings will in the first instance be determined by the score awarded in the original review. After that, games that achieved the same score will be ranked according to the subjective whims of FFG’s chief sports reporter, responsible for coverage of all of these games, albeit in a random and haphazard fashion, over the years. Extracts from, and links to, these dusty screeds will of course be provided.

All of the games covered thus far will be included, and this of course means two divisions, Geoff. This will also be updated as we increase our coverage, so the table is subject to change, including the possibility of relegation for those few lurking at the bottom. [Ooh – exciting! – FFG reader].

And finally, controversy and endlessly futile debate are all part of the fun of the beautiful game, Clive, so in the event that you’re one of this site’s seven readers who actually likes football, feel free to make use of our own version of a phone-in line by leaving a comment below.

The FFG Football League continued »