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Review: Need for Speed: The Run

March 9th, 2019

Written by: Rik

Hi there.

Sorry for the radio silence over the last few weeks: I’ve had a few pieces lying around in a nearly-finished state for a while, but other things have been getting in the way.

So, what’s more boring than someone making excuses for not updating their website? How about 2500 words or so on a Need for Speed game that most people agree is Quite Bad?

Hey, but is it though? Is it really? Find out in our review of Need for Speed: The Run.

Moments in Gaming: The Laa Laa Goal

February 7th, 2019

Written by: Rik

Let’s journey back to a weekend evening, sometime in 1998 (or possibly 1999), when a handful of cool dudes are doing what all 17 year-olds should be doing on a Friday or Saturday night: huddling around a beige PC playing computer games.

Unusually, virtual football is on the menu, with a shared love of Ubisoft’s largely-unheralded Puma World Football ’98 somehow overcoming general antipathy towards sport and cultivating an enthusiasm for multiplayer sessions such as this, which have become a regular occurrence.

Tonight, a round-robin with four human players in the room is a special occasion, accorded extra prestige by the acquisition of MS Sidewinder joypads that can be daisy-chained together, finally putting the expensive beige box on a par, of sorts, with those new-fangled games consoles by extending to both players the right to identical controllers.

To round off the general nerdiness of the event, the tournament has been subject to considerable advance planning, with details of custom team names and players requested and submitted in advance in order for the host and organiser to input them into the game’s editor. And so, rather than the line-ups of top European clubs facing off against each other, the participating teams have ludicrous names, with squads largely made up of comic book heroes, 80s and 90s celebrities and heavy metal band members.

And so, during a match between *ahem* Pedro’s Deathitubbies and Spurs Reserves (some teams were named more imaginatively than others), a careless ball forward from Spurs defender Magneto is chested down in the centre circle by the Deathitubbies’ Laa Laa and punted aimlessly towards the stands. Mid-flight, it somehow curves in the air without losing much speed and ends up swirling towards the goal and into the net beyond the despairing dive of the ‘keeper.

It was a fluke, unrepeatable and inexplicable. We did have a theory that the game’s AI goalkeepers – though alive to, and capable of repelling, the most thunderous of shots at close range – were susceptible to slower, more loopy efforts, which were most easily effected by manipulating a player’s shooting ability downwards in the aforementioned editor. But the huge curl on the ball while airborne was a complete mystery. In the moment, there was laughter – and presumably some rage on the part of the player on the receiving end – and a replay was saved for posterity.

Over time, the finer details of the match, the tournament, the players involved and, as acknowledged above, even a rough date of the events in question have all faded away. Without the video, would this moment be a memorable one? Perhaps – as a semi-apocryphal tale that became more ludicrous with each retelling, maybe, or just a dim and dusty vision of something quite funny that happened once. Or it may well have been forgotten altogether.

The goal does live on though. In raking through our murky history for tales of our early adventures with video, it became apparent to me how odd it is for this clip even to exist, through a historical transfer of save and replay files from PC to PC and one day making a decision for some reason to fashion a silent clip from still images of a game, in a pre-YouTube age, to be watched by virtually no-one.

Strangest of all is to realise that this blurry 9-second video replays events that took place in real life a long time ago. It’s the gaming equivalent of an old photograph, bringing nostalgic memories rushing back while simultaneously reminding you just how much time – 20 years (!) – has passed.

Not quite as unbelievable (to use an appropriate phrase) as the goal itself, but close.

Vault of Regret: Quarantine

January 31st, 2019

Written by: Stoo

Occasionally Rik and I like to do discussion pieces, where we team up and review a game together. We take it turn to suggest games, and a few years back he nominated Quarantine.

Released in 1993, this was a hybrid of driving and first person shooting. It’s set in a dystopian future city, where law and order have collapsed and criminals rule the streets. The usual mode of transport now is hovering cars, usually armed which machineguns and mines. You take on the role of a hover taxi driver, trying to survive amidst the constant violence and chaos. Through transporting passengers, packages, and carrying out combat missions, you hope to find a way out of this nightmare.

I was initially enthusiastic. I never played Quarantine much, but I do recall the demo being on the coverdisk of one of the first ever PC Zone’s that I bought. (Zone being our official favourite gaming mag on this site). I though to myself, this should be my kind of game. 90s shooters are comfortable territory for me; it’s a genre I’ve played extensively, from Wolfenstein 3D to Half Life.

Unfortunately, I sucked at this game from the very start. I careened down the streets, barely in control of the cab, repeatedly smashing into buildings and passing cars. I was utterly hopeless at combat, spraying bullets haphazardly while enemies rammed me off the road, or I just drove headlong into a wall. I also totally failed to successfully carry more than a couple of passengers. I grew increasingly frustrated, cursing this god-damned game, and my own incompetence, until I finally ragequitted.

A screenshot taken by Rik. I didn’t get far enough to buy a minigun.

Perhaps it was a mistake to treat this as a first person shooter and gloss over the “driving” part of the formula. While it’s hardly a realistic vehicle simulator, the basic controls are obviously different to a shooter; for a start there’s no strafing. I think I might have gotten to grips with it eventually, if the controls weren’t so damn slippery. Every touch of the controls seemed to send me either hurtling forward too fast, or veering off the road to crash into the nearest solid object.

I suppose the floaty, twitchy driving model could be partially rationalised with these being hover-cars. Still, I found it intensely frustrating. Also, wait, if it’s a floating car, why can’t it go sideways?

Another problem was the time limits when carrying passengers. I don’t do well with that sort of pressure. The ticking clock caused me to make rash decisions, panic, and not pay enough attention to the map. The end result being, I frequently got lost. Add to this my inability to drive the damn car, and I rarely got the people to their destinations on time. That meant I wasn’t getting paid.

I could mention also how without money, you can’t repair or re-arm your car. This is bad news when everyone is shooting at you, enemy cars are smashing into you, and you’re causing plenty of damage to your cab all by yourself.

Perhaps the biggest issue though is my own impatience. When I’m immediately failing at a game, I lack the willpower to keep practicing until I see greater success. I need a gentler learning curve, and a game that feels like it wants me to keep playing, at least in its early stages. (this is why I will never play Dark Souls). I could say that there’s no point fighting a game that I’m not enjoying, when there are so many others out there. Still, I sometimes wonder if I’ve my propensity to give up has caused me to miss out on some worthwhile experiences.

Anyway, if this had been a solo effort, my disaster wouldn’t have bothered me greatly. Not the first game I’m bad at, after all. However, I do feel a bit guilty about letting Rik down. My dropping out meant he had to do all the hard work of writing a review by himself. Moreover, for a later discussion piece, he happily played a jRPG at my suggestion. Okay, it was a highly action-oriented one, not too beardy. Still, it wasn’t his his usual area of interest and his willingness to give it a fair try leaves me quite ashamed.

Not something I can undo now – even if I find time to play, and write a second opinion, I still didn’t help with his own review. I just hope that I don’t repeat this debacle in any further discussions.

Makin’ Movies

January 27th, 2019

Written by: Rik

As this kind of thing goes, A Force for Good is pretty old. In 2001 the internet was a different place, and the business of covering games for fun a relatively niche and nerdy hobby.

Leaving aside the effectiveness (or not) of our early write–ups in the unforgiving modern spotlight, just putting together each review and adding it to the site was a significant undertaking. For a number of years I would put together my reviews in Word and send them to Stoo to be formatted and published to the site itself.

Screenshots were also a bit of a pain in the arse, and though I can’t remember any particularly stubborn individual titles, a combination of tactics was required. One programme (possibly an earlier incarnation of Fraps) had a habit of mashing up the image with a small portion from the left hand side clipped off and repositioned on the right. It looked – and was – wrong, but went unacknowledged and uncorrected for a substantial period, because we only published small shots (at 320p) until we moved to WordPress in 2013.

(Initially, believe it or not, the smaller shots seemed sufficient: we later readied larger shots in anticipation of integrating a feature that would allow you to access them, which we never did.)

At some point – I’m going to say 2006 or so, when YouTube and video sharing was in its infancy – we had the idea to introduce short video clips to supplement some reviews. These were soundless AVI files captured through Fraps and converted to SWF format so they could be played through a Flash player plugin. I remember being rather pleased with it as a feature at the time.

Several years later, these – by now – rather crummy videos were transferred to YouTube, in the spirit of maintaining continuity with the old site. To preserve my sanity I disabled YouTube comments and anything that might cause someone to actually see the clips except via the site itself, but it meant that FFG had a presence, of sorts, on the platform.

(I’d previously created an account to ensure that this vital piece of gaming footage was preserved for posterity:)

Sure enough, none of them have many views, with the exception of the goal clips from Puma World Football, which gives me a small sense of satisfaction because they were assembled in an extremely inefficient and painstaking way: I used a screen capture programme to capture individual frames of the action as I nudged it along slowly in the game’s replay screen, then used some freeware programme to stick the individual images together and make an AVI. Possibly there were other and better ways to do it, but making and sharing videos wasn’t so common as it is today and things were a bit harder then.

After we moved to WordPress, and driven by a combination of the novelty of engaging with YouTube as a creator, shame at the relative crapness of the clips, and the knowledge that DOSBox had a video capture feature, I spent some time putting together video highlights from European Champions, a DOS–based football game. Unfortunately, I made a bit of a hash of things by using Microsoft Movie Maker to edit it, and failing to resize the source video (and probably 1000 other mistakes) so it turned out kind of blurry and crap, but I was relatively pleased to have dabbled, especially as (at the time) I couldn’t find an existing clip of the PC version on there.

Since then, I’ve returned to the idea a few times, but the effects of repeating the same basic errors outlined above seemed to have an even bigger effect on the quality and the clips weren’t much better than the old ones from 2006. At which point, I determined that faffing around with video wasn’t the best use of the time I had available to work on the site.

I still use the DOSBox video capture sometimes so I can more easily grab screenshots from racing or sports games that aren’t from the beginning or end of the match/race and don’t show me messing up as I fumble for the keyboard shortcut. So sometimes, if those clips seem fairly coherent, need no editing, and show me being Not Totally Shit at a video game, I do use them, as I did recently with Cyclemania.

I made some effort to upscale the video this time, which prompted me to check out the options for more modern Windows titles (last time I seriously checked it involved buying the registered version of Fraps – which I probably should have done anyway at some point – large file sizes and poor frame rates) and of course there were plenty of good options that even I could get my head around which, given the modern fashion for YouTubing and Twitch streaming, is perhaps not surprising.

Just because you can do something, though (to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park), doesn’t mean that you should. I’m not sure whether gameplay videos are ever going to be a major part of the site, for a few reasons. Firstly, I think there’s more of a danger with regard to spoilers, which we do try and avoid here wherever possible. I think a few bits of a sport or racing game are harmless enough, but anything that gives away more than a few minutes of anything with a story seems like too much.

For example: I wondered whether a memorable section of a game currently under consideration for review might be worth a short video. The intention was to highlight a really awesome bit of the game, but doing so would rob the player of the opportunity to experience it fresh for the first time.

Secondly, if you do want a gameplay video, there’s probably a number of better ones on YouTube already than one I could put together. Thirdly, I rarely watch them myself, and even when I do, it’s only for about 30–60 seconds or so. So, on the basis that what we try and do here is produce the kind of content we’d read or enjoy ourselves – if I want to read about an oldie I’d probably go to see if the guys at Just Games Retro have covered it first of all – we’ll be sticking mainly to screenshots and words for the foreseeable future.

Review: Cyclemania

January 19th, 2019

Written by: Rik

Hello there!

With our coverage of the relatively modern Blackwell series over and done with, it’s back to some proper 90s fare with today’s review of the FMV racing game Cyclemania.

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 MIG (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.