[ Content | Sidebar ]

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.

Review: Monuments of Mars

December 6th, 2018

Written by: Stoo

Hello everyone.

Our reviews here cover quite a few of the games from Apogee\3D Realms, from their platform games of the early 90s like Bio Menace and Commander Keen 4, to their forays into First Person shooters such as Rise of the Triad. I’d like to fill in the gaps eventually, the most conspicuous absences being Duke Nukem 3D and the rest of the Keen Series. For today though we’re looking at one of their more obscure platform games: Monuments of Mars.

New: Best of the Blog

December 2nd, 2018

Written by: Rik

A quick note about a couple of small changes to the site structure: we’ve put together a Best of the Blog page with links to some of our longer-form pieces and series over the years. As it says on the page itself, we wanted to find a way to highlight these and put them on a par with the reviews, which are all easily accessible from the menu.

We’ve also consolidated the handful of non-review articles which predated the introduction of the blog, previously filed under ‘General Articles’, into this page. Although we did want to preserve these old pieces, there seemed little point in having a separate, rather sparsely populated, section that was never going to be added to.

Hopefully this serves our intended purpose and adds something to the site. Any thoughts or feedback, do let us know.

Review: Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon

November 20th, 2018

Written by: Stoo

Hi all. It’s been a shamefully long time since I last wrote a review here, but today I have a new one for you! We’re returning to the realms of the Sierra adventures, looking at Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon.