Sunday, June 30, 2019

This Emptiness

 After a grand total of...25 hours, I present the most bare-bones of bare-bones Yume Nikki fangames/clones/rip-offs probably currently available. This Emptiness, a game about a Soviet spy who is embedded in some American government agency or another. In the 1960s, no less. It's also cliche to mention, but it is inspired by HP Lovecraft in parts.

You can get it from either of these two sites:

Do let me know how it is in the comments.

Game 1: Doom

So, I don't have a copy of the original's title screen. Sue me.

Why am I starting with Doom, as opposed to Wolfenstein, Catacomb or even Hovertank 3D? Maybe even one of them obscure options before iD did their stuff? Answer: Doom is here to establish a baseline. The obvious, most basic opinion I have. You should know my opinion on the most beloved FPS game before you care about my opinion on, say, Quiver*. And if you haven't played Doom before, might I suggest either buying it, or if you're a cheapsake, get the shareware version. Also, because I'm probably going to be playing this between the other entries anyway.

I could go into the backstory of how this was made. How Tom Hall wanted it to be an epic story-based game that would literally be the greatest game ever, but also completely crush any computer that tried to run it. John Romero's design philosophy and eventual turn into a living meme. How Sandy Petersen got hired after Tom Hall got fired and had to make two episodes in ten weeks. But for the most part, that is much better documented elsewhere. I suggest Masters of Doom. The short of it, is that Doom was lightning-in-a-bottle. Several people got together before quickly shattering like a glass bottle thrown out of an airplane. For some of these people, their successes' and failures will likely be brought up in a different game.

Doom's story is short, you play a marine, the least liked among those sent to find out what happened on Phobos. Your character punched out a superior officer for his suggestion that you fire upon civilians. You got the short end of the straw and are stuck on the lander while the rest of your squad with all the nice weaponry get slaughtered by the forces of Hell. Leaving you stuck with a pistol and a horde of your former comrades to get through. This is it, except for the end of episode texts.

The chainsaw, after you probably already have one
This pistol you will never use as soon as you get a different weapon. You also start with two hands, that you will rarely use. A shotgun. Doom's shotgun is very satisfying to use. It's not overly aggressive in its animation or sound, but still feels powerful. I think you can go through the entire game, pretty much, without using another weapon. In contrast the chaingun, which uses the same ammo as the pistol, seems overkill for when you get it. It just doesn't feel right to me. You shouldn't be able to load bullets from a pistol** into a chaingun. You could say I'm just ruined by a knowledge of modern military shooters, but even as a kid, it felt wrong. I didn't like it. A rocket launcher. It's less of a rocket launcher and more of a mini-rocket launcher. Doesn't do as much damage as you would expect, but it's automatic, so it doesn't matter. Feels more powerful than it really is. You also get two plasma weapons later on. A plasma rifle, which shoots rapid-fire plasma, and you will never use it after Episode 2. The BFG9000. It shoots a big ball of plasma that first damages the thing it hit, then shoots 40 or so invisible rays across your field of vision, damaging all it touches. There's also a chainsaw, which is surprisingly useful against most targets.

There's also powerups, but they're mostly useless, like this map on E1M8
As these weapons would be pointless without a target to use them on, I'll briefly go over them. You have former humans, one who uses a pistol, and one who uses a shotgun. They're squishy, but well-placed ones can be hazardous to your health. They're the only hitscanners in the game. You also have imps, who are also squishy, and they shoot fireballs. Demons and Spectres are melee-only enemies, the later being partially invisible. They take two shotgun blasts and are thus, not squishy. They're threats depending on your available movement and their location. Barons of Hell are the big monsters of the game, really dishing out the punishment and taking it just as well. Barons can get the drop on the unlucky player and ruin his day. Cacodemons are flying imps with more health. They've never really felt like a threat. Finally, there's lost souls, which are flying melee enemies. Now, lost souls are lots of fun if you know what you're doing. Unlike other enemies, its real easy for them to melee another enemy. A horde of lost souls isn't so much a hazard to the player as it is another weapon for the player.

The first, shareware, episode of Doom is Knee-Deep in the Dead. It takes place on Phobos. Because its shareware it hides a lot of the game from you. You don't get any plasma weapons and two enemies are a surprise for later. Dead is widely considered the best Doom episode, which I chalk up to it being the shareware episode. Got to encourage people to pony up that money. It was mostly done by Romero, with the odd reworking of Hall's work. It generally resulted in a realistic, for the time, design and interesting layouts. It's also the only one to really use damage floors as a level element. Sometimes this works, sometimes this doesn't. E1M3 and E1M4 make poor use of it in my opinion, but other than that, I don't have any complaints that aren't nitpicks.
Pictured: This is what 40$ got you in 1993

The second episode, Shores of Hell, blows through its fancy commerical episode label in the first level. If you know what you're doing, you already have the fancy new weapon and you've killed the fancy new enemies. Not a great start. We start getting lemons too. Sandy Petersen did most of these levels, and did them in ten weeks. This shows in some places. Whenever you hear someone complain about Doom being too open and confusing, they're talking about E2M3. A wide-open map that has several secrets that loop the level around and several areas that do absolutely nothing for you except killing enemies. The secret level, E2M9, incredible bland. It is apparently an experiment in monster in-fighting. Petersen considers it his best level. I suppose like all the greats, what they consider their best work is usually hated among the masses.

Apparently, every time I wanted to take a screenshot, I was using a shotgun
The third episode, Inferno, has the decency to hide the prize for a while. It's also got some real bad levels. E3M1 is just bad, and E3M9 is a copy of that with additional things tacked on. Some of them could be good, but have crap tacked on, like E3M4 having a pointless time-adding teleport puzzle. The final boss too, is just ploped in one corner of the final level, like any other enemy.

As a rule, the secret levels are only secret in that they're secret. Roll the bones, as some would say. E1M9 is amazing, but as a secret level, it is not impressive. Secret levels should feel slightly gimmicky or different than regular levels, and you could replace it with any regular level except E1M1 and it would be the exact same experience. Of them, E3M9 is the most secret, but like I mentioned, it isn't very good.

The boss maps are almost universally good. E1M8 and E2M8 force the player to go through a bit of level before introducing the boss. Bosses should feel grand and the long hallway in E1M8 and the crucified barons in E2M8 are great measures of forboding. E3M8 on the other hand, just plops the spider mastermind down in one edge of a wide x after a small hallway. There's even a perfect little room for the Spider to come out of. BFG or no BFG, the boss's introduction should be grand.

With all that, I think I've got all I've got to say on the matter for now, as to the rating:

Often imitated, rarely improved upon. I'm sure many will disagree, but there's tons of little improvements that could be made. A 7/10 for sure. While there's an obvious, double-barreled hole in the arsenal, I don't feel that's the only thing the game is missing. Keep this in mind when I start doing Doom wads.

Doom's enemies are iconic. Even if the sequel adds new enemies, most of which I think are an improvement. I think it could be said that it is increasing the number of great enemies in the game, even if it isn't changing the score of 10/10 I give this.

No. 0/10

The level design is, for the most part, perfect with one or two imperfections here and there. You've got weak levels in E3M5, E3M1, E1M4, E2M3. The secret levels just don't feel like secrets. Some points definitely feel like someone without any previous experience designed it and you can feel some of the 10 weeks Sandy Petersen had to design it. A 9/10.

Player Agency:
On one hand, the very base game limits you to running forward, back and sideways or turning. The speed of running, is in my opinion, ideal. The problem is that most of the things I like the most about the player's movement were added in ports. The mouse aiming, jumping and crouching combined with the running speed would make it perfect. So, the base game, gets handicapped at a 8/10.

It doesn't really have any, does it? This is of course, complaining that Doom is Doom, and docking points for being Doom. 1/10.

A big draw of the game, even thirty years later. Fighting through a demon possessed military base and eventually Hell itself is nothing if it feels like you're doing a tango without any pants on. The lovely combo of music and design really makes you feel like you're in a very dark place. A solid 10/10.

You know, despite being very brown a lot of the time, Doom never really felt ugly or overly dark. Part of this is that the last two episodes don't screw around with the lighting very much, but the other part of it is that it's frequently broken up by greens, reds, blues, even light pinks and pale grays. A welcome 7/10.

Carmack's opinion on story does not need to be repeated here. 1/10.

Sound is good. It's iconic, so much so that using the sounds in anything else is a Doom reference, even if you just bought the same SFX library iD did back in the day. It's basic though.
Every song on here is more or less ripped from some other source. So despite the music being good, it's also stolen. It is changed around a bit, and it doesn't actually feel like someone stealing a bunch of random music. Cohesive, yet completely unoriginal. A steal at 8/10.

In total that's 61 out of a possible 100. That might sound like an easy task, but keep in mind it's got to increase the score in a lot of categories that Doom had next to nothing in. Interactivity and Non-Enemies are both going to be very hard for most games to have a high score in. I forsee the Build engine games doing well in the first one, as will most of the RPG/FPS hybrids.

*It won't make you quake, but it will make you Quiver.
**Yes, I realize there are guns that do that. There are pistols that shoot 5.56mm and rifles that shoot 9mm. It still feels wrong. They're also rare.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

What this is all about, and probably why you're here.

Sometime back in 2015 I had an idea. Play all the first-person shooters from the '90s. So I did, wrote it down as a list. Never released it anyway. There wasn't much point to it looking back, I only finished about 10 games and played the rest briefly. Most of my statements were about whether they were good or bad. So I put it out of my mind.

In 2019 I started reading The CRPG Addict, a man blogging about his journey through every RPG released on a home computer. It was an interesting read, and then it reminded me of that list. I should do that list properly, I thought to myself. So I began plotting about doing the list again, this time in the same format as the CRPG Addict. With all the FPS, up to a certain point. I decided it should be about all shooting games, and then it sort of ballooned into first-person RPGs, racing games and survival horror games. Further, I actually have been cutting things like clones or even a shot at getting 10 points. Its insanity, its very obvious why this particular breed has never been tried before.
I also sometimes play games that aren't shooters or mention stuff that I myself worked on.

To this end I thought up 10 categories I feel are important to a shooter, and rate them each on a scale of 1 to 10. You shouldn't consider this rating the same way you would on the usual rating system. Ratings above 40 are exceedingly rare, and even ratings in the 30s aren't too common. 30s are closer to a 7 on the usual 10 point scale that most publications use, and anything higher is something good, and anything lower is...not.

What are used to shoot enemies. I like either a wide selection, or a handful of very well-made weapons. However, the game with the widest selection possible is completely pointless if they all feel the same or I don't have reasons to use more than one.

The things I am supposed to shoot. They should either be a wide variety, each feeling different and covering a different niche, or very well-made enemies. With a focus on their AI.

The things that I don't shoot or are shooting along with me. AI is primarily a concern, since it doesn't really matter how many different kinds of civilians there are.

Where you shoot things. I tend to like levels with something clever going on, either in puzzle design or in the layout itself. To a certain extent what it looks like is covered here too.

Player Agency:
How well the player controls. I don't overly criticize old games for failing to live up to modern control standards, but if its awkward to control, its awkward to control.

There are several things this can describe. Build Engine style level interactivity, just messing around and things actually happen. Adventure game style, look at this, use x item on y object. Puzzles tend to be partially handled by this.

The mood of a game. Its not quite the audio-visual content of a game, but it is closely related. Does it impart the feeling of walking through a beautiful meadow, or that gothic mansion? Is that a feeling I want to feel?

How it looks. I don't give points for nostalgia, but at the same time I appreciate what someone with limited resources and resolution can do, especially if it looks gorgeous.

What is my motivation? Does the game have multiple pathways to completing the game? Neither of these things are completely necessary, but I do like it when I have something interesting in this category.

How it sounds. I generally treat the each as half of the category. Good sound design and good music generally feel at odds to me.

After that, I tally up the total, and then talk about other reviews, bringing up anything I didn't, commenting on whether or not they finished it. Despite usually playing games that take under 10 hours, I find that most reviewers don't. Even I have a roughly 50% chance of finishing a game, but its something I bring up, because that's important. Whether or not I, someone who decided it'd be a good use of my time to play all these games didn't finish a title, is pretty important advice, as it is with people who got paid to do so. I also bring up technical issues and emulation issues one might find playing these old titles. Its surprising how many titles have given me grief in this time period.

I write this revision in late 2021, and I think it took me a while to find a good writing style. I can't say I've ever felt too good about writing text let's plays, but I've gotten into a good groove doing the actual reviews. Perhaps that's just because doing text LPs on shooting games was a fool's idea. The first 16 or so games had a very awkward style that I've been trying to rewrite, but I hope you'll stick with me past those.