Saturday, February 29, 2020

Shadowcaster: There and Back Again

Ah, Shadowcaster, a game I possess a certain fondness for. I think I've only played it like twice to completion. First time...It, uh, it was a bit longer than what I'd want because the game screwed up with my save near the end. Second time, I already knew what was going to go on. I vaguely remember most of the levels and the core gameplay aspects, so you'll be getting a playthrough that's a bit cheesy. There's not any real exploits, but because of the way the game works a certain playstyle is rewarded.
Its also the first western RPG/FPS hybrid, by some debate of the words FPS and to a certain extent RPG. Its an RPG to the extent that you have an experience meter that goes up and increases your health and mana. Its an FPS to the extent that its first-person, made by Raven Software, uses the Wolfenstein Engine, and has some elements that could be considered shooting.

I'm starting to dread playing real CD games in DOSBox. I never seem to get the actual audio working. Shadowcaster was not any different in this regard. With the added bonus that I seem to be missing MIDI music. Oh, and the intro is missing too. Good luck with either of those things. I'm going to be listening to the music as ripped by some guy on Youtube.
That gargoyle comes to life, but that's after it skipped the cutscene
The story, working off memory, is the player, Kirt, are the last surviving royal member of a race of shapeshifters. Vestor, the servant of The Dark One, killed his family and presumably a good chunk of the rest of his race. He escaped because His grandfather took him from your home plain before The Dark One could kill him. He have been hiding in secret on our world for the next 18 or so years. Vestor has finally found him, his grandfather tells you everything, and then sends gim back home.
What could possibly go wrong?
When you first start playing Shadowcaster, you are greeted with this. It slowly moves toward you. It stops some walks away from you. It does something, but nothing happens. Then you start losing life. Then in your frantic confusion you either manage to figure out how to strike back, nearly dying in the attempt, or do nothing and die. If I were to describe Shadowcaster using a stupid metaphor, it would be a rollercoaster with a lot of slow climbs then sheer drops.
It just so happens that it begins with a sheer drop. Its fairly easy to mitigate this sheer drop though. You can just start again. I want to play this on the hardest difficulty anyway. See how difficult it gets. It starts on normal.
After kicking the thing's stuffing in, I am free to talk about the way the game tricks you starting out. In order to attack you need to get real close, but that's only half the puzzle. The interface is...interesting. It is to be expected that early FPS/RPG games are clunky. Remember Bram Stoker's Dracula? This game is less clunky, but more confusing. In order to attack (at first) you need to select your hands or feet, then right click on your target. You can also use your hands to pick up items or use items. However, there are some items you need to have nothing selected in order to use.
The movement is a bit floaty. Like skating on ice. The two items are of little importance, but the statue here is of vital importance. This is how Kirt gets his shapeshifting abilities. Something about a pact. The first shape is that of a giant four-armed catman called Maorin. They're like those things from Wing Commander. Its more powerful than your base form and has the ability to see hidden objects. The way the game describes it, I'm changing places with him, but in gameplay terms, nothing much changes. Except each form has their own experience meter. Kirt gets a little bit of the experience from the other forms, which is good, because leveling up Kirt is the only thing that levels up mana, which lets you actually use the other forms.
...something, I don't know.
There is a short cutscene I don't get to see because DOSbox is screwing up, but the gist is that I'm in the ancient city long after everyone is dead. Its overgrown, and now there are these things. Man-eating plants of some kind. They move whenever I don't look at them. Until I screw them up enough that they flee from my superior might. Assuming they ever live that long.
Seen here, before death
They drop float seeds. These aren't useful now, but they will be in a moment.
Changing is done in a short animation that stops everything. Changing happens at will, except if Kirt runs out of mana.
Enemies feel spooky in the distance because of the fog
You don't seem to do any more damage as the Maorin, but it feels more satisfying to attack as one. After a short distance, I encounter another thing. This one shoots goo at me out of his head. He nearly gets me, and his flowery friends manage to sneak up on me while I'm killing him. Fortunately, a burst of health as I get a level-up lets me continue this without dying. I'd better let my health regenerate.
The end of my stand-off, just as I get full health back
The big problem with this game is you have to wait around to heal. No real regeneration. Grab a book, you'll be here a while. Later on, there are ways to bring it back to roughly this speed, but you'll still spend a good chunk of this game staring at nothing, hoping you don't get ambushed. You can click on your health and mana bars to see your point totals.
After killing the rest of the flowery companions, I discover this, which I forgot existed. You only have 8 item slots, plus your hands. For each character. This is useful if you happen to forget where you put something important. At this point, there's nothing I can forget.
There's also a map, which I don't yet need. It only shows the areas that you can currently access and have done so. Its slightly annoying because you have to get real close in order to make a tile appear on the map.
In the next room, there's a statue and a floating chest. The chest, if you let it, will start attacking you. Its at this point we come to the shooting mechanics. I have a fireball wand from earlier. Not fireball in the DnD sense, but fireball it that its a ball of fire. There are just enough shots to kill it. I aim, and right click on it. That's all there is to it. The chest contains a float seed for some reason and a crest, which can be used on the nearby statue. This will lead me somewhere I don't want to go to yet.

I go to the room east of the statue and chest. Here there are a couple more two-legged things than I remember. Changing the difficulty does three things, increase XP, increase the monsters health and damage, and change what monsters appear. I don't know how this changing works, but I don't plan on finding out if it can be exploited. The next room, north, is some kind of lake. Here, there's a single red plant monster on the water. I suspect this was added because playtesters didn't know what to do. I can't blame them for adding it, first time I went through the game I jumped across the lake. It damages you, but it does work.
Killing him reveals that the float seed creates a vegetation float on the ground. So all these things you may have been collecting turn out to be useful after all. Neat. There are four ledges here and three paths out. There are more than enough float seeds to reach everything, but you can go as low as 7 to get everything important.
It looks better in gameplay than in screenshot form
The ledge tucked away has a fairly obvious puzzle...if you read the manual. You walk across it, and you'll get hit by fireballs. If you switch to the Maorin you'll get the option to use his special sight. Which reveals there are pressure plates on the floor. So instead, you walk carefully across the area avoiding those. Its not necessary to do this, you can just run across. You'll have to wait more though.
Then, I am introduced to the first real weapon of the game, the shuriken. Its a shuriken that returns like a boomerang. I don't know if it does that much damage, but it feels more powerful than it is because if you spam attack something at close range you get in a shuriken shot and a punch.
Further in, there's a test of your ability to hit a target above a flame. There are three of them. Behind these flames?
This is basically every combat screenshot from now until I get another weapon
Yeah, these things.
And this, a statue head. Looks more like a mask to me, but what do I know?
The big, obvious ledge leading to another place, has a big tunnel, revealing another thing. I would think up a name for them, but ten years from now when I inevitably find the strategy guide for this game, its going to be something weird, like Cthuck. It'll be a blast, that's for sure.
Deeper inside...yeah, I think I know how this is going to go. Only played through this section like four times.
Oh, its just a single one. Its guarding another firewand, if you used the first one in a blind panic. Back to the statue room.
Hmm, somebody wants to die, I guess.
Another one, huh. I never said this game had good AI. At least his final companion is off hiding in the distance. Good for him.
With him, there's nothing left on this level, except two exits. This game is partly derived from Raven's previous game, a Dungeon Master-clone called Black Crypt. So it is somewhat open-ended. You'd have to go through both levels. I don't think there's any required order, but one is more advised than another, I do believe. So I'll be doing the unadvised order next time.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Game 24: B-17 Bomber

Name:B-17 Bomber
Genre:Flight Sim
Time:1 hour

There's not much to say about this one. If you've ever heard about this before you know of the voice of the guy saying the title in a robotic Kentucky accent. B-17 Bomber was one of the games released for the Intellivision's Intellivoice Voice Synthesis Module. Which, you guessed it, would add voice to Intellivision games. This was accomplished by using pre-recorded clips, some of which came with the module, some of which came on the cartridge. B-17 appears to have been the big success of the Intellivoice, having released 300,000 copies to the total number of Intellivoices at 375,000. As to why it needed this? Well, I'll get to that.
You'll certainly need the manual, at the very least the plastic overlays that came with. As I explained in Night Stalker, the Intellivision used little plastic overlays over the controller's phone-like buttons. Without it, you'll be staring very long at a screen typical of the abstract nature of early 3D imitations. In order to go somewhere, you have to open up the map, select a destination, then increase speed. Upon arriving you blow up your target, return somewhere over the land of England, and repeat. Like so many things, it isn't about the destination, its about the journey.
As you get there the Germans by means of AA guns and other planes. This is where the Intellivoice comes in. Enemies come in at 12 'o clock, 6 'o clock, 3 and 9. The voice tells you at which clock the enemy is coming in from. You gun them down by shooting them via an simple scroll cursor. You've got to lead them a little, but that's about it. Sometimes they come in at an awkward angle or you've wasted too much ammo, but those situations are rare at first. When you get close enough to your destination, you can switch to a top-down view that is the bombing bay. This functions basically the same. There are also ships, but I didn't have much luck in taking those down.
Unfortunately, one problem I noticed was that playing this with keyboard controls is nigh unplayable. If I didn't still have my copy of Intellivision Lives! for the Gamecube, this would have been really unfun.

Extremely simple machine guns and bombs. 1/10

The enemy planes are extremely crude and only provide any challenge through the draining of ammo supplies and the odd strange placement. 1/10

None 0/10

While the map provides a whole list of targets, these just feel like more difficulty variations of things I've already done after a time. 0/10

Player Agency:
We have the ability to turn around and such, but outside of height and speed there doesn't seem to be any affect to movement. It seems to go on rails. The rest of it is just clever ways to bypass tech limitations. 3/10

There's nothing outside of destroying things. 0/10

While I do kind of feel like a member of a B-17 crew, its very crudely so. 2/10

I feel like I'm going to get a migraine from look at this too long. 1/10

None, basically. 0/10

Its amazing how little synthetic speech has changed in the past 40 years. The rest is generic blops and blips from the Intellivision. 2/10

That is a 10. That gives it a pretty high rating for something 99.9% of people will never touch.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Game 23: Isle of the Dead

You can sum up this game by quitting
Name:Isle of the Dead
Publisher:Merit Software
Developer:Rainmaker Software
Time:8 hours (including added time with CD version)

Isle of the Dead throws out a lot of ideas, most of which don't work at all. There's the adventure game aspect, which you could beat in 30 minutes if I'm being generous. There's the shooting aspect, which consists of shooting the same 5 guys for most of the game, followed by brief additions of two other guys at different points. Oh, and the shooting part is very slow until the very end.
I'm pretty sure I've seen this screen twenty times
The worst fault of the game is the constantly respawning enemies. While the game only has ten or so enemies in each area, these add up. In a practical, non-cheating sense, you will kill enough enemies to match something like Wolfenstein or Doom. Except because its the exact same enemies, it feels so much worse. In order to get past this part, you need to get an item that you might only get accidentally. One of the village chiefs says the oracle needs a sacrifice. You have a flower, which seems obvious. Smokes, lighter, gem, valuable, some games have gods like valuable things. Jacket, compass, possibly unique. A wolf corpse? Something that doesn't actually make sense and isn't a normal thing for a player to take? From my understanding, you're supposed to wait until they're on the altar before killing them. Mind, this doesn't get into actually reaching the oracle in the first place...

A good adventure game would have more than one line of text too
As to the adventure game aspect, well, its a joke. Its like a Cryo game in that only the important things are interactable. Like a Cryo game there's so much interesting looking stuff that you can't interact with that it sucks. Unlike a Cryo game, however, the things you do need to do are not completely shrouded in shadow. That doesn't suddenly make this good, as I can't even look at the bodies of my dead travelling companions in the plane, nor the guards, nor anything really. Even things you can look at tell you nothing. Actions too, are not easy to do. If you miss using an item, you have to go back to the inventory and start again. Don't even get me started on using items on other items in an adventure scene.

In some ways, the game is ahead of its time
Another aspect that didn't occur to me minutes before I hit the publish button, is that this game has a minor GUI problem. The adventure scenes have a decent UI, but that disappears when the shooting sections start. I suspect this might be because the Uzi was added later, they realized they could have just two types of ammo on the GUI when there are three. Or something about not being able to find anything on the ground. Now, this is actually the GUI that any ZDoom-derived engine uses, and I use that all the time, but the option is nice.

There are good elements. The graphics, when not in the shooting aspect, are appealing in their pulpy goodness. The endgame syringe puzzle, when not forcing me to backtrack across the island, was a fun experience. The uh...well I guess that's about it.

There are a lot of seeming glitches:
  • Turning makes the enemies alert if they're in that sweet spot. They always are.
  • Enemies appear in the walls.
  • The machete sometimes has unlimited reach
  • Doors, full stop.
  • Doors that should link somewhere but don't.
  • Cycling weapons is too fast. As you get more weapons, it gets worse.

The first three weapons are crap in the same way, they feel like the same weapon. Yes, the machete feels like the rifle. They do different damage, but it doesn't really matter. The "uzi", which is really a pistol someone modified, feels powerful. That's because it's only used in the last 10% of the game. 1/10

The zombies and other enemies each take a unique amount of ammo to kill, have their own lines, and really feel like they have their own personalities. None of that matters after killing the same enemies 1000 times. 1/10

There aren't any as such, so I'm going to give this nothing here. 0/10

If we take away the endless enemies, the game is pretty close to being smartly designed. It doesn't quite fit into what the beach would suggest, but every level can be smushed into each other with a little effort. Make the game about dodging enemies instead of burning through thousands of rounds and this would be really clever. As it stands, they're the right levels for a different game, but this game has respawning enemies. 1/10

Player Agency:
Firstly, let me point out that the movement, while its nice to have the option of various speeds, never hits a sweet spot. Its always too fast or too slow. This made picking up items a bitch, since I have to stop and press G to do so. This also applies to the weapon selection, hitting W cycles through them too fast. Using the inventory is an incredibly slow solution. The keys for running, shooting and strafing are all messed up in comparison to normal shooters. I also would have liked the ability to open a door, instead of standing in front of it. 2/10

Before I get to the adventure game parts, I'd like to point out that the shooting parts have the odd bits of cleverness here. Sometimes you can actually do things you wouldn't expect to be able to do at the time.
The adventure game parts on the other hand, are very cumbersome and generic. There are almost no hotspots and the unusual hotspots there are...well, they're out of place. The actual adventure interface is understandable, but obtuse and annoying. It was a pain to interact with things and overall it was too slow. 2/10
This was clever the first time it happened
I feel like they had a good cheesy b-movie thing going on before they had every character break the fourth wall. Which would be the second you talk to a guard. 3/10

Most of the wall graphics are all right. Yes, the doors with the jungle is visually confusing. However, the comic book style graphics suffer from considerable flaws. The artist, while mostly competent, doesn't understand how long arms should be. Whoever scanned the enemies should be shot, because they're all the same height. They're very cluttered seeming. I also dislike the green background for the inventory, which is just someone using the noise tool. I guess it isn't visually busy at least. 3/10

You are Jake Dunbar, a pilot, I guess. You have to get off the island. You meet a chief, literally make the plot more interesting by rescuing his daughter, and defeat an evil scientist. Despite all the dialog going on, there's no point to much of it. 1/10

The musician here tried to go for a John Carpenter-style soundtrack, but unfortunately, the end result is very boring. Except for the medical lab, that's actually good. The sounds on the other hand, are all taken from a microphone with a very noticeable pop. Its very distracting. The guns lack punch and feel bland too. The CD version fixes these issues and has a new soundtrack, but I am rating the floppy. 2/10

Which brings the total up to 16. Despite a lot of elements that could be improved upon, this game's execution is tedious and unfun. Any entertainment I got out of it was solely do to finally beating it. Keep in might I am the person being positive about this game. Computer Gaming World called it one of the worst games of all time. The two internet video reviewers who have touched upon the game, Brutalmoose and LazyGameReviews, didn't have much higher opinions. You can certainly tell they didn't finish it. Honestly, I can't blame them.

The former president of Rainmaker, Sean Glaspell, apparently took the time out of his day to complain about people calling it a Doom clone on an abandonware site. To paraphrase, the game came out before Spear of Destiny came out, and had better performance when rendering enemies up-close than Wolfenstein. Now, unless there's something screwy going on with dates, that's not true. For the later? Judging by LGR's review of the game, that matters very little.
There's also something interesting in Myk Friedman. At first, it seems like he was just some guy who didn't do anything before or since. If I didn't read Sean's statements wouldn't take a second guess at things. Turns out Mr. Friedman actually is a comic artist, and one who very well may have read Dylan Dog or Deadworld. Now, I can't actually find that many comics he was the artist for, but he did do art for humorous back sections of Rock 'n' Roll Comics, which is a very interesting look back. I didn't check every issue, but he at least did a thing in no. 22. For the next 15 years, I can't find anything, but in 2008 he started making web animation as Toonsmyth Studios. Well, it might not be him. I haven't exactly exhaustively checked, but on the other hand, how many people share a similar weird nickname and an artstyle? Unfortunately, if my connection is correct, Mr. Friedman is dead. And now, with that bit of chipper knowledge, I leave you, until next time.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Isle of the Dead: Zombie Ritual

At this point I had a map, I knew roughly what I had to do. There were a few obvious items I needed to get yet, and I had no idea how to activate the oracle. The sun is down and I have a nasty feeling that's a bad thing. What did I do to solve this problem?
With a complete map of the game and knowledge of what to do to win, more or less, I started over. These first few paragraphs are a walkthrough of the isle part of the game. After that I don't really walk away from explaining the way to win, but I'm not going back and writing it the way I actually need.
I probably should have illustrated this with a picture of some of that
So, to start off, get everything from the plane, go to the northeast section. Enter the bunker, use wire cutters on the wire in the bunker, get everything in here. Use oil on rag, then rag on rifle. Go to the northwest section clear up as much of this area as you want, enter smiley cave, get crystal, go up hole in ground. After getting the flower go west until you reach the area with a cave. In the cave, make sure to get one of the wolf corpses.
Ha. Ha. Ha.
That's right, in order to win, you have to get a corpse of one of the wolves. Is it any wonder I never finished this before? Then, you make it to the first village. After talking to the guards and then the chief via the use of the book, you give the chief the cigarettes. Talk to him again and take the bolt cutters.
Something, something, cyberspace. Ha. Ha. Ha.
Go to the other village, north, kill the bongo player. Talk to this chief, go back to the other village, get his medallion. Go to the temple, its at the top side of the little ball in the map to the west. Use the wolf corpse and then talk to the oracle. You get an uzi, which uses a different kind of ammo. Ammo 1...ammo 2...yeah, somebody didn't think this through. The oracle tells you to starve the humming box. I.E., power supply box. Why a mad scientist brought along one of those, I don't understand. You have to talk to the oracle too, you can't just figure this out on your own. That's actually something I wouldn't have thought. Glad to see they did something right.
Its actually weaker per shot, but stronger in ROF
Here's where things get annoying, so far the game has told the player nothing they couldn't figure out themselves. A player who already knows this stuff could just use the smokes on the guy in the first village, then find the power box. Its in that little fenced off area in the southwest. Then you go to the upper right corner and find through scores of zombies. You use the bolt cutters on the chain wrapped around the fence door. If you use the insulated wire cutters, you die of electrocution. Why? I'm going to assume because the developers don't understand how insulation works.
Jesus Christ. The area behind it isn't even needed.
So the interior is rather calm. Deceptively so? Yes and no, the area where all the dead are is where the power box is.
I gotta get better at taking screenshots.
The left building contains some lab equipment. A syringe and a beaker. I find I can use the flower in the beaker but nothing else seems to be useful here. What a load of crap. You can touch a live wire.
At first I thought he was outside looking in...
In the other building, its a full-blown interior. The music changes to something out of Nitemare 3D. You can blow up a TV, or see how many paintings the good doctor has of himself.
Further in, there are a swarm of nurses. They're the strongest enemy, taking four shotgun blasts. How a mad scientist got this many people to agree with him, I'll never know. This has got to be a Manson-level cult of personality here or something. The "uzi" is a weak weapon, but makes up for it by having a firing rate of less than ten years per shot.
One room, hidden away deep in the house, has a red syringe. This not entirely necessary.
I didn't take a picture of that, so here's her inside you
Door three down, the rightmost of the three doors, has the native girl. She looks nothing like a native in cutscenes, but does look okay-ish in the inventory. You use the lower right button, the others are gags. When you free her, she mentions she knows an escape route in the basement. Okay. I don't know why...
If you examine her, you'll note it says she looks sick. Using the red serum will "calm her down", but the second you switch weapons or change screens she'll kill you instantly. Its not that she's okay, she'll still do that if you can't cure her, but the red serum must be the zombie drug.
If your arm looks like that, consult a doctor immediately. Not this one though.
In the middle of the three doors is the mad scientist. As you enter he hulks out. He's fought with a few nurses, which only serve as a distraction. The man himself is only a damage sponge and seems like he might not even be necessary to win the game. Killing him causes the isle to start self-destructing. In fifteen minutes.
Once again, I fail to capture a shot of the interesting part
He drops chemicals, which is the last ingredient for the antidote. You need to put the flower, then chemicals, then crystal into the beaker, followed by putting it into a syringe. Then you have to go to the oracle to inject it. Not the bathroom, not either village, not anywhere that's safe enough, no, I have to go all the way around the isle again in order to inject it.
How do you even know what flying is?
In order to actually escape, you can go by plane or by raft. With the plane, you need to disable the SAM. Its green wire, red wire, blue wire. How someone got a SAM down here is a feat in of itself. With the raft, you just need to cure her. You better have saved that flare gun. If you want to win that is, instead of sitting in a blue void for all eternity.
She just looks like she needs a good thousand year rest
With a little further testing, the good doctor IS necessary to win the game. In order to reach the plane you need to go into the basement. In order to open a perfectly visible door, you need the girl. Which is odd, because there's an option to get off the island on a plane which seems to be impossible with this framework. The girl is afraid of flying. Since she's a native, how would she know? The red serum turns out to be a sedative, thus meaning using it on her while she's infected speeds up the infection. Clever, if obvious.
I'd also like to point out that pausing the game does nothing to the in-game timers, as I had paused while the native girl was in my inventory, and unpaused to die.
Wow, I had no idea.
Couldn't there be a better way to do this?
So, what are the endings? There's little difference between the two. In each case you leave the island as "THE END - ?" appears at the top and bottom of the isle respectively. The plane ending involves us dumping green chemicals into the ocean. In both cases it is technically the end. The only other game made by people related to this was Nerves of Steel, a game that is much less amusing. Figuratively, this could be the prequel to any number of titles, depending on whether or not you want to make it so and the zombies can infect other zombies. Otherwise, there's just going to be some bad seafood for a while...
How is this not the end?
This screen moves really fast, so this is the only way you'd ever see it
Now, I'll close it off with a list of differences on the CD in comparison to the floppy version:
The rest of it isn't too bad...I guess
  • Movement in the adventure sections is too fast when using the keyboard.
  • The machete has had its graphics replaced with a stick of bamboo.
  • The CD's trees look worse, but are more distinguishable from the exits.
  • The sprite trees are garishly obnoxious.
  • The shotgun is on the starting screen.
  • Most of the death cutscenes have been removed, except for the snare. The scientist's HAHAHA seems to be all that remains.
  • None of the gore unrelated to the player dying has been removed, nor have the scenes of you perving on the natives.
  • The sounds are cleaned up and the guns seem to have different ones. They sound much better.
  • The inventory seized up on me.
  • The shotgun feels faster.
  • The music is now pretty sweet.
  • The save menu is much worse and even more unusable without a mouse.
  • The save/load menu seems to not block inputs from screwing with your movement in the game.
  • You get less ammo from the crate, but more when you get the uzi.
  • If you get killed in such a way that would cause a game-over that doesn't feature the scientist, the game will just restart with no explaination.
In short, its unplayable. Not in the sense that you can't win, you can, but in the sense that if you don't know what you're doing you'll give up. The censorship is questionable at best. The gameplay improvements don't seem to fix anything.