Monday, June 29, 2020

Pharaoh's Accent

Pharaoh's Ascent is a straight-forward puzzle game. If it was released on Flash websites just a few years later, this would have been a beloved classic. Of course, like all Flash classics, its not the best thing ever.
The story is that you're a pharaoh, now you're dead, and Set has captured your soul. This is no Fool's Errand. Its not even Pandora's Box. Its just your average puzzle game. Now the gameplay aspect is a simple use of arrow keys, jumping and shooting. Shooting enemies is fairly useless, but its used for other things. Its worth pointing out the default keyset is the numpad without numlock on. This is important, as you can't win without shooting diagonally. There are three types of blocks, completely destructible, slightly destructible, indestructible. You can only destroy the first ones with shots, the rest are moved...assuming you hit them correctly. The objective is to get a boulder into another boulder. One of them moves, the other does not.
This revolves around manipulating these blocks in order to get one boulder to a hole in the wall. Like every good puzzle game, this is simpler than it sounds.
The puzzles are usually simple enough in concept, and start off simple too. But after the first row of puzzles the difficulty sharply increases. One second you're boppin' along, the next, a brick wall. These levels can be divided into three categories, tedious bull, already solved it, and how the hell do I do that? The tedious bull being puzzles that the solution is forthcoming, but requires a annoying amount of effort.

Tedious bull, the level Death Spiral. It is, as can be surmised, a spiral. Like everything else, it is a block puzzle, one where a single wrong move is death. Except instead of one big puzzle, its a bunch of really tiny ones. You have to climb through everything. This is not very fun.
Here's more bull, look at that screenshot. Its not really a secret what you have to do on this level. Shoot the light blocks until they're gone, then they knock over the ankh block. Only, the tornado here cheats. Well, not really, they have no set pattern. They'll walk right up to the ledge, then say, nah, screw that bud. Tedium, random nature, fun.
Already solved it, levels where the solution can be pretty easily figured out, but how you actually get there isn't. These were the most fun, probably because I had something to work toward, rather than a solid brick wall that suddenly collapses. Well, that too, but it wasn't a problem.
How the hell do I do that, levels that defy understanding. Far too many of these were around, and they usually had too much tedium in them. These pushed the very limits of the physics in-game, and there was far too little balance between the two. There's also the levels that are more actiony, but the physics doesn't work very well.
Now this is only partially a problem, the game has a level skip function, but you have to wait so long, and not a do something else kind of waiting. Stay on the game and wait. Play it. For around fifteen minutes. That gives you the first half of the solution. Then play it another...I don't know how long. I never got that. You have to stay on it for a while and I rarely have the patience to stick on one level that long.
The music is some epic piece I don't remember the name of, something that doesn't have any volume for the levels, and sounds that didn't play. Just think early Windows stuff and you have hit gold. I just listened to metal music from the '90s. As long as it had a keyboard, same vibe basically.
Do I recommend this? Do you like puzzles? More specifically, do you like puzzles that make you think you're wasting your time, then discover that you're on the first group of puzzles?

Friday, June 26, 2020

Flames of Freedom: Agoraphobia

With E.S.S a bust and Galactic Empire continuing to confound me, its time to take another look at Midwinter. Flames of Freedom is the sequel, but you wouldn't know that by looking at the title. At first glance, this is less a strategy game and more a straight combat game. The introduction tells me that Midwinter found a kindred spirit in the nearby island of Verde and formed The Atlantic Federation. Midwinter disappeared beneath the sea and Verde changed their name into Agora. There are more islands, controlled by the Saharan Empire. The islands provide slaves, and the Empire is looking to expand its territory. My job, as the top agent of Cobra, AF's spy agency, is to incite revolt among the people of the other islands. They're not to happy to be part of the Empire. Naturally the Empire can't know I'm doing this, as that means they'll attack sooner, rather than later.
Dunno why they'd kill off the island from the last game, but what do I know?
As I start up the game, I am assaulted by screen after screen of gorgeous pixel art. Looks like Alone in the Dark. Ah, what a shame it isn't. Right, now unlike the original, I make my own character, and if I'm not mistaken, this is the first time I've done such a thing in a game I've played here. A surprisingly customizable character. A lot of facial features. Changing the head without changing the features results in someone who looks like they were putting on blackface, but forgot to finish the task.
Sunglasses and mustaches, how very '70s
I make someone that doesn't look like complete crap. It is scarily easy to make someone look weird with just one wrong piece. It seems like the pieces are divided into white pieces and black pieces, if you have a black piece on a white figure, it looks like they're coal miners, vice versa, the half-blackface thing. Now, its time to train. The game offers practice modes of every part of the game. And there's like six modes. This is quite impressive. Strategy, escape, land, sea, air, amphibious and firefight. The game's manual tells me that I can't just coast like in the first game. Not in words, but in the implication of the end-game...and the mid-game. Hopefully the fighting improves to compensate.
Strategy is just a theoretical look at what your actions will accomplish. The gist of it is go after the strongholds, which are dark green. Its really just a planner for the main game, unless they were clever and had it not give you the actual result. After all, such simulations are the first thing to go out the window when reality arrives.
Prison. It appears that the in-game characters use the customization system. Interesting. I quickly discover that my character can't beat his way out, but can romance his way out. Okay, workable. I could try bribing, but I don't plan on wasting money on such rabble.
Land, wonder how...oh...good. Six modes. A jeep sounds good...and as soon as the game starts up every goes south fast. The opening midi was pretty sweet, now it is a horrible high-pitch whine I believe is engine noise. The driving controls don't make much sense and my camera angle seems to not follow my vehicle at all. With a curious speed that didn't seem to make much sense. Checking the manual, and sneaking past the part where they tell me what I need to do to capture an island, I eventually make it to the controls section. Its like the base game at first. Speed up/down and turning are controlled with the obvious mouse axis, but looking up and down? Left and right mouse buttons. Esc is get out of vehicle, space is shoot, and F1 is the actions menu. I didn't find those last keys in the manual, it only tells you movement. The reference card lets me know all the important stuff, weapon selection, that every freaking F key up to F10 is used.
So, continuing, the shrieking sound continues, but if you go in and out of the 3D mode, it seems to get better...although I'm pretty sure now my speaker is just putting out a pitch my ears can't hear. Changing sound to pc speaker solves this, although now I have to contend with a bad rendition of the theme. I still don't understand driving yet. Changing weapons doesn't seem to work. However, as I wander around, I come across another person. You'd think there'd be something to explain this kind of stuff, but oh well. Rowana agrees to help me and gives me the blimp in her pocket. No joke, she has a blimp in her pocket. This is going to be a bit weird, but oh, well.
Air is like A-10 Tank Killer, the original version, if the controls were difficult to operate. I'm pretty sure there's some difference between modern mice speed and DOS mice speed. Plus after a certain height you stop seeing the ground. Which makes things a bit more terrifying, to say the least. I'm sure I'm going to have as much fun as I did with the original flying vehicles. I say that, and as soon as I start operating the helicopter, the pain disappears. There's also the jetpack, which is even more terrifying.
Water...well, I don't seem to be able to properly do water. When I do the speedboat, the logical starting choice, it automatically crashes. When I get out, I end up swimming...on land. With all the twisting turns you'd expect. When I swim on the ocean proper...well, that's just terrible and I doubt I'd be able to get far. I feel like this is a pretty good way to get someone seasick...or confront their fears about being seasick. I question the usefulness of sea vehicles at this point, but I'm sure I'll come around later.
The amphibious vehicles are fine. As fine as they can be considering the hours of terror that are about to arrive.
Fighting. As mentioned previously, I can't just scoop up some explosives and drive over to the Saharan Empire's HQ. I have to fight. When the fighting starts, the game makes it clear this isn't going to be fun. It might be, if the game didn't stick me in a flying sub and force me to use that. Did nobody think during testing that a new player might want to drive a tank, walk around, or heaven forbid, use a vehicle that I can probably find? I feel like this game's going to have a bit of quality issues. That's not getting into minor things, like how everything feels like vaguely European islands, with trains, buses, and green grass.

This Session: 2 hours

Friday, June 19, 2020

E.S.S: Thoth Patrol

Two Coktel Vision games at the same time, you might ask, assuming you know that European Space Station* was made by Coktel Vision. The enlightened among you can figure that Galactic Empire is going to take a while. More out of a curious roadblock than any real problem. The manual does a great deal at trying to set the tone, but suffers continuous errors in capitalization that I assume make sense to the French. Which is curious, since French is basically English anyway. Why the hell do the French keep popping up in shooting games. First we have Coktel Vision, adventure makers extraordinary, then we have Infogrames, who may be Atari now, and finally we have Ubisoft, destroyer of worlds.
Where was I? Ah, making fun of the manual. "[...] and remain in waiting orbit for a month (eight days for Americans)." Is this that dreaded metric week I keep hearing about? "[...]THOT orbiter (an egyptian god with an ibis-like head[...]" Joking aside, the game takes place between 2010 and 2013, which is now the past. It predicts that low-earth orbit would become very crowded. It also predicts that space-tourism isn't a thing yet.
To summarize, the translator sucks, its 2010, and I'm in charge of the International Space Corporation.
Further, the reason why I'm playing this game is that it seems to have been completely forgotten. Some crappy space race strategy game seems to be the only space sim anybody remembers.
After some loading and my token taking of the title screen, I am greeted by some flashing lights. Gonna have some fun managing the cycles on this bad boy. Oh, the mouse is as sloth as a 1989 DOS game, how fitting for a 1989 DOS game. I have no idea what the buttons between the game and the shuttle are, and nothing I do seems to do anything. I sense a sign that this isn't ending well for me.
Done fiddling around, I launch the shuttle. The majestic machine rushes up amidst a cloud of smoke, the boosters separate...the shuttle explodes, the game crashes. It wouldn't be a Coktel Vision shooter if something didn't screw up. I ponder for a moment. I don't know if I screwed up or if this wasn't cracked properly. I know I'd do something like that if I were trying to defeat pirates. Mind you, I also wouldn't be anticipating some dumbass playing my games 30 years down the line with no code wheel. Doesn't help my dumb ass isn't reading the manual. Then I'd see they keep misspelling Thoth. Can't the French do anything right? Besides copyright protection?
So I try again, the manual says that failures are very rare in the year 2010, but failing to enter the right code in the launching of the software will result in an explosion. Ah, good, smells like there's a lot of failure coming up. Right, Amiga version coming up.
You can tell how crap I am at taking Amiga screenshots compared to DOS
Still flashing, no ability to adjust the speed here, oh, well. Time to launch...its going...its actually going. And time for the game to load again. Its what I get for not buying a floppy drive and a copy of the original release. Several minutes pass. Might as well do something else. So I get distracted elsewhere. You know what happens? Nothing. I restart, nothing again. Several more times, some different copies. Nothing. Oh, this isn't going to be easy, is it? All this text written, all this time spent, and nothing to say.
One final attempt, got the code book and everything. Its going, its going. Haha. A budgetary screen flashes past me, and I understand nothing as of yet.
Ah, space...oh, that's going fast. This must be that metric time I hear so much about, that was designed specifically to create misery in human subjects. The combination of rapidly-moving time and me not knowing what to do is a very effective panicking tactic. Its just like the launch screen, except I'm in space. The ! button shows some kind of movement screen. Except every time I use it I screw up and nothing happens. Pretty sure that's not how space travel works, but it also doesn't have DRM.
Eventually, one of the buttons gives me a first person mode...and it doesn't show me Earth, I can't seem to move, and nothing really happens. When you get down to it, isn't that what this session has been all about? Bitter disappointment. If there's one thing to take away from this first attempt, its that Thot is a legitimate spelling of Thoth. Really, isn't that what this blog is all about? Learning interesting mythology?

Post-Script: When I began a second session it became clear that the game was not going to go the way I wanted. Its not an easy game nor is it one that lends itself very well to my writing. More to the point, this game is obtuse. I eventually figured out the movement scheme, holding down the key until a certain point, releasing. I also seem to have figured out how to move in space, modes and that kind of stuff. But I can't figure out what I'm actually supposed to do. It's not really fair for me to screw around for a bit then rate it. Eventually, I'll see if E.S.S. Mega is any better, but probably not.

This Session: 1 hour

*Or E.S.S, no final period, no nothing.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Game 34: The Catacomb Apocalypse

Name:Catacomb Apocalypse
Number:34
Year:1993
Publisher:Softdisk
Developer:Softdisk
Genre:FPS
Difficulty:4/5
Time:4.5 hours

The fourth and final Catacomb FPS is a bit trickier to talk about than the proceeding entries. Apocalypse tries its darnedest to ramp up the difficulty. The thing is, that's not entirely good. After around the half-way point, every enemy takes multiple zappers to take down. So you either use them, or spam the control key. Or if you're smart, you'd plug in a controller with a turbo button. You use items because you just want to get things done. Which is not good considering there are seven Nemesi on the last level. Sure, if you've reached this game in the franchise, you know what you're doing, however, that doesn't make the last half fun.
New improvements in the game don't really add up to much. The manual makes much of the screen flashing to show you something important on the text bar. I didn't notice it. Either something is wrong, or its a very short flash. Not much point to it either, someone too foolish to pay attention to their text bar isn't going to read the manual to find out they should read the text bar. Let them suffer, they don't stand a chance back in DOS-land anyway. The hub system? Also feeling pointless. I could have just spammed it twice and gotten enough keys to really speedrun the later half. Walkable walls? Eh...eh...
To put all of that aside, this game really feels like they've run out of ideas. Eh, robot enemies. Orc wizards. Machinegun skeletons. Time travel. Cyber Egypt dystopia. Does any of this sound like the attempts of men doing anything other than panning a river, hoping to find gold? Its amusing the first time, but I don't see myself giving this game another go. In the future, I could see myself giving Armageddon one more shot, but not this.
Weapons:
Same as Abyss. 2/10

Enemies:
Every enemy shoots you and takes a ton of damage. Only the rare exceptions don't shoot. They look nice, but that's about it. 3/10

Non-Enemies:
Same as Abyss. 0/10

Levels:
Apocalypse's level design is designed to wear you down for the final confrontation with Nemesis. And mazes. Its just the same thing over and over again. Some of it isn't as bad as I'm saying, but its hard to tell. 4/10

Player Agency:
Same as Abyss. 5/10

Interactivity:
Same as Abyss. 1/10

Atmosphere:
The weird schizotech feel just doesn't work as well as Abyss and Armageddon's settings. 3/10

Graphics:
The color scheme is quite garish at times and several wall graphics don't match. Down a bit from the proceeding games. 4/10

Story:
The manual says this is basically the same plot as Abyss. Which I wrote as 0/10

Sound/Music:
Same as Abyss. 3/10

That is 25, two points above Catacomb 3D. Call it 24, putting it a point above 3D. I don't have anything clever to say, I'm just glad this is done. This isn't the last we'll see of the series, I haven't done the proceeding two or so top-down games. But for now, I think I'm done on hammer ctrl key games. Next time, E.S.S., or European Space Station. Why? I need a break from the more shooty stuff. Hey, I said space sims, and that is a space sim.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Catacomb Apocalypse: Invisible Touch

Computer Core, huh? Wonder how this level's going to end. I'm not used to starting areas having stuff right behind you, something, something, three games of that. Four doors, one of which is unlocked. The corridors are free of enemies. Weird, is this some kind of level with very few enemies? Oh...and they take health off in 15% chunks. They just won't die either, the entire corridor seems to be dedicated to cleaning out this one group of...robots? Whatever, I get a green key for my trouble.
Another unlocked door, my mistake, you don't check to see if there's another when you're already going someplace. Eyes? The maze kind. After another thousand missiles against the 'bots. I check further. Then, oh, a million bots. Like legit slowing down DOSbox. They're guarding treasure, the kind that's difficult to get if I'm interested in actually killing my enemies. Another green and a blue key. I guess that's everything. Green must be the way out, ergo blue is the way forward for now.
Which is kind of a mistake. The enemies behind the blue door are the eyes, this time they're actually attacking. No, what's the mistake is that I need another blue key.
Green door...good. Slaughtermaps. Done first by Catacomb Apocalypse. Every idea anyone's ever had has been accomplished here first. Reaching under ten cures, this could be bad. At least I have the key forward. The last room? Just more robots. Straight shot basically.
Chamber of the Invisible Horror...sigh...a non-hostile eye spins around me as I contemplate the level ahead. I can see something flashing on the screen. This is going to be good. I can imagine how they did it, just make some funky sprites, maybe have them pop out like the swimming monsters.
No, just invisible walking sprites, followed by semi-visible attacking and attacked sprites. My journey around the opening hallways consists mostly of me getting hurt and spraying magick missiles like candy. You know, its sad that I consider this crap, I don't like constantly having to hammer down the ctrl key. Which is not a good sign.
After clearing out the halls, the first door I open takes a red key, the spare I've had since the hub level. Its a group of enemies. Joy. Two side chambers, full of more enemies. Its telling about this level that even in an empty green key room, I'm still hammering the ctrl key.
Right, normal unlocked door. No real groups of enemies. Just scattered. Still throwing out a grouping of missiles each corridor. Let me make it clear that this is not just me making fun of the game, this is genuinely a problem in a game series already having problems hammering away at the ctrl key. This does nothing to solve the real problems Catacomb has. This just increases them. I actually do get killed by them, but at this point its not really because I've been outsmarted.
The exit section has a small horde of the invisible horrors. Full of things that block my shots. Oh, there seems to be some kind of floating magick missiles throughout the level. The way out requires a green key, have to go back and get that. Far, far too tedious a level.
The Encounter Chamber, or the return of the previous robots. There's a big chamber and two obvious other chambers. The tanks, as I previously didn't fight much, eat up a ton of missiles. I guess the treasure behind them is worth it. I wonder where I'll go next, nothing obvious. The sound of a portal. Aha.
Nemesis. The final battle. And this is the final battle. More invisible demons. Are you serious? At least there's treasure. I can't believe this is the kind of crap that Nemesis is going to go out on.
Nemesis, buddy, you look like crap. More invisible horrors, they're all dead. This was too easy, I'm going to hate the rest of this level. One nemesi, two nemesi, four nemesi. Same thing as the last game, minus the teleportation. Except I legitimately run out of healing potions. If only I had a spare red key. Or, I could just use god mode. Either way I'm taking advantage of things. On the other hand, four nemesi at once is some bull.
So, I do that. Winning not by skill, but by a spare key. I don't have enough items to win. Seems cheap on the developer's end, but what do I know? So, you deserve to see this as much as I do. There's a couple of secret levels, but I'm not touching those. I am so done with this game.

This Session: 1.5 hour

Total Time: 4.5 hours

Friday, June 12, 2020

Catacomb Apocalypse: The Longest Maze

Last I left off, I was about to take a wonderous journey through another maze. Just think, Jim and Mike, the leads on this project, created over 100 levels between these games and Blake Stone. To put things into perspective, Tom Hall and Romero did 80 between Wolfenstein and Spear of Destiny. Come to think of it, what is their excuse for not beating these guys in quality? Not here though.
Golden...trolls? What is this, Golden Axe? After cleansing the "portico" of trolls and wizards, its time to follow one of these maze drones. Joy. As I'm not waiting around for this sucker, I just walk through. It's not that difficult, wrong ends just have treasure and wizards. And this level has a flashing sky. Its not cool anymore, its just distracting.
Even the addition of more nemesi doesn't make things any worse. They're just melee enemies. That's really sad. Some of the wizards are too. Something's weird on this level, I don't know what. At this point, I'm just wandering around. This level is very much worse than the hellmaze. I can only dread what further mazes there are.
 Also get this, to get through the maze, you have to follow two different kinds of the maze eye. Each through a different walkable wall. You can't make this up. Fortunately, the way out is at the start. This pathway is the longest possible pathway through a level without straight up screwing with players.
Sewers. Didn't we have one of these already? Ugh. Skeletons...with guns. Pretty hard-hitting too. Same design as Mr. Headbangin' Man from Armageddon.
A flying manta ray...that shoots. Joy. They're effectively the same as the skeletons, so I question this level's choice of enemies. They can get a shot off on you as you approach, they jump out of the water. That would have been nice, why do we have the skeletons? One visible and one not? Meh. I continue on, through the southern drainage sluice, then to the western, mostly just killing enemies.
Spoke too soon. Feels weird having a big open area like this in a water level. Feels bigger than the proceeding big areas in sewers. Big splattering of Manta Rays, then of skeletons, and then the level is over. Whatever.
Flooded City? More water? More lightning. Okay, open door...and this is terrible. Firstly, from a distance, you can see the skeletons are floating on air. Good job. Secondly, the brick from the generic walls and the painted walls don't match. The Death Squads, as the game calls them, are no trouble. Also, get this, the way from the sewer has two hidden niches, each with a death squad skeleton in it. Why they didn't attack when entering the level, I don't care. Anyway, I'm confused at first, since there's no yellow key, but a side chamber in the Death Squad Hearing Room, full of skeletons, has it.
You know, a lot of the monsters seem to be waking up when there's no reason for them to. Whatever, the DSS, as I might as well call them, seem to have accuracy issues at times, but there are a lot of them. Also, if you can, check out the chest that's in a water jet. Its just hiding a room with the key out.
Finally, I end this session against one final horde of skeletons. Thanks to the way they designed this, I know I'm not going to see them again...unless there's another sewer level. There's going to be another sewer level, isn't there?

This Session: 1 hour

Total Time:3.5 hours

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Catacomb Apocalypse: Blinded by the Light

It occurs to me that Softdisk does that one thing that everyone finds annoying. You know how solo company efforts tend to put themselves into every role they can? Softdisk does six screens of saying, "we made this".
Portal 2, portal of fire. Enemy, nice, thanks Jim and Mike...wait, he's running away...oh...no...
You're having a maze level...on the obnoxious eyesore of a level that is the token hellscape? Screw atmosphere, I need to give ten points to games that don't do this. He comes back as I just stare away in shock. I can still see this in the corner of my eye. So I follow the guy, I know I'm going to miss something now. Right, this level is going to be fun.
New enemy number 1, cyberdemons. Another thing Catacomb did first. Not as impressible, mind, these are just the demons from earlier, now robotic. Okay, I vaguely travel in the direction the eye went and see enemy number 2.
He's about as strong as robo-mages. Not too tough, but as a tank, I was expending something more interesting design-wise. The rest of the level proceeds swimmingly. Follow eye, find exit, with key. Not the right key. Follow eye again, shoot eye because he's stupid and goes in front of the enemy's that are hostile. Find other key, successfully find my way back, leave. Also, if I awaken any of the nemesi heads in the hub area, they go back to sleep when I return. So, portal 3.
The ancient node...more like the ambush node. Four freaking wizards. They're not difficult, I just hate this kind of start. They can't shoot through the barriers, but there's like four of them and two old demons there. I miss skeletons and zombies. Behind a corner, even a few more of them. At least Jim and Mike are generous with a whopping two chests!
An unlocked door. Nice. The dusty passages are...okay. They exist. I wish they had more than two enemies, but that's what I say about every level at this point. Nothing of note here.
Another barrier area. Great. These seem tough at first, they were a bit during the last game. But here you basically put them into a choke point and then hammer Ctrl and hold the down arrow. How can you tell if someone plays this game? They don't have Ctrl keys anymore. That's it, that's the rest of this level. Open area, hammer ctrl, afterward collect any treasure.
Portal 4. That's an alien from Commander Keen. What the...? Since when did Softdisk own the rights to anything in Keen? Surely that's not the entire enemy?
Oh...scary. Big-ass alien. Boring. They explode in a non-health damaging way. More out in the only way out. Joy. Fun. How many of these bad boys am I going to have to fight?
Every hallway has at least four of the guys. They're not necessarily difficult to fight, just really tedious. They come up and down at random times. There's a million of them, and when they die they still take up visual space for a short time. Oh, and during this level it crashed on me. Wall explodes, game crashes. Hope that area isn't necessary...oh, I have to kill all these things again!
A million years later, I make it back to where I was. Okay, don't shoot that direction in the long hallway, and phew, problem solved. Key is next to the exit portal, don't even really need to kill all these guys, but whatever.
Right, I got all the keys I need, no problem going forward. I have a spare red though, curious. The question is, will I be able to resist the temptation to use it going forward?

This Session:1.5 hour

Time:2.5 hours