Friday, April 30, 2021

Corporation: Chief Exploring Officer

Its always strange to see a Core game before Tomb Raider. Lara Croft was the all-consuming beast that propelled them to greatness, and spelled their undoing. And of course, the zombie that lived on long after them. What were they doing before then? Lots of stuff. Everything from platformers to adventure games. Including publishing this cyberpunk title, developed by a company called Dementia, who only did this game.

The back of the box waxes on about how realistic it is. (for 1990) We've got psychic powers, a lot of combat, and a holographic projector! The objective is to stop The Universal Cybernetics Corporation from unleashing "mutant robots" that will destroy all mankind. Maybe that's a mistranslation from British English to American English.
The manual describes the backstory of the robots. the UCC was once European Cybernetics, and became a multi-national corporation through the use of robots. The robots were the RX series. RX1 the domestic model, RX2 the industrial, RX3 the agricultural. The robots had many advantages over the old ones, like being able to do anything a human could do. Why there needed to be different models, I can't tell you. "...small companies which could not previously justify the expense of a robot suddenly could". This is something the manual acknowledges as the company keeps the prices of their robots artificially low. How did they become rich then? It doesn't say, but knowing what I do of a bunch of modern companies, stupid investors and selling personal data.
The robots were designed to be as unthreatening as possible, and the advertising campaign said they were easier to use than a video recorder. That they can program a video recorder. Ah, VHS humor. A short paragraph about the population turning to having easier lives in creative fields and that leisure culture had finally arrived. Even this positive paragraph has the statement that those that don't have robots pretend that they did. Then more dystopian writing about UCC getting into media, pharmaceuticals and space exploration. Because of UCC having clever public relations, all fears about their rise were downplayed and presented as "local boy made good". (???) Then about military conflicts with robots, followed by UCC pointing out that they control so much now that would be bad.
Jesus Christ. We're on the first page of the backstory and this world already seems like such a horrific dystopian nightmare that humanity could never wake up from. It doesn't help that the writing here comes off semi-positive about this stuff. I could imagine someone writing something almost exactly like this in real life. Now we touch on the real bad stuff.
Robots had limitations, they were slow and unable to think for themselves. And something about not repairing and reproducing themselves. Apparently they can't be programmed to do that. So they begin conducting illegal genetic engineering. They sourced "customers" (???) and "Clients". (as capitalized???) "The 'Clients' wanted a highly illegal killing machine. UCC obliged!" So they made a symbiotic humanoid that is an omnivore, sunlight, meat and veg. "The 'client' (this time in single quotes) was overjoyed with the sample and a small army was order. UCC themselves...used them as guards." One escaped in London and became a new Ripper.
The UK government (called "the Government", for some reason, no quotes) after some time noticed something was up with UCC and manufacturing sentient beings. More so because it would affect their popularity and the UCC would leave London. Which is not entirely unreasonable, because apparently them leaving would result in a great depression. Because the government doesn't want to be linked to this, the investigation will be done by "ZODIAC, the internationally renowned espionage agency, believed by many to be a myth." Could have phrased that better, I assume those that know it exist speak highly of it. "An agent is to be chosen from the Libra chapter whose specialty is restoring balance." Oh, god, that really made me laugh.
The actual mission is that I will be dropped in from the roof, find the lab and collect an embryo of the 'product'. I escape via ground level. If the suspicions are correct, the evidence will be used to "encourage" the UCC to stop their illegal experiments "in this country". Thatcher, am I right, people?
"If the evidence was made public, every nation would prosecute UCC, public opinion would turn agains [sic] them and the directors would be imprisoned. With this prospect, UCC should be keen to co-operate."
TL;DR:
An evil global corporation that has its hands in every pot and likely has caused more damage to the public than the manual lets on, has been making human-eating killing machines. One of them got loose and the UK government has hired ZODIAC to collect evidence so they can get the evil corporation to do their evil elsewhere. I'll say it again, Jesus Christ.
The manual goes on to state what I should do to win the game, which is avoid the system. If the system catches me, I will be locked in and hit with sleeping gas. At which point guards will be sent to my location and the UCC will dispose of my body with no evidence that I was ever there. There are no real complicated controls.
That's about it for the interesting manual information. There was the option to have yourself be added to the game by paying the authors a nominal fee. Something tells me that's off the table.

GETTING IT TO WORK:
One of the things we don't appreciate emulating DOS games is configuring the mouse. I remember back on the old DOS computer I had, you had to type in a program in order to use the mouse. This is of course, because MS-DOS wasn't one of your ten thousand dollar Macintoshes or Amigas, the only human interface you needed was a keyboard. Personally, I like to think games on DOS kickstarted the use of a mouse, but I'm no expert. I bring this up because you have to run a program. In DOSbox. Like an actual DOS computer. This isn't a simple task either, you have to go searching around for the damn program or build it yourself. Now, while I do use a form of Linux, I'm not really an expert in building things from source.
Which is where I'd be talking about the Amiga version instead, only that didn't work either. I gave up at the time I originally wrote this stuff, until someone told me about D-Fend Reloaded working with it. D-Fend Reloaded is a front end for DOSbox, something I don't use. I only use front ends for other emulators, that don't come with GUIs. I don't have any sound.

With all that, I have my option of characters, which have a bunch of stats I don't understand. Following this, I have a bunch of items, none of which I understand. Sometime between the time I started writing this and I started playing this I lost the manual. Oh, well, a gun and armor is always good. I guess I should get whatever looks like ammo, and a lockpick. Items are contained in various body parts and the player surprisingly has a weight limit.

The game starts off uncermoniously, in a darkened room. It can be controlled through a mix of keyboard and mouse controls, although this is like other games of its era, where you aim independently with the mouse, and turn with the arrow keys. The mouse can have the player move and presumably there are keyboard commands for all the mouse functions, even if just a hacky keyboard mouse cursor. There's simple crouching and jumping, but as of yet, I see no reason for this. There's a very confusing look and grab system.

I walk out, see a camera, and try to shoot it...only resulting in me throwing a punch, Rayman-style. It sees me, and that triggers an alert. This, I guess causes a mechanical spider to pop out. From here, nothing much happens, probably due to my own bewilderment, and I restart.
Second attempt, still not sure why I'm not shooting my gun. I see an alien...or a monster. He's not doing anything...okay. I can do nothing to him. Behind him is a robot that is. I kill him, but I'm not sure how effective this is.
Okay, I eventually figure things out on my third attempt. Put the gun into your hand, then you can fire. Only I have no idea how to reload. Ammo is limited, this game is just featureless corridors, and this is all not very interesting.
Fourth attempt, hoping I keep ammo this time, and manage to get sound working. Still no sound, but I do discover the death screen. This is going to be a long game. So far its not really surprising as to why this never picked up a cult following. There's a lot of technical stuff for a game that's so far an incredibly mundane corridor shooter.

This Session: 30 minutes

*We have in order, major releases, Vixen, Athena, Vixen, Time Gal, Ms. Pac-Man.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Game 62: Shultz's Treasure

Name:Shultz's Treasure
Number:62
Year:1983
Publisher:Verisoft Works
Developer:Verisoft Works
Genre:FPS
Difficulty:4/5
Time:1 hour

Its very rare that you get to see two distinct takes on a simple concept, I.E., 3D Monster Maze with a gun. We had Illegus Episode IV, which goes for a minimalistic approach, with some added interesting elements, simple controls. Now we have Shultz's Treasure, a game which is impossible for me to spell, even compared to Illegus. Items are far more important than Illegus, but you get the option as to whether or not you want to start with them. You're probably not going to want to do that.

The game is presented as the player trying to find treasure within the mythical Lost Dutchman's Mine. In this maze, and the player's way, are several kinds of vermin. So we get a gun to kill them. How is that accomplished, you might ask? Press F9, using Ins/Del to go from side-to-side and F8/F10 up and down. F7 fires. Now, I'm sure most of you, upon reading that, thought that was the worst possible control scheme. I can't argue with that, and even in the wild west of the early '80s, where arrow keys might be similarly broken up, this solution strikes me as particularly obtuse. This aiming, in addition to be unintuitive, is just hard to aim. Press the opposite direction to stop, again to go in that direction. No stop movement button, because my crosshair is over the enemy.
But make no mistake, the controls here are AWFUL. When you're moving, you move non-stop until you hit a wall. Then you turn, with Ins/Del, hopefully not followed the vision of a monster. If you're lucky, you can turn away from them before they hit you. Enemies are typical vermin, rats, bats and spiders. The bats are interesting, because they steal items, something usually objectionable in a typical shooter, but in here its a bit of a problem. Eventually I decided to just power through them, in the vain hope of actually finding the treasure.
I'm giving it 1 point, for graphics. Despite being basically unplayable, the scrolling effect is nice. The monsters look pretty good for...CGA? I don't actually know what it is I'm looking at. It doesn't seem like one of the fancy CGA modes either. Maybe Tandy. The rest, well, its minor problems compared to the controls. Its just an endless maze, yeah, that's not something easily noticed when you can't do anything right. I thought about trying to force myself to beat it, but this is just dreadful.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Game 60: Lethal Tender

Name:Lethal Tender
Number:60
Year:1993
Publisher:Froggman
Developer:Pie in the Sky Software
Genre:FPS
Difficulty:1/5
Time:2 hours

Lethal Tender is the first game in the much used and little enjoyed Pie in the Sky engine, its the sort of thing that helps hide hidden gems. Having finally summoned the strength to beat it myself...I can only think one thing. WHAT? I still don't know what else to think of it. Its not good, but its not bad. Its just sort of there. In the end, isn't that the worst thing I could say of a game? That it exists? I tried for quite some time to think up something, and despite its technical achievements, its just not that interesting.

The elephant in the room is the Pie in the Sky engine's inventory system, which is a bit confusing. You carry everything in your inventory, from guns to notes to keys. You have a limited inventory, so you can't just carry everything. This is annoying, because in a more adventure game fashion, you have to pick things up with the I key. Further, when things are in your inventory you can't use them there, you have to press S, move the inventory cursor over them, then drop them. If its something like a medikit and you're injured, it works automatically. Only notes are not automatic, you have to drop them and then pick them up.
Beyond that the game strips away most of a FPS's downtime. You have no interact button, you just run into doors. There's no mazes or anything remotely confusing about the level design, but there's really nothing interesting either. There are a few tricks, but nothing that'll leave you standing still for long. There's a neat outdoor area, but its just a minor touch. Minor touches help games feel higher quality, but without substance, they're ultimately hollow. Enemies and weapons are just basically a blur and function in their most basic way.
Which is what everything interesting here boils down to. There's a story, involving explosive money even notes inside the game, but Doom's lack of them strikes me as an intentional choice. The game tracks your movement along the Z-axis, but beyond one jumping action that isn't even a puzzle, the whole system is cool, but pointless. There are grenades, which I found unusable and useless due to the bizarre throwing system. Destructible environments, that come into play once. Everything is once, like an idea added just because it got thought up. None of it comes up ever again. Even a system where enemies spawn in locations you've already gone through is used only for the one and only boss.
It does looks good, its well-animated, its got a real place feeling to it, if for 1993. Its not the most complex, but for a shareware, and let's be honest, that's the competition, its pretty good-looking. I'd be hard pressed to make a joke or even find a major complaint. Like the helicopter in the opening room is just a wall graphic, yeah, game ruined. Ceilings and floor heights that actually aren't all the same! 45-degree walls! Moving inanimate objects! Fancy camera angles! But that nagging feeling returns, there's no point to any of it, the game's bland.

I guess some notice should be given to the game's seemingly advanced health system. Damage is done on any number of limbs. Get shot in the leg, you move awkwardly, get shot in the arm and you probably have worse aim, get shot elsewhere, you're in a body bag. There's also a whole bunch of medical numbers that I am sure have no effect on gameplay. But what is the point? I don't have a complicated first aid system to match, I just drop a medikit and I'm healed. In a way it foreshadows games like Robinson's Requiem and Deus, but those games had a reason for that, since they pretended to care about your bodily functions.

In a twisted sense, the game is too short for its own good. So much is built up, but there's never any payoff. Like a demo masquerading as a commercial game, hoping for a full release that will never come. A victim of its author's inability to create a bigger game. But perhaps my wish for a more satisfying, longer experience would have resulted in just plain hatred of this game. In that same twisted sense, its a good thing there's going to be a hundred more of these games, because I'm going to find that out, since at least one of the engine's users will be a good level designer.

Weapons:
You get four weapons. A kick, which is unnecessary as long as you don't waste ammo. A grenade, which is difficult to throw properly. A pistol, which shoots slowly but strongly. A rifle, which is fast and works against most enemies rather well. They weren't very interesting, but they got the job done. 2/10

Enemies:
Four in total, again. Weak enemy, strong enemy, stationary enemy, and boss. None of which were very interesting. 1/10

Non-Enemies:
None.

Levels:
Sort of open-ended, but not really. You're not really going to be taking a different path or anything. 3/10

Player Agency:
Confusing inventory aside, it isn't bad. I dislike having a semi-puzzle focused shooter not having an use key. The jumping mechanics felt tacked-on heavily. 4/10

Interactivity:
For a game with no use key, there is a frightening amount of interactivity. Switches you can run into or shoot, destructible objects, notes. 1/10

Atmosphere:
Very low-budget action film starring some random dude with one screen credit. 1/10

Graphics:
Its not bad looking. I could criticize little things for days, but I just don't feel like doing that. Its got some nice graphical things that weren't commonplace by now, like variable size floors and a sprite helicopter moving off-screen. 4/10

Story:
You're Nick Hunter and you're going to kill some dudes who are threatening to put bombs on US money. This is typical, except for two things, you see a lot of notes, which expand this story, and I think those same notes made me think I was doing something else first. Its bizarre. 2/10

Sound/Music:
There is no music, and the closest thing there is are distracting door sounds from a distance. The sound itself is fine, nothing too distracting. 2/10

That's 20. Placing the same as Blake Stone and Midwinter 2. I think unlike those though, this is something you could play casually and enjoy. Well, pass an evening. Its a one trick pony and there's just nothing else to say about it. Pie in the Sky software was responsible for three other games, directly that is, not just something using their engine. There's one flight sim, made before this game, and two FPS, made after. I foresee myself getting those out of the way rather quickly if this is any indication.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Game 61: Illegus Episode IV

The closest thing to a title
Name:Illegus Episode IV
Number:61
Year:1983
Publisher:ASCII Corporation
Developer:ASCII Corporation
Genre:FPS
Difficulty:3/5
Time:1 hour

This is actually the fourth game I've attempted to play today. Its not that the previous three were unplayable, just that I erred in thinking of them as shooters...and they weren't any good. Its good news for me in a sense, that's three games removed from my list, but not so good for producing an interesting entry.
Illegus Episode IV is a game in the style of 3D Monster Maze. If you're unfamiliar with that, you're advancing through a maze, and you're avoiding a dinosaur. This is like that, except you can shoot, the enemy are robots, its science fiction, and its from Japan. It did escape back in the day, but the MSX was never really popular outside of Asia, so much so, that Mobygames doesn't even acknowledge the existence of a European release. Its also apparently a sequel to three other games released exclusively on the MSX.
With that explanation in mind, there's just not that much to say about this game. Its got a few things that are interesting for 1983, items, you don't have a real inventory or anything, there's a visor that you can use, and otherwise they don't seem to be really useful. A day/night cycle, and things get dark. Holes in the ground that you have to jump over. It makes the basic gameplay of being in a maze less basic psychology test and more like an actual video game. Unfortunately, you die by touching a robot or entering those holes, and there are no continues. So its just wandering around a maze for a time until you die or win. Not the kind of thing I want to spend hours trying to beat.
Weapons:
A weapon that once used, prevents you from moving. Mildly satisfying. 1/10

Enemies:
Robots that are incredibly stupid. 0/10

Non-Enemies:
None

Levels:
Mazes. 1/10

Player Agency:
Very stiff, sometimes I had to press buttons twice to move. Jumping and shooting was very, very tricky. I think you jumped by pressing forward then back, but sometimes that didn't work either. It works but not well. 2/10

Interactivity:
None.

Atmosphere:
Its Night Stalker...but cute I guess. 2/10

Graphics:
It looks nice for blobby basically non-graphics. Even the robots look like walking boxes. 1/10

Story:
I'm on an alien planet and none of this matters at all. 0/10

Sound/Music:
The constant background droning reminds me of Night Stalker, but for some reason there it served as effective background noise whereas here it just sounds like someone left a radio on tuned to static. 1/10

That is 8. That makes it the best FPS up til 1983. Of course, its only competition is Voyager I...so far. There's another obscure FPS maze-like game called Schultz's Treasure which looks like it'll be somehow worse than this.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Lethal Tender: As Phony as a Two Dollar Bill

Lethal Tender, not the first game from infamous game studio, Pie in the Sky Software, responsible for the Pie in the Sky Game Creation System, and bane of anyone interested in obscure '90s FPS games. Game after game made in the same engine. This isn't like iDtech or Build games, those were functional. PSGCS is...different, to say the least. This game has a freaky story. Terrorists have developed a new kind of bomb, one they're putting on money, metal and paper. The mastermind? One Thorne Devereaux, damn French-Canadians. Although the story goes on to say that we know where he is, an old mining town, scraping up old silver and bronze...and for some reason the US government isn't just bombing him. Naturally, instead of Rainbow Six or a bunch of A-10s a single man, nay, a LEGEND is being sent, Nick Hunter. He is the one who won the war against terrorism and drugs! I guess I was mistaken, he sounds capable of handling this. There's a lot of backstory on this guy. Is this serious? This sounds like a parody. Anyway, on to stopping Devereaux's mining operation.

The game starts...oh hang on, the txt files are in-game too. This is a lot of technical information for a game about shooting people. This isn't going to be another stealth game, methinks. At least, I'm not going to play it like one.

A weird loading screen...weirder gun. Very low-budget action film with a middle-aged star look. Someone trying to pull off Tom Selleck, but he doesn't have the facial structure to pull it off. Very '80s.

The opening level is a tutorial of the, figure it out yourself sort. The game's a bit confusing, the inventory is the culprit. The inventory is some weird fusion of Galactic Empire and Wolfenstein 3D. You manually pick up items with the I key, which adds them to your inventory. If they're guns or ammo, no more interaction is necessary on your part, just use one of the number keys. If they're a bomb or a landmine, that's where it gets fun. Apparently you're supposed to use those strategically, like you would in later, better games. I'm not using those if I don't have to, since that's typical of my trap expertise in video games. The guns are typical, kick, pistol, grenade and rifle. They've got nice animations, I'll give 'em that. The grenade is going to be interesting, since it seems very weird in the way its thrown, since you have power. Advanced for its time, but not fun.
Another interesting thing is this engine seems more advanced than Wolfenstein. 45 degree walls, 3D scenery, fancy animations. It looks pretty sweet, I must admit. They put some good effort into this, I'll give them that. That's enough of that, how about the actual game?
This mission isn't the one advertised, I've just got to kill some random explosives seller. Okay, cool. I start off on a surprisingly small roof, which leads quickly enough to another floor. Interesting, very interesting. Doors open automatically. I guess Quake was really late to that party. Here, I find some dudes to kill. There's no avoiding it, its slow, even with an automatic. They're bullet-sponges and there are quite a few of them. They don't drop any items, except a uniform, which I decide to take after killing them all. This hurts me quite a bit, hopefully I didn't miss all the medikits in this level when I left them behind at HQ. Curiously, there are crates with hammer and sickles on them, and Stars of David. Are these guns that the drug lord bought, or are they explosives shipments to those places? Either way, bold choices, especially considering its 1993 and the Soviet Union doesn't exist anymore.

I continue downstairs. As you get injured, the game realistically makes you slower, turns the screen red and making walking in a straight line troublesome. As I was writing some of this, I was waiting for the between floor loading screen to end, when suddenly I hear gunshots. I return, only to see a guard shooting me, and the loading screen start again. I figure I died, so I return to writing things down. Only, I got knocked back, I have to deal getting this guy. I figure I must be nearly dead, only I manage to clear the entire floor. The pistol is actually a pretty strong weapon, hits harder than the rifle. I find a door, thinking, aha, this leads to the basement.

Outside. This leaves some questions about this mission, since I'm supposed to reach a basement. I didn't realize this was a complex. The game says factory. Okay. I quickly enough bite it to some more guards. Took a surprising amount of punishment. The dead screen has Hunter in a bodybag. Jees. Still, as I restart the game, I notice something interesting, the machine gun has a variable speed. Sometimes its really fast, other times its just a fast pistol.

Properly equipped, the guards outside are little trouble. I'm not sure how I'm going to survive a level if it turns into a slog though. The grenades seem completely useless or specialized enough equipment that I'm not ever going to figure out how to use them. Since this is the first time we've seen a weapon with its own physics, that's not entirely surprising.

There's a house here, it has a bathroom/changing station. Nothing I can take. What I can take is a key and something showing me the secret entrance. This game is actually more advanced than one would think. I can climb on top of desks. Not sure what that's going to do, but its pretty cool regardless.

The interior starts off as a short but convoluted key hunt. Mostly because of me getting confused. The key I brought here is so far useless, as I'm supposed to find a key in a radio room. This key opens the door to a generator room, which I shoot in order to get past an electrified door. All the while there are dozens of notes to read and guards to kill. Most of which aren't very interesting to talk about. Although one note is a key.
This continues to a room filled with oil. Why is there a room filled with oil? I don't know. I assume I can't pass it, and so continue downward, where there are a series of devices that may involve the player getting past it on some time trick. I first try shooting it, and then advancing, where I properly die. The death screen still shows me shot. Then I try to get to through the oil...which causes me to drown in goo.
The answer to this question is to shoot the two panels to the side of the orbs. I have just enough time to rush past. More interesting things here, a rotating wall, and a corridor full of lasers. Something I'm not talking about is that this game has some interesting lighting effects. Environmental hazards change the color of the screen quite a bit. I don't know how to deal with the lasers, so I wager on the wall. This leads me downwards, to some oil related chamber? I dunno. I do read a note telling me to be careful around certain panels, otherwise they'll blow up.
This directly leads to the most annoying fight so far, three of the tougher guards just hanging out outside the next door. They get me pretty good. Turns out there are a lot of dudes in this section. I wasn't clear on it before, but I think there's a limb damage system here. During my successful attempt at clearing this area, my leg got shot up pretty badly, and this was reflected in-game. Curious.
Next, a barracks. Its not that interesting at first. Portraits of some dude I have no context for, is this the guy responsible for...LETHAL TENDER? Ahem. The interesting bit is a new enemy, a dude in bed. I've never been shot at by an enemy in a bed before. From here I eventually arrive at the little isle in the goo I passed by earlier. Three dudes here, plus two above me. This causes me a little grief, probably because I wasn't expecting this. But this is clearly the end of the line. So I walk back...only to discover there's no elevator back. Oh, well, explosions time. They might not be very effective in actual combat, but against inanimate objects, these is working out pretty sweet. Game even says I completed the objective, and now I have to return to the roof. Okay, this is going to be interesting. Only its not...I just didn't realize I could jump before. Okay.
Takes a while walking back, great level design, and I return to a boss. He's not that bad, took a medikit, but that's just because I screwed up a bit. Anyway, next time, we'll see what lovely mission we have next.
...I won? What? I won? That's it? That's the end of the game? But the guy mentioned in the message earlier has a different name than the big bad. Well...okay then...I guess I have to do a summary...I hope this wasn't full-priced back in the day.

Total Time: 2 hours
 

Monday, April 19, 2021

Game 59: The Adventures of Captain Comic

Name:The Adventures of Captain Comic
Number:59
Year:1988
Publisher:Michael Denio
Developer:Michael Denio
Genre:Side-scroller
Difficulty:4/5
Time:1 hour 30 minutes

You ever replay a game from your youth, that at the time you thought was bad, only to discover that yes, it was bad? The Adventures of Captain Comic is that game for me. Captain Comic represents an important milestone in the DOS side-scrolling timeline, it was the first EGA game with smooth-scrolling. Smooth-ish scrolling, anyway. It is a bit stiff-looking. I don't understand the technical details myself, something to do with graphical memory. Captain Comic goes around the issue by not redrawing the whole screen each second, just the parts of the image that has changed.
But enough of that, let's talk about the game itself. Captain Comic is a Metroidvania-style game set on the planet Tambi to where you find treasures stolen from Omsec. In your way on this dangerous quest...are birds and other assorted inanimate objects that are half your size. Its typical platformer cheap difficulty, have enemies that are shorter than you that you can't hit. What makes this game troublesome is that you have a limited number of lives, no continues and no saves. A rarity for PC games I find. In theory I could probably beat this given enough time. Its just...oh, I don't want to do that.
There's just so much dead space. In theory some of that dead space is intended to be challenge, like a series of pits or areas with enemies. But the pits were only troublesome if they were next to enemies, which happened less than you'd think. The entire opening area is much larger than it needed to be. And enemies respawn, which I dislike in my games as a principle. Its not a constant struggle, but it is annoying.
I can tell the guy tried. You've got some cool environments. I liked the mountain area and the moon. But so much of it just feels random, which is strange considering the sci-fi setting. Shouldn't I have noticed that moon when I flew in on my space ship? Why did I have to find a rocket ship next to a pirate ship? Why are balls of light bouncing across the screen? Is this supposed to be humor? You're not doing a good job of it if that's true.
Weapons:
You shoot fireballs straight in front of you. Except if you get an item, then the fireballs go down, then up, repeat until they hit an enemy or they disappear. This feels like a cheap way to compensate for a lack of a crouch button. 1/10

Enemies:
I've seen games where enemies are supposed to be annoying before, but games where there are only annoying enemies? Everything's a bird, a jumping crab thing, a ball. How about a reason why these treasures are lost here, beyond bizarre wildlife? How about some aliens? Sigh... 0/10

Non-Enemies:
None.

Levels:
In theory, this whole non-linear level design thing could work...but you know it doesn't. I feel less like I have a choice in the matter and more like I'm merely being given the illusion of choice. From the starting location, there are three doors I need a key for. One is a dark room, another leads to an unreachable platform. Further, the one that's actually open offers a path that also leads to an unreachable platform. So I never really had a choice of options after all. 2/10

Player Agency:
Movement is sluggish, and the second you press a key you shouldn't be pressing, you stop dead. Space jumps and Comic jumps in an awkward fashion. Somewhere between Castlevania and Mario. You have limited air control, but mostly you'll just be using it to stop dead mid-air. I like how you can jump right next to the top of the screen and momentum carries. The insert key shoots. I'll leave it as an exercise to the player as to how that's annoying. I've seen better, and its failures are mostly limited to technical ones. 3/10

Interactivity:
None.

Atmosphere:
At times I get a faint fond feeling I get with spring, but that could be incidental. 1/10

Graphics:
Its solid. I know what I'm looking at. Sometimes it even looks good. Not the best EGA game I've ever seen, but I've seen far, far worse. 2/10

Story:
Get treasures from...whatever. To be continued...I did try and be fair to see if text was going to show up later, but it doesn't. 0/10

Sound/Music:
PC speaker sound effects and annoying music. I literally just starting playing some of my own music before finishing the game, even though I never figured out how to turn off the in-game sound. 0/10

That is 9. That puts it at the same spot as The Hunt for Red October. They sort of share the same things, games I randomly picked for no reason, and ended up being awful. I might want to stop doing that, or finally beat Dungeon Master.

Of interest here is that this game was hacked by a Ukrainian to make a...mod...? I think its just a graphical change. I could be wrong. I'm not going to check it. Otherwise it got okay scores. There was an NES version published by Color Dreams which seems to be slightly uglier and where most of the reviews come from. User reviews are most positive, but to be cruel, I think they're mostly based on nostalgia. This game's going to be a lot better if you're PC exclusive and wanted something like Mario. Which is probably why the NES version is considered meh.

What do I do, trying to find something fun I can actually beat? Accomplish neither of those things. Back to the regular grind, I guess. Yippee. Captain Comic will return in another game...which I'll get to at some point.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Game 58: Castle Wolfenstein

Name:Castle Wolfenstein
Number:58
Year:1981
Publisher:Muse Software
Developer:Muse Software
Genre:Top-Down Shooter
Difficulty:4/5
Time: 2 hours

As gaming grows ever more older, and the near past of the 1970s slowly lose the near part, its funny to think we'll lose sight of a game directly responsible for the biggest game genre...that isn't sports or games that pad their cost via a subscription or endless micro-transactions. Yes, Castle Wolfenstein is arguably responsible for the first person shooter genre as we know it. Which is ironic considering that story started with stealth and ended in ultra-violence. Or its not, because that's partially a lie.
 
The player is the guy with the smiley face, he's just so happy!
For 1981, Castle Wolfenstein is amazing, even though I'm playing the '84 DOS release. A large, multi-tiered castle, free aim, and hordes of baddies to kill. Something with a semi-coherent plot and not just endlessly walking around for no reason. Shoot anywhere, walk anywhere. What is this arcane madness? At the start, this game put a big smile on my face. Its not complex, no, but it does succeed at being fun for a time. Oh, I can search enemies, cool. Oh, I can search chests...hang on, 300 seconds? It goes faster than real time, but still. You get disguises and bullet-proof vests in chests, which are helpful with enemies. Sometimes they contain bullets or grenades.
It gets tedious. Enemies are fun to kill, even if they end up in annoying places some times. You question when the game is going to end, because its been a long time already. Then you start meeting SS, in random areas first. If you try to run away they chase you across rooms, but sometimes they randomly appear. They can't be killed with bullets, you need hold them up and hope you can remove their bullet-proof vest. Otherwise, that's what the grenades are for. Don't get too close though, then you'll lose your armor and disguise. Chests contain useless crap you don't need, or stuff you already have. SS start appearing from whatever room you were previously in. And if you end up getting shot or captured, you return to the start, and the SS always appear a set distance after the opening room. This turns into a weird situation where you're constantly dying to the same SS because you can't get the vest off, and you never start with hand grenades.
Its for this reason why I ended up giving up winning this game. In order to kill a SS without a grenade, I need to hold them up, which means I need to be on the left or right with a gun in my hand. If I hit a wall or them while walking, I put my gun away. Because hitting a movement key moves you until you hit stop or a different direction, and if you aren't aiming at them, they rush you...well, its not hard to see my problem with the game.

Weapons:
A gun and a grenade. Both are satisfying to use, but very much basic. 2/10

Enemies:
Its cool that the SS constantly track you, being more than just enemies that require a different attack. Unfortunately, that doesn't always make their presence fun. 2/10

Non-Enemies:
None.

Levels:
Its randomly generated, and more to the point, not very memorable. 1/10

Player Agency:
Full movement and full aiming is cool in 1981, but you rarely use those diagonal abilities thanks to the difficulties this game has with those angles. Not to mention the general funkiness of them. 4/10

Interactivity:
Searching an area for 300 seconds isn't my idea of fun. 0/10

Atmosphere:
None, really.

Graphics:
Charming, but still typical CGA garbage. 1/10

Story:
None of the story matters whenever you get inside the game. 0/10

Sound/Music:
Gunshots and bitcrushed screams of German are amusing for a little while, but eventually get old. 1/10

That is 11. Which places it as the best 1981 game yet. Its actually fun and feels like something more than a simple arcade game. Befitting the game that inspired Wolfenstein 3D. I think I've found the best of the year, but we'll see how the few games that look pretty impressive are going to come across. This is the first game chronologically that feels like a necessary step.

Other reviews are mixed. Which is to be expected, but curiously, reviews a decade after are the ungenerous ones, while more recent ones are glowing. Nostalgia? You decide.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Game 54: Escape From Monster Manor

Name:Escape From Monster Manor
Number:54
Year:1993
Publisher:EA
Developer:Studio 3DO
Genre:FPS
Difficulty:5/5
Time: 12 hours 10 minutes

There are three kinds of shooters that get under a ten on Almost a Famine; Games I just don't get, like the arcade titles; Games that are just old, like Battlezone; Games that are actually horrible to play and experience, like today's title. Why must I find a new low in the latter category monthly? New, from EA, the latest bottom of the barrel title. Escape From Monster Manor! Monsters that require absolute precision to kill! Levels that feel like inescapable hellscapes! A soundtrack that's just a bunch of people screaming! A joke fitting to the 3DO, a system known for FMV trash. Imagine being some guy who spent all that cash on this system, tired of the FMV crap, finally finds something resembling a good game, only to have reality cruelly crush his hopes and dreams.

Borrowed from Mobygames

 But, let's go over the claims on the back of the box first.

  •  Its not that fast, in fact, its very slow compared to other games of its time. My neck's sore, but that's from staring at this piece of crap. I see nothing that couldn't be done elsewhere.
  • Its not that fast, in fact, its very slow compared to other games of its time. My neck's sore, but that's from staring at this piece of crap. I see nothing that couldn't be done elsewhere.
  • Battalions? Yeah. Shoot, would have used a Battalions of Fear joke if I knew that was the case. The clay was okay but the translucency was a problem.
  • Enter at your own risk! Yeah.
  • Discover keys...these are baic game elements.
  • Use your map or you may be lost forever. True.
  • Eerie music [...] set the mood. Is that mood lost in a theme park haunted house? Then yeah.

So, as you can tell, I'm not favorable towards this game. I never had a good opinion of it, but it still didn't make me hate the game. I only felt mediocre about it, not outright hatred. Then the spiders came, good god the spiders. You don't automatically hit them like the other enemies, you have to wait for them to attack. They have next to no rhyme or reason to their attacks. They jump around. This is all annoying when they're pressed against a corner, and you're waiting for them to start walking forward. The jumping is always to the right. The only guarantee is that they will attack just before they would be free of that corner, and they jump a lot when they're next to you. Imagine if in Doom the only effective strategy was to let an enemy attack you.

Oh, but I'm not done complaining here. The enemies were never good. Okay, stop-motion animation is underused in video games, and I have no feelings on the matter irregardless, but four enemies and four boss variants is nothing. One of the enemies, a skeleton in a robe, basically disappears halfway through the game or about 6 levels. That's three identical enemies. Remember that 1monster.wad? Where each level only has one enemy type? Try doing that for 9 or even 30 levels, Doom meisters. There's no AI, they just go straight at you. They're interesting in that they don't activate until you see them, well, slightly outside your sight range. A concession the game doesn't offer in reverse, they have small hitboxes for their sprites. Which makes hitting them tedious. And they stack up in a single space. That's right, those ghosts? There could be any number in a single tile from 1 to 100. Its noticeable with ghosts because there are many times when so many stack up their transparency effect disappears. Their attack naturally stacks too.

This isn't even the worst level
What really cemented my hatred of the game was the level design. It was never exciting, but it was playable. At the same time the spiders appeared every level turned into a maze. You know what's bad level design? Every corner hiding another enemy. You have to maintain vigilance at all times or you'll get hit by the something. And you can run past enemies, so you might end up getting a ghost behind you. They have a short recovery time, which is fun. But the mazes are all basically the same, here's a snaking corridor with enemies, here's a diagonal one, and here's the small item room it leads to. This wouldn't be so bad if they didn't decrease the gameplay speed of an already slow game to zero. The diagonals in particular just slow the game down.

Death screen
The difficulty of these levels is really schizophrenic too, you have some that barely offer any health and ammo, followed by some with them aplenty. And look at this screenshot of the map screen, its one of the later levels. Blocking scenery isn't shown on this map, so some of the shortcuts you might be seeing don't exist. These levels feel like they've been made solely to justify the cost of the game and to pad out the running time. Some of them take close to an hour to finish, and this is all if you don't die.

To top things off, the playing of this game is not the most satisfying experience in general. The game tries to put weight into everything, it takes a moment from you no longer pressing a movement key before the player stops. The gun pushes you back with every shot. These felt interesting at first but by the end just made it like running around with weights on your shoulders, or like being underwater. Not pleasant, regardless.
And then we have minor problems. Doors are only opened by keys, but beyond one level there's little point in the system. For a horror game, there's not much beyond minor window dressing. I don't care for the start button starting a new game on the menu, too many games have that as an accept button. The interface, while minimalist, does leaves me disoriented. It is cool that health is reflected by how damaged your hand is, but it just reminds me of Nitemare 3D again, and I really like that game.
Some of the sounds used in the game are from Doom. The wallhump sound effect is a pain effect here; The demon awakening sound effect is in one of the music tracks. My previous experience has no bearing on this, but they're not well-used here. Not that any of the sounds in the music tracks are used effectively, since they're background tracks. Its bizarre, what is it supposed to be? Are there actual people getting torn apart? Why am I not seeing them? Is it just the ghosts? Why are some of them doing that and not just attacking me? What reason is it there from a game perspective? How does hearing the sounds of gruesome death improve gameplay in any way whatsoever?

Weapons:
You have one weapon, a hitscan lightning pistol. There is no melee attack. Standard stuff, but wait, there's a problem, you have 100 ammo, but you drain 5 with each shot. That's 20 shots, ammo comes in 20 packs. It does feel weighty, but at the same time it doesn't feel powerful. 0/10

Enemies:
You've got four enemies, they're okay, melee and a ranged one. If the game just consisted of them, this would be acceptable. Certainly not good in any way: They're set up in precisely the most annoying placement at all times; They don't have long recovery periods; There can be many in a single square, troublesome for the ghosts; Their hitboxes seem very small compared to their sprites. No, what makes this category outright horrible are the spiders. You can't shoot at them unless they're attacking, and there's no set pattern to their attacks. While the ghosts were the most deadly, the spiders were just so tedious to deal with. 0/10

Non-Enemies:
None.

Levels:
A new standard in bad level design has arrived. It starts off innocent enough, following standard level design, rooms, not great. If it was just that it'd get a few points...but by the halfway point each level is just an overwhelmingly long maze consisting of hundreds of enemies, barely enough ammo to kill them all, and just everything intended to shallowly increase level length. 0/10

Player Agency:
The player is very slow, turns very slow, moves very slow. These are big levels. I didn't find out until afterwards that there's a strafing function, the problem was due to my emulator not recognizing the shift keys properly. That doesn't really change anything, since strafing was never really necessary. Its faster though, curiously. 1/10

Interactivity:
None.

Atmosphere:
It starts off with a cookie-cutter Halloween theme, before turning into a haunted house theme park attraction theme...then finishes on a "I live next to a theme park, right next to their chainsaw bloody clown haunted house and their rollercoaster that they have to clean bodily fluids off every time it runs. Teenagers think my house is part of the park, and constantly try to break in. I want to move away, but I'm stuck at a dead end job, during the nightshift." 0/10

Graphics:
Everything looks much the same as everything else. There's no real variety to things, every part of the level looks much the same as a different part. There's little variety, and static props and enemies are consistent across all levels. Further, wall graphics at either side of the wall look weird in their distortions. A weird complaint, but its very distracting. 1/10

Story:
Cheesy narration aside, just a generic spooky mansion containing a magical item. The intro tries to go for a big payoff and the ending is more disappointing than a text endscreen. 0/10

Sound/Music:
The sound effects are fine, I guess. No enemy alert sound, which is a problem. The problem is the music, good god the music. Or soundtrack, since half of it isn't music. I never thought I'd say this, but you shouldn't have enemy sounds in your soundtrack. You shouldn't have scream sounds in your soundtrack. You shouldn't have any kind of sounds in your soundtrack that distract from the game itself. The music is generic, just harpsichord noodling. There's also not much of it, every track is really short as is the amount of them. 0/10

That is...2 out of 100. A new low in shooters. Would I recommend this? Yes...to game developers. This is the kind of crap you need to know to avoid. You don't necessarily need to know the good, you need to know what common pitfalls others have. What else can I say that no one else has said? Its really bad, that's what. My opinion is apparently unique. Judging by reviews both modern and vintage, I am the only person who thinks that. I also think this is the only review by someone who beat the game, so take those statements however you will. Although the official 3DO magazine in the UK gave it a 2 out of 10, which I think is most telling of all.

Of interest is the lead developer's own LP. It explains a lot of the problems I had with it. And a lot of things I didn't. Its worth listening to in the background on its own merits, if not because of the game, but because of the sheer amount of technical knowledge relating to 64 bit era. And it even explains the biggest problem. Turns out the game was developed in 6 months because the last game was something that would take them considerably longer than the amount of work they already put in. It should be noted that even he didn't beat this game.

As an aside, I've spent some time compiling what games on the 3DO I should be playing. There are an astonishing 44 games that I've put in my sights, and quite a few of them are actually pretty cool looking. That's not including some of the Japanese ones nobody has any info on, which I'll probably give a quick check to. What's more astonishing is the number of EA titles there are, surpassing the amount 3DO or Panasonic put on their own console. These are legit exclusives to the system, for the most part. The only thing I find curious is the lack of sports titles. I wonder if that contributed to the death of the console, as there aren't any beyond racing or golf games. I think mine and others mocking of the 3DO's library is unfair. However, feel free to continue mocking the CD-i and Jaguar.

As another aside, the level designers which crashed the lead's career; One of them would go on to working on Hellgate: London, Dragon Age II and Mass Effect 3. Which if you haven't played them, also have have tedious level design. I don't know if the same guy was responsible, but it seems a reasonable accusation. And another was one of the testers. Sigh...

Next time...something better, which statistically, has to be true.