Monday, May 31, 2021

Dark Castle: Are You Sure Mac Done it This Way?

When I finished up Tracker, and was putting all the usual info into my spreadsheets, I was struck by the realization that the last thirty or so games I had been playing were all generally bad. Oh, there were exceptions, certainly, but most of them were not. It takes a special kind of madman to play through all the games in a certain genre to begin with, but I was not the kind of madman to want to play endless trash. The last game I picked randomly was a Dr. Brain title, but in that case, it was because I had spent a long time getting it to work and there were no guarantees it would work for me ever again. I guess its similar here, but Dark Castle is something I've been meaning to play properly for a long time.

Best known for its Sega Genesis and Philips CD-i versions, which were covered by the Angry Video Game Nerd. They had infamously bad controls, in which you aimed rocks via the gamepad in a circle fashion. It was quite difficult to use properly. Surely, the Macintosh original doesn't have that problem. Surely.

Of course it does. Its not as bad...but its still not good. It aims in the same manner, its just controlled more smoothly via the mouse. This doesn't change the fundamental issues this game had. Namely, being incredibly difficult, the player character being a dunce, respawning enemies, and the game seemingly mocking you for not getting it right. See, if you don't know, the PC trips over a slight drop in elevation. What is this random bit of realism doing in my mostly arcade-style action game? The real advantage the Macintosh version has is the down and duck functions are mapped to two different buttons. This matters, because the game actually suggests you press multiple directions, so you can move more quickly. This is vital to your existence.

The story is that Duncan, a local prince, has volunteered to fight the Black Knight in his Dark Castle. That's the story. You can just go straight to him, but you need items held in different rooms or you'll get killed. And to get those items, you need luck, or you'll be killed. You'll probably be killed. The "beginner" setting is a lie, you have four lives, no saves, and any advantage beginner provides is such a small thing that offering difficulty settings is pointless. I'm told it adds more enemies, which is what difficulty usually does, but here that feels like a slap in the face.

So, three paths forward. First, I'm going to talk about the Shield path, or as far as I got this session. The first screen you have to get past a guard throwing boulders in a set path. Its like Donkey Kong. I don't like Donkey Kong. I can stand a short sequence of it if I'm forced to, but in a game with one-hit kills and a collection of other downers? It doesn't help that I have to kill these multi-handed creatures beforehand. You can't kill the guard, either, he's there forever. This is an awkward sequence, but its definitely doable.

The dragon here seems oddly cartoony for the rest of the game

Shield 2 is an outside level. Here I have to deal with a dragon. And bats. Bats are the worst enemy in this game, they respawn constantly, like everything else, but they have a threat range of the entire level. So, I have to jam a bunch of rocks at them, run past, throw more rocks, go up the ladder, hoping the dragon is breathing fire at that moment, to reach the top. This isn't where the level ends, no I have to pour water on the dragon, and in an incredibly precise sequence, run past him. The more I play it, the more I suspect I'm playing the 1986 version of I Wanna Be the Guy.

Trouble, hyuk, hyuk, hyuk. This level exposes another problem this game has. You can't shoot while moving or on a set of stairs. While this level isn't the absolute worst in regards to this, it is quite a sheer cliff. You have to time it right so the guy who pops out in the lower left doesn't get back up and throw a spear at you, while also making sure you don't touch a rat. It is quite doable after some practice.
Which leads to Trouble 2. I didn't get very far in this one because on my first life I didn't see the bats and on my second life I missed a jump. I only had two lives when I reached here. I'd wager this is no Pitfall though.
Fireball is the most infamous of the rooms, leading to a different flock of bats and the things that make a really annoying sound. Its hard to describe properly, but imagine someone mimicking a small child laughing mockingly, but very badly. To be honest its not that bad, perhaps its just because its the one I've spent the most time on. This leads to...
Fireball 2 is precision platforming, in a game that is fiercely willing to screw you over. There are only two bats here, but that's all this level needs. Think on that for a second. There are three jumps, that the game graciously told me I could do. Regular jump, running jump, and down jump. The last isn't jumping down, you just have a shorter jumping arc. Once you get used to the controls, its not too bad. Reminds me of a bad sequence in the Men in Black game, except that one was worse than this. Boy, I wonder why I hate platforming in games so much...
Fireball 3 is hell. You have to jump on a series of platforms moving down the river while rocks are falling from above. I don't know how to deal with this at all yet. This game, man, this game.

That's as far as I got in each stage so far, I'm probably going to complete each one individually before finally reaching the Black Knight, but this is not the improvement I was told it was. Checking the AVGN episode, I've gone just about as far as he did. Perhaps he went a little further in places.

This Session: 1 hour

Friday, May 28, 2021

Game 72: Tracker

The Macintosh title looks the best out of the title screens
Name:Tracker
Number:72
Year:1986
Publisher:Rainbird Software
Developer:Union Software
Genre:Flight Simulation/Strategy
Difficulty:5/5
Time:2 hours

I have never spent more time trying, unsuccessfully, getting a game to work like this in a long time. First, I naturally tried the Amiga version. I needed to do something funny with the emulator and I wasn't going to do that. Then I tried the Macintosh version, because that was the next best thing. Across a multitude of systems, it still wouldn't work. Then I couldn't find the Atari ST version. That left the DOS and C64 versions, which I wasn't looking forward to. This is CGA dos if you don't remember and my C64 emulator is just hard to use. I find Macintosh easier than the C64, what is this world coming to? Then the C64 version doesn't work either, so I decide to screw it and go with DOS. Its not a mystery as to why this game isn't popular today, its near impossible to get running.

Tracker is an interesting title. Set in a cyberpunk future as some kind of deathsport. They don't explain why its a deathsport, since the game doesn't involve your physical presence, they're just being evil. Its hard to say what the closest sport is, but its basketball, in the sense that you grab a "ball" (bomb) to put in a "hoop" (target). Its a big arena you fly around in several ships, gradually destroying hoops. You control several ships, and each operates independently until you control them specifically, for combat. The game comes with a big novella, but the manual itself does a pretty good job of putting the story out there.

Its not really a mystery why it isn't popular once I start playing, as the game has a very tedious start-up process. Partially my fault, since I wasn't certain what kind of control scheme I wanted, but move of the keys are useless. What's important are the speed keys and the weapon change. But you have to change them whenever you start, or just adjust to the original controls. Turning and shooting are handled by the mouse. Its slow, but its handled. Nonetheless, my first attempt at playing this goes poorly. Each ship can be attacked, but when you're in the combat mode, which I did when it said I was being attacked, the game doesn't tell you when anything is happening to another ship. That could just be full-screen combat mode, since I eventually found that the "windowed" mode provided me with a map, which is incredibly vital to doing anything in this game.
When I start treating it like a racing game with incidental shooting, it becomes better. Like Wipeout, but bad. Not good, just better. The problem with the controls, is that in addition to the aforementioned issues, is that you can't turn around anywhere but in designated places. Its more like trains that can crash into each other that can also shoot. This has disastrous consequences for you, but the enemy gets away scot-free. I'm not even sure I can damage these guys. It doesn't seem like I'm doing anything. The targets, on the other hand, I'm actually managing to hit. Its absolutely bizarre.
This game is really badly designed. The system of having multiple ships moving around at different times is completely alien to how I usually play such games. The game doesn't seem to be encouraging it either. You two different kinds of bombs, one you get easily and can use against a relatively easy target outside the starting area. This gives you the second kind, which you use against a central computer. The problem is all the weapons don't seem to want to hit where you aim. The bombs I could get bounced and the regular shot didn't hit a moving target once. You have infinite ammo for the regular gun, but it recharges, slowly. I should have taken out something at some point.
I didn't make it far. I was getting persistent crashes that sent me to DOS, and if I returned to the game, it just crashed DOSbox. This game is basically unplayable no matter how you cut it.
With that said, let's talk about the manual. By far the most interesting piece of this game. There's a novella, which I didn't read, because if I was going to do that, I'd spend my time reading actual novels or short stories, not ones produced for a video game. But the manual is something special. This is some on-point cyberpunk humor. The TV station telling you not to advertise for local funeral homes, because they don't want to get cheated out of meagre revenue. Your epitaph will be chosen by a weekly caption contest. Except what's interesting is that this changes depending on what version you're playing. Macintosh, interesting cyberpunk. C64, computer-turned-bad.

Weapons:
Nearly unusable cannons and bombs. 0/10

Enemies:
You have stationary and mobile targets, which have different types, but they didn't really matter. The game hypes up its own AI, but it didn't seem all that intelligent.  1/10

Non-Enemies:
None.

Levels:
The overarching map only looks cool when you zoom out, inside its just endless corridors and pylons. 1/10

Player Agency:
A floaty hovercraft you can't aim at all. I guess its easily understandable for a modern user, but the same is true of a bulldozer, and neither are ideal driving experiences. 1/10

Interactivity:
None.

Atmosphere:
None of the interesting cyberpunk atmosphere enters into the game. 0/10

Graphics:
Generic early 3D, serviceable, but not impressive. 1/10

Story:
Putting your story in a novella is guaranteed to make me not care. 0/10

Sound/Music:
Generic PC Speaker. 1/10

That's 5. That makes it the 11th game in a row to get under 20, with only Lethal Tender breaking up an even longer string of bad games. I recommend reading the manual and maybe the novella over playing this. Its the only enjoyment anyone is getting out of this. Otherwise, uh...watch Rollerball or something.

Opinions on the game were sharply divided. Everyone felt the game was hard, but few felt that difficulty was worth it. The reviews on the Amiga and ST versions were the most favorable, with most Commodore 64 and DOS reviews ripping it to shreds. Zapp is my favorite, highlighting the same points as I, but less harsh and points out this cost 15£. That's back when that meant something.

I think I'm going to play something a bit out of the way next. I need a break from early '80s games, its starting to wear on me quite a bit.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Game 71: Epoch

Name:Epoch
Number:71
Year:1981
Publisher:Sirius Software
Developer:Sirius Software
Genre:Space Sim
Difficulty:4/5
Time:1 hour

For an obscure Apple II game that doesn't look appealing on first glance, I sure as hell had some trouble getting it to run. I'm willing to bet I'm one of the very few people who gave it that chance, and even I came in not expecting much. Its hard to say whether I got that or not. This game feels weird. Like alien in design. In every little way it is wrong, not the way anyone else would do it. What do I expect? Its from 1981. I respect it even though I don't really like it.

After a title screen the resembles something that would be a screensaver, the game begins. Something's shooting at me, so I shoot back. Cool. Nothing else is shooting at me, but I'm shooting at everything I see. Nothing's hitting. Oh, some scenery approaches...I shattered it and nothing happened. Oh, I get it, I shoot the things approaching me. And I'm dead, out of ammo. Huh. Normally, at this point, I'd play it a few more times, check that my thoughts were clear, then write off another title. But somehow Epoch managed to evade that. For some reason I actually wanted to play it a little more.

As I kept playing, it still felt weirder. I was getting better, but I wasn't getting any more time. I was dying due to a lack of fuel, while I still had way more title. My turning had no bearing on this, so I was clearly missing something. Checking, the very thin yet very informative manual tells me there are time gates that restore my time and friendly space stations that give me more health and ammo. I haven't seen anything the manual is depicting as one. Huh. Then when I start looking for one, everything that looks like it doesn't end up helping me.
The technology behind this is really weird. You have bullets that you can see curve around your ship. Its really cool, you get shot at, then you turn into the direction the bullet is heading. It maintains its speed and distance in what is perceivable as three-dimensional space. On the other hand, anything that is outside of my sight is non-existent. There's a ship on your left? Turn right, then left, he's gone.
There's a really awkward control issue that I'm not sure where its at fault. I'm controlling it via the numpad, which is obviously not on the original system. Everything works fine, except I have some drift and going up and left sends me flying for some reason. Its a little slow beyond that.

Weapons:
Generic lasers. 1/10

Enemies:
You've got vaguely Tie Fighter, Klingon heavy cruiser, and some other stuff I don't recognize. The visual range is nice for Apple II, but they're all the same. 1/10

Non-Enemies:
The closest things are more like ammunition boxes you can accidentally shoot. 0/10

Levels:
None, really.

Player Agency:
Awkward, slow, but as effective as can be. 3/10

Interactivity:
None.

Atmosphere:
There's just something strange about this game. I can't put my finger on it. 3/10

Graphics:
This is genuinely impressive stuff for 1981. Things get bigger as they approach, yet far away they still look like what they eventually look like. Some of the graphical effects here are genuinely good. 2/10

Story:
Generic non-story.

Sound/Music:
This is legitimately the worst thing I've ever heard. What passes for music is some absolute screeches that I think are trying to rip off something, but I don't care. 0/10

That's 10 points. Which is very good for 1981. I found it interesting, but its hard to recommend. For all the positives I found its still 1981 and it also sounds like a cascade of nails on a chalkboard.

The developer, Larry Miller, would go on to make two more games for Sirius Software, this same year, before joining Activision and disappearing. Allegedly the cover artist for this game was the same Richard Hescox who would go on the make art for Sierra games.

So, reviews. Well, I'm chancing that nobody modern has reviewed it, but there's an old issue of Computer Gaming World that mentions this game. Its very generous towards the sound design and seems to think its more complex than it is...but that's 2021 talking.

Monday, May 24, 2021

The Sentinel: Universal Blues

The Sentinel continues to be an interesting, if incredibly strange title. Its one of those games where you actually wonder what's going on outside of the game. This epic battle between me and the Sentinel is interesting, but its a question I keep having. I don't get that with a lot of games I've played here, they're usually quite generic or set in settings I really don't wonder what's going on.

I discovered a minor issue on the opening screen this session. You can't remove a number once you type it in. Considering you can potentially be here for 10,000 levels, that is some poor testing. Anyway, Level 13. Still two Sentinels, maybe one's a Sentry. I start right underneath one. Its really starting to hit me that having 10,000 randomly generated levels is a bad level design practice. Its that same realization I get whenever I see some game advertising procedurally generated level design as a selling point.

I don't know what systems are in place to prevent a player from getting killed as they boot up the level, but I must have broken them somehow, because I was quickly spotted. The starting area really screws you here. You have to put down your boulder and replica before the nearby Sentinel gets you. This level barely gives you the chance to reabsorb your old replica before he attacks. Oh, and then you have to jump to another place quickly. Then you're stuck. You have ten thousand levels, why do you need to pad them out with such insane difficulty? This is not a reasonable difficulty spike, this is the 13th level. I can't say I'm surprised something like this happened though. Whether this is the procedural generation or the humans behind it, I couldn't tell you. I am telling you I'm going to take advantage of codes people have put on the internet.

Level 50, glad we're still on two sentinels. It was definitely an issue of starting location. Here it doesn't quite feel like I've got to rush through things. Still, there's not much for me to talk about. I was lucky here, I had the time to grab some trees. The sound design is interesting. You physically hear the Sentinel move, and you can definitely hear where one is in relation to you. In addition you get a usual assortment of bleeps and bloops more at home on the Atari 2600 than the Amiga. Music's still good, hasn't gotten on my nerves yet.

Level 65, moving up to three Sentinels. This makes me nervous. There's got to be a limit on how many can appear in a level, right? I'm starting to pick up on how to play this game. Taking as many trees as I can is absolutely vital, not just to winning, that's important, but to ensuring I skip as many levels as I can. Three doesn't seem majorly different than two, and in some respects I think its a boon. Each one, having given me 3 energy, also gives me a decent vantage point to see how to take out the other two. Obviously, getting seen or having to hit H is unideal, but I'm starting to mitigate my problems. If I wanted to, I think I could start over and get to a different level than 13. I'm not doing that, but I could do that.

Level 80, code 18452261, back to two? Looking at the map, it seems like there should be a third Sentinel. I also start in legitimately the worst possible starting place. And by that I mean, there's a Sentinel above me, and I am stuck in a single square. Checking the manual again, they only say that pressing H after starting might put you in an impossible situation. It also tells me to return to an earlier save and get a different amount of energy if I'm having problems with one landscape. (and no landscape is impossible) What a load.

Despite that handicap, the level proceeds smoothly enough. The game feels too fast-paced, yet controls are slow enough that trying to effectively figure out where the Sentinels are turning is not ideal. However, with my newfound ability to effectively mow down trees and use of the U key*, I make it. I should say very well, my nervousness at effectively dealing with these things seems misplaced now.
Level 99, code 08568571. Wait, there's only one Sentinel? Is this a trick? In a way, yes. This was more of a tower climb than previous levels. Starting me off in a secluded but quickly enough visible hole, followed by trying to find the key spots to reach the Sentinel's tower. This was the first time the game has tried to be clever with that, as previous levels were fairly simple. Well, I say that, but I still escaped the level with a ton of energy. I think I'm really getting the hang of this.

This Session: 1 hour

Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes

*This does a 180-degree turn, or a U-turn.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Game 70: Warp Warp

Name:Warp Warp
Number:70
Year:1981
Publisher:Namco
Developer:Namco
Genre:Top-Down
Difficulty:4/5
Time:1 hour

This week hasn't been so good for me for a multitude of reasons, both outside and inside the blog. I just haven't been feeling things this month. Maybe that's because the best game I've played was Bosconian. While it wasn't the best-rated game I've played this month, it was the one I had the most fun with. The Eidolon was a serious case of style over substance. Then there's the continuing technical issues I've been facing. Everything was either not working or I couldn't find it. The Apple II is serious becoming my most hated system. So, I fell upon another MSX game from Namco. Which didn't work at first. Who knew this could be so stressful?

And for all that time my reward? Its just a generic arcade-style top-down shooter. Its Berzerk, but its a single area and the enemies pour out like Targ. They start off dumb but start tracking you as they stay alive. They shoot at you, but you can shoot their shots. Its sort of intense, but at the same time half my deaths were because I was nodding off. Its not terribly interesting to talk about and its not terribly interesting to play.
It gets a 7, 1 in Weapons, Enemies, Graphics and Sound, plus a 3 in Agency. Its got some fluid controls, but I'm not entirely confident that my failures aren't a little bit influenced by those controls. Also, aiming and moving is tied together.

There are 7 games left in 1981. Well, 11, but I couldn't find 4 Apple II games at all. I'm not going to cry myself to sleep over that. Nor am I going to cry myself to sleep if I don't get an emulator working for the 8-bit Atari computers. The two remaining titles of interest this year are Tempest and Yars Revenge, both of which are going to be on the end.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Sentinel: 10,000 Levels

I wasn't originally going to do this game this week. But then the first game it was like, oh, no, its not an FPS. How horrible. Then the second title was MP-only. That one actually is a shame, because it was on the Macintosh, and it was the first old-school Mac game I'd be playing. I really wanted to talk about Mac-emulation. Amiga emulation is hard, but it feels easier than Macintosh, at least to me. Still, I have to admit that isn't going to make me lose any sleep. Currently, I'm still filling out a complete list of shooters, and I plan on making it public when I get to the year 2000. Not the number, since I'm at roughly 1991 and I've got over 2.5k games. Really puts those people who say they've played everything of value from olden times in perspective.

The Sentinel, published by Firebird Software in 1986 is a proto-FPS. Its set in a sort of cat and mouse game with the titular machine, he rules 10,000 worlds and you're going to stop him. You don't have to go through all 10,000, more on that when I beat one. The manual is a bit long-winded, it assumes you understand how to use the mouse. Which is fair in 1986, but I'd like a simple control list. I don't know if I can actually physically move in this game, and the manual is more concerned with telling me how I can absorb things and avoid The Sentinel. I know enough to be able to figure out most of this, but I don't think I could figure out the the buttons.

The way you take out The Sentinel or his buddies is you have to get high enough to see the ground he's on. Sounds simple. Well, obviously its not. You don't actually move in this game. What you do is spawn a clone, then you can inhabit that body. Oh, and you should absorb your old body in order to get the energy back you used for this one. Very pro-transhuman. Probably the first time I've seen that. You can also spawn boulders and trees. Trees are useful for cover and boulders are the only way you can get any height in this game. That's stupid, but its 1986.

Later levels will bring on meanies and sentries. The Sentry being the other title of this game, because that's great. They all drain your energy whenever you're in their sight. In order to escape, you can press H. This causes you to teleport somewhere of an equal height or lower, because you can't take the easy way out. The manual tells you outright this can screw you.
So my first experience with the game was okay. I spend a lot of time absorbing trees, because I need energy. You can only create things if you have the energy, which functions as your lifeforce. What is with '80s games and drawing life and attack from the same part? There's not much to tell on this level, because everything just sort of happens and I'm still processing what I think of this game. I don't know if the game just went screwy or not, but when I killed the first Sentinel, I couldn't absorb anything else, and I thought I was stuck until I hit the H button. This gives me the code for Level 4, because I had 4 points of energy left. I'd have a lot more if you didn't screw with me game.
Also this game is one of those when it comes to selecting levels. You know the kind, you win a level, it kicks you back to the start, then it makes you put in the code to advance. I suspect there's not going to be a cool end screen. Shame, because so far the mood this game is putting forth is very interesting. Mysterious music, weird landscapes.
Level 4 of 10,000. I wonder if anyone was crazy enough to actually play all 10,000 of these. I know someone certainly got there. This feels more like a puzzle game than an action shooter. Its kind of a stretch, I guess, but in order to absorb the energy of anything, you need to click on the ground. This includes The Sentinel. Plenty of games have you attack something's weakpoint, and I don't think this is any different.
This level doesn't proceed any differently than the last. For something I just called a puzzle game I sure don't feel like talking about puzzles. So far the plan of getting as many trees as I can before reaching the end is going so-so. Whenever The Sentinel is looking at me before I go into a clone, he turns my clones into boulders, then boulders into trees. This makes sense since that's in decreasing order of energy to create/destroy one. The same thing happened, so I guess the idea is to take out any pesky players who save trees for later. Sneaky. You can absolutely screw yourself at the last minute if you press H before reaching the top, which is just intentionally screwing with the player. And once again, it kicks me back to the start when I win. There's no way the ending to this is going to be worth it, is there?
This takes me to Level 11, where the game starts throwing some crap at me. Two sentinels and they start spawning meanies. The level starts off in a really awkward position too. I win, barely, having rushed to take out both sentinels. The final one was attacking me before I managed to take him out. Either the game is easier at this point or some of the manual was lying, because after a certain point you automatically teleport away. When I ascended to his post, I had two energy left. Putting me at Level 13. Considering I have to reach Level 9,999 (the first was 0000) I may speed this up a bit. I may be cheating myself, but its a hard sell that all 10,000 of these levels are necessary.

This Session: 1 hour 30 minutes

Monday, May 17, 2021

Game 68: The Eidolon

Name:The Eidolon
Number:68
Year:1985
Publisher:Activision
Developer:Lucasfilm Games (AKA Lucasarts)
Genre:FPS
Difficulty:3/5
Time: 1 hour

Before Star Wars: X-Wing, before Monkey Island, even before Maniac Mansion, there was The Eidolon. Released as the second installment of a revolutionary 3D graphics engine, first used on Rescue on Fractalus*. The Eidolon is set in an alternate dimension, where I pilot an advanced steampunk machine, The Eidolon, that I found in a cave. Its not a deep story, but it is a story. The real interesting bits I'll talk about when I get to Rescue, a year or two from now, but suffice to say that Lucasarts started off because Lucas himself thought games would be a good idea, hence why their earliest output doesn't consist of movie licenses. As an aside, I keep wanting to call this The Eidolan...to the point I didn't even realize it wasn't called that.

When I first booted up the game I was struck by just how gorgeous this looks for 1985. I'm overselling it, but this barely looks like a Commodore 64 game. I kind of want to see what something like this would look like on a modern PC. The controls, which I had to find the manual to understand, require me to use the joystick to move and shoot, the space key to collect fireballs, and the number keys to select them. In short, this game really feels like a C64 FPS, the ones we all know and love. Naturally, this doesn't keep on giving.
Eventually it turns into the other proto-FPS games, one that requires you to use your noggin more than your reflexes. The monsters are explained in the manual. Some of them are not exactly hostile, because they don't chase you, but they can kill you. But the weird thing here is that all characters just stand around, frozen until you get close enough. This is explained in the manual that the enemies feed off the energy in the Eidolon. There are also constant streams of fireballs floating around on later levels. these hurt you.
Rounding out the roster are guardian creatures that requires a gem to awaken, they're tougher than the other enemies. I assume there's a unique one for each level. I couldn't get past the third level boss, or rather I quite easily gave up on him. I tried taking him out with a nearly full energy tank by firing all 4 kinds of fireballs at him, but that did nothing. I could have just missed that I was supposed to get past him by non-violence, but that would be giving this game too much credit.
The GUI, despite taking up half the screen, wasn't of much use. Its useful knowing which gems you have and your energy but the rest of it is of nominal usefulness. The compass doesn't always work well, sometimes sending you into a wall. The C-H meter, which I assume is a Cold-Hot meter, isn't more useful than the compass. I legitimately have no idea what the numbers do and the four things in the corner of the compass are which fireballs you can use.
Now the big problem here is basically the central concept to this game. Enemies feed off your machine's energy. Shooting drains your machine's energy. Getting hit by fireballs drains your ships energy. Energy does not replenish between levels, which would be good if that didn't screw you over. I notice that there's just enough energy on a level to get the gems and the end guardian, if you have a full supply. I'm not an expert on this game by any means, so I could be missing out on some exploits. You have infinite lives, I think, and you continue at the current level, but that's annoying in my opinion and I hate it.

Weapons:
You have four different types of fireballs. One is a regular attack and the other three are gimmicks. I never really had any use for those outside of the bosses. 1/10

Enemies:
While there is an attempt at variety, they can mostly be boiled down to just shooting at them. 1/10

Non-Enemies:
None, since technically everything kills you.

Levels:
Endless grey hallways aren't my thing, as I've said in the past, and no matter how impressive the tech behind it is, its still endless grey hallways. 1/10

Player Agency:
A little slow moving around, but I chalk that up to technical issues. Also, if an enemy is behind you, you're going to take a bit of damage. 4/10

Interactivity:
None.

Atmosphere:
It manages to put forth a very slight other-worldly vibe. 1/10

Graphics:
The technology here is very impressive, which wowed me quite a bit. The wall graphics were really cool. It isn't enough to carry an entire game though. The enemy graphics are simple. They exist and I don't really have anything good to say about them. 2/10

Story:
While its clever that the story required you to think about it, it doesn't really affect the gameplay, and to be honest I didn't really care. 0/10

Sound/Music:
The music here was really disappointing, a vaguely otherworldly, but not that much above a PC Speaker soundtrack. Otherwise sounds were typical Atari-style sounds. 1/10

That's 11. Which is the same as Castle Wolfenstein. Which seems to be the range that really old games that were really cool, but ultimately unappealing to me fall in. But what did others think?

Firstly, I saw that there was a longplay. I think I chose wisely in giving up when I did. In addition to not understanding that I can steal the energy from the guardian dragon's attack, which I blame on the manual, two of the very last levels are dark. I stand by the opinion that you should give this a shot, but actually beating it? Screw that. There aren't any video reviews or anything on the subject. This is one of those games I could beat, but I just don't care to.

Most English reviews were very positive, especially praising the graphics. The ones that weren't don't really put into words why they didn't like it. The only others were German reviews, most of which seem to take a measured take on it, but I don't speak German and I don't honestly think this game is worth translating reviews for.

*Which I don't have as a FPS game, so it'll be a while.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Game 63: Corporation

Name:Corporation
Number:63
Year:1990
Publisher:Core Design
Developer:Dementia
Genre:FPS
Difficulty:3/5
Time:2 hours

It is not often I give up on a one of the more interesting titles so soon. Or FPS, rarely even both at once. Usually I require more serious issues, like being intensely difficult or prone to stonewalling my efforts. In contrast, I think I could beat this game, if I really wanted to. I suspect I fall into the same trap so many other players of this game fall into. Its just not appealing today. I don't talk much about games aging, because that's usually the player not having patience, but I find it hard to think of that not applying here. Even after reading the manual, I'm still not sure how I should deal with a good chunk of games.

Like the other early FPS titles, Corporation calls forward to what would come a great deal. System Shock, Robinson's Requiem, stealth games, all of these things look at this game and go "This game did what we did, but it was really bad, so it doesn't count." First immersion sim, first stealth game, first action game with a hunger system. It also has a more advanced damage system than Midwinter and I dare say anything afterward. That's all nice, but once you take away that cool stuff there isn't anything supporting it. There's no substance.
Now, this could be my fault, I only played one level...but I couldn't figure out how to advance past that level. It was featureless gray walls, but somehow I did manage to understand the level's design a little bit. Its hard to truly criticize that here, but I never did figure out where the elevator down was. While this does call into question my own skills at video games, and this game is putting my completion ratio dangerously close to 50%, I have more patience than most people are willing to put into video games, even, dare I say it, back then. That's a bad sign, especially considering the amount of technical wrangling you need in order to play this game to begin with. That's not something reflected in a usual playtime.
Enemies and weapons are deceptively simple, functioning as basic as basic can be. Well, if they shot projectiles. And there's one exception in a robot spider that just spawns out of nowhere if you've tripped an alarm. They function like robotic facehuggers, sometimes when they attack you they cover the screen, presumably cutting up your face. That's cool, I admit, but it's just an attack, I still don't know what I'm doing.
Inventory proved a complete mess. This might be partially down to being completely unable to get any sound, but I couldn't do anything with items. I'm not sure if they do anything, and I've read the manual at least twice. What do I do with the lockpick? Do I use it on a keypad? Do I want to use it on a keypad? How do I get back up to full health, because nothing seems to do it. Its just a shame.

And what a shame it is, Corporation promised an interesting cyberpunk story and infiltrating an evil corporate building. That whole concept seems very cool and underused, especially today where such a subject would be ideal for indie developers. A subject not often tackled, yet provides a short overall game yet one with a lot of width in how you tackle that. I could go for that. Your artist, programmer and level designer can think up some pretty cool concepts, and if you're running out of steam, well, hey, who said this building needed to be more than 16 floors? Much like this game itself, I don't think we'll ever be satisfied in that regard.

Weapons:
There are 5 guns, much the same as one another, a fist, which is awkward, and a grenade, which I did not use. They're okay, but they're clearly just tools. 1/10

Enemies:
I saw two enemies, a robot spider that constantly spawned from the ceiling, not a fan. The second, a regular robot guardian with a projectile weapon. He existed. There were mutants later on, I'm sure they'd be hitscanners or just like the robot. 1/10

Non-Enemies:
None.

Levels:
I only saw one, but I can't imagine it was going to get any better. 1/10

Player Agency:
I don't mind these weird mouse/keyboard hybrids before they figured out WASD+mouse controls. You move around with the arrow keys and do things with the mouse. Its clever/annoying that you have to move a gun into your hand before you can shoot it. Little touches. Such a shame they were wasted here. 4/10

Interactivity:
For a game that put a lot of effort into its design, there sure isn't much in the ways of anything to do. Shoot things...uh...pick up things...eh...eh...eh... 0/10

Atmosphere:
Despite the goodwill given by the manual and the GUI...the game doesn't really feel like much of anything. 0/10

Graphics:
Pixel art? Beautiful, all of it. The rest...not so much. Endless gray walls. Black doors. Blobs representing items I can pick up. Everything that isn't a wall is a sprite, but it isn't enough to save it. 1/10

Story:
An incredible backstory about a cyberpunk dystopia. The most interesting part of the game and also the only part I liked. Shame that doesn't matter when the game starts. 0/10

Sound/Music:
I could not get sound working for this game. Judging by what videos I could see of this game online, I doubt anyone has in the 21st century. Amiga sounds are not impressive, though because of my numerous technical issues, I can only go by online videos. 0

That's 8. That's not different from the rest of the lowly-rated pre-Doom shooters, and still Midwinter somehow remains undefeated among '80s FPS games. Realistically, this game's fault is dreaming too big before technology could reach it. In the end, is that such a horrible thing?

There is a Genesis version, which I'll be treating as its own separate thing. Its a mouse-heavy game, of course the Genesis version is going to be different. Its going to have sound too, and music. The question is if that game will be good. There's also an expansion to the Amiga version, which I won't be touching for obvious reasons. This game had massive amounts of technical problems, to the point I finally settled on DOS. You need to use D-Fend Reloaded and force the mouse on if you want mouse controls, but I wouldn't recommend that.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Game 67: Crossfire

Name:Crossfire
Number:67
Year:1981
Publisher:Sierra
Developer:Sierra
Genre:Top-Down
Difficulty:3/5
Time:1 hour

While I am frequently not one to champion strongly the more arcade-ish titles, I can admit when one seems more interesting than the rest. Crossfire is a Sierra published clone of the arcade title Targ, which unsurprisingly never received a home port, but more surprising was how the game was one of the better-selling titles in 1980. The original concept is you play a car in a city taking down waves of aliens. There, you would duck away from these, constantly trying to shoot them. With a limited number of shots you sometimes have to pick up ammo, but otherwise it seems a typical game from the era.

Crossfire differs in a few respects, namely, the enemies shoot, and I'm not sure what music is in the original, but I'm sure it isn't very good. After the amount of time I allotted to the game was over I didn't feel anything about the game whatsoever. Its all just so very bland. Its one of those games where the only point to it is getting a higher score, and that's just not something I care for doing.

I don't feel like giving this game any points, it feels more like a proof of concept than anything else. I can't imagine willingly giving money to play this. Its just so aggressively bland.