Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Terminator 2029: Skynet Troopers

Its weird opening up another FPS I haven't played before. I always assumed that, outside of Pie in the Sky games, I tackled everything on DOS and Windows up until about 1997. I didn't always give them a fair shake, but I played them. Terminator 2029 is something I missed even then. Its hard not to see why since its got the same level of technology, superficially, as Freaks, a game I originally dismissed on those merits. Mobygames lists 22 people as having worked on this, which just invites embarassing comparisons to three people from Spain. I guess this will have sound, and as I'm playing the CD version, voices and hopefully some kickass music. There is an expansion, but that just adds missions and I have to specifically select it.

That's a very weird looking building
The game starts off with a decent midi rendition of the Terminator theme and a nice-looking cutscene about stealing an exo-skeleton from Skynet. If you don't understand what any of that is about, uh, read about the Terminator films I guess. Not sure why Skynet has what amounts to power armor, since that seems like a human issue. If a robot needs more armor...couldn't Skynet just give it more armor? Meh. Of course the player is the one who will be using the power armor.

Talk about a morbid trophy room
The main menu is one of those very '90s ones, the kind where its all some fancy in-game thing. Character creation, training, and regular missions. The trash can is the exit screen, make your own jokes there. I like this, even if I understand why they died out. Before starting, I have to create a character, which consists of nothing more than entering a name. I also redefine controls beforehand. The game uses two methods of movement, one for aiming the cursor and one for moving. There's also a primary and secondary attack function. There were some keys I couldn't choose though, which leads me to believe there's something the game isn't letting me change. Briefings are voiced, even the training one.
I love the look of this thing
The weapon interface is interesting, but without many options yet. I have "fusion" grenades and I have a plasma cannon in terms of weapons. I can also attach medical pouchs to myself. And I have six places to put stuff, no idea how to change which I'm using. I choose a balanced loadout of two of each.

As you can see, there's a minor problem with vision
The training goes well. The plasma cannon works well in the areas I'm suggested to remain in, which mostly comprises combat against targets and one kind of Terminator. Grenades are tricky, since I need to hold down the attack button for it to have enough force to leave my gun. You have to select your weapons up top, by left clicking or right clicking, depending on which button you want to fire it. Health is in the lower left, its a modular system, and that includes your weapons. The lower right shows a number of functions, including automap, assuming some random message isn't blocking the screen. In the center is a radar which shows enemies. Otherwise its very modern, even if the game was probably updated for mouse usage. The aiming of the cursor can be done exclusively with the mouse, and both attack functions are mapped to the mouse buttons. Otherwise its just pressing some awkwardly placed movement keys. You select which weapons/items are on each key by pressing either the left or right attack on that item. How would this work without a mouse? Probably badly. Now let's try a real mission.

The two men have more detailed faces, but that's not necessarily a good thing
After a brief look through a map of six sectors, the briefing starts. There are three people, a blonde dude with scars who I believe may be John Conner, but sounds more like Kyle Reese; A black dude, called Merlin who I think is a tactical officer; A blonde lady who's a weapon specialist and isn't wearing a bra. My objective is to hold an area under attack by Hunter Killers. Merlin suggests I bring along grenades, like I wasn't, but I wasn't going to use them on HKs. Seems strange using them on flying vehicles, but what do I know? Its worth pointing out that the two dudes have very detailed faces, and whenever the blonde dude talks his face looks...weird. My next objective is to infiltrate a compound, extract a team, failing that, retrieve the data they found. These two objectives are deeply connected, but it does connect a little awkwardly at first. There's some very noticeable issues with voice clipping in dialog.

Note the damage on my leg and weapons
So...the first mission. At first, things proceed fairly well, but then the fighting starts. There are many, many enemies, and I'm not sure what's going on. I get slaughtered. Enemies are placed in game rather that pre-set, but this seems to happen at pre-set locations, so its a weird mix. Dodging seems to be less about actually getting out of the way and more flanking an enemy, where they won't strike back, or just not having them on the screen at all. Enemies don't seem to attack as much when they're not on-screen, but they do attack.
Hey, guys, why are you shooting at me?

But restarting proves...interesting. I can get some enemies down, but not without getting dealt decent damage. I have one repair pack, and it was a mystery how I'd repair damage otherwise until I discovered, by accident, the R key, which slowly repairs damage. Very slowly. Very, very slowly. I wonder what the medikit is for then? All this is so far is a tech demo, how do I accomplish objectives? I shot down plenty of HKs, but that doesn't seem to be doing anything. I came across the team I was supposed to extract, but I accidentally killed one and then a survivor shot me. Died again. Its really hard to capture that screen, since it goes by so fast. Later attempts reveal that they're completely hostile? I guess they're the rubber terminators, but there's no reason why I should be concerned until they shoot me.

I wonder if I could save them if I sped through?
Eventually I get through the first half of the mission by dumb luck. My only strategy is to shoot things in areas they suggest and run away when there's something they don't. Also helpful, repairing in dead ends saves me time, and potentially combat with enemies, since they can show up while I'm repairing. This strategy gets me straight into the underground lab. Grenades are not helpful against Hunter Killers, despite what the game suggests. Naturally the team is dead, but I extract them and escape relatively painlessly. Once I'd gotten used to the controls and the coordinates system things progress smoothly.
Its hard finding an intact shirt in the future
The post-mission briefing is the usual stuff, good job, we'll take an offensive based on that data. I get a promotion, which seems cheap, but this is action game logic, not real world logic. Anyway, the scientist, Rachel something, who makes me miss the '90s, tells me I get a bunch of exciting new weapons, like missiles. She acts like 6 missiles in a launcher is too little, but I got 2 grenades per hardpoint before! I have two kinds, a simple tracking missile, and a multi-tracking missile. There's also an improved plasma cannon and the option to increase armor. All in all, a pretty sweet collection. Except when testing the missions in training they don't work against stationary targets, and deal less damage in general.
Before I find out I can attack behind walls
Next mission, destroy some relay stations then a com station. The com station I should use a mine on. This is more troublesome in comparison to the last mission, thanks to not being told where these places are, at all. So I'm forced to assume every stationary object is something I should destroy. I brought along two grenade packages and I was out by the first map, as levels are in some 50x50 chunks, which is smaller than it sounds since the player takes up one block. My first attempt I quit in disgust, since I used the mines on objects that it seems did no damage.
After I find out I can attack behind walls
Returning, sometime later, and the bad news continues. Control changes don't save between games, not that it mattered much, the arrows move, which is fine by me. What is troublesome, however, is that at some point during the mission my two cannons don't fire as fast as they used to. The issue seems to be that I can't have more than one shot on-screen at the same time...which is trouble, since I can't deal with anything, really. This and plus the game not wanting to let me move while ten or so other things are on-screen results in me dying. This happens consistently enough that I have to wonder if its intentional or not. It seems this is due to damage, rather, damage to the player rather than armor.
This forces me to plan better, much better. I'm also forced to shift one of my grenades to a medikit, though as I discover afterward, that wasn't strictly necessary. I discover 2 things that make my life much easier. The first, is that I can shoot over walls much better than the game made me think I could. This even includes the regular terminator robots running around. This means in practice the only thing that's a threat is the HKs, called Dragons in-game. This is just the boost I needed, and with the one refill the game provides me, I have just enough heavy ordinance to take out my objectives.
The post-level briefing goes on to discuss how there might be a traitor in our midst. Wow, really? That seems foolish on his part, but the game also offers the possibility that we've been hacked. Between characters that look like my allies attacking me and now this, I'm not really feeling the love. New weapons include a scatter grenade, which like the regular one I shouldn't throw into a wall, a new higher power plasma cannon, and some more missiles. The new cannon's nice, I guess, but the new missiles don't seem that much more effective compared to the previous missiles.
Gotta say, this has been a surprise, I had a lot more fun than I would have thought. In many ways this feels like a bridge between the simulation predecessors of the genre and the real FPSes that would come out in its wake. While it is trickery to a mild extent, it has flying enemies, so mild verticality; Decent controls and some stunning 2D graphics...Not sure what the enemy sprites are, can't really get a good look at most of them. I think this might genuinely be a pretty decent little title.

This Session: 1 hour 30 minutes

Monday, August 23, 2021

Death Duel

There are 2 title screens, but I chose the first
Name:Death Duel
Developer:Punk Development
Genre:FPS (?)
Time:3 hours

With each new console/handheld title I play that gets slapped with the FPS label, things get stranger and stranger. One title I had on the FPS category wrongly was Crossed Swords, a cross between beat 'em up and rail shooter. There are a bunch of games like that, but only Crossed Swords appealed to me, and we'll get back to that one. But I guess that Death Duel is another title in that weird realm. Its not truly a FPS, not by my definition. But is it anything else? I originally found it fascinating for that reason.

The game opens with a text crawl, as seems to be usual for Genesis games at this point. Its an intriguing story that won't matter beyond the opening text crawl...but hang on a minute. This sounds an awful lot like the plot to Robot Jox. Which involves each nation on Earth settling their disputes with giant mechas. Its one of the few western examples of the genre, or at least in the medium of moving pictures. The big difference is that this cuts right to the chase, and there are 9 fights.

The film was hampered by budget, but from what I've seen, has some charm that overwhelms its lack of mecha on mecha fighting. I'm tempted as to whether or not this constitutes something I should care about. I do like the concept, and the text crawl might as well be about how the lead developer's girlfriend left him and he put her face on every enemy for all it tends to matter in-game. The text crawl goes on to talk about how this "isn't a shooter". (heh) They mean not to shoot blindly, which turns out to be the best piece of advice you can get.
I find these don't really mean anything
After the text crawl and title screens, there's a menu. This allows you to turn music on or off, and the amount of tries (lives) you have, which go up to 5. You're going to need those, but starting off you're better keeping it at 3. After a card explaining who you're about to try killing, it takes you straight into it. Your noble mech fighting to save the federation from total destruction...and then a ring girl pops up, which is amusing for a while. She tells you to do various violent acts against your opponent, including "kicking his asteroids", which seems a pointless act of censorship considering her nipples are poking through her shirt.
Some are less imaginative than others
Its also pointless when you start fighting the dragon, the first enemy. He's hiding behind a wall, but usually comes out of the wall pretty quickly. The game gives you three weapons on this mission, a missile, a machine gun, and a skimmer. The skimmer is basically a larger caliber machine gun. If the dragon stops jumping around and flying for a moment, and you hit him enough, his limbs start blasting off in a mess of gore. This game is very ahead of its time in the general tone the era would take, and its most important here. I didn't realize it at the time, but this is supposed to be shocking. This is before any kind of game rating system.
As demonstrated here, moments before I lose
The dragon is curiously hard at times. He's very agile and his limbs regenerate. If you mess things up, its very easy to lose here. You have a selection of targets, his arms, his legs, and his head, before you have to just spray his body. You could also hit his wings, but this one isn't wise enough to use them after getting severely damaged...most of the time. Its in your interest to kill him as quickly as possible, because there's a time limit. This is partially why I say the game's intro doesn't matter. You lose by one of three ways, the time limit, running out of ammo, or getting too damaged.
Behold, scenic wall
The controls are curious things. The game is basically a first-person version of Operation: Wolf and the ilk, rail shooters that allow you to move to dodge damage. Here, this is a tricky proposition. Its kind of hard to dodge attacks. There's no real way to detect what the enemy is going to do until they've done it, and while they shoot actual projectiles, its no guarantee you can dodge it. This is because the crosshair goes across the screen at a leisurely pace. You could speed it up, but that means you aren't actually moving, just aiming. These problems apply to aiming too, since enemies after a few seconds can do anything, but usually they move around a lot. With a mouse this game would be like, 20x easier.
Not pictured, worms, birds wearing helmets
In-between stages there are these shooting gallery stages, where you just hit random targets. You get a minute for each one, and you fire at targets until you get a set number of points. The problem is, your speed remains the same here, and targets are as random as anything else in this game. A nasty piece of work are the smiley faces that roll across the screen. They subtract points. By the last stage, you have to get 5000 points, and which means you're going to have to hit some of the smaller targets, like flies. If you somehow hit the tiniest enemy, you get enough to win any stage, even the last.
The monkey actually walks around, which is cool
After the opening stage, each enemy card leads to the shop, where you get to buy weapons and repair your mecha. You have three slots, which also change where they fire from and whether or not they'll hit something in the foreground. Sometimes there's a sale, and depending on which weapon its for, take advantage of it. There are no explanations of what each weapon does in-game, but let Morpheus talk you through them:
  • Machine Gun, weapon of last resort, only saving grace is its cheapness.
  • Missile, dumbfire missiles, if they make contact with an enemy they deal some decent damage. After you've gotten used to the first few enemies, load up all three slots and you can blast through an enemy in under 20 seconds.
  • Laser Gun, upgraded machine gun. Hits faster, and slightly harder.
  • Skimmer, a different upgraded machine gun. It doesn't deal that much more damage, but it seems to have a bigger target radius and it trashes walls.
  • Lob Grenade, disables enemies weapons, effectively disabling some enemies.
  • Grenade, explosive, tricky, requires some practice. Its useless until you get good with them. And useless against some enemies in general.
  • Energy Ring, disables some enemies for a short period of time. Very useful, but it seems best used against living enemies, rather than robots.
  • SloMo Cloud, doesn't seem to do much, and I don't think it replaces the Energy Ring for robots.
  • Lob Mine, throw a mine. If he steps on it, he gets hurt. Not hurt enough to justify 10000 of your hard-earned money.
  • Homin' Rocket, doesn't miss, you don't even need to know where to aim, but expensive.

For the most part, you're going to be using the same selection. I found that for the enemies between dragons, getting x2 missiles in each slot was best, so long as you can hit them. For ones you can take out the legs, do so. But generally try to take advantage of deals, they're random, but they'll save you money. You need that money too.

This guy rolls into a spiky ball
For the next few enemies, I generally don't have any problems. Oh, I did the first time, but that was just figuring out the combat. You have to figure out which parts you can destroy and which ones are a waste of your time. As the enemies go by, thanks to a combination of just nerves and the increasingly strange designs, this gets tricky. Early on you can take out all the weapons on an enemy, rendering him a sitting duck. I'm infuriated this never results in a stalemate should I fail, but like I said, the story doesn't matter. A general piece of info is to aim at all four limbs, then the head, then the body. They're nasty about this sometimes too. I think you can avoid hitting some targets, but its good form to destroy as many weapons as you can.
I feel like Prepare to Die would be more appropriate
The first problem enemy is the second dragon, the fifth enemy. Like the first dragon, he runs around a bit, but unlike his now dead friend, he's eager to fly, and he regenerates FAST. Its entirely possible to shoot a limb off only to have that limb come back instantly. And you can't handle him in the usual way, because he dodges pretty well, there's no guarantee a missile will hit him. I want to say he anticipates my moves, but that seems too smart of him. The mine? No, doesn't do enough damage, doesn't destroy a limb or anything. Energy Ring won't hit him even if he's crippled. The answer? I found nothing really satisfactory, but a combination of skimmers and missiles got me through. I swear this damn thing's head regenerates as soon as I shoot it off, EVERY DAMN TIME.
The game over screen is really cool
And from here on out it turns from making money to surviving. Better save as much money as you safely can. I don't know if its nerves or what, but I after a few attempts I started screwing up big time on the later shooting galleries. Which removes one of my lives. Which makes every single challenge another giant trial to deal with. The main stages are still tricky, but doable. There's another really nasty robot, only a problem thanks to the level's amount of walls, which makes fighting him a complete mess to deal with. And for some reason he gets out of his robot near the end, at which point you have to splatter him.
A strange enemy to end all strange enemies
Enemy number 7 is tricky. She's described as another ogre, something which lulls you into a sense of false security at this point. Surprise! A worm that wiggles around like crazy! Have you somehow managed to detect what the AI is going to do so far? Sucks to be you, because this thing is basically unpredictable. I'm not really sure how you beat it legitimately, but I got lucky on my second playthrough and got a discount on the skimmers. Spray the arms, and then spray the head. This is really when the game stops pretending to be fair and starting pulling dirty tricks, because this feels random. Even if I had one missile and instantly took out an arm its still tricky business for the other arm. I liked the design of this one best of all, the rest tend to lean fairly traditionally in design. I'm sure one is ripping off a Transformer or something.
You think I'm joking about Predator Tank?
Then there's the Predator tank, which is a Predator on a tank. I don't remember the actual name. This guy is hard, not necessarily because he's tough, he is, but because you have to do so much damage. The tank and cannon arm are distractions. Nothing you do really affects his weapons or mobility. This is tough if you aren't careful, but not as hard as some of the previous enemies. This leads into the hardest shooting gallery section of the entire game. For some reason I fell victim to this almost as much as the proceeding enemies.
For a final boss this guy is extremely generic
The final boss is pure pain. He has an invisibility cloak, which momentarily stops working whenever you fire. If he's got the cloak and and is moving, that's it man. You're supposed to take out the dude by hitting his arms, then his legs, then his cannons, finally the head. There are a few problems with this, namely, you are expected to strictly adhere to this, which tripped me up a couple of times. And the cannons have tricky spots to hit. In the end I didn't get to use any fancy weapons against this dude. I can't imagine finishing this game without save states. I guarantee you'd have to play for many more hours than I did. Its basically luck that the enemy doesn't run away or fire too many shots at you, because you CANNOT dodge him, at all.
That's one poor job on the lady
Was it all worth it? No, not really. Some woman narrates the ending, humanity is saved, wait for Death Duel II, coming never ever. This is such a frustrating, unsatisfactory game to actually play to completion, which is a shame since so many aspects of it were cool. I think in a way this is a cool precursor to other realistic mecha games like Armored Core. Though other games had already started on that trend, so this is all a bit...questionable

There are 10 weapons, of which 1 are practically useless, 4 are situational and 1 is too expensive. You're mostly going to be using the same weapons for most of the game. 2/10

I really liked them. Thanks to the way the game's designed, the few big enemies each have a personality, and figuring out how to best defeat them is fun, when it isn't rage-inducing. 3/10


Every encounter with an enemy takes place in roughly the same environment, a featureless plane with some obstacles. Though this changes, it doesn't change that every wall is mostly indestructible, and generally a nuisance to deal with. The real challenge remains in the enemies. I also didn't care for the shooting stages, just be more generous with money. 1/10

Player Agency:
I liked the way the guns' starting position changed depending on which one you were using. Otherwise, its very tricky to say good things. You mostly just move around slowly, you can switch to a aiming mode, but this prevents you from dodging attacks, which is the primary problem with later levels. 3/10

None, really.

What little the game had was quickly squandered as I tried to finish it. Its magic lies in quick sessions, not actively trying to beat the game. 1/10

There's good art direction, and clever modifications give more life out of limited resources. Most enemy actions have 3-4 frames, but since they're animating quite a few body parts that can be blown off at any point, that's forgivable. I find the sky they made to be a bit off, but I tend to notice these things. 6/10

Token excuse plot.

The music cues that happen when viewing a character's card are cool, but that's it. I understand the reasoning, its distracting in battle. What's also distracting is the enemy having random sounds that don't lead to anything. Otherwise its fine for Genesis. 2/10

That's 18, or the best non-racing console game by some 8 points. Its not a bad game, just heavily flawed. My opinion seems to be by no means unique, as everyone hits the same beats I do, save for not getting to the end.

Curiously, while this is the last game of Punk Development, from the ashes, would arrive Iguana Entertainment, the people known for Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. The future looks bright.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Game 82: Cybercon III


Name:Cybercon III
Publisher:US Gold
Developer:The Assembly Line
Difficulty:5/5 (exclusively due to controls)
Time:3 hours 45 minutes

I have not played a true FPS that controls worse than Cybercon III. I have also played very few games that obfuscate their mechanics as much as Cybercon III. This combination of aspects is a fatal one. The difficulty of the thing starts off high and remains constant because of this. While I gradually got used to this it was less because of obtaining skill at the game and more because I was just memorizing the game. Its is because of this it is hard to say anything good about the game. Anything positive I have to say is buried under a game that seems like its actively fighting you at all times.

There are four parts to it, you have your standard movement and action key, QAOP and enter. Movement is very loose. You have an inventory/code entering system, its nature depends on whether or not you have the code system activated. You can't really do anything with items in your inventory, just pick them up and drop them. The game implies some can be interacted with via the code system, but I never saw how that would work. You have a power system, which is controlled primarily by the arrow keys and F1/F2. This determines which systems get power and how much power you have. Systems that get more power work better, while having multiple systems on at the same time reduces the draw. The gun increases in damage as you have more power, you move faster if you have the movement system activated. Protip, you don't need the game's navigation system activated, ever, I never found it useful.

Power is interesting, since I couldn't find much sources of it, preventing me from wanting to deal with most enemies. I did find that one preplaced item is a power source, but that doesn't get me more longterm. You have three banks, one that's always working, one that you can toggle from F1, which I believe are your items, and F2, which is an infinite generator that depeletes fast. I spent a good deal more time than I would have liked waiting for power to return, since power is used to repair and the only constant source drains quickly...

Finally, you have a two function weapon/camera selection system. I never thought to use the camera system...ever, because the only time I've use one was in Watch Dogs. The weapon system allows you to select your primary weapon, a plasma cannon, a secondary weapon found somewhere in-game, a power siphoning tool that doesn't work on much, and the code system. If you have the code system selected, that allows you to type a code. Either via the ,. keys, most of the letters and numbers (!) or on most things, the F9 key. Otherwise the inventory pops up, which has your items. The enter key, when a weapon is selected, fires.

There is also the option to make a few preset power settings, but I didn't make use of that. Perhaps that contributed something to my distaste for the game.

A few things of note, after reading the manual, that are vital to having fun with this game:

  • To get sound with the game, you need to type -adlib after the exe file.
  • There are elevators in this game, you can detect them via the codes on the wall. You need to do this to progress. The manual does not mention this.
  • Figure out jumping with the enter key. The manual implies this is a duplicate of F10, which does a vertical jump. These are not very well explained.
  • The save terminals show views of your actions leading up to this point. I am not sure if you press F9 on it or not.
  • F9 is the use key, but its function changes depending on what mode you're on, either entering a code, getting a code, or siphoning power from something.
There was, before this, no way to actually find this out beforehand, short of watching a longplay on the game. I do not necessarily mind obfuscation in games, I would be a hypocrite if I did, but for central gameplay concepts? This game needed better explanation of its mechanics, and the manual is designed in a way that you might skip over some of the important parts. Most of it is taken up by a briefing, that sounds like its about the game's backstory, which a few seconds reading will reveal its cliche nature, followed by actual important info. And even that is obfuscated by the manual's awful writing. "The communication terminals are just like one of those 20th century computer games", written by someone I guarantee was patting himself on the back for thinking it up. TELL ME HOW TO PLAY THE GAME YOU DUMBASS!
Ahem, so the game itself, once you get past the control scheme is just a more advanced Space Station Oblivion, with respawning enemies. Objects can be touched, interrogated or shot, to usually predictable results. The whole game is true 3D, and an open world with no in-game loading. A very impressive technical achievement in 1991. Which makes it so infuriating that the game itself is borderline unplayable.
Combat is obtuse bordering on untenable. Your primary weapon's damage increases as it gets more power, but from the start its unreasonable to actually fight something. Tougher enemies will get the drop on you, and you can't trade blows with anything. Remember, diverting power to the shields also decreases the gun's strength. That means you need to dodge and hit an enemy consistently. The controls do not make this an easy task. Turning in the best of times is a short time between making a 360-degree turn and a 20-degree turn, since turning is aided by power, and you should turn off power. This makes any combat outside of situations where its unavoidable difficult to the point I never actually one any. Outside of some weak enemies near the start. If the game didn't allow you to rush past enemies, it would be completely unplayable, thanks to respawning enemies.
So, the controls are bad, the combat is obtuse, what is good about it? Well, if the level itself was in another game, it would probably be playable. In this game, however, it is not. The complex the game takes place in is a nice open level. I compared it to Space Station Oblivion because it has a similar structure to that game, but with a more violent end-goal. Finding out what things you have to interact with is cool, but those objects are often too far apart. Walking speed is slow even with a good amount of power and downtime is far too frequent. Understanding this game requires too much of an investment to get any reward out of it.
To top it all off I'm pretty sure the path to win requires some Sherlock Holmes level of deduction, or at least some pretty good ones. By the time I decided to quit I had exhausted pretty much every area I could find. Perhaps if I made a map I could find something I missed, but I'm sure proceeding forward requires one to do some task that one might not even think is possible to begin with. The whole game up til this point required figuring out more and more, why stop there? I would hope the developers were generous enough to not make the player shoot the walls, or some other potentially endless requirement, but you never know with this game.
Even with far more limited resources, I think Space Station Oblivion did this puzzle action game shtick far better. 256 colors are useless if it doesn't mean much, as are those advanced systems the game shackled itself with. Later games in power armor, or at least Terra Nova, the Looking Glass Studios game, had the right amount of complexity. I guess I just don't care for the setting of a desolate dude in power armor scrounging for resources.
The only weapon I had was a plasma projectile that increased in strength as I added more power. I understand the game gives you missiles later. Either way I found it counterproductive to shoot things, in addition to control difficulties. 1/10

Hoo, boy. There are a wide selection of mobile and unmobile enemies, which more or less follow a straight progression system. With exception to one kind of enemy that follows you. Universally, their AI is incredibly dumb, they'll kill each other to walk past each other. Its really weird. 1/10


Its interesting to see a complex, multi-floor gameworld with no loading, in 1992. But that's where the praise ends. The game is a labyrinth that tests your patience, a bad thing on top of having controls that already do that. I would have liked to see this in a different game, but here its yet another counterproductive aspect of the game. 1/10

Player Agency:
The controls are complex, too complex. There's a camera system I didn't use and for some reason the only use most reasonable keys have is for the code system. Jumping is unnecessarily complex, and the turning controls are bizarre. 1/10

You can do some pretty interesting things with the game world, destroying scenery objects before it became commonplace. 2/10

None, really.

The PC version I played is mostly flat polygon models, with a few noise images overlaid on power sources. There's very little in the ways of animation. Its simple, and a bit confusing at first. It is functional though. 1/10

Generic AI takes over the world stuff. 0/10

There's no music, and the sound consists of weird Adlib sounds. Its very tiresome figuring out if a sound you heard is supposed to be a threat or not. 1/10

That's 8, an embarrassment for 1992. Others are more generous than myself. I would normally make a joke about that, but honestly, this game is probably better if you don't have to figure out the controls for as long a time as I did. Whether or not that would have made the game good is another question entirely. Some would lead towards yes...I do not know in either direction.

Other reviews are universally better than my own, some going as far as to say the game is flawless beyond the controls. The lower ones acknowledge that this doesn't have much to appeal to those seeking action games. One making a note of the puzzles says there's no "I'll get you next time" feeling to the puzzles. Come to think of it, a few places categorize this as a puzzle game, and yet I can't really remember much in the ways of any.

With that, 1991 is complete. Well, for FPS games. 1992 has quite a few interesting titles coming up, and I hope they're better than most of the ones I've been playing lately. On another note, I'm going to be shifting gears to focus less on three entries a week and more on consistently describing games. Perhaps not even describing the levels much in the case of more popular or shorter titles.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Game 85: Splat'ers

Its questionable what counts as part of the game, hence the awkward screenshots
Publisher:Bullseye Software
Developer:Donald A. Hill, Jr. *
Time:1 hour

Paintball is not a subject that has been talked about before on Almost a Famine, probably because nobody really cared about it back in the time period I've covered so far. Leave it up to the Macintosh software library to once again leave a bizarre mark on gaming history. I think that makes it the first of three or four titles. If you're unfamiliar with it, think of it as tag, with guns that shoot tiny balls of paint. I guess there's an aspect of capture the flag to it, since that seems to show up a good chunk of the title I see paintball related activities.

From the practice shooting scenario
Splat'ers is interesting for another reason, though. Its control scheme. Like many pre-modern mouselook games, it has an unusual take on the matter. It attempts to simulate the human body accurately. That means the head and the body moves independently. The keyboard has controls for turning, running, and a whole bunch of little speed changes. The mouse controls your head and gun, and you can turn your head left while turning your body right. In theory you would be able to center along a target while moving, but in practice this system is disorienting. That's right. In real life you can do this, because you have spent a long time orienting yourself so you can do that. On a screen you can't properly handle it. This probably had an affect on the gradual decline of non-traditional mouselook systems.
What's awkward about the controls is you don't have real movement options as you would think of them. The closest are 90 and 180 degree quick turns. The rest are consistent speeds, or a single degree. I guess this is intended to make things less disorienting, but it doesn't really work. You still have to fiddle around with speed while getting shot at, and your reversing speed is lower than your forward speed. Walking while turned at an angle is incredibly awkward to see, and I doubt I could hit anyone this way. Because you move your head using the cursor, and you aim your gun with the cursor, it can be awkward to aim at a target sometimes. Its an incredible achievement, but ultimately, not very fun to seriously use.
Memorize this

And the eventual problem with this complex control scheme is that the game it is used by is...a single player paintball game. You get a football like toss, where you pick who goes in first into a building, you or the enemy. I should note, you have AI teammates, and they're as competent as the enemy ones. Which is actually very good. After 80 or so seconds, the other team can go into the building. Where you shoot each other until one side is dead or one side obtains all the flags. I never won, but eh.
The fun bit comes from the game's customization of parameters. You can choose some bits about the building, though I suspect this is more limiting than it first seems. Stuff like floors, number of flags. And quite a bit about character parameters. Ammo, number of enemies, number of AI buddies, how long it takes them to acquire a target, how many hits it takes to be taken out, and how long it takes to return after being taken out. Unfortunately, once you've been taken out, that's it.
There are some preset scenarios, but I have to admit I didn't find the game much compelling to play. Once you're done messing with the controls, you've seen it all. Its not a complex game, its the kind of thing that could have been amazing if it was a game developed for Linux, with an open-source mindset. But as it stands, its worthy for messing around with a while.

A typical paintball gun. 1/10

Dudes with paintball guns. 1/10

Dudes with paintball guns. 1/10

Potentially endless fun. 1/10

Player Agency:
A bizarre...thing. Hard to sum up. 2/10

Pressing L to call the elevator and then change floors is the extent of it. 0/10

There's something here. 1/10

This game looks curiously well in motion, kind of like black magic. I think its true 3D too. A bit too reliant on pure blacks and whites with outlines though. 2/10


A few token sounds, hitting a wall, and of course, the sound of paintballs. 1/10

That's 10. A very interesting curiosity, more so if you enjoy paintball. No joke, if you didn't know, the Extreme Paintbrawl series, of 4 titles, is allegedly some of the worst games ever made by man.

This marks the second to last Macintosh game before the big 100. After this, true Macintosh exclusives get rarer and rarer.

*From what I've read, the two are so intertwined it might as well be his company, if it isn't.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Cybercon III: Far Too Puzzling

You know, for the first time since I started this game, I'm feeling good about things. I actually have some sort of plan; I mostly understand the central concepts by now. Only took me three hours to get there. But what about energy, you might ask? Well, that's...actually not as hard as I thought. A green-tube thing, one of the starting items, functions as one of the power sources. The one activated with the F1 button, F2 is the infinite but slow one. I guess this means F3&F4 are cameras rather than anything to do with power. F9, the interrogate button, when you have the 3rd icon on the code/weapon selection selected, works with some scenery objects to drain power. The problem with that is its somewhat hard to tell which objects you can drain and which ones you can't. Obvious power sources seem to not actually work with this. The only time I got some indication of something happening is with random orbs near the entrance.

Further, there's nothing in my only available path that I can siphon power from. Nor are there any sidepaths with energy sources. Fighting enemies down there isn't impossible but doesn't seem to offer any rewards, at least anything I can use yet. Several items still mystify me. At least there's a save room there, because this game enjoys throwing as much garbage at you as humanly possible. Why they chose to have a saveroom in the area with the most enemies so far is old hat at this point. At the elevator, the pathway, no side paths, leads to another elevator. Curiously, as I change floors on this elevator I notice three of the purple hourglasses in-between doors. I'm not sure the purpose of this, assuming there is a purpose. Everything has had a reason so far...its not a good reason, but its a reason.
I die again, this time to a turret in a weird area. This marks the first time I've had reason to use the save game system. Its simple and painless, far more than it is actually getting to it. I wonder if there's a method to defeating the turret or if I have to avoid it via tricks. The code I've seen as the elevator goes up doesn't do anything in the elevator, nor does it do anything outside of it. The area has two pits, one in the walkway square, the other outside of it. I decide to test my theory that there's something in the square. Failing that, I can try taking out the turret; There's also something on the walkway, though I need to take out the turret for that I think.

This leads into the game's most brilliant scheme and its most aggravating. There's one door, a dead end with a power core at the end. Huh, I think, before walking into a hidden pit. I am completely surrounded, and after regenerating health, I discover this is an inescapable situation. There's no way out. This is a problem. The elevator leads here and to a locked save room. I don't like where this is headed. I do have another option, but I'm not sure I want to do that. Return to the central floor. Its obvious now that I can't do anything here, at all. Nor can I do anything in the lower floors at all. Back to the top I guess.
From up here there's a new problem. Some of the robots camp outside elevators. It doesn't seem they can enter elevators, thankfully. This is something that's happened before, but never on this scale. This is a pain because every path away from the save room I'm now in is already a long, tedious journey. This almost puts the final nail in the coffin, because upon re-exploring the rightmost door from the central area, I discover why I finished exploring there. It was empty except for locked doors. I don't have the code.
I decide to take one final choice, jumping the bridge I can't create. You jump vertically by holding down the F10 key, but you do a horizontal leap by holding down enter, while in motion, otherwise you look up and down. After a few attempts, all resulting in me falling, thanks to the game's broken graphical engine, I notice something unusual down here. A sort of cone tower. Its a turret, but its guarding something, a hallway. Through several turrets and wheel bots, I find...locked doors and enemy despawn points. The area had another door, where does that lead? Back to the same area I've been to. Well, I must admit I'm defeated. I'm sure there's some way forward from here, but I don't see how I'm going to find it.
This is really an overwhelming problem with this game. I finally figured out most of the controls, and explored as far as I could. Only to discover there's still nothing I can do. Perhaps with the realization of the horizontal leap I could finish the game, but the problem with that thought is I don't really want to spend more time dodging robots only to find it didn't work. There is nothing that be worth all the effort at this point.

This Session: 45 minutes

Final Time: 3 hours 45 minutes

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Cyber-Cop: Giving Up

Something tells me that whatever path forward there is lies in the weird basement. So instead of continuing on the level I was, I return there. Not sure how these floors work and where this fits in the grand scheme of things. This is trying to be realistic, after all, in level design, even if it is failing. I'm noticing barrels and crates on the floor, ones that look like they should be explosive, but they don't damage ones nearby, so if they are, they're the lamest ones possible.

I find another teleporter...thing. This is definitely a new level, its got a pink ceiling. And there are humans now. I wasn't actually expecting that. I just assumed the entire game was robot and mutant city. He's a scanned person, probably a developer, which I guess puts this as the first FPS with one of those. If he was in the original, that puts this as a fairly early title. Not the first obviously, A-10 Tank Killer was earlier, and I'm sure others had that bit too. As an enemy, they're fairly quick on the draw, which considering the controls isn't really great.

But new enemies aside, I'm just not really finding anything. I eventually find a teleport that takes me back to the regular level. There doesn't seem to be an elevator nor any computers. While eventually you can orient yourself around these levels, you tend to miss big gaps, especially since turning is slow and the underlying graphical engine doesn't work half the time. Either the walls are hiding a door or they're accidentally removing a wall. Eventually, on the first extra-level, I finally find a computer. Huzzah, that wasn't annoying or anything at all! Now the trek back to the elevator. Which takes a surprisingly long time, its been so long I've forgotten where the damn thing is.
Part of the problem with the walls disappearing as you turn is I suspect the AI can see it just as much as me. Sounds, alarms going off with no clear source. Or they're caused by markings on the floor. Okay, whatever. The new passcode allowed me to reach level 1...which has nothing there. Either I need something here or the developers are having a laugh. Yeah, great job. Level 2, outside of having the worst color scheme yet, blending into the far away walls, its also a bit lazy. None of these levels were ever going to be truly great, since...well you have eyes, but effort was usually made so far. Seems like the only goal on this level is to go into a different elevator then into level 2.
Back on level 1, its business as usual, but things are getting harder, not for the reasons you'd think. Recharge items are failing to be of use while medikits are non-existent. Power is running low, even with recharging items and the items I assumed were ammo are not. I don't know what they are. The game is throwing a deluge of cameras at me draining away a vital resource from more important encounters. Though knowing this game, I suspect the opposite was intended, that the cameras are important and the enemies are not. As I die once again on this level, that thought ticks me off. This level is just compounding all the thoughts I've had about this game.
Reloading at the beginning of this section, I can't find my way back very easily. That's a problem. I thought I was in a section just inside two different passcode doors, but no, it seems like it was leading to something important. There's nothing outside, at least I can't find anything outside. Trying again just produces the same result, I get killed. I don't particularly feel like playing it some more to see if I'm right. Let's finish this off with a short mini-statement.
Checking my earlier review of the PC version reveals that my thoughts haven't changed much. Its still looks the same, perhaps with a slightly smaller screen. Speed is still an issue, slowdown whenever a sprite consuming the entire screen here, sporadic in DOS. Same weapons, same enemies. I think there are less complex underlying systems here, but I don't know if that's true. The only change is in the controls. The game itself controls worse, owing to the console controls, but the inventory system is actually understandable. I could use items; Something I couldn't in the PC version. I strongly suspect if I wanted to put the effort in now, I could actually solve that issue there. This is sort of like a simplified control scheme before you use the real controls.
None of that is really useful. This doesn't really make the game better, just playable. By default I guess that makes this the best version of Corporation, but that doesn't mean much.

This Session: 40 minutes

Final Time: 3 hours

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Dungeon Master: Wine of Fate

The collection of challenge rooms start off this session being disappointing. First, I was had to wade through two encounters only to discover that they were guarding a door I had no clue how to open. Fair enough. Then the next room over was a series of blocks, the first appearance of spinners. These were more annoying than dangerous, probably because there weren't any enemies there. The end goal was to find a switch on the western wall, which revealed a gold key. I assume that opens the big door near the start, but would anyone really do that before checking the rest of the rooms.

Then, things get interesting, with an area called Hit and Run. The intended idea is to press a button, rush into a room that opens up at the end of a long and twisty hallway. In practice, this particular bit is too easy. I went past the point I was supposed to go to reach a pit, a pressure plate and another button. Thinking I was to use the original button to keep the pit closed, I spent several attempts trying to think along these lines. The death screen is just a blank screen with THE END on it in fancy text. No, the real pathway forward is to press the new button, and throw something into the teleport field it creates. This gets me another gold key...huh...interesting, surely there is a purpose for this. Because of all this I end up not filling in this section of the map, though that seems easily fixable if absolutely necessary.
Combat in particular continues to be troublesome. Every fight seems to require the utmost precision, preparation in the event of poison, and post-combat clean-up, to pick up the items I have thrown or otherwise dropped. Sometimes these processes are stopped by yet another monster, potentially requiring me to just retreat. This is making me nervous about the game in general. I can handle this now, but with the incredibly rare stat increases along with the gradually reducing food items, for how long?
Well, the answer as I continued to fight through the level was, pretty well. At some point I got another sword which seems to have solved my problems. The overall perceived enemy strength remains the same, though through being spread out through two or three groups of enemies. I'm not so much combat waltzing, but attacking, rushing back, and repeating. This doesn't work perfectly all the time, hence the odd retreat. My time is slightly wasted by having to redraw my map, thanks to making a few mistakes in the early part.
Areas here after aren't terribly interesting, maybe a token puzzle or hidden switch. Its mostly fighting. One area in particular has respawning enemies, which I don't view as a bad thing, though don't go assuming my opinions on them have changed in actual FPSes. I'm wasting more or less the same resources I am by just walking around up here as I am fighting. Its not even hiding any secrets, I'm just tapping walls for no reason. That's how you discover fake walls, by tapping them. I've also attempted to bash doors via attacking, but it doesn't seem like my party is doing anything. Speaking of which, magic is proving to be very slow increasing indeed. The fellow I'm using as a wizard functions exclusively as a walking torch and my cleric burns out of mana after a few potions. Heaven help me if I forget which sequence is for the cure poison spell, or I have to rest.

Interestingly, rooms in the area continue to hide things from me. A few of these are solved by pressing buttons I missed or by figuring out that the unlocking spell is a ranged attack. This finishes off this section with 5 keys. Which is interesting since there are 6 rooms. Is this a trick? No, I only needed 4 keys, the 5th was for another door containing some poison monsters and a nice piece of armor.

The third floor throws some interesting changes in combat. We still have the old rock poison snail things, but now we have poison worms. These lovely fellows are actually difficult to kill in one sitting, even with an axe I found down here. Good thing there's enough room for waltzing or I'd never win. That one sitting thing isn't a joke either, Zed and Sonja nearly ran out of stamina fighting the damn things. They drop worm rings, sort of like the mushrooms did, but its hardly satisfying to eat. A couple of interesting things popped up in the brief period I spent on this floor. Doors can definitely be bashed down, there was a hint next to a door and the axe. The other was a multi-part puzzle. There's a button on the floor, because of game logic, I can't weigh this down, nor can I rush to the door it opens. The solution? There's a button on the wall that teleports you a square to the right, thus reducing the amount of squares I need to rush.

This Session: 1 hour

Total Time: 3 hours 20 minutes