Tuesday, November 30, 2021

TRON: Deadly Discs

Name:TRON: Deadly Discs
Publisher:Mattel Electronics
Developer:Mattel Electronics
Time:1 hour

Its hard to think that, chronologically, this is the first licensed game I've played. The Atari 2600 has been retroactively slapped with the image of a console that crashed thanks to a deluge of bad licensed titles, with E.T. the Extraterrestrial heading the charge. Perhaps that's true, but it looks like the games I've picked out for this blog are relatively isolated from the deluge of crap that was this period.

The Intellivision and the Colecovision, thanks to their lower market shares, usually didn't have these kinds of games on their systems. There was the illusion of quality. On the other hand, Mattel, the creators of this game and the Intellivision, tended to port some of their games to Atari. I didn't play that version, knowing full well it would be a downgrade. I had an Intellivision growing up, but rarely managed to play it, thanks to being an old system even at the time, which meant finnicky set-up. So I never played this game. But I did have a good idea of how to play it thanks to having the manual.

The red man is the player, and on the right, the yellow disc is the player's weapon
Deadly Discs is taken from the one scene in TRON with the throwing discs that killed people. I barely remember the film, sorry. TRON games seem set up around the gladiator games in the in-game world. There's a whole sub-genre around the light cycle game in TRON, though admittedly that's just multiplayer Snake. As per usual for the era, the game is very simple. Throw a disc at various enemies, dodge their disc. What makes the game special is that the disc functions like a boomerang you can block with. It doesn't hurt on the way back, but you can control how far it goes. This is what makes this game feel special for the time. It feels like a special weapon.
I'm admittedly not sure how this one happened
Bear in mind your enemies have this weapon too, you're just going to be smarter about using it. Enemies at the start function exactly like you do, right down to not doing damage to other characters by touching them. And there are up to three enemies at once. For the most part they're going to be the same enemies, later enemies get faster and ones I didn't reach hurt you upon touch.
Its certainly an impressive looking thing
There are two objectives here, the first to fight off the enemies, the second to keep the doors open. You can move through ones you've hit with your disc. Every so often you hear a strange noise and this big...thing comes flying in. At first it seems like its just going to drop something in the center of the screen, but when it lands it starts throwing things at the doors, closing them, and throws a paralyzing attack at you. You defeat it by hitting the little shifting dot at the top of it, anywhere else and the disc will just harmlessly bounce off.
About as far as I got, note the different shade of blue on the top enemy
From there its fairly simple. At 10,000 points a new kind of enemy pops up, which is faster. I assume stronger enemies show up, but I wasn't able to reach that far. The player character is not the usual one-hit wonder, he can take a few hits and he regenerates as time goes on. However, there is a problem with this, where the game draws most of its difficulty, you slow down after each hit you take. At full health you move at a good pace, at minimum you are guaranteed to get hit again.

The disc is a very interesting weapon. Easy to use, hard to master. It doesn't really seem that much better than the rest of the shoot once, wait for shot to disappear games that are typical of the era, but its a lot better in practice. 3/10

Your typical assortment that gradually gets stronger as you go. The semi-reoccuring enemy that doesn't actually kill you is new, and his appearance shakes things up quite a bit. 3/10


None, really.

Player Agency:
Moving around is exactly what it needs to be. Controlling the disc has a curve, but actually aiming it isn't a problem. Damage reducing your speed is annoying, but more colors would probably break things. 5/10



Simple Intellivision graphics. 1/10


Surprisingly effective for the Intellivision. They don't feel like the usual blips and bloops, although the sound of the disc bouncing off something was used in something else. 2/10

That's 14. About average for the Intellivision at this point. A pretty good start for licensed games, though there don't seem to be any more until 1983. Curiously, there's a remake of this game in the works for the Intellivision Amico...which I'm sure won't go over like every other microconsole has this past decade.

Dimensional Fighter Epsilon3 is proving both very long and very boring, and thanks to its status as the first FPS/RPG hybrid, its not exactly a game I feel like I can give up on. Shorter games will be the rule until I either win or finally hit a brick wall.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Midi Maze


The title has been spelled a lot of ways, but since the two words are consistently separated, I have it like that
Name:Midi Maze
Publisher:Hybrid Arts
Developer:Xanth Software

While it may not look it today, Midi Maze has a very interesting place in history. Games before Midi Maze aren't really FPS titles, at least not as we've come to think of them. Yes, some are very impressive, but they've always got some weird thing going on that separated from the commonly accepted ancestors. Either they're grid-based, they use some crazy keyboard aiming, or some other strange caveat. This has all the hallmarks of the genre I've come to love and hate over the years.

Midi Maze isn't the first in its lineage, its pretty clear that its inspired by the mainframe game Maze Wars. That's the game usually credited as being the first FPS, though I still consider this to have a weird thing, since its grid-based. I don't think we've actually seen a game influenced by Maze Wars before, outside of this game's sequel/remake. While other games have the same grid-based movement, the Maze Wars formula is pretty clear. You wander around a maze, you shoot things that are also wandering around and shooting. The closest thing I've seen is Illegus Episode IV, which I compared to 3D Monster Maze, another mainframe game, though that has some home computer ports.

There's also another important aspect to this game I'm not really going to go over, multiplayer. This is where the MIDI part comes from. On an Atari ST, where you would originally play this game, you could take up to 16 MIDI cables, attach them to each computer, and you and your friends could blast each other as long as you cared to. I think this is actually the first game you could play like that. It was actually the primary draw for the game back in the day, since there was nothing like this. People were still playing multiplayer strategy games by mail.

Starting up a solo game is slightly confusing and requires one to press alt+s when the game says slave machine. From here you can select the map, what your name is, and what kind of bots you have. They are very dumb, dumb and not so dumb. I start off with the very dumb ones to get used to the controls. You need to pick a regular joystick, not joypad or anything else, otherwise you won't be able to do anything. The dumb ones prove to be ample target practice.

A typical scenario with the stupidest bots
Moving up to dumb ones, they shoot back. There are a couple of interesting things going on here. First, when the AI isn't chasing after you, they're going around in a circle. Second, they will ignore any other AI to just gang up on the player. This provides a few amusing situations. If I'm shooting at the AI from a certain distance, they will do nothing. Which can and has resulted in three AI just going into a circle while I take pot shots at them. The goal, though there are changes to the objective that can be made, is to kill your enemies 10 times.
How polite
This situation with the AI only going after me prompts me to change the map and lower the amount of AI down to one. The AI on not-so-dumb seems a lot more clever than it really is. It'll still blandly shoot at me if it's got a good shot, but when it's not taking shots at me, it looks like he's running around a lot better than he really is. Perhaps it was just the map being better suited to the AI, but I felt this was a worthy challenge.
Unlike his stupider fellows, this guy isn't staying there for long
There is also a team mode, which is chaos. If every team has four members, and every team's kills are combined, its fairly quick to get to the kill limit. You need a really big map to properly handle everything.
Utter Chaos
The game, in addition to what kind of bots you want, also allows you to chose firing speed, respawn time, and regeneration time. This functions a lot like your newer FPS titles, where the gun isn't so important and you have regenerating health. However, you regenerate pretty slowly even on fast. There are plenty of mazes included, and a map editor if you're so inclined.

Its a lot of fun, even if I'm missing the point without other players. I'm not sure you can play this version with other players, at least not without real Atari STs. You miss a lot by not being in a room with 15 other people, screaming German curse words. This is really a different experience than most multiplayer FPS titles, because there aren't really any that play this simplistically. There's not even sidestepping in this. Instead of circle-strafing you get two people trying to walk at a safe enough angle.

Generic weapons. 1/10

Some smart enemies for the environment and era. They do have limitations but on the whole, its not like there was anything to compare it to and its not really the point. 2/10


Fairly generic, only walls on-top of blocks. 1/10

Player Agency:
Despite having some issues getting it working, and only allowing simple moving and shooting, it felt very smooth. It would have to be, even in the absence of any competition. 4/10


There's something weird about playing in a ghost town of a game, especially one as weird as this. 2/10

Very simple avatars and walls. 1/10


Some generic sound effects. 1/10

That's 12. A bit more than Faceball 2000's 7. Curiously, this is exactly the same as Choplifter, though the individual scores are different.

This is it for Xanth Software, I've already covered Faceball 2000, and while they're credited on GATO, that's just a port. Hybrid FX doesn't seem to have been responsible for anything else.

I have the upcoming games planned until game 100, which hasn't changed at all despite shifting gears.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Dungeon Master

Name:Dungeon Master
Time:15 Hours 40 Minutes

While highly influential in general, Dungeon Master marks a shift in the design of first-person non-vehicle action games from maze games to something with actual gameplay. Even a good chunk of RPGs before this were just complex, multi-level mazes. Meanwhile, while the rest of the gaming world is slowly advancing beyond wireframes, here comes Dungeon Master, looking fantastic and playing great, with this fancy mouse thing. Nothing can compare to what this game accomplished.

These "trolins" are your typical orc-type monsters and usually come in groups like this
That's not to say it doesn't have issues with how it looks and controls. The game is very grey, but having unimportant bits desaturated can be a net boon to visibility, outside of those pesky hidden switches or grey keys. Yes, there are some details in the artwork that could be improved, and there could be longer animations, but what is here works well. The primary issue this game has is that its in a dungeon and dungeons are ugly. Its either grey or brown or grey-ish green. If you don't know what you're doing in expanding that, you could very easily make something that looks worse than generic dungeon.
A very bad situation, these wasps poison my characters, so Sonja is just about to die here
And on the control front the issues are minor. You can control everything with the mouse, but keyboard shortcuts are common for offensive and movement actions. In the version I played, which is the Chaos Strikes Back port, the numpad controlled my movement. You have the usual forward, back, left, right, but the only turning is left and right. Not much of an issue here though. You can attack by clicking on a weapon, or by QWER and the three letters below these. Attacks (and spells) have cooldown times, based on how strong they were. Meaning you don't want to have your melee fighters cast fireball before entering combat, and enemies with higher defense should be dealt with weaker attacks.
A "giggler" fresh off having stolen a shield, the other having already been stolen
The inventory system is limited by both a number of slots and the character's strength. Exceeding the number of slots is possible by getting chests, which you'll need soon enough. Exceeding the strength limit...is possible, but very poor judgment. This decreases your stamina faster, and stamina is something you'll want to keep up. It is possible to restore stamina with potions, and it, like every other point stat restores on its own, but its something one's concerns are better focused on elsewhere.
Another very bad situation
One thing I didn't care for was that you didn't really know what an item was or did beyond the name. There are a lot of enchanted items I didn't know if they were any good or not, simply because they were just some item. Weapons didn't really seem to get better as time went on, they just got special abilities. Items that had special uses had to be put in the right hand slot, be they chests that give you more carrying slots or empty potions to be refilled. Its all just mildly inconvenient, not truly bad. Something unnoticable when you're actually playing it.
Sometimes it seems like the dungeon has an actual mind of its own
The spell system is part gameplay and part copy protection. You have four sets of six runes and using these runes allows you to successfully cast spells. Success also depends on a character's level. However, I felt the game was biasing me towards casting healing spells and fireballs, as more complex magic spells aren't worth the mana they cost, outside of a few rare situations. Spells are divided by schools, but there's not really any non-offensive spells for wizards (outside of a light spell you need) or decent priest offensive spells.
Throwing a chest at nothing, practically as effective as regular throwing weapons
Combat is interesting. In theory you cast a few spells at an enemy, then your melee characters duke it out while the guys behind use ranged attacks. Like most RPGs. The issue is that you can almost never duke it out with enemies. You need to do something commonly called a combat waltz, where you constantly try to run behind an enemy and hit them there. Most enemies have higher health than your party members. This works better on some enemies (and some levels) than others. The environment is very important in this too, as doors hurt everyone. Including your enemies. And in usual RPG fashion, enemies take more damage from some types of damage than others. Positioning is important too, enemies attack the two party members they're nearest, which if they're not in front of you, means one of the squishy mage types is going to have to fight. Its entirely feasible, albeit not practical, to fight off enemies in two different locations at the same time.

A sentient suit of armor, which doesn't take a lot of damage from physical attacks
The RPG aspect is very simple. There are four skills, fighter, ninja, wizard and priest. Ninja governs range attacks. Each character can freely advance in each skill, but in practice the front characters are going to be better at fighting and the rear characters better at the rest. However, its still useful to have everyone balanced out, not only for more magical attacks, but also because the characters attributes improve as their stats do, and having more mana and carrying capacity is useful. The latter two are a bigger concern as time goes on.
A mysterious field, there are many of these to figure out
Gameplay in Dungeon Master is unsurprisingly enough, a dungeon crawler. Create a party of 4 adventurers and have them explore a 14 (roughly) level dungeon. Preventing you from accomplishing this goal are monsters, puzzles and the party's desire for silly things like "food" and "water". The game has hunger and thirst meters. At first you get plenty of the stuff, but as time goes on it gets in stricter supply. If you're not careful, you can find yourself in a position where your party has no way of getting to water and food sources. After all, your characters are spending many days in a dungeon, its only natural that they want to eat.

Much of the early levels is spent getting used to the mechanics. Befitting its age, the player has to make his own maps, thanks to a lovely mechanic called "spinners", which spin the party around. Its not the first time I've seen it, and it isn't the first time it would be a mechanic in a RPG, but it feels a lot more insidious here. You have to pay extra attention for them, very tricky in a grid-based system where giant rats are barrelling towards you. To survive one needs to be alert and pay attention. That pressure plate in the floor may open a door or it may open an invisible hole in the ground. I'm pretty sure you need to press a few hidden switches and buttons to win, but since you have to be alert its not as big a sin as any FPS guilty of doing it.

Note the cursor on the door button, one of the few times the mouse is useful in combat
Once you get used to it, the game really comes into its own. This is where the puzzles really start to shine. These heavily involve the dungeon's environment and get very complex. For a game that's basically the first of its sub-genre it feels like it exploits the mechanics of the genre to the fullest. I had to look up things a few times and it seems like when I did, it was usually because I didn't expect the game to be able to do that. Something of a flaw in my reasoning before now, I admit, but holy crap, this feels like a top-notch fan mod rather than an actual commercial product.
A sample non-material enemy

The game has the right length, lacking any real fat to it and just about hitting the practical limit of player offensive ability. Any shorter, and one might not be properly prepared for the final bosses. Any longer, and the player will reach enemies with far too much health. Now admittedly, the last real level has a bit too much in the ways of enemies that take too long to kill. This doesn't make that level bad, just very annoying.

There are a few negatives. Like a few instances where continuing isn't ideal and that it should be time to reload. I can resurrect characters after they die but there's no real boon to this. Resurrection chambers are very far apart from each other and going to them isn't ideal. Further, this permanently lowers the HP of that champion. Despite how it might seem at times, I am trying to play these the way they were meant to be played, its just that doesn't always work out. I also don't care for the "gigglers" or thieving gremlins. They steal an item and then run off. There's one big floor with dozens of enemies and pits in the way of dealing with them, and I don't feel bad about reloading should I end up there and lose an item.

These "wizard eyes" can open the door just as well as you can, which is unfortunate
I also found some of the special enemy kinds to be more annoying than worthy foes. Most poison enemies required constant cure potions. I'm pretty sure I used more cure poison ones than regular healing ones. There were enemies that were non-material, which couldn't be harmed by regular attacks. I needed to use one special sword or a specific spell to take them out, which was clever at first, but by the end I was trying to just avoid the ones I could. I finished the game without killing them, so it worked.

Dungeon Master is an interesting game, at times it feels like the last and truly wonderful title of the sub-genre and others it feels like the awkward first game. Its an amazing game and technical achievement. I'm not sure how you could improve upon it, but I'm sure we'll see someone try.

I didn't really notice much difference between the swords I started the game with and the swords I ended the game with, outside of magic powers. Offensive spells, on the other hand, tended to force me to use fireball, with poison attacks being too unreliable and lightning too mana-intensive. Ranged weapons never seemed to be too effective and required too much cleanup. 2/10

There's a nice variety of enemies, albeit ones that fall into the usual category of fantasy monsters. Giant insects, orc-types, undead, beholders, demons and dark lords. There are a few against the grain, but nothing too out of the ordinary. It has a nice progression, but things were getting into the damage sponge range by the end of it. I didn't care for some of the respawning enemies, however. 5/10

There weren't any.

There's some interesting highs, the better ones had some very interesting puzzles in-between the fights. Secret searching is pretty good, not only thanks to the methods of finding secrets, but in how they're placed. The lows are mostly just busy-work, having to fight one's way through potentially never-ending meatshields. 7/10

Player Agency:
The method of controlling the characters along a grid works pretty well, compared to later attempts. All my issues really boil down to not being able to change items easily in combat. There's no way to heal in battle easily, going to inventory while fighting is going to end very badly. 7/10

There's some interesting stuff going on that I haven't seen before. Take secret walls. In a normal FPS, you'd press use against a wall, or maybe shoot it. Here, you can't do the former, and the later does nothing much. Instead you press it, with the mouse. You can also run into walls, which damages you. The game offers a similar amount of cleverness in other aspects. One memorable puzzle involves putting down items to activate pressure plates so you don't get roasted by fireballs. 5/10

Despite lacking music or any kind of ambient sound, Dungeon Master did a good job of making the player feel like he's deep in a dungeon. Too many games gloss over the whole eating and drinking aspect of dungeon crawling. 4/10

High-quality for the era, but now just competent. The game mostly suffers in that what its depicting most of the time isn't going to look great no matter how you render it. 4/10

Not something that really matters for the most part. It is cool that one should figure out that Lord Order isn't a friend, but otherwise it doesn't exactly have much of a presence. 1/10

There's no music in the version I played, but there were action sound effects. Simple but effective. 3/10

That's 38. I'm giving it 2 more since its such a vital, if understated game. For a final of 40. That's the lowest of my recommended category, as the 30s usually fall under recommended if you like that sort of thing. I don't really need to go into the reviews, since its more or less a beloved classic. Its not really a FPS, but its DNA would contribute quite heavily to the genre.

FTL Games will return with the expansion Chaos Strikes Back at some point in the future. The next real RPGs I'll touch upon are the Ultima Underworld games.

I'm trying to shift the upcoming games between genres and nationalities. Expect a Japanese FPS, a racing game, an American FPS, and then an Intellivision game. It turns out I was unable to play The Wreck.

Saturday, November 13, 2021



Developer:Dan Gorlin
Time:1 hour

Another curiosity from the golden age of video games. First released in 1982 on the Apple II, then ported to just about every home computer on the planet. I'll be playing the C64 version. Choplifter isn't that different from most early titles I've played. Its very close to Defender, except set in the modern day. Shoot various enemies, rescue people, realistic for 1982 controls. The real difference is in the details, as usual.

Outside home base. That flag has very nice animation.
This is actually the first game, chronologically, I've seen inspired by current events, in this case, the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Except that in this game, a single helicopter is going up against a whole bunch of tanks, planes (possibly F-15s, which is just hilarious) and flying saucers. And to save the hostages, I have to shoot the building they're in, then set my copter down. Slight artistic license.
The hostage underneath my copter is about to die, unfortunately
It takes a while to get used to, but the basic formula is, you move around, you have slight momentum. You turn by holding the fire button and either direction. When you're facing forward, that's not a transition sprite, you can fly around and shoot things like that. Its very smooth and fluid, not just for 1982, but in general. You can turn around or back up and there's only a slight delay.
This rescue mission isn't going well
Saving hostages is easy the first run in. Only tanks are stopping you, and as long as you're in the air they aren't a problem. You can carry up to 16 hostages. Landing on top of one kills them, and while tanks aren't intentionally shooting at the hostages, they will kill them. The goal is to get as many to be saved, rather than dead, helpfully shown at the top of the screen by playing card suits.
Despite mostly failing to save hostages, they're still sending planes after me
The second run is when things get tricky. They start sending planes. They shoot missiles, which are affected quite heavily by gravity. You can dodge them with a bit of practice if they're solo, but you have to pay constant attention for them, and together with tanks things get tricky. You also have to start destroying some of the buildings.
The only way to attack a tank
The third run is where the game gets unfair. Now there are UFOs, but they just slowly float towards you dropping bombs. No, what's unfair is that the game starts slowing down because there's so much stuff on it. They even start sending multiple planes after you. They also start appearing more frequently. Enemy appearance was always random, but when there are two planes on-screen at the same time it gets too much.
Seconds before death, and it was going so well
Its a fun short time waster. Starts off easy, then gets really hard. The problem, which I seem to recall being constant with these kinds of games, is that there's too big a shift. Its a radical ramping up. While you'll probably escape the first plane, there's no guarantee, especially if you plow ahead at full speed. I don't know. There's not that much of a shift from the previous year in terms of game design, just refinement of those elements.

Generic gun. 1/10

Generic tank, plane and strangely enough, UFO. 1/10

Generic rescuees. 1/10

A single level where the real test is in the randomly generated enemies. 0/10

Player Agency:
Took me a little while to figure out I could turn by holding down the attack button, but otherwise its smooth. You don't have the option to aim very much though, and it always feels like I'm missing because of it. 4/10


The landscape is strange, definitely an artifact of game over everything else. 1/10

There's nice animation, but everything's very simple otherwise. 3/10


Low-bit helicopter noises and something that's like gunfire. 1/10

That's 12, about average for 1982 for now. Not bad, definite improvement on the Defender formula. Gorlin would be responsible for one more game before basically becoming a porter for Broderbund. Choplifter itself has a few sequels, only one of which involves Gorlin himself, and even barely there. I'm not sure how you'd improve upon the formula from here, but I'm sure they'll give it a good shot.

Next up will either be Dimensional Fighter Epsilon3, which has not had many words said about it in English, and most of those are just mindless praise. Or The Wreck, which is another forgotten maze shooter.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Dungeon Master: Won

This is it, its the end of the game one way or another. There was no water down here and I'm running low. Its not far from the end of the game, which meant I was either going to win or I was going to be trapped without being able to recover.

A nerve-wracking sight when you're low on supplies
The opening section doesn't really lead anywhere, beyond the area one falls in that revolving trap door. So I begin exploring. Which leads me to a group of the black flame enemies. They're not blocking anything to my knowledge and I am just exploring at this point, so I rush past them. Wouldn't you know it, the stairs to floor 14 are two blocks south of the area I entered?

Reminds me of the Dark Forces dragons, wonder if there's a connection?
Downstairs there's a lot of treasure lying around. Because its a red dragon lair. Naturally, he is hard to kill. He fires off fireballs that take out my two rear characters instantly, and he takes like 3-4 hits to take out a front character. However, he has one big weakness, namely, he turns around very slowly, so the combat waltz is safer here than with other enemies. To a certain extent. He's a slog to kill, and I check a guide to see if this is really what I'm supposed to do...and stumble upon some more worrying information.
An obvious place to put a key
I don't have the key to the door he's guarding, and the key is back on level 7. There's no way forward without it. Which means I have to reload the earliest save I have and work my way back up to the latest water fountain, which is level 9. I also figure out that these skeleton keys I have are supposed to be used on the skulls I keep seeing around. This saves me some time, though I still have to repeat a bit of game in order to get back to where I left off. The 11th floor is just filled with oh, so fun fights. Including ones with respawning spiders and three suits of armor.

A crueler game would make the door trick not work here

After that floor, I have another RA key, which means I can return to the Tomb of the Firestaff. This finally allows me to get into it, or at least some kind of forechamber. Its pretty cool being here...although there are a lot of locked doors I don't have the key for...and rock golems. I hate rock golems. I encounter two behind doors I can close, but I doubt my luck will hold with them. They're brutal to fight. They don't attack as fast as the suits of armor, but they take as much damage and deal out plenty.

I'm not sure these words mean what they think they mean, but whatever

There's only one locked door I have the key for, and its one with a warning on it. Its got supplies in it. Some empty flasks, which I make room for, and some scrolls. They're just telling me to maintain balance, unfortunately, I was spoiled that the game would involve capturing both Lord Chaos and Lord Order. I don't think I mentioned the backstory much since it doesn't matter much in gameplay. Then there's some more of the room, leading to a key hidden in ash, and a secret room with more papers and another key. Outside of something telling me to use Zokathra to open "amalgam" to get the staff, its just more stuff telling the player what to do.

The biggest fight of Gothmog and Syra's life

That one key gets me pretty sweet gear, and the other opens the door to the Firestaff. Its a long walk to it...a long walk. Once at the end, there's another stone golem, unmoving. There's a locked door that I have the key for, and then the Firestaff. Taking it awakens the golem, but I run back through the long length of corridor. Guess that's what that was for. However, I don't have any more keys, and I know I missed the key, so I must have missed a switch or a hidden door. One hidden switch and long hallway later, I'm fighting another golem. This leads to a set of stairs down, directly to the floor above the dragon. Which meant I had to search again for a missing switch, which I found in the last long hallway.

Fighting the dragon is long, and I don't think the ful potions did anything. Seems a shame I kept them around so long for no purpose. He's just a big slab of meat to move around, literally, he drops a ton of meat. Have to switch out my mages to the front, so my fighters don't get tired. After a good chunk of time, he's dead. I run around checking the stuff on the ground. Some coins, but no great horde, and a key under a pile of ash. Don't tell me I wasted my time searching for the other key? I did.

Not the most impressive dark lord I've seen

Past the door, I can reach the power gem rather quickly, just a few paces in front of where I left off. The only other thing on this floor is a resurrection chamber locked by a gold coin. And each time I leave it, the door closes. Oh, well, haven't felt the desire to deal with that, and I doubt I'll need it now.

That would have been a question if the game didn't tell me

Lord Chaos isn't really a fight, more of a puzzle. He doesn't take damage, and the Firestaff is used to capture him, not kill him. You have to get it so he can't teleport away, which means using the Firestaff to create four boxes around the area he's in. You can also use walls. From there, Lord Order pops up, but you can fairly quickly fuse him, since he teleports exactly where Chaos was. (perhaps this is automatic) Then the Grey Lord returns and all is well. Then it shows my character and everything just sort of ends. That mostly ends well. Not everything went as well as it should, but that's more related to the information I was told more than anything else.

This Session: 2 hours

Final Time: 15 hours 40 minutes

Monday, November 1, 2021

The Alien and Nostromo

While finishing up this Halloween's selection of survival horror games, I decided to briefly play the earliest game I put in my list as survival horror. That is 1982's The Alien, by Avalon Hill, published on the Apple II, FM-7 and PC-88. At least those are the versions Mobygames confirms as existing, there may be others. The Alien is not a survival horror game by most stretches of the term, it is in fact a strategy game based off the first Alien movie.

This screen changes around quite a bit, which I thought was cool
The way it plays is that you control 7 characters who are divided into three categories, engineer, scientist and security. The objective, is to recapture an alien picked up off a planet. Not necessarily the alien of the movie, just a alien. Though as you can see the title screen leaves little doubt as to the intended origins. I did not make it very far, but attacking the alien tells you to not do that yet, only to stun it and capture it. The company doesn't allow it. I suspect the game will allow you to kill the alien should it start making mincemeat of your crew.
I definitely understand what's going on here
The three types of characters each can do different actions, most importantly, security can use guns. There's a very big issue with the control scheme, however. You have to scroll through the options list with an analog joystick. For me, I moved the joystick slowly up or down in order to get different characters to act or control. This is not a brilliant control scheme to begin with, but the big issue is that every action, every subset of that action, can be selected but not performed at all times. This includes moving, which makes the whole game very tedious to play. There are two phases, one where you react to the alien's actions, and one where you perform some of your own.
Well, why do I have the option to do anything then!?
I did not find this game very interesting, and that would have been the end of it, not even bothering with a post about it...except this is a strangely not uncommon concept. You might know that the Argus Press title shares the same concept as this, and its true, but that's a tale for another year. What is interesting is that across the world, in a small island called Japan, someone else was mining recent horror movies for inspiration.
I'm getting Junji Ito vibes from this

Enter Nostromo, a game released in a type-in magazine. If you don't know what a type-in magazine is, its a magazine with games you type into a computer, back when every one had a copy of Basic included with it. Nostromo was released in the second issue of AX, published by ASCII, hence the name attached to the game in places, AX-2. Released sometime in 1982, by Hiromi Ohba, who would have a moderate career over the years as an audio programmer. Other people and a 1981 release date are stated online but both the magazine and the source code confirm these are not true.

Playing card suits are an abstraction, I hope
I didn't originally get the game running, however, after some effort I was able to. You collect four different types of items, and bring them to an escape shuttle for a series of levels. The only thing holding you back is an a roaming the halls and the game's controls. This game controls extremely poorly. You press an arrow, and you constantly move in that direction until you press a different arrow. Its incredibly easy to clip a corner of a wall until you get used to it. You get into the rooms by I guess tapping against them twice.

The "a" is the alien
You should think less the ancestor of Resident Evil and more ZZT without any ammo and the enemy can't change rooms. I'm incredibly underwhelmed, but this does show something interesting about several things relating to early game design. Two different people, separated by a language barrier, on different systems, made a game based on the same film and did it in radically different ways. Its also a tale of radically different reactions to an old game. Nostromo is hailed as the earliest example of a survival horror game. Not an early example, the earliest example. The Alien, on the other hand, is only notable as being a rip-off. Both have about as much validity to that topic, since neither do much that genuine survival horror games would do.
The Japanese version of The Alien, which came out in '84

What's funny is that the 1984 Alien game, by Argus Press rips off The Alien for its gameplay loop. While I can't tell if that game is popular, it mostly just pops up links to download it, I have heard that game mentioned. It just hasn't spawned the few articles that Nostromo has. That, however, is a tale for another day.