Friday, December 31, 2021

Crossed Swords

Name:Crossed Swords
Number:97
Year:1991
Publisher:SNK
Developer:Alpha Denshi
Genre:TPS
Difficulty:5/5
Time:4 hours

1991 was a weird time for FPS games. The technology we've come to expect from those early FPS titles did exist, it just wasn't very popular for actual FPS titles. We were just beginning to see it used in FPS games, as opposed to the maze games and racing games as I've recently covered. There are a few more titles I've yet to cover, even in Japan, that use it, but I don't think they had much of an effect on Japanese design philosophies. Crossed Swords sort of takes the Death Duel approach, by having all the action take place in well-drawn 2D, with the focus being more on maneuvering around a small group of enemies.

Developed by Alpha Denshi (shortened to ADK) for arcade systems, then the Neo-Geo CD. The Neo-Geo CD is possibly the most annoying system I've had to emulate, and I don't know yet if it was of much value. Its certainly very slow to load the game, which just completes the whole package. Alpha Denshi mostly did arcade games, and by this time was effectively a second party developer for SNK consoles. I don't really know how many titles of theirs are of interest, but at the very least they also did a sequel to this.

So, the game itself. Its a fantasy game. The story is a lot of fancy words for; A demon lord has been unleashed, stop him and save the kingdom. You know, maybe its not the most cliche plot in western fantasy, but I swear that nearly every Japanese fantasy title I've seen has some form of that plot. Even if the main plot is actually about something else, killing the demon lord is somewhere. Even though they're usually cliche in different ways, its usually not a demon lord that needs killing in a western game. I wonder why.
That character sprite starts out filled in, but turns into an outline when combat starts

Starting up, I get a tutorial. Left and right moves/dodges, up and down blocks high/low, the A button attacks and the B button does a magic attack. Sort of like a beat 'em up, except with an unusual perspective. The magic attack depends on which weapon I have. This is mostly smooth, however, later on I discover that A & B together does a special attack. Which is annoying since all the systems this was on have 4 buttons. I understand these limitations in systems where the developers have maxed out the use of buttons, but this is annoying.

A typical combat scene
The game starts off fairly simply in order to get one used to this control scheme. Its not terribly complex, but you do need to get used to it. Actually moving around is relatively unimportant. With exception to boss enemies, most dodges I did were just lucky. A few enemies dodge your attacks, but you can usually anticipate this. The real meat of combat is successfully blocking and then properly attacking back. Enemies do seem to have shifting if reliably shifting attack patterns, but mostly its a reflex game. Its always you reacting to one single enemy at a time, repeat until the end credits or you lose the desire to continue playing.
You'll be seeing this guy a lot

Which is the big issue. Starting out the enemies have a pretty clear way of fighting. But you can't have a short game like this be a cakewalk, at least not in 1991. The first outright change in gameplay is the introduction of enemies with ranged attacks. These are fair in the sense that you can blindside them with ranged attacks too. Its not that you can't block ranged attacks, its that's considerably difficult to do so. The breath attacks are especially brutal, since its a continuous stream, get hit once, no blocking, and if the enemy is on top of you, you're getting hit. Though I say this, and I generally did better against ranged attacks than I did against melee attacks.

You'll be seeing a lot of this too

But there's one kind of fight I really dreaded. The ones with armored sword wielders. I say like they're some single entity, but they come in everything from regular looking knights, to armored goatmen. These guys had one element that made them really annoying to fight, how they dealt damage to you. See, with most enemies, they attack you, you either block or don't, and then you can possibly counterattack and unleash a combo. The armored swordsmen broke that in two ways. So you're defending yourself successfully, but wait, he isn't open to counterattack. Counterattacking just results in getting hit. And once you get hit, you don't have an easy way to defend yourself afterward. They use multiple little attacks against you, which seemingly disables defense. You're sort of stuck here until the game decides to let you go, which can be a while.

You won't see this much, because most of the later crabs are blue
The bosses were a mixed bag. Most showed up after their boss encounter as generic enemies, not even weaker than their original counterparts. I'm going to pick on one of these exclusively, the giant crabs. As you may know, this is historically inaccurate, giant crabs only existed in Japan during the middle ages. The problem is that these giant crabs are just incredibly annoying to fight. Successfully block, then return attack, only to get blocked by the crab then hit multiple times. There's just this persistent feeling that some of the later bosses just ignore the previously established rules. The final boss has several attacks that are unblockable, but at least he's the final boss.

You'll be seeing a lot of the fishmen, but not so much the guy in the back
As a result, its fairly obvious this isn't a hidden gem. Its very hard to shake off that whiff of arcade-style, "You've had your fun, now feed me some quarters". Pretty sure if I was spending actual quarters I would have spent a dollar or two on the final boss alone. There's so much cheap stuff in the game that it never really felt like I had a fair shot at it. And I've been playing on the normal setting.

You'll be having a lot of desperate fights

Despite these issues, I played through most of the game twice. It feels too long for what it is. The game is about 7 stages long, with each stage being divided into several smaller areas. Even when you're fighting the easiest enemies, and a small number of them, it feels slow. Everything takes much longer than it needs to take, which is funny considering that its also very intense. While there are some interludes between the combat, those are over very quickly.

You'll only see this twice, and once it really doesn't matter
Some of these levels have different paths, but honestly, they're mostly pointless. Outside of one path, that gets you what nearly amounts to a cheat sword. You might think I'm joking, but no, there's a weapon you in one path that turns most non-boss enemies into scarecrows. Its almost cheating, except you still have a spell limit, it doesn't work on everything, and it drains the amount of XP you get.
You can chose whether or not you see this a lot

A not really interesting aspect of the game is the RPG elements. You get XP and different weapons. I say different weapons, well, they're really just straight upgrades with different special attacks. The two I found most useful were the scarecrow spell, and a shield spell that automatically blocks all attacks for a few seconds. Levelling up is really bland, get a certain amount of points, you get a half bar more life. Repeat until you have 10 bars of health. Because of this everyone now slaps action RPG on the game, making a somewhat meaningless label even more meaningless.

You get new shields semi-frequently
I want to point out that I'm primarily playing the Neo-Geo CD release, which despite being a x1 speed CDROM drive, should at least have better music? No, its generic fantasy game music. Even the original is generic fantasy music. It doesn't really sound any better than the original's soundtrack and this is where most of the CD's space went towards. I can't actually tell you why this game needed to be on CD, because it doesn't look like there's any changes beyond minor palette ones.

Can you spot which of these don't belong?
Of course, the aspect of the game that's unarguably nice is the graphics. There are a few things worth criticizing, namely, certain characters, of which I'm sure one right now springs to mind. Then there's the reuse. Obviously, all games reuse character models, but it feels obvious in these fighting style games where you have to kill a dude who looks the same twenty times. They're in armor here, and everyone who isn't is a skeleton or an orc, so its not that bad. Then there's the expected reuse in the parts of the background that don't matter, like walls and metal reinforcement in doors.

Compared to most games I've covered, this is the farthest I've gotten from a shooting game. This is a beat 'em up game, not a third-person shooter. While I'm not exactly a fan of the genre, I don't mind it. This seems less-than-stellar even in that category.

Weapons:
I have mixed feelings, because while the weapons get better the more you spend on them, I actually prefer the special attacks of the weaker weapons than the ultimate weapon, which is a really crap firewall spell. 2/10

Enemies:
Its a really weird situation, because you have a good variety of enemies, who require different (if annoying approaches). Even excluding color variants there are plenty. It just feels like there are too few of them. Perhaps its just the way its set-up makes the whole thing more obvious. 3/10

Non-Enemies:
None.

Levels:
Basically just a series of fancy backgrounds and a series of enemies you fight in sequence. 0/10

Player Agency:
It doesn't really feel like you've moved whenever you've moved, if that makes sense. For the most part, it works, though I have that issue with pressing two buttons together when I have two other buttons that aren't used at all. 4/10

Interactivity:
None.

Atmosphere:
In addition to feeling very obviously like a game, I also felt the joy being sucked out of me every time I actually had joy. 0/10

Graphics:
Very stunning and well-animated. 8/10

Story:
Shows up throughout the game, even if its the simplest plot imaginable. 1/10

Sound/Music:
The sound effects are about average. Feels more low-impact than it should. The music, outside of a few special stings, is completely generic. 3/10

And subtracting 2 points for the difficulty issue, we get 19. Which is starting to feel like the score range I put all the really hard games, the ones that are distractingly bad in.

I do not know if I'm going to play the sequel to this. While I do account for games like Witchaven, where its clearly a FPS focused on melee combat, this isn't really the third-person equivalent of that. It is as I said, a beat 'em up game with a fancy perspective.


Thursday, December 23, 2021

SeeNa

 

Name:SeeNa
Number:96
Year:1986
Publisher:SystemSoft
Developer:SystemSoft
Genre:Racing
Difficulty:5/5
Time:8 hours

The history of Japanese computer games is a perplexing thing. Sometimes they pointlessly tread the same ground the west has done for years and years, and other times they innovate. SeeNa is one of those innovations. A first-person racing game is nothing unusual, this is far from the first title to do it. However, once you see some screenshots, you'll realize why this is an impressive title.

Behold, a racing game

This is because SeeNa hits upon almost exactly the same notes as Hovertank, Catacomb and all the rest of the untextured FPS titles would do. Now, admittedly, the game is somewhere between a maze game and a racing game, but to see it done much earlier is shocking. Midi Maze, was one year after this, I admit, but SeeNa feels so much more modern. Levels, in the sense I expect them, secrets, secret levels. This doesn't really feel like a commercial game because those usually aren't this impressive technologically.

When the game starts off you have two modes, one called Mode A, and one called Mode B. You can think of this as Adventure Mode and Race Mode. Adventure is effectively the actual game, and Race Mode is what you expect from a racing game. A series of tracks you try to get the fastest time around. I'll start with that mode first.

Note the sections where the track goes back in on itself, this is achieved via teleporters
There are several unusual things about the game even in this mode. The most obvious is the damage meter and the gasoline tanks. Take enough damage, or run out of gas, game over. There's a pit stop so you can repair and refuel. I say gas is obvious, but I didn't figure out that it was a thing until considerable time spent in the game. Mode B was something I didn't play right away. Then you have break and slip zones. Break zones slow you down, slip removes your traction, I.E., turning, speeding up, speeding down, the time between you pressing it and it happening is very slow. But not too dissimilar to slow down zones and ice in other games.

Just your average racetrack
Some of the tracks in Race Mode are weird, and there's no rhyme or reason to where they're placed. One moment you have a normal track, the next your map isn't showing everything there, and then you're in something that wouldn't be out of place in Catacomb Armageddon. Then it finishes with something normal. If you played it after the finishing the other mode, you'd probably be disappointed, because its just a simple time trial, and one that you can't lose; Unless you're a complete beginner at the game.
Behold, a racing game...?

Mode A is where things change from being a racing game with unusual tech, to something interesting. You start off in a room, you turn around, there's nothing here. The only thing unusual is a flashing wall, so you drive through it. Its a map tool and this isn't just some race track. No, this is an actual level, with enemies and things you pick up. Its very unusual to play a racing game like this, and its other features are also unusual. You have limited gas and you need to find pick-ups that restore it. Later on there's a powerup that allows you to recharge it in certain zones, but this is of limited utility.

On top of an enemy, taking damage

But what's striking about this is how you deal with powerups, switches, enemies and the level exit. A lot of this stuff is in the form of flashing walls. You can destroy everything (except level exits) if you pass over it at a certain speed, which is good for enemies and I think switches, but not so good for everything else. Naturally, the game is designed around making this concept as annoying as possible for you, including putting enemies you wish to kill right next to solid walls, which hurt you.

For the early part of the game, level design is interesting. Its unsurprisingly not too dissimilar to the typical FPS, released 5-8 years later. Altered, of course, to accommodate the speed aspect of the game, and no saves. The game doesn't allow you to save, at all, and it isn't all that much worse for the wear for it, at least starting out. The game encourages you to play it in the best way possible, finding items in the correct order, using as much gas as you need, and ignoring places you don't need to travel through.

Every bit of the map is like that, even the parts I haven't uncovered

The level where the game really starts screwing with the player is Saka. Or at least that's one of its names. The level is a series of corridors that resemble train tracks. The sort of turns they put in so they don't tip over. Its a very large, very complex level. There is some fuel, but it is limited in nature. This area has a city, or I guess super computer, you destroy in order to win. It continues the cruelty by hiding the level exit, and possibly causing it to be lost forever if you hit the wrong switch. Destroying the super computer starts a timer, of which you have sixty...something to get out of the level. I eventually manage to win this level...but the game continues. I wasn't expecting that.

One of the secret levels I couldn't beat

But, no, it keeps going. Not just for one level, but for two more, at least. There's even a secret level here. This had me perplexed on many levels, because Saka felt like a proper end to the game, and two, because of the game not having any saves, we're starting to get really long. This isn't annoying for me, because I have save states, but for someone playing on actual hardware or legit? Nuts. You have to get everything right. There are even more super computers to destroy too.

This would be annoying in any game
Unfortunately, I'm forced to put a loss column here for this game, despite almost winning it. Almost. I think. I don't really need to cite anything other than this screenshot, but I'm going to explain. In all of this, I need to find a level exit. I may also need to find a switch to open that door. Which adds the total number of things I need to find, with limited fuel, to 2. In all of this. I remember thinking this would be a fun game to see people speedrun, and while that's still something I'd like to see, I'm not sure if that person is even human anymore. 

Winning levels show you these pictures, sometimes complete, sometimes mixed in with ones from other levels
The secret levels, at least those I could find, were pretty good as secret levels. I only finished one of them thanks to it being a 1-in-3 chance of automatically winning the level, but I gave the others a valiant effort. Thanks to some incompetence on my part, I'm not sure if that's because I screwed it up or if the game was intentionally designed so that these levels would be unbeatable if I didn't find the right powerups beforehand. I still felt like I had succeeded in doing something when reaching them, which is the important bit.

Mahjong tiles feature heavily in this level, for some reason
Let's talk about the real problem with the game, the audio-visual package. You've seen the pictures. Its very cool seeing this in 1986. However, it is very hard on the eyes in motion. And because of the limited color palette, sometimes the movement looks awkward. Further, the music sounds pretty sweet the first time you play the game, but this game is at least 8 hours long and there's not even 20 minutes of it. There's no way to turn off the sound without changing settings.

Weapons:
None.

Enemies:
Incredibly basic and practically non-existent. 0/10

Non-Enemies:
None.

Levels:
There's a wide gap in the quality of the best levels and the worst levels. Not necessarily because the best levels are the greatest thing ever, but because the worst levels are about as bad as you can possibly get. There is just no point in time where the last level in this game is acceptable. 5/10

Player Agency:
You move smoothly when the game wants you to move smoothly. You don't when they don't. There's a really awkward period at low speeds where you have a really slow turn arc, but not at minimum speed, which is annoying. Otherwise no complaints. 5/10

Interactivity:
Its basically Quake rules, if you were a car. 0/10

Atmosphere:
There aren't many in-door racing games, be they sci-fi or otherwise. It feels like a journey through a futuristic world, even if the story could be about something else entirely. 2/10

Graphics:
Simple, but very interesting for the time. Unfortunately, thanks to the way the game is set-up, it quickly becomes very tedious to look at. The HUD is incredibly busy too, took me a while to figure out what area had my fuel. 2/10

Story:
None in-game, though there could be something in the manual.

Sound/Music:
The sounds are very simple, and the music, while interesting at first, quickly became annoying. 1/10

That's 15. Its an interesting game, but it has several severe flaws. Its an area ripe for new material. Not like some actual racing games some have made in the Doom engine, but something like this, solo, alone in an alien world.

I don't really know how many more titles the lead programmer of this game, Tinyan, has, nor how many SystemSoft have. SystemSoft seems to be the Japanese Microprose, developing original simulations and publishing similar games from other regions.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Sinistar

After a few seconds, the name floods the screen in a dazzling array of colors

Name:Sinistar
Number:95
Year:1982
Publisher:Williams
Developer:Williams
Genre:Top-Down
Difficulty:5/5
Time:2 hours

Sinistar had an interesting introduction. One of the games I had as FPS for 1987 seemed really questionable, so I decided to put it back in 1987, and instead went for some random 1982 game. Rejected a couple of titles, but then I got to Sinistar. Ah, cool, that's a beloved title, I think to myself. It has an Atari 5200 port I have down, but I'll play the arcade original too. I do my usual research, and discover that the 5200 port is actually from the year 2010. Which gives me some pause.

Now, I realize that I tend to not give credit to early games and their use of sound, since I deal more in home ports than fancy arcade machines. This tends to limit the impact of sound, since the impressive nature of such things tends to be more using limited amounts of space. Sinistar has some fancy voice samples, and apparently its the first to have them in stereo. The home ports being seemingly unlicensed homebrew stuff is significantly more interesting.

Before playing
There's the usual excuse story, but the overall objective of the game is to destroy Sinistar, a giant talking ship. To do this one has to mine (shoot) crystals out of asteroids. (called planetoids, but at this size?) In your favor is that each level Sinistar needs to be built by worker ships. Against you are other ships called warriors which shoot at you. Completing all this is collision, because unlike other games which are content to autokill you if you touch something, this just bounces you. Off asteroids, other ships, everything that isn't a shot or Sinistar.
A less chaotic scene

Playing it, it is frantic, utterly mad chaos. The controls are unusual. Turning doesn't quite work in the way you expect it to and you have momentum. I had to break out my joystick for this, playing it with a keyboard just wasn't ideal. Even so, this game doesn't feel precise. The ship you're flying is not precise, it is very loose. These physics seem universal, since if you look at the enemy ships, the workers and the warriors both move very awkwardly, even as they try to complete their own objectives.

Sinistar, slowly getting built
The workers are actually building Sinistar in real time, and your actions effect how they build him. Mine some crystals and if you don't get them quickly enough, the workers steal it and use it to build Sinistar. They're mining crystals of their own, and you can disrupt this process if you're smart. But more likely than not, Sinistar is going to get built, shout off his characteristic "I LIVE" and kill you. You don't have any say in this, at least in the beginning.

A relatively safe scene


There are two phases to each stage of this game, the first is when you are fighting these unending hordes of ships, trying to survive and maybe mine crystals, and the second stage, when Sinistar starts hunting you down. You need at least 13 crystals to take out Sinistar, as these create a special missile attack that homes in on Sinistar, but they can be intercepted by other ships. If you don't have enough, you better hope you get lucky and get some before you see Sinistar appear on your minimap.

I am basically already dead here
See, when Sinistar is built, the game changes from a frantic space shooter to run away from the big scary monster. The voice samples absolutely sell Sinistar. Its something about games like this, when you hear voice samples in a game that you don't expect to have voices in them, the effect is usually unsettling. Combined that with Sinistar's impressive speed and that his touching you is instant death, you have a tricky boss fight. Its the closest we've had to a survival horror game chronologically.

I am dead here, and my remaining lives are just jokes
Now the big problem with this game, and also why its good, is that once Sinistar comes out you need to focus on him. Because he'll make short work of you if you don't. You are screwed if you need more crystals. When he says RUN, you run. You can avoid him through clever movement for a while, but mining crystals, dodging enemies and Sinistar is a lot of tasks to divide your attention among, and usually Sinistar wins. I never beat Sinistar if I haven't gotten enough by that point. Lives don't really matter at that point, because Sinistar crosses the distance surprisingly fast.

The screen goes all crazy whenever you kill Sinistar
Given enough time, its not that difficult to figure out how to kill Sinistar once. You get used to the movement, defeating workers and warriors. But then you get to the second zone, of which there are five, then it loops starting from the second. Each zone after the first has two differences, an increase in a certain aspect of the game (or decrease in the final zone) and Sinistar can be repaired. I did not handle the second zone, which had more workers, very well. It wasn't so much the repairing, as it was the sheer number of targets on-screen.

Excitement?
The Atari 5200 version is interesting, and by interesting I mean wildly inferior. The only plus are difficulty settings. It controls worse, perhaps owing to the less precise nature of the 5200's joystick. The asteroids give out crystals much slower and yet I somehow managed to get 13 of them one game. The whole area is massively smaller. Sinistar himself turns from a menacing figure to being silent and underwhelming. Its just not worth it.

Weapons:
Fairly standard weapons. 1/10

Enemies:
Sinistar is something special. 2/10

Non-Enemies:
None.

Levels:
Perhaps there's something different in the remaining levels, but the two I played really felt like random rocks were placed upon it. I guess there was some logic to it, but it didn't seem that important. 1/10

Player Agency:
Its not the smoothest thing I've played, but after some time with it, it works. It could be a lot worse. It didn't ever feel like I was turning my ship quite right, which I guess is up to par with my usual realistic spaceship experience. 4/10

Interactivity:
I guess you shoot the asteroids, but that's a stretch. 1/10

Atmosphere:
The game conveys a hopeless fight very well. Sinistar will always return, his followers, assuming they are followers and not robots, will always rebuild him. You will eventually falter and lose in this fight, while Sinistar will come back. 6/10

Graphics:
High quality for the era. Its not that special now, but it still looks nice. 3/10

Story:
A token effort.

Sound/Music:
Typical stuff except for Sinistar's taunting. Even though its low quality there's something just more effective about the voice bytes. 2/10

That's 20. Interesting, that's now the highest rated game until 1986. While on his own, Sinistar isn't that impressive, the whole audio-visual package surrounding him is. Its something that we may miss living here in an era where there's no reason for a game not to have voice acting.

There is one sequel, made in 1999, so its entirely possible I'll never reach it. Considering how frantic this was in 2D, I shudder to think how crazy it would be in 3D.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Dimensional Fighter Epsilon3

Name:Dimensional Fighter Epsilon3
Number:94
Year:1985
Publisher:Bullet-Proof Software
Developer:Bullet-Proof Software
Genre:FPS/RPG
Difficulty:5/5
Time:10 hours 00 minutes

Dimensional Fighter Epsilon3 is the first FPS/RPG hybrid, at least according to what little there is on the game around. Take Wizardry, strip out most of the RPG part, then take a light gun game, add in limited ammo, have battles be the light gun game and the Wizardry-lite be the RPG part. As a result its sort of questionable to call this the first FPS/RPG. Its not really a FPS, and its hard to call it a RPG, since I barely felt like I was gaining any sort of stats.

Published by Bullet-Proof Software, previously mentioned on this blog for Faceball 2000. The man who founded BPS is truly a man of the world. Henk Rogers, born in the Netherlands to Dutch and Indonesian parents, before they moved to New York. He studied computer science at the University of Hawaii before founding BPS in Japan. He's also attached to the American releases of Tetris, becoming friends with Alexey Pajitnov. Unfortunately, I don't know much about the actual developer of this game, one Eiji Kure, except that he likes making RPGs.
Can you spot the enemy here?
This is the first PC-88 game I've really played, so there's a bit of confusing stuff going on. Firstly, none of the emulators I tried have a great screenshot function, nothing bindable, just ALT+F2 or whatever they pick, assuming its useable at all. Secondly, the game had V1 after its file, which I ignored for the first couple of sessions. This was a mistake on my part, because it wants me to play in V1 mode, as the system had modes like that. I don't understand it, but I don't have to. Playing the game in V2 will cause the game to look like an unholy abomination against god and man, and this isn't an appealing-looking game to begin with. There were ghosts of walls.

There's this cool cutscene where the camera slowly moves up the mech and its much nicer than what they drew deserves
The story is the player is controlling the last hope against a superior enemy that wants to eradicate all life. To stop them, the player has to free 3 cities. Starting it up, there are two modes, a play mode and a demo mode. Demo is a demo, but doesn't really show much. The game has a slightly confusing start-up procedure. You need the game disk in one floppy drive and the user disk in the other, otherwise you'll get stuck in an endless loop. From there you pick a city and start playing. That implies you have a choice, but playing anything other than the first city will result in your swift death. This is easy to screw up even when you have some idea of what you're doing. Saving is accomplished by going back to the building you started at and going forward with Numpad 5.
A typical gameplay scene, I'm almost dead, but otherwise in good shape

Visually, it looks like Wizardry, except outside, and kind of weird. You can see about three squares away. Movement is done with the numpad arrows, along with numpad 5 to enter buildings. This is necessary because many, many things are inside these buildings. There are also things you pick up on the ground. You can access a menu with M or change the scenery and enemy colors with F. Its still the kind of game that I feel the need to take frequent breaks from.

A typical battle, I'm not losing yet, but it will happen
It doesn't take long for the meat of the game to happen, combat. This is done like a light gun game, move your crosshair, and then try to hit an enemy's weakspot. As seems to be usual with this sort of game, whether or not you can actually win these fights seems to be as much down to luck as it is skill. Well, more skill than luck than it seems usually. Some enemies seem like they're constantly running back and forth, but they're really just moving because you have your crosshair over them. That's not to say its good, just that it gets...tolerable, I guess.
The screen changes colors as you take damage, this isn't the worst it could be

This runs into the same problems that Death Duel had, the only way to make such a game difficult is to require precision. To achieve precision in a game where I aim a crosshair with my keyboard is something that isn't going to happen. Further, there are nasty things going on, there are mine enemies that move in and out of the ground, you can't hit them while they're in the ground. Some enemies in city 2 I could miss even if my crosshair was on the target. Missiles sometimes took so much time to reach a target I was already at zero shield by the time it hit them, thus negating the point of firing it.

Mines, possibly the most annoying enemy in the game
 As the enemies increase in difficulty it doesn't feel like you get any way of countering it. Heavier weapons are not commonly given out, and lighter weapons don't seem to do any damage. Since there's no indication of whether or not you're hitting the weak spot or just firing at the body pointlessly, you can waste those heavier weapons, and probably die.

A tiny bunker, after it has been destroyed, note my drained supplies

But there are elements that I like, enemies usually don't fire when they're standing still, I.E., the point I'm most likely to hit them. Enemies usually go down pretty quickly. Battles have two lengths, short and painfully long, and when its the first one, it isn't that bad. When I miss my opening salvo battles become death marches, and if I don't win they come straight back.

Some buildings have these graphics and you get stuff. For some reason, this one looks like a stereotypical Italian
Your weapons, which you change with the A & S keys and fire with the Z & X keys, take time to hit your target. There is a limited supply but with beam weapons you can get a recharge back at base. Your missiles, on the other hand, don't replenish. You have to hope some monster you fight drops them. That's not to say there aren't some beam weapons you can only get from enemies, but its obvious you're going to hold tight on those. Energy is also in limited supply, and powers shields, weapons and movement. Fortunately, enemies drop energy, and you can sometimes find it on the ground.

An unceremonious game over screen

This game has a major flaw with it, in that the game is designed in such a way that it takes the worst elements of both genres. RPGs around this time required you to map them otherwise you would never finish them. This is not a problem if the game is designed so you have distinct landmarks you can use to orient yourself. DFE3 does not, you start in a small circle of buildings and then an empty wilderness. There is one unusual building on the north end. You have to fight constantly to get navigation tools, like a compass, which has reversed east and west directions for some reason.

A good half of the gameplay the first hour

The map itself is deceptively big. You have a large area surrounding the start, and then random scatterings of buildings. The meat of the "city" is a city connected to a giant bunker. The map loops around itself, so exploring at first might make you think there are two cities, but really, there's only one. This is quite different from the usual RPG experience where every square might matter. At least that's what's important outside of the city, inside you have to check every building, every square, possibly even every wall. There are many important items hidden in buildings, not like weapons or energy, but items that grant you new abilities.

You have to destroy each one, and yes, you have to hit a precise target on them that isn't fully explained
This isn't the only thing inside buildings, in addition, there are pairs of turrets you sometimes encounter and dark rooms where enemies sometimes appear. The reward far outweighs the risk, even though at first you need an item to see those enemies. The issue is that once you go over the area once or twice there's not really any obvious next step. The pairs of turrets respawn after a time, so clearly that's not the way forward. There's a big bunker on the north side of the city or south of the starting area, but it only has a map function. Which isn't all that helpful. Going to the next city (as in map) cranks up the difficulty of enemies to a degree higher than I was capable of reasonably dealing with.
I didn't notice the old-style mainframes there. I guess its got more to do with '70s sci-fi than '80s sci-fi
Which resulted in me quitting. It wasn't the difficulty, the controls or the shoddy in-game navigation tools. The lack of an immediate objective. It felt like I had done all there was to do in the first city, and yet the second was still difficult fight, some fights were effectively game over. Every building wall could contain an entrance, even if the others do not, which is just too much work for too little reward. Having to hunt down every wall for secrets isn't something I enjoy in actual FPS titles, let alone this game. I've seen enough to know I'm not going to like what I see at the end.

Weapons:
While there were a few special weapons that changed things up, the weapons are basically interchangeable and all take time to hit a target. They feel weighty, but I never feel like I'm hitting anything. 2/10

Enemies:
There are four types of regular enemy, and three stationary kinds, these get upgraded after each city. Some are more annoying than others, but they all have interesting behavior going on. 3/10

Non-Enemies:
None.

Levels:
While RPGs have different standards than FPS games, and this falls more into the former category, I don't think this is all that good there either. Far too many areas require you to count how many steps you took in order to get an accurate picture, which is a problem considering how high the encounter rate is. With, of course, all that wall-humping. 3/10

Player Agency:
Outside of the combat controls its pretty good. The special items are clearly marked once you figure out that M is menu. They all work very well. That combat though, its never going to get any better. 2/10

Interactivity:
None.

Atmosphere:
There is something there. There's something interesting about the way the game is set up, with its black skies and outdoor Wizardry-style gameplay. Its certainly unique among its kind. 2/10

Graphics:
I feel like this game is a weird monkey paw. I like seeing attempts at B&W games and this applies the same principals you would see in one of those titles. Most everything is one color and black. The enemy graphics are nice, but there's not a lot of animation. The full-screen shots are awkward-looking. 2/10

Story:
Generic save the people story, doesn't really come up in-game.

Sound/Music:
A few blips and bloops. 1/10

That's 15 in total. Which is about average in what I give games, but not a good rating.

I can't really recommend it as a RPG, or a FPS, but there is something about this game that's fun and interesting. I think I would like to see a remake of this game, one with mouse aiming and a reduced encounter rate.

Curiously, I'd attribute one thing to this game that isn't mentioned anywhere, secrets. Since none of the doors are visible until you actually go in, they're all secret. I mean, its not good, you have to find secrets in order to win, but it exists, which is the important bit.

In theory, this marks the end of the first half of the '80s for FPS titles. There are a ton of Japanese titles on personal computers that we don't know anything about, and the only way of finding out is to actually fire them up. This is the flaw in me playing FPS titles on a separate list than the rest of them, I don't have time to properly go through everything. Currently, I'm exploring the PC-6001, which has an interesting library. There are many strange games and programs on the system, some of the less interesting ones may make an appearance here.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Wayout

Name:Wayout
Number:93
Year:1982
Publisher:Sirius Software
Developer:Paul Allen Edelstein
Genre:FPS
Difficulty:3/5
Time:1 hour

In the time I've lived, my knowledge of the first FPS game has shifted over the years. It started with Wolfenstein 3D, knew about Catacomb and Hovertank, but rejected those both as first FPS. Then I played both, and yes, those were the first FPS titles. Right now I have it pretty solidly as Midi Maze being the first proper FPS, with Illegus Episode IV and Schultz's Treasure as the first home games. Wayout doesn't really shift the balance, but it is very interesting.

The main menu, I got as far as D

The closest thing I can think of to Way Out is the one Windows screensaver, but as a game. Closest, because the walls here are untextured, and there's a kind of enemy here. The first time playing Wayout is insanity. Various sounds are ringing, and the keys are a mystery. Arrows, nothing. Numpad, nothing. So that means the letter keys control the game, which is always a fun time. The first key, the player turns, success. Another key, in another direction. Wait, what's going on? How am I turning? Could I play this without the noise? That's right, this game's control scheme is completely bonkers. You have a bunch of keys. You have ones that turn in an absolute direction on the compass, ones that turn in relation to where you are, and speed settings that don't make sense.

Not so impressive now, but witchcraft in 1982

I didn't really get the hang of things fully, but I did at least understand what I was doing. The keys around D correspond to cardinal directions, while D itself moves slowly. Pressing D again causes you to stop. However, you can't turn in the cardinal directions if you've been zapped by the thing that removes your compass. Instead you have to use the other keys. G and H turn 90 degrees. J and L gradually turn in that direction, while K straightens you out. I didn't last long enough to need these, but you can save 9 locations in the maze with the shift+number keys, and load them with those keys.
Victory doesn't really look impressive

Once you get past that aspect, there's not too much of a challenge. The only things stopping you are "cleptangles" which sap away either your compass or map, and wind. You can get the compass and map back by touching the cleptangle again, but there's nothing to the wind beyond finding an alternate pathway. I say its not too much of a challenge, and yet I got perplexed by one map, Spiral, which consists of just trying to make headway against wind. I'm not 100% clear on how to finish it, but its clear it requires clever use of diagonal movement.

The big issue with the game is that its a maze game. Once you get past the impressive technical bits, there's not much to talk about. There's not really anything to see. Yeah, its got dynamic music that increases in volume as you approach the exit or the monsters. The problem with maze games is that most games have mazes, as a form of padding. Universally, someone complains about them, if they're not outright hated. Its so simple to make a maze anyone with a piece of paper or graphical software could make one. If you take something absolutely reviled and make the absolute best version of it you could, is it worth playing? I guess I would have to say no.

I have given the game 9 points, 1 for enemies, level design and atmosphere, 2 for player agency, graphics and sound.

Period reviews follow my own opinion mostly. Its a very impressive game, but there's nothing for those who don't care for maze games. Its utterly amazing seeing the technology that existed in a year where getting Pac-Man onto a home console was difficult.

Edelstein would design a followup, a Capture the Flag-style game using roughly the same engine. Afterwards, it seems like he had a big hand in video programming. The music, uncredited, was George Alistair Sanger, known as The Fat Man and did the music for many, many famous video games.