Monday, July 25, 2022

Star Cruiser (1990, Genesis port)

Name:Star Cruiser
Year:1990 (Genesis Port)
Developer:Arsys Software
Genre:FPS/Space Sim
Time:14 hours 40 minutes
Won:Yes (45W/48L)

Star Cruiser is another first in gaming that manages to be not all its cracked up to be. I entered the game hopefully, but by the time I had finished playing every single aspect of the game had greatly disappointed me. If you're not aware of what it is, Star Cruiser is basically everything wrapped up in a shiny 3D package. The two primary genres are FPS and space sim, but you could make a case for vehicle sim and RPG too. With its original release date of 1988, it is the first proper FPS, no asterisks, no question marks, no caveats. Throw into the mix light RPG elements and an involved story and if I didn't already tell you I was disappointed you'd wonder the catch.

I can't even see him, I think this might be worse than even the endgame fights!
The game starts with a simulation of combat, but you don't know that. It seems like a difficult battle straight up after starting, a common, but very annoying trope in Japanese games. Perhaps there is a way for someone just starting out to win it, but I doubt it. When you get defeated, you end up talking to a sentient robot, Freddy, and your near and best friend Gibson. While the game's brief approach to dialog usually doesn't help the game any, I get the feeling that if it weren't, Freddy would seem like one of those very annoying sidekicks, and Gibson would be one of those annoying Sasuke types. (whiny backstabbing rivals, for those of you not up on your anime) Freddy acts as your eyes, ears and most of the time voice to the outside world. The story has a very Japanese approach to it, what you want to do is entirely irrelevant. Even so, it feels a bit weird.
The basic gist, that I could get without the manual, is that the human race has expanded to about three star systems, Sol, Sirius and I think Alpha Centauri. To protect their holdings, Federal Patrol was founded. Federal Patrol oftentimes employs "hunters", to do things they need doing. The player is a hunter, along with Gibson. I'm probably wrong, but filling in the gaps I'm probably supposed to be a bounty hunter. With all the nasty bits that includes. There's a weird feeling in this game that makes me feel that's true. Recently, an anti-alien organization called VOID, lead by Geist Nidoman has been stepping up their activity, building a Great Battleship and the titular Star Cruisers.
Hope you like the way this looks, because you're going to be staring at it for the next 10+ hours
Controlling the game is annoying and feels like the game isn't responding half the time. You have your standard Wolf 3D style movement with the d-pad, while C shoots. A modifies your movement, sidestepping on the ground, speed controls in space. B cycles through weapons. One of the big problems with the game is that it constantly slows itself down and doesn't seem to work too well when that happens. This seems to happen over the silliest of causes. In combat, it seems like even firing your gun can cause these bizarre slowdowns, which in turn leads to shots not firing. I don't think its a heat mechanic, at least probably. Moving around can cause these delays too. No matter which way you take it, unintentional or intentional, it doesn't mesh well with the game and makes it feel broken.
This also leads to a problem later on where one of the weapons seems a lot worse than it really is because I didn't realize until long after I got it you were supposed to hold down the fire button with it.
A dungeon, not quite sure if you can tell the broken visual nature of the game from this
As soon as you exit the first dialog and enter the game without threat of death, the flaws in the 3D become very apparent. Its got Wolfenstein-style walls, 3D objects in the world, and a pixel art skybox. This might just be me, but I found the experience to be very headache inducing. What isn't me, is how unusual this looks in action. What you can see, what is actually there and whether or not your enemy is going to hit you all seem to be three different things. So you can see past walls in a way that doesn't look normal, and its kind of freaky, even hours in.
Remember, every wall is as tall as a building

Another issue is that the size of things is weird. There are one story buildings and two story buildings, and presumably these aren't properly scaled. Fine. Vehicles range from being shorter than you to much taller. Also fine. All starships look like they're fighters, but since they can enter space, I guess that means they're X-Wings or something. Fine. Humans are the same size as a ship. Weird. The player's spaceship is actually some vast ship with a pretty big, but unshown interior. Huh? But its also the same size as a land tank you can drive around in. I feel like my eyes are lying to me or something. Its annoying as hell.

"...and I'm just so much cooler than you."
You don't start the game with the Star Cruiser, a superpowered and modular spaceship that is more powerful than any other ship in the galaxy. Instead you steal one located on a bigger spaceship just outside the starting location of Ganymede. Taking the ship, and then upgrading it takes up most of the early hours of the game. This introduces most of the major cast, The generic waiter in every restaurant in the galaxy, Masashi, a cool hunter, Daigo, genius scientist, Yoko, his archaeologist daughter, Max, Yoko's student, Diane, Max's sister and Federal Patrol intelligence agent, and finally General Tomovsky Hermann, one of the heads of Federal Patrol.
This game doesn't really expand on its characters too much owing to the limited amount of space it had for dialog and text. Again, this is not a bad thing, because I get the feeling if it expanded on it, it'd be anime, the bad kind of anime where characters expand on their motivation for far, far too long. However, a lot of characters feel one dimensional, so its not all good. I am curious about the quality of the translation, if its bad or good. It could go either way. I've picked up on things that might be errors, but at other times the game forgets to include instructions on your next destination, which screams that the game was made that way.
One of the most exciting encounters of the game
The space combat is the best element of the game, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Its biggest problem is that there's a maximum range before enemies disappear, and its far too short. The game is kind enough to remember how hurt enemy starships are though. Bit of the standard, "figure out where the enemies went" type of stuff, but once you figure out the radar you shouldn't have too many problems. They're a bit spongey, with some multi-ship battles taking much longer than they need to. Space combat is only rarely needed, you only have to fight them about 5 times, and out of those times there is no real benefit to fighting them. Non-essential combat is completely pointless, since there are no, or at least close to no dropped items and most of the time you can fight these unnecessary battles, you can run back to a repair station on any friendly planet.
Action! Excitement! Something of interest!

Ground combat in contrast, is far more necessary and far more boring. Enemies run around taking potshots at you, while you try to shoot those shots down and hit them with some of your own. Not all fights are essential, but its rare that you'll figure it out until after the fact. It doesn't feel like there's any cleverness going on, just the simplest of simple combats. Hammer the attack button, later hold down for the rapid-fire weapon, finally wait to charge up your weapon. Or use missiles, but you have a limited number of those. I will say that all the weapons in the game were useful at some point, even though I didn't quite grasp it at the beginning.

There are flashes of something that could be described as scenic beauty

Which brings us to the level design. Despite being...crap, the level design shows quite clearly the mark of the kind of design later FPSes would get up to. Teleporters, keys-and-doors, switches-and-doors. Every hallmark of classic FPS design that doesn't involve a Z-plane. Don't mistake that for good, this is firmly in the boring maze department. This is basically what people imagine old FPSes are like. You'd think with the strong RPG-influence on the game, someone would have taken a page out of that book and do something interesting, but it never does.
Sometimes the games goes as far as to show a teleport and a locked door and no other path. The teleporter leads to a key. Why did we need this? It feels like something someone would do if they were just starting out in designing a Doom level and wanted to test that keys and teleporters worked. Later in the same level, there's a one way arrow floor, and a teleporter. That teleporter leads behind the one-way arrows. They're just copying elements from other games without understanding why they worked. I find this all slightly curious, since Wibarm was decent for the brief period of time I played it.

My in-game best friend, a mature and reasonable human who would never result to anything vulgar at all
As to the sound, I spent considerable amounts of time with it off, unusual for me, but the music isn't that good to justify listening to for the game's length. No real statements other than generic JRPG music. You're liable to listen to five of the tracks thousands of times. Sound's okay, but thankfully non-essential. I listened to a lot of actual music, simply to keep myself sane during some of this. Because this game is too long.

Speaking of RPG, this game gets the label RPG quite a bit. Its kind of weird, because its in that category of not really being one despite the influence the genre had on the game. While you do upgrade your ship over the course of the game, its linear upgrading tied into sections of the story, closer to an action game's upgrade system than even a JRPG one. The level design is obvious, but so many games now have that kind of influence it doesn't seem like much of a sign. The way you interact with the world and the way the plot moves forward are very JRPG-ish, but I'm not sure I'd describe that as a core aspect. I did some thinking, readjusted one title I wrongly claimed was a RPG, and decided to take the Addict's way of thinking and say it wasn't because it all happens at predetermined points.

To another star system!
After traveling through Sol for a while, the game begins to tell you about a Gravity Catapult, which though the game does a poor job of explaining, is the method of intergalactic travel in this universe...well, for the most part. Up until this point I assumed the game was set entirely in Sol, but there are four star systems, three of which we can reach through normal travel, with one acting as a sort of final dungeon. Innersystem travel is done with a warp function, or just by flying somewhere. The warp function uses a lot of energy and doesn't have a great range, so there were times I just used it as a short-range map. I've lost track of most of what happened here, because the game looses focus and goes through all three systems throughout much of the remaining section of the game.
While for the most part, suffice to say there are quite a few twists and turns, and quite a few traitors in Federal Patrol, some elements of the game are a lot more mature than I was expecting. At some point you have to infiltrate a captured building, and one of your allies gives you some gas with which to knock them out. After doing the usual boring playthrough of the level, I can put the gas into the air which point it turns out the gas is lethal. While the game describes it as awful, its ultimately just accepted and there are no consequences for this event. As strange as it sounds for a source of praise, I was expecting some stock anime plot where we discover we were working with the bad guys all along and the people we were fighting were the good guys, but I guess one of the Final Fantasy titles created this line of cliche and Star Cruiser was lucky in when it was made.
In-universe its been terraformed into a green planet with the use of a giant heat shield

Let me just mention some of the planets in this game:

  • Pluto 2
  • Hollywood (before anyone had thought of that restaurant)
  • Old New York
  • Folder
  • Egg
I can't remember what this was about, but I'm sure it was quite dangerous

This game just doesn't end, despite feeling like it should have ended much earlier. At first this was due to annoyance with the game, after a while I got used to the awful elements of it. But then we take out important antagonists left and right, and when they're all dead the game is still going, because we have unfinished business. That's not the worst aspect, because its in this section where I have to get one of my associate's associates to seduce the twin brother of some slimeball merchant to find a base. This is hour 9. There was still more interesting stuff and more boring stuff to be beheld.
We even still have plot twists, and major known members of VOID are still alive. I'm desperately hoping the game will end, and its still throwing out new elements. In-game we hear a voice helping us when it seems like death is inevitable. A helpful voice. I feel like if I had one of those it would be telling me to quit because this game is throwing another maze at me.

Darth Yoda and his planet full of clones, or perhaps the developers are just prejudiced against aliens

Then it gets interesting again. I arrive on a planet full of aliens, though they are a bit...obviously inspired, to put it politely. The aliens believe that VOID are the good guys and that Federal Patrol are the baddies, and thus its another "clearing my name" section of the story. Things do get a little repetitive story-wise, but I must admit this version of it feels a bit cleverer.
Eventually, we engage with VOID's leader, fight him, and destroy the Great Battleship of theirs. We find out one of the stupidest plot twists in gaming, where we discover who the voice is. I'm not going to tell you, you don't deserve to be disappointed like I was. Peace and order is restored to the galaxy and everyone gets their happy ending. The end.

More of this, less stuff on the ground
Compared to early western attempts at the genre, I feel like this game would have been improved greatly if it had the western open-ended approach. You have a bunch of antagonists that move along their own lines, and you, possibly your team, deal with them across three star systems. Done in a way so that the primary purpose of the game doesn't just revolve around taking out one major target, like in Mike Singleton's games. The linear nature of the game combined with the laughably bad dungeons hurts the game more than any other aspect of it.
This is the closest western attempt, The Colony, and I hated playing it

But despite all this, here's the thing, this game was released in 1988 originally, before anything we think of as being the first FPS, and before the space sims that proved the most enduring, like Wing Commander and Tie Fighter. The only practical comparison in the latter is Elite, which suffers from the problem of being too open. It may be flawed in aspects we find important now, but its like complaining that a film from the 1920s has awkward camera work and no real sound. Everything it built off of has slipped away in memory, like cherry blossoms in the wind.

A lot of these screenshots are pretty amusing outside of context though
Nearly every weapon was useful in some form or another, not throughout the game, but whenever I felt shafted by a weapon it turned out there was something I was missing. 4/10

The only real differences between enemies is how many shots they take and visual ones, most of which doesn't feel different. 1/10

I think there are some at a few points, but I'm not really sure how much they contributed. 1/10

Despite coming from what is supposedly a RPG-style every tile counts with some common blobber trickery, there is absolutely nothing going on in any of the dungeons worth talking about. Even Wibarm felt like it had better level design. 1/10

Player Agency:
I never felt like I was in proper control during the ground sections, though the space combat sections are decent. I liked in those sections that the game carried ship momentum. 4/10

Very limited interactions. Nothing more than a few token puzzles and false walls. 1/10

The game does a very good job at making the player feel like he's in a low rent space opera, travelling from alien world to alien world. Teeters the line between being anime and not, but then again I am biased. 5/10

While the 3D looks awful no matter how you slice it, the 2D feels kind of mediocre. There's just nothing about it that makes me go, oh, I'd like to draw like that. 3/10

The limited amount of text the game has to work with works both in favor and against the story. We don't get much motivation on some characters, and as a result their actions seem like random acts of idiocy. Other times the game is surprisingly intelligent and doesn't treat the conflict as entirely black and white. My biggest issue is the player's practical non-existence. 4/10

I'm not really sure I like the music, even discounting it being about 30 minutes long in a 14 hour+ long game. A lot of sound effects lack punch, and despite having turned off the sound for long periods of time, I don't feel like I missed anything. 2/10

That's 26, in recent memory only really comparable to Day of the Viper.

I don't know how to feel about this game. Its clear that the game lasted a lot longer than it needed to, but its also a very important game, certainly so for the Japanese. Its all so funny finding these games that beat the boys at iD to their presumed punch yet nobody knew of their existence.

Now, despite being a port of a PC release, this had several changes in the process, meaning at some point I should play that. I can't imagine that not being superior anyway. It was also translated. However, because of those possible translation issues I noticed, I'm going to wait to play that until I can read Japanese. The same is true of its sequel, Star Cruiser 2, translated into English, but I'm going to wait. I also think I should start watching some more Japanese media, since it feels like its going to be important to see what these games are knocking off as surely as western games knock off Alien and Arnie movies.

As an aside, I've noticed during these past couple of Wolf-clones that I've been developing headaches as I play them, and its not necessarily because they're bad. I checked my memory, and it seems to be a consistent issue. But that said, I'm not sure if that's because of the visuals or the audio. I noticed I didn't have any when I turned off the sound. Come to think of it, I can remember the issue happening with some console titles that don't have anything to do with shooters.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Frenzy (1982)

Time:30 minutes
Won:Not possible

It feels like forever since I've played Berzerk, but it hasn't been much further away than this sequel was released in reality. Funny how that worked out, I doubt I'll ever get that lucky again. Frenzy is advertised as much the same as the original, ton of evil robots, shoot them, watch out for big nasty bad guy Evil Otto. Simple, but hopefully effective.

The dotted walls are shootable while the others reflect shots
Starting the game up, I'm actually struck by how surprisingly bad the game. A major arcade game that's still a single stick shooter? What madness is this? Just wander around some rooms shooting at things to get a highscore. Compared to the other hits of 1982, this feels downright boring. Wow, two different enemies types along with a special boss monster that instantly reappears, how interesting. Shootable walls that don't kill you, just like Snipes. And I'm out of interesting things to say.
If its not clear, I don't think very highly of Frenzy. It just feels like it brings nothing to the table. While credit must be given to the original Berzerk for its important place in gaming history, Frenzy feels like a rehash of the original. Other people had expanded quite well on the formula since the original's release as titles like Shamus and Snipes, while not the greatest games ever made, tried to create consistent level design and expanded on the random level design respectively to some success. Frenzy has four variations on single-screen mazes and those variations don't actually do anything, though you could be tricked into thinking they did.
I've seen difficulty suggested as to the reason why people dislike this game, and I think that's a load of baloney. Sinister and Robotron, both harder than this, but they had a key element. They were exciting, dying felt frustrating, and Sinistar was terrifying at times. I feel mild annoyance at having died in this game. Don't get me wrong, I don't feel like I lost in a fair fight, but at the same time, I don't care all that much. Its not fun and it doesn't add anything to the formula.
Generic laser weapon. 1/10

Two different sprites for a slowly approaching enemy that shoots at you, along with Evil Otto, who just runs at you, through walls, and can now be shot and killed. He just respawns and returns faster. You no longer die by walking into enemies, but that's something that so rarely comes up I'm surprised anyone ever noticed. Interestingly, the enemies shoot much the same way as the player. 1/10


You'd think a level where you can see a giant Evil Otto would be special, but no, all that happens is that if you kill Otto four more pop up. Otherwise the design of this game feels like it puts the player in unavoidable deaths an uncomfortably high number of times. 0/10

Player Agency:
It is a pain to shoot diagonally in MAME. I have died quite a bit because I meant to shoot diagonally, but couldn't, or didn't mean to and did. I do feel like the aiming in this game is slightly crap in general. You don't get a proper center for things, so you aim quite offset from where you should be aiming in some directions. To add insult to injury, the player moves at a slow pace. 2/10

You can shoot some walls, while others reflect shots. This is universal among you and the enemies. 2/10


Its depicted simply but effectively. Which should be the end of it, but for some reason the color of everything changes between levels and it drives me up a wall. 0/10


Simple, flat 8-bit or so sound effects. 1/10

That's 7, which is actually 2 above Berzerk and about equal to the game I said was better in some regards, Shamus.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

My guidelines for picking out games to play here

Previously, I've been a bit loose about the rules I set for games I play, so much so that I don't seem to have written them down anywhere. I had better change that.

The primary objective of what I set out to play is FPS games, that is, a first-person game imitating ground combat controlling a single humanoid character who has a selection of weapons that shoot things far away. Use of vehicles is okay, but playing entirely inside a vehicle is not. This is how I planned things out back when I had the list idea. Since I decided to pick up on related shooter genres, I decided on any game that focuses on shooting, has free real-time movement, backtracking through a level, and you can shoot in any direction. You don't have to do any of this, you just need the option.
What I'm more or less trying to play are FPS games, and games that are like FPS games but have a different perspective or are set in a vehicle. And for the genres of shoot 'em ups, light gun games and rail shooters, because I tend not to enjoy a lot of them, I have tried to avoid their inclusion. That said, I have included some, mostly on the basis of seeming interesting or being one of the few that I remember enjoying.
Games where the shooting aspect is a limited number of times per game do not apply.
I suspect in the future I'll have more caveats here to cut down on the chaff.

I do not play multiplayer only games with a select handful of exceptions. Even then, these multiplayer only games are just me playing against the AI.

I don't mind unreleased titles or a shareware release where the full finished game doesn't exist, within reason. I also don't mind mods, but I'm not really going out of my way to play them.

I do not care about which language a game is in, except if the game has a complex storyline or another reason why I actually need to understand the language. While I am learning Japanese and plan to learn a few more, I do not plan on learning most languages. Some I'll try if they're close enough to languages I actually understand, but no promises.

If a game is obviously going to get under 10 points, I'm probably not going to cover it. This isn't about avoiding infamous trash as much as its about avoiding games where there's nothing to say.

Because there are quite a few games where you're in a car and shoot things, I'm going to cover a limited number of racing games. Since this is a bit of a tangent, I'm going for interesting or ones in series that are part of the car combat genre.

Every October I play survival horror games. Survival horror as a term has been so misused the term has lost quite a bit of meaning, so since I'm going to be playing Slenderman and Clock Tower, despite being a stealth game and an adventure game respectively, I'll also be playing stuff like Bioforge and whatever else uses the Resident Evil-style "cinematic camera". Of which I am sure there are quite a few titles I've missed. And some other vaguely related games that at the very least capture the spirit of what survival horror is.

I've also put up my game list in a Google docs link, below the games by year link. Its only 100% accurate for the near upcoming years. Of note is that I don't really have a good source for Japanese-only games I suspect when the time comes when Japanese games are more prominent I'll go to GameFAQs for console titles, but PC titles are a mystery. I've found Japanese made spreadsheets for some computers, but even compared to GameFAQs it feels like I'm taking some guy at his word for a lot more than its worth. Other things of note:

  • Some arcade titles are listed on a port simply because I didn't know how to use MAME at the time.
  • I have a lot of ports on the list. Generally speaking, I tried to add ports that were interesting in some way, or were for games I was definitely interested in seeing all the different versions of. Some of these aren't going to survive.
  • Just because a game is on my list doesn't mean I'll end up blogging about it. I can't tell you what 1982 originally looked like, but if I put all the games I originally wrote down together, it would probably equal what 1983 is right now.
I appreciate requests and mentions of games I have missed. At most I only have a short description and some screenshots to describe a game, and oftentimes that has ended up being wrong.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator (1982)

Name:Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator
Time:50 minutes
Won:Not possible

*The company is listed as Sega/Gremlin, but Mobygames lists that company as Sega Electronics, so in the process of my usual company brevity, its just going to be Sega.

Star Trek was in a weird state after the first motion picture but before The Wrath of Khan. Technically, Star Trek was back, but it sure didn't feel like it. While The Motion Picture is a source of debate today, it did well enough at the time to warrant continued interest in the series. Its success then, of course was down to the hardcore fanbase of the series. Its those fans who took Star Trek and put it into its first gaming form, on mainframes, and then anything they could get their hands on. You can divide these into the many simulations based off the mainframe game, and numerous text adventures. This is not quite the first official game, Moby lists one based off the movie, and a couple odds and ends that seem legitimate, but this is the first one I'll actually be playing.

The plot is that NOMAD, from the season 2 episode The Changeling is destroying the Federation, and only the Enterprise can save it. However Klingons have decided now is the perfect time to invade and as such, ten levels of them need to be cleared out before NOMAD can be reached. When it rains, it pours. And it seems like all early Star Trek games run into a similar theme of just blasting Klingons.

This process happens every time you start the game, its slow and unskippable
The game is a wireframe game functioning in 2D space. Think more Battlezone than proper space simulation. On most waves, you have the Enterprise, you have some starbases, and what seem to be Klingon Birds of Prey. Moving around is done via a rotary dial (which I simulated with a joystick) pressing a button to accelerate, and a faster but limited warp option. For attacking you have phasers, which are unlimited but have a limited range, and photon torpedoes...which are limited but have unlimited range and create a big explosion. All together its a very satisfying game to control. Just make sure you use a joystick, because using keyboard controls is going to drive you up a wall with how slow it is.
There are three types of Klingons, the red ones going after bases. These turn purple after destroying their target. The purple ones go after you. I've read that after some time the purple ones turn white, but no level lasted long enough for that to happen. Rounding out the enemy force is some saucer thing which mimics your movements, but moves slightly faster than you. If it touches you, it starts draining warp.
Of note is the split screen of the game. What the authors intended, judging by what I've read, is for you to play using either one as your point of view. Either the top-down or the first-person perspective. In practice, the first-person view is the only one in which you can actually hit something, and the top-down perspective is a very effective map. As I played more and more of the game I kept finding myself using the top-down for everything...and failing because of it.
I've been hit, but I managed to get him at the same time. Meanwhile, the map is showing another Klingon chasing after me while a third bombards the base
Once you have that out of the way, the game is very simple. Shoot Klingons, and if you've been damaged, run into the starbase to dock. You restore some of your shields, photon torpedoes and warp power this way. This is also restored by getting enough points, 30k by default. This game is quite generous with how many hits you can take. I'm not necessarily going to say this game is easy, but it seems like if I can reach 100k points on the first try, this isn't that hard. Its mildly annoying dodging things, and you can take out multiple enemies fairly easily. Plus I think I killed NOMAD like twice. What gives?
I have a clear shot on NOMAD, but unlike other enemies, he can take multiple hits. He also drops mines with a range like my photons
A couple more times in, and what do you know, the game consistently gets me after the second NOMAD level. Even by wandering around the options menu to decrease the number of points to get another repair job it doesn't give me that much improvement, just a few levels more, and I never reach the third encounter with NOMAD. The optimal strategy is basically just, dodge shots, and while he's reloading fire at him. This works flawlessly early in the game, but as multiple ships start popping up, this doesn't work quite as well. Enemy shots seem to be a lot faster in the late game and there are a lot of them. The big issue is that the player's hitbox seems to be off somehow. Like I'm much bigger than I should be. If its me whining that I'm not winning or if the game is genuinely wrong in this regard, I couldn't tell you.
I do know that the Klingons slowly get longer ranges, to the point where I'm losing because they can shoot me practically across the map, and move faster too. I believe what I'm failing to do is properly use both the photon torpedoes and the warp to deal with this, but I suspect I've hit a limit to my skill level for this game. Irrespective of this, slowdown is happening during these last levels, and my patience is as an end.
Despite the guarantee that he'll bite it, this Klingon's shot will take out my shields and result in me quickly losing to his compatriots
Generic lasers and a special weapon that doesn't seem all that special. 1/10

A neverending number of Klingons, along with NOMAD, who throws mines at you every so often. 1/10

A starbase one has to save for points. Its actually valuable since you need to recharge your shields and the ilk. 1/10

Some number of Klingons and starbases are plopped down, where they are don't really matter. 0/10

Player Agency:
A solid proto-FPS control set. There's no sidestepping or backwards. Using the photons or warp is a bit awkward though. 4/10


For a game called Star Trek it doesn't feel all that Star Trek-y. 0/10

Simple wireframes, everything is depicted as it should be. 1/10

Basically an excuse for shooting Klingons. The backstory doesn't matter as soon as the game starts. 0/10

I didn't mention it, but the game has robotic imitations of Spock and Scotty. Its got nothing on Sinistar. Otherwise the typical blips and bloops and a few music bites. 1/10

That totals up to 9, but this is more than the sum of its parts, so let's give it another point, for a final score of 10.

This game feels weird for a Star Trek game. There's just something lacking here. I know some might put this down to it being based exclusively off TOS, but I'm certain that's not true. The first two Starfleet Command games and the two Interplay adventure titles are, or at least might as well be based off TOS. They're not this weird. Thinking further, I'm not so certain that also having the movies in hindsight truly made Starfleet Academy all that special either. Starfleet Battles, the tabletop wargame was released around this time too, so its not that. It doesn't feel like it has anything but the barest trappings of the franchise. This isn't unique to this game either, that mainframe game? I've played clones of it and that felt weird too. I guess the whole concept of the Enterprise fighting against endless hordes of Klingons feels completely anti-Trek. I'm not even saying you can't do war in Trek, just that one ship against a never-ending horde doesn't work in regards to this particular property, quality of the work be damned.

Owing to several IRL issues, I've been distracted from finishing Star Cruiser. The only issue has been the game's length and my inability to set aside time for it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Journey to the Planets

Name:Journey to the Planets
Publisher:JV Software
Developer:JV Software
Time:1 hour 20 minutes
Won:Lost (44W/48L)

Journey to the Planets is the final 1982 release from JV Software, a small company ran by Jack Verson who surprised me with Action Quest, a fun little action puzzle game. This time we're lost from home in space and we have to travel across many planets finding treasures to get back to Earth. What this means in practice is that the game has your typical side-scrolling sections and parts like Lunar Lander.

The game doesn't start you off with any direction. Joystick controls, but the fire button doesn't do much until you get a gun. Then you can fire by pressing it or aim it by holding it down. Aiming is divided into up, diagonal, or straight ahead. Energy is a concern, each shot drains 10 points, but you can recharge at the Greek Temple on the starting planet. You won't discover this right away, but this drains your energy.

Because of this lack of direction its not obvious what one is supposed to do here. The description mentioned finding treasures but there are none here. At least, nothing that I can find. By pressing the fire button in front of this object that looks like an H the music returns to the title theme. Now you're flying. After escaping the atmosphere its off to find another planet, dodging comets along the way.

My first destination is Snake Plant (this is what treasure is here), and I quickly find some enemies to shoot. I'm glad Mr. Verson decided to go with a more puzzle-like approach than a straight action approach because this game is terrible in this regard. You and your enemies have the same length for shots. So gunfights are a matter of slowly creeping up to the edge of your enemy's range, firing off a shot, then running away. The issue is that the controls make this annoying, if you don't do things right, having the fire button held down and moving the joystick to the right and you shoot diagonally. You shoot straight ahead by pressing down.
However, shooting these guys does nothing. Okay, its a puzzle! So I go the other way, where I find a floating ball. I can shoot it down and carry it, upon which I can throw it like a bowling ball. That works against the back guy, but the front one still doesn't die. Turns out there are two balls, and I need to use one on each target.

After dealing with the other one, I can see this level's treasure, blocked off by one of those cycling laser things. After that, its a simple trip back to the spaceship for some points. I take this opportunity to return to the starting planet. I actually crash into the planet, because I went into it from the bottom area. This game forces you to approach planets from the top to land on it. Not that the spaceship section was great to begin with, since it feels like an awkward attempt at realism, not quite reaching that and instead feels like its precision stems from programming necessity.
This is pretty much how Journey to the Planets is supposed to go. Ideally, it would have been like Action Quest, but in space, but on my second planet the joys of puzzle solving are removed from the game. Instead we get busywork in the form of two blocks, which you shoot to create items in a different area. Its a simpler puzzle than it sounds, but it still feels more like busywork than an actual attempt at a puzzle.

The addition of finding planets to the formula doesn't really help things. Wandering around aimlessly hoping to find a planet is boring. There are limits to the game area, but whenever you try to go out of them, you just reappear on the same screen from where you would have been popped out. So that means you have to systematically examine each area in hopes of finding whichever planet is left. I never thought I'd find space to be boring, but there you go.
It doesn't really help that the actual planets feel fairly bland. The stronger focus on one puzzle at a time hasn't really changed the puzzles into being better. It doesn't feel like its going for quality over quantity as much as some more puzzles. It feels completely lackluster here.

Once you've found all the treasures on the planets, you still have something left to do. Return to the starting planet, and then the final part begins. You now have a treasure here, which you have to take to the recharge station. Then its back off into space, to find home. After all, who doesn't enjoy having another section of wandering around space hoping to find a planet? Oh, and there's a new song, some sea shanty I can't remember.

Its at this point that I discover the game has a map function. Making the game not quite so crap on the space sections. You can see every square around the screen you're currently in, with planets getting a different symbol than empty space. Navigation and figuring out where you are is still somewhat tricky. At the end its not much help, since it doesn't show you where the new planet is until you're a square aware. All the regular squares are discovered, so you don't get any hint where the planet is beyond it generally not moving around much.
What I assume you're supposed to do at the end is track down a blue planet, multiple times. Each time you approach the planet, it disappears. There is nothing else to be interacted with. I guess what you're supposed to do is track it down dozens of times, until you win. Thing is, I don't feel like doing that. Doing that crap the first time through was troublesome enough, I'm not doing this crap again.

A standard laser with one-shot on-screen and limited range. 1/10

Very simple enemies, often feeling more like pieces of a puzzle than proper ones. 1/10


A series of 3-4 screen puzzles with one or two being interesting. 2/10

Player Agency:
Workable, but very slow and clunky. 2/10

You can only work with things you're allowed to work with, in ways they're supposed to work with. It doesn't feel that clever as a puzzle. 1/10

Nothing pleasant. 0/10

You can distinguish everything, but nothing more. 1/10


The most horrendous, ear-splitting noise I have ever heard emitted from my current computer. 0/10

That's 8, slightly below average.

Basically, only play this if you liked Action Quest and wanted to play more of something like that. Of interest, apparently there are two variations of this game, I have no idea which one I played, but one is supposedly easier than the other.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Robotron 2084

Name:Robotron 2084
Developer:Vid Kidz
Genre:Top-Down Shooter
Time:1 hour 10 minutes

In the far future of 2084, robots have nearly annihilated humanity, only one family remains. Their only hope, you, a mutant human who can shoot lasers from his hands! Can you save humanity?
...Probably not, since humanity has other problems than genocidal robots if only one family remains. They're a one child family too.
So begins Robotron 2084, from the makers of Defender, that classic and often imitated side-scrolling people protector. What that game did for side-scrollers this is credited for twin-stick shooters. Unlike Defender this seems to have resulted in a lot less clones, at least I'm aware of less. I haven't really played those clones for any length of time, so I enter this title a lot fresher than with Defender.
The second the game starts its absolute chaos. A thousand things on-screen, and though I am dimly aware of which ones I should touch and which ones I shouldn't, I fire around wildly. Death comes swiftly, for everyone, but its something that I quickly get the hang of. Chaos remains, but I have some idea of how I should handle it all. Not quite controllable, but I can steer the reins slightly. Even in this state, I can reach a bit farther than I would expect straight out of the gate. Either I'm getting better or this is easier.

Control-wise, this is an 8-direction twin stick shooter, you simply cannot aim more precisely than that. This I think, is perhaps the game's biggest flaw. Despite not looking great, this plays flawlessly with hundreds of objects on-screen at the same time. The only time I ever felt like I was getting beaten cheaply was when an enemy was at one of these awkward corners. You don't need to be precise with your shots otherwise. You have infinite ammo, and the only limit is your rate of fire. The family, who seem to be a lot more numerous than the game implied, wandering around helplessly, but cannot be harmed by you.

Your foes can be broadly defined into a few categories, those that go after you, those that go after the humans, and those that are running around being a general pain. All of them hurt you, but the ones that can hurt the family and their many clones are less numerous. Of particular note are the enemies that run all around the map, spawning new enemies that shoot at you. While they do have a pattern, its done in such a way as to provide them from protection from your shots. The other fun kind of enemy are these brain things, which fire off homing attacks and turn the family into enemies. These two enemies I mentioned covered most of my deaths in this game.
Now, you wouldn't realize this while playing, but some enemies are killed by the various obstacles lying around the area. While researching, I discovered that at one point, the developers planned on making this the entire game. You might be familiar with those games where you have to defend yourself by getting your enemies to crash into each other or a pit. A real-time version of that. This remnant still exists in the game. Its not something I ever noticed happening, but I admit, its hard to focus on that in the chaos that is this game.
The levels, while enemies are indeed randomly placed, there are always a specific number and type each level. Compared to a lot of its contemporaries it feels a lot more approachable. Like I really could beat all the available content if I had the time to do it. Its just consistent enough to develop a proper strategy. While randomness does sometimes put the player in a situation where he will die no matter what, the game is generous enough with lives that this isn't necessarily a problem.
I don't know if this is just me, but compared to a lot of games I'm more used to, I found myself trying to focus on moving my character around, whatever I was aiming at was relatively unimportant so long as nothing was about to get the jump on me. This makes the game feel more like a bullet hell game than the sort of shooter I'm used to. Though the brain enemies and the spawning enemies throw this for a loop.

Unusually, I got to level 10 early on in my playthroughs, but I couldn't reach it twice. I could never properly deal with these spinning block enemies that show up on level 7. I don't know how I managed to get past them the first time, because afterwards it seemed like every strategy I tried just wouldn't work. Its telling that my attitude here is not annoyance or boredom but genuine disappointment that I couldn't make it there again.

Generic, if rapid-fire laser. 1/10

A solid variation of enemies that work, both together and on their own. Sometimes more annoying than truly dangerous. 4/10

Feels a bit like Blake Stone with all these people wandering around helplessly. Or should I say Blake Stone feels like Robotron? 1/10

While everything is randomly placed, every level has a set number of a certain object which does indeed gradually ease you into it. 1/10

Player Agency:
I would have liked finer aiming, but this is otherwise a very solid control scheme, just move and shoot. 6/10


The dark atmosphere of the game is somewhat underwhelmed by the scads of bright flashing lights. 2/10

Everything is discernible at a glance but there's not much more to it than that. 1/10

Your basic opening text crawl. I'd give the game more credit if I felt the need to actually save the civilians, but if there are thousands of them, I'm not too concerned. 0/10

A mindless wall of sound. It didn't take long for me to stop paying attention to the audio aspect of the game. 0/10

That's a respectable 16.

Like most arcade titles, I couldn't find any contemporary reviews, but this game is so iconic that it hardly feels necessary. Its the sort of thing I set out to find back when I started, worthy predecessors to the FPS.

Williams would create a sequel to this, called Blaster, and then basically shove off from the video game industry in 1984, remaining in the pinball industry, then returning in 1989 for NARC and finally Smash TV. This would be the story of developers Eugune Jarvis and Paul DeMar, though Jarvis would continue to make games after Smash TV. Dunno if I'll ever talk about those though. Two more sequels, this time explicitly named, would come out in the later half of the PSX-era, not published by Williams.