Sunday, August 28, 2022

Catacomb (1990)

Genre:Top-Down Shooter
Time:1 hour 10 minutes
Won:Yes (47W/48L)

Back when I was thinking up what I wanted to cover here besides FPS, there were about 5 titles I had in mind for what else I wanted to cover. Abuse, Catacomb, Heretic II, Postal and Star Wars: Battlefront. This reasoning all being that these are games that play like FPS games, but in a different perspective. Catacomb I have a very good reason for playing, its the start of the Catacomb series, which I already covered the FPS titles of. I plan on replaying those, so let's see the series before it went into the most famous FPS progenitor.
Now, the issue with this is that the Catacomb series is weird. REALLY WEIRD. The iD FPS, then the trilogy from the Blake Stone guys. These are the simple titles. The series starts with Catacomb on DOS, at least by year, then we have Catacomb II/The Catacomb. Sounds simple enough? Catacomb, Catacomb II, then Catacomb 3D. Only, the Apple II and II GS versions of the game are supposedly different to the original version. It gets worse, while SoftDisk was publishing the FPS titles as shareware games, they were also publishing Apple II & IIGS sequels to Catacomb with unusual names like Sylvan Idyll and Ether Quest. I applaud the effort, if it wasn't a pain in my ass.
I'm going to slowly work my way through these, but these are surprisingly obscure games. Sand Trap, the final game in the series period, is a colossal pain to track down. It was supposed to be released in SoftDisk G-S #72, but alas, that is not available to my knowledge. Supposedly it exists, someone has actually played it, but where is a mystery to me. Versions on the Apple II exist for all of these titles, so hopefully I can find them one way or another.

The story is, master wizard Petton Everhail is hired by Terexin, High Wizard of the Kieralon, to find all his treasure in the ruins of the Kieralon Empire. How all that treasure has remained there for 200 years? Because it is quite naturally held hostage by goblins, ogres, skeletons and gargoyles. All mainstays of the series, except for the gargoyles. Its been a while, but I don't remember any of those. There might even be a dragon!

When I said Catacomb plays like a FPS title, I meant it. It has the same general control scheme as the FPS titles iD would make over the years, not surprising considering this is one of Carmack's first action titles. Instead of turning with the left and right arrows, pressing a direction moves you in that way. Ctrl shoots, while alt holds you in the direction you're in, while you still look in the same direction. Find keys (generic, not specific color) to open doors. Its okay, a bit loose, but it mostly works.
Compared to twin stick shooters I find this control scheme slightly lacking, however, this had to work with joysticks and mouses of the day, alone. With that handicap in mind, its fine.
You have four methods of attack, plus a healing potion. Pressing the attack key unleashes a single fireball, which can be spammed for a rapid fire attack. This takes out the smaller enemies in one hit. Something to note is that shots alternate each of the two tiles Petton is on, as if he's alternating hands. You can hold it down to create a more powerful shot. This takes out everything weaker in a direct line of where you're at, equaling Petton's 2-square wide frame. This takes out bigger enemies in one hit. Its also very useful for destroying secret walls.

The other two attacks require various scrolls. The first is a bolt, which fires a series of fireballs at a much faster rate than you could possibly do without resorting to a rapid-fire button on a joystick. This is useful when there are large numbers of the bigger enemies.

The final attack is a nuke, which throws a bunch of fireballs around you. This is less useful than in the 3D entries since you can generally see where enemies are ahead of time and force them into a choke point.

Defending the treasure chests are the aforementioned creatures. Goblins are the simplest, they're the red enemies, they walk towards you, usually to a cardinal direction, and damage you if they touch you.

Skeletons are a pain in the butt. Unlike the goblins, they are aware that you alternate hands, and go in your corner areas. They also damage on touch and are incredibly annoying, but if you hug a wall they tend to just walk towards you.

Ogres are just oversized goblins. They hurt more, and you can't kill them with a single fireball. Instead you need many small ones, or a bigger fireball, which will go through as many ogres as it can within its range.
Gargoyles are giant oversized enemies, and the only regular enemy that shoots you. Its not very intelligent, but more often than not its not placed so that they can't deal a good attack at you. Despite this they aren't any stronger than ogres in the defense department.
Dragons appear only on the final level, where there are two. Guess someone really enjoys having twin bosses at the end of a game. Its huge, and it shoots massive fireballs. Curiously, unlike other enemies, it harms each enemy too. Its not too hard, but because you're likely to be out of the attacks by the time you reach here its a better choice to just dodge him and reach the level exit that way.
One big element of this game's relation to FPS titles is the number of secret walls it has. I say secret, but the game requires you to find them to win. You can detect them from non-secret walls by a single pixel on each wall, and it is as tedious as that sounds. That's partially a lie, sometimes its not there at all! Even then its not a very fun experience.
And worse still, the game frequently puts the player in situations where if he does the wrong thing, he's just ended his game. Used a key in the wrong place, whoops, you're stuck like the kind of adventure game people whine about years later. Oh, but it gets better, not only do you have to deal with this, but sometimes the proper path is just the longest possible one you could take through the level, and keys are right next to the door you shouldn't enter at that moment. Meaning if you walk one square too far you're screwed. This is the kind of game where the controls don't have that precision. It just turns into a slog as time goes on.
There are a ton of strange references to the quality of disks. The version I'm playing was modified by an Australian floppy disk maker, so I guess they wanted to make fun of all their competitors. I can't say I've ever used a floppy that didn't come with a game already, so this is lost on me. Seems like typical advergame silliness anyway.
This game doesn't allow you to save to my knowledge, and if you die, that's it. This isn't something I care for, but the length of this game isn't long enough for that to be a terrible problem. I must admit though, I used the level select cheat a few times, simply because I got tired of the opening levels. Which is of course, the real reason why I hate not having save games.
The final couple of levels are just exhausting to deal with. Level 9 seems simple, just find one a labyrinth of endless, samey looking areas. At least the endless skeletons here are less obnoxious. Truely, this is the Catacomb. I got lucky when I played it, and found the key on the lower right side. Then the final level is mostly a maze of destructible walls, which you can't detect ahead of time. I'm really grateful that someone made the worst aspect of this game the focal point of a level.
What's curious about this game is that fighting enemies in wide open spaces is actually the worst thing that could happen. With basically unlimited firepower, all that really matters is your rate of fire, so having to deal with even two fronts divides up your firepower too much. If you're in a tight corridor, unless you're fighting against enemies with ranged attacks, your victory is assured.
Fun fact, that level select can be used to screw with the demo.
Before the rating, here's some footage of the game in action. I make no pretenses of being great at this game, but I did try to get a full run of the game. Died on level 7 due to my own hubris.

The charge up basic fireball attack is neat, as are the two attacks that need ammo, but the game rarely gives one good chance to use them. 2/10

The variety and simple nature of the enemies is appreciated, but they move a mit bit too fast. 3/10


Its very clear that this is someone's first time making these kinds of levels, and it feels very...bleh. It starts off decently enough, but it feels the need to pad its meager length to obscene levels with the difficulty and lack of a save system. 3/10

Player Agency:
Controls are a little loose, anything requiring precision takes longer than it should. Its also a bit tricky aiming at enemies who hit you at an angle. 4/10

You can shoot walls I guess. 1/10

This feels like an ugly version of Deadly Rooms of Death, somehow. 1/10

Somehow, this eye-searing pain is the EGA mode. Trust me, the CGA mode is worse. At least everything is distinct. Almost everything, anyway. 1/10

Take some treasure from an ancient forgotten empire or something. Nothing matters the second you open up the game. 0/10

Simple PC Speaker. 1/10

That's 16, the same score I originally gave Hovertank 3D.

I've seen this described as a Gauntlet clone, and that doesn't seem like an unreasonable comparison to me. The only reason why this is special is because this was one of the earliest titles from the boys at iD, and that exciting titles would result from their work. Its quite neat seeing the seeds of what would be their mark on the industry begin to form.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Sleeping Gods Lie: Dwarven Fortress

I feel somewhat justified in having apprehension regarding '80s DOS games. CGA and to a lesser extent EGA typically look eye-searing, and usually the only sound games had outside of the high end games were PC Speaker. Not an especially pleasing combination. Yes, with DOSbox we can configure speed to our hearts content, games nearly always work, but even so, such games often feel like utter chaos. I'm not particularly happy to be doing this even considering that Sleeping Gods Lie has practically no sound. But since its this or make a woefully incomplete review, we'll be seeing the DOS version.

This does make me wonder why the Amiga version is content to do nothing...
And I think I've figured out the problem here. If a DOS emulator with theoretically infinite memory for a period computer has this error, then there must be a similar problem with the Amiga version. Aha, I was just supposed to reload before traveling off to Sylvar. Silly me, using save states. Now then...

So, Sylvar, the great forest. I don't really see the difference between here and the last place, but something was probably lost in the porting process. Seems like quite a bit of deforestation has been going on. The manual even pokes fun at this, saying that the deforestation has caused the remaining trees to dislike humans. No tree enemies exist so far. The skyboxes, which I liked on the Amiga version, now feel like visual noise to me.

The unpleasant nature of dwarves here really reminds me of Dwarf Fortress
Enemies here in Sylvar are dwarves. The manual describes them as fierce but not much else. Their weapon of choice? A blowpipe and darts. Interesting choice. The blowpipe is a strict upgrade at this point. It has better range than the sling staff, about equal damage, but most importantly, a better arc. Unfortunately ammo is not as generous as with the sling staff. These dwarves are a pain to hit, and it seems like I'm not hitting them very well. This is also where the game manages to kill me a few times.

Depending on how long you end up wandering around, you can hear this blather for an hour
Pretty soon I come across Prince Gregor, a friendly NPC. He's out on an adventure, looking for his crown. Upon seeing me, he starts following me. Does he help? No, he's just here to be annoying. I guess he gives me a hat after killing one dwarf, but it seems all he does is chime in with the odd comment every so often. Not even a useful one, just an annoying one. I assume it was intended for him to be this annoying. If you rest while he's around he'll disappear. Or he died, I couldn't really tell you what happened. For obvious reasons, I assume this is bad. If I'm not mistaken, this is the first time a FPS has had an escort mission. Funny that even the first time knew it was a bad idea.
Northern Sylvar is only linked to Northern Sylvar, and the only way to advance is to enter the Dwarven caves. But to do that you need to find a lantern, which I say like its some kind of challenge. The first time I went through this area I found one and that was before I realized it was a puzzle! I only discover this because a molehill says I need one to enter the caves. Gregor is too much of a coward to enter the caves, something I'm thankful for.
I know that sprite on the right is probably supposed to imply a gradually lowering ceiling, but it just looks like it shouldn't be there
Inside there are many dwarves. DOS does this place no justice, this looks like crap. Even the dwarves look like crap, because they have no interior coloring, they're just a black outline and maybe a few highlights. There doesn't seem to be much difference between various dwarves, some drop regular blow darts, others drop poisonous ones. Poisonous ones are very useful, since they kill the dwarves straight off.

I wonder if we can hear it in the Amiga version
There are two interesting things inside here, the first is rope, which will no doubt be useful later. Its guarded by some spiders. The game notes that one says something similar to mama as I enter. Creepy or intended to draw sympathy?
Probably some kind of weird memory saving trick
The king holds the crown of Gregor's, and he's guarded by one dwarf. Compared to the tunnels, this is a cakewalk. I return to Gregor and he gives me 50 gold. He says its too impersonal, but you know how it is adventuring. This, despite being a paltry sum for such a treasure, is exactly what I need. Gregor disappears the second I change areas after this, not that it matters since he can't follow me any further anyway, for the south end is where the plot advances. I should note that the last bit of tunnel here is difficult, since there are many dwarves in a small space, and one dwarf starts behind you. All these in-door areas give you a few seconds to act before they start attacking.
I should also note that I like the way these guys fight. I've mentioned that they usually attack from a distance, start retreating, then attack after retreating a certain distance. They also retreat if they've been damaged enough. While they seem to travel in a half circle whenever they retreat, the rest of what they do is interesting. They work along roughly the same rules as the player, except they can't move and attack. Their accuracy is quite similar to what I put out, as in they seem to be trying to lead their shots whenever I move, so I can dodge if I notice them attacking.
The south end contains more dwarves. Like I said, the dwarves are a pain to hit, so I can't hit them too well. Because of it I tend to be relying upon the sling staff, to build up blowpipe ammo for later levels. A molehill here gives me a belt to use the blowpipe better. Is this a reoccuring character? I don't quite get it.

Screenshots didn't take well for this session, so enjoy this shot of the fountain far in the distance
 In the next area is a fountain. Wasn't I supposed to find a tree? There's no other path forward and a walkthrough online says to just walk up to the fountain. (I was concerned enough about this to check one, but I guess its okay) This is another of those funny things, because the first time I went through this area, I just walked up to it and was teleported, with no idea why. To Delanda.
The Amiga version would make the different kingdoms look different
Delanda is described as lakelands home to fisherman and sea farmers, along with ferrymen who just take agents of the Archmage these days. You know, wasn't there supposed to be a plague in this story? I feel like we're forgetting about that. Most RPGs forget about that, now that I think of it. The ferryman wants 12 gold coins to travel. I have plenty, but I figure I should rest here. I got pretty beat up in Sylvar.
This was a bad idea for two reasons, the first is that I got healed between here and Delanda. I don't know how. The second is that I encounter the deadliest enemy yet...seagulls. I didn't mention it yet, but this game doesn't work like other early FPS titles. That is, there is a Z axis. So shooting below or above an enemy is very much possible. Seagulls are tiny targets, and are a pain to deal with. Fortunately, they drop gold, 2 coins worth. So even if you missed giving the crown to Gregor, or missed it entirely (its good for one trip) you can still win. It is painful for resting though. I am curious as to if this whole need to sleep thing will ever crop up. I rested back in the caves, since that had a few rooms I could safely rest in. Otherwise resting is insanity, because it is guaranteed that something will disturb your rest.

This is a druid, not a ferryman, those curiously look like artiste types, beret, sweater and cigar included
Delanda is a confusing looking place. The edges are all deep blue, which I assume is supposed to be water. It doesn't quite work well. I think at some point its supposed to be showing the water as the edge, but it just looks like the game is glitching out. In the meantime, this area has druids, which don't drop any weapons or ammo, just golden sickles. This relates to a somewhat clever puzzle in this area. These pillars have inscriptions on them, and since I had the golden sickle, I assumed that was related to them.
Lime and limpid green/The second scene...

Wandering around more, taking out more druids and seagulls, I start finding sea demons. They're not colored in and here they don't drop anything. But the real clever bit is when I find a dying druid, who I guess had the plague. He fills me in on what I need to do. Take the golden sickle and cut down some mistletoe. There's only one unique tree sprite, and this allows me to use the pillars as transportation.

I'm guessing they just painted over the more impressive Amiga sprite

Or rather, teleportation. Which causes the peasants in the place I teleport to to start attacking me. They drop shortbows, which curiously enough, use pebbles as ammo. I'm not sure that works. I'm nearly constantly near death, but because of the outside setting, I have no ability to rest, so I have to find food on the ground or stay away from enemies for a long enough time. I get an armband here, from another molehill. Seems like a strange choice for a continuous helper.

Properly creepy looking
Ferrymen now seem to be charging 5 gold instead of 12. Much more reasonable. Sea demons start dropping arrows, meaning all my resources are in good shape. Curiously, I'm not finding a place to rest, meaning you're supposed to just blow through Sylvar and Delanda in one go?

Why does this sexy dress include what looks like very '80s shoulder pads?
A princess is here, marooned. Eloise seems to have been the graphics artist's attempts at doing sexy, but comes off as crudely done. Not sure if that's just the engine or the DOS version. She gives me some bracers to tell her sister that she's been marooned here. I also discover the name of the sea demons, before I called them sea beasts. She follows me around, but I find this less objectionable than Gregor. Oh, they're siblings. She also implies that Gregor is intentionally useless. Eloise isn't banging on about great adventures, so its more understandable that she isn't fighting.

Its very hard capturing a shot of a seagull, as it turns out

Okay, one more ferry. This island is supposed to be the biggest island. I see the druids again, and some pillars. And a man who looks like he's dying. Can't interact with...him...I've gone in a circle. Right...what am I missing?

The islands in the distance are actually places you can travel to, though I missed this until nearly the end of this area
Well, on the last island I missed some sandals. This turns out to be important, because returning to the big island I discover that there are some hidden pathways. I suspect the two are related and I just missed where this is explained. Anyway, this brings me to a new island. There's a well here, that wants a blood sacrifice...and I guess I need to use this vial on someone then. Great...well, I hope I don't have to do it to the princess. She's nice enough. Hey, since that one guy is already dying, it shouldn't be a problem getting some of his blood.

Er...uh...yeugh. The game really wants you to know that what you're doing is creepy. I sure feel happy that I had to do this...Guess I can advance. Hope I didn't miss anything here. I'll leave off here, since I think I have just enough done. There's a lot of downtime in this game where all you're doing is walking around. I don't hate it, but I'm not exactly fond of it.
I am curious as to how the game is going to continue being interesting. This is just before the halfway point, and the game's attempts at more diverse enemies is the kind of thing that blows up in game's faces. I still remember the spiders from Escape from Monster Manor, and including more small enemies like the seagull is an easy way down that path. Even taking out that mess with replaying the game 3 times, I'm still looking at roughly 7-8 more hours of game.

This Session: 4 hours 30 minutes

Total Time: 7 hours 30 minutes

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

1982 in Review

I feel like I can encapsulate my feelings on this year with a game I didn't cover, TSR's Dawn Patrol. A flight sim set during WWI, one which only has a deathmatch mode. Despite sounding promising, its slowness and practically non-existent graphics kill any interest I have in the game. 1982 is, to steal a tagline from Top Gear, Ambitious but rubbish. The hopes and dreams are here, but the technology just isn't.

Space Vikings
Games have managed to be proper space sims, proper flight sims, everything. And the problem is that a lot of them are nigh unplayable. Space Vikings is one of the first games I played, and it is quite possibly the first space sim as we think of them. Unfortunately, its frame rate can be measured in seconds per frame, completely unplayable. Its not difficult to see why we place the originator of these genres to later games, because all but the most dedicated are going to brush over it completely. As such, it falls upon the more easily done games, the side-scrollers and the top-down shooters.
For a lot of these, the games are simply not very interesting. It doesn't really help that this is the year that started the crash, where it was difficult to tell which games were good and which games weren't until you played them, and there were a lot of games that weren't good. I didn't really find all this too exciting, mostly just frustrating, and at times, tedious.
Time Pilot
Very little wowed me. The higher end graphics all seem focused on what people can do with wireframes and space. I've come to loathe a little bit that endless darkness. Though we are seeing in some places the beginnings of what would be the 8-bit era of sprite-based games, albeit wrapped up in an arcade shell. Sound on the other hand, has run from simple blips and bloops to early voice clips.
The cost of gaming at this point seems to have enacted a terrible gameplay effect, nearly every game leans towards the difficult side of things. To the point where you have to play the same opening level hundreds of times to get the gist of it. Wonderful if you're ten and you have five games. Awful if you're an adult and you have thousands. Its not necessarily that I don't like difficulty as much as I'd like a better difficulty curve between warm-up and incredibly difficult. I have beaten later games that match these titles difficulty, but then I had the time to play one game for a long period like that.

I would be remiss in not mentioning the endless technological issues games this year have caused me. Every time I've had to do something in BASIC I've had to frantically search the internet for whatever command I need to load something, to my immense frustration as I never manage to find the commands I'm missing. Its gotten so bad on some systems, like the TRS-80 computers, that I've effectively given up on them. This is to say nothing of bad dumps or emulators crapping out. This entry is much later than I wanted it to be simply because MAME stopped responding to any keyboard or joystick commands. If this continues there will be some interesting consequences for some games.

As I don't want to delay this any further, here are the awards for 1982.
Game of the Year: Sinistar
Well, its not really a surprise, but Sinistar was one of the few games that really made its arcade setting work. Instead of being some happy-go-lucky setting about something or another, Sinistar is about you fighting against an unstoppable force that has effectively already taken over the universe. Desperately trying to fight off the endless hordes of smaller ships that make up Sinistar's legions, you mine crystals to make the tools you need to defeat him. Its very often, in the heat of a desperate battle just reaching a handful of crystals to hear that dreaded sound, RUN. Its amazing what this game can do with voice sounds so simple.
Underdog of the Year: Night Stalker
A big piece of nostalgia for me, and one of the earliest home-exclusive twin stick shooters. (for a lack of a better term) Despite having a few mechanics that would feel tedious in other titles, like a constant background noise and a one shot limit on the player, Night Stalker somehow makes it work. The gradually growing hordes of robots, the supposedly safe room in the middle.
Technological Advancement of the Year: Wayout
As I said above, I've often encountered predecessors of genres that lacked in every way imaginable, be it speed or quality. But Wayout's use of a Wolfenstein-style floor layout on a system that rarely astonishes was something of a surprise. Oh, the game using it as a simple maze game without any real combat is hardly impressive, but to see an idea executed well, that is at a reasonable speed, years ahead of time is sometime I so rarely get to see. We even get one enemy wandering around. Considering that games for years afterwards would struggle to reach a double digit framerate, this feels like something special, especially since it was originally released on Atari computers, a platform long since forgotten.
A game I played so long ago I didn't even bother cropping out the sidebar
Worst of the Year: Submarine Commander (Apple II)
There were many games that were incompetent this year. And there were many games that were unplayable. But few that displayed the gross incompetence of Submarine Commander on Apple II, not to be confused with the generic shooting gallery that was the Atari 2600 game. Its not often that you play a game where it seems impossible to ever find another ship, but somehow Submarine Commander managed to do so on top of having an awful control scheme.

I can't say I have too much else to say about the year. Perhaps I've made a mistake in playing all these games. I don't really feel there's much exciting things to talk about, or even awful things. In the end I had an average of 10 points, not accounting for Black Widow. Despite having a rule stating I'm free to ignore obvious trash, I still had an average of 10 points. That and the highest rated game, a 20, are up from 1981, but its not exactly an exciting number, is it? I know that harping on about how awful games are is not a fun thing to read about, but I am supposed to be partially doing this for fun.

Now comes for a different part of the year in review, where I expound upon games fitting three categories. Obviously good games, games of historical merit, and my personal favorites. Shamelessly stolen from the way Jason Dyer over at Renga in Blue does it. Good games are titles like Doom, historical games are important or interesting in historical context, but not necessarily fun outside of that context, and ones I liked, but might not be your cup of tea. Just went ahead and added games from previously done years.

Good Games:

Well, years are early yet.

Historical Games:
Asteroids (1979)
Berzerk (1980)
Castle Wolfenstein (1981)
Defender (1981)
Robotron 2084 (1982)
Wayout (1982)

I know I didn't blog about Asteroids, but that's not by accident, I don't have anything worthwhile to say about it. I've played it, or at least a clone of it, at some point or another. It is of course, important and basically the first game I think of as a shooter. (there are earlier ones, not the point) I don't feel like criticizing it is very fair, its like criticizing the person who made the first written language for having a poor grasp of grammar.

Personal Favorites:
Bosconian (1981)
Night Stalker (1982)
Sinistar (1982)

I didn't add Tempest, because I can't really see myself playing that again, but I think I might just play Bosconian again. Interestingly, both games I really liked this year have horror elements to them.

The year ahead, 1983, consists of 87 games, though I've already started on things. Which sounds like a lot, but keep in mind when I began writing this summary, around Gravitar, there were 96. I might just be able to finish this year in under a year's time. I don't hold any illusions that I'll ever reach today or even really mind, but I am interested in reaching the '90s.
As will be usual from now on, if you happen to know of any games that fit my requirements and I missed, feel free to suggest them to me. I can only uncover so much.
I also plan on redoing some of the games I played early in my blog. This is going to be more related to titles from later years, as I don't think I'm going to replay any 1983 games.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Sleeping Gods Lie: Deja Vu

I feel like this blog is cursed sometimes. So far, a lot of the games I've played fall into at least one of three categories, bad, broken or tedious. Since Sleeping Gods Lie is fun, that means at some point it becomes tedious or it'll be broken. Tedium is a very good possibility, since the game involves a lot of wandering around trying to find things to interact with. Surely the game wouldn't be broken? People have actually played this.
I left off in the bandit's den, about to rest. I don't know how long the game expects me to rest for, but I just rest through the three hours of the night. I feel like an actual RPG would say things like "You need to rest" or something like that. I wonder if the game is playing tricks on me. Its not unheard of for a manual to lie about the contents of a game. Magic power doesn't seem to fully regenerate. The manual says that demons will notice me more when its higher, but I'm curious if there's an actual purpose to it.

So, the continued exploration of Calia and Taira. If it looks or sounds like I'm holding back on something, I'm not. That's all this area looks like, endless flat plains. The game advertised flight sim technology, but as I well remember from A-10 Tank Killer, they had hills. I'd really like this game if it had hills. It'd make the game feel better. I guess making such engines beautiful came later. Considering I can see a bandit respawn if I look in the right direction, that wasn't their concern.
In another section of Talia, I meet the bandit leader, a red renaissance painter. Pay no attention to his speech, he goes down like any other bandit at this point. The only new thing is that he is much more eager to run away. Killing him nets me the map the hermit wanted. Yes! Success.

Returning to the hermit, he tells me to find the magic tree in Taira's hills. I like that the game recognizes that I already have the circlet. Now what? I guess I have to explore Taira...but there aren't any hills...outside of the skybox. Maybe there are more doorways than just the obvious ones.
There's not much the game can hide, even at a distance, but it does try. These stones aren't the most obvious object around, but they seem important when you do finally notice them. They lead to a mountain valley different than the rest of Taira.
Its here that the very obvious magic tree is. Who promises to send me to Sylvar, a very foresty kingdom. Cool. Send me there game.
Yes, this eventually goes away, leaving me to do nothing but wander around this area forever
...Game? I guess I just did something wrong, so I'll reload and return. Now, game, send me to the next kingdom.

Damn. I guess the game is broken. Rather, the Amiga version I'm playing is probably broken. Its not like people have been rushing to finish this game, is it? As the title suggests, this isn't the first time something like this has happened. At this point, I've become rather annoyed at games broken like this. Where one version seems to be poorly dumped and no one ever bothered checking it. I never finished it, but Galactic Empire was one of those games, possibly in multiple ways. Well, unlike many other games I've had the misfortune of this happening with, I checked online and someone has indeed advanced considerably far in this game. I find it moderately funny, because its infamous preservation figure Saint, the man who was responsible for leaking Zeddas 3, that obscure Japanese adventure game more known for being impossible to find than for its actual quality. It is definitely not the DOS version.
Part of the reason why I've been so loose with years, beyond not entirely knowing what I'm doing at times, is because of crap like this, where a game from this era, on all computers, is seemingly broken on every one. I attribute issues with the Atari ST partially to the fact that I've never had much reason to play it, since I'm not going to do that when an Amiga version exists. I try the ST version, but that straight up refuses to load. This does raise the question as if the disk dump itself is bad or if my emulator is somehow broken. I have played multiple games on the system, but I don't really understand anything about it.
I resolve to try the Amiga version one more time, in the hopes that my original copy was bugged, or I missed something important. A bit tedious, yes, but its worth pointing out that for once the game's lack of music works in its favor, I can listen to something else while doing this. I in general would prefer that the game have music, but this does give me a chance to focus on something else.

All this nets me is the discovery of a one-way passageway with a pair of trees. They need the water I can get from the bowl. Sadly, this doesn't actually do anything with the teleporter, so I put off the game for a bit longer. I then try to save in-game, hoping that would work, but doesn't register my created floppy or my in-emulator harddrive. I guess I'm not playing the Amiga version, then. Maybe its because they're write-protected? No, that doesn't allow me to save or advance through the game. Its official, I am cursed when it comes to playing these games. Problems that any other person wouldn't have are crippling my game. If there's something like an error with the specific computer I'm emulating I couldn't tell you.Since I just checked to make sure the Amiga had the right settings, I should be able to find the ST settings. Success! The ST version is on a STe and now it works...or at least it does through the intro. Guess I'm going to have to play the DOS version after all.

This Session: 1 hour 50 minutes

Total time: 3 hours

Friday, August 19, 2022

Black Widow (1982)

Name:Black Widow
Genre:Top-Down Shooter
Time:1 hour 10 minutes
Won:Not possible

One of the fun things about doing this is that sometimes while researching one game you discover another. Fun isn't always the operative word. In this case, the word is mild annoyance. Gravitar, having not done well, presumably for reasons I explained, was soon designated the target for a conversion kit. Feels fitting that the title to do so is Black Widow, a game about killing insects, as such things often take host in unpleasant places.
Now, I had some trouble with MAME since Gravitar, as it wasn't registering any keyboard presses. This has happened before, but usually just for one day. So I eventually decided to play Atari Anniversary on PSX, since I couldn't play it otherwise. Today MAME started working again, so I could finally play it properly. In the future, I'm not going to wait to play the arcade titles until the end of the year.

So...the money signs are sliced up beetle larva?

The plot of the game is that you're a spider who can spit poison/shoot things, and now most of the insect kingdom has decided they're going to kill you. Protect your web from their endless onslaught. Typical twin stick shooter stuff. To me, this really needs something special to differentiate itself from what Robotron 2084 did.

Your character moves and shoots in 8 directions, and can have 4 shots on-screen at once. You can move within the confines of the web, but not through any parts that are currently red, which also reflects shots. Throughout the waves walls variously turn red and green. I couldn't tell you what green walls did and even red walls didn't seem to work consistently. You only get one hit per life.
Enemies come in two ways. First, they spawn in a limited quantity each way and come in off-screen. They're mostly simple minded, either wandering around or chasing straight after you, with little complex thought behind it. When shot, most enemies drop a $, which gives you points, the sooner you get it, more points. It is advisable to do so, because sometimes enemies walk over them, creating an egg. Some enemies spawned are normal, but others are are invulnerable to your attacks. Eggs can be pushed off the web. Gradually, enemies start doing things like exploding if you shoot them, or chasing after other enemies to turn them into rockets that shoot after you.
Despite the effect being similar, these do not seem to be explosions
Every 4 waves a series of flying cursors, presumably intended to be a giant centipede, comes spinning around, chasing after you. Should you die, kill all the cursors or they simply make enough twists for them to decide to leave, the stage advances.
The bug slayer being the thing on the right
This is where the unique aspect of the game comes in, which is called the bug slayer. He kills every enemy, eats everything from $ to eggs, and is also invulnerable. Unlike your foes, he does not hurt you at all. If I'm not mistaken, this is chronologically the first time an actual ally has shown up. He's not the best, since he's only here if you've screwed up and he steals points from you, but it is something.
Not too far from an egg, note the color, which means this one is invulnerable
There were two things about this game that prevented me from enjoying it, which I think is more based in how I played it rather than how it actually played. Eggs have to be pushed off the web, which I just assumed meant I had to push them off the edge. You can also push them off the interior hole. For a while I was having to frantically push them out of the center into the edge. This is because the yellow enemies sometimes create the unkillable bugs, so I had to shoot in such a way that dropped $ didn't easily fall into their path. Even so, moving the eggs isn't fun because pushing them diagonally is seemingly impossible and they have a smaller hitbox than you'd think they should.
This is not a very smooth game. Now, part of this must be attributed to the strange choice of emulation, but having eight directions feels wrong for this game. It needs smoother directions than that. Thing is, its not a very smooth eight directions. In practice I had closer to 4 about half the time. This is solely due to the PSX emulation, which is hot garbage.
The green-winged red enemies here do explode, and are quite deadly
At this point, MAME was working again. I wasn't really expecting much...but as it turns out, I should have been. Which is funny, since its supposed to be a perfect arcade port. The game is noticeably slower and I can actually aim diagonally. Its not amazing, but I can actually see how someone might enjoy playing this now. And the funny thing is, the changes are strange. Speed is one, as if the game was done with the wrong framerate. I also died in different ways, primarily to the more generic enemies and never lasting longer than 11 or so waves.
The weird rocket enemies
But in MAME, I didn't do that as much, thanks to the speed. Instead, I was dying to the later enemies, the exploding ones and the rocket creating things. The latter, simply because I wasn't reaching it before, but the former was having larger explosions. I suspect these changes are tied together, but its amazing how much you can screw up a game without meaning to. And yes, this is with the same settings across both versions.

Generic weapon. 1/10

I like the variation in theory, but in practice it lacks something. 2/10

Hey, someone who's actually helping me. I'm shocked! 2/10

The web design is interesting, but each wave having some weird selection of blocked sections is not. 1/10

Player Agency:
The 8 direction moving/shooting isn't as smooth as I'd like, but it works for the most part. 4/10


This game really makes me feel small and blind. I don't care for that. 0/10

Simple wireframes, nothing exciting. 1/10


Pretty generic, but I guess its high quality for the era. I barely remember what it is after finishing playing it. 1/10

That's 12, which is indeed an improvement over Gravitar. Just stay away from any versions in a compilation, its practically guaranteed to be garbage.

That's it for 1982, for real this time.