Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Galactic Empire: Reintroduction

Welcome back to Galactic Empire, the one game I refuse to lose. For those of you who haven't read the original entries, this is more or less a way to bring us all back to speed on the colossal failure that has been my attempts to finish the game. Galactic Empire was an attempt at a FPS from French adventure developer Coktel Vision, known for the Goblins series. The game was based off a French tabletop RPG of the same name, and involved the lead writer of it. Why the bizarre combo? I have no idea, but we do know that it did okay, nothing special in the developer's eyes and got a sequel in the form of Advanced Galactic Empire. Because of the awkward name, I believe people wrongly assumed that AGE was more or less the same game, just upgraded. This is not correct.

The story of Galactic Empire is that on a far flung planet in a vast galactic empire, a figure called Voltar has overthrown the local government and declared independence. Ether, as the planet is called, is a harsh, hostile world who's primary point of interest is the planet's unique fauna. This adapted to live in the 450 centigrade heat of the planet, lives only a few hours, but exhibits fertility and adaptability that makes it thrive here. The creatures here can all mate with each other, and do so, and this somehow means these creatures are useful in medicine. Their poison also makes for a very effective weapon. Its tourism and export of certain articles of wildlife that make up Ether's entire reason for existing.
Otherwise this area consists mostly of a few populated cities and then various rural hunter communities. Life is unsurvivable outside of special suits, so the population remains low. Three years ago, Voltar started a revolution, stirring up anti-imperial and pro-human sentiment in the face of an economic crisis. His Scarlet Militia took over the planet, installed him as dictator, and have started internment camps. Four other groups exist, The Teknos, indifferent to politics, but against Voltar, hunters, who are now following Voltar, non-humans, who are too disorganized to make any effort, and La Hanse des Marchands, or the merchant faction who just want coin. The Teknos are divided into different factions who are at odds with each other.
The last SERSEC agent disappeared, presumably killed, and the player is the replacement. His final statement was "Its the Malkouts fault". The objective is to evaulate the strength of forces on this planet pro-Voltar and anti-Voltar, and uncover anything else. The manual notes that an unknown enemy could be manipulating events to their advantage. It even notes that what Voltar is doing is suicidal. The player goes in as a reporter, Ted Fost, for the "homeo-new paper" Cosmopolis, without anything that identifies him as an imperial agent.
The manual finishes with various bits of info, from weapons to the buildings and vehicles everyone uses to get around. In short, this is a space opera title where we play a secret agent uncovering information on rebellious planet, and we're not actually the bad guys. Its an interesting setup, and one that actually factors into the game very heavily. Since the manual isn't on most of the more obvious sites, and its not that well explained in the game itself, I believe this contributes to some of the confusion.
Also, most DOS versions around are broken AND the game doesn't work on regular DOSbox if anyone has EVER made a save. So for a good chunk of time, you had to play this completely legit, or emulate the Amiga or ST version. The game even locks up if you don't put the code in. Not sure if that's intentional or just poor luck. Its also in that weird position where it should be playable in SCUMMVM since its a Coktel Vision adventure game, but because of the 3D engine, you don't assume its anything like an adventure game.
The game starts with a simplified version of the events that were as follows, along with an intro of a city burning. The first time through I thought the skeleton was cool, but now that I've played the game quite a few times it seems silly. Why is some dude just hanging out without the mobile armor suit? I'm not sure he died to laserfire.
Quite a lot of spaceships coming and going at the edge of the galaxy

After that, we begin in what I believe is a spaceport in a space station outside of Ether. This isn't entirely clear, but things are flying by, so I believe spaceport is the operative word. You'll figure out why I say its a space station later. If you decide to play this, let me drop a piece of advice, the second you get control, press right click. This activates a mode which works somewhat like a more reasonable game. Numpad 4 & 6 turn left and right. (2 & 8 look down and up, but you don't really need that) Numpad + & - move forward and backward. You can now use the mouse like in the various RPGs of the era. Its not great, not by a longshot, but I found I didn't hate the control scheme when I did this. You could always use DOSbox's keymap to rebind them to more reasonable keys, assuming you're the kind of person who can manage that properly. I am not.

I'd just like to add that the game has one music track, its a nice one, less wearysome than they could have used, but still one single music track for a game that should realistically take 10-20 hours. Let's just say it hasn't. I'm linking the Amiga version, but the DOS version is very nice too.

The NPCs are rendered in real-time and look around, Fost is 2D
Nearby is an Etherian civilian, which I can talk to. Ted Fost has 5 moods he can talk to people in, ranging from hostile to friendly. Because of the civil war, everyone is paranoid. This is part interesting game design and part bad game design. This particular fellow more or less shows you how conversations can go if you don't know what you're doing, and you seem to be able to get information from someone once, before they decide to not talk to you. So if you make the wrong conversation choices, well, you'll have to reload.
Note that Ted's face changes depending on the option
You can also trade with most people in-game. This is required for some, as you need badges and cards to advance in-game. Unfortunately, this random man in the airport doesn't have anything useful to give me, just a refill, in exchange for a stunner. As he's not needed, I can be as hostile as I want to be. I'm sure what Ted here is saying is much cleverer in the original French, but I like the thought of someone flipping someone off and saying this. If I really wanted it, I could use a ballistic discount.

Luckily, he doesn't take it too hard. This game is often really eager to put you into a situation where you've accidentally ended up in a fight or done something you don't want. These states are not necessarily unwinnable, but without cheating you won't have a shot now. The game also has some off-limits places in this section, where you'll immediately get some soldiers after you.

Throughout this area are dispensers, which dispense either refills, for ammo, or oxygen, for your oxygen. Oxygen slowly drains throughout the course of the game, and weapons are very thirsty. Each one only gives out one item. This is the only practical method of restoring these things on the space station, so you're on a time limit. Not a strict time limit, I don't think I was ever in danger of running out, but I managed to parse out how to get past this section fairly quickly. As you also drain your suit's power by walking, this does create an interesting mix. (the suit automatically recharges if you stand still)
Civilians all have various grey shaded hats, while soldiers have red, the reason why they're called the "scarlet" militia
What's next? Well, its time to go through customs. Its not as bad as you'd think, since you are a secret agent trying to get in without suspicion. As much suspicion as someone with no real identifying items can be, anyway. Fost starts the game with a stunner, which is not necessary to my knowledge, but I suspect the locals don't wish Fost to have it. The customs agent does nothing, and Fost has nothing to declare, because we're smuggling weapons into the planet. But not this weapon really. I'm given a badge and told to go to the next building.

However, there's a building behind him with some useful stuff, a radar and a light laser. A guard arrives and attacks, but you start with a stunner which is an effective enough weapon to deal with him, its one of the weapons that stop enemies in their tracks. Weapons that stop your foes in their tracks are much more useful than those that don't. You might think this would break something, but I've done this section several times, and if it does, its obscure enough that I never noticed.

So far, grenades kill anything you can kill in one hit
After opening up a "laser gate". Read, what they could actually make as a wall. On the path to the next building is two things, a grenade just lying in the road, and another civilian. He says that Voltar is closing the planet down, and that's it for what he can tell me.
Why are the robots all hostile?
Through one of the fences I can see the Watcher Logimech. This fellow is running around like crazy. He's the guy guarding the path out of here, and he is always hostile. At least, if he ever isn't, you need to figure out a way to make him not hostile. I hacked the game once so I could teleport past him, at the very start of the game so no action I took could be deemed hostile, and he still attacked me. Presumably, there's some way to make him non-hostile, as there's a station here that allows you to repair and regenerate your armor.
Since the HUD is supposed to be how I see the world from inside the suit, this seems like an awkward camera angle
At the second station I end up screwing things up. I don't know what I said to the customs agent, but he says he doesn't like my attitude and shooting me. That's the problem with talking in this game, people are way too eager to start getting violent. Reloading, and I do things properly. Well, a couple more times and I do things properly. You really have to suck up to this guy to get through. Doing so gets me a badge, and he doesn't notice if I take a card by his side. Now what?
All five options you get are so what!
Well, the badge opens back onto the central area and then another gateway into the same place the card opens up. So this is a way of preventing players from getting stuck? I doubt it. There's a soldier here you really don't want to talk to, simply because if you aren't really nice he starts blasting you. There's another citizen, who seems to have much the same things to say as the last couple.
But inside some of the buildings in this area are merchants, who sell things. I notice something I didn't before here. While going away to type, I often pause the game and to return I have been pressing "f", which seems to result in this guy acting like I just said something really offensive. I guess the keyboard doubles for the various dialog choices, but I didn't notice that in the manual...The next merchant over sells what I'm actually looking for, an exit badge. For some reason he gets angry with me after paying.
Note my health bar there at the bottom, you do not get a lot of time to react in this game
As I leave I am attacked by a soldier. I knew about him, he's another always hostile character, he just hangs out behind this merchant, next to something called an arachnopistol. This is an anti-riot weapon used throughout the empire, as the manual explains, using the "viscus suc" which I believe is the wild animals poison. It paralyzes anything it hits, and will kill enemies given enough shots. In practice its a better stunner.
They don't attack me unless I go for the card
This is about as far as you can get playing the game without engaging in combat. As such this is about as far as most people seem to get. Either due to that guy or due to the next section. There are three buildings here, two with merchants and a third that's prohibited and contains two soldiers, but also the keycard to advance. I also take this time to "relieve" some merchants of their items, including grenades and an anti-laser screen. It takes about half a charge of ammo to take out a soldier, so this is perfect for taking out the two of them. If there's an alternate path, I don't know it.
I'm not much of a wildlife photographer
This opens up an area with two more merchants, but they don't have anything useful. An animal radar that just shows animal dots when you stand still. But it does open up a zoo area, leading to the map's exit.
This isn't a robot, but a soldier who hits like a truck
This is guarded by one of the logimechs, or robots. I'm calling them that from now on. This one just takes a grenade to kill. Despite having an anti-laser screen, I die in two hits at best, one hit at worst to most enemies. I don't think its doing me any good. I'm also just crafting a trail of destruction in my wake, uninterested in trading for what I want. Even if there's seemingly no benefit for me to not do so, as I find a flamethrower, a weapon I have yet to find any use for, and I can trade it for a refill.
There is no benefit to saying no, as these aren't limited
Walking over to the exit, I talk with another civilian, who tells me that the exit badge is in a building to the northwest, and destroy another mech with a grenade. You know, I remember these guys being invulnerable. You really have to anticipate combat situations or you'll get killed right away.
This allows me to get a stunner and use the service station, before teleporting down.
You can tell nobody got this far because they would absolutely show this screenshot

We get a nice full-screen graphic of me teleporting.

And I'm on Ether, somewhere in the wilderness. Creatures wander around the area, usually looking for meat. Some attack me, but I can deal with them. Where's the way out? Why I start there, and on the wall is a mural of some kind of bird attacking a robot. Unfortunately, I need another exit badge and there's not another one on the first level.

The only feature this location has is a a small corral with a robot inside. I cannot do anything about it. Its at this point that I'm stuck. The robot is unkillable, it doesn't show any signs of taking damage. Even cheating seems like a fool's errand. I have, a couple of times, managed to get the robot to shoot a bird as shown on the mural, but nothing happens. Nobody else on the internet has ever gotten this far, nobody shows any images of the planet. Maybe, information is hard to find on this game and I don't speak French. I know its possible to get past this section, because a period reviewer mentions that one of the images on the back, depicting a side-scrolling beat 'em up sequence, is not anywhere in the game. (its actually from Cougar Force)
Now, I've already tried to beat this for quite some time. Ever since the last entry I've played the game off and on and never went anywhere. I've done things like looking through the files to no use. Since its unreasonable to continue this indefinitely, I'm going to continue to try winning this throughout the rest of September and October. Most of the time since Galactic Empire, the games I would have been blogging alongside it were frustrating enough that I didn't feel like playing a game I didn't have a good idea on how to continue with. This October is going to have some frustrating games too, but I think they're of the sort I'm used to enough that I can at least try to make progress here. In any case, I'll have more than enough days to dedicate just to this game.
As far as how I'm going to get past this, I have two theories. The first is that I missed something on the space station. Very unlikely, but I feel like the robots shouldn't require me to kill them, there should be a non-violent way of passing. I didn't miss any items anywhere obvious, so if this is the answer, its incredibly well hidden. The second is that I need to get an animal with a specific head into the enclosure with the robot. Which is going to be oh, so tedious. That requires putting meat inside the corral and hoping something enters. You can get meat off any animal in-game, but their pathfinding and range makes entering this cage a tedious experience. Its going to be a challenge if I can continue the game.

This Session: 1 hour 10 minutes

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The 1980s in FPS

I feel like a great weight has been lived from my shoulders. While I didn't start off playing games from this decade, its something I should have started with. I've spent 3 years wandering around it, and its finally done.

Now, its fairly obvious why I'm glad to be done with this, after all, so many games released this decade were broken, bad, headache inducing or tedious. Sometimes all four. One has to give some minor thanks to modern games for usually not being as broken as games I've played here have been. When it came to the worst of this, it was hard to continue playing, and yet sometimes there were rough, uncut gems I wish someone better than me would turn into something nice and shiny.

This early history is fraught with questionable firsts. Because as big as the genre is today, there's something special about being the guy who did it first. You were the one who originally thought it up before the boys at iD made it huge. You are an under appreciated genius. And so forth. So, let's get on some of these firsts.

Therefore, the most important of these questions is, what is the first FPS? Which is a loaded question, what would you define as a FPS? To quote Wikipedia, "First-person shooter (FPS) is a sub-genre of shooter video games centered on gun and other weapon-based combat in a first-person perspective, with the player experiencing the action through the eyes of the protagonist and controlling the player character in a three-dimensional space." By that description, I would say that Midwinter is the first FPS or possibly Star Cruiser if you want to use a bit of trickery*. But Wikipedia is just using a poor choice of words to describe a genre everyone more or less knows.
*Star Cruiser only has three dimensional space if you're in space, when you're not really controlling the player character, and when you are, you're not really in three dimensional space.

What a first-person shooter really is, according to the Morpheus Observation School, FPS is applied to a first-person game where the player controls a human or human-like character who uses ranged weapons of some kind. Though the player can enter vehicles. It is required that the player is able to freely move within this space, in real time, and the locations of the player and anything else are kept in memory. Games where the player can only control vehicles are not accepted. By this logic, I say that Midi Maze is the first FPS. It is the first game that you could throw at someone and he would call it a FPS...even if he also called it absolute trash. And I should note, that by removing the weapon part, we have Wayout, the first game to use ray casting.
Ah, right, I played it on DOS
Okay, but that's not the whole story, as a lot of games that we would think to remove from the genre because they're space or tank sims, can play quite like a FPS. Indeed, removing the vehicle bit takes us back to 1980, with Battlezone. I've never really been sold on Battlezone, but its got its place. There's a mainframe game by the name of Spacesim, released in the early '70s, but I'm not 100% clear on how it plays.

But what if we acknowledge that moving within the space doesn't have to be completely free, I.E., you can move everywhere, at all times, but its confined somewhat. Say, by 90-degree angles and in squares? Like Dungeon Master, for instance? Well, then, we have Maze Wars, the big important mainframe multiplayer game said to be a FPS by the end of 1973. Indeed, what I call Dungeon Master-style FPS should be called Maze Wars-style FPS. Before that? You're going to have to enlist, son.
Since I've solved that, let's go over a few less important firsts. The first game you could aim in? Schultz Treasure. We don't talk about Schultz Treasure, because it was awful.
The first game with mouse aiming? That's tricky, because it depends on what you mean. For instance, you could always play games like Wolfenstein, Doom, and other early '90s titles with a mouse sort of like a modern game, but it would be a bit crap. Then we have the Dungeon Master-style system, where the mouse doesn't move the screen, you're just using it to aim at something on-screen. I find neither first appealing, but I guess we're looking at The Colony and Space Station Oblivion respectively.

The first game to use Quake-style interactions with the environment, as in, just walking into things? I'm pretty sure at this point that's just every game I've played this decade, but I remember that approach being used in Space Station Oblivion. As one of many actions you could do. I guess that's not really the spirit of things...

The first game with NPCs. Uh, that depends? Midi Maze had bots, but that was primarily a multiplayer game. Sleeping Gods Lie had them in the environment, but Star Cruiser had them inside buildings.

The first game with an important in-game story is Star Cruiser.

Let's also take another approach, which region brought us the best of these titles. I'm trying to think of how I should divide this, since it occurs to me that only British FPS titles exist this decade, the European continent hasn't done anything. Thus, America, Britain, and Japan. And I think it has to go to Britain. Because they were the only ones who made fun games. Only one pre-1990 title that got above a 20 came out of somewhere other than Britain, and that was Star Cruiser.

I have drawn one conclusion from this decade. The direction FPS games were headed in was inevitable from the start. It is by mostly luck that the boys at iD made it big with Wolfenstein 3D. If I had managed a strict chronology and perhaps even hadn't played W3D beforehand, by the time I reached it I would have found it considerably less impressive than its reputation seems to be. Well, kind of, since very few people acknowledged its 30th anniversary.

In the end, this wasn't a question of the decade, it was a question of 1989. Nearly everything released before that year was too awkward in some way to be much fun.

Best of the Decade: Day of the Viper
Just barely eking out a win is Day of the Viper. The Dungeon Master-inspired action game. Shunning Amiga concepts like dazzling graphics and music, Day of the Viper won by being a well-rounded and clever little game, though ultimately limited in nature. Its a very interesting game if you want Dungeon Master but don't quite want the RPG part of it.

Bad Luck Award: Sleeping Gods Lie
Like many games I've played from this decade, Sleeping Gods Lie suffers from technical difficulties. The game was made simply too soon for systems that could handle what it had to offer, as the game runs out of memory frequently. On the DOS version, this isn't too much of a problem, but on the Amiga version, the game is accidentally broken. Unfortunately, the DOS version lacks proper sound and uses EGA graphics, a move which actually took it out of the top spot of the decade...but come to think of it, Day of the Viper's Amiga version didn't work for me either...

Accidental Remake of Another Game Award: Day of the Viper as a remake of Dimensional Fighter Epsilon3
DFE3, as I shall call it, was a game using keyboard controls to aim, finding weak points in various invading robots across some invaded planet. It was a complete nightmare to play, owing to the game's awful control scheme, but I thought the concept of a first-person RPG where you shot the weak points of enemies would be cool...with a mouse. Day of the Viper proves that it is a better concept.

I offer no technological achievement award for this decade, simply because I believe that Wayout would get it again. Simply put, I find that game amazing, even if it doesn't quite live up to that technology. Further, it seems like these awards are a consolation prize, I am adding neither to the historical or personal favorites.

Good Games:

This will get something eventually. I can't say anything released at this time was universally good, just intriguing if you like old games.

Historical Games:
Asteroids (1979)
Battlezone (1980)
Berzerk (1980)
Castle Wolfenstein (1981)
Defender (1981)
Robotron 2084 (1982)
Wayout (1982)
Midi Maze (1987)
Star Cruiser (1988)

Added are Midi Maze and Star Cruiser, which advanced the genre, despite technically not making much of an impact. Well, Star Cruiser is a bit more nebulous since we don't have a good view of Japanese gaming at that time much like we have our own.

Personal Favorites:
Bosconian (1981)
Night Stalker (1982)
Sinistar (1982)
Dungeon Master (1987)

Dungeon Master's not really a shooter, is it? Make no mistake, its a very nice game, just not quite fitting here.

Next up is 1990-92. Couple notes, I'll be playing certain predecessors of these titles from now on, as seen with Star Cruiser and Wibarm. I will also be replaying some titles, like the Id games, Mike Singleton's titles and Anthony Taglione's games. These two events might be related.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Sleeping Gods Lie (1989)

Name:Sleeping Gods Lie
Publisher:Empire Software
Developer:Oxford Digital Enterprises
Time:11 hours 40 minutes
Won:No (48W/50L)

Sleeping Gods Lie was an interesting experience. Very buggy, easily broken, but interesting. I'm starting to suspect Oxford Digital Enterprises are just one of those companies with a buggy output. The game's Amiga version glitched out on me, the ST refused to run, and the DOS eventually glitched out too. All together, not too surprising a title.

There's a complicated backstory, in how 7000 years ago the gods created the world, and then left humans to their own devices. Kingdoms rise and fall, but for the past 4000 or so years the world has been under the control of a great empire. Its current emperor under the sway of a corrupt priest called The Archmage, while its subjects fall into decay, banditry and plague. Frequently, you get notices saying the author is going to free the people, attempts that obviously fail. One night you hear a thump at your door, its a kobbold, a creature that once brought forth trade between kingdoms. The dying kobbold tells you with its last breath to awake the sleeping god, N'Gnir, with some mysterious artifact.
The game puts a large amount of storytime towards the backstory, the detailed in-game calendar, and the design of the world. Here's the thing, none of it is really important. Even if I made it to the end of the game, I couldn't possibly get past the second month. Further, all fictional calendars ever seem to do is confuse me. Is it spring? Summer? Winter? Surely you would save a bit of memory if you just kept a clock instead of a calendar. Its unnecessarily work on the developer's part.
Like the look of this? Don't get used to it, its from the Amiga version, I had to play the DOS version
Both game and manual put great effort towards describing the 8 kingdoms that make up the world. The 8 kingdoms are really just the 8 levels of the game, further divided into sub-levels or landscapes. The game gets a little more out of itself because of this. Maybe, the game advertises that it has some 70+ levels which isn't too far from what people were already doing. There's less effort put into the levels, since there isn't that much going on in them. I imagine that even back in the day it didn't take too long to design a level.

You start off in your home. Its somewhere between Wolf-clone and Ultima Underworld in terms of controls. You get three options for controlling the game, keyboard, mouse and joystick, but they all work the same way. You can aim over a certain amount of the screen, and moving the cursor to certain places moves you. Its not as bad as a lot of the games I've played. I might be biased because of that, in saying that while awkward, its perfectly serviceable and that's been rare for a while. Its a bit slow, but that's not really because of the controls themselves.
Otherwise you get the ability to switch weapons (but not ammo), sleep, speed up/slow down time and saving and loading. Its a very basic interface, and despite all the items you can pick up over the course of the game, you don't really get to do anything with them.

Birds, once again the most annoying enemy in a game
The back of the box makes a big deal out of the game's flight sim technology, but there aren't any hills or noticeable Z-axis for the most part. A few enemies take advantage of the Z-axis and you can definitely miss an enemy by throwing too high. The only thing special about it, is that its about four years before Wolfenstein 3D and manages to run smoothly. Finally, the technology is here, now it just needs to be refined.

I'd wager the big appeal of this game these days is due to the strangeness of seeing an old-style 3D world. That oddly charming nature of the old-school 3D and a lack of people around. Well, not as much as even a crappy title from a few years from now, but its still there. Flat endless plain isn't really the appeal of that. Each kingdom tends to have one friendly NPC, and then a lot of respawning enemies. There's just something about these kinds of games that I enjoy seeing.

This is really cool, I just wish there was more of it

That said, the game squanders a lot of its early goodwill. There's a building in the early part of the game, as in, an actual 3D building you can see and enter, and that's it for until at least the 7th kingdom. Every other interior is a sprite you approach, and yes, there absolutely is an issue with what the size of everything is supposed to be. You know how RPGs always feel much smaller than they should be, and the further back you go, the more reasonable it is? Yeah, this feels smaller than the space actually in the game.

The first kind of enemy

...and the first NPC
Despite the big backstory, most of the game is spent wandering around. You just have to get smaller objectives to keep the game going. Sometimes the game is forthcoming with this, in the first area, you meet with a beggar who wants you to return his map. Then you have several kingdoms who have vague objectives, or you can't tell what you were supposed to do until after. Basically just wandering around for a few hours hoping you do the right series of events.
This leads into the game's puzzles. They're not great. The whole implementation of them is questionable. Basically, you have no method of interacting with the environment, as I mentioned. So that means solving a puzzle consists of walking up to the right object when you have the right item in your inventory. This sometimes borders on illogical, but the game at least tries to tell you what you have to do. Either way its not fun.

Note that the ground color is the same here, from a video online I know it changes on each kingdom

Combat is the meat of the game. Most weapons you get and use are projectile weapons. Each has its own little quirks. Starting out, you have your hands and various slings. You can deal pretty good damage with these, but it can be tricky aiming it, since you have to aim very high. Then you get proper weapons, bows, crossbows, these have flatter arcs and hit much harder. It feels like you have real progression in this game, but its clearly the RPG style of weapon progression. There's little reason to switch weapons in combat, and little reason to switch back to weapons. In the end I found myself with a hitscan weapon, which while it had a low ammo supply, also regenerated itself, making little reason to swtich to an earlier weapon except in large combats.
Ammo is a big factor, but you don't get a lot of control over it. Every weapon gets a base ammo, and some have fancy ammos. Only...you don't get to pick which ammo you use, so if you have fancy ammo, you'll be using fancy ammo. This sounds like a silly complaint, but I found myself in quite a few situations where I would be in better shape if I could have saved up those fancy shots. For instance, while a lot of weapons don't regenerate their ammo, you do find items that give them that ability. You can switch back to an earlier weapon, but I found that past the first couple of areas this started becoming more and more useless and annoying, as enemies started attacking further and further away.
I erroneously said that the game allows you to shoot pebbles with the crossbow and other weapons, apparently it kept the picture of a crossbow on-screen, it just had you throwing the stones with your bare hands.

Fighting against villagers, because I'm a hero
Like the weapons, enemies increase in strength over the game. Roughly, each enemy does more damage over the course of the game, and everything keeps in rough pace with each other. Instead what makes each enemy different is that some take more damage, and some move faster. This isn't entirely logical from a gameplay perspective. You start off fighting bandits, but their leader isn't anything special. Nor are the guards and magicians you fight later. Instead the most troublesome from my perspective were the demons. You can tell this version was done badly because they have transparency in the middle of their body.
I hate these guys
The demons are faster than you, so you can't easily chase after them, they're hard to kill, and they barely drop any ammo. In short, an exercise in tedium. But they appeared in the 3rd and 4th kingdoms, which is fairly early on. Meanwhile, afterwards you fight guards and magicians, who tend to drop pretty quickly and don't run faster than you.
Even though individual enemies don't have much going for them, I liked the game's AI. It felt like they were playing on the exact same ruleset as the player. Not moving around and shooting, making understandable misses, and retreating quite a lot. After attacking or when they're in bad shape. While it wasn't always great chasing after them, they didn't feel like mindless killing machines like so many other FPS enemies, especially at this time.
I didn't get a really good look at these guys until now...wow...
You get XP for damaging enemies. What's the purpose of XP? You get increased health and magic power. What's magic power? The game says that it increases your presence to demons or something like that. In practice, I'm not quite sure, it increased to around 3/4ths full when I finished, but if that did anything, its subtle enough that I never noticed it. If it did increase the range that enemies became alert to me, it hardly matters when you get new enemies every kingdom. What I did notice is that it was always damaged, like my health becomes, and never fully recovered, even after resting.
Resting is supposedly necessary to continue the game, as there's some penalty for not doing so. I don't know if that's true, because I never went more than a day without sleep. In some places I suspect this could really screw you over, because the game doesn't have a lot of safe places for you to rest. Healing is also done by picking up various foodstuffs you find on the ground.
The game makes an awful lot of assumptions about my character between the start and now...
As you've seen from the screenshots and my own implications, the level design of this game isn't great. Early on they tried something clever, but eventually it all degenerated into endless green landscapes dotted with various objects and enemies. A hide-and-seek kind of game. Another loss in the DOS version, because I know the ground color changes in the Amiga version. Just walk around this place hoping to find someone or something that'll advance the plot. It gets really bad as time goes on, because you can get completely screwed if you don't figure out where one object is in on small section of an area.
I just think this all is missing a lot more polish. The first kingdom is nice. You have to find ways to open up sections, there are optional puzzles, and the game actually feels like thought and effort was put into it. And after that...its just kind of gone. You do get the option on whether or not to return a crown to a prince, but all it changes is whether or not you get gold to pay for some ferries later. Yeah, that's what the big important part of the HUD is for, paying ferries. Could have solved this with a ferry pass.
If only all games were this polite

This game is just so very buggy. I suspect this is a consequence of the game being a FPS at a time when having a stable framerate was an impressive thing. The Amiga version broke on me at the end of the first kingdom/level, whereas the DOS version merely complained that it ran out of memory, and allowed me to save. Not being an expert in coding, I suspect there's a memory leak somewhere. Eventually I ended up quite a ways into the game, with the triggers for the game's next events simply not happening.

I've seen RPG and adventure thrown at this game quite a bit. I would have to say that while I don't think the game is a full-blown RPG, it leans towards that more than it leans towards adventure. As I said during the playthrough, adventure games require proper interaction, not just walking into anything that looks slightly interesting. The game at least has the bare minimum of what makes a RPG a RPG.

While the game does a RPG-style progression of weapons, as in there's rarely any point to using older weapons, at least until the part I quit on, I did like the progression. Going from lobbing shots high in the sky to being able to actually point at a foe felt nice. 3/10

Curiously, the enemies don't quite follow the RPG progression, some are obviously stronger than earlier areas, but others get weaker. I did like how some of the important enemies taunt you before combat, though you do have to go slightly out of your way to hear it. I did like how the AI in this game functioned, as it seemed very human, having the same limitations and making the same mistakes I did. 4/10

None of the NPCs ever really anything to help me beyond giving me what amounted to a key. Some followed me, but this was annoying, so much so that even the developers knew this. 1/10

From a gameplay standpoint, I disliked most of the levels, basically only existing as a featureless green void. They try to be clever with this by adding features sometimes, or interior areas, but its still obvious this is the bare minimum, and all they could do. 1/10

Player Agency:
The controls in this game felt considerably more tolerable than most. Having the aiming reticle and movement controlled by the same method at the same time is less than ideal, but it could have been a lot worse. I didn't feel like the controls were too unbarable, but I did dislike the function keys having everything not controlled by the mouse. 4/10

None, just walk into anything. 0/10

I can't say this is quite the impression the game went for, but I thought it did a good job of creating a fantasy world in deep decade, despite obviously being worse than the Amiga version. Lonely, open terrain, saving the odd person left alive amidst hordes of demons and bandits. This feels like a predecessor to all those Myst-clone adventure games, just with slightly more people. 4/10

There are flashes of brilliance here and there, like the skyboxes and enemy sprites, but mostly it just looks like what it is, a featureless green void. 2/10

That was a lot of backstory that didn't really come up at all. I do like the in-game characters, though their triggers seem to be broken at times. Far too much of this is effectively pointless. 3/10

Your usual PC speaker sounds. 1/10

That's 23.

Now, I just rated this based on the DOS settings, for a very good reason. The Amiga and ST versions are clearly superior in every way, so its not fair to those to combine these ratings together. The DOS version does have the advantage of being more stable, but I still ultimately couldn't beat it. If I managed to get that version to continue playing, I suspect this game would get to 29, couple points each in atmosphere, graphics and sound. As such, I would only suggest that version.

The next we'll see these guys is far in the future, with their tank simulations, starting with Team Yankee, which is based off some comic book I've never heard of. Or a book, as I was only told about the comic book. Why do they keep making games based off books? Why do they keep licensing titles? I think this is the only original title, and everything else is really weird.

All in all, a rather disquieting end to the '80s for FPS titles. Seems fitting considering more often than not, the decade has been full of disappointment. Still, I am happy that the decade is over, because the future is bright and interesting.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Tropical Angel (1983)

Name:Tropical Angel
Time:50 minutes
Won:Won (48W/49L)

Summer is almost over here, meaning its time to put away the tropical shirts and tropical drinks, and start wearing sweaters and consuming a dangerous amount of pumpkin spice flavored items. While its bit a particularly unpleasant summer, I do not look forward to an equally unpleasant winter and the temperatures here have gotten to the point where its just comfortable enough. As a final hurrah, I decided to pick out this title.
Irem was one of the earliest arcade title manufacturers in Japan, you might know them for R-Type, In the Hunt or Moon Patrol. Over the years they were quite the bedrock of Japanese gaming, as such, I suspect that this will not be the last we've seen of them. They apparently did everything from cotton candy machines to pachinko in the very early days. Fun fact, it was founded by Kenzo Tsujimoto, the same person who founded Capcom.

In theory a racing game, Tropical Angel asks the player to control a water-skiing woman through a rock filled obstacle course. In practice, speed isn't all that important, but avoiding rocks is. I am curious as to how these rocks don't screw with the boat propelling me, but I don't really think logic enters into this game. And what is it with Japanese racing games and having A-class test, B-class test as track names? Maybe its because I don't pay attention to motorsport, but I can't say I've seen that used outside of the context of video games.

To further differentiate itself from the pack, the game includes a show off mode you can switch to, where the lady skier will spin around, the boat will stop speeding up, and you can't turn. Basically just for points and to make yourself seem cool. It doesn't seem like they put any effort into that lady's face. Otherwise its your basic racing setup, speed, left and right turning.

Because of the set-up, this game feels quite bizarre in how it plays. You only get the road up to a certain distance, as its being created by the boat. As such, you can't really tell what's past the boat, it seems like every time I tried to guess it went wrong. That's not to say you can't react to them, even if you can't, the combination of being able to slow down and the generous time limit means you can probably avoid most of them, at least at this point.

Prepare to see this a lot
Crashing, as in getting those penalties feels so bizarre in this game. Early on when I was just starting out it practically felt like I had a cheat mode on, because crashing isn't quite as big a deal as it should be. I mentioned the penalty, and it just feels...soft. Its comical how many times it happens, so much that despite being an effective obstacle, it doesn't quite feel right. I feel like I should be losing the game or getting something else as a penalty.
So its not really that long before I manage to win, which allows me to reach a bonus stage. The first one is all about jumping up ramps. These were sprinkled throughout the ordinary level, but often too far out of comfortable reach. If you don't hit these right, you end up falling down. On this stage automatically results in you advancing. I didn't really get a lot of bonus points here either, because they were still out of comfortable reach.
At first the A-class stages seem like the starting too, just with a slightly tighter time limit. Only, its here that the game introduces another aspect of the game, the shark. You have to avoid him, or you'll instantly lose. There's nothing wrong with this in theory, but in practice this makes the game unnecessarily brutal, at least without save states. Here I am saying the game feels strange before, now that there's something to worry about it feels annoying. The game just can't win.
The shark isn't too bad though, as most of the sections involving one has a dearth of rocks in the water, and his patterns are relatively easy to predict.

To make matters worse, it feels like the A-class stages are designed specifically so you the natural choice of the player in steering will guarantee falling into the water. Its infuriating. It feels like I should be able to slow down and spot these things, but it seems more a test of muscle memory than reaction.
The second bonus stage is a slalom. You know, water slalom is apparently a thing, but it did make me think the game was a reskinned snowsport game. Jumping, slaloming, you can understand why. This is really, really easy outside of a small handful of places. I have no idea why the game is so generous about it. Because there are places where you're practically just staying still getting past them.
None of these screenshots really convey how difficult this game truly is
The final stages are infuriating through and through. I don't know how you'd be able to get through them without save states. Getting past this section felt so absurd that watching it must look akin to seeing someone playing QWOP. Surely, it can't be that bad! Yes, it is. Now shark waves are moments of relaxation between the sheer chaos that is the rock stages. Its half being so strategically placed you're lucky to dodge them, and half I somehow went into the same stupid trap ten times in a row.

I will note that I figured out how the edges worked here, you can move into them once in a while, with no harm, but keep it down and you'll fly out.
This is all a lot different in action. Fortunately, someone else took footage of the game. I just want to note two things, he gets really lucky several times, and he eventually uses the invincibility cheat. Someone good enough to make a video on it is using a cheat. If I weren't using save states, I suspect it would have taken me a lot longer to win the game.
I like the way the game looks. The whole place oozes that tropical atmosphere. I love it. I do however, think the game is incredibly basic, as we get a few basic elements, a really nice skybox, and then...the same thing for the fifteen minute duration of the game. This works best if you set it so the game has engine noises rather than music, as the tune that plays in that case is extremely generic.

The purple water gives the place a slightly alien vibe, like this takes place on an alien world. But its not so obvious the game is screaming alien planet at you. I feel like if someone made a concept like a sci-fi beach game today, it would be so overwhelmingly alien it would feel on the nose. "This much greeting to you, Trixatrix, Concubine to the Seven Kings of Aior".


A shark, who was more of a boon than a foe. 1/10


We placed rocks in this order, get past them. Technically you get the same twisty curve stuff as Outrun and other racers of this time, but it hardly matters. Absolute insanity. 3/10

Player Agency:
This is probably intentional, but the controls felt a bit too stiff. Since the game is all about water-skiing, its probably trying to emulate a slightly awkward way of moving around. 3/10


I liked the way the game depicted its tropical setting, but I just wish there was more of it. More islands, some tropical music, maybe even some seagulls. 4/10

I have some minor difficulty figuring out where rocks are going to appear in front of me, but otherwise, I think the game looks great. 4/10


The game offers two modes, music and sound mode. The music is your typical happy NES tune, while the sound is okay. Just about what you'd expect from this kind of sound chip. 2/10

That's 17.

This seems like quite an extreme contrast. So many zeroes and yet quite a few aspects I liked. Thus its somehow become the highest rated game of 1983. It actually made the average for this year jump a point...to 7. (the games I played before actually getting to this year were all bad)
I hope it does not remain that way. Not because I didn't enjoy it, but because of what that would mean. I would recommend this to racing game fans, but that's partially because racing game fans seem to just hate themselves based on how hard racing games tend to be.

Programming note, this will probably be the last 1983 game I blog about until November. I have a very interesting title to talk about next, and I also want to get through as many FPS titles as I can through the rest of this year.