Sunday, November 27, 2022

Galactic Empire (1990)

Name:Galactic Empire
Developer:Coktel Vision
Time:6 hours 20 minutes (final playthrough)
Won:Yes (53W/52L)

It feels weird, finally summarizing this game after so long, and being able to say that's the last I'll ever play of it. Like most early FPS titles, its playstyle and influences are unique from what would become the eventual proper form of the genre. Unlike most of those, what makes this game unique is generally a good thing. While it lacks the kind of control scheme we today are used to, what it has in most other categories is a unique and interesting experience that I think is a shame we haven't seen elsewhere.

Galactic Empire is based off the French tabletop RPG Empire Galactique, written by Francois Nedelec who also wrote the computer game along with Frederic Chauvelot, a Coktel graphic artist, whose only other writing credit was on the similarly ill-fated The Last Dynasty. Nedelec started his career off in the French tabletop scene before going to Coktel Vision in 1989. His first titles? Racing games and E.S.S., that space simulation I briefly covered a while ago. From TTRPGs to action games seems like a strange shift to me, but Sandy Petersen started off much the same way.

The tabletop game, which I will refer to as Empire Galactique for the remainder of the review even if it means Galactic Empire in French, seems to be inspired by Megatraveller. Each character has 6 attributes, skill, force, endurance, charm, intelligence, and will. Skill seems to be a cross between education and general ability, while force is strength. Each attribute has a desired career path, some normal like adventurer, soldier, priest and merchant. Some stranger, like "navyborg", a cybernetic navigator who apparently hold a monopoly on interstellar navigation, and "tekno", a character archetype the booklet says is the Donald Duck character Gyro Gearloose, who can fix anything and everything. Europeans make references to Donald Duck in everything, don't they?

The creation aspect reveals a few things about what kind of stats the player is expected to have. Each guild, that is every character archetype except the adventurer, expects the player to have at least 7 in their chosen attribute and a number of skills to advance each time period. Each skill has a number, for instance, Mechanics has 63, which means the Teknos guild teaches it as well as the army. Each skill goes from 0 (which functions like a penalty) to 6, which means you're practically unbeatable. I can see why they eliminated this from the computer game, because this sort of thing is hard to make matter in the virtual world, although the number of skills seems lower than Megatraveller-related RPGs.

Now, interestingly, going through the books I managed to snag off a fansite, Ether, the setting of this game, is entirely an original creation for the computer game. Despite one of the planet's trademark weapons, Arachnopistol, appearing before it. The weapons lists between RPG and computer are different in a few places, including a few weapons that were invented for the computer game yet don't actually exist inside it.

Which brings us to the game itself. A weird combination of action and adventure that doesn't acknowledge that it was even based on anything. Indeed, it took me to the most obscure corners of the internet to find out that information. Released in a hap-hazard manner by companies that seemed indifferent to its success. In one territory the game even had screenshot from the wrong game on the back of the box. In retrospect, the development of this game must have given Coktel Vision no confidence in the game, or that they just didn't know how to advertise it.

We are treated to an intro that depicts this warfare, although if you didn't read the manual you'd have no idea what is going on. Its not really an important sequence either way, but it looks pretty neat the first time you see it. Its skippable, but you really have to press the key a few times, which is just annoying. And prone to skipping the text intro, which explains a bit of the story.
The story, as I've managed to piece together, is that you are a top secret agent of the titular galactic empire. The planet Ether is undergoing a vicious civil war, with one party being the racists concerned about the economy and obtaining medicinal materials called the Scarlet Militia, which has turned into a brutal dictatorship. Led by a man called Voltar, they have seceded from the Empire, which the other factions aren't too keen on. The merchants guild remains neutral, but the Teknos are fighting back.

One tiny problem exists within Voltar's plan, and that is that Ether is a hellhole inhabitable only through the use of mobile tanks. Gravity is ten times that of Earth, there is no oxygen, its temperature is 450 degrees centigrade, there is considerable acid rain, it is desert, either arid or volcanic, and the local wildlife are cannibalistic sex machines who live for a few days and may or may not eat their parents after birth. In short, a place I wouldn't put at the top of my vacations spots. Its chief reasons for existing in this state are tourism and exports, people want to see the weird wildlife, and that same wildlife can have their venom glands extracted to create anti-riot weaponry.

So you are to go in, under the cover of being Ted Fost, a reporter for a "homeo-newpaper", in order to determine what the situation is and what actions the Empire should take. While the Empire leans towards the various non-Scarlet factions, they're willing to negotiate with them should they end up being the winners. Its interesting to see a game where the vast intergalactic force are not only the good guys, but also who you're working for, albeit window dressing. Far too often it seems like its one or the other. Well, excepting strategy games to a certain degree.
This is kind of an interesting game, because by modern standards the amount of story inside is what you would get from a modern game that would be considered storyless, but I think the less is more approach generally worked in this case. That said, I note that the manual is 100% required reading, not just because of the controls, but because without it, you will not understand what is going on in this game very much. The intro text explains some, but the English is questionable. This doesn't work against the game when future people are talking, but when the game is explaining information to you, it does. There's simply more text in the manual so you get a better grasp of what they're trying to say.

To give a demonstration of what I mean, the game starts you off on Ether, in the city of Tiph-Ether. An obvious failing of the game, as you've probably noticed, is that this looks awful. It doesn't really look great in motion either. A number of simplistic, crude vehicles intended to contain humans, as you can see by the GUI. This is clearly a compromise on the developers part to make something that doesn't look totally awful in motion, but I still don't understand why they didn't just try a completely 2D title. I like the games of Coktel Vision, but there's no denying they sometimes overstepped their limitations in a way that didn't work out for them.

The less obvious failing from the screenshots is how annoying this game controls. The numpad moves your view around, fair enough, but to move forward and back you need to use the + & - keys. 8 & 2 just looks up and down. There's no reason to do so. To move sideways, hold down Ctrl and 4 or 6. What's worse is that this is the alternative mode of moving, the default is your semi-typical FPS keyboard control scheme of the time. Left and right turns, forward moves forward. The issue is that this isn't the kind of game that really works. Imagine if you had to right click your mouse every time in Ultima Underworld you wanted to do something with an item, because that's the control scheme Galactic Empire has.

Oh, yeah, manipulating items. Fun. Now, the lower left box you see contains your item, whenever its red you're using the item. This isn't too hard to figure out, but you do need to click on everything to use or pick it up, including talking to NPCs. Then with NPCs, you click the C button around the person representing your character. This enters dialog if the guy doesn't want to shoot you. The game will let you know if you're too far away to properly use something, which isn't a problem except that sometimes this is shorter than I'd like, and if you walk into something, you get damaged, since collision is a thing. Oh, and every time you move or shoot you need to wait to regenerate health/power. Which I'll get to my big problem with that in a moment.

Selecting items from your inventory is quite the chore, as you have to select rotating items. With the mouse. And they have tiny hitboxes. If you miss you exit the inventory without selecting anything. And its slow. So don't do this in the middle of combat.

Which despite the wealth of equipment in the game, is pretty much just a game of guess the right weapon. There are weapons good against the living and weapons good against robots. If you don't have the right one before combat happens, well, you're probably going to die. Because the biggest problem with combat is that you have no ability to survive against enemy fire. There are shields, but they never seemed to work. This seems like its a guessing game too, since I noticed some enemies changed my vehicles temperature, meaning they weren't using lasers.
Since health regenerates, one might think to wait it out. Well...that's not going to work. Because you're on a timer for most of the game. You constantly need to get more oxygen and supplies of it are very limited. Ammo is a concern too, but looking back, I think there's just enough to make it through the entire game, whereas oxygen puts the entire game through a constant desperate struggle. There are locations where you can restore all your vehicle's stats, but these are at the ends of the stages you need them the most.

The player's dialog is on the top, the NPC's is on the bottom
Now despite all that, I didn't just play this game for 2 years because I wanted a win, there are interesting aspects of the game. Let's go back to dialog, because I glossed over that. There's a man in the space port right next to the start, who is the perfect demonstration. Talking to someone causes the screen to turn black, and a dialog window to literally roll down and show you talking to whoever you've just engaged in dialog with. This is the one time the game's 3D aspect actually works, although Fost isn't really 3D.
Fost has 5 dialog options, which vary from, hostile, in the sense that you openly threaten to murder your conversation partner, to suspiciously friendly, since you are a reporter. Its akin to Alpha Protocol's aggressive/casual/professional system except you can see dialog ahead of time. This is useful since not everything is a hostile choice straight off, and some people don't respond well to professionalism. Correctly dealing with each character is important, because you can find out important information or get useful items. And also, if you aren't careful, they will start shooting at you and you will die. Yes, its that kind of game. You are in a war, after all.

Despite this, and my eventual decision to just start shooting everyone, I liked the dialog. It has a distinctly alien flavor to it. Whether its down to translation error or if it feels this alien in French is something I doubt I'll ever really know. What I do know is that lines like "Hello at home" or "Stuff yourself with the robots", while not perfect English, sound pretty cool, and characters are informative when you can finally wring things out of them. There's one moment that sticks out to me, that only works with this game's dialog system, where upon certain statements, all of Fost's replies will be "So what".

Trading is also something you can do, with actual merchants or sometimes with civilians that just feel like doing so. You can, in theory, threaten people into giving you stuff, but I never figured it out. Trade works exclusively on an item for item basis. Galactic credits must not have value for people who might not be able to use them when all is said and done. Characters will ask for things like ammo, oxygen or a weapon in exchange for a weapon, or the key to advance through the level. Navigation through the game requires careful consideration of your own resources and if you truly need something someone is selling.
Or you could just shoot them. Yes, unlike a lot of games Galactic Empire feels like you have a lot of freedom in how you act in the game, and that includes the ability to just shoot anyone who has an item you want. This isn't as much of a free thing as you might think, as shooting people costs ammo and ammo is finite. There's also a very good question as to if this causes later NPCs to become less eager to talk to you.

This leads into why this game, despite its flaws, was actually pretty good. There is a sense of openness in the game along with little direction that actually works in its favor, even if in practice its more linear than it appears. Perhaps its for this reason I was so fond of the game over the more open early FPSes like Corporation and Sleeping Gods Lie, in which the openness came of as a complete lie. (pun unintended) Yes, levels do generally progress along one path, but this makes the game feel like a tight experience. Too tight at times.
Each level is fairly small, Wolfenstein 3D is a good comparison, but you have a short draw distance and move slowly. Its also very dense, possibly one of the densest commercial titles I've ever seen. Not just every building and person, but each section of road has an item or challenge to deal with. How many games can you think of that require smuggling a weapon through customs? Puzzles are very real world like that. Perform a series of deals to get the item you need, deal with guards in buildings you need items from. Most of these deals tend to be in the player's favor to, you'd think having a flamethrower would be useful, but you are on a planet where the temperature is unreasonably warm, so its not the most effective weapon.
What passes for a turret in this game
The game has 4 levels, which in practice are 3 levels with one being repeated with a twist. The first is where most of the interesting stuff happens, while level 2 is where I got stuck. For about 2 years. Better than me still trying to beat Elvira without consulting a walkthrough for going on about 10 years. Basically, you teleport to a wildlife enclosure, put a specific animal into it, which then shoots an otherwise unkillable robot to get an exit badge for the teleporter. Simple in theory, awful in practice. The game outright tells you this and it took that long. You need to find a specific animal, you need to kill the animal chasing after it, at least in my playthrough, then you need to move this animal in such a way that its pathfinding doesn't get stuck on the walls of the enclosure.
This is really where I got the feeling of this being an adventure game in a 3D environment. Because done like an adventure game where all these are static actions, this is fine. Kill the other animal, bait the right one to the gate, and boom, you now have the key. I am about 75% sure that the baiting an animal to something to get a key has been done in a Coktel Vision game before, so clearly even someone there knew.
A very nice full-screen graphic, something the game doesn't show enough of
Let me make an aside about the game's geography. This doesn't really matter, but its not consistent. Like I said, you start off in Tiph-Ether, the city where the spaceport is. Then you get teleported down to the planet's surface. Which I guess means outside of the high gravity dome in this case. What is confusing is that after teleporting out of this area you get sent to...Tiph-Ether, according to the loading screen, but is supposed to be in actuality be the Tekno Dsehe city. Most of these I assume are translation errors, but the last one bugs me.
Tekno Dsehe or level 3 is a madhouse, consisting of traps which may kill you, soldiers who chase you down and kill you in one shot, civilians who if you talk to wrong kill you in one shot, police who take all your weapons if you talk to and then kill you in one shot. The difficulty is cranked up so high its practically a different game than the previous levels. Resources become very tight here, so much so that using too much ammo in the mostly generous first level is an unwise move. Meanwhile, you start getting weapons that don't really feel distinct from one another.

I'm not really sure I could have won this particular section without cheating, because between having a time limit in the form of oxygen, along with the numerous sources of damage and having to wait for that to heal, I might have had to have spent four times longer in this game than I did. Its not even something that would be that hard to fix, just add a few more oxygen and ammo items and lower the damage you take to one shot instantly kills you, because its honestly clever once you take away that extreme element.

I'm ultimately not going to spoil the overarching plot in this review, although if you don't want to play it yourself you can click on the Galactic Empire tag at the bottom of this post. That said, I will note that the game's plot wraps everything up quite nicely, including several game mechanics that seem like they're incompetently done. The ending is one of those rare things that manages to pull off a final level that just completely twists your expectations in a satisfying way.

Interesting variety, but it seems like you basically have three different types of weapons which are only mildly distinguishable. 3/10

In a weird way, almost everything is both an enemy and not an enemy. Of the ones that attack you no matter what they're mostly only distinguishable by what type they are. 3/10

While I sort of figured out what the trick is in the dialog, its not necessarily any more complex than your average Bioware title, its pretty clever for an action game from 1990. Outside of the dialog system, NPCs are a bit weird, since while they're nominally friendly, they're very easy to make hostile, which does make a game already eager to kill these guys feel less intelligent than it promises to be. 4/10

I feel like despite some issues, this was much better than it had any right being for the time. The first and third level, despite being really linear, feel like a tight experience, and the final level is something I'm going to be thinking about for a long time. 5/10

Player Agency:
I guess I can say it controls in at least something understandable, but it seems like every decision they made was a poor one here. Selecting inventory items, your ability to defend yourself properly, and of course, the whole bizarre control scheme. 1/10

A bit too limiting for the most part. Scenery is affected by weapons, but for the most part, all you can do is click on things and hope that did something. 2/10

Putting aside the cool factor of being an intergalactic spy, this just feels inately alien and cosmic. Things like unusual phrases and mannerisms, to the equipment, wildlife and locations. This just succeeded in creating an alien world, and its just one of a vast galactic empire. 8/10

Not very appealing primitive 3D graphics. I liked the 2d art though and I guess you could tell what everything is at a glance. 1/10

I admit distaste for the final twist, but otherwise this was executed wonderfully. The limited amount of space they could use for things and the absolute requirement of the manual do drag it down. 6/10

My only real problems are in the game's limited usage of both. There's only one track, and as interesting and moody as it is, you're going to get sick of it. Which makes sense considering that you can't listen to the soundtrack and have sounds. The sounds are low-bit, but very effective. There's a decent variety of enemy screams along with weapon sounds. 6/10

That's 39. Befitting that, its the highest rated FPS chronologically, and the second highest game chronologically, behind Dungeon Master.

Despite the relatively high rating, I do not recommend this game, for the simple reason that for everything it does right it commits a grievous sin to make up for it. Plus part of the appeal, I feel, is that twist. That, the awful controls and graphics makes it difficult to actually play. Nevertheless, this will always hold a place in my heart, because of what it has done and because it is tentatively the highest rated FPS chronologically.
I'm actually going to point out that in some senses you could consider this the kind of game that gets punched on in internet reviews, and if it weren't for the difficulties in getting it to run in DOSbox, this would be a popular punching bag. But as it stands, people who tend to do that sort of thing rarely put in any effort, certainly not enough to figure out an Amiga emulator.

How about old reviews? Not great, or more precisely, middling, which by the standards of the magazines I could find, is less akin to playing a video game and more akin to coming back from a vacation to find all the drains in your house have been clogged with feces and there's a dead hobo in your bed. Amiga Joker, infamous for giving bloated scores, gave this a 59%, citing poor controls and graphics. Huh, interesting, they didn't praise the graphics. Rare moment of lucidity? ASM's review perfectly sums up what a modern reaction to the game would be, taken from about 15 minutes into the game, if that:

At this point I want to break off the description of what is happening in the game, I also did not get much further. Maybe it was because of the terrible controls or the unmanageable graphics or simply because it was absolutely no fun for me.

The English reviews, the two which I could find, either describe the game boringly, or rave about the dialog system on and on. Not a lot of love for a supposedly action-based title, which may have contributed to its failure.

In comparison to the two other confusing early FPS released around this time, Corporation and Cybercon III, I think this is superior, obviously. While both broadly come off the same way, confusing, badly controlling messes that far overstepped what should be done with the technology at the time, the badness and confusion of this game disappears. Its bad controls are just bad, they work. I'm not sure I ever understood the others, they're incomprehensible. And for every bit as tight resources were in this game, the other two are worse.

I think Coktel Vision could have made this far, far better than it was simply by making the game a graphic adventure. This game performs a lot worse than it should thanks to the game's control scheme and graphics. I've given it some thought over the past year or so and I'm going to start working towards making a graphical adventure/RPG remake of this title. Though I should note, that I don't mean this year or probably even the next year, but eventually. Kind of want to make that as close as possible to what they would actually make, warts and all. I have something I'm going to try to make first, and I don't know if its going to turn out worth it or not.

Pierre Gilhodes, who didn't work on this game, later said that Galactic Empire had a mediocre run. In retrospect, I assume the sequel was due to contractual obligations...for some reason. Advanced Galactic Empire, or A.G.E. will be played sometime in the future, but that is actually a space simulation. I plan on getting to that sometime before Inca 2 is reached over at The Adventure Gamer. It might be tricky because I also want to play titles like Black Crypt and Bloodwych before replaying their respective developers' FPS titles.  Yeah, I've got myself some work to do in the coming months.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Dough Boy (1983)

Taken from Mobygames
Name:Dough Boy
Developer:Synapse Software
Time:50 minutes
Won:Yes (54W/52L)

(The spelling of the title is inconsistent, but this is what it is everywhere on the internet and on the version I'm playing)

A very mundane game with a very curious coating. Doughboy, as you probably don't know, is a curious title applied to American infantry from the time of the Mexican-American war to WWI. Many reasonings have been given as to why, but the one I'm going to stick with is that dust setting on their tan uniforms made them look like they were covered in flour, and as anyone who has made baked goods knows, that's what dough tends to look like. A fact the Japanese missed when they did the 1985 Famicom, giving the player character a modern military getup and M16 drawn by someone who has never seen a M16 before.
The story is a matter of public debate. That sounds like a joke, but nobody knows. The back of the VIC-20 and C64 versions (which actually depict vaguely WWI warfare) mention that you're there to take supplies before the enemy gets them, but nowhere else mentions it. Mobygames says you're there to rescue the president, while others say you're there to rescue generic POWs. Its possible that the plot changed between versions, but I see no mention of the president on the back of the Japanese box art. I am not quite perfect in that regard yet, however.

I'm unsure if this is simply because its NES port, but the game feels slightly better than other chronological top-down shooters. Now, don't mistake that for words of high praise, because this is only good in comparison, not good in general. This is still one of those games where you die in one hit, everything on a level respawns after you die, and the game wants to do way more than you can do with a NES controller, although not entirely. I'll get to that one. I shudder to think how obnoxious this must be to play on a C64.
This playthrough is indeed done with save states, but just at the start of each level. Playing this legit seems like it'd be a chore.

The green guy is me, the white guy is an enemy
Each stage (or map as the game calls it) consists of a screen that pans from left to right, with the first being a sort of trench area. Enemy soldiers fill trenches as you try to get across the screen. This is where the back of the original box comes in, gather supplies here. Things like TNT, wire for the TNT, mines, wire cutters and ladders. You'll need them. They're not optional. Dough Boy is a deceptively easy game, in that unlike other games of the era you don't have to deal with a million things at once. At worst, you'll be dealing with four. Everything dies in one hit, and enemy rate of fire is reasonable. Better yet, touching enemies results in their death.
The problem comes with the controls. At this point their full badness doesn't come into play, but its clear this isn't good. Movement is fine, but to shoot you have to hold down the A button and press a direction. This feels really awkward and oddly enough it makes running into enemies more appealing than actually shooting them. Still, the first stage is fairly simple and beatable after a few tries at most.
I can't help but look at some of the curved ground pieces and wonder why they bothered
Then comes the second stage. To advance, you need to destroy all these things with TNT. Okay. Select enters a menu, pause enters a different menu. Not sure why those needed to be different. B seems to activate the wire cutters...sometimes. Holding down A, waiting for a beep and then releasing it drops a mine. You can and will screw yourself that way. What you need to do is hold down A, wait a bit after the beep, and then start moving away, dropping TNT with a wire that follows you as you decide how long to make it. And no, you can't cut the TNT's wire. Isn't this supposed to be a console for children? What kind of kid has the patience to deal with that crap?
To top it all off this is a finicky level despite looking like it was designed to allow the player to practice using explosives. You get a boat shooting at you from the right, fair enough, its not that tricky to dodge. But all that blue stuff is water, and if you step on it you are dead. You have a weird bit of mercy in that your hitbox seems funny for this, but that just makes it worse.
Stage 3 is where things get interesting. Now you have to blow up all the barrels in what I presume is a fuel dump. Previously, you've needed the key to get out of a level, but they've been so close to the end it doesn't matter. Meanwhile, here it only seems to appear after destroying all the barrels. As a result to advance you have to destroy your own cover, which is a bit awkward. Tanks appear at the ends of stage, along with wire fences. Which you can indeed use the wire cutters on. This is harder, but I guess its manageable.
Stage 4 is less difficult but a bit more annoying. Now you have to climb ladders. Really, the only difficulty involved was figuring it out, Hold B and a direction, then press B to take a ladder back in. I only had two, so that was extremely necessary. Even with a tank at the end it wasn't too bad. Guess it was intended as a breather for...
See that black lump? That's a mine. Have fun with that
Stage 5 is a hateful little thing where you wander around the dark avoiding landmines. You have to slowly approach this. Did I mention this is a timed game? There isn't even a way to get past this without dying once. TNT is also having this weird habit where you're laying out a wire, but somehow stop in the middle of it, start shooting. And here its frequent for that to result in me being caught in the explosion. If a kid beat this without save states he was nuts. Its only after you get past this minefield that the level really starts. Now you have to blow up all the buildings on the map, including some towers with spotlights. Enter a spotlight or a certain area around the tower, and a single guard appears. Not all of them, just one.
Once you blow them all up, you get a key to unlock the area to another building, which you have to blow up to retrieve a POW. Then you crawl backwards with a very awkwardly done AI companion and the game ends with good luck. Well, the game then restarts but with a shorter time limit but I have no interest in that. Nor in the Mode B which now includes missiles being fired at you or in the two-player mode where the second player fires the missiles. Probably because this wasn't that good.

Its definitely a 1983 game. Mired in that arcade spirit to make what is a very short game into a game that could last months, while having cohesive levels and objectives. Something that would plague the NES for most of its life, but here it feels like we're seeing that kind of design for the first time. We've seen sparks of it in Castle Wolfenstein, but that was randomized, this is not. There's something about it that feels recognizably like the kind of game I would enjoy from the '90s, even if it doesn't live up to that standard.

This all gets away from the fact that this isn't a very appealing game. Visually, this looks like something someone would make in their very first video game. Granted, I feel some sympathy for ground, as water and concrete is generally hard to get right at such low resolutions, but bombs that are basically just a box? Are you kidding me? The music, meanwhile, is what you expect from the NES. I think its some kind of American tune I should remember, but it escapes me at this moment. I know the NES was capable of a little better, I liked the Legend of Zelda theme the first time I heard it, but despite using three channels its not all that good in actual games.

Some very confusing to use gun and explosives. 2/10

Two different general varieties, shootable and ones you have to use explosives on. Curiously, the AI on the enemies is interesting, because they don't necessarily make a beeline at you or shoot with 100% accuracy. 2/10

The single POW you rescue doesn't have much of an effect on gameplay, beyond annoyance. 0/10

A series of different areas that despite the developers best efforts, feel like fresh new challenges. Even if they don't always work. I dislike how you have to get everything on the first level though. 3/10

Player Agency:
Functional, but they tried to do too much with too few buttons. None of the items or weapons are very easy to use and because you sometimes have to deal with tight situations this can screw you over. 2/10

You can destroy a lot of scenery objects, but for the most part this is just stuff the game expects you to destroy to advance. You cannot destroy a tree, for example. 1/10

That bright sunny NES disposition...for a game involving warfare. 0/10

Yeugh. 0/10

Go rescue some POWs. That's like the most generic possible story outside of "kill Hitler". 0/10

Blaring public domain AMERICAN music along with some typical NES sounds. 1/10

That's 11.

Reviews of the game almost universally give it a worse rating than I do. Quotes like "absolute trash" and "worst game on the NES". I'm not entirely sure I'd count it among the worst titles on the NES, but that's simply because I think there are stacks of worse titles. Not really worth a look though.

That's it for console games in 1983. I also note that we've seen the last of the Atari 2600 for the foreseeable future, as I eliminated the last of them to get to this point. I can't say I'm sorry to see it go. While its place in history was important, today it feels like a collection of simple one note games without much point in playing for more than a little while. Said not long after the release of Infogrames as Atari releasing yet another Atari game collection for an obscene amount of money. Now the NES is going to take its place as king of console trash.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Galactic Empire: Won!

How did I get past the roadblock I alone found impossible to breech? Well, I got a different thought than I previously had. What if I need to have an animal shoot the robot? That mural looks more like an animal shooting a robot to me. I can't help but feel like I tried it before though.

Now, the fun thing about this is that the shooty animals are a pain to lead into anywhere. Their pathfinding is slightly better, since they're chasing after you in a zig-zag pattern, but that's the only good thing. They shoot quite rapidly and its easy for two or three shots to kill you. You need to dodge this while successfully getting the AI to go around a corner that looks like this: --| |--
I'm not sure that's coming off in the screenshots, but it is an infuriating thing. Not only does it seem like the game is set up so that this isn't possible, its set up so that if you think you've done it THE GAME SCREWS YOU OVER ANYWAY! If this is the right way to do it, no wonder nobody online has beaten the game. Right, screw it, back to cheating. If I try to do any of this legit I'm just going to be frustrated.

This turns out to have been the wise choice, because otherwise I never would have gotten anything here done. In the sense that there was something for me to get done. Because neither the animal nor the robot ever decide to attack each other, I start positioning it so that their attacks will hit each other. At some point it surely must have happened, so we can exclude this as a possibility. As insane as Coktel Vision could be, I refuse to believe they expect their playerbase to perform feats of such precision while your resources are not just slowly being drained, but very quickly.

Right, so its time to cheat again. Its actually something I have to go the extra mile to deal with, since I have to use Game Conqueror, that is, a Linux version of Cheat Engine, to find out what numbers my ammo, health, power and oxygen are. Yeah, this is that kind of experience. I should also note that I've found a landmine out in the jungle, so there might just be something else out here.

Cheating doesn't actually do anything for me, at least in terms of advancing. It does seem to reveal how much of a fool's errand dealing with the animals and the logimech is. Either I have to figure out a single animal or find something out in the jungle. Let me make it clear if it isn't, but my god finding and bringing a specific animal WITH cheats feels like work, without it, I'd be surprised if anyone won it. Spending more than a few minutes trying to do something results in a mess of tangled animals, running fruitlessly against a wall, and a huge pile of meat. All the animals here are carnivores, see.
I almost think I've gotten it when I try using the badge that just opened up doors back on the space station causes a sound when I use it on the logimech, but this is just a red herring. Nothing spawns, nothing happens.

That looks like a robot expressing terror at being shot
Rather than using more brute force techniques, I decide to figure out which animal matches the head on the mural by having a screenshot of it out at all times. Its success straight away, as outside the building are two animals, one who always chases after me and one who has been beneath my notice. Now, I just need to figure out how to get it into the pen. Its kind of running away, even if it attacks me sometimes. Fortunately I can gather enough meat to drag it into the enclosure, or not, since it got stuck on the wall. Hey, never tried using meat on the animals, rather than dropping it.
Well, that seems like it works, but because it won't stop following me afterwards, it dies to the logimech. Worse still, it seems like a fluke, because it doesn't happen again. But at least I know that if I'm ever getting past this, this is the animal to get into the enclosure. For the first time in quite a while, it feels like I actually have a chance at getting past this. That, was what I wrote in September.

November arrives, and the tone is much more somber. Like clockwork, cheating to give myself infinite health and ammo has failed. Now I have to do the task of setting it up again, and hoping that I can save it for a later time. I can't help but feel on my combined playthroughs of this game I've spent more time trying to cheat than I have playing most games. All for another fruitless evening of trying to move around this damn animal into a coral so it'll hopefully shoot the thing I want it to shoot. Then I realize I've been small-minded about this whole cheating thing. All I can think about is making myself invulnerable, and yet I have the ability to do anything that could be measured in-game. Like, say, moving characters around?
Frankly, this seems to be too complex to successfully do, and worse yet, I end up with a character who looks like he should attack, but doesn't. Still, I figure I should attempt it on another day, especially if my luck with cheating ends up holding.

All that trouble for a tiny badge...
I manage to get the correct animal in, through dumb luck. Okay, I think, guess I should try to move myself around cleverly...and its shooting at something. Wait. I slowly approach. There's no logimech. There's an item on the ground. OH MY GOD! YES! This is the happiest moment I've ever had on this blog. The culmination of what seems like years of failure finally resulting in victory snatched from the jaws of defeat. You just absolutely need to focus on one single animal and get it in here. Its doable, even if it seems impossible.
Aren't I working for the government?

Finally, Tiph-Ether, the capital. Though checking the manual after, it seems like this should be Dsehe, the other city. Guess the spaceport was Tiph-Ether? This is honestly a very interesting image, because it tells me that the whole land cruiser thing was intended to be a substitute for what they really wanted to do, but couldn't. Really, they should have just gone with making a graphic adventure like they usually did. Also, I turned off my cheats at this point, but let's just say that didn't stick.

Tiph-Ether starts out with me inside some random merchant's house. I am quite possibly the only person on the planet to be excited to see a new variation on NPC design in this game. He doesn't really want to associate himself with foreign journalists. I'm not going to screw with him yet. Ah, let's see what a wonderful world I've been placed in!

Ah...smell that smog...
Why a police officer! That's interesting, everyone else was soldiers back on the space station or space port. I give him my usual spiel, Ted Fost, journalist from Cosmopolis. "I am of course, neutral in this war", at which point he relieves me of my weapons. Good thing I saved, I think to myself as he opens fire and kills me in one shot. His gun makes a real mean sound whenever it hits me. I like it, I want one. I reload and take out both the officer and the merchant, the officer drops nothing, but the merchant has an access card. Interesting, but it seems like when I try to negotiate for it at all, he refuses to have anything to do with me. A puzzle I have to return to? Optional side content? Or is shooting him the correct solution?
I decide to come back to this, only to be stopped by a locked gate. Well, that's disappointing, it looked like the game was opening up some, but I guess we can't have that. Right, what's the correct way of dealing with this merchant? I try everything, even intimidation...and nothing. That's not true, he shoots me, which also kills me in one hit. I see where this is going, and I don't like it. If you're going to play dirty, I'm going to play dirty. This is probably the best choice, because after I went through the locked gate I noted the sound of someone shooting at me, who wasn't the cop from earlier, and a few moments later I find a soldier who upon spotting me just starts blasting. Then I try talking to a merchant, who responds by refusing to sell me anything and starts shooting me.

It makes me wonder if the game is intelligent enough to tell what I did on previous stages. Of course, testing that intelligence would involve beating that stage a second time. That's something that's really not going to happen. So I guess I'm just going to operate under the principle of shooting everything that isn't friendly. Which, you know, is sort of a problem when friendlies are of questionable friendliness. Guess it is a war zone after all, and nobody's going to care if a few merchants get shot. This gets me some interesting stuff, like a logimech detecting radar that seems to just detect everyone, and a needle gun, which just seems like another stun weapon. I also discover there's an inventory limit, which is a good sign.
Then I discover this. I can't make gifs in DOSbox, so what you should be seeing is these things crawling back and forth. Earlier, the game told me to look out for traps. Its tricky getting past these, and I'm not sure its possible without walking over them at least once. They go off like you're being shot with a machine gun, and for once damage isn't lethal. I mean, its a small advantage considering that right past this is an area where you can end up fighting two soldiers at once, and die incredibly fast. You can fight them one at a time if you're clever, but you have to fight both, since one is guarding a key. I've actually gone back to cheating this game has given me one oxygen and one refill since I've arrived here, hardly sufficient to advance.
To be honest, I'm not sure how you'd get past this without cheating either. Assuming neutrals didn't attack you I see no reason why the enemy wouldn't, and there are just so many of them. Further, you need at least two items from NPCs to pass, that combined with the tight handle on supplies makes this feel like a sequel or a expansion for the players who are good with hard games.
There's also this thing, a turret you can't seem to shoot. Like the floor traps, its more of a machine gun with a damage to match rather than everything else's execution weapons. Every new thing like this feels less like a challenge to overcome and more like an attempt to prolong suffering. Remember, health recovers, while ammo and oxygen doesn't, and there's a limited supply of that here. I find another stunning weapon, spherogel, along with a thermal regulator which is a more mysterious item.
Yes, the room is on fire
Its actually getting to the point where I have far more items than I know what the hell I should even be doing with. This game is outright brutal because I have no idea if the needle gun or the spherogel is going to be useful later, and obviously I can't toss away any keys or oxygen. I wonder how the hell that guy managed to win this so long ago. The game is constantly throwing curveballs at you, like hiding defensive items and keys inside buildings that those defensive items just so happen to protect against. I actually thought that the game was putting you in an unwinnable situation with a room that goes on fire when you enter it, but that's what the thermal regulator is for. Maybe this pass thing I had was supposed to help with me NPCs, as it seems more likely that they don't care for off-world journalists.
I have no idea what this "psycho" thing I got is supposed to be good for, though the manual tells me it manipulates humans somehow. Not good against soldiers, that much is clear.

It also seems that merchants are just difficult to deal with, something I frankly don't really care about at this point, as some merchants are easy to deal with in a different way. It seems like the cool aspect of the game that felt appealing has just sort of gone away for what might as well be any other early FPS.

I eventually find myself facing down a rather annoying task, a crushing ceiling, except in this case its just some random pillar going up and down. Just walk past it right? That's harder than you'd think. It seems like you have just a bit less than enough time to successfully cross it and there's seemingly no way to disable it. As I don't particularly want to deal with this for an even longer time, I cheat my way past it.

That's actually it for the level, there's a little more walking, and then the level exit. This teleport takes me to the surface of Ether again. Guess they're reusing an image, I think to myself. I start off in a room, guess that's also how entering areas starts. Outside is much the same as the last Ether section. That's not true, its exactly the same as the last Ether, except the starting room is empty. There's even a logimech in a secluded area. There's just nothing out there. Except for a spaceship passing by. I would have ended it here, but I wisely decided to continue onward. Because believe it or not, this seems to be the ending area. And it gets WEIRD.
I know, shocking that Coktel Vision gets weird. Shocking that this game gets weird.
I guessed that I needed to do the whole course of what I previously did, put the right animal in the enclosure along with finding the exit out. Fair enough. I get what I think is the right animal, no dice. I figure since the psycho item, which seems to be a mind control item, didn't work previously I could try it with the animals. They start talking to me. WHAT? For the second time this entry things have gone off the rails. There's one that says "YOU HAVE FOUND ME-US", and the first time through I accidentally clicked through the ending.

I took a video of the ending. If you can't or won't see the video, the ending is a wall of text displayed the same way as the introduction, consisting of a dialog between Fost and the spokesanimal of Etherian animals. This is the Melkout we have been so warned of. It seems as though the animals of the planet consist of a grand unified intelligence, of which has been manipulating the population of the planet into this civil war. Fost says that they didn't know, and that they have protections for intelligent species. The spokesanimal agrees to a peace talk with one of our "chiefs" and the game ends, without any indication of how those will go.
That...was interesting. Granted, the plot twist of "tree chops back" is overdone, but the way it was executed here was beautifully done. The previous agent mentioned the Melkouts, we find out who the Melkouts were and its something we've seen the whole game, no curveball whatsoever. Then, the final level. I don't know if they intended this to be as cleverly executed as it seems to me, but if they did, well done. Thinking I have to find the exit and then do the same puzzle I did earlier was a stroke of genius, although I will say they should have given the illusion you can teleport out. Then you start talking to the animals. Its rare for a game to throw a curveball at a player, but this game did so spectacularly.

(also, I should note you can see how bad collision is in this game simply because of how much trouble I have at the beginning)

After this I checked through the dialog files with a hex editor to see what I missed. I'm guessing my ballistic discount strategy in the first area really did screw me over. For the second area, its mostly warnings about things I figured out, however, there were a few helpful things I didn't know ahead of time. Firstly, I could have destroyed the laser turrets with grenades, which I didn't do since I assumed I should save the grenades for later. Secondly, the green lasers activated some traps, whereas I didn't quite know what they did. That must be what activated the blocks I couldn't run past. Some of the territory were the greens, although I guess for palette limitations they had a different color, some kind of tan. Not sure if I could have avoided violence there.
Finally, the game actually tells you how to reach the ending, as someone explains who the Melkouts are, the animals, and that you can use the psycho to talk to them. Not quite sure how the stated purpose, controlling people, relates to the actual purpose of talking to animals or how those animals control people. I do believe that explains how they were able to control everyone though.

This Session: 5 hours 10 minutes

Total Time: 6 hour 20 minutes

Monday, November 14, 2022

Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back (1982)

Name:Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back
Publisher:Parker Bros
Developer:Parker Bros
Time:15 minutes
Won:Not possible

For some reason I had this game under 1983. Did I make a mistake? Did Mobygames throw something weird at me? I'll never know.
Star Wars. Its been said that Star Wars inspired the direction of the early years of gaming, what with all the titles set in space. Thus, its surprising that I haven't had much cause to play Star Wars. I played the arcade game based on the iconic Death Star sequence from the original, but didn't feel like I had much to say about it. There have been some misc games I don't really play like on dedicated handhelds, or various unlicensed games I don't care about, but today is the first real game. What's interesting is that this is directly comparable to a different game released a year later, Advance of the Mega Camels.

The Empire Strikes Back is based off the AT-AT scenes from Episode V, the ones that got taken down with the landspeeders. Just think about the big walker things from that movie if you don't know what I'm talking about. As we saw with The Dreadnought Factor last time, we're starting to see games that are like isolated versions of particular aspects of games from the future. In this case, the AT-AT scenes would be done in basically every Star Wars game they could fit it in in the '00s.

Right away the game starts with a bad sign. The Intellivision rendition of the Star Wars theme is quite possibly the worst I've ever heard, and that theme has been covered everywhere. Its either too high for the sound chip or the dumbass who programmed it here put the volume up way too high.

The game begins and it isn't much better. You can't tie the legs of these things together like in the movie, so you just shoot at them. Its not a very good experience for one thing, because movement is awkward. It feels a bit delayed and at lower speeds it doesn't feel like you're moving much at all, which isn't the worst of it. At high speeds you're uncomfortably close to the edge of the screen. While you do get some safe hits, this is the kind of game where dodging is paramount to you surviving the game. Not off to a good start.
Fighting an AT-AT is of course, bad for those reasons, but it gets worse and slightly better. You can dodge shots easily, but they also shoot homing missiles. You have no way of telling which is which. You have to shoot these things something like 20+ times, more because my shots didn't always register. If you're lucky you can shoot a special spot, which instantly kills them, but owing to the shots not properly registering, I feel like I got robbed on some occasions.
At this point, I would have normally quit, deleted what I wrote and then started looking at another game. But I didn't since there's another game like this. So, I got to thinking, since there's another version. What if the Intellivision version is being emulated poorly, possible or they sabotaged that release...for some reason. This isn't Atari, so they don't necessarily have a reason to do this. More realistically, they screwed up porting the game to the Intellivision and nobody really cared.
And you know what? The Atari version was better. I'm not just saying that because when I first started I had collision turned on, and accidentally flew straight into an AT-AT, damaging it and destroying myself. That was the most fun I had all game, that realization. No, it genuinely controls and plays better. It feels smooth in a way the Intellivision version didn't. I still wonder what I'm doing playing this, because its not fun.
To save myself some trouble and to avoid repeating myself, let's also talk about Jeff Minter's unofficial port Attack of the Mutant Camels, AKA Assault of the Mutant Camels, on the C64 and other systems. Keep dodging that guy, but I guess he had to sneak in eventually. His games are basically the same as your usual shoot 'em ups at the time, except they're on home computers and control well. And they all involve weird animals like the llama.
Now I say that, and that's all there really is to this. Shoot a giant camel 100 times while dodging their shots. Unlike the actual game I'm supposed to be playing, you don't get any shortcuts, you just shoot this thing 100 times. Minter knows how much distance you should have, because at worse when you're accelerating, you're halfway through the screen, and when you aren't, you're on the exact opposite end of the screen. I had absolutely no problems dodging the enemy's shots. Its good for the kind of game it is, as in tedious as hell and something I want to stop playing right now.

Generic lasers. 1/10

I guess it was mildly clever in how you had to avoid their attacks, but they feel really disappointing. 2/10


Endless enemies walking towards a single point. 0/10

Player Agency:
While you do outrun the screen, it controls well enough that otherwise its okay. 3/10


It doesn't really feel like Star Wars. 1/10

Crude imitations of iconic vehicles. 1/10


Simple sounds that I have no strong feelings about. 1/10

That's 9. I would say for Attack of the Mutant Camels instead give 1 for enemies and 4 for player agency.

Interestingly, the infamous Harlan Ellison was one of the reviewers at the time, whose criticisms included that the game had no win state. Calling it a dreadful life lesson for children and an analogue for the myth of Sisyphus. That is the Greek mythological figure who was cursed to push a boulder up a mountain for all eternity. Yeah, that feels about right. I should use that one quite often. Feels like a somewhat apt metaphor for blogs about these old games sometimes. I'd hate to have been the poor kid who asked for this back in the day.

Apologies for the incredibly boring title, but I wanted to focus on Galactic Empire. Speaking of which, the next entry on that game is going to be very interesting. Very, very interesting.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

The Dreadnought Factor (1983)

Speaking as someone who has fond memories of the system, I can't get over how drab these title screens are
Name:The Dreadnaught Factor
Developer:Cheshire Engineering
Genre:Shoot 'em up
Time:2 hours
Won:Yes (52W/52L)

A fleet of the most powerful ships in the galaxy are coming after your home planet, and you need to shoot them all down before they oblierate it. From this simple premise comes one of the more interesting Atari-era titles, and one that actually comes across on-screen rather than just in a text. When I say shoot down those ships, I don't mean like your average game, gunning down individual ships. No, I mean capital ships. You take down a series of capital ships.

The very beginning of the first difficult, those blue things are how many other ships I have, you better believe you can run out

At the start of every game, one of your ships sets out from your planet to initiate an attack run on the enemy dreadnought. The game is incredibly generous with the number of ships you start with on most difficulties. Each one functions as a life and you start the game with ten of them. On difficulties up to 4, you gain 2 per dreadnought destroyed, with difficulty 4+ having 5 dreadnoughts. On the higher difficulties, you get 4 per destroyed dreadnought. You're more likely to run out of time rather than ships, but you'll still need all those lives.

An empty space. There's a surprising lot of this
An attack run consists of your ship flying across open space before finally reaching the enemy ship. This game plays something akin to a shoot 'em up rather than the kind of thing I usually like, as you can't fly backwards, just in a loop over and over again. Instead you can move up and down, along with controlling your horizontal speed. Rounding these out are a laser attack and a bomb. The lasers shoot straight ahead while the bomb drops directly on your current position. You can only have two attacks on-screen at a time between both weapons.
A dreadnought with a good mix of destroyed and not destroyed equipment
The dreadnought, meanwhile, has a multitude of equipment on it. You have laser turrets, in small variety, which usually shoots straight ahead, but later gains the ability to turn. Large laser turrets, which don't fire straight away, but when they do, you notice. Missile launchers, which try to follow your position but can be shaken off if you're lucky, later missiles seem to home in on your better. Rounding out offensive capacity are bridges, which can be taken out to slow down enemy fire, and on higher difficulties seem to shoot out missiles themselves.

Your targets, or at least the equipment on the ship that doesn't actually shoot at you consist of vents, take out all 16 and you destroy the ship. The planet destroying missile silos, take out all five and you can pass by the ship to your heart's content. The engines, all four, take them out to give yourself time. This stuff is what you take out with bombs, all black and red. You can't shoot things you're supposed to bomb or vice versa.

Once you've made your first pass, the enemy dreadnought gets closer, supposedly for a set distance, but it always seemed to me to be faster than that. If you survived, you quickly start another attack run, otherwise a new ship starts its attack run. I'm not entirely clear on how the countdown mechanics work in this game. The way the manual describes it is a very straightforward "no matter how much time you spend fighting, this time is all that happens" while the game itself seems to be shorter than that. Either way, runs continue until you take out the dreadnought or it reaches your planet.

Meanwhile, if you take out all the vents, that dreadnought explodes. Past the second difficulty, this is when the second dreadnought shows up. The layouts on these ships change as you pass through them. The first ship is always some kind of imitation Star Destroyer, then we get to ships whose influence is less obvious. There's a narrow one, a round one with a hole in the middle, and a wide one. There are more, but those are likely to be the ones you'll see for one's playing time. The game goes as far as to include a variation you'll only see if you play impossible for more than 12 dreadnoughts, but that could just be a rumor, I couldn't make it that far.
Eventually, should you manage to take them all out, victory.
The hole in center configuration
I say this, but on harder difficulties this is not easy. That's fairly obvious, its 1983, you can't save and difficulty leans towards "pulling teeth" more than "fair challenge". That said, this game has a better curve than most titles. The easiest difficulty is a practice one, so you're not thrown in the fire without a chance when you start out. Which is a good thing because the game seems to double in difficulty every time you go up a difficulty, at least until the last, Impossible, which appropriately enough puts you in a situation most, if not everyone will find impossible.
A different shot of the hole in center configuration
There are some issues with the game. For instance, the approach to the dreadnought can get tedious, and what's worse, you are frequently put in a situation where if you don't speed there you're waiting for minutes just to reach the ship. While you do get the ability to slowly hear the ship as it approaches, this in of itself can feel slightly deceptive. While the dreadnought gets closer, this is hardly an advantage. Because of the way the game is set up, its very easy for a player to get in an infinite loop of flying straight into the dreadnought only to get shot if things are going poorly.
The narrow ship configuration
I ultimately feel it controls well for what it is, but there are some issues. You have to deal with momentum and you can never fully slow down. Fair enough, but you also have to deal with momentum vertically, meaning you need to train yourself to not end up stopping right in the path of a laser. There's also an interesting issue in that the game might shoot a laser at you, that you have no chance at avoiding.
Difficulty 4, or Advanced was as far as I could reasonably play. Medium, as far as there is a medium, is difficulty 3. I went as far as using save states to keep my progress, and to slightly lower the difficulty. Even with this later difficulties come off as a bit tedious to actually finish.

Playing this was considerably more interesting than I'm used to from games of this era. Rather than vague shapes fighting against other vague shapes, this had very defined concepts that actually worked. It feels like we're getting to the kind of games that show the formation of ideas that would be expanded upon years later. This in my mind plays like a very rough first draft of the space combat in Star Wars: Battlefront 2. While I did like it, its hard to ignore that it was incredibly frustrating to play on anything higher than 4, even with save states.

The low amount of attacks you can have at once makes the consideration of what you should do in that moment very interesting. Take out a vent or shoot another turret? 2/10

I liked them, its a rare case of doing enemies gradually improving well. You start off fighting a ship that doesn't do much before eventually becoming a potent foe. Really, they did about as well as they could have done considering the era. 4/10


An interesting variety of ships, each of which require a different strategy to take down. Yes, they definitely got some mileage out of their limitations here. 3/10

Player Agency:
While there is a learning curve, once I got the hang of things the ship controlled beautifully. I just don't care for the weird way I had to move up and down, which carried momentum to a degree I didn't care for. 4/10

Its kind of hard to say there's much, since everything is an enemy, but the game does allow you to destroy everything in sight. 1/10

A pretty good attempt at putting forth the feeling of taking out hordes of capital ships, and the panic of preventing your home planet from being destroyed. 5/10

I'm impressed they got this much stuff on-screen, moving smoothly at the time. Its all easily distinguishable too. 2/10


Your typical Intellivision sounds, nothing special. 1/10

That's 22. I feel a bit generous, so one more point and 23. That makes it the highest rate game chronologically, even without the boost.

Most reviews, which are in retrospect like my own, are similarly positive. Even IGN. Jesus Christ, I agree with IGN. Curiously, the only negative review, for the Atari 5200 version I didn't play, describes the game as tedious and a pain to control. This seems to be an issue exclusively with the Atari 5200 version, as the same reviewer talked about the Intellivision version much more positively some twenty years later. Something it seems the reviewer didn't even notice...

It remains to be seen if this title will get dethroned from status as best game of 1983. I know of a few contenders, but its hard to tell if they'll live up to the hype, especially at this stage where promising games frequently end up being disappointing.