Archive for December, 2009

Reality Check: Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Thanks for everyones support with the blog and hope everyone has an awesome Christmas and a very Happy New Year 2010!

Right, I’m off to watch some random Christmas movies and I’ll be back at the  weekend! Runs off to watch Scrooged, Nightmare Before Christmas and Die Hard….

Have fun!

James

 

Mid Week Mini: Captain Dynamo (Amiga)

December 23, 2009

Captain Dynamo

Date: 1992

Publisher: Codemasters

Developed by: Derek Leigh-Gilchrist and Leigh Christian

Genre: Platformer

Thought I’d give this Codemasters title a chance and really try my best to finish it. All I can say is: “I tried”. I must admit its appeal back in the day were the graphics, playing it now though I tend to look for a little more than shiny characters and level design. To put it into perspective, I own the original Amiga boxed version of this game, 3 times I’ve tried to sell it on eBay at 49p with free postage. Not even any views. I took it as a sign and decided to review the game!

Dragged out of retirement, the aged hero Captain Dynamo must once again amble into action and stop his evil arch nemesis Austen Von Flyswatter (who has just stolen the world’s largest diamond collection) from getting away. The general objective is to retrieve the diamonds, (scattered throughout the levels) and whilst doing this dodge, duck, jump and swing your way past spikes, lasers, monsters and lava pits. At the end of each level you must make it to the transporter at the top which then teleports you onto the next booby trap laden lair. Every floor of this cavernous underground lair holds quite a few diamonds that can be recovered before teleporting to the next, although it doesn’t seem to matter how many you collect.

The game play is smooth and the controls are simple, which is a good thing because in places it can be quite challenging. The nature of this platformer means timing a jump is crucial and can be frustrating if you don’t get this right. For some reason, including the fact you ‘climb’ the level rather than the usual side scrolling left to right, makes this game feel more of a slog than a fun game. The graphics are very nice and the level design pretty well thought, certain effects and shadowing give the main character a nice rounded 3D look and the diamonds appear, well, shiny. The music is repetitive and annoying, even with the change of level do you get the same looped piece of music, there is also a distinct lack of in-game sound effects which would be more appealing than the music.

Overall you get the feeling the testers either hadn’t played anything exciting ever before this or they were just so nice they couldn’t bring themselves to be honest about the game. On the plus side the game has simple and smooth controls and nice looking ‘cartoony’ graphics with plenty of shading to give it a 3D look. However, the smooth game play doesn’t make up for what is basically a mind numbingly dull and repetitive platformer which feels as slow and old as its protagonist. Captain Dynamo is great for Sunday afternoon gamers but certainly nothing special here for the majority.

Here’s a couple varying opinions from CU Amiga who gave it 42% and Amiga Action who gave it 86% back in late 1992.

I guess you either love it or hate it!

Amiga Classic Review: Robin Hood

December 20, 2009

The Adventures of Robin Hood

 Date: 1991

Publisher: Millennium

Developed by: Steve Grand, Ian Saunter

Genre: Adventure

Ah, the adventures of Robin Hood, can anyone ever say there has been a great or even good game based on this character? To be honest, I don’t think this game falls into great or good category, but in my opinion it is the most fun to play and unique in its style and approach to the familiar and well used Robin Hood legend. There is something strangely appealing about it.

The story follows our hero Robin of Locksley, usurped from his castle by the evil (obviously) Sheriff of Nottingham and his Norman soldiers Robin is left homeless. Taking control of Robin you must then begin to gather the usual selection of merry men, (Friar Tuck, Little John, Will Scarlett)  as well as winning the love of the fair maid Marian by laying down a few one liners. In short Robin must win back his home and popularity by being a good guy and defeating the Sheriff, and most importantly by winning over the locals to his way of thinking.

Sounds all too familiar? Good, it should. However the great thing about this release from Millennium is that the whole thing plays out like some badly written comedy, you have the usual players, the usual storyline and objective, but then it is basically up to you how the whole thing is played out. The game play can be random at best and the storyline is far from a linear experience.

The game (like populous) has a 3D like top down view, you move robin via the mouse by clicking on the terrain or using the arrow controls on the sidebar menu. The menu also contains your ‘popularity meter’ (very important for winning the game), health, weapons and special items.  The graphics are pleasing to look at and characters are easily distinguishable from each other. Lucky really otherwise you might find yourself trying to chat up Little John and picking a fight with maid Marian. Weaponry comes in the form of your trusty bow, and although a little difficult to aim and slow to reach its target it’s nice and effective when it hits home. As much as it can get you out of trouble though the bow can also be a bit picky about its target, nothing worse than firing a shot at a soldier and having Friar Tuck running blindly toward it excitedly wanting to tell you the ‘good news’. Certain characters give you special objects once you have befriended them and also lend much needed support when in a tight spot.

  • Friar Tuck – Gives you a habit so you can move freely amongst the village/castle. It also allows for constant jokes concerning Robin’s habit
  • Will Scarlett – Gives you a horn *sigh* which you can blow on to summon help
  • Little John – Provides the brawn alongside Robins, eh, brains

The dialogue is spoken in the form of speech bubbles and the language used is something of a cross between medieval (albeit clichéd) English and Bill & Ted. The map area is just the right size and although most of the action takes place around the castle and church its worth going off to see what else is about. More special items can be acquired from characters elsewhere on the map (7 in total) and as time passes the landscape changes to match the seasons which is a nice touch.

The game has several possible endings, mainly depending on how popular you are with the peasants. Donating money, fighting oppressors, being a general do-gooder wins you kudos from the populous. If you’ve met and fallen in love with Marian without managing to kill her in the process you might even get a marriage to end with. Or if you’ve generally pissed off just about everybody and nobody likes you (even if the Sheriff isn’t around to do it) the peasants will string you up faster than you can say Kevin Costner. You must win over the people, Marian, as well as your home back in order to achieve the highest accolades.

Robin Hood is a fun and colourful adventure game in more ways than one, funny and lighthearted. Movement and controls can be a bit incoherent and sometimes if you don’t move Robin for a while he will go wandering off on his own little agenda. I love the ‘free play’ feel to this game of hopping in and out of the actual storyline when it suits you; each time it’s played you get a different game play experience.

Weekend LAN: Report

December 16, 2009

Winter LAN 2009

Attendees: John, Ian, Jason,

James, Kaz, Charlotte

Not as many people at this LAN as we usually have; work commitments, colds and just the fact it was a bloody cold weekend put a few people off I expect. Either way we made the most of it and I take my hat off to the hardcore amongst the LANners who stayed up till the early hours playing some of our favourite games. This LAN is particular focused on Counter Strike: Source, Battle for Middle Earth II, Call of Duty 4 and Supreme Commander. See below for a quick report on these games.

Counter Strike: Source is a great first person shooter first released in October 2004 and developed by Valve. Available on Steam the game is still widely played and very popular. If you’ve ever played this game online you’ll know there are some serious players out there. I’m not brilliant at CS: Source and I find playing against people you don’t really know online is a different experience all together. From being played all the time at the LAN back in 2004 CS: Source is now a game we tend to play ‘in-between decisions’. Whilst we are deciding what game to play next someone will have no doubt started a server and we all jump in at some point until someone shouts out what to play next. CS:S is a brilliant game and still just as fun to play.

Battle for Middle Earth II is a staple real-time strategy at the LAN. First released in March 2006 and developed by EA it has lasted in terms of playability at the LANs over the years since its release. Where we have seen other RTS games come and go, and only get played occasionally if it at all (Command and Conquer 3, Dawn of War, Empire at War) there always seems to be a space ready to play this game again. The game we played (with just the 4 of us) ended up as a pretty awesome battle at Helms Deep in a 3 on 1 situation. Ian played as Elves, protecting Helms Deep, and had a great tactical advantage with Archers along the walls and Silverthorne Arrows. However, the rest of us decided Dwarves would make short work of those walls and in the end it became a long battle to reach the fortress and take it down. We also played with a one hero restriction.

We also played Call of Duty 4, a FPS I’m actually not too bad at (head grows slightly larger) and actually managed to up my experience level quite a bit with the amount we played. Good fun and a great game in single or multi-player. Someone actually showed me how to Create a Class this time so adding in all the extra custom options was pretty awesome, with some fancy desert print on the gun too (I’m easily pleased).  

Other games played at the LAN included Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance, a more complex and different type of RTS in my opinion. One where tank rushing might not always be the best option, whereas a game of Command and Conquer 3 can be over in 20 minutes Supreme Commander can last a few hours. We also had a go at Track Mania United (boo hiss, I don’t like it) a nuts racing, jumping, spinning, flipping car game, and the main reason I don’t like it is because I am so utterly useless at it and to cap it all off a few levels of Left 4 Dead.

It was a great (if not chilly) LAN and hopefully next year’s Spring LAN will have a few more attendees and maybe even some new games to go with it, and it will also be a bit warmer. I think I should write tips for a winter LAN. Fingerless gloves, scarves, extra pair of socks and a huge mug of hot tea. Staple food included KFC, Curry and um, After Eights. Tea and Beer the beverages of choice!

Reality Check: LAN Gaming

December 9, 2009

          LAN (Local Area Network) Gaming             

     or           

LAN (Lazy Arsed Nerds) Gaming

Not quite a look at retro gaming, or even a movie for this ‘mid week mini’. Instead I thought I’d introduce a new category… *pauses for ooo’s and ahhh’s*

Due to the fact I’m attending a LAN this weekend thought i’d put up a few tips (not rules, just tips, not to be taken literally or internally) for hosting one, including good games to play. For a number of years I have attended LANs as they are hosted by a good friend of mine who is able to house (or garage) up to 10 networked PC’s at these events. These LAN’s are often PC based (although this doesn’t have to be the case) and occasionally gaming can move indoors to consoles.

So, a few tips:

1. Get your invites out early. This is mainly to establish numbers coming. If you only have a small venue then keep it to a first come first served basis, if you want to include everyone then think about hiring a hall (although this can be costly) and if you are hosting at your own place don’t be afraid to ask for a small contribution, even if it’s towards the electric bill, or food and drink.

2. If you want to host a LAN but do not have the space look to hiring a hall, see what the local area has to offer, make sure they have the facilities to accomodate your guests, computers and of course connectivity needs. If you want to attend a LAN event you can do this by seeking out and joining  gaming forums, getting to know people is the best way to find out about gaming events. Or just a good old-fashioned Google search. (My tips are based on an event hosted at a private house and the invited are usually well-known to us) or though we get the odd, um, random person…

3. Decide on which games are to be the focus of the LAN. This is to make sure everyone has time to purchase a copy if it’s certain it will be played. A good example was a LAN in which those coming made sure to order a copy of Command and Conquer 3 so all could join in. 

4. Make sure everyone plays something they enjoy. Two types of game are usually played at a LAN. RTS (Real Time Strategy) these include great LAN games such as Battle for Middle Earth 2, Supreme Commander, Dawn of War, Command and Conquer 3, Company of Heroes, Red Alert 3, Empire at War. The second being FPS (First Person Shooters) such as Counter Strike: Source, Republic Commando, Far Cry, Half Life 2: Deathmatch, Call of Duty 4, Unreal, Quake. And for some retro network FPS (knew I’d get the word retro in this week) Serious Sam II and Halo.

5. Don’t feel excluded. Sometimes friends or even family may want to join in. It’s really up to the host but make sure there are other things on offer for them to do. It’s not only about gaming but about being with friends and socialising. Laptops are great for those unexpected visitors to use to search the web, chat or join in on some gaming. Consoles are also an alternative if you need a break from PC gaming, or need to go in the warm because the garage…. I mean gaming room is so freakin’ cold.

6. Time Limit. Think about how long your LAN is going to last, whether it’s a weekend or just a day that much gaming, junk food and sleep deprivation can take its toll. I don’t want to sound too much like the warning on Wii games but taking a break can refresh the brain as well as the body so get some fresh air, even if it is a walk to the shops to get more snacks. The time limit  is the hosts decision and things will run smoother if people respect that, after all people attending may actually have jobs at the end of the day and need to get back to them.

 7. Food and Drink. The first few LANs people contributed some money here and there and the car owner (haha) is sent out to do a big shop. If all can contribute something and the food agreed on then this is a good way to provide the necessary sugar rush for the duration. Any extras can be bought by individuals and the local shop tends to benefit greatly from this. Obviously for the older LAN crowd beer is a good thing but not essential (what am I saying) but hilarity can ensue watching a drunk person trying to play Dawn of War (he knows who he is). Another great, and cheaper way to provide a meal is a BBQ, especially if you have a sunny day, it’s nice to get outside away from the stuffy darkened room of the LAN gamer.

 8. The part time LANer. If you have an attendee who is taking up a space but is not going to be there the whole time find out if their PC can be used by others so they can join in the gaming to. If they say no respect their wishes, if it’s a yes then obviously respect the person’s property. Theres nothing mature or funny about pornography desktop wallpapers, especially ones you can’t remove.

 9. Accommodation. LAN’s can and do go on for a long time. It’s not uncommon for gamers to pull all nighters to satisfy the need for gaming. If you have the space camping out in the back garden is a great way to preserve valuable gaming time and sanity (and no, not FPS type camping, actual outdoors activity camping). Especially useful for those who wish to attend but live too far away to travel back and forth every day. Pitch a tent, stumble into it, sleep a bit, wake up and game.  

10. Finally, competitiveness is great, but lets not suck the fun out of the game, or the event either. Remember it is only a game and its nice to be sportsman like when you’ve just kicked someones arse. Remember to enjoy it, play a variety of games, and socialise.

Arcade Classic Reviews: Arkanoid

December 6, 2009

Arkanoid

Developer: Taito (1986)

Discover Software International (Amiga 1987)

Genre: Break out game for 1/2 Players

Background

This week I decided to take a closer look at one of my favourite arcade games Arkanoid. Although I’ve noticed something of a recurring theme with this whole writing gig, the more I research into something, the more I write, and the more I write the more interested I become in the subject. This post really did start off as a few hours playing Arkanoid and Revenge of Do’h. However I began to learn new things about the games origins, ports and developers throughout its long history, and of its many incarnations, which, luckily for you, I don’t drivel on about here.

Arkanoid was originally developed by Akira Fujita and copyrighted by Taito Corporation, a Japanese developer of video game software and arcade hardware. It was established by a businessman named Michael Kogan in 1953. Taito imports Japanese and American coin-op video games all around the world. In 2005 Taito was acquired by Square Enix but still trades under the Taito name. Taito Corporation currently has divisions in Seoul, South Korea and Milan, Italy, and a subsidiary in Beijing, China. In the past, the company had operated divisions in North America and Brazil.

Taito are famous for coin-op classics such as; Space Invaders and Moon Lander, and some great games I’ve also played on other systems such as Bubble Bobble, Chase HQ, and New Zealand Story. For more info visit Taito’s Website or here for more  Taito history!

The conversion of Arkanoid played for this blog was developed by Discovery Software. Arkanoid was originally copyrighted in 1986 by Taito and released on the Amiga the following year by Discovery Software. Having played both these great games I think it would be unfair to try and squeeze them both into one blog. The second Arkanoid game, Revenge of Doh, was copyrighted in 1987 by Taito and released by Imagine (Peter Johnson) in 1988 on the Amiga. I’ll be looking at this one another time!  

Arkanoid

Arkanoid is quite simply a fantastic and ever so addictive game, and a good reason why its many incarnations survive to this day. The game itself doesn’t really need a story behind it, but Arkanoid does, and it even makes sense… sort of.

“The time and Era of this story is unknown. After the mother ship “Arkanoid” was destroyed, a spacecraft “Vaus” scrambled away from it. But only to be trapped in space warped by someone…”

The “someone” is the games villain Doh, and playing across 33 levels you finally reach this final confrontation with the guy who destroyed your ship in the first place.

Game play involves a number of coloured bricks spaced out across the playing area, the player must then bounce a ball into the bricks destroying them, once all the bricks are destroyed you move onto the next level. You control the platform at the bottom of the screen and the controls are as simple as moving the mouse from side to side. You must catch the ball with the platform and it will automatically bounce back into play, unless the power up ‘catch’ is activated, where by pressing fire will release the ball back into play. The power up capsules make the game play more varied and interesting, the power ups include:

S = Slow – Slows down ball

C = Catch – Catches the energy ball

E = Expand – Expands your platform ‘Vaus’

D = Disruption – Splits the ball into three

L = Laser – Enables platform to fire laser beams to destroy bricks

B = Break – Allows player to break into the next level

P = Paddle – Gives the player an extra ‘shadow’ platform    

Power Capsules are worth 1000 points and are worth going for to achieve that high score. There are a certain amount of enemies as well that interfere with standard play such as flying shapes which can also be destroyed by bouncing the ball into them.

The game play is fast and smooth, the more times you bounce the ball back the faster the game gets making some of the levels very challenging. Luckily in this Amiga version you can actually choose from anyone of the first 20 levels to start on, handy as playing through I couldn’t get past stage 5 during my first few tries. The graphics are very colourful and simple, normal coloured bricks take one hit to be destroyed, silver bricks two, and gold bricks are indestructible, making some levels harder than others to beat. The object is to battle your way to the end and get ready for the final confrontation with your nemesis, which in all fairness is a pretty fun and rewarding fight after all that hard work getting there!

Conclusion

Arkanoid is a great game and this Amiga version sticks very closely to the arcade classic (apart from the ability to select any of the first 20 levels). In my opinion it’s the best looking conversion and certainly the smoothest with regards to game play, shadows, and graphics and with some nice backgrounds to make this a very aesthetically appealing game. Certainly one you’ll get frustrated with but at the same time you’ll want to beat it and keep coming back for more.

Arkanoid has been ported from the arcade onto many other machines including the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, MSX, Mac, NES, SNES, TRS-80 CoCo, ZX Spectrum. As well as all the other versions you can play these days through Live Arcade, Wiiware and the iphone. I’m actually quite partial to Block Breaker 2, when Arkanoid isn’t available you understand.

Mid Week Mini: Extreme Violence (Amiga)

December 2, 2009

Extreme Violence

  

Developed by: Simon Green

Released: 1991

Genre: 2 Player Shooter

 

 Extreme Violence is a 2 player combat game written in AMOS (Amiga version of BASIC) and originally released in 1991, although I expect most gamers got their copy free with Amiga Power (Issue 24, April 1993 p. 34-35) cover disk 24. The game was coded and developed by Simon Green.

Battle takes place in a maze/arena with the screen split down the middle and both players are placed far enough away that there is at least a few seconds before someone is killed. The object of the game is basically “shoot first, sod the questions”. Its kill or be killed and the first to 10, tracked by the score counter at the bottom of the screen, is declared the winner!

The graphics and sounds are basic, but the game play is awesome. The action is fast and you really need your wits about you, the controls are easy and the map scrolls smoothly, making finding each other fast and dealing out some pain inevitable.  The game has a great range of weapons and power ups. Some of the best are:

Magic Bullets – Go through walls

Bouncy Bullets – The kind that go round corners and off walls, and luckily don’t come back to bite you on the ass

Power Laser – A wider field of ‘oncoming death’

Speed Boots – Making running away from your homicidal opponent more efficient

Extreme Violence is a game I first played at a mate’s house on his Amiga and one I’ve wanted to play again since then. Finally, having discovered the cover disk again I had the opportunity to revisit this on my Amiga, and I still love it. After roping in a willing volunteer to play a few rounds that old feeling of anticipation and excitement came flooding back as you run like the clappers around the map hoping you find the weapon or power up first.

This all leads to the final battle, which, given the players have no health bar, is over pretty quickly. A brilliant and fun game, the simple graphics do not matter in the heat of the battle. Extreme Violence is a game you can just switch off to and happily play for a couple of hours.