Archive for October, 2012

The Bitmap Brothers

October 15, 2012

The Bitmap Brothers, a name synonymous with quality game play, graphics and sound who developed a number of memorable games across a number of different genres and platforms throughout the 80s and 90s. Their games not only appeared on the Amiga and Atari ST but the Mega Drive, SNES and PC, although some may argue the Amiga versions were the best. It is certainly the Amiga versions that stick most fondly in my memory. Started in 1987 the Bitmap Brothers were based in Wapping, East London, the company’s MD was Mike Montgomery, who had founded the company together with Eric Matthews and Steve Kelly. Mike Montgomery later went on to take sole control of the business up until 2004.

Their first game was Xenon, a scrolling shoot ‘em up released on the Amiga, ST and C64 in 1988, this was quickly followed by Speedball released for the Amiga and ST in the same year. From here on they began to develop some of the most popular titles on the Amiga and forged themselves a place in retro gaming history, most people will remember a Bitmap Brothers game of some sort and will associate the name with great game play and distinct graphics, I expect most will also have one or two favourites from their collection. Below are a few games of note from The Bitmap Brothers, and my personal favourites.

Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe was originally developed by The Bitmap Brothers in 1990 and was released on  platforms including the Atari ST, Amiga and Sega Mega Drive (amongst others). It’s a fast spaced futuristic sports beat ‘em up where the player takes control of their team to win matches. As you win you can upgrade your players to make them stronger, faster or too just last longer in the arena before being stretchered off. The game play is frantic and the action impressive, the sound effects give Speedball 2 a real sense of being in a sports arena, not only as a player but even as part of the crowd (Ice-cream anyone?).

Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe was a game which added a sports title (albeit futuristic) to the variety of genres already covered by The Bitmap Brothers. It also left a lasting legacy, so much so that Tower Studios (under the watchful eye of Sensible Software founder Jon Hare) successfully released an iOS version of Speedball 2 in 2011. Speedball 2 Evolution, is a modernized remake of the original and was released on a number of phone formats. It also coincided with the 20th Anniversary of Brutal Deluxe.

Magic Pockets (1991) is one of my personal favorites from The Bitmap Brothers, mainly because I first discovered it being played on Saturday morning TV (Going Live! maybe… answers on a postcard, or in the comments). During the show the contestant called in and hurled instructions down the phone (forward, back, jump) in order to play the game. I instantly loved the little character (Bitmap Kid) and the ’cool’ animated intro sequence.

The Bitmap Kid had an interesting way of taking out the bad guys, although it never made much sense why a snail would change into a candy cane after being engulfed by a whirlwind which came out someone’s pocket… still it was a unique and fun way to take out the enemies. The level designs are brilliant and the secret passages add an extra puzzle element to the game play. The game includes an impressive variety of bad guys, great looking level design spread over several worlds, and extra levels to keep you reaching into to your pockets for a long time to come.

It wouldn’t be a post about The Bitmap Brothers without mentioning The Chaos Engine (1993), an all round classic game and still challenging to this day. The graphics are superb, the fast paced music and sound effects are great which in turn gives the game play a real sense of urgency, making the playability and lastability of this game fantastic. There are a great variety of enemies, huge amount of puzzles and secret passages and enough weaponry to start a small war.

The difficulty in The Chaos Engine came from the multiple ways of going through each level, with a small chance of getting lost or ambushed by enemies along the way, more often than not on your way to a hidden item or passageway. A great feature was the two player mode, or, if in single player, the computer controlled second player was there to help you out. Addictive and challenging game play all tied together with some upbeat music and sound effects. I can still hear “Node Activated” as it is still imprinted on my brain.

Some of my fondest gaming memories come from the Bitmap Brothers and I would definitely feature them as one of my favourite developers for the Amiga. The Bitmap Brothers developed games across a variety of genres, scrolling and top down shooters, platformers, sports and RTS games. Their games, such as The Chaos Engine, Gods and Xenon, brought with them a seal of approval amongst gamers for their quality game play, sound and impressive graphics.

Trivia:

The development team was voted Best 16-bit Programmers of the Year (1989) at the Golden Joystick Awards. Speedball was also voted best 16-bit Game of the Year overall.

Mark John Coleman is a computer graphics developer who frequently worked with the Bitmap Brothers, and along with Dan Malone was responsible for the visual style that became a trademark of a Bitmap Brother games.

Since 2004 Mike Montgomery has worked alongside the legendary Jon Hare at Tower Studios, he now resides at Lightning Fish (Chromativity) as development director, running the day-to-day management of the studio since June 2008.

Alien Bash 2 was a PD game given away with Amiga Format (April 1996) and sold as a tribute to The Chaos Engine. It was in fact a shameless clone of the original, however, it’s still an impressive effort for a PD title and still highly playable, if not a little repetitive.

The Chaos Engine box came with 6 collectible cards of characters in the game.

Xenon 2: Megablast boasted music from Bomb the Bass, where as Magic Pockets took its funky title music from Betty Boo Doin’ the Do.

As well as the games stated earlier they also produced The Chaos Engine 2 (1996), Cadaver (1990), Cadaver: The Pay Off (1991), World War II: Frontline Command (2003), Z (1996) and Xenon 2: Megablast (1989).

The Bitmap Brothers published most of its games under their own publisher, Renegade Software.

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Eurogamer Expo 2012: Highlights Part 2

October 10, 2012

Minecraft meets Earthworm Jim, with a sneak attack from Sub-Zero! Only at the Eurogamer Expo.

Eurogamer Expo 2012 highlights Part 2, a collection of random thoughts and pictures from the event. Tomb Raider and the Wii U pretty much took us up to lunch time (we had burgers). After that it was back to the show floor for some more gaming. At this point I’m actually a little fuzzy on which order we did things in but here are few of the games and other activities we tried in the afternoon.

I headed over to Far Cry 3, another game on the top of my list to try. Unlike the other demo’s so far (Tomb Raider was a whole playable section, no time limit) Wii U and Nintendo Land (you could probably stay there all day if you wanted) where as Far Cry 3 was a more free reign open world experience, with your first and only objective (as far as I could see) to locate the radar station, something pointed out to you by the Far Cry 3 team, rather than the game.

One thing I should probably clear up first, Far Cry 3 looks good, graphics, game play and control system tick all the right boxes, with echoes of what made the first Far Cry game so appealing. However, the way the demo was set up didn’t do the gaming experience itself any favours. The team ‘on hand’ looking over your shoulder was a little annoying, poised ready to say ‘times up’, plus the sheer amount of onlookers who thought it best to give you a running commentary on your gaming skills whilst you were playing (I had at least 4 backseat drivers). My one and only irritating experience of the Expo. I still have high hopes for Far Cry 3, what I played of the demo I enjoyed, but it didn’t really reveal anything about the storyline and unfortunately I couldn’t block out the external influences.

After Far Cry 3 we wandered the show room floor, taking random pictures and playing random games. This included an arcade shoot em up in the retro zone, one that unfortunately I cannot remember the name of but it was pretty good. There was a stand with Carmageddon on the iPhone which we gave a quick go, as well as watching a few games being played in the indie game area.

Competitions wise we entered to win a Wii U, collecting the stamps for playing Nintendo Land mini games, a competition to win an Alienware gaming laptop by registering with them, and we also went along to the Insert Coin Tee’s giveaway, which was random at best, and occasionally a bit violent. We ended the day playing The Cave, reviewed in an earlier post. A fantastic day all round and another great Eurogamer Expo, already looking forward to next year! Thanks for tuning in.

Eurogamer Expo 2012: Highlights Part 1

October 6, 2012

That great British tradition, ‘the queue’, and Earls Court.

I arrived at Earls Court on Saturday morning just before 8am and joined the already forming queue of eager gamers. As usual, scared of the inevitable queue banter I hid myself away (banter is fine, just not this early on a Saturday morning). I kept an eagle eye out for the arrival of my gaming companion for the day @8_BitGirl.

We were duly entertained by several queue giveaways of swag, some of which people actually danced for, the hunger for gaming freebies never ends and is often quite funny to watch. Not wanting to miss out people will throw their hands, bodies, friends in the air to catch a free t-shirt or game they probably don’t actually want.

The awesome 8_BitGirl, with quality gaming wear.

At 10am we were let in, after grabbing an Expo guide-book and bag we looked at the array of gaming choice before us, stopping only for a split second to choose between the Wii U and Tomb Raider. We headed for the latter. We had a vague plan about what games we wanted to see but for the most part, and in good Indy tradition, we were making it up as we went along. Below are a few of the games and areas we decided to try out. Two of the games, Tomb Raider and The Cave have been covered in separate posts.

After Tomb Raider, we had a quick go on Borderlands 2, first time I’d played it so it was finally nice to see what the hype was all about. The demo consisted of helping out, and following through the level, the little robot (Claptrap?), who helpfully pointed out how terrible I was at the game.

Fun game, unfortunately I was pretty terrible at it.

8_BitGirl trying out some Borderlands 2

Next up was the Wii U, by this time the doors were opening for another huge rush of eager gamers at 11am, and this would inevitably be when the queues would get longer. Even at this point the queue to try the Wii U was around 40 minutes, there was even a separate queue for ZombiU (something we did not get to try) as this queue was a 2 hour wait. We decided to stick with the Wii U queue.

First off we tried out the Wii U Panorama View, this included making a selection from a menu of places to visit, we opted to take a boat trip and buggy ride through Tokyo, Japan, which included lots of tourists and lots of cherry blossoms. First thing we actually noticed was how light the Wii U GamePad felt, handy if you’re intending to play games for an extended amount of time, and for younger/older users. The Panorama View itself was nice, but more of a novelty and demonstration of the Wii U’s capabilities than anything exciting in terms of long-lasting entertainment.

The massive Wii U gaming area, was worth the 40 minute queue.

Wii U Panorama View, Tokyo’s never looked so good.

We also managed to try out Nintendo Land, which also included a competition to win a Wii U. Up to 5 mini games were playable in this area, by playing the mini games and collecting a stamp for each one, you could enter into the competition to win a Wii U. We managed to get around to playing 3 out of the 5 games available, Donkey Kong’s Crash Course, Animal Crossing: Sweet Day and Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, gathering a stamp for each one.The other 2 games available to play were Takamaru’s Ninja Castle and The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest. Some of the games are pictured below.

Donkey Kong’s Crash Course, people crashed, a lot.

Donkey Kong’s Crash Course is fun, but takes a steady hand, quick thinking and a large amount of concentration. The player uses the GamePad to tilt a trolley through a platform-based obstacle course. The shoulder buttons and analog stick can then be used in order to activate levers, switches, bridges and lifts to see the trolley safely to its goal, one mistake and you’ll crash and have to return to the last check point. The scale of the level was massive and intricately designed, I didn’t see anyone get past the spirally bridge part (bottom left of big screen).

Animal Crossing: Sweet Day. Literally, cute animal head gear, sugar rushes, and vomiting candy.

Animal Crossing: Sweet Day was actually awesome. I’ve never played Animal Crossing before but this was loads of fun, only second to Luigi’s Ghost Mansion. Four players (wearing cute animal hats) have to collect candy as a team before they get caught by one of two guards (one with a fork, one with a knife) the guards are controlled by another player using the GamePad. As players collect more candies, their movement becomes slower, making it easier for them to be caught, to speed up again and escape the player is able to eject the candies from their mouth. Surreal but fun, we played with 3 other people we didn’t know and it was really refreshing game play.

This is actually The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest, I didn’t get a picture of Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, I was having too much fun.

Luigi’s Ghost Mansion takes its cues from the original Luigi’s Mansion on the Gamecube. In this game up to four players must try to find a ghost in a maze, looking from a top down perspective, and weaken it by shining their torch at it before it grabs them. The ghost is controlled by a player using the GamePad and controlled on their own screen (players on the other screen cannot see the ghost until it attacks them or a light is shined on it). Team work is required to take out the ghost, players torch battery life also needs to replenished by picking up battery packs appearing in the maze. This game was extremely fun and distracted me enough that I forgot to take a pic.

Stay tuned for Eurogamer Expo 2012 Highlights Part 2, covered in this part will be; Carmageddon, Far Cry 3, and the Replay Zone, plus other stuff that doesn’t quite fit in anywhere else.

For more information on the Eurogamer Expo please visit their site!

Eurogamer Expo 2012: Tomb Raider

October 4, 2012

Tomb Raider was on the top of my list to play at this years Eurogamer Expo, as soon as the doors opened it was the first place I headed for, tucked away in the 18+ area it was nice to get straight onto a machine and play.

The demo was on the X-Box 360, so after familiarising myself once again with the black handheld device with buttons in front of me (keyboard and mouse being my usual gaming weapon of choice) I jumped straight into the game. The demo allows the player to explore what feels like a ‘tutorial’ type level. The level is set on an island and surrounded by jungle, the stormy conditions have led Lara to be shipwrecked and injured, she is alone and must survive, as well as locate her fellow crew members who seem to have disappeared.

Once you have the hang of the controls (which are amazingly simple but effective) you make your way to your first base camp (save point), the usual running, jumping and climbing aside it’s a nice opportunity to familiarise yourself with the game play and your surroundings. From here you learn a couple of more useful survival techniques, including navigating terrain safely (climbing, crossing beams, using the map) and hunting (collecting and using a bow and arrow from a hanging corpse). You must then hunt animals for food, nearby are some unlucky deer, it took some practice at aiming but was satisfying when the target hit home (once in the neck and once in the backside).

Once food was acquired you made your way back to base camp, a walkie-talkie reveals the next clue the whereabouts of your fellow crew members. The demo ends here with a cut scene, which then leads nicely into the trailer. The demo was just a small but satisfying taster of things to come for Tomb Raider. The demo left me wanting to play more and I’m now looking forward to this being released next year, it looks to be shaping up nicely.  The new look and game play already feel different, and better, than previous offerings from Crystal Dynamics (although I still have a major soft spot for Anniversary).

The graphics were brilliant, I really enjoyed the stormy weather for part of the demo as it really added to the realism and atmosphere of the game. The surrounding jungle area did indeed have that ‘Lost’ feel about it, more so with the crashed plane dangling precariously on a cliff side. Even though I feel this will be more survival adventure rather than archaeological expedition (I may yet be proven wrong, naturally) I’m still looking forward to this new look and feel Tomb Raider.

On a rather random end note, when I saw the corpse hanging from the tree in the clearing, it was actually less shock and awe and more “Huh, just like on Monkey Island” (Ed – You bring everything back to Monkey Island).

Tomb Raider is released on the 5th March 2013.

Game synopsis below from Crystal Dynamics:

“Tomb Raider explores the intense and gritty origin story of Lara Croft and her ascent from a frightened young woman to a hardened survivor. Armed only with raw instincts and the ability to push beyond the limits of human endurance, Lara must fight to unravel the dark history of a forgotten island to escape its relentless hold.”

In case you missed it, or maybe forgot where this franchise all began, check out one of my older blog posts, Tomb Raider: A Brief History. Thanks for looking.

Eurogamer Expo 2012: The Cave

October 1, 2012

Thanks to @8_BitGirl for the pic, my camera had run out of battery by this point.

So much to play, so little time, that pretty much summed up the Eurogamer Expo this year, as there was plenty on offer to try for all. A few games came top of the list to try first, one of these was The Cave. A multi-character puzzle platformer from adventure guru Ron Gilbert and Double Fine. On offer was a 2 player demo which involved using up to 3 characters from a selection of 7 to choose from.

The level itself was relatively simple (good for me) and a nice introduction to the type of puzzle game play you’ll experience in the full game, it offered a small taster of the fantastic creativity and heart that has gone into the level design, character creation and humour, already shining through in this demo. Playing it was fun and a pleasure right from the start. The graphics and animations were brilliant and really drew you into the game, the character selection had the glow of nostalgia (à la Maniac Mansion) and will be even better in the full game, as depending on which characters you use will depend on how the game plays out.

I played through the demo with the awesome @8_BitGirl  and completed it in good time (it helped that we’d been watching other people play whilst queuing), the game definitely encouraged team work, whether between players or just by selecting and using your characters for different tasks. It was great to watch people play and an even better experience actually playing it for yourself. For me, there were a few nostalgic nods to previous games from Ron Gilbert, from the Grog machine (Monkey Island) to the character selection (Maniac Mansion) this has the word classic written all over it. I’m also certain the lady character in The Cave (with the glasses) is related to the librarian from Phatt Island in Monkey Island 2: Le Chucks Revenge.

Distant relative? Could just be the glasses….

The demo lasted until you had solved the main puzzle (involving buckets, fuses, crow bars and a weenie) and left me with a good feeling about this game. As a bonus, for your all your hard work and time playing, you were rewarded with a Cave action figure of one of the characters, mine was the monk type dude below.

Monk

The Cave action figure, which one did you get?

For a more in-depth preview of the game please head on over to the Eurogamer website The Cave Preview.

For more information take a peek at the games official site The Cave Game, there is also further news, screen shots and links to other reviews of The Cave, over at Grumpy Gamer, or check out the announcement trailer from The Cave below.