Archive for March, 2014
Ancient history is one of my stronger subjects and the study of times long past is fascinating to me. For video game ‘ancient’ history, the end of this period would be ushered in with the release of the behemoth that was Commodore’s ‘64’.
As any retro game fan/computer historian will tell you, the Commodore 64 broke ground when it came to having a computer in the home affordable for everyone. Roughly, the C64 was about ⅕ the price of the contemporary Apple Mac, it was able to do colour and was sold with video game peripherals. Its affordability, capabilities and eventually huge software range would make the C64 the first true mass market computer. It was a very important piece of hardware, as the video game industry had crashed in the USA back in 1983. The C64 filled the gap, by providing a mix of games and office applications. A household could feel that they were buying more than some video console fad.
My experiences with the Commodore 64 ran well into the 1990s and I often found myself wanting to use this older machine, and not my much newer Amiga 500. Perhaps it was an early wish to be more ‘retro’ on my part, but I remember being slightly disappointed when Dad told me he’d decided to get an Amiga over the older Commodore. As you, dear reader, would be aware, this was not a choice either of us regretted.
So it was that my C64 playing would be limited to at my cousin’s, and at a school friend’s house. All in all, I think I’ve spent less than 20 hours playing on a C64, which is not very much at all! Sadly, about 10% of that time would be consumed with waiting for games to load. Yeah, it’s slow.
Two fantastic games I remember were Platoon and Impossible Mission. They had in common a very high level of difficulty! Although Platoon was released on the Amiga, as was the Impossible Mission 2, the C64’s version had a special charm. The step from C64 to Amiga is similar to that of the NES to SNES. The crisp chiptune sounds were generally traded in for a higher quality but still rudimentary set of digital effects. It’s hard to explain, but although the Amiga and SNES are technically far superior, the result is often less lovable.
Pit Stop 2 was also fantastic, although I always blew out my tires and only rarely could I beat my cousin. I have mentioned this before, but the Epyx games on the C64 had some fantastic covers, some of the best of all time in my opinion.
I may end up buying a C64 in the mid term because I feel like I missed out on this formative part of video game playing history. I had better make sure to get a disk drive version or the loading times will have me pulling my hair out!
I stumbled on to this old TV show last week and found it a fascinating insight. Yesterday’s world of computing is the focus of this blog as you would be aware, and these episodes of Computer Chronicles are a goldmine for a nostalgia buff.
I would have loved this TV show to be on air in Australia at the time. It ran from 1981 until 2002 and in its half hour, covered all computer topics from video games, software development as well as the big personalities in the computing world. I was always very uninformed as a computer loving child. I never had the chance to run my video editing business and end up a millionaire by 14.
I always knew that my Amiga 500 was special, but I like it when old TV tells me I was right.
Buying a video toaster seems like a good idea… even today!
One of the stranger games I’ve had the pleasure to play, is the enigmatic Captain Blood. Purchased by my Dad sometime in 1989-90, it was a part of an unusual compilation. The Precious Metal box had three other games, Arkanoid 2, Crazy Cars and Xenon.
Arkanoid 2 was fun but never awarded you extra lives so it was next to impossible to finish. Xenon has dorky music and sfx, but is more fun than its slicker sequel by a long way. Crazy Cars is a complete waste of time and is one of the dullest video game racers in history. Thankfully Captain Blood was a real oddball and a great game.
The premise alone is fantastic stuff.
You play as Bob Morlock, a fictional computer game programmer, known in the ‘biz’ as Captain Blood. He had just finished creating a new science fiction game, when (as always happens in the 80s) he got sucked into it.
Morlock was especially unfortunate, because the process of implanting him in the game world cloned him 30 times. It is now your job as the player to take control of Bob ‘Captain Blood’ Morlock and find these clones. Prior to the player starting the game, Morlock has absorbed twenty five of his clones over a period of 800 years, but he will soon lose all of his remaining humanity and be trapped in the game world. You have around three hours of game time to absorb the final five.
The game is mostly controlled with one of the best mouse cursors of all time, Morlock’s almost robotic grey hand. You guide this hand around his biological space ship, the Ark, to fly around the galactic map. Put Simply, Morlock needs to find out where these last clones are by asking the locals. Rarely in video games have such an array of fantastical aliens been present. However even more impressive is how you chat to them.
Captain Blood has its own language system. All the aliens speak their own languages which isn’t
English (or French in the case of this game’s developers). Their words are translated into different symbols, representing a concept, noun, emotion etc. You need to respond to them in such a way that they give you the information you need. Using the 150 or so symbols, you will be teleporting people and transporting them to new planets, destroying planets and hopefully finding out where to go next!
Probably the only downer of the game is that most of the planets are uninhabited and there is almost only one way to properly finish the game. The flying sections when you’re scouting planets for aliens are all very similar, but well animated and run very smoothly. Also the H.R. Geiger influenced visuals are a great inclusion and definitely enhance the game’s feel.
I always had difficulty knowing what the game wanted from me, and I never finished it as a result. I did understand what to do eventually, but I think it had taken a year or two of on and off playing and there were bigger and better things to play by then.
I was recently outbid on this game in an eBay auction. People are still ready to pay $40+ for this!
She sits at the top of the high places above the city. She is restless and determined. She girds her loins with strength. Her feet stay not in her house. She moves in every direction and into every corner. Her evolutions are wonderful, her spirit untiring. How comely are her footsteps as she moves diagonally, one step after another, from square to square!
-12th century Spanish Hebrew text,
This game has been with me my whole game playing life, likely one of the first games we got from my uncle upon purchasing an Amiga. I mean, Chess is one of the oldest games, so why not make it one of the first you own on your new computer box?
The BC AI was always difficult to beat (more on that later) and it could be relied upon for a challenge. Since I am an only child, this was very important! What set BC apart from other Chess games was its animation.
When moving a piece, they walk around like people. No bases, no sliding along the board, just straight walking. Pawns are little Squires, Knights are literally armoured knights and so forth. The most interesting piece in an aesthetic sense is the Rook. Rather than simply use a moving tower, the developers decided it should become a hulking rock monster, resembling a golem. Many Pawns have met their doom at the hands of this monster.
This brings me to BC’s crowning achievement, the combat. When a piece is taken a brief (sometimes not) animation takes place, representing the combat. Rooks smash, Knights slice and Bishops can often show their crafty side with a ninja like display with their crosier. The King, in the rare occasions when they take a piece, show a variety of tricks, from a box of magic powder to a 16th century style pistol.
Fittingly, it is the queen who is the most entertaining. A powerful sorceress, she shoots fireballs and can shrink her opponents to a more manageable size. It is also hinted that the queen is a dragon. What a twist!
However, I feel this game provided a great disservice. By making some of funniest and cleverest animations for when pieces are taken, Battle Chess made the game more about setting up moves, eg Pawn takes Queen. and not playing and learning the real game of chess. Maybe I am just bad at looking more than one move ahead.
To make sense of the title, Battle Chess was one of the earliest games that Silicone and Synapse went to work on, making a version for windows and the Commodore 64. They would later call themselves Blizzard.