In the last decade, a seemingly wonderful transition has occurred. We no longer need to go to shops to bring home boxes filled with manuals, keyboard overlays and booklets advertising ‘coming Spring 82!’. As much as part of me wishes for those days to return somehow, it’s an important change and it needed to be made. The move to digital is well underway and it doesn’t seem like anything can stop it.
But what of those days of yesteryear? More importantly, where did the games come from? The ideas behind these video games come from people’s imaginations, naturally. While those out there of a religious bent might make pilgrimages to the important place of faith, perhaps the most discerning, dedicated or clinically insane of those video game lovers may wish to follow in their footsteps.
Perhaps the first, and most commonly trodden ‘pilgrimage’ is that of to Kyoto. Nearly everyone knows Nintendo and what they represent. While, perhaps for the more serious gamer, Nintendo has come to be a little stale and predictable, there will always be a place in most gamer’s hearts for this Japanese company.
For those who are maybe a bit older, or just followed a different video game path, the old Commodore HQ would be a perfect place to pay your respects. Sadly, Commodore hasn’t existed since the mid 90s and the site is no longer video game related. If I ever visit her, I will leave a 3½ inch disk with a read write error on the grounds and think of the better days. The address is 1200 Wilson Drive, West Chester, Pennsylvania and is now a place where they film cooking advertisements. Oh, how the great have fallen!
GSC Gameworld, sadly no longer exists. The creators of the Cossacks and (more famously) the STALKER series were based in Kiev from 1995 to 2011. What I enjoyed about these games were that they used their own country as the setting. Cossacks had a campaign of 17th century Kiev trying to win independence from Poland and Russia. Stalker created an incredibly fleshed out world based on a decaying post Soviet landscape with amazing creatures, atmosphere and even politics. GSC proved to the world that Eastern European developers can make some of the best games available. They are missed. Disappointingly, I couldn’t find the address for their old office, so instead I recommend visiting the crumbling reactor of Chernobyl, around which the game is based. Safe and easy I’m sure.
If you’re in the area of Kiev, maybe head over to Stockholm and visit Paradox Interactive and Paradox Development Studio. I know they aren’t really nearby, but Paradox have done much to keep hardcore PC strategy gaming alive. Although difficult to get to grips with, the Europa Universalis series has taken historical gaming to new heights, however it is probably with Crusader Kings 2 that they have won my heart. Running a dynasty through assassination, good breeding and blinding your prisoners? What more could you want? I’ve spent at least 3,000 hours playing your games, you wonderful Swedes.
There are countless other minor places to visit, many are companies still in business. Rockstar North (makers of GTA) have their HQ in the middle of Edinburgh, but perhaps you could head further north in Scotland to Dundee. Before the 2000s, Rockstar were called DMA Design and were well known for their breakout game, Lemmings. Pay a visit to Dundee, wear a green wig, climb up a building and get arrested.
A real pilgrimage for all video gamers would be to the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York. It is here, that the very first electronic video displayed game was created. William “Willy” A. Higinbotham, a nuclear scientist who’d worked in the Manhattan Project, designed a game in a few weeks for an exhibition. The game, Tennis for two, was a big hit then and at the following year’s visitor’s day. However the game was packed up and forgotten about for over 20 years. It simulated drag, velocity and the angle of the ball when hit. It is a more complicated game than Pong, despite being 20 years older. Tennis for Two is the birth of video games.
Higinbotham’s contribution to the video games industry was recognised in the 80s when Magnavox tried to patent ‘video games’. A lawyer working for Nintendo discovered Higinbotham’s contribution to video games while researching the case. Before his death Higinbotham wished that he be remembered for his work on Nuclear Non Proliferation, rather than an almost accidental contribution to videogames. Truly a person who had their priorities right!
Pinball arcades were once havens for criminals. Never a family friendly environment, it would always be a place controlled by the young, whether for good or evil. The arcade was not to last forever though. The glory days of pinball were in the 70s and to put it simply, it transitioned into the mostly electronic arcade games of the 80s.
It was the late 70s through to the early 80s where you could take a date to the arcade! However, I’m not going to talk about the viability of finding or taking dates (or narcotics) to the arcade. What I am going to talk about some Swedish magicians and their pinball revelation.
By the 90s, pinball machines were old hat. Although they still had their place in any self respecting arcade, they were definitely not the main attraction. Home computers and consoles were definitely eating into the traditional arcade markets, but pinball machines were not as easy to port over to computer.
Although pinball games had been made for consoles and computers before 1992, Pinball Dreams specifically set out to emulate real world pinball machines. No magic teleporting balls or exploding bumpers, this was sim pinball.
Swedish developer Digital Illusions would go on to create three more fantastic pinball games; Pinball Fantasies, Pinball Illusions and Slam-Tilt. This is ten years before they became in charge of the Battlefield franchise. Truly they are one of the gaming world’s enduring legends.
Pinball Dreams is one of my formative Amiga memories. The game loads to a crescendo and the title screen shows a fantastic looking pinball table. I asked my friend ‘Is that what the game looks like?’.
‘It looks better than that’ was his terse reply. From that point, I knew I was going to play something special.
Pinball Dreams has four tables, each with their own ups and downs. The best of the four was ‘Steel Wheel’ a western themed table about building a railway. The other tables, in descending order of quality were about a haunted house (Nightmare), a rocket ship mission (Ignition) and a rock band (Beat Box).
Pinball Dreams quickly became one of my favourite games, although I was never very good at it. The super high scores by some players would always elude me.
Its sequel (speedily purchase by my mum) was even better. Pinball Fantasies had much in common with its predecessor by also having four tables. Two of them were really good (Partyland and Stones and Bones) and the other two were not so good (Speed Devils and Billion Dollar Gameshow).
Two sequels followed, which sadly weren’t compatible with my now venerable Amiga 500. Pinball Illusions and Slam-Tilt were both made for the superior Amiga 1200.
These were games I always came back to, no matter what advances were made in video game tech, or how many years later it was. A quick few games of Pinball is the perfect way to wind down a video game playing evening. Or morning.
“You’ve got to listen to me. Elementary chaos theory tells us that all robots will eventually turn against their masters and run amok in an orgy of blood and kicking and the biting with the metal teeth and the hurting and shoving.”
-Dr. John Frink
It seems the old (?) doc was right about this one. In the future, the robots have rebelled. Fortunately for humanity, they aren’t in a popular tourist destination, but in remote mines and military bases throughout our solar system. Earth is safe, but these bases need to be cleansed and we are the only man… man enough to do it.
After a mission briefing, which hilariously includes your own sarcastic thoughts to what the corporate overlords are asking, it is straight to the action. Piloting your craft, you navigate the mines, destroying the infected and/or rebellious robots and rescuing the mine workers who have been imprisoned. I don’t know why these insane robots would bother imprisoning people. Maybe they are ransoming them for precious lug nuts? It isn’t really explained. Needless to say, the robots need destroying.
Each mine or base follows a sequence of finding the blue key, then the yellow key (which was behind the locked blue door), then the red key (which was behind the locked yellow door). The red door will lead to a section of the mine with a power generator which needs to be destroyed. It will take a while to destroy, even with powerful weapons, but it can’t move. It has to rely on its own modest (but constant) firepower and any remaining robots. When it is destroyed, the most intense part of Descent begins.
By destroying the reactor/power generator, the level will start shaking and begin to
explode around you, giving you forty seconds to escape. For some unknown reason the entrance door is sealed behind you so that cannot be used as a way out. Sealed emergency exits are encountered (hopefully) during your search for the reactor. They can’t be used for an early escape, but they do open when the base is about to blow. These are your only way out.
When it was new, what set Descent apart from most games of the day was its presentation. Unlike Doom, which was only a year old, Descent has the player flying around the world in an actual 3D environment. I’m not going to look up the terminology, but Doom used tricks to make the environments look like they had ups and downs. You could never walk under a platform, or over the top of anything, such were the limitations at the time.
Descent was only 14 months after Doom and already a major technical improvement had been made. Traveling over and under different areas not only made the level design far more complex than in Doom, it also gave the robots so many extra ways to come at you. Believe me, angry robots are just as scary as a Baron of Hell.
Descent was one of the early PC games that I really wanted but I was still making do with my aged (yet beloved) Amiga. I had a few friends who owned the Shareware version (those were the days) which runs for about 3-4 hours (a good game length in 2014). I was very happy that I could pay a few dollars just last week and grab a copy of this fantastic game and its sequel.
I’m up to the 11th level and there are 30… it’s already so very hard 🙁
Wish me luck!
The achievement system is an interesting, and successful idea. I believe it helped the Xbox 360 get an early edge on the PS3 as it offered a then unique feature. But what do they mean for the experience? Achievements are simple rewards that are given for doing something, or a series of somethings, in-game. They are usually not related to a game’s story, but are rewards for doing things that are often difficult, time-consuming or both.
For Xbox Live, the rewards for these achievements are nothing more than a sense of completion and satisfaction. Microsoft never made efforts to regulate the system well enough to exploit the achievement system for competitions and real world rewards. As it is, the gamer score is just an arbitrary number, that gives people a rough sign of how serious you are at games, and how many games you’ve played.
Criticisms aside, the achievement system pushed many a gamer to greater heights, simply by acknowledging their efforts. I braved Dead Space THREE TIMES to secure the full collection of achievements. Far from making me sick of the game, I appreciated it even more and noticed something new every time I played.
Prior to achievements, I would often set my own special goals in games that I played, often because I am a hopelessly sentimental and can’t bear the idea of leaving anyone behind, or any stone unturned. One game that I remember this dedication to was Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.
One of the premier shooters of its day, Allied Assault combined realistic World War 2 weapons, with the fast pace of Quake and other older shooters. Several missions give you a few AI controlled soldiers who would work with you. The game made sharp distinctions between allies who were meant to survive and those who weren’t. Two airborne soldiers join you and your Captain in a mission behind enemy lines. These two ‘extras’ can only take a few hits (rather realistic) and there is no revival system to bring them back.
Not being able to bear one of these boys dying, I spent a tiring few afternoons making sure they got through to the next mission. It was very time-consuming and frustrating, but eventually I got my two airborne boys through the forest of Flak 88s, MG42 emplacements and many grenades.
I don’t think there was much fanfare for getting them through the mission, maybe one of them saying ‘We made it!’. In modern times, this would have been rewarded with a middle to high value achievement. Back in 2000 though, I just had my sense of self satisfaction. I still have it.
As usual, I’m a few (9) months behind with games. One of these games I got to late and spent a long time playing, was Mark of the Ninja. I think I started it in March and finished it today! Slow is me.
Mark of the Ninja has you controlling a tattoo covered anonymous Ninja, through a series of fairly open ended 2D platform levels. The beginning has your ninja and his companion repulse an attack on their ‘secret’ hideout and then seek revenge against their attackers. I’ll say now, this is the game I had always dreamed of back in the early ’90s.
Stealth is the name of the game and avoiding confrontation is encouraged. When you must kill, you can hide bodies to remain undetected and continue your infiltration. All successful, stealthy kills, must be done when the target is unaware of you. This is not a fair fight.
Traps and tricks are available to you in your mission (some traps also stand in your path), meaning any one obstacle can be dealt with in many ways. Enemy guards can be distracted by a noise, killed by a spiked trap or (my favourite) terrorised by poisoned dart causing them to shoot wildly, often killing their fellow guards and leaving your hands ‘clean’. Unlike the Thief series, you are not heavily penalized for killing those in your way, but you do receive a bonus for letting everyone on a mission live.
The plot is clear and easy to follow, with fewer than six named characters. The art style is very reminiscent of Samurai Jack or the older Clone Wars cartoon. It’s that angular, kinda jerky and super colourful ‘New American’ style. Sound is also a triumph, reminding me again of Thief, my favourite stealth game, which is a ‘GOOD THING’ in my book.
Reading some reviews (always a mistake) I was amused by some reviewers finding some of the puzzles too difficult, and wanting the game to feature normal face to face combat. Ridiculous and it would defeat the purpose of the game; Staying to the shadows, not waltzing in and fighting everyone in a mêlée.
I’m definitely going to try the new game+ mode. I doubt many of the reviewers tried that out, poor dears. Edge magazine gave it an 8/10, the lowest score of any major publication. Oh Edge, will we ever agree?
The game is $15 and will last between 10-15 hours on your first play-through. One of the best from last year.
Mark of the Ninja 10/10
Once more we delve into the wonders that are the ‘Bundles in A Box’. I honestly can’t recommend these enough, dirt cheap and some games you won’t find anywhere else!
The Cerebral Bundle is the fifth bundle by Bundle In A Box following the succesful Adventure, Deep Space, Cerebral and Eclectic Delights bundles. Also, bundle! And proper indie games! For cheap!
- 11 brilliant DRM-free indie games (and extras) for the price of your choice; 7 as a pay-what-you-want offering, four more if you beat the average price.
- Super Tower Rush (Windows/Desura): frantic and gloriously pixel-arted arcade platformer.
- Hacker Evolution Untold (Windows/Linux/Mac/Steam/Desura): deep, sci-fi, hacking simulation.
- Pixelry (Windows/Desura). Experience the artful cruelty jousting!
- All four Blackwell ghostly adventure games! (Windows/Steam)
- Hamlet or the Last Game without MMORPG Features, Shaders and Product Placement (Steam).
- Hacker Evolution Duality (Windows/Mac/Linux/Steam/Desura): dystopian, sci-fi, open world hacking.
- The original and highly moddable Hacker Evolution(Windows/Steam/Desura).
- Secret of the Magic Crystals (Windows/Mac/Steam): horse breed and race with the best of them.
- Eclectic selection of to-be-unlocked extras including soundtracks, wallpapers and artwork.
- Exclusive content for the forthcoming Droidscape: Basilica mobile game.
- The top 3 contributors will win a Collector’s Edition mouse and mouse pad by Razer worth $110 each.
- Support a charity that is actually important: The Australian Red Cross.
- Support indie devs directly via the Indie Dev Grant. 15$ go to the grant for every 100 bundles sold.
Last year, I got heavily into Legend of Grimrock, a grid based fantasy RPG. The game borrowed heavily on the styles of Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master and did much to modernise the genre. Just this week, Grimrock creators Almost Human Games announced that they are working on a sequel! I thought I put close to fifty hours into Legend of Grimrock… oh I checked Steam and it says I only spent twenty six hours. Ah how the memory cheats. Little has been released about the sequel so far, but they did prefer a full sequel to simply making some extra content for the original game.
Sequel excitement aside, I was disappointed how some of the reviews treated the original Grimrock. Not wanting to get into any sort of fanboy spasm, it seemed clear that certain reviewers (PC Gamer magazine) hadn’t played all of the game. Since Grimrock uses a grid system and semi turn-based combat, it is easy to exploit. Perhaps it was just my experience, but being able to move around the enemies later in the game is vital to your survival, not a cheap tactic to make the game easier. Still, the rest of the review was fair and they gave it an 80. Edge, of course, gave it a 7/10 like they do for anything niche. Do they even like games at Edge?
My own thoughts on Grimrock? It was a great update and ‘love letter’ to Eye of the Beholder, while being far more tricky and devious than that series could have hoped to be. Twenty years of technological advances have clearly seen progress in the ‘deviousity’ department! The combat lulls you into a false sense of security in the early parts of the game with easy encounters. The level design and variation among the enemies mean you often end up second guessing yourself.
I don’t want to review Grimrock, since it is close to a year old. I will say that it reminded me of how good it is to revisit the classics. Even so, I think they will be well served by making the sequel a bigger departure from the original games. Overworld maps, I’m looking in your direction. Whatever Almost Human do, I’m sure it’ll be tops.
Vast responsibility is yours, when you host a Minecraft server…
You just have to hold off filling people’s houses with TNT and setting traps around their farms. So far, I have stopped myself from being such a tyrant.
Here is a small sample of the world I have created.
Controlling a spacecraft is the premise of a huge number of video games. It’s natural that something beyond almost all of our capabilities would be a popular genre. Just like walking to the shops and buying milk isn’t a popular genre, unless you’re a girl. Vast sexism aside, spaceshipping across the video game universe is generally regarded to have begun with Asteroids. Space War WAS around in the ’60s, but that wasn’t available to many people. Atari’s Asteroids had you control a spaceship in a wrap-around map. Blowing up the asteroids that fly through each level is the only way to survive and progress. Moving your ship is done by adding thrust and facing a direction (somewhat like tank controls). I almost never moved when I played it as a youngster as I’d panic and lose control of the ship.
From roughly ’89 to ’94 I hardly touched the Atari and Asteroids remained unplayed. Fair enough really, I had an Amiga to play! I had a good go at Blasteroids, which was something of a sequel to Asteroids. I enjoyed that quite a lot, but I never found myself completely drawn into it. Maybe it was too hard, who knows?
My interest in the Asteroids genre was rekindled with my first sighting of Stardust. The Amiga Power cover disk that gave me my first taste of the game was fantastic, if a little misleading. It’d be nearly TWO years before I’d play the full game, given the release schedule. The bulk of the game involves flying a spaceship around dozens of wrap-around screens, shooting asteroids. Occasionally you’d have to shoot down a flying saucer and collect power ups. Your craft can be powered by different weapons and have its engine power increased. The ‘world’ map was divided into galaxies, each one having six levels. You were able to choose the order that you visited these levels, but it was always best to follow the correct order since you start the game quite weak. Each galaxy had an ‘end boss‘ fight at its conclusion, which featured a variety of huge and intimidating spaceships.
The game’s standout feature was its warp tunnel sequences. The view changed to behind your ship and you had to avoid incoming asteroids, mines and giant blades. The Amiga Power cover disk featured the first of these tunnels, hence giving a slightly misleading view of the game. When I bought the full game, I was initially disappointed that it didn’t have more of these sequences (they probably make up 5-10% of the game at the most) but I’ve since realised they’d be boring if used any more than that. Mixed in with these tunnel sections were underwater ‘multi dimensional shooter’ levels, much like the game Thrust and Sub-Terrainia. These levels posed more of a challenge to navigate, with only the walls and your own carelessness to fight against.
Stardust features a blistering dance/trance soundtrack, which every second Amiga game seemed to have. No complaints here, since it is fantastic (I’m listening to it as I write this).
Stardust was a great version of Asteroids, with its detailed and colourful visuals, combined with some excellent variations in the bonus levels. Bloodhouse (now Housemarque), were the Finnish developer behind Stardust, which have successively remade the game four times. These remakes include the Amiga 1200 enhanced version in ’94 right through to Super Stardust Delta for the PlayStation Vita in 2012. Happily, these versions have been well received. It is comforting to know that a small developer from a small country can continue to do what it did 20 years ago, and still have a market.
I find myself easily drawn into video games. Not so much the story or the characters, but locations. Almost any game set in a real world location makes me want to visit there. Tropico 3 and 4 both drew me into the idea of visiting the Caribbean, corrupt governments and guerrilla warfare aside. I think it was the lure of cheap rum that got me hooked.
Similarly, Sleeping Dogs has got me interested in visiting Hong Kong. Pork Buns, knock off electronics and sick dragon tattoos are all an attractive proposition. The cops seem cool too, short hair lady cop as well as super suss English guy. The movie of this game would need Alan Rickman. Regardless, Hong Kong looks like some crazy fun. Honestly I want to go to a place that isn’t flooded with Australians, like Thailand and Bali are. A foreign holiday has to have foreign people 🙂
On the flip side of this realisation Grand Theft Auto games do NOT entice me to their respective cities. Not just for the crime rates and chance of being run over, but for the completely random police response rates. Vice City in GTA 1 made you FBI most wanted for running a red light, whereas Liberty City you could run down a whole train of the Hare Krishna and no one would bat an eye lid.