Friday, December 11, 2015

The Stanley Parable: completed!

The Stanley Parable is an odd narrative game, where you are effectively given instructions by the narrator.  As an office worker, you suddenly realise that everyone else has disappeared, and it feels that the point of the game is to understand why.  If it were a traditional game, that would be the case.

The game is most fun, or rather funny, when not following instructions.  I didn't know that, of course, and my first play through I did what the narrator told me was going to happen, with one exception - I went down a corridor marked as certain death, and only turned around at the end when I realised they weren't joking.

I found the boss's office, I found the secret passageway, I went through and completed the game.  That wasn't the end, though.

On my second game, I turned left when I was told right, and ended up backstage.  I found myself eventually in some sort of museum with maps of the game and concept sketches.  I tried again and the game was reset by the narrator.  I found an odd subgame where I was pretending to be at home with a mannequin.

I saw a lot of office buildings and the central control room, many times.

I escaped a few times.

I got trapped in a room once, when the narrator decided that he was fed up with my excursions and told me that I had won the game.

I was given a helpful hint on where to go.

And I don't think I've seen it all yet, but it'll have to wait for another day.  I suspect that I shall put this on the TV and show Justine at some point, and maybe she'll want to experiment as well.

I wonder which ending she'll get.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Halo Reach: flying around in space

I am, apparently, a little way through the game, and I restarted halfway through chapter 3.  The difference in gameplay from the first Halo is marked, with increased reliance on team members and communication, and a move to large scale set pieces rather than small-scale battles in corridors from one waypoint to the next.  The world feels a lot more empty and open, and you have a sense of partaking in a massive war rather than an individual battle - as you drive around, you see fighting way off in the distance.

It's not just the scale of the world that feels different, but the detail.  Battlegrounds are strewn with objects, pathways, and debris.  Guns are located all over, and you sort of understand why - the previous battles have been hard.

It's still a Halo game, though, with the need for intelligent tactics to overcome the multitude of enemies.  Invisible Elites and Hunters make the combat fraught and it's best to stay at a distance as much as possible.  This isn't always easy, though, as your team mates have a tendency to barge in and get themselves killed if you're not supporting.

And then suddenly it wasn't a Halo game any more, it was a generic space shooter using Banshee controls.  Having to take to the skies to protect the space station seems a little odd, as surely the military should have a separate air force.  We're meant to be experts in ground combat.  Surely we haven't had that many casualties?

The flying bits were a disappointment.  Aim at the pre-set point and fire; there was no need to judge speed and distance unlike the Banshee battles in other games.  It didn't outstay its welcome though, especially as it transitioned into a segment set on an orbiting ship where I was able to sneak around and hit Elites with swords.  Blew up the ship, ran back to my craft, and I was soon on solid ground.

Lots of things have exploded.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Halo Anniversary: completed!

Amusingly, as I travelled to work this morning I was reminded that I completed Halo 2 eight years ago today.  And today I have completed the updated original game.

I have a soft spot for the original Halo.  When I first played through it, the story wasn't massively inspiring, but the gameplay was and as I progressed through the game I got interested with the overall objectives.  Until, that is, I got to the Library, and the flood, which seemed to go on forever and really was pretty dull.  But after escaping from the library and backtracking through previous levels, watching the covenant fight the flood, I felt a sense of urgency and importance which was compounded by the final escape run.  I said I might play it again some time.

And, you know what, I did.  I played through the whole game again a year or so later, and of course played multiplayer a few times when people visited.  Each of the levels, while part of the narrative, stands up well as a separate game.  And then when Halo Anniversary was released, it seemed an ideal time to go back to it.  Unfortunately it came at a time when I'd just finished ODST and started Reach, and it appears that I stopped playing after the Pillar of Autumn.  With a renewed freshness for the game, I decided to play it again.

The thing about Halo Anniversary is that it looks how you remember the original game to look.  For example, I remember this:

I don't remember this:

 But the second picture is what the original game actually looks like.  Plain, muddy, dark.

The needler has always been pink, hasn't it?

Lot of dead spartans in a co-op mode, looking either rugged or metallic depending on when you play the game.

Lush scenery, or foggy closeness.

At least the light bridge is the same.

One of the very cool things about remasters such as this is the ability to switch between original and new graphics at will.  This isn't quite as slick as the Monkey Island remake, with a fade to black between the styles, but it still works well.

So, anyway, I played through the game to the end.  Blah blah, Library dull, Keyes face, nuclear reactors exploding, drive warthog, escape.  Still a fantastic game.

There are some additions to the game as well.  Borrowed from Halo 3, there are a number of skulls located in hidden areas.  I actually looked up where they were, since there is no way I would ever explore enough to find them, and then went through the game collecting them - sometimes in a co-op game with both controllers in order to get to obscure areas.  It was well worth it, because some of the skulls make the game more fun to play again.  Particularly infinite ammo.  That even makes the Library fun, throwing limitless grenades, especially with the double explosion size also turned on.

I think I may have had my fill now, though.  Time to leave the comforting familiar environments behind, and go back to see where I reached in, er, Halo Reach.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Just Cause: just about playable

I have had Just Cause sitting in a variety of places for a while - in the PS2 games box in the loft, in my Steam library on my PC, and on my Xbox 360 shelves - but despite the fact that I've heard it to be great fun and the sequel is an amazing sandbox experience, I've never played it.  Until now.

I decided to play the PS2 version, since my PS3 (which is backwards-compatible) was set up and my 360 wasn't (due to the Wii being plugged in to the component inputs for Luigi's Mansion; yes, it's complicated).  The opening cinematics looked pretty awful, but once I got control of my character I was quite impressed by the scale of the game and its vision.  Parachuting down to the island was a pretty spectacular start, and once I transitioned into running along the beach and stealing a car, I could see that there were clear open-world GTA influences at play.

Unfortunately, the PS2 was a bit underpowered for such a grand vision.  The framerate was, at times, awful - to the extent that I actually had to run away and stand still for the console to catch up.  This was not helped by the controls which were not nearly customisable enough, and felt very imprecise.

That's not to say I didn't have fun.  After a while I was given a grappling hook, with which I could grab onto cars and paraglide behind them.  That was good fun for a while, and useful on a mission where I had to destroy a car and take the place of the now-dead dignitary.  The main issue with the game was a lack of a sense of urgency; you are going to kill a dictator and free the island, sure, but there was little spurring you on to do this, and the game was almost too non-linear with no clear sense of direction.

If I go back to it it would be on the 360, but I may skip to the sequel.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Alleyway: completed

I remember always wanting to buy Alleyway, as it had an exciting cover evoking memories of Super Breakout, but at the time I didn't have a Game Boy.  By the time I got a handheld of my own (excluding my Mum's Game Gear, that would be the Game Boy Colour I bought on launch day from WH Smith in Bristol, just before I caught the coach back to London for the weekend) Alleyway was old news, a relic from a simpler time.

Simple it is.  I finally got a copy for free through the Club Nintendo stars catalogue last month, and I've been playing through it since.  Being able to suspend and resume play is a luxury that the original didn't have, but even with that it's disturbing how easy it is.

I did appreciate the way that levels were varied, with static levels followed by the same levels with progressing blocks, and the same levels with blocks scrolling across the screen.  I found the powerups to be pleasantly understated and useful.  I liked the bonus levels that popped up where the blocks didn't stop your bat and you just had to clear them in the time limit.

But that doesn't take away from the fact that on my first playthrough of the game, I completed it with seven lives left.  I'd have been a bit annoyed about that if I had bought it for £30 back when it first came out.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Luigi's Mansion: completed!

Yes! After only twelve years, it's done!  And people said it was a short game!

In fairness, it is a short game, and not overly difficult, but it's actually significantly longer than, say, the single-player components of most Call of Duty games.  It's infinitely more charming and fun.  Overall, the game took me about 9 hours to complete, and that was including a bit near the end where I ran around the whole house trying to find the last few boos.  I had collected most of them through normal play, but there were some hidden in Level 1 rooms which I had completed before acquiring the scanner.

The game continued to be inventive, the the last moment.  Puzzles were rare and because of this they threw me - having to freeze a stream to cross it was used in only one place, and was an elegant way to prevent early progress.  Although the game was actually very linear, it didn't feel like it.

The final boss battle was the hardest part of the game by far.  I wasn't expecting Bowser ...

... but it wasn't him, anyway.  It took me a couple of attempts, but finally he was defeated (with me on minimal health).  I actually remembered to capture it on my video box for once.

So, game completed and Luigi happy for a while.  Having seen what he went through, I'm not surprised he's so aggressive in Mario Kart 8.


Friday, September 04, 2015

Luigi's Mansion: a moment of revellry

The game is - necessarily - dark and a bit spooky.  Which made this part, where you start various instruments playing themselves, a welcome break.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Luigi's Mansion: a competition I never entered

Because I was 12 years too late.

I didn't buy this at the Gamecube launch, opting instead for Super Monkey Ball and Star Wars Rogue Leader. I bought it a few years ago at a car boot sale, and finally I've started to play it.

And it's marvellous. The gameplay is a little dated now, granted, and the controls are taking a bit of getting used to - in particular, the torch control doesn't shine in the direction you point the C-stick, but rather rotates left and right and points up and down; combined with the fixed camera position it makes the frantic ghost catching more difficult than it should otherwise be. Pointing the torch or vacuum up and down seems a little pointless as well. Part of the difficulty comes from the fact that the controls on Luigi's Ghost Mansion in Nintendoland are more like a twin-stick shooter.

But control grumbles aside, it remains very playable. It is a relatively little game, but as with all Mario games it is constantly innovative. You never feel like you've played a section before, and even when the enemies repeat they are presented in a new way. For example, toward the end of my play session I went into a room where the standard enemies were invisible and only showed in the mirror that ran the length of the room.

I've completed the first area now, and well through the second. Apparently the game lasts for about seven hours - which is probably the same as a Call of Duty campaign. Probably less blood.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

PLAY Margate 2015

This weekend I went to PLAY Margate, a games exhibition which is the little brother to equivalents in Manchester and Blackpool.  It was great; many different types of games all set up to be played with, random competitions, themed areas, and stalls selling stuff.  Obviously I didn't buy anything - cough - but I played plenty.

Chuckie Egg - BBC Model B

Justine's favourite game of all time, and it would have probably been great if I could find the key to go up ladders.  The joystick didn't work; I worked out that the keys V and N moved left and right, and the space bar jumped.  But standing in front of a ladder, I tried every key and none of them made me climb.   In desperation I tried every key on the keyboard, including the Break key which obviously quit the game.  I had to quickly search on the Internet how to restart it ...

Head over Heels - CPC 664

A game I've never given enough time to, but will certainly be doing so in the near future.  I started from the very beginning and realised that without graph paper I wasn't going to make a dent on the game.

Manic Miner - Spectrum

I've always found it overrated, but that might be because I didn't play it at the time and only experience it after being used to the platforming on consoles.  Fixed jumping paths and overly tight timing isn't a huge amount of fun.

Mine Storm - Vectrex

I've never played on a Vectrex, and was very pleasantly surprised with this.  Graphically it looks fantastic, and the way the game expands on the Asteroids template by introducing enemies that move towards you, fire back, or move quickly around the screen.  The controls were very tight indeed, and I managed to reach the fourth level before losing my first - and indeed my last - life.

PGR4 - Xbox 360

They had a competition for the best time around a certain circuit.  I only managed to get within 5 seconds of the winning time - I need more practice!

Hang On - Master System

Talking of competitions, there was a more formal competition where you had to record high scores for three different games.  Hang On was the first; I'd been playing the 3DS version a few days before so thought I would do OK but the Master System game just felt all wrong and as a result my scores weren't great.  I still got 28th highest score of the weekend, though!

Kung Fu Master - NES

Kung Fu Master was the second game, which I did rather better on despite never having played before - 6th highest of the weekend, and setting a high score on the machine I was using.  It's a relatively simplistic game, but I quickly worked out that punching an enemy gives 200 points while kicking gives only 100 - so I was able to work through levels building up points quickly.

Pop n Pop - PlayStation

Again, I'd never played this but quickly got the idea.  Challenge mode sees you working on two sides of the screen simultaneously, firing balloons upwards to form groups of three or more.  It took a little while but I soon worked out how to set up combos, which gave many more points and extended my playtime.  In the end I came 8th on the leaderboards.

Sonic the Hedgehog - Master System

I played through the Green Hill Zone mainly to amuse a couple of toddlers who were watching, managing to get through without dying.  Some people say that this game is better than the Mega Drive games; they are wrong.  It's still good though.

Sonic & Knuckles - Mega Drive

As part of the same display as the MS game, they had Sonic 2, Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic Adventure, Sonic and the Secret Rings, and Sonic Generations - representing the evolution of Sonic.   It's quite telling that the later games - other than Generations - were being less played.  I had a quick blast through the Sandopolis Zone, which is where the previous player had left off, and was reminded how much fun it was. I may need to go and play the Xbox 360 versions some more.

Street Fighter Alpha - Saturn

Similar to Sonic, there was a display showing the evolution of Street Fighter.  They didn't have a version of the original game on display, starting with SFII on the SNES, but I chose to try Alpha, a game I've not played before.  Initially I tried to play as Final Fight's Guy, before realising I didn't know any of his special moves and losing in the second fight.  I then tried Ken, and fought through four fights, before losing when the computer used the special gauge which is something I've never quite worked out.

Crazy Kong - C64

A hilarious rip-off on Donkey Kong, which basically changed the layout of some of the levels and made everything brown.  That latter bit may have been the C64 though.

Micro Machines 2 - Mega Drive

A couple of games against three random opponents in the multiplayer arena.  I won two and lost one, which felt like an achievement given that I had no idea of the courses before racing.

Defender - Arcade

I'm not sure I've played this before, actually - it was more complex than I was expecting. I'm sure I've played something very similar but without the humans to rescue, and given that that is a central mechanic, it must have been a different game.  Anyway, I played through a few levels of this before dying.

Crazy Taxi - Dreamcast

I got an A licence!  Mainly because I did a drift into a wall and sat there racking up points for 30 seconds, half way through my run.  It's amazing how much of the map I can remember, and despite the joypad having seen better days I managed a few limit cuts on the way down the hill.

Samba de Amigo - Wii

The music in the hall was too loud to be able to play this properly (or Donkey Konga, which kept hearing the clap sounds constantly), but I can't understand why they were showing the worst version of this.  Why not the arcade game, or the Dreamcast version?  And why has this never been released for Playstation Move?

Tomb Raider II - Playstation

A few minutes of exploring Venice, which took me back to the Christmas when I got my Playstation. I still prefer TRII to the first game, even if the rest of the world is the other way around.

Super Mario Kart - SNES

I still prefer later games to this.  Mario Kart 8 is just so much better.  They actually had quite a few of these in a display, but I've played the others to death and have them all at home anyway.

Random shooter game - 3DO

An illustration of how far first person shooters have become.  I have no idea what this game was, and searching for screenshots has turned up nothing. 

It was just a bit dull.

Pong - Binatone

A game against a random man.  We were both hopeless and unable to control the bat.

Arkanoid - Arcade

And another game I was hopeless at, having lost my ability to control with a paddle wheel.  After losing the first game very quickly, I lasted a bit longer on my second attempt and even got onto the high score table.  The last position, but still.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Crazy Golf: crazy as in idiotic

When looking back at the 8-bit consoles, there is a natural tendency to think of them as home to many stone-cold classics, games that stand the test of time and are replayable even now, after countless refinements to gameplay have been developed.  What we don't tend to remember is the dross that got pumped out.  Dross like Crazy Golf.

Golf is a precision sport, and it's important that you can easily judge angles and distances.  But this is crazy golf, so let's stick it in Mode 0 where the pixels are rectangles, not squares, and even better let's make it so you can only hit the ball at twelve predetermined angles.  Oh, but let's make sure the angle the ball travels at isn't actually the same as the indicator used to aim.

This is the second hole.  It took me ages to get here, mainly because of an inability to work out the controls.  It turns out that despite pressing space on the title screen, in-game the only keys which do anything are the cursor keys for aiming and power, Q for quitting to the title screen, and space skips to the next hole.  On WinAPE, the emulator I used, you need to enable a virtual joystick, turning Num Lock off on the PC keyboard, and use the 5 on the keypad as a fire button.

Having finally worked this out, the first hole was cleared using a sort of 'maximum power and hope' strategy.  It was a number of straight vertical walls, and the ball bounced around like a mad thing before finally entering the hole, just one over par.

So, the second hole.  No matter what angle I hit the ball at, it kept going back to the start (which was just below the aiming indicator top-left). I had to reduce power a lot and inch the ball down bit by bit.  It took a while to work out that the power works on the number of pixels, and so you need twice as much power to go down the screen as you do to go across it.

I finally got around the bottom, and over to the right of the screen.  Amazing I was able to bounce straight through the pink wall at the bottom, but ended up along the top.

Now, what do you think would happen if I fired off a shot now?  Oh, note that the indicator is showing the direction the club comes from, not the way the ball goes.  I know, that got me as well.  You'd expect it to bounce off the lower green wall, up to the upper green wall, and then back.  But, oh no.  Angled walls don't affect the ball.  It bounces straight back along the same path.  It's basically reacting to the pixel it hits, not the slope of the wall. That doesn't matter on this stage so much because obviously (almost) all the 45-degree angles come in pairs.  But ...

This stage is begging you to start off by bouncing the ball straight down and off that angled wall at the bottom left.  If you do that, the ball goes straight back up!  You actually have to bounce the ball off the left wall yourself, then slowly along the bottom until you get to the bottom-right corner.  And then it's just a case of hitting it up the passageway, bouncing it off the flat wall, and up to the flag.

Oh, no.  The angle of the passageway does not correspond to an angle that you can set the ball at - neither in terms of the indicator at the top right, or the path which the ball goes along (did I mention that they're not the same?)  That wouldn't be a problem if the ball could bounce off the walls on the way up, but remember that the angle it bounces off is due to the pixel sides, not the overall wall, so you are likely to see the ball bouncing backwards down the path.

But look at the screenshot again.  Not only have I managed to get the ball to bounce backwards off one wall, it's gone straight through another into an area with no gap to escape.  I had to fire off random shots for five minutes until the ball glitched through a different wall; which of course was the bottom side of the triangle, meaning I had to work my way up around the path again.

But all that effort was worthwhile.

Because I was tired of being able to see colours and was looking for a solution to make me blind.  I mean, what is this meant to be?  It's actually a far easier hole than the last one, because all the angles are straight, but of course it's still a nightmare due to the use of Mode 0.

And then you come to this.  Again, the angle of the walls isn't matched by a shot angle, so you have the pain of getting the ball down to the bottom and then through that tiny gap where the green and red walls join.  Remember that the top-right angled wall won't bounce your ball towards the flag as you go up.  After dealing with the horrendous comb at the bottom and the tiny gap, you have to make it through a set of pixels which are pretty much random, and of ocurse affect your ball in random ways, until you get to the flag.

There are more, but they don't get any better.  The entire game is an exercise in frustration, mostly caused by the limited number of angles your ball can travel at.  This is all the more frustrating because the Amstrad is capable of so much more; even in BASIC I wrote a program a few years ago which drew a ball moving at a defined angle, and then bouncing off walls and even being affected by gravity spots on the screen.  Had it even just been in Mode 1, everything would have been much better defined, easier to calculate, and probably less garish.

And let's not forget, back in 1984 this would have taken you 5 minutes to load.