Archive for Computers

Elite Revisited

Posted in Computers, Games with tags , on July 1, 2010 by pieman70

Back in the mists of time, nearly 30 years ago, it was the 80s  Some people regard this as a golden age of video gaming, where you couldn’t sell a game on looks alone and playability was everything.  To be honest this is rose tinted glasses thinking most of the time, many games were simple, on occasion addictive but ultimately disposable, requiring far less commitment than the modern equivalent.

Elite wasn’t one of these, it was miles ahead of its time and did amazing things with the very limited resources of the BBC micro.  Elite was one of the first “sandbox” games.  The premise, you are someone with a spaceship; it has some weapons, a cargo hold and an engine, keep it flying and earn credits to buy add-ons and extras.  How you earned money, up to you, you could mine asteroids, hunt pirates, raid other ships, trade legitimately or trade in contraband.  Best of all you could switch as the mood took you, although another nice touch was that piracy and smuggling tended to get the attention of the space police which could make your life far more difficult.

After seeing a few documentaries about Elite, I decided to try and find an emulated version to play.  The Easiest to find was Elite: The New kind, seemingly a port of the PC version, featuring solid 3D shapes as opposed to the wireframes.  There is an old adage of never meeting your heroes, particularly when they’ve aged over 20 years.  Elite, I’m proud to say is not this sort of game.  Despite the lack of a premise, Goal or score beyond your credits it instantly draws you in.  Controls are simple although the keymapping of this particular version isn’t particularly intuitive and you find your hand having to shift between setting speed and firing when a better layout it could have done both.  Gameplay is repetitive, but no more than some modern MMOs, you jump to a system, fly to the planet, avoiding/fighting anyone who tries to rob you on the way, dock with the space station and take on fuel/cargo/upgrades as required.  Once you get the fuel scoop buying fuel can be replaced with skimming the sun in the system.  The look of the game, the lack of any in game music helps the atmosphere, silence as you fly towards a planet broken up by the noise of lasers if you get attacked.

I generally find I play as a trader/bounty hunter, since carrying cargo of any value attracts pirates and fighting them off can sometimes be more lucrative than the cargo run.

It is odd how you get drawn in to such a simple world, you feel genuine joy when you manage a steal on some cargo (Finding something dirt cheap somewhere and selling for huge profit) and similarly the relief when a hard fight ends and you’re left waiting for your power cells to recharge.

The funny thing is, it is truly sandbox, you can (Within the limits of what the game actually contains) do anything, where as modern sandbox games sometimes try to hold a narrative (GTA, I’m looking at you) for progress, in Elite the universe is there, you just have to spend the time exploring it.

I hear that if I like Elite I’d love EVE on line, essentially modern Elite as an MMO, and indeed I can see how well it would work as one, but I encourage any readers to give Elite a go.

City of Heroes – My Characters – The Scarlet Swordsmistress

Posted in City of Heroes, Computers, Games with tags , , on June 20, 2009 by pieman70

The scarlet Swordsmistres sis a Katana based scrapper with increased agility powers. My goal here was to try and make a Natural based character with mostly real world powers, so she dodges attacks using martial arts and uses skills with a sword in combat. I actually quite like the close quarters slugging of playing a scrapper, but do have to remember that the don’t have the resilience of a tank.

Character wise I opted for scantily clad woman in stripper boots, this was deliberate, but not for the more obvious reason. My origin for her was of a woman who was supremely confident in everything, her skills, appearance, and was loud and forthright with it. In fact often she gets to the point of being annoyingly sure of herself and could be deaf to other ideas. To this end she has a bright but revealing costume. (Working on her opinion that she has it and may as well flaunt it)

I also decided that an aspect of her personality would be a slight superiority complex, particularly to heroes with non-natural powers, her only concession to her powers being purely her own ability is a gravity belt that allows her to leap great distances for travel purposes. Otherwise the most high tech thing she’ll generally use is her trusty katana.

Games that Stole My life #3 – Duke Nukem 3D

Posted in Computers, Games with tags , on June 17, 2009 by pieman70

Duke Nukem 3D was one of the later Build Engine 3D First person shooters that emerged in the mid to late 90s as part of the FPS boom of that era. It wasn’t the most technically advanced game, Quake had just launched with polygon graphics, it wasn’t the most atmospheric, both Quake and the older Dark Forces beat it on that count, but it had a strange perfect storm combination of level design, humour and action that means it is still spoken about in hallowed tones to this day.

You play Duke Nukem, star of 2 side scrolling shot-em-ups, while travelling home from your latest adventure Duke is shot down after finding out that aliens have invaded, mutated the LAPD and in general caused chaos, and only one man can stop them.

In general gameplay involved you, as Duke, battling your way through levels, solving puzzles and finding keys. Nothing really that new. So, what was it in this game that chewed up so many hours of my adolescent life?

Some would list obvious answers such as its 18 rating, profanity and mild sexual references (It had strippers in) which were fun, as was much of the low brow humour, but it was more than that. The game had an immense sense of fun, often based in toilet humour but also in riffing as many films as possible. In fact 3D Realms were sued by ID Software over a small part of the game featuring a dead space marine from Doom, to which duke said “That’s one Doomed space marine” There was stuff like this littered all over the place, but it went further. The level design incorporated in jokes, such as the Shawshank Redemption style escape tunnel behind a poster in the prison level. This was turned up a notch in the Plutonium Pack expansion, particularly in the Pigsty level, which riffed The Terminator, but also had Die Hard and Dirty harry references.

A second part of what appealed to me was the interaction and modeling. On a basic level, bullets left holes in concrete, mirrors and security cameras worked. A better touch was weapon effects, get shot by a shotgun close up, it hurt, and you knew it did, duke screamed, blood was liberally dashed on nearby walls. Similarly blow someone away next to a wall and there was a satisfying blood stain trickling down. It led to a decent but not too serious level of immersiveness.

Duke nukem introduced some interesting weapons. Yes it had the near traditional pistol, shotgun, chaingun, rocket launcher staples that we’d seen previously (Although adding clips to the pistol and making it a weapon with a fair rate of fire was nice) it then gave a fairly original (For the time) selection of extras, we had the shrink ray, which temporarily shrunk opponents down to micro size. This was used in some puzzles to shrink duke himself but there was always fun to be had shrinking and squashing enemies. Similarly the freeze gun allowed freezing and shattering. While Pipe bombs and laser trip bombs weren’t used as much in combat they did provide extra spice to multiplayer (Where remote bombs and proximity mines tend to crop up as standard)

Finally level design. Duke nukem had two great aspects in the design of its levels. First was the look and feel of levels. Dukes second episode did some good things using old staples of space stations and moon bases, although these looked more like most other FPS games of the time, its real power was in grungy urban environments, which it did fantastically. Red light districts, Sushi restaurants, underground trains, lapdancing bars, fast food restaurants and a sorting office all crop up and these shine. There were even some pretty damn impressive looking stages, like the sunken city. Similarly the actual level design allowed for some spectacular setpieces, such as cutting down marauding baddies as they invade a bar, or ending one level in a trap, to start the next unarmed and in the electric chair, or on occasion where it just flung and onslaught of foes at you.

In the end, Duke Nukem was a fun adventure with some levels that just made you want to explore, while I liked Quake, ultimately, one had a dumb brightly coloured world where I could shoot aliens on the toilet and have showdowns with flying pigs in an LA backstreet, the other had moody Gothic atmosphere. In the end, you always go back to the flying pigs.

City of Heroes – My Characters – Tanko the Human Tank

Posted in City of Heroes with tags , , on June 12, 2009 by pieman70

Tanko the Human Tank

Tanko the human tank is a Controller. Of course I’m kidding, tanko is a tank, Based around Invincibility and Super Strength. I designed him, initially for a laugh, so much so that I still retain his comedy origin story. I do enjoy playing a tank. He is also the first character I created on Union.
Tanko was a mild mannered worker at a tank factory until one day the tank he was working on fell into a sizable vat of toxic waste which was then struck by lightening and probably bathed on cosmic rays. On emerging he had gained mysterious tank like powers, based around increased strength and invulnerability. In fact his skin is now plate metal, like tank armour.
With the factory he worked in now closed due to health and safety reasons he retreated to the Hollows where he lived as a recluse for some time, fighting trolls and saving the odd hero, over this time he built some extra armour pieces on to his skin and formed a costume. Eventually he was discovered by the superhuman Strike force freedom and returned to society in general. As well as general heroing he works part time as a bouncer and has even found a big and tall store to get clothes that fit.

I designed Tanko for fun, but always liked the idea of him as a Ben Grimm type character, huge and quite terrifying, but a big softy at heart (I was a hair away from giving him the little cat on his shoulder, it may still show up in a later alt. Other than that, he’s a slugger, noting clever, goes in with great pounding fists and tries to be the centre of the brawl. A fun guy to know.

City of Heroes – My Characters – Bob Stranger PI

Posted in City of Heroes, Computers with tags , , on June 6, 2009 by pieman70

I decided to shamelessly steal this idea from Reilly 2040 who has been doing something similar on his blog http://reilly2040.co.uk/blog/2009/05/12/coh-characters-the-reillys/

Basically, the idea is to list the origins of my Characters in City of Heroes. I have a Gnat-like attention span so I have many alts.

Bob Stranger – PI/Doctor Bob Stranger
Bob Stranger PI is a magic base controller with fire and weather control based powers. He is my main alt and sits at around level 25. Doctor Bob Stranger is Bob’s Nemesis, A necromancer and practitioner of the dark arts. More on him later.

The main concept behind Bob Stranger PI was to have a reluctant Hero, slowly drawn into the world of heroes by his PI day job. Dr Bob was to be a Nemesis, but not the usual evil twin idea, more someone riffing his look to discredit him.

Bob stranger is a Private Detective based in Paragon city, he solves mysteries, locates objects and people for a small fee plus expenses. Bob was not always superhuman. During a case where he was sent to track down a mysterious amulet for M.A.G.I. He located the item being held by a gang of Hellions. Pinned down by fire while trying to retrieve it the amulet mysteriously absorbed into Bob’s body. He discovered that he could control fire and the elements. On returning to M.A.G.I. they confirmed the amulet was embedded in his chest and was providing him with magical powers. Thing is, Bob Doesn’t believe in Magic. Nonetheless he started using his powers to assist him in the tight scrapes his PI work so often gets him into.

The Amulet itself was actually one of a pair. Many hundreds of years ago there were two mages, one good, one an evil necromancer. In a pitched battle the Evil mage had the upper hand, and in his desperation the good mage cast a spell that transformed both mages into gemstones. The gemstone bearing the Good Mage’s power is benign, and merely bestows power on those it finds Worthy for the duration of their lives. The Evil stone however, takes control of its host and uses its power to try and exact revenge on the owner of the good stone. In this case it took control of a mild mannered Doctor called Steve, who had discovered the stone in a curio shop. Taking control of Steve the stone looked for its rival.

Reading of Bob’s exploits Dr Steve soon became almost obsessed with Bob Stranger, even changing his name to match. He decided to discredit Bob in the eyes of Paragon City’s heroes. To this end he acquired a similar wardrobe and started wreaking havoc. Bob Stranger PI was now wanted, and had to adopt a makeshift costume to keep working without risking constant attacks from other heroes. Bob set about trying to clear his name. He caught up with Dr Bob Stranger and a battle ensued. Bob had the advantage, as the stone powering Dr Bob was still adapting to its new body. Bob Stranger PI won the day and Dr bob was sent to the Ziggaraut. However, after being sprung by Arachnos he quickly turned his back on them and is now working through the Rouge island’s underworld, building up his power to take on Bob Stranger PI again.

During the second Rikiti invasion Bob Stranger Defended his old neighborhood in Kings Row and teamed up with other heroes to thwart the Rikiti’s plans. Using his powers caused strange markings to appear on his skin, like mystic symbols, and as his power grew suddenly he was engulfed in a bright light, emerging in a mystical costume. He still prefers his usual suit and hat, but often uses his costume when working with other heroes.

Games that Stole My Life #2

Posted in Computers, Games, Myst with tags , , on April 12, 2009 by pieman70

Myst

Or to be Precise, the Myst series of games, yes, Myst, Riven, Myst II: Exile, Myst Iv Revelations, Uru and Myst V: End of ages have all taken up an inordinate amount of my time. The series focuses on you, a mysterious traveller who gets dragged into a mysterious book. You become embroiled into the affairs of Atrus, one of the D’ni, a people who could write links to amazing worlds in books.

Myst

The story starts with you trying to work out what has happened on this deserted island, and which one of Atrus’s Sons trapped both him and Catherine. As you travel through the ages of Myst you see the signs of both son’s corruption, but who was responsible, Sirrus, who plundered ages for wealth, or the more sadistic Achenar. Both try to blame the other in garbled messages from their trap books. The revelation at the end is of course, it was both.

I started playing Myst in School, it came free with the Apple computers that had been donated and being one of the better computing students I, along with others, was occasionally allowed to go to the lab at lunchtime and play games. The look and feel of Myst blew me away, the atmosphere, the mystery. Even now if I load up Myst, I can almost smell the pine on Myst Island. This is a game that virtually requires you to sit down and spend about 20 odd minutes in game reading. Oddly enough when I left school without knowing how Myst ended I needed to buy my own copy, and did, in pre-Internet days my only source of advice was a certain mate who had sometime net access and could provide me with hints. Regardless, this game took as many hours of my life online as it did offline, sitting in classes or in front of the TV I’d be trying to solve puzzles in my head or work out what I’d missed. Once I’d beaten it I would occasionally still load up the game, just to play the story again. I still get annoyed that RealMyst is so thin on the ground, yes I prefer ed the Myst IV engine, but to wander around Myst island with changing weather. Wow.

Riven

Following the events of Myst Atrus contacts you once again, try and free his wife Catherine from the clutches of his power mad Father Ghen in the age of Riven. And there may even be a way home for you.

For me, this was a long awaited sequel. What happened next. Surprisingly, at the time I was a little disappointed. Initially the more uniform look of the different islands of Riven was a let down after the variety of the ages of Myst. However the plot was interesting, and seeing the sadistic way Ghen kept his followers obedient through fear was interesting, if nothing else because you, as the outside observer get the view from behind the curtain. Riven also suffered from puzzles making slightly less sense, in Myst, they were hints to combinations to access the valuable link books, in Riven some made sense but others (The generator puzzle for example) didn’t really make sense (Why have a coloured bead puzzle to switch on power?) Overall though a very good addition.

Myst III: Exile

For a few years this was just a cover picture and a selection of images and concept sketches to me. My machine lacked the oomph to run Myst III. This led me to do something purists will no doubt call a travesty. I played Myst III on the Playstation 2. Yes, I played it on a console, my enjoyment was not diminished of this tale of a nutter who was tortured by Sirrus and Achenar out for revenge, plus you really felt like you were learning a little about the “art” of writing worlds. We also had a good selection of distinct areas, mechanical islands, anachronistic tech and giant organic areas. This was the Myst I remembered. It also had a fantastic “Gotcha” moment on the villain, who I’d found sympathetic, but also fallen afoul of the ending where he basically stabs you in the back.

Myst IV: Atrus has invited you over to see him and his family, and you apparently haven’t learned that things go wrong when you drop in. Sure enough, he’s been visiting his sons, who he trapped in their ages during the events of Myst, and wants to know wheather he should let them out. While he’s away getting parts for a machine there is an explosion and his daughter Yeesha disappears, and worse, it seems that one of his sons is responsible. But which one.

This was excellent, it had the varied ages that drew me to Myst, a decent mystery (Albeit similar to Myst) and my favorite graphics engine, the set nodes made a game that looked better than its sequel, it had the neat feature that you could tap surfaces, in fact the sound could deserve lines of review alone, Only two puzzles were hellish and the mystery was really well presented. Plus it had the superb version of Peter Gabriel’s “Curtains” in it. One I must return to at some point.


Myst V

Set many years after the events of Myst IV, Yeesha is all growed up and the events of Uru are in the past. Things are beginning to fail and collapse, and it may be Yeesha’s fault. This is so far (With a small caveat) the only Myst Game I am yet to finish. You must re-assemble some sort of tablet, then work out if you can save the Myst universe.

This game had an several new gimmicks, it was split over 4 distinct ages and the D’ni city itself, well at least the access to the City, nice to see areas from the books realised though. Anyway, puzzles are mostly solved using a tablet on which you draw symbols to make events happen in the age. Its a bit weird and can be an utter pain. Each time you draw a symbol you have to drop the tablet and let one of the Bharo (From Uru) judge your drawing, and they’re pretty damned fussy. Still, nice touch of having Yeesha and an older D’ni man follow you through the adventure, giving advice and trying to talk you to their way of thinking. Problem is there are far too many timebound puzzles, where you do one thing and have a limited time to do the next few steps. It removes the easy and thoughtful pace of the previous games. Also while the engine used (Same as RealMyst and Uru) allows you complete free roaming, the node based system of IV looked better and seemed more immersive. Another I’ll have to go back to and see if I can finish.

Uru

This was a fairly bold attempt by the Myst bods. A Spinoff, so not directly related to Atrus, experimenting with some 3rd person and platform elements, and finally it was to have an online feature, so the game could be played through as a group of friends solving the puzzles, creating new ones and just hanging out. The story follows Yeesha, Daughter of Atrus and Catherine and various prophecies of the D’ni and dark secrets in their past.

This game had a lot of nice touches, not just tat you could run around the ruins of D’ni, and Visit the cleft in the rocks Atrus grew up in. Although those were nice touches. An element of the plot featured an abandoned expedition to the D’ni city by a group called the D’Ni restoration committee, who were investigating this underground city and hoping to open it up for study. The gameplay basically featured exploring several ages in order to highlight a series of “Journey Cloths” througouht each area. You had a home base of your own little island (As seen on the cover) think it was called Rhelto. A neat touch was you could pick up pages for your personal Rhelto book to add things like weather and decorations. There is even a page for trees but they take time to grow. The basic story of exploring the patchier parts of D’ni history is compelling and despite the 3rd person and some irritating platform parts it is a fun game to play. The caveat from Myst V being the only game i didn’t finish, not exactly true. I completed the main quest of Uru, but didn’t play through the two expansions, Do D’ni and Path of the shell. So those adventures still wait for me. I also never had a chance to try the online element before it collapsed. However I believe there is a new version of the online game out. I’d be interested to meet that online community

So, not only has the Myst series taken many many hours of my life, but it plans to take many more. In fact, when I fix my big computer, I feel a Myst Marathon coming on.

Games that stole my life #1

Posted in Computers, Games with tags , on March 9, 2009 by pieman70

Some day I’ll compile a list of all the #1 starts of series I’ve started.

Games that stole my life is not a negative thing, instead it refers to a game that you played a hell of a lot and took days of your life in playing. Its a good thing, honest.

First up is the X-Com series, now available on Steam. My good buddy Reilly2040 blogged about them here http://reilly2040.co.uk/blog/2009/01/20/x-com-on-steam/ I thought I would add my own take.

UFO Enemy Unknown/X-Com UFO Defence

The first in the series, and only one with two titles. The plot is simple, you are in charge of X-Com, a secret organisation fighting alien invaders. Gameplay switches between the Geoscape, where you manage your base, from personnel to building new facilities and buying equipment. You also intercept UFOs, and the Battlescape, where you control your squad of agents in an isometric turn-based battle against the aliens.

Its hard to express why this game is so good, I think it is the combination of Geoscape and battlescape, where you micro manage resources in one to the nerve racking battles with aliens on the ground. It really pulled you in, and you became invested in events. You feel frustration and loss when an entire squad of agents is lost, frustration of a mission being fouled by psychic attack and glorious relief when a Snakeman terror mission is finished. I think it was also the nature of geoscape and management/Battlescape combat that seems to make time slip away. You will while away many hours of “Just one more mission”

X-Com – Terror from the Deep

The much maligned sequel, rumour is that it was actually made by a different team using the UFO engine, and it shows. Yes it is more of the same, only with the difficulty increased substantially. There were some decent fixes, such as a way to lock on the reserve time units option, and a decent tactical choice with some weapons only working under water meaning that you had to consider your teams equipment before you sent them out on a mission. It was pretty atmospheric, with the oppressive rumble of underwater or the gentle sea washing sound of a surface terror mission. And it was hard, did I mention that. Your starting weapons are not only weak as heel, but hold very little ammo so you do find yourself frequently reloading. It also lacked the “Master Weapon” so to speak. See in UFO once you researched the Heavy Plasma, that was your go-to weapon, rapid fire, light enough for anyone to carry, plenty of ammo lying around. Great stuff. TFD actually made the choice between the Aliens Sonic weapons and the researched Gauss weapons a tougher choice. Gauss packed less of a punch, but you got an Auto shot that the sonic guns lacked. Also the Heavy sonic (Sonic Cannon) was really heavy, so you would often pack a few rifles for weaker agents. The tech tree was a mad monkey puzzle and the enemies were just harder (Tasoths and Lobster men still give me Nightmares) Maligned as it is there is a lot of entertainment to be taken from this sequel.

X-Com Apocalypse

Again, a sequel that often gets a bad press, this time for the opposite reason of TFD. Apocalypse was a drastic departure, although the meat and veg of the game stayed the same, with one screen being related to base building, procuring resources etc and the other controlling a squad, there were many differences. The Geoscape was replaced with a cityscape and world governments by organisations. There were completely new aliens and new situations. so there was a real change in look and feel. The Battlescape was now playable in real time as well. However in my opinion most of these complaints are due to Apocalypse being different.

The Cityscape is used to brilliant effect in the game. Its far more a living breathing entity than the old geoscape. The different organisations will battle each other in normal competition (Such as police and gang vehicles getting into fights) while you’re waiting for aliens to show up and these same police will help you fight aliens when they arrive. n fact one of the best moments I had was when the aliens foolishly attacked a MarSec (The main weapons manufacturer) plant. Suddenly all these extra vehicles launched and joined the battle. That sort of thing happens frequently. Similarly you could raid and be raided by hostile organisations or gangs looking for a quick buck. One of my favorite touches was, unlike in the original games, supplies were finite. f you’d been careless with your machine gun ammo, there was a good chance that there wouldn’t be any more on sale until the end of that week. Similarly you may want to hire 50 scientists, but only 10 may be available. When you hire personnel, they have to travel to yoru base through tubes. Indeed at one point the tube network had been damaged and so I ran out an APC to pick up the new personnel. The game also replaced the monthly review with a weekly one, each usually having a corresponding hike in difficulty. This really gave the invasion a greater sense of pace than before. Overall this one is a forgotten gem, but again, it can be bloody hard.

Overall these games have probably eaten up a good few years of my life. And you know what, If I get my copy working, or just download off of steam, I’d loose a few more in a heartbeat.