Archive for March, 2007

Warcraft: Orcs and Humans

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

I remember being told by a friend how awesome Warcraft was. He would play it almost daily in class, although, curiously, not Warcraft class. I think it was Physics. He’d tell me all about playing as the orcs and the humans, and pitting them against each other in epic struggles. Based on his recommendation, and the fact that I found the game for $9.99, I decided to pick it up. I installed it and invited him over to spend some time with the game, maybe show me some of the ins and outs of how to play. He came over and said, “That’s not the game we’re playing in class.”

Turns out he was playing Warcraft II.

So I settled in with Warcraft, learning the intricacies of the ongoing war between the different yet somehow identical factions. The game itself is Real Time Strategy. All that means is that there are no ‘turns’. Everyone playing has the ability to command all of their units all of the time, with the winner being the person that not only is the superior tactician, but also the speediest commander. Your goal is usually to gather enough resources to build a bigger, better army quicker than your opponent, and then to smite them.

Each side can decide to spend their accumulated resources on ‘units’ to flesh out their armies. Units on each side of the fray have corresponding units on the other side. This is a pretty crude but effective way of providing balance to the game, that is, no one side has an obvious advantage over the other. This is especially important in multiplayer.

I never played multiplayer.

The original Warcraft is not compatible with Blizzard’s matchmaking service No Warcraft game would be until Warcraft edition (i.e. a sequel and a tweak later). So I spent considerable time losing at the single player mode. I would end up finishing the Human campaign, roughly half of the content, before I would shelve this game. I wouldn’t think any more about it until 2002 when Warcraft III was released.

Evo: The Search for Eden

Friday, March 30th, 2007

Evolution as a concept is intriguing. Implementing it in a game is not unheard of. Basing a game around the concept, now that’s something else entirely.

EVO places you, a prehistoric creature of some sort (you begin as some kind of fish thing) vying for survival. You must kill weaker creatures and feast on their remains to gain ‘evolution points’. You spend these points to upgrade your body parts to be bigger, stronger, or more useful. Your goal? Survive the geologic age, and prove that you’re the ultimate being to Gaia, the spirit of the Earth.

Each age is very different, and a strong body in one age is excessively weak in another. Your sleek fishy physique is pretty useless on land, so you get to change to multi-legged dinosaur form. Your rough and tumble en-fanged dinosaur head with Flesh Rending Razor Teeth(tm) will do nearly zero damage to the new-fangled Warm Blooded Mammals, so you get fur and rodent teeth.

Interestingly, throughout the game you’ll find these mysterious crystals that bestow gifts that range from Big Points ™ to forms of real-world creatures that you get to use for a limited time (they’re super powerful, after all). There is some implication that there is an alien force at work directing evolution for its own unknown motives, motives that I was really never able to divine.

The other interesting thing is that once the appropriate age is reached you can choose to evolve into a human, and eventually into a mer-person. Just like Real Life Humans, the human walks around with a club and is particularly physically weak with a comparatively weak constitution. In other words, don’t evolve into a human. It makes the game much harder, unless you like that kind of challenge. In fact, evolving into a human is a one way street. You can’t go back to the piecemeal animal forms you had been using, and half of the fun is making some crazy patchwork monstrosity and seeing how it will fare. The game even lets you save pictures of your favorites.

I’m not sure that a game has been made since that covers the sheer scope of history that this game does, but it would be fantastic to see this game remade or a sequel to come out. The original was apparently a bit of a low-seller, so it’s tough to find these days and rather expensive if you do.

Titan Quest

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

Based on the reviews I read, Titan Quest promised to be a fun distraction. It was a pretty blatant ripoff of the very successful Diablo II formula: run around the landscape, kill things, gain levels, spend skill points, etc. etc. Only this time, it’s set in ancient Greece.

There’s a story, but it really doesn’t matter what it is. You get to slog through ancient Greece and search for monsters to kill, which will make you stronger and give you the ability to kill stronger abominations. Your character will start out the same every time and how you fight and develop your fighter will ultimately determine its class.

As you level up, you get Skill Points. You can spend these skill points in up to two Specializations. Picking two Specializations that benefit each other will make your character a force to be reckoned with. Sounds like some built-in replayability. If you can stand the game.

I’ve started the game three separate times so far, and each time peter out after a couple of hours, barely making it to Level 10 (out of 99 or so). I’m not sure why. I think it comes down to the presentation. It’s not really clear why I’m fighting, and as a consequence, I don’t really care about the people that inhabit this world. They’re just going to have to deal with their problems without me.

Oh, but I can get the Special Edition Best Buy version of the Expansion pack, with limited edition Best Buy armor. I didn’t really get to see what that meant, but I couldn’t shake the thought of running around ancient Greece fighting mythical beasts clad in a blue polo and khaki pants.

Okay, yes, that would be pretty hilarious, but not worth the price of admission.

Jupiter Lander

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

It’s hard to believe that a scant two dozen or so years ago the games that we know as the throwaway games you play in your browser when you have a spare five minutes were full, standalone products that wild-eyed kids (and some adults) would play, often for hours. Games that took one basic concept and sold it as a complete gaming experience. Games that just get harder the longer you play them, with the only reward being a higher score that was lost the instant you turned the power off. Games like Jupiter Lander.

Jupiter Lander tasks you with safely landing a craft that looks like the Lunar Lander (but it’s not, obviously) on some planetary surface, probably Jupiter.

You are capable of thrusting in three directions: left, right, and up. Each thrust eats up precious fuel, but you have to use your thrusters to slow your craft down to a non-crashing speed. Non-crashing in this case means between 0 and 0.5 miles per hour in any direction. Anything faster than means that your Lander explodes. It seems a little harsh.

You can choose to land on any one of several landing sites on the planet’s surface. The harder it is to navigate to the landing site, the more points you’ll get, but you’ll use more fuel.

People would spend hours upon hours on this game. Landing the same ship on the same planetary surface over and over again. I am not one of those people. I spent maybe three dozen minutes total on this game before I gave up, and those were 1998 minutes. With attention spans today, that’s roughly equivalent to three hours, which is more than enough.

Beach Head 2: The Dictator Strikes Back

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

According to the manual for this game, there was a game called Beach Head. I never heard of it, never could find it, and never did play it. I did, however, manage to get some quality time with Beach Head 2, which was apparently superior in just about every way, so no big loss.

Beach Head 2 tells the classic story of the battles between Dictator of an Island Nation (presumably defeated at the end of the first game) and the Good Guy Army Corps. out to stop his Reign of Terror before it Spreads to Crush the Free World Under its Oppressive Boot.

How do you stop the Evil Dictator? With mini-games, duh.

There are four separate mini-missions for you to perform. The twist is that you can play either as the Allies or the Dictator. There are four or so missions that you can choose to do, but I only remember playing three of them, so the fourth one must have been terrible.

Game 1: You take control of the Allied Mobile Death Cannon, and scroll the screen slowly to the left while you control the cannon. You have to shoot the tanks, people, and ultimately what looks like a giant termite’s nest with guns, windows and flags all over it. I don’t think you can actually play as the Dictator in this one.

Game 2: The Dictator is in the Jungle with his Stationary Rapid-Fire Death Gun, in his Jungle Stronghold. The Allies parachute in, behind staggered walls, and run toward Hot Lead Death, in an attempt to make it all the way to the Gun. It’s kind of like Assault from American Gladiators, except with fake simulated bullets instead of tennis balls. You can either be the Dictator and gun down the Allies or you can be the Allied team deploying troops. Much more fun with two players.

Game 3: I dunno. Something with helicopters. I don’t remember much about it, so it must have been pretty boring.

Game 4: The final showdown, you’re on a platform on one side of a cave, and the Dictator is on the other. There is a river flowing beneath your platforms. Both sides have inexplicably run out of weapons, so they resort to sharpened sticks (poontas, the game calls them) that you throw at each other. You take enough hits, you fall into the water, and your side loses the War.

What’s striking about this game is that it makes use of digitized audio, which was pretty rare on for the Commodore 64. There are only three voice clips that I remember: the standard “Ungh!” when you get hit with something, the standard scream when you get hit with something that kills you, and the Dictator that says “You can’t hurt me!” when you throw a sharpened stick into his heart of course, he dictator sounded more like Snidely Whiplash than an actual villain, but it helped create an atmosphere. An atmosphere where I nearly jumped out of my pants the first time I heard it.

Fun times.

Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja

Monday, March 26th, 2007

I guess cavepeople are easy targets for game developers: they have an established image, they are inaccurately portrayed as living side-by-side with dinosaurs, and, perhaps most importantly, you don’t have to pay a license to anyone to put cavemen in your game. Like Joe and Mac. Caveman. Ninja.

Although my understanding of the Ninja Arts is limited, I saw neither Joe nor mac performing many ninja-related activities. Unless you count bonking a tyrannosaurus upside the head with a giant stone wheel, which, for the sake of this discussion, we don’t.

The story for the game goes something like this: Some rival tribe of cavemen has kidnapped all of the cavewomen from Joe and Mac’s tribe. You have to run to the right, and sometimes up, killing anything that moves to get them back. Along the way you’ll find weapons that you’d expect cavemen to have: clubs, boomerangs, fire, the afore-mentioned stone wheels, and the very rare powerup that throws a shadow version of yourself at your enemies… like a ninja. You’ll also find a variety of foodstuffs strewn about the level because although you have a health bar, just existing makes it go down (i.e. your caveman apparently metabolizes food amazingly fast and gets hungry all the time).

Boss fights at the end of the stages are your typical ‘fight a giant version of a regular enemy’. One in particular, the Giant Carnivorous Caveman-eating Plant… of Doom, is rumored to yell an expletive when it’s hit. I never really heard it until someone told me that, and it’s a bit of a stretch.

Naming oddities aside, the game’s actually kind of fun with two players, two players who can actually hurt each other with their Bonk Sticks. Just make sure that if you play it with two players that you play it with a complete stranger. That way when you ‘accidentally’ kill him off so you can bash in the skull of a giant thingus at the end of a level and get all the points, he can’t find you to bug you for the quarter you apparently now owe him because he ‘wasted it’ by getting in a game with you without asking first.

Beast Wrestler

Sunday, March 25th, 2007

Oh sure, you could play a normal wrestling game, with normal people putting other normal people in various Death Grips(tm), but why would you want to do that when you could play a game that replaces your normal people with Giant Monsters!?

Oh, sure it sounds great. Fighting giant monsters to a state of near death should just about be the most fun that you can have playing a video game. Unfortunately, this game just can’t deliver. You start by picking your monster, picking its few moves, and heading to the fights. Then you… well you fight. In. The. Slowest. Fight. Imaginable. Giant monsters just don’t move real fast.

If you win certain fights, you get to recruit the monster to your team, giving you a little more variety. However, after taking a monster through a few fights, it will get too damaged to continue, and you’ll have to merge two of your monsters into some kind of crazy Super Giant Monster. The game prominently asks you to:


And no, that’s not a typo. You pick two monsters from you team and combine them into one creature with abilities of the two originals. Then it’s back to the fights.

I wasn’t ever able to figure out if there was any kind of long term goal beyond just making random monsters slowly bore each other to death, and occasionally smooshing them together. To date I’ve only played this game once, which is plenty.


Saturday, March 24th, 2007

I never really had very many cartridges games for the old Commodore 64, but one that got a lot of play at my house was Kickman.

Kickman, like a lot of the video games in the early 80’s, has a plot that manages to be both simple and borderline insane. You play as the Kickman, a French unicyclist, in France, and above you is a grid of balloons that kind of looks like Space Invaders. These balloons randomly fall toward the ground and you have to catch, stack, and pop them on your head before they hit the ground. If you can’t maneuver quick enough, you have the ability to kick the balloons back into the air to try again, but if they hit the ground, you lose.

Later levels have you stacking the balloons in ever taller stacks on your head, giving you less time to catch balloons and testing your ability to keep balloons airborne. You’ll also notice that some of the balloons eventually get replaced with yellow and blue Pac-Man-like characters that will eat the growing stack of balloons on your head.

Just be aware, the theme song will stay with you for a while after you quit playing.

Crazy Taxi

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

Crazy Taxi was an anomaly in arcades when it was released. As you got better at the game, you actually could play longer. This directly opposite of other arcade games like Generic Racing Simulator 2000, where as you get better the shorter your game is, or Sports Game XX: X-treme X-citement or Rhythm Game: MAX BEATS where your time is pretty much going to be the same no matter how good you are.

So what is Crazy Taxi? In a nutshell, Crazy Taxi is a game that tasks you, the taxi driver, with picking up customers and dropping them off at their destinations throughout San Francisco and collecting their fares. What keeps this game from sinking into the Pits of Ho-Hummery is the presentation. Your goal is to get people where they need to go as quickly as possible by any means necessary. You have to barrel full-bore down crowded streets, jump over traffic and buildings with strategically placed ‘jump trucks’, and power-slide around hairpin turns. Near-misses and skillful driving will earn you tips, and get you to your destination faster. Crashing into other vehicles and maintaining a leisurely pace will ensure that you’ll have a quick, and unprofitable, day.

The soundtrack is a bit on the silly side. It tries to show off how extreme to the max this game is by playing a mixture of Offspring and Bad Religion songs constantly. Well, that and the guys with giant mohawks that want to go to Tower Records.

In short, yes, this game is fun. If you go through the basics of the training, that is. Without knowing how to do at least the Crazy Dash (immediately going to full speed), or the Crazy Drift (powersliding through turns), your games will be short, uneventful, and boring. Learning and practicing these maneuvers, however, turns the game into a totally different experience. An experience that actually sold me my Dreamcast.

I had a copy of this game for the Dreamcast for over a month before I actually bought one, partially because I found it on clearance for $15, and partially because I was tired of pumping quarters and tokens into the slowly breaking and disappearing arcade units. It might be worth noting that I spent upwards of $15 on the arcade units after my purchase of a this game, so I didn’t really save any money, but at least I got some practice in at home.

Caveman Games

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

One of the styles of games that has kind of gone away in recent years is the sports competition game. These games provide some series of mini games or ‘events’ tied together by some theme. One of the more unusual of these was Caveman Games.

Caveman Games focused on a group of Cave-people, including the token female, Crudla, and the nerd wearing glasses, Vincent, participating in the ‘Ugh-lympics’, a series of events with a caveman theme. You get to participate in: Fire Making, Clubbing, Dino-Vaulting, Dino-Racing, Saber Tooth Tiger Outrunning, and the Mate Toss.

Most events are the ‘mash one button faster than the other person’ variety. Fire-making, for example, has you and one other person mashing the ‘rub two sticks together’ button as fast as possible while you strategically use the ‘bonk the other person over the head’ button and the ‘blow on the embers/duck/make yourself dizzy with asphyxiation’ button.

The Mate Toss is a slightly different affair, you grab your mate by the ankles, rotate your control pad as evenly and as quickly as you can, then you press and hold the ‘angle’ button until the desired angle is reached and then release it, letting your mate fly. The goal here being, of course, to throw your mate for as many ‘foots’ at possible. Toss your mate far enough and she’ll do a ridiculous little dance. Interestingly, in the NES version of the game, the female competitor tosses a female ‘mate’, likely because of limitations of the NES hardware, but in the Commodore 64 version she reportedly tosses a male. I haven’t actually ever played the C64 version, so I can’t verify that.

Clubbing is probably the most complicated event in this compilation. You and your opponent stand on a giant flat rock and smash each other about the face and shins with your clubs in addition to using devious tactics (distracting with a point and a ‘Look over there!’ expression on your face) in attempt to make them back up and eventually fall off the rock.

The other events were pretty lame, the Dino-race has you and an opponent mashing the ‘make the dino go faster’ button while strategically pressing the ‘avoid obstacles’ button, the Saber Race has you mashing the ‘make delicious caveman run faster than saber-soothed cat button’ while strategically pressing the ‘throw your opponent behind you’ button, and the Dino-vault has you mashing the ‘make the caveman run faster’ button and strategically pressing and releasing the ‘plant and release the pole vault’ button.

There’s a little bit of pseudo-caveman speak in this game. Distances are measured in ‘foots’, countdowns to event starts go, “3, 2, 1, Ugh!”, and of course the above-mentioned ‘Ugh-lympics’. For some reason I found it incredibly annoying back when I played this game the first time around, and now just find it a mild nuisance.

Caveman Games is one of those games that you can break out when you have a bunch of people around who are clamoring to play some kind of NES game if you don’t have something better around.