Category Archives: Games

Looking forward to: Obduction and Zed

A couple of months ago, I found out about a game called Obduction, a puzzle game that was Kickstarted by Rand Miller of Myst fame. The Kickstarter ran quite a while ago, and the project was recently publicly announced as having a June release date (since pushed back to July).

A few days ago, another Kickstarter game was pointed out to me, being run by Chuck Carter – who coincidentally also worked on the design for Myst and Riven, and also designed for some Command & Conquer games (Tiberian Sun, Red Alert 2, and Renegade, all of which I own), Emperor: Battle For Dune (by the same studio that did the Command & Conquer games, and I also own it), as well as design work for the TV shows Babylon 5 and Crusade (which I have watched all the way through).

This second  game is called Zed, and the company’s site has a demo of the game on their Download page. The demo is intended more to showcase the art style of the game, so you can’t do as much running around as you will in the final  version of the game, and there’s only a couple of basic push-a-button puzzles to give you an idea of the interactivity. I played through it this evening. It is possible to go off the prescribed path, but not by very much. Looks interesting, though.

The last Myst game, Myst V: End Of Ages, came out in 2005. In the decade since, we haven’t seen, as far as I know, the kind of free-roaming non-violent puzzle game that Myst and its sequels were famous for being, and I don’t think we’ve seen anything as conceptually out-of-the-box, either. So, I’m pretty interested in both of these games. Also, with their non-violent character, should be stuff the kids can be around.

Obduction made over a million on Kickstarter. It’s shown up as “Coming Soon” on Steam, with no price attached. I used my Amazon “Add to Wish List” button, which surprisingly revealed a price of $14.99. Might be able to scrape together some Steam credit for that.

Zed is over 50% funded a few days into its campaign, with 20 days left on the clock. I’m aiming to get in on it, just wondering whether I’m going to go for the tier where you just get the game, or if I can scrape together enough pennies to get the soundtrack as well.

Waltz For The Moon

Yesterday’s post was intended to be a quick one, but fact-checking led me to a far more detailed analysis, which took far longer. After finishing the half-season of Agents Of Shield this evening, I was getting very close to falling asleep during Deep Space Nine.

The Alternate, the episode wasn’t bad, I was just exhausted. The effects were, erm, primitive.

So now I think about something quick to write about this evening (as the internet goes down, hopefully temporarily for maintenance).

One of the things I talk about on here fairly regularly, is Final Fantasy. Most games in the series are self-contained, but it can get confusing to a casual observer when there are direct sequels. For example, Final Fantasy XI is not a sequel to Final Fantasy X, but Final Fantasy X-2 is.

Final Fantasy VIII is one of those games that attracts mixed reviews. The lead character, Squall, is a bit of a self-imposed social exile, so his unwillingness to engage other characters more than he has to, makes it difficult for some to connect with him. And some people didn’t like the timey-wimey ending.

There’s a video from the game, which I think is pretty popular. Squall’s at his graduation, there’s a dance going on, and he’s standing off to the side. A girl, Rinoa, who soon afterwards becomes a main character, convinces him to dance.

It’s interesting to watch the progression from completely inept, through moderately incompetent, to actually pretty good. Our Squall’s a quick learner. And how he tries to give up a couple of times.

I like the music. The track is called “Waltz For The Moon”. This uses the same basic tune as the main song of the game, “Eyes On Me”, but with a completely different flow.

If you watch this, you’ll notice that the song isn’t completely grammatically correct English. It was written by a Japanese guy, for a Japanese-originated game, so I don’t have a problem with giving some slack there. The song is actually about two other characters in the game: Laguna and Julia. Julia was a singer, who Laguna kept going to see, but kept failing to talk to. Then circumstances diverged their paths, and Julia had a hit with that song she wrote about them.

I love the line, “Did you ever know, that I had mine on you”. I also like “I’m more than the dress and the voice”. I almost wanted to hear that line on The Voice, back when I was watching it.

So there you go, two versions of a catchy little tune, connecting two stories in the game.

FF Violin

I have mentioned before, more than once, being rather fond of Final Fantasy music. Of course hearing some when I played the games, downloaded some MIDIs that I used to listen to on my phone, back when I had one. Listened to a bunch of different arrangements: the Distant Worlds orchestral series for one, various piano arrangements (the official Piano Arrangements, various YouTubers).

Last night I was watching more arrangements on YouTube, I found a complicated solo piano version of the battle theme from IX, and another of The Man With The Machine Gun from VIII (Oldest’s favourite). I stumbled upon a series of Related videos, which were tracks from a series of albums called “FF Violin”.

A violin or two are the featured instruments, but there are other instruments on the tracks as well.

Contrasting with PS1 music/MIDI, piano and full orchestra, these violin tracks have something of a different character about them. Which makes sense. And again, it’s another set of music that I could just listen to all day (and I did for a pretty big chunk of today).

The musicians behind these tracks made 5 albums, but they’re only available in Japan (well, you can import them, but like other Japanese CDs they’re rather expensive that way).

Playlist here,  includes all the first album, most of the third, some of the second, and one video containing the whole of the fifth. Here‘s a video of the second, and here‘s one of the fourth.

On Trying The Final Fantasy X Demo

I said yesterday that I would write today about my experience trying out the Final Fantasy X demo. And I will, but perhaps some background of my history with Final Fantasy first. And I’m going to want to point out how some things have changed, which will make more sense if you have some idea of what they’ve been changed from.

Back in college, a good friend of mine got into VII. Really got into VII, kept going on about how good it was. Sounded like there was a lot to it, but I didn’t have access to it at the time.

A few years later, I picked up a PlayStation second-hand. This was at the point where there were still PS1 games in the stores, but only just. I picked up VIII and IX new. I think Origins (I+II) and Anthology (IV+V in the European version, the Americans got stuck with V and VI and no IV PS release) may have been in the store, but I didn’t get them at that point, I did pick them, VI and VII up later (probably ebay). III was the only release from I-IX, that didn’t get a PS1 release anywhere.

I played lots of VIII and IX at that point. Didn’t finish them until much later. They were easy to play for days (maybe weeks) in spare time, but then I’d take a break, forget what happened, and find it easier to start over to remember the story, than to continue from where I left off…

VI I played through on the emulator, and I was multitasking while I did it, it was easier than going to the console and a dedicated screen.

A couple of years ago, a Nintendo DS was a family present, and one of the games that was also part of the family present, was III. So I did get to play through that one.

I’ve played some VII on-and-off with kids, on the emulator up here (I had them skip a part where Cloud goes into the mansion in drag).

I’ve played I, II, IV and V a little bit, mostly to test that they worked.

The stories take place on very different worlds. IX, getting back to the series’ roots, was more castles, villages, dragons and magic. VI had much more of a steampunk vibe, VII more cyberpunk. VIII is a bit more difficult to place, with mixed elements. There are significant parts with a sci-fi look.

The stories might, in some cases start fairly small – IX starts with a theater troupe on a mission to kidnap a princess, VIII starts with Squall having to pass a couple of tests of his ability as a warrior. The characters soon get swept up into a much larger, world-threatening story. In VIII, a sorceress from the past wants to compress all time to take control of it. In VII, we find out pretty quickly that the life is being sucked out of the planet, to meet energy demand. In IX, someone’s trying to fuse the planet with its dead twin, which will turn out catastrophic for everyone we care about.

There are many common elements through the games, that are sometimes implemented differently. Armour generally works out fairly similarly. You tend to start with something like leather armour, and work your way up throughout the game. Your characters often have job classes: something warrior/knight-ish, something leaning in the healing direction (usually a White Mage), something to cast more harmful spells on your enemies (often a Black Mage). Thief. Some games (III, V) you can choose, some (IX) you can’t.

Magic varies wildly: in III you buy magic from shops throughout the world, and it comes in different levels. Each character has 3 magic slots for each level. It also comes in White, Black and Grey varieties. Some job classes might not be able to use all colours, some might not be able to use any. In VIII, you draw magic from draw points or enemies, and you can plain cast it in battle, but there’s more benefit to “junctioning” it to various character statistics, such as Hit Points, Strength, and a bunch of others. VII, various materia (including magic), you link with slots on your weapons, to make your fighting more effective.

Summon creatures are treated differently by different games as well. A lot of them recur, but some appear only in one game. And they’re referred to differently in different games as well. In VI, they’re called Espers, and they actually have a good reason to help you. In VIII, they’re “Guardian Forces”, GFs. In IX, they’re Eidolons. Most games, as I recall, you give the command to summon them, when you tell the characters what to do, and then they appear when it’s the character’s turn to take the action. In VIII, after you tell the character to Summon, their HP counter gets replaced with the GF’s, for a countdown period before the GF appears. Therefore, the GF is vulnerable to attack and the character isn’t.

In trying the X demo, obviously there’s only so much of the game that they’ll show you, which is fair. They don’t give you much of an idea about the story. They show you the opening movie, and two game segments, the first of which has a bunch of FMV. I couldn’t, as far as I could tell, have a look at equipment screens, and see what you could fiddle around with there. Unsurprisingly, they don’t just let you wander around the world map. In the areas they give you access to, there’s minimaps with indicators of where you are, and where you’re heading to.

The second sequence showcases different battle styles. One battle tells you to use a summon creature, here called Aeons. There’s a big innovation here, the summon creature appears, replacing your whole party, and you give the Aeon commands instead of your party. You basically control it for the rest of the battle, and of course it is vulnerable to attack during this time.

I thought that was a pretty neat idea, and a logical progression from VIII.

They also showcase straight battle, and the use of magic in battle, which aren’t that different to previous games. There are special abilities which you can use for a limited time, after a certain amount of battle: more like the Trances from IX than anything else. But without the characters glowing purple.

The other big innovation, which also seems like a good idea, requires some more background that I haven’t given yet.

Some of the earlier games have 4 characters that you use for the duration of the game. I and III are like this, II has 3 that stay, and the fourth is variable. Most of the other games have a large roster of characters, whom you pick up as the game progresses. In these games, you are given the opportunity to switch which ones you’re using, sometimes at specific points in the game, and for some segments you can change them at any time.

In these larger cast line-ups, in the final battle, if you lose a character, they might be replaced by another. The VI finale is like this, you can choose the order you want your characters to appear in. This is about the only time when your lineup changes during a battle.

In the second playable segment of the X demo, there’s a point where it tells you how to swap out a character mid-battle. One imagines technical limitations have prevented this before, but it seems like a great idea. I wonder how it changes the dynamics, because you could not worry about healing mid-battle, just swap out characters until the battle’s done, then Tent everyone better (assuming that mechanic remains).

I know I’m late to the party on this, and I was recently drooling over the VII Remake trailer for PS4, and have been following the long, long development of XV (also PS4, neither released yet). And watched the trailer for the X HD remake. Probably be very late to the party on all these, as well. Never mind, I like retro, one day these things will be, too. for no, that was a nice, brief excursion into slightly-less-retro-land.

Some Notes On Emulation

I grew up around different games systems. Atari 2600 for a while (every so often we’ll still drag one out). Commodore 64, with my first experiments in programming, but mainly lots of games. And friends with their Spectrums, Atari CPCs. BBC Micro at school. DOS, Windowses (precious). Master Systems, NESes, MegaDrives, SNESes. PlayStations, DreamCasts. A brief encounter with an N64. Most of these not mine, and some of the ones that were mine, I picked up long after the heyday.

I have played with a bunch of emulators, some to a larger degree than others. For some systems, you can find a vast array of games to download, others I haven’t really looked.

Much as I played the Commodore 64 back in the day, I haven’t really played very much with the emulator. Perhaps all that time glued to the joystick makes it a very different experience playing those games on keyboard.

I found a while ago that some games from various consoles are available to play on – I did try Sonic The Hedgehog for both Master System and MegaDrive – you can really see the difference between the two systems, but keyboard worked for the Master System version and not for the MegaDrive version. I think you need a controller that connects to the computer, rather than rely on keyboard.

I picked up a BBC emulator, trying to hunt down a game that I played in school all those years ago (not Granny’s Garden, I remember that). Emulator worked, but I didn’t find the game. The game had levels of different types. I remember one where there was a sentinel, or a guardian, something like that, and you had to colour it with two or three colours, the catch being that you couldn’t put a colour in a segment adjacent to one with the same colour. I think it was the same game that had you trying to drive to the castle, and you had to program the instructions in advance (west 5, etc), and not accidentally go off-road. If you have any ideas as to what it was called, let me know.

DOSBox is THE go-to DOS emulator, and it can be fun to brush up on one’s old DOS skills to write .bat files to streamline mounting and running the games.

Also an emulator of sorts, the SCUMMVM program is an easier way to get a lot of old point-and-click adventures working on more modern machines: the kids mainly use it for Humungous Entertainment games like the Putt-Putt, Freddi Fish, and Pajama Sam series. I’ve also played Discworld and Discworld II with them, on it.

Probably the emulator I’ve used most, is ePSXe, which lets you run games for the original PlayStation. Actually having a bunch of PlayStation CDs lying around, I haven’t felt the need to look for any PlayStation games online. I’ve got through Final Fantasies VI, VIII and IX on there, a little of I, II, IV and V, and a chunk of VII. Games like this, where it’s good to save early and often, benefit from virtually infinite memory card storage. Plus the Griever and Memoria save-game editors for VIII and IX are rather nice, when you’ve played through the game a few times already and don’t want to grind too much.

It’s kinda funny, cos the older two kids were playing Rayman on a real PlayStation 1 earlier this evening.

ePSXe itself can take a bit of configuring to get it running just right, and sometimes I’ve just needed to try a bunch of different settings until it looks good. It was mainly the display settings, though some games needed the CD drive plugin to be adjusted, too. A down side is that it doesn’t save these settings to the ePSXe folder, it saves them in the operating system’s configuration files, so if you reinstall, you lose it all.

A week or two ago, I went looking for a PlayStation 2 emulator. I happen to have one lonely PS2 disc, that I had never got to try before. I decided it was time to see if I could give it a go.

The disc came with Final Fantasy VI (PS1), and was a demo for Final Fantasy X (PS2).

The emulator I tried was PCSX2. It seemed like it didn’t need as much configuration as ePSXe, but there weren’t default keyboard controls for Controller 1, so I needed to go and set those manually, which took a bit of time. The game ran without displaying oddly, so I was glad I didn’t have to go through all the display plugin settings like I did with ePSXe.

The PCSX2 site lists all the games they’ve tested the emulator with, and state the relative compatibility. Some games can be played all the way through, some suffer from particular bugs that mean the game can be played, not completed, some play as far as the menu, some only play an intro, and others do Nothing At All. But they warn that even games that can be completed, can suffer from slowdown at points.

FFX was listed as a game that could be played all the way through. The demo was not listed, but if the full game runs all right, the demo stands a fair chance, doesn’t it?

The FFX demo came with an intro movie, and two playable segments. I’ll talk more about these tomorrow, and stick to performance today.

The intro movie played all right. The first segment had quite a few FMVs, which really struggled at times. The gameplay didn’t seem to suffer any trouble.

So there you go, some experiences of emulation. The past… in the future.

City Of The Daleks Adventure Game

Deep in the mists of 2010, the BBC started releasing Doctor Who games on their website. This series of games was entitled “The Adventure Games”. The first was released around the time of the Van Gogh episode, and the second coincided with Matt Smith’s first season finale.

These free games were only free to people in the UK, and they couldn’t be downloaded from abroad. I found this out by already being abroad by this time. I was provided a disc of the first Adventure Game, downloaded in the UK, but then I found out the other limitation: you had to be in the UK to install it as well.

I saw that at least some of them became available for purchase-download for those abroad, but I didn’t bother at the time.

I see the games are now available on Steam, currently about $20, though I did not get them from there. I checked Amazon recently, and they were a little more than that. I happened to see a disc version of all 5 games in Wal-Mart, for a few cents under $10.

Oh, go on then.

I installed all 5 on Windows 10, and ran the first one. It didn’t run very smoothly. Today I went back into Vista and installed them there, and the one I tried, ran just fine.

I played through the first game, City Of The Daleks. Kids watched the beginning, but creeping around trying to avoid detection by the metal meanies, at the beginning of the game, got a little scary for them. They spent the rest of the game with their attentions divided between the game, and shows on the laptop (3-2-1 Penguins and Strawberry Shortcake).

There were some moments in the game where timing was tricky, and I had to play some sections over, but all in all the game wasn’t too hard.

The game saves itself after significant points: if  you’re supposed to collect objects, it’ll save after you pick it up, for example, but there’s no save function that you can choose to use (“phew, I got round that corner, let me save here so I don’t have to start again from way over there”).

The launcher on the disc needed to be run each time I wanted to install one of the games, couldn’t just do them all at once. Similarly, the games are stand-alone, when you finish one there’s no in-game (or in-menu) button to load the next one now.

There’s several points where the game will tell you off for going the wrong way, so there’s that feeling that the game has laid out the path, and you must follow it. Some games get away with that better than others. I think this game leaned towards not faring very well, but I have played games that did a lot worse.

Having said that, there are a bunch of collectable objects hidden throughout the game, and I missed a whole bunch of them. It seems like there shouldn’t have been many places for them to hide, with the straightforward-path-ness of the game, so perhaps there’s slightly more ability to explore than I give it credit for.

I tend to have subtitles on for movies, TV shows, and games, when they’re available, as often the sound needs to be turned down, due to circumstances. Reading some of the lines as they appeared, one knows what is meant by the line, and the inflections needed to convey the right meaning through those words. It seemed that Matt Smith was, in places, just reading the words, rather than understanding them and conveying the meaning. I rather hope he put a bit more effort into the other ones.

There are cutscenes, and you can’t skip them. Most of the time this doesn’t matter as it’s part of the story, but when you’re dying for the third time on the same puzzle, it would be really nice to skip the dying animation. Or, if you started the game on Win10, and want to get to where you left off (the actual playing part) in Vista, there’s not a way to skip to that bit. Sit and enjoy it, or go make a snack. (I was fine watching that bit a second time, with the animations smoother and no lag between the voice and the animations). Were I to want to play it through again to get the collectables that I missed this fact might put me off doing it on the soonish side.

Most of the game, you’re controlling the Doctor, and Amy is following him. A fair chunk of the game you’re sneaking around, trying to avoid being detected by Daleks. At one point, I got the Doctor through, and Amy got exterminated and I had to do the part again. A bit later in the game, I got the Doctor through down one side of a corridor, while the Dalek was looking the other way. I turn round to see if Amy made it (though I would very much know if she didn’t), and after a few seconds she emerges from the other side of the corridor, having made her own timing decisions. So, AI not the best, but not consistently bad.

Oftentimes you have to duck into corners to evade detection, but then getting out of corners, particularly when there’s debris about, is awkward. Worse when Amy gets in the way and won’t get out of the way. The problems with this are more noticeable at the beginning of the game, I don’t know if I just got used to them, or if matters actually improved. At least the collision detection here wasn’t as fatally bad as in Destiny Of The Doctors.

I feel like I’ve made the game sound a whole lot worse than it was. The above problems were there, were noticeable, but ultimately were fairly minor. They didn’t make me want to stop playing and never come back to them. The low difficulty level can be put down to the game being aimed at 10- to 15-year-olds. To some up how I feel, I’d probably use words like “ok”, “average”, and “not too bad”.

Not in a rush to play City Of The Daleks again to find all the collectables I missed, think I’ll be happy to play the other stories. I feel more in a rush to return to my game of Half-Life 2: Update, to see if I can finally get across that stupid beach without stepping on the sand.

Game Night, And Thoughts On Rule Books

We had a game night tonight at our house, and it was probably the biggest turnout we’ve had for such an event. It was nice hanging out with people we’d not really gotten to hang out with for a while.

After the food was all fooded, tables were cleared, and people started getting out games

I saw one of my Kickstarted games was being investigated, so after investigating how many were playing, how many players the game could take, and whether or not someone who had expressed interest int hat game would like to go and play it this time, I joined in. It was Survival!, one I’d actually played before, but I did need to refresh my memory.

There has been major societal breakdown following a pandemic. You need to escape Center City (conveniently in the center of the board), go and scout out some settlements in the surrounding area (1-3, depending on how long you want the game to go on for), return to Center City to retrieve your family, and then head to the settlement that’s your final destination. But the settlement won’t just accept a bunch of hungry people who’ll just drain resources, you have to prove of some value to them. So you have to collect some resources on your way: a certain amount of food, fuel, firepower, survivors (folk?), and medical supplies (I can’t easily turn that into an “f” word).

Accumulating these things is not always easy, and getting from one place to another isn’t easy. There are several places where raiders will attack you, and many things depend on successful dice rolls. Your odds of success can be increased by bonuses you pick up on the way, or by expending some of your hard-earned resources to slightly improve the results of your roll. you’re never really out of the game, but you can experience setbacks. And sometimes the luck of the cards and the luck of the dice, just aren’t going your way.

Four of us played, I think we all got the hang of it pretty fast (for me, again, and I did remember a big mistake we made when we played it before). All four of us had the end in sight, when the game was won by one of our guests.

After that game was over and put away, I watched most of a game of the Batman edition of Love Letter. The Joker is the princess.

After that was over, the last of our guests went. Three of us stayed up to try my newest addition, Bomb Squad.

Learning a new game is easiest when you have someone around who’s played it already, or if it’s similar enough to a game you’ve already played, that you can kind of skip ahead. When it’s brand new to all of you, you read through a bunch of the manual, decide to start playing, and then just keep referring back to the rulebook.

That is what we ended up doing with Bomb Squad. We very quickly decided that we would skip using the timer this time through. This was a good move, then we could keep finding out, “how does this bit work?” for all the little bits of game we needed to learn. So while we took more like 45 minutes on the game, where the longest bomb timer on the training mission was 16 minutes, we could take the time to figure out what exactly we were supposed to do, what the rules were in context (because in abstract is harder to keep straight), and make it easier on ourselves the next time.

The slower pace and the constant looking-things-up meant it was extra tricky to keep straight what cards we had in our hands. The thing is with this game, you can’t see what’s in your hand, you have to get clues from other players. This takes some getting used to, it’s all too easy to take a card and look at it. If this happens, you must discard that card. A couple of cards were discarded this way. I hope it’s easier to keep a grasp of what’s in your hand straight, when the turns are coming thick and fast.

I’m glad we got to give this game a go (improperly was entirely acceptable for trying to get the rules straight). Also glad we did it when the kids were in bed, you rather need to concentrate. Hope we get to play it again while we still have a memory of what we’re supposed to be doing.

I quite like complicated games, and the drawback to complicated games is, while they tend to end up being pretty straightforward once you know what you’re doing, is that the learning curve is pretty steep. I kind of want to go through some of these rulebooks and create an “if none of you knows what you’re doing” version.

“Factors X, Y, and Z determine your final score. To get those, you need to do things A, B, and C.
To set up, put these pieces there like this.
Before the turns start, you do things 1 and 2. Thing 1 requires no strategy, with Thing 2 you should think about things 4, 5, and 6, but don’t worry about that too much, you’ll have a better grasp of why once you’ve played it through once.
Once your turn starts, you can do one of Alpha, Beta or Gamma. Your first couple of turns, it’s not worth doing much other than Gamma, unless you’re really lucky and start with the resources to do Alpha.”

and so on. If you know you don’t need to worry about Event cards until later in the game, you shouldn’t be worrying about them during setup.

A basic “what you need to know for each stage” with references to the full rulebook if you need more detail, might make some of these games less daunting. Or perhaps the research process would make it easier to explain.

I don’t think I have time for a project like this, but I do like the sound of the end result.

Game Stuff And KickStarter

We picked up a secondhand Blokus a while ago, turned out there were 3 yellow pieces missing.  A householder picked up another secondhand Blokus, only missing one piece (a blue one). Turns out the game was released in two different sizes… the blue piece from the first set is adequate in the second, not perfect. We played twice (me, Oldest, and my parents-in-law – I won twice, both times close. Oldest was sad at losing the first game, and not really much happier about coming second in the second game.

We’re aiming to have a game night soon, and I a game I Kickstarted showed up in the mail, a few days ago. I still have some Kickstarted games I’ve not tried yet.

I got into KickStarter because of a game I already play. I’ve mentioned the old Star Trek CCG that I’ve been into since 1995 at the latest (it started 1994). After a while, the game got rather complicated, and the company started with a Second Edition (with backwards-compatible cards that further complicated First Edition). One of the former 2e designers, Michael Keller, posted on the boards that he was trying to publish a board game he’d designed.

The game was City Hall. It failed when Keller tried to self-publish it through KickStarter. I actually missed it that first time round. The second time round, a game publishing company tried to Kickstart it, and I umped in on that, but it didn’t meet its funding goal either, but the publisher assumed some of the responsibility for that, and they promised to try one more time.

That one more time, City Hall was paired with another Keller game, Captains of Industry.

City Hall has a political theme, which has made it a bit difficult to get people interested in. What I liked about it (conceptually, I’m still trying to get someone to play it with me), is managing a bunch of different kinds of resources (money, influence, popularity and so on), and carefully using them: spending some of one to get some of another, strategically building to benefit yourself but to try not to benefit your opponents too much, and being in competition for particular roles, and trying hard to get one, or look like you’re trying hard to get one but really trying to get someone else to take it instead.

Captains Of Industry also has resource management and building, and looks a few shades more complicated. The theme is industrial rather than political. The difficulty with getting people to play this one, is that there is rather a lot that you need to take in all at once. I think once you’ve been through it a time or two, it’ll be as straightforward as something like Power Grid, it’s just a bit daunting.

The ones that just arrived are Bomb Squad and Bomb Squad Academy. Bomb Squad, you have a limited time to program a robot to go into a building, defuse bombs and rescue hostages (and sometimes unlock doors along the way). You can’t see the cards you have to program the robot with, and have to rely on hints from other players. Reports are that the game is very immersive and intense.

Bomb Squad Academy got thrown in on the same Kickstarter, a similarly-themed game, but with different gameplay. More a card game, you are trying to defuse bombs, but you can hinder other players, and cutting the wrong wire will bring you closer to a big bang.

We opened all these games this evening, and looked through the pieces and enough of the rules to get a feel of what the games were about. There were (positive) comments about the quality of the components.

We also opened one other game I Kickstarted, but this time one I’ve actually played (once). Doom And Bloom Survival! was developed by a husband-and-wife team Doc Bones and Nurse Amy, of the Doom And Bloom podcast (they guested on The Survival Podcast a few times, and Jack promoted their Kickstarter attempt for this game over there, which is how I heard about it).

In the center of the board is a city, and you have to escape, scout some settlements around, pick up a certain amount of food, weapons, fuel, medical supplies and survivors, and return to the city to pick up your family and take them to your final destination settlement. But you can be attacked by bandits or encounter random events, that can set you back. If I recall correctly, the latter could also help you. And you may need to expend food, fuel or weapons for various reasons, and some of it is balancing between getting all that you need, and getting ahead in the game.

My mother-in-law, who was looking through the games with me, thought she might like to try this one. Better brush up on the rules (for all of them really, just in case).

Than there’s always other options. Dominion is a good one…

Game Clones

I was pondering writing about Abandonia, a site that covers old games (primarily DOS games), lets you know if they’re abandonware or not, and if they are, provides downloads of them, or if they’re for sale on somewhere like GOG, provide links to there.

But, as it’s been rather a while since I browsed Abandonia, and I don’t think I’ve even opened DOSBox since installing Windows 10 (and often played stuff I still own when I did, and abandonware downloads surprisingly little), I’m not sure I really have much to say on that front.

From back in the day, I do recall a trend of the same game coming out on many different platforms (which you still see today in the console market, just with less platforms generally supported). And, of course, games that were only available on one system.

But there was another trend, which seems like an oddity now: clones. A game released, that is basically a copy of another game.

This was a thing, and you wonder how they got away with it. I mean, to borrow a movie example, it’s more than just Armageddon and Deep Impact coming out not-too-distant from each other.

I mean, how many different versions of Breakout, or Space Invaders, could there be? (answer: lots).

I recently watched, with my wife, a series of short YouTube videos about graphics in videogames, and one game they highlighted was an arcade game from 1981 called Defender. I had up to that point never seen the game, and so not played it either. But I had played a C64 game called Dropzone, I seem to recall hearing it referred to as a “Defender clone”, though it does seem to have its differences. Looking up Defender on Wikipedia, it lists Dropzone in the “Remakes and Sequels” section.

But it gets more interesting. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia’s Defender page: “Defender was Williams Electronics’ first attempt at developing a new video game; the company’s earlier game was a Pong clone.”

For those of you not familiar with the videogame industry of the ’80s and early ’90s, the era was mostly not games that were copies of other games, and there were some very creative uses of the limited power of machines of the time. That being said, there were an incredible amount of games, so a certain amount of games-that-were-similar should not be surprising.

Through all of this, I only heard of one instance where similarity led to trouble: the infamous Great Giana Sisters was very very close to Super Mario Brothers (the similar titles going some way to suggest just how similar), the first level was apparently almost identical. It’s commonly understood that Nintendo brought legal action, but according to Wikipedia that’s not quite correct: Nintendo was apparently responsible for the game disappearing from the shelves, however. The article suggests that’s not the only game Nintendo sabotaged (though I don’t think such sabotage was entirely unfair, it does suggest that Nintendo had a different ethos than other companies of the time).

In fact, thinking about other media, books, movies and so on, the only industry that I’ve really noticed multiple high-profile cases of litigation for copying, is the music industry.

The game clone concept hasn’t entirely gone away: I’ve seen quite a few versions of 2048.

The High Voltage SID Collection

Growing up, we had a Commodore 64 computer (later, two of them). Not intended to be exclusively for games, we used it mostly for games, though I did gain some early programming experience (about the level that I could follow the code, so often longer than 10 PRINT “Hello World”; 20 GOTO 10, but often not terribly more complicated).

An edge that the C64 had over other systems of the time, was the capabilities of the sound chip in the machine, the SID chip. The designer had previously worked on synthesizers, and thought that other sound systems on computers of that era, were designed by people who knew nothing about music.

The SID chip allowed for a range of different kinds of sounds to go on at the same time, allowing for music with chords and different instruments. In short, enough depth to sound like music, rather than just a sequence of notes being played. If I recall correctly, musicians for games were limited to 4 channels, the most basic example of this would be a chord and another note. Other platforms were stuck with less. 4 channels were limiting, but with enough freedom to make memorable tunes.

Perhaps a precursor to my being happy to listen to MIDIs of Final Fantasy music (discovered years after I’d otherwise given up on the MIDI format), there were a bunch of C64 games where the music was a joy to listen to. Like, I’d load the game, listen to the entirety of the tune on the menu before starting to actually play.

As an aside, I had fun on the Shoot ‘Em Up Construction Kit in the section were you could play with the sounds: sawtooth, triangle, pulse and noise.

I am not the only person to enjoy this, the pinnacle of 8-bit music. Looking into it, people are still composing using the SID chip. And the old classic music has been carefully extracted from the old game files, and archived. The most comprehensive archive of SID tunes is the High Voltage SID Collection. The .sid files can be downloaded individually or as the complete collection.

Tunes I keep returning to are from Firelord by Ben Daglish, Meanstreak by Matt Gray, Mayhem In Monsterland by Steve Rowlands, and Zamzara by Charles Deenen. When I’m not sure who composed a tune, it’s easier to search for it on the HVSC site, then browse through the downloaded directories (if you got the whole archive, if you download the individual game’s tune/s then it’s wherever you saved it to). The .sid files need a SID player to play them, but there’s links to those on the HVSC site.

The High Voltage SID Collection site
The Wikipedia article about the HVSC
The Wikipedia article on the SID chip – some interesting stuff in there, plus a bunch of stuff way too technical for me.