Category Archives: Games

“If you go to Ravenholm, you will die”

I like playing games, though I don’t really make a lot of time for doing so. Playing Final Fantasy VII with Oldest hasn’t happened in a while. I’ve downloaded a few games that I haven’t tried out, yet. Got a way into Cut The Rope 2, and log in most days to get the prize of the day, most days I don’t spend more time than that.

I’m fairly competitive so with the Final Fantasies I like doing all the side quests and getting all the items, Cut The Rope 2 I like solving each level all 3 ways, otherwise I would probably be a lot further ahead.

And then there’s games with Achievements. My first encounter with something like this was in Command And Conquer: Generals, medals for doing so many of different kinds of maps, medals for defeating the different General types and so on.

Though I prefer games that just come on CD or DVD and one can just play without having to do a tedious download, or even worse an update right when you want to be playing, any Achievements you earn while playing games are tied to your account and you don’t lose them.

Actually, I think it’s the same way with games in the Windows Store, though I only have installed one game that has Achievements: Microsoft Sudoku. (Had it on for less than a month, and already have most of the achievements, though one will take 8 months to get and another 12).

After getting through Half-Life 2 on Steam, there were several Achievements I didn’t achieve, and the competitive person in me has considered going back and getting them. Well, I didn’t and didn’t, but then a remake with updated graphics, Half-Life 2: Update, was released to everyone who already had Half-Life 2. And the Achievements were the same.

This seemed the perfect opportunity to go back and start over. One Achievement in particular, that I missed first time round, involves finding the Lambda symbol, or some supplies near to them, through all the game. So I basically have to play through the whole game to get this one, and was a big one I wanted to get, but had kinda been putting off.

I’m doing OK so far on that one, but there was another that I tried first time that was Hard with a capital Difficult. Get through Ravenholm using only the Gravity Gun.

At this point in the game, you’ve only just got the Gravity Gun, with which you can pick up objects, then either drop them, or fling them at high speed.

Ravenholm is a zombie-infested hell hole. It has regular zombies, the insanely fast zombies, regular headcrabs (nasty little critters that jump on peoples’ heads and turns them into zombies), toxic headcrabs (let’s just say that they’re so much worse), and carrier zombies (have a bunch of headcrabs on their head and shoulders that they just throw at you).

The level is rather easier if you’re using the other weapons you have at your disposal. The shotgun is quite helpful.

Now, there are rather a lot of helpful objects around that you can throw at all these zombies and headcrabs. The circular saw blades are the most effective, as long as you hit. Flammable barrels can affect a large area. Bricks, and plain barrels can be helpful in a pinch.

There’s one human (half-crazed) inhabitant of Ravenholm: Father Grigorio. At a few points, he’ll show up and ramble madly at you, and also take out a few enemies with his shotgun. He has also set a bunch of traps around the town, which can help you out. Or kill you, if you’re not careful.

If you’ve not played the level before, you’re going to be dying and reloading (and hopefully saving, frequently) a whole bunch of times. If you’re going for the Gravity Gun Achievement, same applies.

Hence the Babylon 5 reference in this post’s title. The original line was, “If you go to Z’ha’dum, you will die.” Ravenholm may well be worse.

With the Gravity Gun, you can only carry 1 thing at a time. For a good chunk of the level, you can take it slow: carry a circular saw blade so far, go back and get another, take it to where you dropped the first, go and get a third. Less good is when you shoot one, need it again and can’t find where the stupid thing landed.

And that’s just in the buildings and in the streets: a fair chunk of the level you’re on walkways partway up the outside of the buildings. Very easy to lose stuff up there.

Oh no! Accidentally switched to the crowbar and swooshed it! Load saved game…

So there’s this part where you go into a door at the top of a building, and call the elevator to get down to street level, where a zombie horde is milling about. you close the door, call the elevator, and some of those insanely fast zombies break their way in through the skylight. The room, while not perhaps strictly small, is small enough to the point where, once you’ve picked up an object to throw, the fast zombie has knocked it out of your grip before you’ve had a chance to aim.

After several tries, one time making it into the lift, with the speedy so-and-sos also making it in, I figured it was really time to try something different. Before you go into the room, you can see down into the street you’re trying to get into. I found it safer to just jump down there, straight into the (for the most part, much slower) zombie horde than be trapped in a room with the fast ones.


After that, the street was much easier: the fast ones showing up but not quite so close together, a trap that works once and then breaks, but you can Gravity Gun the broken-off part to good effect (repeatedly,as long as you can find the thing). Then you’re back onto the rooftops, and hey, there’s the cart I need to get across the gap, how do I get it here? Oh man, need to go back into the street into a building… OK, got it. Now back onto the roofs and walkways, further this time, Father Grigorio shows up for the last time, we can join him and he’ll accompany us through the graveyard.

But first, we have to wait on top of this building, for another little cart, that will carry us across the gap. And I have no objects to throw. (There are some ammunition boxes here, but throwing them does no good). And there are two fast zombies coming, one coming up the drainpipe (that you can’t knock down, though it be loose), and the other… Aargh! I don’t care! It’s coming!

So, defenseless (even if I had things to throw, the situation would be like being in the lift room, only there’d be a lot more losing the weapons off the side of the building), under attack, what do I do?

Run around, trying not to get hit. Jump in the cart when it arrives. Hit the button to be taken away.

Surprisingly, this method works, and the fast zombies decline to join me in the cart. Whew!

Comparatively, the graveyard is a lot easier. Then the mines.

Infested with headcrabs. And a few things to throw at them, but not quite what you would call an abundance. And then a barnacle (thing that lives on a ceiling, has a long sticky tongue that dangles down, if it touches you, it catches you and pulls you up to be eaten by the Big Pointy Teeth). This barnacle you have to use as a lift, and then not die.

The barnacle took a couple of turns, but was pretty easy to figure out. The mine workings, with elevated walkways and such, was harder with the many headcrabs running around on the floor. Managed to take a lot of them out with flammable barrels, then found a spot where they could get up to me one at a time, and sometimes the Gravity Gun blast will kill them (else it will just knock them away, at least on headcrabs the Gravity Gun will have an effect without needing an extra object to throw).

And then, after a much easier ascent, we reach daylight. There’s a little bit more to the Ravenholm chapter of the game, fortunately we get the achievement before we have to go through that.

Man, that was hard. But there’s an achievement on Update that I didn’t get on Original. Not in a rush to go back and get it there…

Here attached is a video of someone-not-me playing the level without going for the achievement: going with this one because there’s no commentary going on.
Warning: In case you hadn’t realised from everything I’ve said so far, there’s some violence.

Review: Centauri Dawn

Deep back in the mists of time (or “1999”, as it is sometimes referred to), I got into the PC game Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. This was my main introduction to games along the lines of Civilization, and in some respects it still stands above other games in the franchise. (I have yet to try Civ V and Beyond Earth.) I’ve also spent time playing the SMAC mod for Civ IV, Planetfall.

I think the main reason for this is that the world and the characters got fleshed out rather a lot more than in other games in the franchise (or even the genre, to be honest). Civ rather relies on your knowledge of the leaders that you play as (Queen Elizabeth I, Bismarck, Genghis Khan and so on), and of various Wonders (You built the Pyramids!). In SMAC, you have to learn the personalities of the leaders, and what each technology, facility, and Secret Project means to the world.

The world was fleshed out further in a series of stories written by Michael Ely, who worked on the game, casting the faction leaders and directing the Secret Project movies (one of which is above).

The first story was released in episodic form on the official website, in the build-up to the release of the game (behind the times, I finished reading it last week). Interestingly, one of the major characters had a different name through most of the story, before it was corrected towards the end. Journey To Centauri (and the free buildup-to-the expansion story Centauri: Arrival) can be found at

The novels themselves can be tricky to track down: I got lucky and found the first two books second-hand for less than $5 each.

The third book is much harder to track down, when it’s on Thriftbooks it tends to be over $50 (for a paperback?), and even second-hand on Amazon, sometimes it’s over $50, most of the time it’s over $30. I picked it up when it was $13.62 (plus the shipping), which comparatively is a bargain, but I must confess I’m not fond of paying that much for a new book, so I have a slight twitch about that.

So as a kind of celebration of starting reading Book 3, I thought I’d post my thoughts about Book 1 (which may end up being shorter than all the buildup to it).

Centauri Dawn coverCentauri Dawn, by Michael Ely

Overall, I enjoyed the story. It was nice having the world fleshed out somewhat – in the game, we do hear from characters other than the faction leaders, but in the book we meet quite a few other inhabitants of the human settlements (mainly Peacekeeper and Spartan, as the book focuses on those two – the other factions come in later books).

There was also satisfaction in recognising nods to research discoveries, base facilities and so on from the game. It was interesting that though the Spartans are a focus of the book, and the game makes a passing reference to an early attack on the Spartans by mindworms, that that event also gets only a passing reference in hindsight in the book.

Also a source of interest is significant things that weren’t in the game. Alpha Centauri was before the Civ games (that I know of, at least) where each nation gets unique buildings and units, and so AC doesn’t have that kind of differentiation, either. It does in other ways, but not that way. So Santiago’s elite soldiers, the Myrmidons, are quite significant in the book, but not in the game. Were the game that little bit more recent, one suspects that would be different.

My favourite insider reference is towards the end of the book, and it’s good enough that I don’t want to spoil you of anything, where a certain thing happens, and I got “I recognise that setting!” Not a technology, unit type, base enhancement, secret project or anything like that, just one of the setup options from when you set up the game. And it gives extra flexibility for the other novels in the series.

I had fun. Thumbs up on this one. I thought it was a good story in its own right, you don’t have to have played the game to follow it. Though as a fan of the game, if you like playing computer games, I think it’s one worth checking out.

Review: Puzzle Quest – Challenge Of The Warlords

I like puzzle games. I’ve sunk a lot of time into Tetris, Columns, Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, and more recently things like Angry Birds and Cut The Rope.

I’m still waiting on some of those straight lines from Tetris.

Some of these games require more strategy than others, and some require different kinds of thinking.

Oh, the Portal games, too – definitely puzzle games,but miles away from Tetris.

I picked up Puzzle Quest: Challenge Of The Warlords at a yard sale last summer. It has a story, but each part of the story, in addition to a bunch of random encounters, all require you to “battle” – you vs the computer at a puzzle game.

You have to line up 3 or more of a colour in a row, at which point those blocks disappear, the blocks above fall down, and new random blocks fill the screen from the top.

There are 4 main colours: yellow (air), blue (water), red (fire) and green (earth). You can learn spells along the way (I was playing as Druid, I don’t know if any other character classes get different uses for these colours), and the spells cost certain amounts of those colours that you have accumulated during the round. There is also money, which you use to buy items or upgrade skills, purple stars which go towards levelling you up, and skulls, which deplete health (yours if they’re destroyed on your opponent’s turn, and vice versa).

There are some variants on the game: when you’re trying to learn a new spell, you have to destroy a certain amount of anvils that show up during the round (getting them to show up, and getting them to a position in which you can destroy them, is more down to luck than skill).

Also, you can capture monsters: in that case, you’re presented with a not-full board, and have to figure out how to remove every single block from the board. I think that was my favourite variant.

Even with those variants, which you don’t really encounter that often, and with the story, the game got so samey that I kind of gave up halfway through.

Recently I picked it up again, and finished it.

I found overall that while puzzling can be addictive, that same puzzle over and over got a bit boring. I’m not feeling a pressing need to go through the game again with other character classes.

It just felt like it needed not just variants on the puzzle game, but some different puzzle games at appropriate intervals (maybe for different types of monsters – undead do this, animals do that, that sort of thing) to keep the game interesting.

PC Game Copy Protection

As we reach the end of the age of computer games coming on DVD (many of the offerings coming in DVD cases just containing download codes), I just wanted to reflect on copy protection as it has affected me.

I can go back to a few C64 disk and tape games that contained code sheets that you needed to have handy if you ever wanted to play the game again, and how sometimes the difference between green and cyan wasn’t that great. And then, because the sheet saw so much use, it got a bit beaten up…

Move on to DOS games that required you to refer to something in the manual. When it asked you a second question in a row, and then sometimes a third, you’re wondering, “Did I answer the first one wrong?” Or it asks you for a vehicle speed, and you’re wondering, “Do I put in ‘MPH’ or not?” More often than not, you’re wondering just where the manual is…

As consumer hard drives got bigger, and so did game collections, some people used programs like VirtualDrive to store the game files on the PC, without having to disk-swap all the time. Especially good on kids’ machines, when you don’t want them touching discs all the time.

I haven’t run the program on my PC, but I did have a program for a while to get round DVD region encryption (hint: use VLC). I wasn’t running VLC, the program was called something like DVDRegionKiller. I found out how it worked: it kind of virtualised the DVD drive so it wouldn’t go looking for the region. Kind of the reverse of VirtualDrive: where VirtualDrive pretends the disc files ARE a real drive, DVDRegionKiller pretended the drive WASN’T real.

Having discovered the joys of VLC, I don’t need that program any more, but I only figured out all that stuff when a game (Star Wars: Empire At War) basically told me to uninstall VirtualDrive or equivalent because it couldn’t verify whether or not the drive was real. Ran into the same problem with Myst V on a computer that did have VirtualDrive (trying not to abbreviate it as VD).

Telling me what programs I can’t even have installed on my machine, is a level of intrusiveness that I really don’t like.

I bought a second-hand copy of Battlefield 2142 in a thrift store. This game required registration to even play the single-player campaign. Where in my previous experience a CD key could be reused, the one in the box was registered to another account, and the only way EA would let me play the game was to give them more money for a new key.

I already paid for the game, I don’t want to pay for it a second time (more than I paid first time, even) to make it work. I ain’t that interested.

After that experience, I was hesitant to buy Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy for PC that I found in a thrift store. I couldn’t see anything in the manual about online registration or anything, even a CD key, but I talked them down to a price where I was comfortable with the risk.

Well, on the day I got it, it installed fine and ran fine.

The next day, the copy protection told me to put in the original disc and not a backup copy. Well, as far as I know, it IS the original disc…

In the error message was a link with some suggestions for resolving the problem. I tried following the instructions, looking in the Control Panel for some setting that wasn’t where they said it was. I didn’t even find it. I restarted the computer, and after that, the game would just crash.

I got a game that allowed for three installs (later updated to five) before it wouldn’t work and you’d need to get a new key. I installed it, played it a little, then after a while (as you do), had to reinstall the whole computer. I don’t think I uninstalled the game, which apparently would give me that use back. Don’t think I’ve even installed it since then.

Copy protection makes things more difficult for legitimate users, whereas pirates strip out that crap and make versions that run better. And often bundle a different set of crap into versions they distribute. But still, I can understand legitimate users being driven to look for modified versions of the software that, frankly, will actually freaking work.

The more I suffer from copy protection, I think that that does more harm (by pissing off people who would actually spend money on the products) than good (Pirates are always ahead of the games companies, and I think it’s safe to say that they aren’t deterred by the increasingly draconian copy protection). And someone who downloads a pirated copy of the game that would never have bought it in the first place? That ain’t lost revenue.

I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the games companies, but the versions of copy protection that veer off into spyware and malware territory, bring me closer to being entirely unsympathetic.

Lego Dimensions

It’s been a long time since I was taking much notice in the cutting edge of games. Command & Conquer from Tiberian Sun to about Red Alert 2. Star Trek Armada. Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri.

The most recent game I got that was particularly current was LEGO Marvel Superheroes for DS, and it had already reached the dropping-in-price stage when I got it.

But somehow, this year I’ve been faced with a few trailers from E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo. The Final Fantasy VII Remake has me drooling for it and the PS4 (also waiting for some more information about Final Fantasy XV, for that same system).

Backwards-compatibility and several games also have me drooling for the PS3. PS4 doesn’t really do backwards-compatibility (although it’s been more prevalent in the last few years, not putting 2 or more machines in 1 isn’t exactly unfair).

So the other game I’ve seen trailers for, is LEGO Dimensions: similarly to The LEGO Movie, breaks down barriers between different Lego worlds (and licenses).

I had to investigate exactly what it is, because the quickest explanation is “It’s like Disney Infinity”, and though I’ve seen trailers for Disney Infinity, I don’t really know what that is, either.

You get the Starter Pack, which contains a gadget that plugs into your console to make the game work. It has the platform-specific version of the game, and some characters and a vehicle to make the game work. And some Lego for decoration.

You go through the game with the characters that you have.

You can buy extra packs with more characters, vehicles and even levels for the game.

I looked at Amazon for what was available for pre-order, and Wikipedia for everything that was announced.

Right now the Starter Pack for PS3 or PS4 is $99.96, some other systems were 99.99, the full retail price.

Level packs with extra levels and extra characters are currently 29.99, there are 4 listed of those.

Team packs with 2 characters and 2 vehicles are 24.99, there are 4 listed of those.

Fun packs with 1 character and 1 vehicle are 14.96, there are 24 listed of those.

The idea is that more can be added as time goes on, and I would imagine that some characters and packs would be less popular and so their price will drop, but if you were going to get everything that’s currently listed (though not all of it will be available when the starter becomes available), at retail price (or just-about for the PlayStations), you’re in for a few cents shy of $679.

Plus the console, if you don’t already have one.

So you know.

Games and Processed Meat

I had a couple of spam comments the other day, but yesterday’s post on The Ra Expeditions really tapped into a vein (well, 21 spam comments). A couple of them mentioned “video”, I wonder if the YouTube link triggered it. Well, I’m throwing in a bunch more, today!

I played a couple of old games today: the first one to keep Oldest and Youngest distracted (it only worked for Oldest), and the second because it was easier to switch back and forth between that and dealing with kids, that trying to concentrate on something more productive and dealing with kids.

So the first game was Gran Turismo 2. Youngest loves cars (and trucks, he doesn’t have many words but he distinguishes between those), and Oldest does like playing games.

We were playing a 2-player game in Arcade Mode. This has a reasonable selection of cars, and a limited number of tracks (3 tracks in Road Race, 1 in Rally). You can add more cars by extensively playing in GT Mode, I haven’t played that extensively, and I’m not sure I even have any saves of it.

I won most of the games (as you’d expect), even with having to deal with Youngest (who would occasionally point and say “car”, but most of the time was trying to escape to be with other people).

Oldest almost won a round, running with a 200-odd horsepower car while I ran with the significantly less powerful classic Mini Cooper. Not only was the Mini the car with the absolute least horsepower available (61 IIRC, with a couple of other options clocking in at 63 and maybe 65?), it was also terrible to steer. This of course made Oldest terribly excited, he kept wanting me to use that car again. I did, after trying the other 60-something HP cars first, he won that one.

Funnily enough, after resisting the Rally option the whole time (I forced it on him at the end), he won that round, too. That time, I was running a 400HP car against his 200-something HP car. Thre were just points where my car wanted to do nothing but spin…

I wanted to find the part of the single-player campaign that acted a bit as a tutorial – a big yellow line on the track to help you learn how to take corners is a feature I particularly remember – to help Oldest learn how to play well/beat me. By the time I’d figured out what it was (going for licenses on GT mode), Oldest was done with Gran Turismo for the day.

The Rally track, and Oldest’s favourite Road track, both had “Tahiti Road” in the name. It’s a magical place.

I remember with car racing games on older systems (Commodore 64, Sega MegaDrive) scenery appearing when it was pretty close, you couldn’t see it very far ahead. I noticed that on some corners on GT2 this time round (“oh, this bit of track is visible now…. here it is!”), but thankfully it’s still far enough in the distance that you’re not basing your next few steering moves on it.

The second game is one I’m currently having a “reminiscence run” of, is Star Trek: Birth Of The Federation (download link). I have the CD, it’s nice to not need it.

BOTF is along the lines of the Civilization games. Expand your territory, make the other major races your friends, then squash them like the bugs they are. There are some minor races that you can befriend or conquer.

The opening videos aren’t very inspiring (and weren’t at the time), the “You Won” messages were something of an anti-climax as well, and sometimes the micromanaging (and doing the Exact Same Thing in each new system you colonise) can get tedious, but there’s still a lot going for the game as well.

I like how each race gets a different design for the game screens. That’s a genius move that I haven’t seen elsewhere (and if I’m forgetting a game that does that, then I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen anything that does it to the same extent).

The game has its own screensaver (that I haven’t seen this time round) – each ship in the game rotates around a few times before it gets switched out for the next one. And there are two models for the Borg Cube in that screensaver – on one, one side has a smiley face. Gotta love programmers having fun.

I like the Wormhole mechanic, the Outpost and Starbase mechanic, and the terraforming mechanic.

The space battles with the different tactics are pretty cool, don’t think I’ve seen that sort of thing executed in turn-based strategy anywhere else, and it’s not exactly easy to pull off in real-time strategy, either.

The Open Hailing Frequencies option never seems to be a good choice, sad to say.

And there’s something incredibly satisfying about having your 9 Romulan Warbird IIs decloaking and blasting the Borg Cube to pieces.

Fun times, and memory lane. Don’t have a lot of time for this now.

And I think I’m about out of time this evening for dealing with a Poison Headcrab

Late-night ramblings

Been a long day, not sure what to say.

In the past few days, I’ve had good feedback about a couple of websites I’ve made (one of them’s not live yet, I’m itching to make it live).

Tonight we had some out-of-town visitors, who were here relatively spontaneously. We had a nice chat, then one settled down to watch Serenity (we hope you liked it!), while the other sat down for board games.

First game of the night was The Settlers Of Catan, the classic gateway drug. I did really well when we first got that game, but more recently I’ve been struggling to do even partway well. A lot of it’s luck of the numbers, of course (two early 7s when I was just about able to do something with the cards, set me back quite a way), and everyone having the same resources, so trading was awkward. A couple of thievings when I was consistently behind.

All part of the game, though. I ended with a tragic 4 points.

The second game of the night was one I backed on Kickstarter, Harbour. I played it once just with Oldest, and once with parents-in-law a little while after that, and it’s been ages since then til now, the third play.

It’s a lot easier learning it the third time – remembering what to do, from the mistakes we made before.

Once I’d arranged my resources, I bought the clock tower – high in price, high in points. Not one that fit with my strategy, got a couple of resources when others wanted to use it. My next purchase was the similarly high-point, high-price Abbey. Helps you a lot, helps your opponents a little.

After that, I needed to recoup my resources. I built up, and got a bit lucky right at the end of saving, so that I could have 20 to spend. A 10-cost item I had my eye on got bought. I got a bit lucky, getting my purchasing power increased right before my turn.

I set my meeple on an unbought card that gave me 2 buys that turn. I bought two expensive buildings.

It was getting really late, so the other players forwent their last turn, because no-one really stood a chance of catching up.

Fun. Tired. Night, all!