All posts by malek86

You don't need to know too much about me. That's not what the internet is for, now is it? Just know I'm a guy. Though there was a high chance anyway. The only other thing you need to know, I have a soft spot for nineties videogames. Expect lots of them to be featured here.

Bringing a knife to a gun fight

So here’s a story. Back in 2001, an interesting game called American McGee’s Alice came out. It was weird for a couple reasons. First, I believe it was one of the earliest examples of a director using his name in the title of his game, though I might be wrong here. But also, it was a re-imagining of a beloved children’s story, this time with dark and grotesque imagery and more than a bit of violence.

Alice does have a weird tendency to sound completely detached at one point, and break down crying one second later. Maybe it comes with the dyed hair.
I think this is the level in Mario 64 where I almost gave up on getting all 120 stars. I still got them in the end, though.

It was a cult hit, I believe, but not much more. Certainly not many people remembered it by the next year. Anyway, 7-8 years later Disney had a similar idea for their movies, and made a sort of dark fable out of Alice in Wonderland, of course starring Johnny Depp because back then he was still the hottest thing ever. It went on to become a worldwide success, so it’s no surprise that some videogame publisher would try and bank on it. Enter EA, who could have just made a movie tie-in… but instead, decided to resurrect an old, unrelated game that just coincidentally had a similar idea years earlier. And so comes Alice Madness Returns, and the circle is closed.

I dig Goth Alice’s look in Madness Returns, but she really needs to lay down the eyeliner.

Even better, they included the original game with the sequel. At least, on consoles. At least, as paid DLC. But now it’s free DLC! Funny how that works. Since Madness Returns was put on sale and also joined the backward compatibility program, I could finally play American McGee’s Alice, which I had missed upon release, and also take a bunch of screenshots.

There’s a whiff of Shadow Man to the enviroments and design, although encased in a fairly old-looking modification of the Quake 3 engine. I swear Quake 3 was much more pleasing to the eye, this is closer to Quake 2 in looks.

Not much to say about the game itself. Some interesting ideas, and the design is definitely disturbing at times, but the platforming and combat are both mediocre. In an action-platforming game you’d guess that could be a problem, and it is. Still, worth playing through, if only to see what happens. The Disney 2010 movie took a different direction for sure. At least I’m ready for Madness Returns now… though I might not start immediately. Quantum break has been waiting for too long.

Breaking the hours barrier

I just noticed that I must have spent more than 200 hours playing Destiny. That sounds like a lot of time for one game, but I did come close with some other titles too. The Binding of Isaac is roughly 180 hours, same for Diablo 3, Dark Souls 2 is probably more than that between all of my characters, and even though Morrowind and Baroque have no counter, I have a feeling I must have spent more than 200 hours in those too.

The counter actually says 190 hours, but it doesn’t count the time spent in cities and in orbit. And believe me, that was a whole lot of time spent mulling over legendary items.

While playing one game for so long is quite rare for me, I know that some people have played other games far, far longer.  I’m always amazed whenever someone comes up with an 800 hours savedata for Disgaea or whatever. I mean, I have spent the last two months playing almost exclusively Destiny (granted I didn’t have a lot of free time in the past two months… or in the next month) and I only got to 200 hours. And that was on top of the existing 70-80 hours I had accumulated during the launch period. Just how long do you have to play to reach 800 hours? (… well, I guess you’d have to play 800 hours)

You disturbed the remains (stealth Destiny reference). And yes, of course the various Serious Sam games have also been played way too many times.

If you have played a certain game for more hours than you’d care to admit, how did you do it? Did you keep playing even through the boring parts, or were you actually never bored? I can’t possibly imagine playing a game for that long without getting tired at some point. I’m doing fine in Destiny now, but of course repetitiveness is setting in.. and now I’m Light 398, it won’t be long before I get to 400 and lose the drive to grind in the first place.

I just lack that kind of focus. Then again, I play more games than the average person. Maybe I lose interest too quickly, and then switch to the next game. Well, that’s fine too. But maybe one day I’ll find that perfect game. The one that grabs and just doesn’t let go. That game to marry, so to speak. Not that there’s anything creepy about marrying a game, no sir.

Remember when there was just one Alien?

Juggling several games at once, like I constantly do, means you have more chances of rediscovering stuff you bought (or maybe even got for free) ages ago and never played. One such game is Alien Versus Predator, one of the most famous among those featuring the Xenomorphs – and the Predators too, of course, but there are many more games about the Alien whereas the hunter creature never really got anything aside maybe from Predator: Concrete Jungle (another game currently in my waitlist). And as it usually happens with very old stuff, 18 years old in this case, what you discover is not quite the same as people saw it upon release.

The Marine campaign would be much more tense, if it weren’t almost arcade in nature.

They said it was scary. Well, people also found The Exorcist horrifying in 1973, so I guess standards do change. But even so, I was never really afraid of peeking behind a corner. Perhaps the biggest problem was, even if an Alien had been hiding there, I could just blast its face full of lead. At worst its acidic blood splurts would take out maybe 15% of my armor, top. Not so scary then, is it? Enemies respawn, which means you can never truly feel safe, but it’s also easy to predict where the developers are going to spawn an Alien, so you are always ready. Except for the face-huggers. Those things were really annoying.

The Predator campaign is a bit like playing Crysis in 1999: you get the coolest weapons, a cloaking ability, your energy recharges with time, and the graphics hurt your eyes.

This was arguably a problem with old games in general. Can’t really see people getting scared by Alone in the Dark or Resident Evil today, aside from a couple of scripted sequences – which brings me to my point: scripting. In the end, is it only possible to do horror in games by carefully constructing everything in advance? The success of Outlast, so hollywoodian in nature, would make you think so. Even earlier games like Penumbra and Amnesia, though less restrictive, still relied for the most part on scripted events. Heck, the most memorable parts of the aforementioned fathers of survival horror are still the scripted scenes, like the dog monster breaking into the house from the window in RE1, or… the dog monster breaking into the house from the window in AITD. Yeah, I can see a pattern here.

The Alien campaign sometimes reminds you of the more colorful Rayman 2.

I can’t think of many ways of doing horror without carefully setting up a specific scene for the player to stumble upon. Certain titles like Silent Hill and Forbidden Siren were a bit creepier all around, but even in those games you are on the edge of your seat precisely because you don’t know when the next scripted scare will come up. I so, however, remember the NY Tenements level in Shadow Man, where somehow I was scared all the way through, even though nothing happened. Now I know this, it’s not scary anymore, but the first time it worked well. Is it possible then, to do horror without scripting? Perhaps so, but just like scripted horror, it would lack replayability.

I don’t actually remember what I wanted to say anymore, so nevermind. As it stands, AVP1 was fun but flawed, and certtainly not that scary. From what I know, when Monolith developed AVP2, they dropped the randomized nature in favor of the Valve-esque route of scripted events. So maybe it will be more horror in nature. I’ll know soon: the game itself is not available on any download service, but I still have the disc, and it seems to work fairly well on Windows 10 too. We’ll see if a scripted scare is more effective than Aliens coming out of the goddamn walls.

Variks would be really bad at Minesweeper

It’s not a widely known fact, but I was one of those who bought Destiny at launch. Yes, the beta was good enough to convince me to preorder, something I do quite rarely. Did the full game meet my expectations? It sorta did, though for a particular reason: I had to leave for a traineeship in Spain at the end of September, so I only got to play for about three weeks. By the time I got back, I had other stuff to play.

Of course, I knew all about the grind. Who didn’t? It was the biggest story of September 2014. But then I missed all the old DLC, eventually passed over The Taken King (trivia: I got together with a random group to finish the Vault of Glass just before the Year 2 reset), and even Rise of Iron. I thought my Destiny days were over, but I eventually bought The Taken King on a while because it was really cheap. And from there, I was hooked again. Compared to what the game used to be (remember the Spinmetal runs?), there’s just so much stuff to do now.

I thought the Warden wanted me to kill this guy. Why is he sending mines for me to dismantle?

Unfortunately, matchmaking is still missing from many activities. One of these being Skolas’s Revenge. Nowadays people only want to play the highest level stuff, and this guy is old news, so good luck finding someone to play with. But he’s still a massive pain. I had to do it solo, and it took some 15 attempts. When I finally got lucky with the mines placement, the guy went down easily enough.

So I got some items which are near useless today (thanks for the free Judgment reputation though)… and this nifty emblem. This is all I ever wanted. Oh, and that’s my PSN name, I guess.

It does exemplify the basic problem with Destiny though – the lack of matchmaking in several activities can hurt badly. But hey, I’m done with this arena, I can finally let my PS+ expire with no qualms (it will expire next week).

I got Rise of Iron too, so I’m sure there’s lots of other stuff to do. Even if most of it seems to require cooperation… oh well. I don’t really feel like renewing, so I’ll do the single player stuff. Just like old days. And maybe, if I can finally get rid of this addiction, I can start taking care of my backlog again.

Terminal Velocity Review

Apparently, Saturday was “Review A Great Game Day”. Never heard of this before. But I’m not one to let these things slide. So let’s see… it’s still Saturday in Honolulu. I guess it still counts, right? Right. Let’s try and review something a bit less famous than usual.

This is actually quite representative of the game itself. What a rare sight.
This is actually quite representative of the game itself. What a rare sight.

Terminal Velocity was developed by Terminal Reality (can’t be a coincidence…) and published in 1995 by 3DRealms, back when they were still relevant. You probably remember the developers for pearls such as Kinect Star Wars and that Walking Dead shooter, but ages ago, they were also fairly big in the early Windows scene, making games that were at least trying to take advantage of the newly-fangled Direct3D technology, including Hellbender and Monster Truck Madness. I pity them, because by all accounts, early Direct3D was terrible.

Terminal Velocity is, for my money, still their best game (though admittedly I haven’t played all of them: I heard pretty good things about Nocturne). In case you couldn’t notice from the cover, it’s a space shooter, a very common genre in the mid 90’s, thanks no doubt to the amazing success of Descent, which had spawned several clones. But TV breaks the mold somewhat by letting you fly on large planets, making it less claustrophobic and far less nausea-inducing. Interestingly, you can still fly your ship in complete freedom, so it’s actually possible to go far above the clouds and near the atmosphere even. Good luck spotting your targets from there.

There are three camera modes: first-person, third-person, and a weird fixed camera third-person mode that is near unplayable but probably very cool for screenshots.

The structure is fairly similar, if somewhat repetitive: you get objectives to complete (usually flying to a spot and then destroying a target base), weapons to collect (lasers, missiles, your typical arsenal), enemies to kill, bosses to survive. Since everything takes place on open terrain, you are usually free to take the route you want, and exploration is even encouraged by hiding powerful weapons off the beaten path. You’ll also get attacked from all directions, so keep wary. Sometimes things can get overwhelming.

In order to retain a sense of purpose, you are often asked to fly through underground tunnels. These are presented as point A-to-B voyages where you need to dodge doors and destroy ships who just love ramming through your own. There’s a vague sense of Descent in these 3D metal tunnels, but with completely straight paths, it’s a bit more like a rollercoaster. For extra fun, try using the afterburner in there, and see if you can survive.

With the small radar pretty much useless, you’ll quickly learn to play with the super-imposed radar constantly on. Turok didn’t come first, guys.

The controls work fairly well for such an early game, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble with that. Even the graphics are quite pleasant for their time, once you get used to the giant pixels. Since you know I’m a 3D accelerators aficionado, I’ll also tell you the only “accelerated” version was made available for S3 Virge cards. Of course, in exchange for texture filtering, it actually runs slower than the base version. Don’t cry. Also, as was standard procedure for the era, there are not many music tracks in the game and the few available ones are repeated very often. Still, they are quite catchy, so I’m not complaining all that much. There are also vague hints of a story somewhere in there, presented at the start of each mission, if you can be bothered. I don’t think the developers cared that much either though.

A tunnel. It looks better in motion, I swear. The pixels aren’t attacking your eyes like thousands of small knives, for example.

There’s the distinct feeling that terminal Velocity could have been an all-time great, but it’s somewhat held back by its repetitive structure. With nine different planets and three stages on each, it would have taken a lot of variety to keep players interested throughout, but the game just doesn’t have that. The different tilesets are nice to look at, including giant volcanos places (maybe a Venus expy?) and snowy landscapes (before Skyrim made them all the rage), but I don’t know how many people will have the willpower to see it through to the bitter end – and bitter it was, if I recall some of the later bosses were an utter pain, made worse by the lack of saving during missions.

So, the game was repetitive, much like my reviews. That shouldn’t deter you too much though, because while one might not last long enough to see the ending, at least there’s fun to be had for quite a while. Besides, most 90’s games didn’t even have a meaningful ending, so what do you care? Get on that ship and fly to your heart’s content. The game is easily available on GOG and Steam. Did you know there’s even an Android version? Never tried it, but just to be sure, I’d steer clear of it. Besides, I still have the old disc. Fun times.

Serious Sam Fusion 2017 beta: Fish’n’Fries

If you own Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter, you can now download the Serious Sam Fusion 2017 beta on Steam. What is it? Well, apparently some kind of central hub for all things Serious Sam, allowing access to the first up to the third game, presumably including the DLC chapters, and even SS4 whenever it comes out (so far it only supports TFE HD). It features slightly revamped graphics, easier access to all games from one place (guess the Steam client wasn’t easy enough), and probably new leaderboards. That last bit is my current problem.

Perhaps you don’t know, but Serious Sam HD works a bit differently from other games. Your leaderboard score is simply the sum of your scores from every level… and I mean all levels, including extra ones: so if you start TSE HD, and have the Fusion DLC installed, you can get a higher score by playing through the TFE episodes and two demo levels as well, not to mention the Legend of the Beast DLC chapter. It’s kind of pay to win, at least when it comes to leaderboards. But if Fusion 2017 is going to have unified leaderboards for all games, that means in order to keep my spot, I’ll have to replay every game, one by one, and get a high score in all of them!

Oh well, back again with Serious +  No Health + No Armor + No Powerups… 66x multiplier, here I come.

SS HD Fusion 2017: level 1
I’d play on Mental for 76x, but it has less enemies. I noticed you actually tend to get lower scores.

The graphics look a bit more natural, though also a bit less rich… I wonder if it was a side effect of having to make the game work smoothly in VR mode. I kinda like the new look. Currently it has a few bugs and also a few fixes. A big one is the werebulls behavior, which is a bit too aggressive. Seriously, right now whenever I meet one of them, I just bombard them from a distance, because dodging them has become near impossible. One fix, which was a long time coming but still disappointing, is the revolvers reload glitch: now, if you switch to a different weapons, the revolvers won’t be automatically reloaded. I’ll have to plan for that change during big fights.

But most importantly, they actually fixed the fishes’ behavior! In the original game and even in the HD remake, fishes were everyone’s nightmare because their physics were completely broken. They were supposed to be able to electrocute you from a short range, but in actuality, you could be hit from the other side of the arena, and their attacks hurt like hell. As if that weren’t bad enough, they could even chase you out of the water! An absolute nightmare. In Fusion 2017, they finally act like they should: much shorter range, and not nearly as aggressive. I can finally explore the waters in peace.

Now, let’s hope they fix the werebulls soon too, because in their current state they could make later levels near unplayable. And as Sam would say, that’s a load of bull.

Leo’s Toy Store

By now everyone knows, I’m certain, that 428 is going to be localized by Spike Chunsoft next year. This event, the magnitude of which has been unseen in decades, has consequences twofold for me. First, it gives me a chance to experience the sequel to my personal game of 2016 (yes, Machi came out in 1998, I know). Most importantly, it means I can drop my plans to use the on-screen translator on the emulated Wii version.

On the left, the ultimate villain of Machi (probably not featuring in 428)

I’m somewhat worried, though. I can’t help but think that the sheer amount of effort required to play Machi while translating on the fly, trying to interpret those words the OCR couldn’t recognize, and overall spending a very long time with the game, has been instrumental in my enjoyment of it. Now that 428 is going to be easily available, that crucial element is going be missing. Perhaps… perhaps I should translate it myself again, instead?

Another thing that required a lot of effort was War and Peace, which I finally finished a few days ago. Started in December, finished in March… not bad. At least now I know that Tolstoy was totally a Napoleon hater, and Kutuzov fanboy. The first half was really good, and one of the best written books I’ve ever read. But the second half, when the war starts, quickly goes downhill. Even the writing falls in quality, with Tolstoy often repeating himself five or six times in the same paragraph. It doesn’t even feel like I was reading the same book. Too bad, because it had started so well. Oh well, the hype can’t always be real.

Of course, there’s a new book in the pipeline already. Did you doubt it?