The last leaf of the season

Remember Loom? Probably not. It was a pretty nice adventure game by Brian Moriarty, already author of Beyond Zork, published in 1990 by Lucasfilm Games. Interesting for being devoid of dead ends, before even Monkey Island. You could still get stuck if you forgot to scribble down the various spell notes (and some are randomized for each playthrough), but that was your own fault. Not very successful at launch, it’s become something of a cult classic today.

The very first action you can take in the game is examining an autumnal leaf on a tree, which will then fall off. Also, one of the spells in the game dyes objects green. For the longest time, I’ve wondered if you could actually dye the leaf green. I was sure there would be some deeper meaning to it.

The Zork authors usually thought of everything, so... why not?
The Zork authors usually thought of everything, so… why not?
Maybe not this time. Or maybe they don't want you to ruin the game's bleak atmosphere.
Maybe not this time. Or maybe they don’t want you to ruin the game’s bleak atmosphere.

Turned out I was too optimistic.

It’s raining Elites

I need an aspirine. I spent the last two hours trying Halo 2 on Legendary, which was a very good way to remove that itch I had for buying the Master Chief Collection. Seriously, what’s up with this game.

I generally consider myself good enough, I mean, I have finished all the other games on Legendary, including Reach. It’s hard, it takes patience, perhaps I would not be able to do it again today, but I still did it. Halo 2 just feels so unfair to me though. And I’m not even talking about the Jackal snipers, I have never even seen those, because I can’t get past the Cairo hangar.

The Halo stage in DOA4 was indeed the Cairo Hangar. Knowing Itagaki, he probably enjoyed that part. (image source: http://games.gearlive.com/playfeed/article/halo-meets-dead-or-alive-4-on-360-10240441/)
The Halo stage in DOA4 was indeed the Cairo Hangar. Knowing Itagaki, he probably enjoyed that level way too much. (source: http://games.gearlive.com/playfeed/article/halo-meets-dead-or-alive-4-on-360-10240441/)

At one point, you get to a ship which drops off Elites and Grunts. Ok, fine, you kill them. Then more come out, except more dangerous. Fine, you try to kill them too. And then even more come out! I still don’t know what happens next, but chances are that more would come out. Uhm.

The biggest issue is actually dealing with your own weapons. Only the rifle and plasma pistols/rifles are of any use. Short range weapons are a good way to get you killed, So your choice is limited, and so is your ammo. I usually don’t do too badly in this part, until my ammo runs out and then I’m left with SMGs and mounted guns. And then I might as well reload.

Funnily, there’s 4 mounted guns above the platform. Ideally, Bungie wanted players to use them to keep the assaulters at bay. Good luck doing that in Legendary, where sticking your nose out for more than 1,5 seconds will bring to an untimely demise.

New graphics, same frustration
New graphics, same frustration

Of course none of this was fixed for the Anniversary re-release. Nostalgia must be king. Well, they didn’t fix the Jackals either, and a lot more people complained about those.

I’ll probably get the MCC eventually (if only for the other games), and maybe even try this part again on Legendary. Who knows, maybe the higher resolution will make it easier or something. Yeah.

Fun is where the checkpoint is

Ok, after trying Volgarr for a while and getting infuriated in roughly 20 minutes at its lack of checkpoints, here’s something I need to say: screw those old super-difficult games. Ghosts’ n’ Goblins? Battletoads? Frustrating design is not good design. Maybe I’m just growing old, but I can’t imagine anyone liking these kind of games.

Good thing Mario taught almost every videogame character how to change direction while jumping.
Good thing Mario taught almost every videogame character how to change direction mid-jump.

“But you played Super Meat Boy!” – yes, but SMB is level-based. And doesn’t have limited lives. So the frustration is very much partial. You don’t have to get A+ on every level, you can simply finish it at your own leisure if you want.

“But you like Dark Souls!” – oh, please. Dark Souls isn’t one tenth as hard as those old arcade games. Besides, I’ve always said that DS itself could use a bit streamlining in a few areas such as enemy respawning.

“But you play Serious Sam on the highest difficulty!” – quicksave spamming, that’s the keyword here.

Loom, before even Monkey Island, had no dead ends.
Old adventures had a lot of problems. But Loom, before even Monkey Island, had no dead ends.

I’m not saying I like the excessive simplification of modern games… no, wait. To be perfectly fair, there are a few things I like. The convenience of autosaving every few steps, checkpointing at bosses, quest markers and automatic tab-keeping, etc. is something that I would have trouble giving up today.

If this sounds like an apology of modern games, maybe it is.

Defense of the pixel

I wonder if I’m the only one who likes the pixelation. Perhaps it’s due to the original Voodoo’s mere 2MB of texture memory, but a lot of early accelerated games used to have some real blurry textures. In some cases, I prefer the software rendering version. Look at NFS2: Special Edition.

This is what dreams looked like in 1997
This is what dreams looked like in 1997
And this is what they looked like 6 months later (I don't know what's up with the gamma)
And this is what dreams looked like 6 months later (I don’t know what’s up with the gamma)

Look at that background color banding in the DirectDraw version… ahem, I mean, I have the feeling that some details were lost in the 3dfx port. It does run a lot smoother though.

Chances are that my 1024×768 screen is not doing me any favors. Screengrabs sometimes end up looking better than the final result, which is much blurrier instead. Here’s some screenshots from Virtua Cop 2.

Direct3D with no bilinear filtering. This is what you would see with a Matrox Mystique, I guess (screenshots made with a Voodoo 3 3000).
Direct3D with no bilinear filtering. This is what you would see with a Matrox Mystique, I guess (screenshots made with a Voodoo 3 3000).
Direct3D with Bilinear filtering. The success of the Voodoo meant most people saw this. You'd be hard pressed to see a big difference here, but on screen the effect is much more noticeable.
Direct3D with Bilinear filtering. The success of the Voodoo meant most people saw this. You’d be hard pressed to see a big difference here, but on screen the effect is much more noticeable.
DirectDraw version, just for kicks. It looks almost like D3D with no filtering, aside from the alpha stippling in place of proper transparency.
DirectDraw version, just for kicks. It looks almost like D3D with no filtering, aside from the alpha stippling in place of proper transparency.

Despite these screenshots, in Virtua Cop 2, activating texture filtering will turn the game into a hot mess. Disabling it will result in a nicer-looking version of the original Saturn game.

GLQuake also provides some interesting examples.

I can't really see anything in the central tunnel.
I can’t really see anything in the central tunnel.
A little better. Just be prepared to deal with the shimmering.
A little better. Just be prepared to deal with the shimmering.

I just consider myself lucky for Anisotropic filtering today.

Random steps

I noticed some websites still believe that The Elder Scrolls: Arena allows you to walk from one city to the other. I’m not sure where this belief started, but it’s definitely wrong. Walking never brings you anywhere in Arena.

TES: Arena
Good luck finding a tower like that in the game. Seems more like something you’d find in Oblivion.

Today I tried walking around for a pretty long time. At times, I would stop to raid a dungeon (which looked exactly like the one before it). Of course, the game generates content randomly, so that’s to be expected. But if you enter a new dungeon and find the map already filled out, that must mean the memory allocated for the dungeons outside of the city is always the same… or something. I don’t know enough about the technicalities of game development.

TES: Arena
The original Tomb Raider?

And even inside a dungeon, this problem surfaces again. Floors are only stored in memory as long as you’re in there, apparently: if you go to the second floor and then down again, the layout remains the same, but all treasure is reset. I’m pretty sure that bag of gold wasn’t there before? Indeed it wasn’t. Same for the enemies, although the extremely low visibility means they will sometimes just randomly spawn behind you. Be careful when you open the map.

TES: Arena
Looks like a short distance… but this isn’t Daggerfall.

If you keep walking around, you will eventually run into a terrain loop, at which point your only chance of escape is finding a pickable door and entering, thus refreshing the outside area (on a side note: so many farmers around here have gold and monsters in their houses, how can they even survive?). When that happens, though, you’ll probably find it easier to just fast-travel to a city and start questing again.

Despite these issues, there is something endearing about Arena’s randomization. Perhaps it’s my fixation with hoarding gold: after all, there’s no shortage of it in the game (and when there is, just walk up the stairs and down again). Bethesda might have fixed this issue in Daggerfall, but there was some appeal in walking toward infinity and beyond.

Achievements for a Jedi in training

I’ve been playing Yoda Stories quite a bit lately. For some reason it wasn’t well received during its time, although I guess its price might have had something to do with it. Getting the game for free with X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter certainly sweetened the deal. Don’t you just wish you could buy the game again on GOG or Steam? Okay, you probably don’t. But if it happened, here’s a made-up list of achievements that I feel could be included.

  • Jedi Apprentice: complete 5 different missions
  • Jedi Knight: complete 10 different missions
  • Jedi Master: complete all missions
  • Inside you must go: obtain the upgraded Lightsaber
  • The Force will be with you, always: obtain the Force permanently
  • I will be back, I promise: obtain the Spirit Heart
  • Your weapons, you will not need them: complete a mission without using any weapons
  • Reckless he is: complete a mission without using any healing items
  • Look at the size of that thing: complete a mission with the largest map size and highest difficulty level
  • Impossible, even for a computer: complete a mission without using the map
  • Complete, your training is: find every item in the game
  • Beware the Dark Side: use R2-D2 to inspect Darth Vader
  • There will be no deal: insult Jabba with your petty money
  • The X marks the spot: find an outsider…
  • Just as promised: return to Yoda after the end of a mission
  • The Force is strong with this one: obtain a score of 750 or higher
  • No money, no parts, no nothing: make 50 deals with sellers

Disney, if you are reading this, make it so. I give you permission. And while you are there, release The Infernal Machine too. It doesn’t get enough love.

Welcome

I suppose it’s about time I get a blog of my own. Don’t expect anything deep though. I really only needed something to write any thoughts that would go beyond 140 characters. *shakes fist at Twitter*

Well, it’s nice to a have a blog anyway. Makes you feel up to date. More modern, better, stronger. And it’s yet another way to waste time, you know.

Writing about whatever comes to mind