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.

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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.

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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?

Barrow Hill: The Dark Path – Night of the Offering Redux

I’ve made no secret of my love for niche horror adventures. I don’t know what it is that attracts me to them – maybe the obtuse puzzles, or the totally corny voice acting, or the nice art that still relies on point and click screens. I’ve been playing these things since the original Dark Fall. Although, it wasn’t always such a great time: Dark Fall was a bit too complicated. Rhiannon was a screen-hunting mess (in a real nice setting though). The Lost Crown was really good, but perhaps too long. Barrow Hill was one of the most interesting titles, but suffered from a pretty hard big puzzle near the end. So how does its sequel fare?

(spoilers ahead)

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“I thought I was rid of Emma Harry and her crazy spirits forever. But now I know I must go… BACK TO THE HILL!” *theme music*

The plot is not too different from the first game. It’s still the Equinox, some kids are still stupid enough to go around meddling with vengeful spirits, and you gotta save everyone. While it does feel like a retread, even down to the puzzles progression, enough has been changed to make the experience feel fairly fresh.

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Oh, looks like the victims from the first game got some mourning from their families. Finally someone who cares about disappeared NPCs.

The big problem in horror adventures is often how difficult and obtuse the puzzles are. Finding some of the ingredients in Barrow Hill was outright devilish. Dark Path tries to solve this issue by hinting at solutions a bit more heavily, especially if you enable item descriptions from the options. The three big puzzles to end the game – find the kids’ personal items to free them, find the metals to destroy the circle, and get some substitute items to replace Baibin’s – are almost all fairly obvious. This does make the game a lot less frustrating as you are generally able to understand what you are supposed to do without going around in circles, although the hints are a bit too direct at times.

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Ah yes, somewhat crudely rendered 3D objects. Believe it or not, they are a big draw for me. They harken back to the days of Myst. (okay, not quite *that* crude)

Unfortunately a few obtuse puzzles are still there, but perhaps more due to the interface than the developers’ intentions.I had to look for a walkthrough to see that I was supposed to make a fishing magnet in the garage, because the cursor didn’t help at all. At one point, I just started clicking the screen at random until I got it to do what I wanted. Another big annoyance is a point where you need to rearrange a series of short clips. And in general, there is a lot of scenes with rubble to move around, which honestly shouldn’t count as puzzles. These feel like influences from the HOG genre. Overall though, I feel the general experience is improved, and a good mix of old adventures and new HOGs.

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This style almost looks like a screenshot straight out of an hidden objects game.

The visuals have been modified in several ways. While of course they are higher quality (1024×768 instead of 800×600, and more detailed) the general look is not as dark as before. I don’t mind myself – Dark Fall was one of the most illuminated horror games around, and it’s still got one of my favorite art directions, while its much darker sequels weren’t as good. And who can forget the original Alone in the Dark with its pastel colors? So I’m not that bothered. Still, I can’t help but think that it’s a bit too colorful at times. But hey, you get to enjoy the nice scenery, at least. And of course the voice acting was bad as always, which is just what I wanted.

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The day again, at last! Now to call a taxi, and hope it’s not being driven by a skeleton in diguise.

In the end, Barrow Hill: The Dark Path is a pretty good effort. While it feels modernized, it doesn’t stray from its roots too far, and its improvements for the genre are many. Some may say it was made a bit too easy, though, and that’s something to think about for future games.

Speaking of future games… will Bracken Tor ever come out? I’ve been wondering since 2010 at least, but I’m a bit more hopeful now. Dark Path contains a few audio and visual teasers. Also, many might not remember Wychwood Hollow, another game that was announced a long time ago, as far back as 2011. I remember the early trailer and shots, and it really looks like the project eventually evolved into The Dark Path instead. Chances are, Bracken Tor could end up like that too. Something to wait for?

Memory Goes Here, Performance Goes There

Another failure? At least an interesting one, this time.

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A whole 8MB on a single stick. Only in 1998, folks.

Just a few days ago, I found a cheap 8MB SGRAM expansion for the Matrox G200 series. Yes, it’s a memory expansion for real this time. It was supposed to bring my G250 all the way up to 16MB. In itself, it’s already a useless experiment – the G400 32MB has more memory, is faster in everything, and has literally the same compatibility (including the same issues). While I was sure it wouldn’t make any difference in lower resolutions, I was thinking that perhaps you could see an effect once the local memory was entirely filled up by the framebuffer.

What I didn’t know, was that the memory expansion would actually decrease the default memory and core clocks on the card.

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You don’t have to worry about higher resolutions if your monitor is crap.

I said in the past, that my G250 seems a bit different from the specs originally mentioned on Wikipedia: the core runs at 105mhz core, and the memory at 140mhz. That’s pretty high for its time, but I tested the veridicity of Powerstrip’s claims by running a few games and noticing that framerates scaled almost linearly against the G200A (which runs at 84/112mhz). It doesn’t even seem like an anomalous overclock, since scores stay up no matter how long I keep the tests running, and there are no artifacts in sight.

But after installing the memory daughterboard, suddenly I found the clocks going down to 90/120mhz. Attempting to overclock the card all the way up to the original values produced slight artifacts, so I didn’t make any further attempts. And sure enough, testing the card showed a sizeable decrease over the original framerates. The Forsaken test is particularly telling: the framerate matches the core clocks almost entirely, and shows that, at least on a P3-450mhz, the game is completely bound by the graphics card.

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The complete set. Now with automatic downclocking.

I made two mistakes: I thought there would be no difference at lower resolutions, but there was. And also, I thought there might be a difference at high resolutions, but it didn’t quite turn out. Even with something like 1024x768x32 in Incoming, which is supposed to fill the framebuffer almost entirely, the framerate delta is still effectively the same. 3DMark 99 does show a slight proportional increase when running at 1280×1024, but the difference is pretty small. I suppose the G200 series was really good at AGP texturing. It had DiME support, like the i740, whereas many AGP cards of the era stopped at DMA.

So what happened? Well, I have a theory. The expansion module was made for the old G200, which only ran at 84/112mhz (just like the later G200A die shrink). So they didn’t bother making memory chips that could run much faster than that, since they weren’t expecting people to clock the card any higher – after all, the G200 wasn’t even quite a gamer’s card to begin with. Therefore, since the G200 seems to always run with a 3:4 ratio between the core and memory, if you add slower memories, the core will go down too. Bummer, uh?

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Thank god my paycheck came in just a few days ago.

So that was an interesting experiment, but it could have gone better. Lately, all of my experiments haven’t gone so well, perhaps it’s a sign that my benchmarking days are over? Time will tell. At least the rest of my haul from yesterday wasn’t bad, as you can see. I expect to start Barrow Hill pretty soon, perhaps in the weekend (still playing Claw)… while the Zork book will have to wait until War and Peace is finished, which might take a little while.

Oh, and the SiS 6326 is a C3 revision with just 4MB of memory. Even worse than expected. I’ve never seen such horrible texturing perspective issues. Another one for the shelf.

My Matrox Mystake

That was a failure.

See, a few days ago, I bought myself something that seemed real nifty – a Matrox Mystique 220 with memory expansion add-on. Just imagine, an 8MB MGA! Think of the possibilities! (well, mostly, playing games in 1024×768 really slowly)

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See that bump on the left? It looks exactly the same as a MGA chip. Why have a second chip on a memory expansion module? The answer will be revealed soon.

So it arrived. At first it looked real nice, but then I noticed something amiss: the expansion module is too big, for starters. Also, it had what looked like a second MGA chip on it. And finally, the PC still only saw it as a 4MB card. A quick googling for the MYST/RRSTI code revealed the truth: it’s actually a Rainbow Runner Video add-on card, essentially an AVI and MPEG1 encoder/decoder. Useful, I guess, but not for my purposes.

Oh well, at least I got a Mystique 220 out of it, right? Well, that was something of a disappointment too. The chip is an MGA-1164 (compare to my old Mystique, which was MGA-1064), and compatibility overall is actually a lot lower. Most tests and games will freeze at random, if they even start at all. The only solution I could find was disabling Bus Mastering, but that will reduce performance severely.

Apparently, with bus mastering, the card can start working on polygons while the CPU is still busy. Or maybe the opposite? Anyway, Turok has absurd slowdowns, 3DMark is a lot slower, sound in Forsaken seems slowed down, and overall stuff doesn’t run as well. At least it didn’t crash anymore, but at that point I might have as well used the older Mystique instead. Surprisingly, Quake even shows that the card doesn’t support the same 256 colors resolutions as its older brethren: nothing higher than 640×480 is shown.

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At least it looks cool, I guess? It’s like a sandwich card. Two slices of PCB with a filling of memory and graphic chips. The unfiltered taste and stippling aftertaste might not be to everyone’s liking though.

So yeah, a big disappointment overall. I need to check my sources better. Can’t really fault the seller, because he probably didn’t know what he was actually selling. A lesson for me, I guess. The next card coming, and possibly the last one (I know I always say it…) is a SiS 6326 AGP. Not sure how much memory, but the memory chips make it look like a 4MB model. Strange, since I believed 8MB ones would be more common when it comes to the AGP model. Either way, it should be better than this mistake here.

Writing about whatever comes to mind