Tag Archives: dos

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.

Wink to the Past

Some days ago, my motherboard died. Or so I thought. See, when your PC only turns on without beeping or showing anything on the screen, my first thought is “reset the CMOS”. If that doesn’t work, “try a different power supply”. Only if that doesn’t work either, I change the mobo. Unfortunately, in my haste, I skipped the second step.

So after changing the motherboard and noticing it still didn’t work, I tried the power supply. That made it! Except… the computer was now turning on with the different motherboard. Too late, I didn’t think about it. Windows 98 suddenly got messed up, and after a couple reboots where things seemed fine, it stopped seeing almost every peripheral in the computer. And that was the chance I needed to reset everything.

Microsoft advertising OpenGL? It was more likely than you think.

For a change, I put Windows 95 again. Nothing against Windows 98, but I do remember it was slightly harder to run DOS games properly on it for some reason, even though both 95 OSR2 and 98 run the same version of MS-DOS.

I even put a Virge in the case during the installation process, to make sure everything would go as smoothly as possible. I don’t think there’s a more supported card than the Virge out there. And sure enough, the installation was smooth and flawless. I also found a really good USB driver, called XUSBUPP, which was a lot easier to install than Microsoft’s own driver. I remember that one would completely ruin your Windows installation if you messed up.

After tweaking the Autoexec and Config files. These are the kind of sights I love.

Well, there’s just one problem. Ok, a few problems. First one is, the mouse wheel doesn’t work – perhaps I can look into fixing it. Another problem is just how rough the thing feels at times – you can’t choose which version of the driver to install from an INF file, it seems.

The other problem is 3D Mark 99. I thought it would just work the same, but it turns out it won’t recognize my Pentium 3 as a Pentium 3. Perhaps that required Windows 98… anyway, I’m stuck with basic Intel optimization, which means my CPU score went down from 7000 to 4500.

(that also shows us that there isn’t much difference at all between Pentium 2 and 3, aside from the higher clocks, if you aren’t employing some optimization. The P2-350mhz scored roughly 3500, which perfectly matches the 4500 scored by the P3-450mhz)

This would make further card testing partially useless, depending on the card employed. More powerful chips like the TNT2 and Voodoo 3 obtain a fairly lower score. Of course, it would not affect other game tests, since nothing else in my benchmark suite had those P3 optimizations.

Nor, it seems, does it affect less powerful cards in a meaningful manner. The Trident Blade 3D – which I momentarily elected as card of choice due to needing something that could install quickly and painlessly, much like the Virge but less crappy – had its score going down from 2850 to 2750. That sounds like the GPU is bottlenecking the CPU instead. The G250 also went down a measly 50 points, from 3050 to to 3000. And weaker cards should be even closer. I do have an interesting 1996 thing coming up, and also waiting to see if my bid on a SiS 6326 gets through. So those should be safe for testing.

The last problem? I forgot to back up my old 3DMark database results. Sigh.

Cover Fascination

There’s something utterly engrossing about the unknown. I remember shopping in video games stores many years ago, when 3D was still new, a basic bilinear filtering seemed like a miracle, and Sonic was still cool (not that I’d know, I was a PC player at the time). With so many boxes on display, there were a few ones bound to capture my imagination.

Covers of Myst clones always were especially nice to look at. They better be, since the whole game is spent staring at fixed screens. By the way, I got to play this one recently, and didn’t like it. Maybe my younger self would have appreciated it nonetheless.

It’s a weird feeling, being spell-bound like that. You suddenly think that the game must be an amazingly engrossing experience that will result in your life improving in an otherwise impossible manner. If I actually bought the game, which didn’t happen all that often because boxed games were usually expensive, perhaps the spell would be broken. Perhaps not. Your resistance to suckiness is far higher when you are a kid. I remember some horrible crap quite fondly.

Of course this cannot happen anymore nowadays. If there’s some midly interesting-looking cover, I’ll be on the internet faster than you can say “reviews”. So this is all nostalgia. But, my early years have been quite long, and there are some games I don’t even remember looking at. Just seeing the cover on the internet by random chance, would be enough to make me remember. And then I’d have to check that game out, and break the spell. It happened often, and it will happen again.

This cover doesn’t look that good. But it still seemed strangely interesting to me. Maybe it was a sign that my discerning skills were getting better, because the game was, and still is, amazing.

In a way, feels like I’m purposely hurting myself. But then, it also means that my curiosity is stronger than my nostalgia. That’s a nice thought. Makes you feel young, doesn’t it?

Everlasting life means everlasting frustration

My current job came to a close last Friday, which means I have a lot of free time (of which some will have to be spent looking for another job… such is life for my generation here).

Apparently today is Quake’s 20th birthday. Have a look at some of the amazing texture work. Wouldn’t you want a gate made out of human bones in your garden too?

So of course I’ve had time to play games this whole week. The one game that has captured most of my attention has been Forbidden Siren. Yes, you know the one that was remade on the PS3? Well, I already played that one ages ago. I’m talking about the PS2 version here. I didn’t know what to expect, but after finishing it, I now find it a fundamental step in stealth and general game design. Most importantly, the two lessons to take are as follows:

1- stealth works pretty well when you don’t have full visibility over your enemies. You can sightjack Shibitos to see what they see, but you can’t actually move their viewpoint, so often you’ll have to understand on your own where the player character is. Overall, it comes together as one of the most engaging takes on stealth I’ve ever played.

2- please, please,give your players good hints on how to proceed. I actually kinda liked the repetitive design of missions, since it eventually made you learn all the ins and outs of the relatively few maps. But I could have done with something a bit more specific than “hide this character in a special place” and “search the house and the well”. Does that sound vague enough? I bet they could have made it even more vague. Maybe “look around”.

This music cover is a lie. If you tried moving around with the flashlight on, you’d get Shibito on your tail almost immediately. Don’t do that.

In the end, I had to play almost always with a guide. And what’s the point of survival horror played with a walkthrough?

Analysis on biological population in Quake

How much entertainment can you derive from numbers when you are bored? Judging from the hours I spent making this post, quite a while. Most of it was due to my horrible spreadsheet skills, but anything counts.

So having just finished the Quake expansions, I got to thinking – could you learn biology from Quake? Or at least statistics? Jurassic Park, at least the book version of it, taught us that even a mathematician can become a biologist in a matter of hours. So, with my degree in economics and therefore lack of a soul, clearly I’m the best candidate to learn about living beings. The focus today will be on the Hell Knight, or Death Knight as they also call him.

Spoiler: the Hell Knight tends to pick up fights with Ogres pretty often. Spoiler 2: the Hell Knight usually wins.
Spoiler: the Hell Knight tends to pick up fights with Ogres pretty often. Spoiler 2: the Hell Knight usually wins.

Why the Hell Knight? Because he’s the coolest monster, so sue me. That aside, he’s also one of the most ubiquitous, second perhaps only to the Ogre, who mostly disappears in the fourth episode anyway. So we can probably learn something about population if we analyse his appearances. So let’s get started with the graphs, which took me a long time because I really suck at formatting cells in OpenOffice. The monsters numbers were obtained from the Quake Wiki, a very good resource, and required read if you’re a fan.

Hell Knight

Ok, so this is the number of Hell Knights in each level of the main game. As you can see, he doesn’t appear at all in the first episode. Clearly he’s deemed too badass and dangerous for starting players – better pit them against Fiends and Shamblers instead! Could also be that he hadn’t been created yet when the shareware levels had been made. But this mundane a theory is not fit for a complicated analysis such as this one.

Granted, the total number of monsters doesn’t tell us all that much. We need some relative numbers, such as percentages! After all, you can’t call yourself a scientist if you only work with absolutes.

Hell Knight

Better now. Hardly readable, but this is the best I could muster for now. It’s worth mentioning that I’ve put the secret level for each episode as the last one in these tables. Reasons vary: the secret level is usually more difficult, and since the difficulty of the levels in Quake tends to follow an upward progression (I’m making words up as I go here), it makes sense to put them last. Also, the name for the maps (ExMx) always have the secret level as the last one. As you can see, science is always right.

Now we have some numbers. How do we make them a little more understandable? Why, with graphs. And pretty pictures. A picture is worth a thousand words, so a graph must be worth a thousand numbers. Let’s translate all of these arab numericals into bars.

Hell Knight

Great. Look at all those bars going up, to the sky, like a shuttle aiming for infinity and beyond. Putting this graph on any degree dissertation is guaranteed to score top marks. So uh, now we can analyse a bit. The first level never has any Hell Knights, because they don’t appear in the military bases. And then, you can see they are numerous in the second episode in particular. Not so much in the third one, and then they return for the final episode.

Let’s try and look at the graph for the relative distribution, just because it’s the last one missing.

Hell Knight

So, uhm. The Hell Knight is most prevalent in the second episode, but also most uneven. The third episode seems to show a downward trend overall, implying perhaps that stronger monsters start to take its place. The return for the final episode might be thus explained: as Ogres start to disappear, the Hell Knight takes their place as the standard mook. That also would fit well with the relatively even distribution.

Some statistics, but not much biology, I’m afraid. The first graph shows, in the fourth episode, something that looks like a gaussian distribution, a typical phenomenon in living systems. But this is not a living system, right? So I’m not actually sure what I wanted to say, but uhm. I’m actually just making all this stuff up as I go.

Anyway, statistics also say that 3 rockets are enough to gib a Hell Knight, and by the third episode you’ll be using the rocket launcher a lot. So that’s a lot of pieces flying around, and biologically speaking, with no more corpses for Quake to resurrect (does he even resurrect bodies?), maybe you can make them go extinct?

Or maybe… life finds a way.

Expansion packs for people with low standards

Imagine being in the late 90’s. Your game is a hit, perhaps unexpected, perhaps not, but anyway you find yourself wanting to monetize on it. Internet is still budding, DLC isn’t even an acronym yet, and if you tell someone about “microtransaction” they’ll look at you weird. But that doesn’t mean companies didn’t already have a way to make money on a successful game. They were just called expansion packs.

Aside from the obvious chance for a quick sequel, which might have been unfeasible depending on the time available, any developer could just put together a few levels and sell them to the players. Sometimes they could even simply license other people to sell levels for their games! The most curated of these expansions could change a game radically: look no further than Malice for Quake. If they didn’t feel like going through that much trouble, they were usually just level packs with a few different models as a token effort.

The final boss of Scourge of Armagon looks a lot like a Strogg. Considering this pack came out when Q2 was still many months away, you have to wonder if it was influenced by its development, or vice versa.
The final boss of Scourge of Armagon looks a lot like a Strogg. Considering this pack came out when Q2 was still many months away, you have to wonder if it was influenced by its development, or vice versa.

But one problem arises: these expansions often weren’t nearly as good as the original game. Not even officially licensed packs were safe from this rule. Reasons are varied: for example, they were often more difficult – the logic being that a player who buys the expansion has already finished the main game and thus wants a bigger challenge. But using Scourge of Armagon (picture above, except that the final boss is the only easy part of the game) as an example, they often went overboard with it. Sure, put me in a room full of Fiends with just a nailgun at my disposal. Perhaps it was an attempt to go back to its Doom roots, but Quake isn’t as well suited for that kind of gameplay.

Another issue is just how gimmicky many of those levels feel. Understandable: if your players have already seen all a game has to offer, you can only surprise them with something new, and everyone will have differing ideas about them. Unfortunately, many of these gimmicks are just that, gimmicks. And adapting the levels around them feels incredibly forced. There is one cool bit in SoA where you have to escape from a spiked wall trap, but that’s just about the only one I can remember: and in 15-something levels, it’s not a lot.

Well, I have a second expansion pack ready to be played, so I guess not.
Well, I have a second expansion pack ready to be played, so I guess not.

Presumably, people wanted to play more of the game so badly, they were willing to put up with this. And to be fair, among the really bad levels included in the packs, you would sometimes find a gem. It was quite rare though. But without internet, one could only rinse through all of the levels on the disc and hope to at least get their money’s worth of it, and relive some of the magic of the original game. Despite being officially licensed, Scourge of Armagon doesn’t scratch that itch.

I remember even at the time, reading through games magazines, that it got mixed reviews. Still a youngster full of hopes and dreams, I was crushed by this: how could more Quake not be an amazing thing? They must have been biased – maybe they hated Quake to begin with! Despite that, I never picked up the expansions for one reason or another, so I couldn’t see my folly. I do now, all too clearly. I have better hopes for Dissolution of Eternity, but going in with tempered expectations will help.

Random quest for a random guy, with a side of random rewards

A case could be made about procedural generation in games. Most titles today use it, to a more or less successful degree. When it works, you have what is probably the ultimate selling point: no playthrough is like the previous one! This should, in theory, offer you unlimited replayability.

Maybe we live in a world of illiteracy. Or maybe it's a glitch in the Matrix.
Maybe we live in a world of illiteracy. Or maybe it’s a glitch in the Matrix.

At times, however, it doesn’t work. And if there’s still some rough patches today, imagine back in 1996, when very few developers actually did it. Already in 1994, The Elder Scrolls: Arena (one of my favorite games despite everything) decided to jump over the familiar concept of pre-made maps in favor of completely randomized dungeons and cities. Only the main story dungeons were baked in advance: everything else was made on the fly.

Very convenient. I wonder why it is that every mission in this game must have a time limit (most of which is spent travelling to the location).
Very convenient. I wonder why it is that every mission in this game must have a time limit (most of which is spent travelling to the location).

It worked somehow: while I have already mentioned the repetition in dungeon floor layouts, overall the game masked its randomization well enough. You could start walking from one city to another and never get anywhere because the game would simply generate more terrain. And then you’d probably hit a memory overflow somewhere and the game world would glitch out. Well, everyone just used fast travel for this reason. And who can forget entering a city and finding it full of monsters, then leaving the city, then returning and opening the same house again, only to find a different interior. It was glorious. An everchanging world.

Rats or bats. Again, very convenient. In cse you are not invested in the TES lore, this is pretty much the basic starting quest for the Fighters Guild in just about every game in the series.
Rats or bats. Again, very convenient. In case you are not invested in the TES lore, this is pretty much the basic starting quest for the Fighters Guild in just about every game in the series.

Daggerfall does away with that. The world was generated at random during development, then printed onto the disc itself as it had been generated. Meaning that the world as the player sees it, is not actually random. You can enter a dungeon the first time, then leave it and return days later for a different mission. The layout will be the same (but curiously, your automap will have been erased). Missions themselves, however, are randomized. And sometimes you will be sent to the same dungeon two times in a row, looking for a different objective (or why not, even the same one as before). And then you’ll have to explore the whole dungeon again, because quest locations are a handful.

Imagine wading through endless corridors that all look the same. Now imagine doing it all over again because the game doesn't save the automap between quests.
Imagine wading through endless corridors that all look the same. Now imagine doing it all over again because the game doesn’t save the automap between quests.

This is made even worse by another issue – all of the quest dungeons are incredibly confusing. Aside from being utterly huge, so much that you just get bored of going around after a while, they also have ridiculous features such as bricked walls that transport you to an entirely different room, or switches that activate something on the other end of the dungeon with no indication as to what exactly they just did. Actually, I’m not sure if any of these things are bugs, rather than intentional. Either way, it gets boring fast.

Good thing nobody cares about the bloodthirsty grizzly bear right next to them in the attic. Of note: nobody ever explains why there is a grizzly bear in their attic.
Good thing nobody cares about the bloodthirsty grizzly bear right next to them in the attic. Of note: nobody ever explains why there is a grizzly bear in their attic.

And get bored you will, because almost every quest I’ve been given, involved going to a dungeon like those. You’ll also learn that effectively all the locations in the map are made up of two words choosen from a pool, such as “The Tower of Ashhart”, “The Ruins of Ashtower”, “The Tower of Hardhart”, and so on. Way to break the immersion. And it’s not just the location, everyone seems to have the same name. Woodsley must be the most common surname in Tamriel. You will see more heretics with green-dressed lovers than you’d wish. Sometimes, if you are lucky, the lover will be dressed in blue. Now that is shaking things up.

This is like System Shock all over again, but you can't pick up those heads. Too bad. Throwing heads around was a great time waster. I like to think even SHODAN was appalled.
This is like System Shock all over again, but you can’t pick up those heads. Too bad. Throwing heads around was a great time waster. I like to think even SHODAN was appalled.

In short, you can see why Morrowind did things the way it did. A curated world just allows for more possibilities, but especially, it avoids stuff like this. And honestly, even the only advantage of this approach – the huge world – doesn’t seem that much of an advantage if you always have to fast travel. In fact, the continuous repetiton makes the world of Daggerfall seem ridiculously small after a while. And that, my friends, is the biggest failure of all.