Tag Archives: retrogaming

The Baroque Survival Project: A Successful Failure

I might have been playing this game a bit too much.

The project I mentioned yesterday ended today, after a long tirad… effort. I didn’t exactly get everything I wanted from it, in fact, we could say I simply proved my old theory from 7 years ago. Nonetheless, it was a difficult process and one worth explaining, if only to understand what I was hoping to achieve and why.

I’ll assume you are familiar with Baroque at least. If not, here’s the gist of it: roguelike where you must do a bunch of things and kill some characters to proceed. The last bit is exactly what I was trying to avoid. What’s the point of saving the world (kinda, ehm) if not everybody is there to congratulate me? And so I set up to look for ways to sequence break the game, and finish it without killing anyone.

The brother doesn’t count, he’s already dead by the start of the game.

Getting into the inner workings of the story would be too long. Essentially the progression goes like this:

  1. Complete the tower once – tower goes down to 17 floors
  2. Kill Longneck to get his crystal
  3. Use Longneck’s crystal to disable the Sentry and get Your crystal
  4. Trigger a confession cutscene
  5. Give Your crystal to Eliza – tower extended to 22 floors
  6. Get the Littles’ crystal – tower extended to 24 floors
  7. Give the Littles’ crystal to Alice – tower extended to 32 floors
  8. Complete the tower again

I’m trying to avoid step 2, and that’s what I did years ago thanks to my trick – exploitation of Hungry Boxes.

The game seems to work with event flags. Since you can restart the game at any time, you could conceivably keep those crystals from the last playthrough, restart the game, and do all kinds of sequence breaking. In order to avoid that, the game doesn’t allow you to store crystals. All items, except crystals. Clever enough, but the developers didn’t count for one thing – you can use a certain box item to “eat” your crystals, then store that, and open it in the next playthrough. Guaranteed to work.

It is a trick commonly used in the PS2 remake to bring items not allowed in certain challenge dungeons, such as swords or coats, and I used it to try and break the game. Of course, the devs still won’t make it easy for you, albeit perhaps unintentionally. Let’s take a look at the process.

The Hungry Box is a kind of box that eats one, and only one, of your items. No other boxes can do that, so you specifically need that… except that it can only be found in the Hell Challenge Dungeon. Sounds ominous? It is. What’s worse, there are no consciousness orbs to transfer your box back, even when you do manage to get it.

I got the blues.

That’s where the Me Brand comes in. Put a Me Brand on the box, and it will be “marked”. Upon your death, which will surely happen because you have to immediately drop all your items and equipment upon getting the box (lest they get eaten and your box becomes useless), on your next life, the item will be available to pick up on the first floor of the tower. Nice. Of course, now you have to run all the way down to BF4, where the closest consciousness orb lies, without picking up any item and possibly avoiding monsters. If you can do that, you’ll have a nice Hungry Box, ready to use, stored in your collection.

That took a lot more effort than these screenshots make it appear. And it’s not over yet.

You’ll also want a Defusal Parasite. The Hungry Box has a very high chance of exploding upon opening, and I believe the game decides whether it will blow up or not upon picking it up for the first time. If the box explodes, you’ll lose the crystal inside, and you don’t want that. So look around for a Defusal parasite – which only appears at random. Sorry. Never said it was easy.

Once you have it, let the box eat your crystal, defuse it with the parasite, and store it. Done!

Some years ago, this method let me store Longneck’s crystal, so I could show it to the Sentry Angel without killing Longneck. From there, the game unfolded as usual. It also let me prove that there are some event flags in the game still – Eliza won’t accept Your crystal until Longneck has at least buried himself. So I had limited success, but it was a breakthrough nonetheless.

Then I had an idea: what if I could skip Longneck’s crystal altogether, and just use Your Crystal and the Littles’ Crystal to finish the game already?

Twice the boxes, twice the effort. Nah, not really, I just used a couple Addition Boxes to replicate my items. Putting in effort also means using your brain.

So, I got myself two Hungry Boxes, two Defusal Parasites, and the crystals I needed. And then I went about the tower again, of course after waiting for Longneck to bury himself, as I had already proven that much cannot be avoided.

Eliza created the consciousness orb with my crystal. Well, my crystal that I didn’t exactly break into the lab to get. I’m sure she’ll never know.

First signs are encouraging: Eliza will accept your crystal and extend the tower. The problem comes later, as the confession cutscene apparently cannot be triggered if you haven’t entered the lab in order to get Your crystal. That’s annoying. So I try a different approach: let’s give the Littles’ crystal to Alice before the 22nd floor.

She wanted the Littles’ crystal, but the Littles are beings made of pain. And now she feels pain and sadness. Be careful what you wish for.

She accepts it and disappears. That’s good, it’s what is supposed to happen near the end of the game, except we’re not near the end of the game. Then I reach B20F, and the Littles’ won’t let me enter their chamber. And then I arrive on B21F and the Archangel talks to me like I’m going to finish the game now.

Oh sure man, get my hopes up.

But I still only get the Painless Man cutscene, not the ending. Too bad.

So was the Baroque Survival Project a failure? A little, because I really wanted to keep everyone in good shape. But in the end, my first success might have been enough – I managed to save Longneck from death (even though he becomes a vegetable) and the Sentry Angel doesn’t really die in the story in the first place (even though he becomes a vegetable). I suppose I already met my goals years ago.

At least I now know the extent to which one can break Baroque. And a vegetable is better than a corpse anyway.

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The need for Sequence Breaking

One thing leads to another, and while I wait for the next graphics card to grace my mailbox (did you know that there is not just a SiS 315 and 315E, but also a 315L? The internet apparently didn’t), I decided to return to an old project that I started but not quite finished 7 years ago.

Baroque is not a well-known game in the west. Its original Saturn/PS1 incarnation, even less so. And among those who know of it, there probably aren’t many who finished the game. And how many of those even reached 100%? The number must be in the single digits.

But even the few of us who belong to that restricted category, need to earn that status for good. And that’s why I’m going to try and sequence break the game. No one must die. Enter the Baroque Survival Project again.

Details will come when I’m done. It’s not easy, but I made enough progress and at this point, only the hard parts are left. Wait, that’s not a good thing. Mmh… well, but I already went too far to leave now.

There’s no guarantee I will reach my ultimate goal, but even confirmation that the game can’t be broken is still a result in itself. That would be enough.

My PSP shall be put to good use in the next days. Party like it’s 2010. Glorious.

Under the sea, nobody can hear you scream in frustration

There’s a joke (among many, countless others) in Monkey Island 2: as Guybrush is hanging over a pit of acid, you can make him ask LeChuck “why didn’t you just shoot me?”. And then LeChuck will reply, “because we had an extra disk”. Games have often struggled with available space, and multiple floppies or even discs were fairly common. Yes, even CD-Roms, with their 400X times the available space of a 3.5 incher, would sometimes not be enough.

Deadly Tide actually runs at 320×240. All images in this post have been pixel-doubled. Better than forcing you to look at them with a magnifying lens.

Of course, the main culprit was the widespread use of FMVs. Cutscenes everywhere! Sometimes all of the game was a cutscene, like the ubiquitous Dragon’s Lair. But some games went further and used FMVs during the gameplay itself. Such is the case for on-rail shooters like Rebel Assault and Deadly Tide. The former is more famous, but the latter is fairly unknown. Let’s fix this.

I just want to point out that the HUD in this game doesn’t make sense. On the right, you have a health bar. On the left… kinda hard to say.

Developed by Rainbow Studios and published by Microsoft (you can tell because they bothered to use DirectX 2 – no DOS here, they must have actually believed this could have been a Windows 95 killer app), it portraits humanity’s struggle against a race of underwaterish alien lizards. The aliens come to Earth during a long and expensive-looking intro cutscene that probably takes most of disc 1, and a few years later they have flooded the planet with some kind of space technology, or maybe they just waited until climate change did its job. Not really sure. Anyway, you get a prototype ship and bring the fight to their home turf.

It’s kinda Archimedean Dynasty, but with a lot less intrigues and a lot more aliens. Just kidding, it’s nothing like Archimedean Dynasty. It’s a rail shooter that uses FMVs as its very foundation. If you have played Rebel Assault 2, you know the drill: shoot at anything on the screen while the background kinda moves along. However, some sections even let you look around freely, and those are kinda surprising. I wonder what kind of technology it was – I can only guess that it must be something similar to what adventure games started to use a bit later.

The same screen-rotating technology is used in the mission select menu. However, the whole game takes place in the Pacific and the Atlantic. Sorry, Europe.

Too bad those free rotating sections, while kinda impressive to look at, also offer the most annoying challenges. It’s not cool, being killed by an enemy outside the screen. Sometimes they even get above you! Often, during these sections, you can only learn where the enemies are before you die, and then use that knowledge on your next attempt.

To spice things up, you’ll occasionally face on-foot sections and even steal enemy ships. These intermissions are almost invariably a pain, since you’ll have far worse weapons at your disposal. Prepare to die a lot. Too bad, because the game overall isn’t that hard, and missions are short enough that retrying isn’t too much of a chore. But maybe they were trying to artifically make it last longer. Even so, it won’t last more than 2-3 hours.

FMVs are somewhat compressed. Try not to move too often. Oh wait, you have no choice.

Aside from the quite impressive rotating screens, there isn’t much worth remembering about this game. But it’s 4-discs jewel case, while not tremendously rare for the time, is at least a good shelf filler. Just like The 11th Hour, and that Zork Legacy box. And a few others. Imagine if digitl downloads hadn’t taken off, maybe now we’d have PC games on four or five DVDs. Unless Blu-rays somehow managed to become popular.

Ah, who am I kidding? Even if Blu-rays had become the norm, developers would have found ways to fill at least three of them. Maybe with a 4K remake of Deadly Tide?

My little SiS (6326) can’t be this fast

I remember when I first tried the SiS 6326. My first thought was something along the lines of “what the hell is this piece of crap?”. A few months later, I have to revise my opinion, if only somewhat.

Resident Evil doesn’t seem to like the old 6326 much. This is, however, a masterpiece of pop-art that should be cherished. Perhaps in a modern art museum.

One thing I should mention, is that my card is merely a C3 revision. From what I can gather, the original C1 model was terrible. And from my tests, the C3 is not that much of an improvement. Games will occasionally show warped polygons, and in general, texture perspective correction is botched to the point of not working, at least in some of the titles in my benchmark suite. 2D elements seem to have trouble displaying correctly. Texture resolution is often abysmal (the card’s paltry 4MB and PCI connector don’t help). Mipmapping apparently turns on and off at random. And the lack of OpenGL is just icing on the sewage cake, not that the 6326 would be able to run Quake 2 or even GLQuake decently, even if it were supported. Mind, the newest drivers even say that an ICD OpenGL is included… but I haven’t managed to run anything on it.

Crank that Blood 2 all the way up to 640×480. The SiS can run it. In low details, of course. If you want proper lighting, then you gotta go down to 512×384… and possibly 400×300.

So it doesn’t sound great today, but as I tried using it a bit more, and considering the circumstances, there’s something to like too. Image quality is actually okay for a cheap 1997 card – there was far worse around, usually for a higher price. A common Virge might look generally better, but it also runs slower, and was more expensive anyway. And it should be mentioned that a later C5 revision solved most of the quality issues of the 6326, making it far more attractive. If it had come out earlier, it would have been even better… but you can’t have everything.

Rogue Squadron doesn’t support anything lower than 640×480, so you get a choppy framerate, no two ways around it. But it’s playable, and the Nintendo 64 version wasn’t very smooth either. For a 1998 game on a 1997 budget card, I’d call it good enough.

A basic Voodoo 1 was another world, of course. But it was also $300. Bragging to your console friends was a somewhat expensive proposition then. The SiS 6326 though, that was just $50… and for that, you got a decent card that could accelerate games to 16 bits fairly smoothly up to 400×300 or even 512×384. Of course it supported higher as well, but people weren’t fans of slideshows even back then.

If I can find it cheap (and it should be easy, since these cards sold quite a lot), I would like to get my hands on the AGP C5 revision, to see how it compares. I also wonder how it compares to a Nintendo 64… maybe I will try a few conversions.

Shining Wisdom: And it wasn’t even a CD-i game

I consider myself pretty tolerant when it comes to bad games. I’ll give just about anything a fair chance, and sometimes I’ll even like it. Why, even Tales of the Tempest didn’t faze me (not too much anyway). It takes a very special kind of bad to get my teeth grinding. Unfortunately, that kind of stuff happens too.

You know how JRPG July is a thing in some sites? I didn’t, but anyway, I thought I’d join the fun. Me being me, I couldn’t just choose one of those popular games everyone else will play. Final Fantasy 12 Remastered? Sorry, even a properly inverted camera won’t be enough to get me back into that borefest. Of course it had to be something old and obscure. Of course it had to be… Shining Wisdom!

Shining Wisdom, or How I learned that forgotten games are forgotten for a reason

A Megadrive game quickly converted onto the Saturn, this one is less of a strategy RPG or dungeon crawler, and more like a Zelda clone. That should be good news. It’s kinda hard to mess up a Zelda clone. Worst case scenario, it will just be boring. Right? Not so fast. I don’t know how Sega did it, but Shining Wisdom is the worst Zelda clone I’ve ever played, by far. I don’t know about the CD-i Zelda games, but I can’t imagine them being worse than this.

It starts like Chrono Trigger. It’s nothing like Chrono Trigger.

I could talk about what makes this game so terrible for hours on end, but let’s make it quicker and list what does work:

  • the cover art is not too bad, in a sort of anime-ish Castlevania way

Well, that’s it. Everything else is terrible. From controls, to hit detection, graphics and sound, even the music will make your ears bleed after a few seconds (and I have even higher tolerance for bad music than bad games). I wasn’t really following the story because the large areas without any sort of map functions suck the fun out of talking to NPCs immediately, especially in the castle, but what little I’ve seen seemed pretty uninteresting. The early 3D era character design is possibly even worse, coming from a time when a sphere on top of a cube could pass for a human torso.

Lifeless Puppets: The Movie: The Game

Some games might be bad, but almost everything leaves you at least something by the end. It could be a memory of the only good part of the game, maybe one memorable tune, or one interesting character.  Perhaps even the emotional load of a disappointing sequel, such as Mansion of Hidden Souls 2. I’m sorry to report that Shining Wisdom gives you absolutely nothing. It’s terrible all around, and I can’t find any redeeming quality whatsoever. As a Megadrive game, it could have perhaps been at least a technological showcase, but as a Saturn title, it fails even on that front. And since I had no expectations, it couldn’t even let me down.

I’m sorry, duck princess, I’ll never know how your story ends. And I don’t care to know.

A bad game that is just bad. There is nothing sadder in life. Not even Tales of the Tempest.

I suppose I should look for something else, but honestly, I’m probably just going to replay Quake 2. Why not, my JRPG July will be the “Jump and Run with Pistols and Guns” July.

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.

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.