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10/22/2014

Spoony Plays Halloween Special: Shadowgate (2014 remake), Part 4 (Finale)

Lots of put-the-things-in-the-slots puzzles, then we save the world!

10/19/2014

Spoony Plays Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny, Part 4

We venture into the Underworld in search of several important artifacts.  Many fierce battles and unpleasant trials ensue, but we do manage to banish two of the Shadowlords in the process...



One optional thing you can do is enter Dungeon Despise (get the Word from Annon in Britain) and venture through it to recruit Captain Johne in its respective portion of the Underworld.  He's a mage character with relatively high stats and provides a bit of backstory on the Shadowlords.

Also, like many characters in Ultima, he's based on one of Richard Garriott's friends.  In this case, Ultima 5's lead programmer John Miles.

10/16/2014

The Gamecube Memory Card Slot Experiment

As you probably know, I am a collector of all sorts of games and consoles; primarily Nintendo and Sega stuff, as well as the occasional foray into Playstation and older PC games (before that whole market went digital download only).  For various reasons, though, Nintendo has always been my #1 passion.

Anyway, as I was perusing my Gamecube collection to test out a new memory card, I noticed that a good portion of the games would only save or load from Slot A, completely ignoring my secondary card in Slot B.  So as a little experiment, I gathered up all of the Gamecube games I own and tested out each one in turn, seeing which ones would save or load from either slot and which would only look at Slot A.  The results are a bit surprising.

Left: Games that will only save data to or load data from Slot A.
Right: Games that will save or load from Slot A or Slot B.

Sega-published games were split, but mostly fell on the side of the Slot A camp.  All of the Capcom-published games would allow use of both slots (save for Mega Man Anniversary Collection).  The lone Namco-published game I own fell into the "either" category.  But most shockingly of all, none of Nintendo's games, first or second party, would look at Slot B.  One would think that the company that made the system would be on board with utilizing all of its features, but apparently not!

Other fun stats

  • The highest block requirement among all of my games was Phantasy Star Online, requiring 28 blocks and three pages.  On the other hand, Zelda Collector's Edition requires up to 36 blocks and four pages, depending on how many games you create save files for (Zelda 1 and 2 only take three blocks apiece, while OOT and Majora's Mask are each 15).
  • The lowest save requirement was Mega Man Anniversary collection, requiring only one block (or so it claims on the box; it seems to actually take 3).
  • VJ1 takes only 4 blocks to create a save file while VJ2 takes over four times as much, requiring 17.
  • Total to create one save for each game in my collection: 240 blocks.  Assuming it doesn't take more blocks to save more than one file per game (which I tend to do with RPGs) and you don't save any custom content in F-Zero GX, of course.
  • All of my games have support for Progressive Scan, except Skies of Arcadia Legends and Mega Man Anniversary Collection.  Many games that support it don't indicate this on the box...

10/15/2014

DOS Dungeon: Alone in the Dark

The horror genre was pretty huge in gaming in the 90s, with games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill and a plethora of horror-themed FMV titles making their appearance during that era.  Technology was finally advancing enough for some truly tense, creepy atmosphere to come through in the world of gaming.  At the forefront of the genre, though, came one game:


Released in 1992 by Infogrames, Alone in the Dark was a first in many ways.  Not only was it debatably the first survival horror game ever made, it introduced many of the genre's familiar elements.  The tank controls, the prerendered backgrounds with superimposed 3D models, and having to collect and utilize limited resources in addition to the usual complement of fighting enemies and solving puzzles.  All things that would, in varying capacities, appear in almost every survival horror game to follow (at least until the early 2000s, when the focus would shift away from "survival" and more to action and over-the-top gore).


It was also the first to implement a two-character "scenario" system, though functionally there's very little difference between the two characters here; they never interact with one another, the scenario doesn't change, and there are no significant gameplay differences between them (though the opening narration does change slightly).  Naturally, later games like Resident Evil would improve upon this idea by having different weapons and events occur for each character, but this was where it got its start.

After you pick Emily Hartwood or Edward Carnby, you get an opening cutscene:



Your chosen character travels to the mansion of Derceto in search of a piano in the attic, which each character is after for different reasons (with Edward looking to recover it and sell to an antique dealer while Emily Hartwood seeks a suicide note linked to her uncle's death).  They make their way to the attic without incident (apparently not noticing the monster watching from the window), and then the game begins.


As mentioned, the game was the first to make use of "tank controls", meaning that your character's facing is rotated via the left and right arrow keys, with the up key making them walk forward (or run when double-tapped) and the back key causing them to back up.  Actions are carried out with the space bar, though to select what action is performed at any given time one must open the menu with the Enter key and select an action or an inventory item to use.  A little strange considering one of the PC platform's advantages was having over 100 keys to work with, but regardless, that's how they chose to do it.

In any case, searching the piano turns up Jeremy Hartwood's suicide note, revealing that there are now some dark forces at work in Derceto:



...And right on cue, you're immediately attacked by a strange rat-creature bursting in through the window.  Fortunately the nearby chest holds a useful implement.


Two blasts from that bad boy will solve your rodent problem.  But then a zombie comes up through the trapdoor as well.  But what worked for the rat will work for him as well.  Kaboom!

So that leaves you in a manor with God-knows-how-many other nasties after you and no ammunition left.  Well, not quite; if you know to push the chest over the trapdoor and the wardrobe in front of the window, these two encounters can be avoided and leave you better prepared for later ones.  But I don't expect most people would know that the first time playing through...

After searching around for a few more clues and useful objects, you head downstairs to a hallway lined with several doors.  Well, we came in through the far one, so let's examine the one on the far le-


...oh.  The floor now gives way beneath you, plunging you to your doom.  How silly.  Well, let's try the near left door then.

A quick search turns up a locked chest and a small desk.  Nothing too interesting, so let's back out.


..Oh, another zombie.  Well, we may have no more rifle rounds, but we did find something in the chest in this room:


Unfortunately it doesn't prove too hardy of a weapon and snaps in half after only two hits.  But thanks to the Throw command, we can still use the broken blade and handle to finish it off (although it is admittedly tricky to aim owing to the tank controls and the low-poly models not making it entirely clear which direction you're facing).

Searching the other room doesn't turn up a whole lot, but it does result in another rat creature bursting through the window to attack us (they must have some powerful leaping abilities or something considering we're several floors up).  Unfortunately I have no more weapons to use, but a nearby vase proves itself useful.


...And when that doesn't quite finish the job, fisticuffs will fill in.  Though they're something you want to use sparingly because it's very easy to get inescapably stun-locked and killed in this game, particularly in small, cramped rooms like these.  Of course, hand to hand combat isn't exactly at its best with tank controls in place.  Remember Perfect Weapon on the Playstation 1?  Eugh.

Searching the smashed vase reveals a key, which can be used to unlock the dresser in this room, revealing two shield-shaped mirrors.  Seems like an important puzzle item to me!

...I could go through the whole game like this, but you get the gist of how it works.  Essentially, it's an adventure game with some light combat elements and a few scares thrown in; random zombie attacks, rat creatures leaping through windows to attack, and ghosts that will erupt into colorful spheres and murder you if you disturb them, to name just a few.  As per survival horror standards, though, you have a very limited supply of ammunition and health-restoring items to work with, and many enemies throughout cannot be killed at all, forcing you to avoid or outmaneuver danger rather than fight it all head-on.

The game's design is also a little bizarre at times, with somewhat off-putting puzzles and deathtraps (a portrait of a Native American that shoots you in the back with an arrow, to name one).  Some traps are also downright wicked, with rat monsters frequently appearing as soon as you've backed yourself into a narrow space you can't easily escape from and, at one point, having to traverse a room full of dancing ghosts without touching any of them; easier said than done with the camera angle and tank controls.  To the game's credit, though, there are relatively few opportunities to get yourself stuck in an unwinnable state; so long as you make sure to search everything, keep your health relatively high and save often, you shouldn't find yourself dying or getting stumped too often.

In addition to a handful of ports to various computers and home consoles (including the PC-98, FM Towns, Mac and 3DO), Alone in the Dark also spawned four sequels.  Alone in the Dark 2 again followed Edward Carnby, though it took a shift away from Lovecraftian themes in favor of having him fighting against undead gangsters and pirates who have abducted a young girl named Grace Saunders for sinister purposes.  Alone in the Dark 3 is much in the same vein, following Edward Carnby as he fights zombified cowboys in a ghost town called "Slaughter Gulch."  Both of these games featured a much heavier emphasis on combat and were heavily panned as a result, as the awkward controls didn't lend themselves well to that style of gameplay.  Nor did the fact that these games were strictly linear and stepping off the specified path at any time would result in the player being instantly killed by a ghost...

The third sequel was termed Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare, and served as something of a reboot of the series.  The game centers on two characters, one a descendant of Edward Carnby who also happens to be named Edward Carnby (now said to be a member of a bloodline of paranormal investigators) and a new character named Aline Cedrac.  They set out to explore a small island off the cost of Massachusetts and find clues about a lost civilization called the Abkani, apparently destroyed by a race of underground-dwelling monsters called the Creatures of Darkness.  It also wasn't too great, though it did feature some impressive lighting effects for 2001.  It's also the game on which the Uwe Boll film was loosely based (and the less said about that, the better).

Finally, another reboot came in 2008 simply titled "Alone in the Dark", which revamped the game into a strange hybrid of first person shooting, Prince of Persia style platforming and puzzle solving elements.  Unfortunately, these elements never really come together and form a cohesive whole, resulting in a game that feels like a disjointed jumble of ideas more than anything.  Though to its credit, it did at least feature some innovative fire and physics effects for its era and some pretty clever, if poorly realized, gameplay elements.

Well, regardless of the franchise's downward spiral, there is no denying that the original Alone in the Dark was a major influence, defining many of the core tenets of the survival horror genre and being a rare example of a western franchise achieving popularity in Japan.  So popular was it, in fact, that it served as a direct inspiration for games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, which have both gone on to become massively popular franchises in their own right.  Alone in the Dark may not be the most fondly remembered of franchises, but there is no denying that it set the standard for just about every horror game to come.

10/14/2014

Spoony Plays Halloween Special: Shadowgate (2014 remake), Part 3

We finally cure that banshee curse.  And then I screw myself over my tossing an important item into a fire pit, forcing myself to replay the whole game from scratch because I wasn't diligent enough with my saves.  There's a lesson to learn here, I feel...

10/13/2014

Spoony's Six Most Disappointing Games of 2014

Child of Light

Ubisoft sure knows how to make a good opening 20% of a game.  Child of Light is a perfect example, starting off with a clever premise, a charming atmosphere and some creative gameplay more than a tad reminiscent of Grandia (having you delay or cancel enemy turns with well-placed attacks).  But then it just devolves into navigating the same handful of identical-looking dungeons and traps over and over again whilst you gradually get bored of the combat system since there's really not much depth to it aside from the turn order gimmick.  So yes, Ubisoft can certainly draw you into a game; too bad they can't make the other 80% interesting enough to compel me to finish them...

Mind Zero

As a little experiment, let me show you the box of this game and the hero of Persona 3 side-by-side and see if you come to the same conclusion I did:



The similarities don't end there, either.  You're fighting invisible creatures called "Minds" with your own Minds that you can summon and you're accompanied by a goofball and a generic heroine and... yeah, it's a copy of Persona 3.  Which I would be on board with if it were fun, but sadly it's not.  The dialog is droning, the voice acting bland, the combat repetitive and the characters run the gamut from bland to obnoxious.  It doesn't even really bother to put a unique twist on things; they pretty much just took an at-length descriptor of Persona 3 and did a find-replace on it to get the idea for this game.  Just stick to making Wizardry style dungeon crawlers, Zerodiv, you're a lot better at those.

Watch_Dogs

Shitty GTA clone #8295921745607538136895321, which means you're going to run out of interesting things to do less than two hours in, get bored of doing repetitive tasks after another hour, shut it off and then never play it again.  Which sucks because it sold itself as having heavy cyberpunk elements that would let you hack ATMs and traffic barriers and turn security emplacements against your enemies, yet it completely goes to waste as they set the game in in Generic Suburb roughly 15 years in the future; there's virtually nothing interesting to do with your hacking powers after you've played past the intro stage.  Oh yeah, and it's one of the most terribly programmed games in recent memory, having a terrible framerate on even the lowest settings, crashing OSes and even breaking other games.  It's 2014 and this is a big budget release from a major studio; there's simply no excuse for that.

At least I didn't pay money for it, I guess.

DK: Tropical Freeze 

The Donkey Kong equivalent of New Super Mario Bros - a classic game with all the challenge and charm sucked right out of it.  Gone are the interesting environments and varied bonus levels, replaced with the same generic beach/jungle/temple/ice stages over and over again.  The game is also laughably easy owing to its flawed design and mechanics.  Every single time you're apt to take damage, there's a life-restoring heart or three immediately after.  Every time you lose a life, you've collected about 700 bananas and six one-up balloons.  Then there's the boss fights, which are just over-long battles of attrition.  But "attrition" in this case refers solely to player patience and not any degree of skill, since even they drop hearts after every hit or so.  It's almost insulting how hand-holdy this game is...

Conception II 

Yep, it's another Persona copycat, having you create "star children" with your classmates to fight against evil monsters in randomly generated dungeons (in a process called "Conception" - har har for unsubtle innuendo).  Too bad it was too busy building itself on that one joke to be fun for more than a couple hours, as you'll quickly get tired of the extremely long, droning dialog scenes that run roughly eight times as long as any dungeon and the constant 'click on people to talk to them until the plot feels like advancing' shit from every bad RPG ever made.  There's virtually no strategy either, aside from finding one of four angles to attack your enemies from that will result in a critical hit.  Conception II is just a snore.  Which is kind of stunning to me as this was released by the same company that put out Danganronpa - two downright amazing visual novels that also came out this year...

Witch and the Hundred Knight

Whee, another Diablo clone where all you do is fight the same half-dozen or so monsters for forty hours straight.  Which would be fine if it were fun, but Nippon Ichi dropped the ball here.  Your weapons are unwieldy and awkward and there's far too much dialog constantly taking you out of the action for one of these kinds of games.  Which is amusing at times, admittedly, but it still feels out of place in a game genre that sells itself on pure action from start to finish.  I don't know, this one just misses the mark.