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10/25/2014

Spoony Plays Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny, Part 5

We dive into the Underworld once more in search of the final crown jewel and the final Shard.  We also scavenge some pretty awesome equipment while we're there.

10/23/2014

DOS Dungeon: Maniac Mansion

In the 80s, there were two major players in the adventure game genre: Sierra (best known for King's Quest, Police Quest, Quest for Glory, etc) and a little studio called "Lucasarts" which became famous for a few IPs of their own.  Sierra's games became notorious for their high difficulty level and unforgiving puzzles while Lucasarts took a different philosophy, having few to no player deaths (or unwinnable states) and a quirky sense of humor throughout.


Case in point, Maniac Mansion was one of the first adventure games to be released by Lucasarts, and highlights several of the key differences between the two companies, as well as a few other ideas that few (if any) adventure games have replicated over the years.  It's also attained a cult following for its unorthodox design and replayability owing to its multiple endings (eleven in total, to be exact).


For one, the game actually features multiple playable characters.  Besides Dave (the organizer of the rescue mission in-game), you pick two other characters to play through the game with.  While the end goal is the same regardless of which team you pick, you will have to take a different approach to some puzzles and skip some in favor of others depending on who you select.  Let's take a look at all seven of them.



From left to right:

Dave - The game's protagonist who recruits two other kids to rescue his girlfiend Sandy from the clutches of the mad scientist Dr. Fred.  Dave unfortunately has no special abilities to distinguish him from the rest of the cast.

Syd - A musician who can play the piano like nobody's business.  He can also microwave the hamster if you're feeling particularly cruel (or just want to see a rather humorous death scene).

Michael - A photographer, and as such he's also versed in the art of developing film.

Wendy - A novelist looking for a big break.  If you ever find something in need of rewriting, she's the one to go to.

Bernard - Your 80's vision of the stereotypical nerd, with taped glasses, pocket protector and all.  That does work in his favor by allowing him to fix the radio or the phone, but on the down side, he is afraid of the Green Tentacle.

Razor - Another band member, this time the lead singer of the band "Razor and the Scummettes."  Functionally the same as Syd, which means she can also nuke the hamster and play the piano.

Jeff - A surfer dude whose only special skill is the ability to fix the phone.  The hint poster packaged in with the game implies that he gains temporary psychic powers when he sustains an electric shock, but this doesn't seem to actually be implemented in the game at all.  As such, he's the only character besides Dave who doesn't have a way to get past one of the major puzzles in the game.



Once you've made your choice, you begin the game outside the mansion.


Despite that foreboading warning, though, there are relatively few ways to die in the game (and you usually have to be pretty foolish to find them).  You generally have a higher chance of getting stuck in an unwinnable state due to wasting a key item than you do getting killed.  Save often!

In any case, your first puzzle is pretty mundane.


There's a small red herring in the form of a grate behind some bushes, but that won't get us inside.  In fact, none of your characters can even budge it since they're not strong enough to move it.  Keep it in mind, though, as you may need to come back later!

The real solution here is to search under the doormat for a key, then use the key to unlock the front door.  Pretty simple.



From here, you have access to the first floor, including a library, a living room and the kitchen (which you'll want to avoid at first, as Nurse Edna is in there waiting to capture you and throw you in the dungeon).  Some searching in the living room reveals a key on a chandelier you can't quite reach, as well as a radio (complete with an old tube inside) and a cassette tape player.  Because it's the 80s!




The library reveals two of the game's most famous red herrings.  The "out of order" staircase that doesn't lead anywhere (and cannot be fixed) and of course "Chuck the Plant", a recurring gag in many Lucasarts games.  It never serves any practical purpose; it's just a strangely-named plant positioned somewhere in the game.

There's also a cassette tape hidden in a loose wall panel and a broken phone, which both lend themselves to later puzzles.

After a few minutes have passed, we can explore the kitchen, which reveals a couple of grisly sights.


Looks pretty gruesome, but closer examination just reveals some broken ketchup bottles in the fridge.  The knives are also glued to the wall and the chainsaw has no gas, so neither can be used as a weapon (though as a gag, a canister of gas can be found in another Lucasarts game, "Zak McCracken and the Alien Mindbenders).


The inhabitants of the house are not idle, however.  Periodically you'll get a cutaway showing events going on elsewhere in the mansion.  The first one you're likely to see involves Dr. Fred speaking to Sandy about the fate that awaits her at the hands of his "Zom-B-Matic" machine.

The most active member of the family is "Weird Ed", who awaits a package of unknown contents to launch a plan against his father's schemes.  Being a paranoid militaristic type, he's also highly suspicious of you and will throw you in the dungeon on sight, though you can win his trust if you help him with his schemes. (Woe to you if you try to mess with his hamster or his piggy bank, though.)


Searching upstairs reveals an art studio and a music room with a piano, a victrola and a tape recorder, as well as a TV which gives a clue important to several characters.


Yep.  But we'll need an envelope and some postage before we can take advantage of that...


There is also a steel security door up here, which serves as a form of copy protection.  Hope you have the manual, because if you put in a wrong code..


...The nuclear reactor in the basement overloads and blows the house sky high.  Let this be a lesson to us all in home nuclear safety.



That's just the tip of the iceberg for Maniac Mansion, but it gives you a good idea of what to expect - a game with plenty of silly humor atop a B-movie styled plot about a mad scientist trying to turn kids into zombies.  As well as a murderous purple slimy meteor, a sentient green tentacle who dreams of forming a band, and a mummified "Cousin Ted", among other silly elements.  The fact that the game offers a different set of puzzles depending upon your choice of characters also lends it some considerable replayability, and the eleven different endings that freedom of choice provides also gives plenty of reason to keep coming back.

The game did have a few different versions, mostly unremarkable ports to other home computer formats of the time (including the Atari ST, Amiga, Commodore and Apple II).  It also received an enhanced DOS port that improved the visuals and sound quality dramatically, which is what I've pictured in this review; for comparison, here's what the original version looked like.


Probably the best known version, however, is the NES release, which featured some of the most detailed and interesting music on the platform.  However, it also underwent censorship for some of its more questionable language and content, though ironically the blood on the kitchen wall and the hamster-exploding event remained untouched (in the US version at least).

Regardless of which version you play, though, Maniac Mansion is a classic game, introducing the world to Lucasarts' unique brand of humor and relatively forgiving style of gameplay compared to most adventure games of the time.  The fact that it features numerous solutions to each of the major puzzles and endings also give it some considerable replayability that few other games in the genre possess.

The franchise also spawned a short-lived TV series (which has little connection to the game) and a single sequel released for DOS and Mac, which I will cover next week.

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.