Classic Gaming – Part 3: Crystal Caves

Ignoring everything I had said in the previous posts in this series about Commander Keen being next (stupid rat things still kill me…), I have instead worked my way though Crystal Caves.

Like many other Apogee software games, this came in three episodes – Trouble with Twibbles, Slugging it Out and Mylo Versus the Supernova – with the first game being free and the other two requiring a purchase. An interesting fact I found out about these games was that a patch was released for the original game 14 years and one day after its original release, fixing a bug when run on Windows XP. That is what I call support!

Meet our hero, Milo Steamwitz. He knows exactly how he is going to make his fortune, but needs to generate some money to invest first. So it is off to some remote planet where large crystals are just lying about in caves waiting to be harvested. You start off in some sort mine shaft that provides access to 16 caves to be explored. In each cave you have to run around, jumping between platforms, flicking switches on and collecting all the crystals while avoiding various obstacles and shooting aliens. Each cave has a bit of a theme to it, with some having continuously falling rocks to avoid and others having “low gravity” (which does not let you jump higher, but does mean you get forced back whenever you shoot – interesting…). Once all the crystals are collected, the exit door unlocks.

I had played the first episode many times when I was younger so I zoomed through to the end quite quickly. For each level there is a key that you can collect which allows you to open all the treasure chests scattered throughout the level, but having no siblings around to eliminate from the high-score board, my motivation to do so was limited… At the end of the first episode, Milo sells up his collected crystals and invests in a Twibble farm. It turns out that Twibbles are prolific at eating and breeding so the planets resources are soon used up. Also, no-one wants to buy Twibbles any more, so I guess he just abandoned them all to die of starvation.

The second and third episodes are very similar to the first. I think there is a slight difficulty increase, but it is hard to judge given how much I had played the first episode previously. The difference I did notice was that a lot of levels required you to do the crystal collecting for different sections in a defined order. There were many places where the only way to go back to collect a crystal you missed was to die and restart the level. What is worse, there is a bug in the third game where in the mine shaft there is an area where you can not escape (pictured). So the two levels there must be left until last, otherwise you have to restart the game.

The second episode ends with Milo buying a slug farm. For some reason, everybody wants slugs and he is in danger of running out. But then the slugs burrowed underground to avoid the heat of the day and ended up in an old salt mine. So Milo’s profits quickly “dried up”. Oh, the hilarity…

The final episode see Milo giving up on farming. Instead he wants to buy a solar system to set up a vacation resort based on some perfectly legitimate sounding scheme he saw on TV. Sure enough, once he signs the contract, the whole solar system gets destroyed in a supernova (I bet you could have never guessed that would happen from the game title…). Luckily, the supernova left a nice looking backdrop for a space burger joint. It is now quite popular and Milo can sell his burgers at a price that looks expensive even accounting for inflation.

I was slightly disappointed at the lack of additional game-play elements in the second and third episodes. The two episodes I had not previously played were entertaining enough, but that is influenced by nostalgia. Overall, I think these games are worth playing, but if you finish the free episode and are not impressed, do not think things will improve.

So… will I finish Commander Keen: Vorticons for the next post? Not likely… But I am running out of ideas for old DOS games to play, so make me some suggestions.

Xenoblade Chronicles – A Completionist’s Nightmare

Caution: Spoilers follow!

If you are looking for a good game and like JRPG’s, then you can not go past Xenoblade Chronicles. Well, you can if you live in North America where it still has not been released yet and will not be released until April… Now you know how it feels to live in Australia!

Now I have that off my chest, lets get back to the game. Xenoblade is a game of epic scope, both in terms of the shear size of the worlds that you can explore and in terms of the number of things there are to do. And there are many, many, many things to do… To get near “completing” the game, you will need to spend well over 100 hours, making the game quite good value for money.

I am not going to do a detailed review of the gameplay as those are already available elsewhere. Instead I will cover the various elements there are to collect in the game. This is probably an unhealthy obsession of mine that started with Pokemon (Gotta Catch ‘Em All…), but is often an aspect of games that I enjoy more than the primary game itself provided it is not too monotonous.

Party Upgrades: Each playable character in the game has multiple upgrades that can be found (excluding basic things like level and equipment). There are upgrades to each of the “Arts” that are used during battles, which are purchased using “AP” that you collect by defeating monsters or from other tasks in the game. Before the Arts can be upgraded to their full potential, you need to learn the Intermediate then Advanced levels through the use of Books. The Books for the Intermediate level can be purchased at various stores throughout the game, but the Advanced level books are only dropped by strong monsters. At least two are dropped at a low frequency by a monster that appears only once in the game, so unless you know that beforehand, the chance of completing this upgrade is negligible. I collected all Books but have not purchased the full upgrades yet as collecting the required amount of AP would become tedious.

Each character also has a set of “Skills” that are like innate abilities that improve your battle prowess. There are learnt by collecting “SP” when defeating monsters and filling up the “skill tree”. Each character starts with three skill trees, or sets of skills of a given type, but two additional skill trees can be earned for each character. Enough “SP” will be earned to fill up most of the characters skill trees just by playing the game, but a couple of characters would require repetitive monster killing to complete.

Quests: There are 480 quests given to you by various NPCs during the game. Some are essential to complete in order to progress through the game, but others are just useful for gaining experience/money/items. What is really annoying are that some quests only appear under certain conditions. I do not mind those that are mutually exclusive (i.e. you can complete one of two quests and it really does not matter which), but those quests that only appear if you do something in a particular way (with no real indication of what that is…) are… well… I can not find a polite word to describe them. Then there are timed quests. These become unavailable (without warning) once you reach certain points in the game. So if you are wanting to complete “all” quests, you need to do each quest as soon as you are assigned it and spend lots of time exploring each region to make sure you have talked to everyone. I believe I completed all possible quests for a single play-through apart from one that was unavailable as I made an “incorrect” choice during the game.

Affinity: There is an “affinity” system that essentially measure how much people like each other. Importantly from a gameplay perspective is how much the people of each region like you and how much the members of a party like each other. How much people of a particular region like you determines the available quests and items available for trading. This is improved by talking to the various NPC who have names and completing quests. The affinity between members of your party is improved by helping each other in battle and through the completion of quests together. It is not a super-important area of gameplay although it does let characters use skills known by other characters and allows you to see “Heart-to-Hearts” (see below).

Region Maps: There are around 20 areas (depending on how you count them) to explore during the game. Each of these regions had a number of “Landmarks” and “Locations” for you to find to unlock the complete map to the region. The Landmarks serve as warp-points, which avoids much mindless wandering from place-to-place. Almost all of these would be found during normal gameplay and the remaining few during completion of quests.

Collectopaedia: Each region has a list of items that can be collected throughout it. Collecting one of each of these fills in the Collectopaedia. Just like the Quests, there are points during the game where access to the areas becomes no longer possible (without warning…) so it is important to collect these as you go. There is also a selection of items needed to complete this that can only be traded for, with one requiring an item to trade that can only be found by defeating the strongest monsters in the game (and is the one item I have yet to collect).

Heart-to-Hearts: These are cut away scenes showing conversations between characters that are supposed to provide extra insight to their inner thoughts… You get to chose various answers that direct the outcome of these conversations, although I never actually read the text so I have no idea how much your choice mattered. What I did notice was that the “acting” during these interactions was horrible.

Unique Monsters: Now this is a fun part of the game! There are 157 “unique” monsters in the game. Some are truly unique in that they only appear once during a particular quest, but others consistently respawn. There are five of these monsters that have levels higher than your characters maximum level and it is these five I have left to beat (although I have not attempted them yet…).

Achievements: The game keeps track of your “achievements” as you progress through the game. These are separated into two types, Trials and Records. There are 50 Trials that basically cover working through all the collections above so if you are going to complete those then the Trials will get completed too. The 150 Records involve things like defeating a certain type of enemy a given number of times, using a given type attack a certain number of times, raising Skill and Arts to maximum levels and collecting crystals and crafting them into gems (an area of the game that is full of mystery as far as I am concerned…). Many of these fall into the tedious repetition category so I still have about 30 to complete.

That is a lot of stuff to do… As I said above, it will take substantially more than 100 hours if you want to do all of this. But I say it is definitely time well spent.

Games on Google+

While I have not actually posted anything on my Google+ account yet, I am fairly awesome at time wasting and that makes the addition of games there a fairly attractive prospect. We all know that these games are designed to make the publishers some money and demonstrate (a.k.a. take advantage of in order to make money…) the social aspect of Google+. However, I am not willing to pay money or be social… So, with those restrictions, here is opinions on the currently available games.

Zynga Poker – I like poker, so this game was the first I tried. The good thing about it is that you can use it as a completely free poker client and just play poker. All the extra social crap is optional and does not really get in the way too much. However, there are better poker clients out there with freeplay and they have many more players (I never got to play a “sit and go” match once due to lack of people to form a table). Also, I like to have more than one table running at a time or the waiting gets boring.

Monster World – This almost set of my “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” urge. But it had one fatal flaw. I planted my fields full of an expensive plant that takes 16 hours to grow. But there is absolutely nothing in the game to do while you wait for that 16 hours. So essentially the game is forcing you not to play the game, which I think amounts to the stupidest concept in game design ever.

Angry Birds – I have never really been a fan of this game so I did not spend much time playing it. While it appears that some parts of the game would require teaming up with friends, there is enough single player gameplay to keep you entertained for a decent amount of time.

Dragon Age Legends – This seemed like a game I would like, but I just could not enjoy it for some reason. I think part of my issue was with the graphics. I know these games are not supposed to be graphics powerhouses, but when limited in that department I often think you are better off going very simple and refined. Everything in this game, but especially the characters, just looked horrid.

Diamond Dash & Collapse! Blast – Both these games have the very annoying “feature” that you lose a life for each round you play. And these rounds only last one minute, so you very quickly run out of lives. At that point, the best thing to do is to shut down the game and wait for time to pass so that lives are replenished.

Crime City & Zombie Lane – Like the above games, but instead of running out of lives, you run out of energy and can not do anything. I also did not get what the fun was in Crime City. All you did was click your mouse on the green arrow and wait for a progress bar to fill up.

Bubble Island – I only played the first five or so level sets on this so never actually lost a life. But from what I can see, if I did fail it would require me playing previous levels 500 times to get a retry attempt. That is equivalent to locking you out of the game as far as I am concerned.

Wild Ones – Worms clone with dogs… and as far as I could tell, completely useless single player.

City of Wonder, Dragons of Atlantis & Edgeworld – I dislike any click a building, watch it build, research upgrades, real time strategy type game. And I can not imagine them becoming better with an inability to right click on anything…

Bejeweled Blitz – Meh, Bejeweled… but this is one of the few games where not being willing to pay or be social has very little effect.

Flood It – Puzzle game that I could not find where the fun was located.

Sudoku Puzzles – Not a game… I completed one board to see if there was some sort of side challenge or something to actually make this a game, but failed to see the game part.

Now that I have decided that all these games are basically crap, I would like to clear all of what I have done from the game providers server. But unless I am missing something, not a single game appears to have the option to delete your progress. This is a bit of a surprise given one of the main selling points of Google+ over its competition was the ability to completely control your information, but I guess that does not extend to third parties. So that information you gave the provider authorization to access at the start of the game is permanently in their hands. While Google appears to have done the good thing and allows you to revoke access to your information (under “Account Settings” -> “Account Overview” -> “Security” -> “Authorizing applications & sites”), in reality that will only stop access to new changes you make to your profile as the game providers will already have your data stored. I would be interested in seeing if deleting your Google+ account completely removed your scores etc from the people in your circles games.

Classic Gaming – Part 2: Paganitzu

Welcome back to the ongoing series of posts about my adventures in playing old games from my childhood. I know that in Part 1 I said next up was going to be Commander Keen: Vorticons, but that is proving slightly more difficult than expected… Instead I completed the classic puzzle game series Paganitzu.

Like many other Apogee games at the time, Paganitzu was released in three parts. Part 1: Romancing the Rose was released as shareware, while Part 2: Quest for the Silver Dagger and Part 3: Jewel of the Yucatan were (and in fact still are) available for purchase directly from the developer.

The first thing you are greeted with when launching these games is a series of questions allowing you set-up to game colours, controls and sound. Having the ability to handle more than four colours on my MacBook Pro, I decided it was worth going all out and using the full 16 colours. I can feel the heat radiating from my graphics card already! When you are done selecting, you are informed of the command-line flags to select these options by default, which I remember thinking was really cool. (The question is all those years ago did I just adjust the launcher in the DOS menu system or write a one line batch script and use that… I can not remember but either seems possible.)

Onto the actual game. Our hero is famous archaeologist and part time treasure hunter Alabama “Al” Smith, a character not too subtly modelled after Indiana Jones. Unfortunately of late his fame has been slipping with people like Bart Simpson and Oprah Winfrey taking his spotlight. So Al studies his ancient texts and finds reference to an ancient pyramid called Paganitzu, meaning “Temple of the Gods”. Rumoured to be inside this pyramid are objects of great power including the Crystal Rose, a jeweled flower that will bring peace to the man who holds it, and the Silver Dagger, which gives the strength of the gods to it wielder. So off to remote southern Mexico where Al finds a grassy hill in an otherwise flat area. Sure enough, this is the temple he is looking for and there is the entrance…

What follows is twenty levels of pushing around boulders, dodging enemy attacks and finding of hidden areas, all while collecting the needed keys to progress through the door to the next level. Some of these levels do require some serious thinking to solve, but the unfortunate thing about this style of game is that its replay value is actually quite low (unless you are searching for all the hidden secrets). With having completed the first part of this game previously, it did not take particularly long for me to get to the end, although a couple of levels did test my levels of recall. Once you make it through all 20 levels, you are rewarded with a cut-scene in which Al gets his hands on the Silver Rose. Fame and fortune is all his… except he actually ends up releasing the evil god Omigosh instead.

Releasing evil gods is usually not a good thing and Omigosh is no exception. He travels deeper into the pyramid and plans to raise an army of undead to destroy the world. Understandably, Al feels a bit guilty about causing impending destruction and decides to go find the Silver Dagger in the aptly named “Part 2: Quest for the Silver Dagger”. While the overall style of the game remains the same, as we delve deeper into the pyramid it has now become hot and lava filled. Along with a selection of new monsters, this gives quite a different feel to part two of the game. The strategies required for solving the puzzles also shift to quite an extent with this change to make the puzzle solving a challenge again.

Part 2 rewards you with two cut-scenes. The first happens after you reach the half way point where you first meet the Skull Oracle. He suggests that Al should be sent back in time to bring back the great magician Debasco who originally captured Omigosh in the Crystal Rose. That sounds a great plan, until it is mentioned that only the dead can travel back in time to prevent disturbances being made to the space-time continuum (there is no restrictions on live people travelling forward in time). Somewhat predictably, Al decides to not become dead and take his chances with the Silver Dagger. Onwards for another ten levels, including some quite difficult ones, and our hero makes it to the Silver Dagger. There he meets Omigosh who is now inhabiting the body of some woman whose long dead corpse he found in the pyramid. Al grabs the Silver Dagger in attempt to end the evil Omigosh, but the dagger is too powerful and turns on him. A dead hero and an out of control evil god… who will save us? What a thrilling climax to the second part of the game!

Little things like being a ghost are not going to stop our hero. In fact, now he is already dead, travelling back in time does not seem such a bad idea… So onward to “Part 3: Jewel of the Yucatan”. The first thing Al notices is that the pyramid as seen by the dead is a living entity with walls made out of a quivering biomass. This makes for a third style to the games levels, which, along with the addition of some new deadly creatures (ghosts are not immune to being attacked) and new puzzle elements, changes the style of game play yet again. I am not sure if I was just doing the levels in novel ways, but I found there was a lot more usage of moving enemies to block other enemies and having to time movements precisely, bringing more of an action feel to the final part. Another twenty levels and we make it back to the Skull Oracle. Why were you now twenty levels away from the Skull Oracle when you only travelled ten levels away in Part 2? These are the mysteries of the pyramid that are not meant to be solved by the likes of us…

The final episode finishes with a stunning two hour cinematic! OK… it is apparently only 17 minutes long but it certainly takes a while to sit and watch. The Skull Oracle sends our hero back in time 500 years to get the magician Debasco to come save the world. Debasco is nice enough to restore Al back to life and so Al rewards him by getting it on with his daughter Maria, coincidentally being the woman whose body Omigosh inhabits in the future. Unfortunately, Debasco can only take one person with him to the future and that must be Al (or he could affect the space-time continuum), so his daughter gets left behind to be brutally murdered by the invading Spaniards (seriously, that is almost word for word…). Back in the future, the battle between Debasco and Omigosh looks helpless, until somehow the spirit of Maria banishes Omigosh from her body and Debasco can take him to the firely pits of hell. Al and Maria celebrate the vanquishing of Omigosh (seemingly ignoring the fact her father died…) and walk off into the sunset. You would think that 500 years of decay would be off-putting for a man, but you have to Al credit. As an archaeologist, I guess he likes old things…

What I like about these games is that they are unforgiving. If you can not solve a level, then you are stuck there. The game has judged you and found you lacking. Games these days would have you start in some sort of foyer with entrances to each level, allowing you to skip a few on your way to the end. Sure you can go back and complete the levels you skipped, probably to be rewarded with a different ending, but that just does not give the same sense of achievement in the end. And I say this having abandoned the second game in this series for quite a few days and moved onto the third while I tried to figure out one of the levels that was doing my head in.

Next up: Commander Keen: Vorticons… or maybe Crystal Caves if those stupid rat like things keep killing me. I can feel your anticipation building!

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Classic Gaming – Part 1: Duke Nukem

The recent release of Duke Nukem Forever got me thinking back to the original game and how many hours I sunk into as a child. (If you are thinking I mean Duke Nukem 3D, I shake my fist at you and yell “Get of my lawn”!) As with many games at the time, I only had the shareware version and not the complete game. So I decided it was time to relive my youth and obtain a copy of the complete game. Time to crank up DOSBox and get playing!

The original Duke Nukem had three “episodes”; Sharpnel City, Mission: Moonbase and Trapped in the Future. The first episode was the shareware game many people would have played. Set in the futuristic time of 1997, Dr. Proton was brain damaged in some sort of nasty radiation accident (not ironic despite his name, as there apparently was a name change there…) and developed an army of evil robots to protect his base. The military have failed to overcome such evil so the C.I.A. have stepped in and hired our hero!

Given how many times I had played through the first episode in my youth, it took me about a hour to race through and finish it. I still took some time out to explore some levels and relive the excitement of going to those very easy to find secret rooms. I still do not understand how Duke decides how often he can pull the trigger. It is not a function of reload time as if you hit something close range, you can immediately fire again. But miss and you will need to wait until the bullet goes out of the screen… Strange they had not sorted such things out in the future that is 1997, but you eventually upgrade your pistol and are allowed to fire four shots at once which is more than enough. Another thing that concerned me is the shooting of a turkey leg turns it into an entire turkey which Duke then eats for double health recovery. I would have thought eating food shoot with a nuclear pistol was not recommended…

Anyway, moving on to Episodes 2 and 3 that I had not played before. There is nothing new in game play in these episodes, only slightly different scenery. In Episode Two: “Mission: Moonbase” (yes, multiple colons in the title), Duke follows Dr. Proton to his moonbase using his time transport machine. That is right… time transport to get to the moon. The second episode was rather non-challenging – I died once for the entire game. You get pistol upgrades all over the place so enemies are readily defeated. I found more than the three you need to fully upgrade your pistol and I hardly explored everywhere. I was also slightly surprised the “Super Jump Boots” were not given in an early level given we are on the moon. The only real challenge was the level designer was obviously bored with having nothing new to work with, so just made larger mazes and put more bad guys everywhere. That does not so much increase the difficulty but rather just makes the game longer. Only on one level was the path to take in the maze not particularly obvious. A little more than two hours of game play and I had beaten Dr. Proton again. That boss battle was also poorly programmed as I noticed Dr. Proton flies up and down in the room in front of you and you can just stand back and shoot without going near him. I was far too manly to do that and attacked the good old fashioned way and just ran in guns blazing.

Episode Three: “Trapped in the Future!” sees Dr. Proton escape to the future in his time machine. Duke immediately follows without so much as a short rest even though he would much rather watch Opera. He is obviously not the brightest guy… he could assumably still watch Opera and then go to the point in the future where he was needed at his leisure. Again, nothing much changed in the third episode. The mazes got more annoying (when you start right beside a keycard access point, you know you are going to have to walk all the way back once you collect the key…). The main difference was that in the future there seems to be some horrid green colour to everything and so some levels are hard to look at. Also, random spikes are put everywhere on the ground so when you jump or drop down blindly to the next platform, you are going to take damage. No way to avoid that either as you can not take a look around slightly off screen before jumping there. This episode also appeared to be much shorter to me. I did try exploring most places, but obviously I was not very thorough as when I (very unexpectedly) arrived at the final fight with Dr. Proton, I did not have a fully powered up pistol. I did die a couple of times on the final fight, so there was some increase of difficulty. Although both of those were due to shear surprise that as soon as you drop into the final room you are being blasted by some flame and the boss is right above you and there are spikes everywhere you look to hide. As soon as I realized I just needed to get to the other side of the room, turn and shoot, Dr. Proton was soundly defeated.

Overall, I enjoyed coming back to play Duke. I do not think it is just nostalgia talking when I say the first episode was still the most enjoyable. I think the younger me would have been disappointed if after playing the first episode for free, I had then purchased the next two episodes. They just did not seem to have the same polish. I imagine the game developers being told “Great game. We are going to give it away for free. Make us two more quickly so we can sell them and actually make some money.” and them looking at each other and thinking “You could have mentioned this earlier…”.

But this has not put me off playing the rest of games that I only had the shareware version years ago. Next up is the three episodes of “Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons”. Yay pogo sticks!

“Finished” Super Mario Galaxy 2

Caution: Spoilers follow!

I know my limits so have declared 241/242 stars in Super Mario Galaxy 2 as being finished… The final level is only for obsessed people with too much time on their hands!

I am still not sure how this game was rated as highly as it was (although I do think it was a great game). It has a 97% average on Metacritic, making it amongst the highest rated games of all time. However, the only real addition to the gameplay from Super Mario Galaxy is “hide-and-seek”. I played that as a kid years ago so that is hardly novel… And it is not just one type of hide-and-seek; it is used multiple ways. First you have to find the Comet Coins to unlock a challenge on each world. Then once you have done all those levels (and beaten the final boss yet again – probably for the third time…), there becomes another 120 green stars that are hidden across the game. You think with all that practice the game designers would be good at hide-and-seek, but a fair portion of the things you have to find are clearly visible in the opening sequence for each world, which kind of ruins the whole point. In fact, I’m not sure there was a point at all other than to force you to constantly repeat the same levels.

But the game was saved by a review I watched beforehand, where we are told to think of “cake” as a Mushroom Kingdom codeword for “sex”. It made the Bowser’s final words rather amusing!

cake

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Nintendo Australia – You Suck!

Lets look at the release dates of Super Mario Galaxy 2 around the globe (according to Wikipedia)…

  • North America: May 23, 2010
  • Japan: May 27, 2010
  • EU: June 11, 2010
  • Australia: July 1, 2010

But Australia is in the same Wii game region as the EU… the release is exactly the same. So what the hell Nintendo! You are lucky that the game will be awesome so I can not protest.

The delay from the North American release data is something I have learned to live with, as EU region releases are always delayed (supposedly due to having to do the translations). But at least when the Smash Bros Brawl release date in Australia was four months behind the North American release, the EU suffered along with us.

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