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Half-life and Valve’s Steam

December 2, 2008 Leave a comment

About two weeks ago I’ve read my favourite news site and saw a small advertising article saying that due to 10th anniversary of Half-life the Valve company sells the original Half-life game for 1$. This proposal seemed very attractive to me. I’ve liked Half-life back then it was released, but I’ve lost my disk (probably gave it to someone and forgot). For a long time I wanted my Half-life back without paying for it again. And Valve’s proposal was an excellent opportunity to own a game again almost for free.

The game was available for sale only for limited time and only through Valve’s online platform called “Steam”. I’ve heard about Steam before, but I’ve never had a chance to use it. Here in Russia we don’t usually use online shops because of difficulties with online payment. However, I’ve decided to try. I’ve downloaded Steam client software and created a Steam account. Fortunatelly, a payment using a credit card worked smoothly, and soon I saw a “Half-life” in a list of owned games. The next step whould be to download a game.

I was quite interested in Steam because in the past I was involved in a project of digital software delivery. That project was not very succesful because it was focused on securing a delivery channel to prevent illegal copying of a software. It is obvious that such system required a sophisticated protocol, but is still vulnerable to unauthorized copying once a program is downloaded. Valve has solved a problem by adding online activation in software which is downloaded. That’s why their system succeded: they are both game developers and game distributors. Of course, online activation is not convenient because computer must be online, but Valve made some improvements to reduce inconvenience.

I have two PCs. One has a good online connection, another is more suitable for games. I’ve created Steam account using “gaming” PC. Then I’ve installed Steam also on “online” PC, and, since my ownership data are stored on Steam servers, I’ve started downloading Half-life. Download process was quite quick. Then, I’ve used Steam’s “backup/restore” feature to move downloaded files from “online” PC to “gaming” PC, and could play right away. Although Steam is not very responsive application, it is quite convenient. I will explain in another article how Steam works in detail, and now I’m going to describe Half-life.

Half-life is often described as “cinematic shooter”. It starts as “cinematic”, with protagonist, seen from first-person perspective, travels by small tram inside huge high-tech recearch center to his workplace. This part is just one impressive sequence of special effects made using game engine, so you can rotate your head and look freely. When your tram arrives, a degree of interactivity increases so you can go where you want, talk with AI-controlled actors such as security guards and scientists, use switches to turn off the lights. The game keeps entertaining you by letting you observe everyday life in advanced recearch facility with much attention paid to details. Scientists discuss, argue and complain, security guards greet you. To advance the plot you should take part in experiment, which will go very wrong. Experiment failure leads to two dangerous consequences: base equipment breaks and alien life forms teleport to various places of the base.

Now you need to escape from infested base, so game is no longer a “sci-fi quest” but rather a “survival horror quest”. You need to solve several navigational puzzles, like climbing a lift shaft, crouching to avoid being cut by laser, ask a collegue to open a door, cooperate with security guard to fight zombies. However, soon you’ll obtain a pistol and game changes genre once more, turning into “survival horror shooter”.

Authors of “Half-life” often stated that their main inspiration was “Doom”. Authors of “Doom”, in turn, say they were inspired by movies “Aliens” and “Evil dead”. Main theme of “Doom” is horror, and it is achieved by having two kinds of enemies: zombies posessed by evil spirits and aliens from another dimension. Creators of “Doom” unified those kinds of monsters by making this another dimension a “hell”, which also increased horror element. Thus, “Doom” mixes elemens of sci-fi, supernatural horror and monster horror. “Half-life” abandons supernatural element of “Doom” and remains pure sci-fi, but they wanted to keep zombies as an important element of horror. This was solved by a following way. There is an alien creature called “headcrab”. Headcrabs are small and hard to notice, and they attack by jumping very quickly from a distance with a screaming sound, so they are themselves a frightening enemies. They can attach to heads of dead humans turning them into zombies. Usage of human bodies as hosts by aliens in “Half-life” makes it close to “Aliens”.

Most of the time “Half-life” continues as “survival horror shooter” with player fighting aliens and avoiding environmental obstacles. It turns out that failed experiment has lead to large-scale alien invasion of Earth. To contain a situation government has sent a special marine forces who will kill not only aliens but also all base personel including you, so at some points a game is becoming a “military shooter”. You travel through huge base to “lambda complex”, learning on the way that this research facility performed experiments with interdimensional travel for some time. Last part of the game is an assault on alien’s homeworld called “Xen” because it is the only way to stop invasion of Earth.

Technically “Half-life” was not a breakthrough. It used a modified Quake engine with additions such as:

  • Static colour lights
  • Transparent textures (used for glass and grids)
  • Moving objects (like boxes and barrels)
  • Dynamic textures (used for computer panels, for example)
  • Light coronas
  • Skeletal animation
  • Destructable objects

These features could be considered not as radical improvements but rather as engine hacks. Greatest achievement of Valve is that they were able to use the engine to create realistically looking environment in modern-day settings while keeping acceptable performance. Other contemporary games like Quake 2, Jedi Knight, Hexen 2 and Unreal chose futuristic or medieval architecture so their level design whouldn’t look too abstract, but they’ve failed to achieve a mood.

Half-life uses lots of hacks to increase a performance. Levels are long and twisting corridors which reduces an amount of visible poligons. They use goraund shading so some surfaces whould look as curves. Ladders are just textures with transparency. These hacks are not noticeable by casual player, levels look realistic and game plays smooth.

Great degree of immersion is achieved not only by realistic level design, but also by realistic gameplay. In other contemporary FPSes monsters are trigger-based: they are standing still and waiting for you to approach. To add an action element monsters sometimes reside in hidden room which opens when you walk into some area. Half-life uses a trick which is consistent with the plot: monsters teleport close to you. You can have allies, and also can participate in monster in-fighting. Having friendly characters seems to me as a very important part of game’s atmosphere, and is a great factor of player’s motivation to advance: you move in hope to find help, and you got it.

The game is large, but not repetitive. This is achieved by creative level design, different gameplay styles on different parts, spectacular special effects to reward you for a progress. A doze of black humor helps the mood not to become too dark.

To summarize all said, Half-life is a most immersive shooter since Doom. Unlike Quake or Unreal, it’s strength is not a technology, but the content.

Since I’ve played this game second time, it was not difficult for me to complete. My favourite weapon is a Magnum pistol. Sometimes game is quite hard. In Xen there are lots of hidden caves with ammo and health.

That’s all for now.

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Categories: Old games Tags: , , , ,

Ultima Underworld

May 27, 2008 Leave a comment

Ultima Underworld. First smooth first-person-point-of-view 3D RPG. Unbelievable advanced game for its time. I’ve just completed it, second time in my life. First time it was in 1996.

Back then, everything looked very impressive for me. Medieval style, 3D graphics, dark atmosphere, sword combat, water, spells, conversations, trade, skill system. It is good that I forgot most puzzles, so this time completing the game was still challenging. This time I was dissapointed with plot and quality of dialogs: they seemed not deep at all. But I understand now that for this game plot is secondary. Focus was made on exploration and combat.

I don’t think that character class matters in the game. I suspect that it only defines main stats and a set of skills you can have initially. Those could not be changed in game, as opposed to skills, which could be trained. Most important stat for me is strength, because it determines both damage and max weight you can carry. So, probably best choice whould be fighter or paladin, because such character will be able to fight efficiently in the beginning and will be able to carry much more belongings with him. Later in the game, if you want, you can train your magical abilities to become a good mage.

Training is done by “praying” near the shrine. You just choose mantra, which determines which skill will be improved. Training will reduce the amount of free skill points. More skill points can be earned through advancement in experience. Unfortunatelly, there are no indicator of remaining skill points. Experience is given for exploration and defeating enemies. So, if you can’t defeat some monster, then go try a different route, and come back later then you’ll become stronger. Fortunatelly, game is always non-linear.

Fighting is essential. There are four classes of weapons (swords, axes, maces and ranged) and you can also fight unarmed. In each class there are weapons with different damage. Each weapon has a “condition”, and from frequent use they will become damaged. Some weapons are magical. To determine a magical property you need high lore skill or special spell. I don’l like ranged weapons myself, so I just use swords, axes and maces. Also I’m not just standing and wielding with weapon: I’m running forward and back, so I will hit my enemy and get away then he hits me.

Magic is useful, however it is not essential. If you have low magical skill, then you still can use wands, scrolls, potions and rings. However, I’ve found “flameproof” extremely useful in lower levels, so I whould advice spending some skill points to train magical skills, especially mana capacity. Offensive spells could be powerfull, but they require some space to be released, and they consume lots of mana.

Magic in the game is “rune-based”. This means that you assemble your spell from runes. Then I first time played this game back then, I had a pirate copy without any manuals. Just after start I’ve found some runes, and then I’ve tried combining them I’ve discovered some spells myself. Later in the game some characters revealed more spells. So I thought that all game spells should be discovered by player, and was dissapointed with small amount of clues. This approach seemed great to me, because it requires some intellectual work which is supposed to be done by mages. Later I discovered that game manual has a list of spells, which is much less fun for me. However, since clues will help you discover only about dozen of spells, I sugges you to download official manuals from here

This game has a “rogue” aspect. Monsters can hear you and see you, but you can train to be less noticable. This is not very practical, since this game has lots of narrow tunnels where this skill will not help you. “Lockpick” skill will help unlocking doors without keys, but this skill is also not practical, since almost all locked doors have keys for them. Other means of opening door or chest could be by force (just hit them), however, this will not work for massive doors or portcullis. And, of course, there are magical spell for opening. Skill “search” will reveal secret doors, but it is also replacable with spell.

So, I’m using half-figher half-mage character, and usually don’t train rogue skills. Spells replace all rougue skills very well and provide protection against fire and magic.

I like very much the fact that all the characters in game are like me: humans and humanoids wear armor and fight in same manner as main character. Mages will cast the same spells. So, everything is fair.

So, enjoy the game! Plot and dialogs are stupid, as well as some puzzles, but exploration, fighting and atmosphere is great. Lots of attention have been put into details: there are skulls and broken weapons everythere, fire blasts burn some items, expired “fly” spell turns into “slow fall” spell, dead opponent drops all its items, and lots of other interesting moments. So, it’s very much like living world.

Categories: Old games

Lands of Lore: throne of chaos

December 18, 2007 5 comments

Lands of Lore: Throne of chaos was one of first PC games I’ve got, and you can imagine that I was really impressed. Excellent graphics, nice and simple interface, great story: the game exceeded all my expectations.

Later I saw “Eye of Beholder” and similarities are obvious. It seems that after EoB 2 ways of SSI and Westwoods were different. SSI asked another company (DreamForge) to produce EoB 3, which later evolved into “Dungeon Hack”, then into “Ravenloft”, “Menzoberranzan” and “Ravenloft 2”. Westwood used a simpler role-playing system which made a game more attractive for novices. AD&D system used in all EoB games and other DreamForge games is more serious, but is very hard to get without reading thick manual.

Main improvement of LoL over EoB is a navigation system: it is still first-person-view, but movements and turns are animated. During course of game player is also given a compass and automap, making travelling in game very easy. Second improvement is puzzle-solving: now it is as important as fighting. I can even say that whole game is puzzle-driven. Third improvement is story: it is reach and dynamic, with lots of quests. This game has shops, so many weak items could be converted in single powerful item. Also very radical move is abandoning of “character classes”, such as traditional fighter/mage/thief/cleric. Now every character can fight with any weapon and cast spells, only proficiency in some skill makes some sort of specialization.

At the beginning you choose a character which will represent you in this world. You have four characters to choose: drakoid who is master in magic, human who is strong fighter, feline (cat-like) who is quick and agile and balanced human. Your hero is weak and poorly equipped. In the castle he is given a first quest: to get a magical Ruby of Truth. Wandering in forest outside of the castle will give you your first fights, and will also lead to several places. If you got to marina without exploring all the forest, then better get out and return later. In the forest you can get to fist cave in the game. Here you’ll encounter secret buttons and pressure plates, and as reward you’ll get lockpicks and lamp. You can sell some items to smith who leaves in castle, and buy a good weapon. When all forest is explored, you can go to marina and sail accross the sea.

Some words about character screen. Here you can control equipment and check stats. There are three of them: fighter, rogue and magic. Each has a level and an amount of experience in it. Experience is given then you deal some damage with normal weapons, ranged weapons or offensive spells respectively. So, just swinging with sword or shooting with bow will not increase your experience.

In southern part you’ll be able to get second character. Fighting here is more hard then in previous forest, so second character will be very helpfull. You’ll get to Roland’s manor and will discover that Ruby was stolen. And that’s just a beginning of story.

I will not put here description or solution, just several things of interest.

  • In this game you will need to improve your characters. If game becomes hard, then you should return and fight for experience. Then you’ll gain a level, then you can advance
  • As I already said, experience is given only for damage. “Heal” spell will not increase your magic experience.
  • Magical items, such as wands, aces, green skull will increase experience of character who uses them. So, if you have some money and want to convert them into experience, then you can buy wands and use them
  • All spells have area of effect. To increase your experience, use spells then several creatures stand on square before you. I think you can affect up to 4 creatures. Hitting 4 orcs with single freeze will be a good addition to your experience.
  • Crossbow “Valkurye” is a special item. It shoots with fireballs. Very good to hit hornets, and will increase rogue experience quite quickly
  • Rogue skill is nesessary to open locked chests and doors with lockpicks. However, level 5 is enough for all chests in game except one. If you don’t want to develop rogue experience, then you can smash chests with weapons, but in this case some items will be lost
  • One of the hardest places in game is 3rd floor of white tower. Spirits here are really bad. There are two ways to deal with them. Easy way is to use valean cube: you’ll get second cube in Yvel woods, just keep it and do not use for destroying second barrier. Another way is to use emerald swords: these weapons will do good damage to spirits and will give good fighter experience, but if you’ll get surrounded – bad to you.
  • In Yvel town, one of barred doors could be opened. Here you’ll get “Hand of Fate” spell and a key to locked door.
  • Save often. There are situations which are impossible to solve. In such case you’ll need to return to earlier position.

Now I’m going to critisize some aspects of game. Some level designs are bad: in Urbish mines, in castle. Enemies later in the game are boring. Some puzzles are not very logical.

It is very easy to cheat in this game. You can find some trainers, but I prefer to hack a savegame file. By trial-and-error method I’ve found several things you can change. To apply those modifications you need to open savegame file with hexadecimal editor and change some bytes.

  • Character levels are easy to find and change: just look for three bytes which have values of levels (offset is +100 bytes from first byte of character’s name).
  • You can replace one character with another! It works for second and third character in party. At offset of +12 bytes from first byte of character’s name there is a byte which controls character. Values are: 03 for Bacatta, 04 for Lora, 06 for Paulson, and 07 for Dawn. Surprize, it seems that Dawn was designed as playable character, but was removed before game release.
  • You can change placement of party on the map by changing two bytes located at offset +585 from start of file. Add 1 to move party to the east, subsctact 1 to move party to the west. To move party south or north you need to add/subscrtact hex value 20. If first byte is “overloaded” then add 1 to second byte.
  • List of known spells is stored in bytes starting from offset +1131. Each byte represents a row in your magic atlas. Value FF means that this row is not used. Value 0 is for spark, 1 for heal, 2 for freeze, 3 for fireball, 4 for hand of fate, 5 for mist of doom and 6 for lightning. Value 7 is for spell “Vortex”, which doesn’t work. Values 8 and 9 are for spell “Caustic fog”, which is the same thing as using green skull. It seems that those last two spells were disabled in game before release.

So, enjoy this great game!

Categories: Old games

Ravenloft 2: Stone Prophet

November 12, 2007 Leave a comment

This game is a sequel to “Ravenloft: Strahd’s possession”, and it doesn’t have any significant differences. Still, in 1996 it was a good game, so I’ve completed it then and also now to refresh my memories.

This time party is trapped in desert similar to ansient Egypt (but without a Nile) called Har’akir. Desert is big: developers were trying to create a big seamless world, and almost succeeded. A desert is surrounded by “wall of Ra”: area of very hot air which hurts party if they will try to escape. At the middle of desert there is a village of Muhar, where party can rest and store their equipment. Again, like in previous game, there are no money and shops. In the desert around a village there are numerous buildings and ruins left from the days then Har’akir as a powerfull kingdom. It was ruled by very powerfull pharaon named Ankepot who wanted to become immortal, but became crazy instead. He started a conflict with priests of Ra, and they killed him. Ankepot was turned into mummy, but he was so powerfull that even in his dreams we was sending disasters on land and priests of Ra. Finally, great priest of Ra was also turned into mummy, and Har’akir become a spiritual battlefield between pharaon and high priest, who send winds and diseases on people. As with other Ravenloft settings, land itself often lures new victims, who should work hard to find a way to escape. Local people don’t like aliens, so they will not be very helpful.

Second part is different from first part in that player can explore the land in any order he wants. However, all locations have to be explored to finish the game: a trick is called “collect all pieces of puzzle”. This trick is also used locally at many levels: collect pieces of dictionaly to be able to translate a prophecy, collect 8 tears of RA to get a key, collect serpent figures to open doors. Other levels are more linear: explore part of labyrinth and find a key which opens another part of labyrinth holding another key, and so on. Well, then I’ve said that all locations could be explored in any order I was wrong: some locations (sphynx, pharaon’s rest, royal burial hall and basement of temple of harwest) are opened with objects located in other locations. All places are labyrinths, so gameplay are almost the same as in previous game. It helps a little that labyrinths are smaller and corridors are more straight and wide, because they represent palaces and temples instead of mines and caves. Wall textures are more bright and have better resulution, with egyptian-style paintings everywhere. Improvements over previous game include: lightning in levels, windows, pits.

Main area is a one big desert. At the beginning I recommend to explore it by walking. Later party can find teleportation keys, which help to travel fast from one area to another. It is not easy to navigate being surrounded by sand, but automap can help. Desert is a good place to get initial experience: desert zombies and vultures are easy enemies. But be carefull with dust devils and manscorpions

There is a plot which guides players at the beginning through easy locations: go to blind women, then to temple of Nefertity, help injured women to get to village, explore the village to get equipment and a map, return to temple of Nefertity, then return to blind women, then go to obelisk. Obelisk is hard, so players can get easy experience in temple of harvest or in temple of Set. After Obelisk player can go anythere. I recommend to visit temple of Ra at the end, then player gets some rings of fire protection.

Switch-based puzzles do present, but are minor compared to item-based puzzles. There are many clues, so puzzle solving should not be complex. Sometimes you can get into a room which you are unable to exit because you don’t have a nesessary item. In this case, use teleportation key to get out.

This game was also a CD-rip, so I’ve missed most of video cutscenes. So, I don’t know that is hidden in bottle of thoughts, and what players learn in world of dead. However, this seems not very important, since I was able to complete the game.

A conclusion: game is better then it’s predessor: graphics is more beautifull, style is very good, plot is also better. However, it is still hack-n-slash RPG with maze-navigation. Recommended for fans of previous game

Some strategy hints:

  • Oinments help to cure poison and desease. Always have some of them!
  • Snakes usually attack in numbers. Use “burning hands”, “scorcher”, “ice storm” or other area-damage spells
  • Fire elementals are back, this time even more dangerous. They could be defeated with “cone of cold”, “ice storm”, “lightning”, “magic missile”
  • Party formation has changed: two members to the center are in front, two members who are to the edges are back
Categories: Old games

Ravenloft: Strahd’s possession

November 9, 2007 Leave a comment

“Ravenloft” is a not-so-bad role-playing game I first completed in 1996 then again completed in 2007 to refresh my memories. By current standards it is not very good, and I whould not recommend playing it now.

Game was originally developed in 1994 and has strong similarities to “Eye of beholder”. It uses special VGA mode with doubled vertical resolution, so graphics is less blocky then of other games of that age. Graphics is a main appealling point of game: faces have striking style, inventory and some wall textures are drawn very beautifully. At the time that game was quite an advancement technically: first-point party-based RPG with smooth rotation, wide field of view and high resolution.

This game is placed in most-known scenario of Ravenloft setting: Barovia. It is ruled by count Strahd, who became vampire to be forever young and win the love of woman named Tatyana. However, she preferred Stahd’s younger brother, so Strahd has killed him. Then woman commited suicide by falling from castle walls. Because of Stahd’s bad deeds Barovia was taken from real world and turned into separate realm, with borders guarded by poisonous mists. Strahd has biggest power in his domain, but he wants to escape. Sometimes, by power of wizardry, people are able to get into Barovia or get out, but such cases are rare.

Game starts far away from Barovia, with party sent by Lord Dhelt to retrieve stolen amulet. Party succesfully defeats the thief and discover amulet along with some strange magical items. There is also a note which reveals that thief stole amulet because he thinks that it is an artifact which is able to defeat somebody called “Strahd”. Then mist comes and transfers party to some strange place, with all artifacts lost. It is unclear who are characters hidden by mists.

Party starts explorations inside dangerous forest. There are remains of house with cellar where party can safely rest. Forest is inhabited with goblins and worgs (big wolves). Here party can also pick up first NPC. Later party moves to big road, meets some brigands and finally comes to village of Barovia. Everything is dangerous and dark, there are very few helpful people, brigands roam village at night. This game doesn’t have any consept of “money”, there are no shops, so party should just keep only best items and throw away all ordinary weapons and armour. By talking with some NPC and reading some books/scripts party learns that evil lurk the land and it’s name is “Strahd”.

At village party should be carefull, because game contains a problem: if party is posessed with ghost of jeweller too early, then it will be impossible to complete the game. Village of Barovia is a good place to explore, just be carefull and save often.

Main friendly spot of village is a tavern. Party can safely rest there and get some information. There is also a house of burgomaster, who informs them that “Strahd” is a count who rules the land, and he wants to meet with party. By accepting the invitation party goes to castle, and surprizingly sees quite pleasant and peacefull man. He informs them that there is no simple exit from Barovia, and he himself is searching for teleport out. He provides party with location of one teleport and a key. Party goes to some caves, and there they meet cleric and fighter who must join. Caves are dull and boring labyrinth, where player must fight numerous skeletons and locate keys. Some areas are hidden behind false walls, there are also hard-to-find switches. Enemies are easily defeated using cleric’s spell “turn undead”. Finally party locates teleport, but it is a fake, and both fighter and cleric will leave the party. I’ve played a CD-ripped version, so I’ve missed some of game’s video sequences, and plot is not very clear for me.

Accepting an invitaton and exploring caves is a good idea, because skeletons are weak enemies good to increase party’s experience. Other areas are better to explore after that, then party becomes stronger.

After failure at caves party can use a key to church which they find in caves to continue their search for way out. Church is destroyed, but it is possible to rescue some priests, who tell that Strahd is evil. After exploring all possible areas, getting all possible experience and best weapons, party is left nothing then try to enter castle Ravenloft. At this point it is clear that Strahd is evil, and rules his land with iron fist. There are also traces of many mages who give clues on their attempts to destroy him or various ways to escape Barovia. It seems that thief was collecting amulets which were beleived to be a weapons against Strahd. Defeating of Strahd becomes party’s main quest.

At castle party is attacked by Strahd’s servants. This is a good place to explore. Bone golems seem hard, but they are easy victims to “turn undead” spell. At the top of one of castle’s towers party frees a wereraven, who in return helps them to meet with Barovia’s underground who fight against Strahd. They tell to party a secret of powerfull amulet called “symbol of ravenkind”. Theif was thinking that Lord Dhelt’s amulet was this symbol of ravenkind.

To get amulet party needs coins which could be used to by potion which allows to go past mists. After heavy fighting party gets an amulet, and now they can go and face Strahd directly. Then Strahd is defeated party can pick up Lord Dhelt’s amulet. It is not clear how Strahd got it. By coinsidence, amulet is a required item for returning home by using “trimia’s catalogue”.

Game has good atmosphere, dark and fearfull, with lots of undead enemies. There are not many cool weapons, but there is some cool armour. Gameplay is rather repetitive: most levels are mazes, which party has to fully explore in order to advance. Exploration often means looking for hidden buttons. Mazes are hard to navigate because they age big, and walls are dull. There are very few non-linearity, very few side-quests, very few gameplay except maze navigation and monster fighting. Plot is also not very rich. So, it was probably a good game for it’s time, but definetely not for now. It a hack-n-slash game in the same way as “Eye of Beholder”, with very little place for strategy and adventure.

Some strategy hints:

  • As I already mentioned, use cleric’s spell “turn undead” often. It’s very powerfull!
  • Some enemies reduce character’s levels. Be carefull, fight from distance, and save often
  • Projectile weapons can help. There are some magical arrows, sling and throwing knife
  • Fire monsters (elementals, dogs) are best defeated with non-fire magic, such as lighting or magic arrow
  • Use map. Mark locations of teleporters, it will help
  • I don’t know how to use “Rod of smiting”
  • Some races and classes have ability to detect secret walls
  • Use “detect magic”, then “impoved identity” to find out magical items
  • Party has up to four members, moving in square formation: two left characters in front, two right characters behind. Enemies who stand in front of you will attack only two first characters. At open areas all party members can hit. In houses/caves two rear (right) characters can hit only with spells or long-ranged weapons (spears, halberds, quarterstaves, two-handed swords, bows, slings), so they don’t need to carry shields. You can move characters to put well-defended close-range fighters in front, and magic-users to the back.
  • Some areas have “rotators”: your party instantly starts to face in opposite direction. Be carefull, in some mazes walls are so dull that it is hard to notice that your party was rotated

Hints for running this game:

  • This game works quite well under DosBox
  • I’ve played ripped version of game. It has some video sequences missing. Sometimes I even had error messages like “file not found”. These messages are caused by those missing video files. You can cheat by making a copy of existing video file under different name. Video files are named “cinexx.anm”. You can use this trick to see all available video sequences: just get to a place in game where some video should be shown, and then keep replacing original video file with other different videos
  • There are several patches for a game. Applying those patches restores copy-protection by asking words from manual. Cheating against this system is easy: all answers are located together with questions in file “code.2”
Categories: Old games

Sonic vs Donkey Kong

November 9, 2007 Leave a comment

In this article I’ll compare my opinions about two very well-known 2D platform games for 16-bit consoles: “Sonic the hedgehog” and “Donkey Kong country”. Those games were released on different consoles (“Sonic” on Sega Genesis, “Donkey Kong” on SNES), but I don’t think that’s important, because both consoles have more-or-less comparable characteristics, so each game could be ported on another console. The reason why that has not happened is simple: Sega and Nintendo, producers of consoles, were making more money from consoles than from games, so they wanted those games to be exclusive to add more value to their consoles then to make profit from selling game ported to rival console. So, rivalry between consoles become rivalry between games. “Sonic” was developed by Sega itself, “Donkey Kong country” was developed by Rare, long-time partner of Nintendo. Both “Sonic” and “Donkey Kong” become “killer games”: games what made console worth buying. Producers of those games tried to make their best to produce true hit. The effect, in my opinion, was not an advantage of one console over another, but advantage of 16-bit consoles in general compared with 8-bit consoles.

Just to show that both consoles are quite equal in their technical capabilities, consider third-party games such as “Mortal Kombat”, “Flashback” or “Lost vikings” which were released on both consoles, and look almost the same.

Rivalry between consoles had one important reason: kids were allowed money to get only one console, so they should choose carefully. Fortunatelly, now we have emulators, and we can enjoy all good games which existed on both consoles. At 90ths I didn’t own neither Sega Genesis nor SNES, so I’m writing my impressions of playing those games in modern times.

So, let’s compare “Sonic” and “Donkey Kong country”. I’ll start with similarities. Both games are typical 2D platformers: main part of gameplay is walking and jumping in attempt to reach end of level and collect as much bonuses as possible. Typical obstacles are touch-to-die enemies (usually patrolling some area), walls and pits. Both games are similar in that they are “peaceful” games: playing characters don’t carry guns, they defeat enemies by jumping or rolling on them, or just avoid them. Sonic is even more peacefull because all enemies are robots, and defeating them is an act of good because it saves small animal imprisoned inside.

“Sonic” has cartoonish colourfull, bright and sharp graphics with animated backdrops. Graphics of “Donkey Kong country” is smoother and more volumetric, without animation in backdrops. Both games start in bright forest area to impress players from beginning, later stages are more ambient. In my opinion, “Sonic” tries to impress player with amount of colour and animation on screen, while “Donkey Kong country” – with pre-rendered graphics itself, which is more beautiful and stylish in my opinion.

Main difference is the essence of gameplay. Sonic has big levels and emphasizes speed. Levels are non-linear, so players can spend their time exploring them to get more bonuses. If player doesn’t want to collect all bonuses, he can, in most cases, quickly run through level, crashing through enemies and flying over dangerous areas. Sometimes speed is a key to reach some difficult-to-access areas, which hold more bonuses. Really challenging task is to hold overall layout of level in the head, because levels are big and complex. Trampolines can send you jumping really high. But actions of player are very limited: there are only direction buttons and single button for jumping. Levels are grouped by thee sharing the same gamepay and appearance.

Gameplay in “Donkey Kong countrly” is more carefull and “strategic”, and less-dependant on reflexes: levels are more enemy-packed, sometimes player needs to bounce of enemy to reach bonus or safe passage. There are two characters with slightly different abilities, and player can choose one which is more suitable for task. Many helpfull things are hidden, but there are lot of clues, so exploration is very rewarding. There are heplfull things like barrels which work slightly similar to weapons. Variations also include: swinging on ropes, jumping of fixed or rollable tires, swimming, shooting from barrels, moving inside mine-cart, climbing on ropes, riding on animal helpers, and more.

Both games try to increase replayability by usage of bonuses, secret rooms, secret shortcuts, mini-games. Approach taken by “Donkey Kong contry” is best: they have complex and connected world, and player can return to areas he already completed to get additional “lives” by collecting bonuses, so bonus-hunting, not important at the beginning then player just wants to advance further, becomes important later. Number of secrets in “Donkey Kong country” is much bigger than in “Sonic”.

So, my conclusion is: while Sonic looks impressive with brite and sharp graphics, amount of animation, level size and gamestyle consisting of quick running and far jumping, after some time it is felt as more repetitive, more stupid, more dull, more empty and more childish for me. “Donkey Kong country” tries to add essence by making gameplay more strategic, environment more stylish, smooth, volumetric and breathing, story more humorous. However, both games are great, and represent state-of-art in 2D “hop-and-bop” style platformers, and stull fun to play nowdays. Highly recommended!

PS: if you like really in-depth analisys of platform games, read this article

Categories: Old games

Top platformers of me

October 31, 2007 Leave a comment

Top platform games of my choice:

1. Donkey Kong country (SNES)
2. Flashback (PC version is better then SNES version)
3. Prehistoric 2 (PC)
4. Soldier of Fortune (ZX Spectrum)
5. Pandemonium (PC)
6. The lost vikings (PC)

Games which I know about but will not put here:

Sonic the hedgehog (SEGA Genesis), Prince of Persia (PC), Blackthorne (PC), Oscar (PC), all Mario games (NES, SNES)

Categories: Old games