Posts tagged ‘gaming’

12/07/2012

When Games Came on Cassette.

While writing Tuesdays post on the joys of being an old-school gamer I remembered what should probably have made number one on that list. But instead I decided to write about it on it’s own, so it would not have to share the limelight with its lesser brothers.

You see there was a time my younger readers, and those of you who pushed the Q-Tip just a little to far inside thus wiping the memory from your brain, when music came on these long strips of magnetic tape. Those strips were encased in plastic, and revelled in the title “Cassette”. Well, the thing is that computer games came on them too, and didn’t we just love to hate them. Let me set the scene…

It’s 8pm on a cold, dark, wet Winters Friday night. School is over for the week, your homework is done sort of anyway, and it’s time to play. You’re hopped up on sour cola bottles, and really bad cheap cola, so sitting still is now a thing of the distant past, and your favourite game is in your computers tape deck. Can you hear it screeching, and wailing? Can you hear those weird clicks? Yes, the ones that bring to mind the words, Eldritch Horror.

Finally the sounds stop, and you wait for the load screen to clear. Your mouth is dry, will the Gaming Gods deny you this day? Or will you be transported to a gaming Nirvana where different coloured blocks fire different coloured blocks at other different coloured blocks…

FUCK! It mis-loaded, ten minutes of precious gaming time wasted. Turn the tape over, or if your game saves (assuming the game did in fact have saves) rewind it, and try again.

That’s what it was like once upon a time. You’d sit for ten minutes in absolute silence, trying to twitch as little as possible, despite what the E-numbers in your sweets were doing to your nervous system. This, so as not to anger the Gaming Gods, in the hope that they would actually let the damned thing load. And everyone I knew had their own ritual of appeasement for those cruel Gods, sitting silently wasn’t enough. Oh no, you had to turn clockwise three times, while chanting the lyrics to a specific Queen song backwards, and make sure to sacrifice a virgin as you pressed the play button on the player.

Then you didn’t move, you didn’t speak, if you coughed you winced, if you farted you knew, just knew that load attempt had been destroyed. Worse still if your mom came thundering into the room you may as well just burn the cassette, and buy a new untainted one.

But worse still was loading up a game for the very first time, you had no idea if you were about to play another Jet Set Willy, or another Impossible Mission (yes I’m reviewing that particular game soon, pray to Athena for me, that my suffering is short). Youngsters today think they know what a bad game is, just because it ends if you get hit by twenty bullets. Oh no youngster, a bad game was a game where you lost if you got hit by ONE bullet, ONCE! No saves, no extra lives, no continues. And what’s more that one bullet hit you in the first ten seconds on the first screen.

I know fear, I once played Impossible Mission. (Image via AtariAge.com)

Of course you probably only got to play those ten lousy seconds of lousy game experience after you had to run the entire cassette through the player TEN GODDESS DAMNED TIMES!

Yes the Gaming Gods were truly cruel. And in no way what-so-ever, just.

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19/05/2011

The Joy of Minecraft – Part 2 – Multiplayer

In mid-March I wrote a review of the singleplayer version of Minecraft.  Back then I promised to write-up a little more, when I had experienced the multiplayer version of the game.  Well I have and I am still highly impressed.

To quickly recap, Minecraft is exactly what the name implies.  You mine materials, everything from sand to diamonds, and then you craft items and build objects from them.  The only limitations being, your own imagination and the fact that like with Lego, you can only work in diagonals if you don’t mind a very jagged edge.

So about playing on a multiplayer server.  Well the game is the same.  Mine and craft to your heart’s content.  But in multiplayer, you have obviously enough have other players in the world with you.  This can seriously improve, or wreck your experience.  Improve by having someone to help with that huge project you’ve been putting on in singleplayer, or wrecking your experience by them laying large quantities of TNT around that same project and blowing it sky-high.  Help or grief, these two words best sum up the multiplayer version of the game.

Luckily the server I play on, which belongs to an old Wow-head friend of mine, is noticeably lacking in griefers.  Though it is filled to near overflowing with creepers, zombies, skeleton archers and spiders.  All of  whom seem to take a perverse pleasure in jumping on you at the worst possible moment.

So the question now is do I still recommend Minecraft as a game?

Oh Goddesses yes.  This game is still described as digital crack cocaine and the option to play with other humans only adds to that experience.  So much so, that after a mere half hour session, I often find myself plotting out the next ten hours of play, while cleaning up the apartment, showering, walking the dog, trying unsuccessfully to sleep.  You know all the unimportant things that aren’t Minecraft.

10/03/2011

The Joy of Minecraft

For my recent birthday my lil sister decided to give me a copy of this game.  Now after two days of playing it I can’t decide whether to curse her for the gift or to give her a huge hug accompanied by a very large glass of something that tastes deceptively nonalcoholic.  The reason you see is that Minecraft has turned out to be the gaming equivalent of crack cocaine.

So what is Minecraft?  Well the best description I can give of it is this.  Minecraft is digital LEGO with added cows, chickens, pigs and monsters.  In the single player mode you play what seems to be the sole inhabitant of your own world.  All around you are hills and plains which are made up of hundreds of individual blocks of resources.  You can interact with most of these blocks and it’s up to you to create the world you want from them.

Playing Minecraft is a little odd at first.  You start with literally nothing but the clothes on your back.  No tools or anything else useful.  The daylight is running out and soon monsters will stalk the land.  The monsters are held back by light and solid walls.  So in your first moments of play you find yourself in a race for survival.  Speaking for myself I died eight times before I finally worked out how to make the most basic pickaxe and torches.  It took another three deaths before I figured out that I needed strong walls and a roof over my head to be truly safe at night.

The survival aspect of Minecraft is genuinely challenging and not just at the beginning.  Even later as you plunge deep into the earth to mine for iron, coal or even diamonds, you will suddenly dig through the roof of a pit and plunge to your death.  If you’re lucky.  If you’re unlucky you’ll survive, now you have to find a way back out of the dark.  And whether it’s day or night on the surface, the dark below is never your friend.  It crawls with spiders, zombies and some weird creature that explodes when you get too close.

The good news is that you can apparently make armor and weapons.  Though right now I have to admit that I have yet to discover how.

The most enjoyable and satisfying part of Minecraft though is building.  There is very little as satisfying as deciding what you want to build and then spending hours not just personally building it, but actually making your own tools and gathering all the resources to build it as well. It really does remind me of playing with LEGO when I was a child.  Though this LEGO set is essentially infinitely large and has very few limitations.  My first building was a tower that literally finished when my characters head touched the clouds.  Around it lies a moat, with a pit beyond that for trapping animals.  Beneath the tower is a huge complex of mines and tunnels.  Basically I did the simplest construction imaginable in Minecraft as a learning exercise, but I came away with a huge sense of accomplishment.

There is a multiplayer option but I have to admit I haven’t yet taken part in it.  Simply because I want to learn how to play well before I join others.  But having chatted with people who do play on the multiplayer servers I can tentatively report that they are fun and well worth a look.  When I take part in the servers myself, I will write-up something extra about them.

Minecraft is still in Beta testing, so there will end up being extra features, such as an end game added at some point.  This also means that some features won’t necessarily work when you download the client.

As a game Minecraft  seems to have been made with the intention of  giving adults the sort of freedom to create that LEGO and plasticine gives to children.  But without the mess or the screams released when you step on a random piece, barefoot in the armpit of a dark night.

If you need evidence that Minecraft has become a force for creativity just Google “minecraft” someday and look through the images that come up.  A quick search last night ended with me looking at everything from huge models of the Battlestar Galactica to a truly incredible model of all three pyramids in Giza.

It should also appeal to players of all ages.  My partners granddaughter aged 4 is already addicted to walking around the world’s Minecraft creates.  She’s also addicted to punching the chickens and picking the flowers scattered on the hillsides.

All that said what are my conclusions?  Minecraft has in the last few days consumed all of my gaming time.  I haven’t even loaded any of my other games, because by the time I think of them I’ve run out of time.  It is addictive in the same way that cigarettes, chocolate and NCIS are addictive.  Play this game and you will lose entire evenings.  But you’ll find yourself more than happy to have lost those hours and with a little luck and a lot of work you might even have built something you can be proud of.  For me, my next project is to build a model of the Space Battleship Yamato.  Just for giggles.

29/01/2011

The Good Ole Games – Manic Miner + Jet Set Willy

I love old computer games.  So much so that I often spend hours playing java conversions of truly great old games.  And I thought why not share my love of these paragons of pixellation with my loyal readers, so expect more in the future…

Typical screen from the Commodore port of Manic Miner,

Back in 1983 and then later in 1984 the ZX Spectrum would give rise to two of my favorite early home computer games, Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy. These days both of these games would almost certainly be ignored by even the most dedicated player of flash games but back then they were a real eye opener to just how addictive a good computer game could be.

In addition to what were for the time wonderful graphics, both games boasted sparkling game-play. The controls were simple and responded very crisply which was quite rare for early computer games.  The graphics were of course basic 8 bit type shapes but for all that I remember how much I loved the way the programmers had used a weird mix of bright primary and muted pastel colours in both games.

As for playing the games?  Well in both cases it was all about getting  the items scattered in a given screen.  While also avoiding a truly insane number of deadly objects and creatures.  That was the whole game.  It really was that simple.  Collect everything and somehow avoid being eaten, stomped on, falling to your doom or in some other way being horribly splattered all over everything.

Manic Miner is I’m sure to no-ones surprise set in a mine.  Unfortunately air being in short supply down there you’re in a race against time before black lung or some other horrid mining affliction asphyxiates the hero Willy. And believe me this happens a lot before you would ever manage to beat this game.  So often in fact that at times the thought of finding a mining pick in reality and excavating your own brains into a pudding bowl seems to be a wonderful alternative to playing any longer.

The very first screen of Jet Set Willy, dont be fooled pain lies ahead.

Jet Set Willy on the other hand was set after his retirement from mining in his new mansion.  He’s had a huge party and the guests have left an unholy mess.  So his housekeeper, I shit you not, his actual housekeeper sends him out to clean up when all poor ole Willy wants to do is settle into bed for the night.  So instead of snoring his little hung over, pixellated head off he’s running around his deathtrap of a mansion cleaning up after his ungrateful friends.

Neither of these sound anything like rich, well written adventures and they’re not.  But do you know what?  The story was just enough.  I spent weeks playing both of these games simply because they were just so amazingly playable.  The story really meant nothing at all, it was just a really crappy little hook to get you playing and oh goddesses did you play.

But playability and lack of story aside one of the best reasons to play both Manic Miner (in later ports) and Jet Set Willy was that they both had reasonably good soundtrack’s.  Actually scratch that, for the time the soundtracks were amazing.  In an era when most games had the sort of sound that made the idea of pouring molten lead into your ears a welcome prospect here was a pair of games that had actually recognisable music playing in the background.  The start screen of Manic Miner had “Blue Danube” in the background and the play music was “In the Hall of the Mountain King”and Jet Set Willy included two easily recognised musical pieces also though I prefer Manic Miner in this.  This was a first as up until the Miner Willy games no-one believed a processor could run a game and play music at the same time.  Of course in th earlier ports it was stuttery and sounded much like an early Nokia ringtone.  But it was music damn it and wow did it make you sit up and take notice back then.  I would have to suggest to hear these games at their best though you play the Commodore 64 or Amstrad conversions.

Now for all that these were fun games they weren’t without their problems.  Manic Miner came from an era when games came on cassette tape and you can imagine the problems with that.  Jet Set Willy had those problems and a set of bugs that for the first unpatched version made the game unwinnable. These were eventually fixed though and what remained was a pair of true classics.  And guess what?  You can still download in browser versions of them both and play them on Windows in all their retro glory.

Now the admissions.  I don’t particularly like the Speccy versions of these games.  Despite the game play being identical to older ports the games are simply not as polished.  The later Commodore and Amstrad ports were a little smoother graphically and the musical accompaniment was far easier to listen to for hour after hour.  Also they will have aged really badly in the eyes of most players.  But remember these games are 26 and 27 years old.  Show me anything electronic that old that’s managed to age well.  Well?

But they’re still fun games to play.  So if you want something with a bit of humour in them that you can play on just about anything regardless of system power, try them.

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