Posted by: seanmalstrom | November 4, 2013

Going through GOG archives of PC Gaming Part 2

Hello Malstrom
 
A year ago I wrote you an email with my impressions of various old games from GoG which were new to me. Since you liked it, I decided to write a follow up with games I played since then. The original email is here:
 
Blood:
After I really enjoyed Duke Nukem 3D I decided to give the other Build Engine games a try. Even though Duke and Blood are using the same engine they feel quite different, for example at first you get the flare gun and you think it’s like your standard pistol. Then you fire a shot and you realize it’s unlike any other weapon in a shooter: it just sticks to an enemy, but after a while it ignites and set the enemy completely on fire, basically killing it in one shot. It just shows how much there can be done with the FPS genre. You also die much faster than in Duke, in Duke you can rush in guns blazing, but Blood require a more careful approach where you ambush enemies, lay a few precise heavy hits and get out of their way. Or maybe that’s just me, I don’t know, I don’t have much experience in FPS to judge.
I really love the setting. Each Build Engine game is parodying a different movie genre: Duke does the 80s/90s action hero movie (which the creators of Duke Nukem Forever completely missed), Shadow Warrior the Hong Kong martial arts flicks and Blood parodies horror movies. There is just something very… nice about all the gory over the top horror stuff. Maybe the pixelated DOS graphics are doing their nostalgia magic (even though I didn’t play any of these games back then), but it all looks kind of campy and silly, not like it’s trying to be disgusting. Reminds me of Army of Darkness, which was more of a comedy than a horror movie. I also love how the end of each level always mirrors the start of the next one, pretty cool. Speaking of levels, the variety in the first episode alone is astonishing: you start at a cemetery, then you make your way to a railroad station, then onto a train, you crash the train into a carnival, find a secret cave, which leads to the cult’s temple. And this is just the first episode!
What keeps the game down is the fact that I can only play it in DOSBox. It’s still well playable especially using bMouse to make mouse aiming more responsive, and the framerate is above 60FPS, but after seeing what the eDuke team did for Duke3D it’s kind of hard to get back to DOSBox. That’s why I quit somewhere during early episode 2. I will definitely get back to it when I feel like it again, but man, a good source port would make this game so awesome. There was an effort by Jason Hall to make the source code public and write a modern port, but during the negotiations Atari went out of business and the thing was dropped.
 
Shadow Warrior:
This game tends to get buried between Duke 3D and Blood, and in a way I feel similar about it. I don’t know why, but i simply don’t feel the same desire to play it as with Duke or Blood, and I think it might be at least in part due to the boring colour palette: everything is just grown and grey, while Duke and even Blood were much more vibrant and interesting. That said, when I sit own to play it I love it, it has everything that made the other two fun, but still keeps it’s own identity and feel, rather than being just a skinpack for Duke. It’s just that I don’t find myself playing it as often as Duke or Blood. Like Blood I can only play in DOSBox, there are two source ports, but they are Windows only and even then they are supposedly not very well developed. There is a new Shadow Warrior, but it only shares the name with the classic, it’s more akin to Painkiller with a Chinese setting. Speaking of which…
 
Painkiller:
Some people call Painkiller an old-school shooter. These people are wrong. Throwing wave after wave of countless enemies is not old-school, it’s a shooting gallery that never stops. One might describe the real old-school shooters, such as Doom or Duke 3D, as games where you shoot stuff; see something that moves, shoot it until it dies. However, shooting stuff was only half the experience, the other half was an adventure, a struggle for survival and resources, an exercise in finding your own way through a hostile area overrun by enemies, you against the world. Levels were full of secrets, shortcuts or alternative passages, enemies were roaming the map and waiting behind corners or secret walls to ambush you and resources were scarce to the point that if only relied on what was in plain sight you would have a very hard time.
All this created the illusion of an actual place, something that could really be. You could approach the game in many different ways, you could peek around the corner and fire quickly aimed shotgun burst before getting back into cover, you could rush in and spray your machine gun or you could throw in some dynamite and let the explosion do the rest. It was not just a shooting experience, it was also a role-playing experience (as in playing a role, not that exp. BS every game pulls these days). Of course it was all just an illusion, enemies were not really roaming the levels in search for you, resources were still planned out so the level can be beaten and the levels still had a certain order through which you have to approach them, but the point is that the designers of these old-school shooters were able to conceive this illusion and make the game more than just the sum of their parts.
This is the main problem with Painkiller, it lacks any form of adventure. Levels have no connection whatsoever, they are just various horror themed sceneries in an arbitrary order; I mean why is the level after the opera house an asylum, what kind of connection is there? The levels themselves consist of corridors and bubbles: you walk through the empty corridor and all you will find is some randomly scattered cash, until you enter a bubble, then all doors will magically be locked and you have to fight waves of the same two or three types of monsters. Where do all these monsters come from, why did they all concentrate around this one spot and what were they doing, were they just sitting there waiting the entire time for me to come by? There is no level design going on here, the level is just some fancy wallpaper and it might as well be the same level layout every time. This is not an adventure, it’s a shooting gallery with a spooky house theme.
With that said, if all you want is a straight up shooter where you just kill things, then you will like Painkiller. It’s not a bad game for what it *is*, but it’s a bad game for what it *claims* to be. I have two other minor gripes, one is the completely worthless flashlight you will need in the darker levels and the other is the over reliance on Quake exploits like bunnyhopping. Let me elaborate, when Quake was released the vector math was not quite perfect and the game allowed for exploits when doing crazy moves, which became later known as strafejumping and bunnyhopping. The hardcore elitists claimed that those exploits were part of the game and needed to prove real skill, so they demand for these exploits to be put into FPS games. The default walking speed in Painkiller is horrible, so you have to jump around all the time like an idiot and constantly listen to the “hugh” sound of the main character. This is just stupid, simply give me the proper speed and make the challenge in shooting stuff, not in muscle memorizing ancient Quake exploits.
 
Doom:
I know this game is not available on GoG, but when will I ever get around to talking about this one? Doom is awesome, I beat the whole game, except or the fourth episode, which was just a bonus added later. I saw videos from Wolfenstein 3D and it looks meh, I’m sure it was very influential, but this is where it started getting good. The enemies are cool, the weapons have lots of punch and feel just right, the levels are amazing and the music rocks (literally). It’s somewhat weird that you can’t jump and I know there are ports that add jumping, but this is how the game was designed, so I play without jumping. I don’t know what else to say, except just that’s it’s tons of fun. I know that later shooters added much more to the genre, but Doom hits a certain sweet spot where it’s simple enough to pop in at any time, but still competent enough to not get quickly boring. It’s like the Super Mario Bros. of FPS. It simply does everything right.
Since the source code for Doom has been released to the public there are many different source ports. I use the Doomsday Engine, I like its professional appearance and interface, the fact that it supports the other Doom engine games like Heretic or Hexen as well and the built-in auto update (automatic updates without the sacred blessing of Lord Gabe Saint Newell, how is this possible? Blasphemy!). I turned off most of the modern enhancements, they just look out of place with the rest of the game’s feel, but I did keep widescreen, mouse aiming and higher resolution. Another noteworthy port is Chocolate Doom, because it tries to stay as close to the original game. Sadly id now belongs to ZeniMax, who are in bed with Valve, so the only way to buy it is from Steam. However, even if I wanted to buy it from Steam I can’t because it is still banned in Germany, so I have to either use a proxy, violating the terms of use and risking the shutdown of my account or pirate it. Guess which option I chose. Yeah, I know it can be bought from id’s website as well, but they charge 20$ and I don’t think they keep your download up indefinitely. I also downloaded the other Doom engine games, which I can’t buy either, but I haven’t played much of them yet. I can already say that I like the idea of Heretic, it’s a fantasy game that is not an RPG or strategy game.
 
Thief 2: The Metal Age
I really hate stealth segments in games, mainly because they are not about stealth but about pattern memorization. You sit there, wait to figure out the pattern and then you execute the proper route. If you get caught you start all over again. Fuck that. Zelda games since Ocarina of Time have had this BS, in fact I quit OoT in the Gerudo fortress because I couldn’t be arsed to suffer through an awful stealth game.
I bring this up, because Thief does everything right. I always loved the idea of a stealth game, I just hated the half-assed execution. In Thief if you get caught you can still salvage the situation, you can run, you can fight or you can use dirty tricks. You can knock out or backstab enemies to get them out of the way or you can distract them. Every level has many possibilities to play through, sometimes I look up a walkthrough and I’m like “wait, what, I did it completely differently”, and it is still a valid approach. Looking Glass Studios really nailed down what it means to be a thief. Garret is not a ninja, wizard or assassin, he sucks at fighting and he doesn’t have spells. His strength lies in being able to sneak and a handy set of tools like arrows, ropes and lockpicks. Garret doesn’t kill people simply because that’s not what thieves do, he just wants to steal things. I love how there is no real way of doing things the wrong way, as long as you can make it out alive you win.
What i didn’t like is the world. Some people love it, but to me it just feels like a random hodgepodge of stuff. For example, the three main religions are the Pagans, who worship a god called the trickster, and why on earth would you worship someone called the Trickster, and they refuse any form of technology, except agriculture, house building, clothes, tools… yeah, any technology unless it’s inconvenient. Then there are the Hammerites who believe that building stuff is good. I guess I can kind of associate with that, but that’s like making a religion out of eating food. And finally there are the Mechanists who build robots preaching how flesh is sinful and must be purged. Who on earth would join such a religion!? The mechanists should be publicly staked, quartered and burned (in that order), not become the most influential religion in the city. I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel right, I mean here I am, an ordinary human who’s just a thief and on the other hand we have gods, spirits and robots. I think for such a game a setting more routed in reality or with a focus on technology instead of magic, perhaps even in the real world, would work better. All in all, the world of Thief is just forgettable to me and the factions make zero sense.
The atmosphere is fantastic. Even though the graphics have aged a lot the lighting and the sounds just manage the immerse me completely. There is nothing more scary than being in a silent hallway and all of the sudden hearing a robot approaching. I did’t know that robots were blind until they hear you, so they were even more scare to me than they should be. I still haven’t beaten the last level because they freak me out. Humans i can get behind, but robots? No way!
The only other thing I would “criticize” is how exhausting the game can be. There is always tension because you have to avoid being seen. A shooter is simple, kill all the enemies and the area is clear, but here you can’t just clear the area, and even when you knock out or kill an enemy you have to hide the body, clean away the blood and turn off the lights. Of course this comes as a natural part of being a stealth game, and I would’n want it any other way, but you must really be in the right mood for Thief to play.
Fun sidenote, I bought the game a long time ago, but the Dark Engine is notorious for being broken. GoG actually fixed the game quite well on Windows, but it was unplayable in Wine (on OS X), no matter how hard I tried. Then, out of the blue, an unofficial patch by an anonymous group appeared that fixed pretty much every single problem and made the game run perfectly out of the box. It fixed so many things, the changelog didn’t look like a changelog, but like a whishlist. This NewDark patch is now included by default with the GoG versions of Thief 1 & 2 and System Shock 2. The patch is based on the leaked source code for System Shock 2 and no group can officially claim authorship, so “le corbeau” remains a mystery, just like Garret.
 
There is a new Thief game being made and while it’s not out yet, all evidence points at them having done everything wrong they could have. The appeal of the Thief games comes from Garret being a thief, nothing more and nothing less. In the new Thief he now has “Focus Mode”, which I like to call GameFAQs mode, where he can magically see loot and the optimal route. He can now slow down time in combat and perform cinematic finisher moves. Jumping is only possible at special jump points. Of course it goes without saying that you now have experience point, which is total BS. Experience points are there to convey the feeling of growth where your character starts out as someone who can barely hold a sword without hurting himself to a complete badass, but Garret is already a master thief, he is already one of the best. Even the reason why he doesn’t kill people can’t simply be because he’s a thief, not an assassin, instead it is tied to a tragic love story. Lockpicking is now a stupid minigame instead of just holding the mouse button and Garret went totally emo with black eyeliner. All this could have been avoided if the designers sat down and started thinking what a “thief” actually is, what a thief does and what a thief does not do. Instead they just looked at what all the other cool video games were doing. Why does garret have GameFAQs vision? Because Batman has GameFAQs vision. Why does Garret perform cinematic finisher moves in slow motion? Because Assassin’s Creed does it. I could go on like this forever. If I were to make a thief game I would try to learn about thieves in real life, how they work and how they avoid being caught, read police reports, read books, try to break in somewhere (legally of course), anything instead of copying things from other video games. Miyamoto said how video game designers should do something interesting instead of playing video games all day, and now we see the results of what happens when they do nothing but play video games. The game industry is just one large inbred abomination.
On a more optimistic not, there is a project called The Dark Mod, a fan-made spiritual sequel to the Thief games. It was made as a mod for Doom 3, but a few days ago they released a standalone version that can run on its own, check it out. i can’t play it yet because it’s Windows only, but maybe someone will eventually compile it for OS X, maybe I’ll try it myself.
 
Wing Commander 1 & 2:
First of all, these games really need a joystick. I played a perfect game of WC 1 almost to the end using a regular gamepad, so it’s not impossible, but a joystick is definitely better. Believe it or not, I don’t really have an issue with the graphics, they are fine for me, the main issue I have is with the game’s programming  When there are many enemies on the screen it slows down, making the game miss button presses and the controls more clunky. Sure, the game was balanced around it, so it never breaks the game, but it’s still annoying. I could increase the cycles count of DOSBox, but then the rest of the game would be too fast. I guess back in the day the main issue was getting the game to run at all, no one was concerned about the game running *too fast* of all things.
I like the fast-paced arcady action. This isn’t you typical flight simulator where you roam through vast endless space, it’s a game where everything dies within a few hits. The ambition of the game leaves me with an open jaw even today, the smooth cutscenes, the cool menu, talking with pilots, getting medals, the bombastic music… all this is done in such a cool way. Today when you get an achievement a box pops up out of nowhere, but in Wing Commander you receive a medal during a ceremony and all the other pilots are present. Most importantly, there is an actual in-world reason why and how you get awarded, it’s not just some box popping out of nowhere.
Wing Commander 2 builds on top of what makes WC 1 good, and improves on a lot of things. Controls are smoother, slowdowns less noticeable, the story more cinematic and everything dies faster. Unfortunately the more cinematic story does not come without its price. I do miss the nice bar menu and the simulator from WC 1, it gave the game such a warm and welcoming feel. The pilots were all like friends, where in WC 2 half the ship’s crew hates me. In WC 1 my wingmen lived or died depending on how I performed, here they die when the plot says so and there is nothing I can do about it. I don’t mind the more linear mission structure, but I do miss the warm feel of WC 1.
(I haven’t tried the mission packs and I won’t until I beat WC 2, they were meant for really good players)
 
Wing Commander 3 & 4 are… uncanny. When I see gameplay videos and screenshots I really want to play those games, but then I see the life action videos and I run. As far as I understand the Wing Commander games are supposed to be the best FMV games, and yet I just can’t shake off the feeling that this is just wrong. I can’t really put my finger on it, but there is something about it that makes me not want to play these games. Maybe knowing about the crappy FMV games of the time as left me with prejudices, but maybe this is a deeper issue. Maybe the union of games (active medium) with movies (passive medium) is simply unnatural, but being cutting edge technology overshadowed that back in the day. Or maybe I’m just thinking too much.
 
Terminal Velocity:
This game is… average. It’s actually kind of weird to describe, because there is nothing really wrong with this game, and there are games with great flaws, like Wing Commander, that I like. The difference is that those games tend to do something great, which not only makes up for the flaws, but is so great it makes the game great *despite* the flaws. Terminal Velocity on the other hand has nothing really remarkable about it. Maybe the graphics were good for the time, and they are still acceptable, but that’s really it. I was primarily looking for a simple and fun joystick game and that’s exactly what I got. I don’t regret buying it and it’s fun to pop in and just blast stuff, but you won’t miss out on anything if you skip this one.
 
Descent 1 & 2:
i talked about these games the last time, but now I got to play them with a joystick (I’m using a Logitech Extreme 3D Pro, the same one you have). I’m not sure it’s better, I am more mobile now, but less precise. I still need the keyboard because I just can’t figure out how to fit all the commands on the joystick, so i use WASD for movement with Q and E for banking and the joystick for looking, shooting and switching weapons, but that leaves all the lower keys and the throttle completely unused. How on earth did you people play this during the DOS age?
 
Divine Divinity:
I bought the three Divinity games when they had the pay-what-you-want sale going on. Divine Divinity looked like a decent Diablo clone, so sure, why not, and while I was at it I payed enough to get the other two as well. And boy, was I wrong with my judgement of DD, but in a good way. The game has only the *gameplay* of Diablo, but the *content* of a fully realized RPG. Diablo is essentially just a dungeon crawler, even the open areas are not much different from the dungeons, they just have the illusion of an overworld, which is fine for that type of game. Divinity on the other hand has a free roaming overworld, you can go anywhere, talk to NPCs, find hidden things, all that good stuff. I think it’s really cool how you can move around objects in the world by dragging them with the mouse cursor, Ultima style. The setting has this grim and dark feel, but there is still place for some nice humor, like the existential skeletons:
This is genuinely funny, not the pie-in-your-face type of forced funny, and it’s very rare. I like this sort of thing to lighten up the mood from time to time. What else do I like, let’s see… I like that there are no classes, you can build any character you want. The action combat keeps the game’s flow fast and simple, but unlike Diablo you can pause the game and then select the skill or potion you want to use, perfect for people like me who can’t use all the keyboard hotkeys blindly.
What didn’t I like? The beginning and the end, and I could understand anyone who quits before he is even allowed to leave the first village. Your first task is to clear out this underground dungeon, and it’s noting but floor after floor of skeletons. How on earth do you manage to place the most boring dungeon in the entire game right at the beginning? At this point you don’t have any cool skills yet, so it is as dumb as it gets. Once you beat it however it’s like you are playing a completely different game. The end has a similar problem, it’s one giant desert area with three or four different enemy types. In a Matt Chat interview with Swen Vincke he explained that the game was meant to be over once the player reached divinity, but the publisher demanded a large desert area, so Larian simply dumped in a large desert area at the last moment.
 
Beyond Divinity:
Beyond Divinity is getting kind of a renaissance recently as game game that’s “not as bad as everyone says”. They are right, but just because it’s not bad that doesn’t mean it’s good either. The main difference is that now you control two characters, a paladin and his total opposite, a death knight. They have been soul forged together and they are trying to return to the world of the first game to undo the curse. The game takes place in a world that has already been conquered by the demons and is overrun and dominated by evil. The atmosphere is really great and you really feel like you want to escape from this hellhole at any price, I guess they got this idea from Ultima VIII. Sadly this is where the good part ends, the game simply isn’t as fun to play. Having two characters now means you have one extra character to babysit all the time, and the combat doesn’t really require any thought, you just click on stuff and wait. I know this is what the first Divinity was like as well, but somehow there it felt better and more direct. Beyond Divinity is by no means a bad game, but it is kind of average. And let’s be honest, do I really want to play a game that was already average in 2004?
 
Divinity 2:
My PC doesn’t have the power to run this game, so I can only play it when I borrow another computer, which is not very often, that’s why I haven’t beaten it yet, so I don’t know if this game has something as boring as the desert in DD, but I have played most of the main game. It feels very much like Divine Divinity again, except in 3D this time. You are back to one character and the combat feels much better. The big twist now is that you can turn into a dragon halfway through the game and it’s quite a neat feature. The game is not open world, but the areas are really open and wide, much like Xenoblade on the Wii, so that’s fine. From time to time I start getting that Zelda feeling, I’m thinking “this is what Zelda should be like”, I can go off the beaten path and do things in my order. Sadly it doesn’t have any dungeons, and no, those tunnel caves don’t count. I don’t like many modern games, but Divinity 2 is definitely a game I do like. Now all I need is a PC with a better graphics card, but unfortunately Macs are not designed to be upgradable and there is still no solution for external graphics cards through Thunderbolt for Macs. Sigh, one day…
 
Jade Empire:
I bought this a few years ago when I was trying out Steam the first time. I left Steam since then and i don’t miss this game at all. It’s stuck somewhere between being a console game and being a PC game, yet it is neither of those. The game consists of walking, talking, more walking and talking, occasionally some awkward combat, walking and talking and an unavoidable shmup minigame. I am not kidding. It was jut boring, if it wasn’t for the combat I would have mistaken Jade Empire for an adventure game, and honestly, considering the combat system it would have been better off being an adventure game. It’s a Kung-Fu themed game made for a console, how do you fuck up the combat system like that? I would have expected fast action packed fights with deadly moves. Eventually I just quit playing it, it was boring. I did like the setting though. Usually western RPGs are all set in Lord of the Rings style fantasy worlds or medieval Europe type worlds while Japanese RPGs are all just batshit insane. It was refreshing to see an RPG in an exotic setting that actually made sense and it was cool to see far eastern mythos instead of orcs, dwarves and elves again.
 
Neverwinter Nights 1 & 2:
Divinity 2 used the 3D graphics to its advantage, adding an extra dimension to the game. Neverwinter Nights shows how not to use 3D. Basically it doesn’t add anything to the game, but you will have to re-adjust the camera all the time to see things, it’s just tedious. There will always be something in your way, even if it is the blade of someone’s sword, preventing you from clicking on your target. It slows down the game without giving anything in return. This is why I generally hate 3D in RPGs, it makes everything slower. In the end I just put my AI companions on auto pilot and turn off friendly fire so they don’t kill each other. NWN 1 has a pretty boring main campaign, everyone agrees on that, but the expansions are said to be better and there are supposedly some really good custom adventures for it. The campaign of NVW 2 is quite good actually, but the game runs poorly on my machine. If the game was more fluid I’d probably enjoy it more
 
Forgotten Realms: Demo Stone:
This game gets a lot of undeserved hate for being a brawler instead of an RPG. Linear level design? That’s a brawler for you. Enemies only drop health? That’s what enemies in brawlers do. No, this game needs to be judged for what it is, an action brawler. And it is complete shit. I know you called Torchlight shit, but Torchlight is merely OK, this is really shit. I don’t even know where to start, it’s that bad. You might play it and think at first “this is kind of neat, beat up enemies, move on, beat up more enemies” and that’s true, the real problem starts when you realize that there is not much to it. There are so many enemies, it’s not worth using any of the combos or special spells, the best thing to do is just mash the attack button. Cutscenes are unskippable and right after the checkpoints. Bosses have huge amounts of HP and take forever to die. There is more to say, but someone else has already done that for me:
The story was written by R. A. Salvatore, which I assume is supposed to be a good thing, I don’t know, I never read any D&D novels. The story is nothing special, but maybe that’s exactly where the genius lies. I’m sure an amateur writer would have made us sit through ten minutes of the half-Drow’s tragic childhood story about how she was never accepted by either culture and use it for some message about social acceptance or whatever. Instead the characters have very short and to the point dialogues, adding some nice flavour to the game. If only the actual game was better. I got it as part of a complete bundle where buying just what I wanted would have been more expensive, and I still feel ripped off.
 
Ultima Underworld and Ultima 4:
I wrote an email back when I beat them, it’s here:
 
Ultima 5:
I haven’t beaten this one yet, I’m still trying to get the remaining two shards. You were not kidding when you said that Ultima V would feel more modern, the game has f’ing cursor key support! Screw being able to talk to people across tables, cursor keys are the real deal. Anyway, aside from the improved interface and combat, the world feels better crafted. You have people with different outlooks on the world and everything feels more alive, whereas in U4 it felt more like you were checking items off a list. The day and night cycles are rally cool and the dungeons feel more refined than previously, plus rooms don’t always respawn now. What I didn’t like is the runic alphabet everywhere. I already fluently speak three languages, plus I can read French (no good at speaking it though) and I want to take a class at a fifth language. I know two real world alphabets. I also know several computer languages. Does Richard Garriot really think I want to learn useless druidic runes on top of this!? F’ that, I simply installed the mod that replaces the runic alphabet with the latin alphabet. I know it was meant to be more immersive (and also serve as off-disc copy protection), but I have better things to do.
 
Master of Magic:
Believe it or not, I got this game complete in the big box with the manual, spellbook and everything from eBay for 1€ in a great condition. It’s really weird to see the instructions what people had to do back in the day to get the game to run. I mean, WTF is a boot disk? I guess in a few years people will react the same way when I tell them about how I had to do DLL overrides in Wine and aply Wine patches to get Windows games to run on OS X, or having to compile the source code myself. And yet, the greatest challenge I have with this game is figuring out how to play it. The interface is so crammed, I have no idea what to do or what things do. The manual is not well written, it goes into a lot of detail, but it references parts of the game that only get explained in later chapters. I do math tutoring in real life as a side job and what you must never do is reference math the student hasn’t yet learned at school, even if it would make things easier for you; for example you can’t bring up Pythagoras even if it would make solving the problem dead simple. I don’t think that this game is that complicated, it’s just the interface that’s too crammed, a product of the time’s limitations. A source port would do wonders.
I wish there were some sort of tutorial video on the internet. This is the main problem with these old games, the graphics are something I can get past, but the interfaces tend to be really rough. Console games don’t suffer from this, they only had a few buttons and a D-pad. For a while I was thinking about starting a YouTube series called “Let’s Get Started”, kind of like a Let’s Play, but instead having people watch me play and commentate it would be about introducing them to cool old PC games and help them get started and kicking ass immediately. Two problems though: a) to be able to monetize video games on YouTube you have to belong to a network and b) my voice sucks. Mostly b).
 
Age of Wonders:
First of all, Age of Wonders is not like Master of Magic, at least the first tone. It’s much simpler, cities don’t grow, instead you manually upgrade them, units are controlled more directly and you don’t build new towns (or at least I haven’t found such an option). It was my first 4X game and I like its simplicity. I like it for what it is and it’s a great game where you can take a few turns and return later, you don’t have to play in long sittings. From what I’ve seen the other two Age of Wonders games are more similar to Master of Magic.
 
Eador: Genesis
This game has no manual and yet I found it easier to get into than Master of Magic, just because of its interface. I already wrote in detail about Eador before and there is not much to add
The remake Master of the Broken World has been released and it was supposedly in a very buggy state, near unplayable. They have probably fixed most of the problems by now, but I still don’t feel compelled to play it. I like the idea of a shorter campaign and there are a few neat new features, but the game is in 3D and 3D makes everything slower. Sure, Genesis didn’t have any combat animations, but it didn’t mind because it made the game fast. When MotBW was released the combat animations were horribly slow, maybe they fixed it by now. I might buy it eventually, but not now.
 
Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri:
Again, a game that’s easier to grasp than Master of Magic despite being more complicated. The interface of SMAC is well structured and there is a giant help menu. Too bad the game content itself makes no sense, or rather it is unfamiliar. This isn’t your usual SciFi with bubble head aliens. It will take time to get into this game, but I can already tell that this game is full of meat, just waiting for me to sink my teeth into. I already made some progress in the game with a lot of things set to auto, but I’ve had this game only for two days so far.
 
Pinball Gold Pack:
This is the only game so far I played as a child. When I was little we didn’t have a console, but my father bought a used Amiga for me from a a co-worker. It came with a bunch of pirated floppy discs and most of the games I couldn’t figure out (it didn’t help that most games were in English, which I didn’t speak at the time). This is why consoles are popular with children, you just insert the cartridge, flip the switch and start playing. The only games I remember being able to figure out are Pinball Dreams (the first one from this collection), Wheel of Fortune (which was translated, so could play it with my parents) and Lemmings, which used colourful icons, so I didn’t need to read.
I don’t know much about pinball games, I just know that i like this. I play the tables mostly because of their theme, and about half of them I find boring. My favourites are the space rocked, the music theme and the horror theme from the first game, as well as the Robocop style table in the last game. The other tables range from good to meh. The physics and the scrolling camera a quite impressive for such old games. Here is a very detailed article on each of these games:
I like to play these games from time to time. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe they really are good, I don’t know.
 
Stargunner:
This is a free game that was added to GoG. It has been freeware for quite a while, so it’s not really a big deal. I played it. Then I went back to Tyrian. It’s not a bad game, but Tyrian is better and it’s free as well, so why would I want to play this?
 
Legend of Grimrock:
This is a new game in the style of old games like Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder. I never played any of those games because the interface is rage inducing (yes, interface, camera and movement speed are my main gripes with many games). Let’s imagine you’re a game designer and you want to map movement to the keyboard. You pick the arrow keys, because that seems like a good idea. Then you start playing the game. How the f’ do you not notice that using arrow keys and the mouse at the same time is a horrible idea!? Maybe that’s why there are movement buttons on the screen. That’s the point where I rage-quit the game.
Legend of Grimrock does it right, you use WASD to move and the mouse to interact. There is also an auto map and everything works simply by dragging and dropping. The combat is fast-paced and can get pretty dynamic and tactical. I think the game has too many puzzles, interrupting the flow of the game. At least these are real puzzle not the Aonuma school of puzzles for retards where you use the boomerang you just got to hit the switch that just happens to be outside the reach of your sword. Still, it could use less. Another criticism I have is how all the dungeon floors look the same. Of course I understand that this is a small team’s first game, and for that I am more than impressed, but still. Despite that I like it, but that’s because I like dungeon crawlers in general, I like games where you are thrown into a death pit and have to struggle to survive. If you don’t like dungeon crawlers there is not much here to change your mind, this isn’t Ultima Underworld with a fully developed world. There is also mod support and an editor, plus Legend of Grimrock 2 is already being made. I’m certainly looking forward to that one, now that they have more experience and a larger budget.
 
FTL: Fast than Light:
I first learned about this game from TotalBuiscuit’s WTF is… series. I like his show because I get to learn about those new games that fly under the radar of mainstream games “journalism” and unlike a review he shows the game as it is instead of just cherry-picking what he likes. When I saw FTL I knew it was a type of game I would like, it is simple, quick and intense. It is also not the type of game you are expected to beat, and in a way I find that comfortable. It takes the pressure away, I simply play it to see how far I can push it before I die. I’ say dying is half the fun because it gives you the possibility to start the game all over with a different build without making it feel like you are just throwing away hours of progress. Even the rebel fleet turning the sector red over time is needed. If it didn’t exist the travel nodes would not be about choosing where you go next, they would be just checkboxes on a list you do until you got the maximum amount of rewards out of them. If the “roguelike” elements were removed FTL would be just another simulation where you travel from A to B and slowly build up your progress until you beat it. Not that that would be wrong, but it would no longer be what I like about FTL.
What I hate was the fact that ships are locked. If FTL is an RPG, then the ships are the classes. Imagine an RPG where you would first have to play as a fighter to unlock the mage or rogue. Now imagine that your chance of unlocking those classes depends on random events that might or might not happen. Yeah… there is a reason this isn’t done. It’s just stupid. Some might argue that certain ships are stronger than others, but so what? Clerics were overpowered in the D&D rule set, and you still could play Icewind Dale with any number of them in your party. They did it simply because every other game does it, presumably to increase replay value. This is BS, it does not increase replay value, it just puts a carrot on a stick, forcing me to spend more un-fun time with the game than I want, it is also why every game these days has achievements and experience points. If a game needs a carrot on a stick to keep the player playing, then it’s a shit game. Luckily there is a community-made tool to unlock whatever you want, it’s written in Java, so it will run on everything, including your toaster.
The other thing I don’t like is the music. It’s not bad, but it’s very shy, like it’s almost ashamed it’s there. It just puts me to sleep. Come on, this is a game about space battles where every move can be your last one. Have some balls, be proud and strong! Then again, some people seem to love the soundtrack, so maybe this is just me not getting it.
Folks, THIS is how you make an email. It must have taken a year to make the content of this email.

You make a good point of FTL with the ships being like classes in a RPG. I didn’t have the patience to ‘unlock’ all the ships. I don’t believe games should be played for ‘unlocking’ things but rather games should be played for ‘fun’. I’m trying to figure out where all this unlocking stuff started. The first significant game I recall that had unlockables was Super Mario Kart with unlocking the 150cc and Special Cup tracks. Even space shmups and games like Wrecking Crew or Lode Runner allowed you to pick your own stage. I suspect the origin of the unlockables is found in the racing genre.

I don’t understand your interface issue with Master of Magic. Master of Magic uses a Civilization 1 style (while Alpha Centauri uses a Civilization 2 style). I never found anything with the interface to be squished, just ‘flat’. Alpha Centuari has everything more at an angle with more screen real-estate for the map.

I remember, back in the day, people ‘tweaking’ their joysticks for the ‘Descent Tournament’. Apparently, the complexity wasn’t just in the game but in modifying your joystick and controls. Now that I think of it, games like Quake would be FPS for the masses then while Desecent was hardcore FPS. There was no up or down in Descent which made it much tougher.

I am pleased that Wing Commander can still impress. Imagine how the game felt back in 1990! There is a scene in Gladiator when they are looking up at the Roman Coliseum and one slave says to our hero in awe, “I never knew men could build such things.” Wing Commander provoked that type of response. We had no idea our computer could do such a thing! The game just blew away all other games. The game was literally shocking. Wing Commander was light years ahead of its time. I place it with Super Mario Brothers as the two most ‘influential’ games I’ve ever seen. After Wing Commander, all games would focus on production effects.

I was mesmerized by Wing Commander II as well. Wing Commander 3, not so much. I think I just got sick of buying more computer shit just to play the game. The move to FMV didn’t jive well with me as I had gotten attached to the hand drawn characters. Wing Commander 3 sold the strongest, I think, but then the franchise just declined from there. I do need to play Wing Commander IV.

Alpha Centauri will rock your world. I still play it regularly.

While the game is not at GOG (well it is), you should play Star Control 2. Just google Urquan Masters and download a modern version for free. It is like two games in one. There is an arcade-like multiplayer (or against computer) combat mode which is very fun and the RPG/Adventure mode which is very fun (and is well written). It’s quite a wonder that pew-pew space ship / RPG /Adventure game even exists!

I’m curious about what you’ll think of Ultima VI as that is a HUGE change from Ultima V. No more ‘cities’ or ‘town’ maps. Just. One. Overworld. I even have an itch to replay that one again.


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