davidn: (Default)
As [personal profile] xyzzysqrl mentioned it on Twitter yesterday, I had another go at Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure. I had been noticeably disparaging towards it in my overview of the entire 3D Realms Anthology among the other games, and wanted to give it another try to see if my impressions of it were justified.

Long story short, they were. I feel bad for it because it has so much variety and colour to it, but the game doesn't really work for reasons including but not necessarily limited to the following:

  • The Duke Nukem engine, specifically the way that everything moves on an 8x8 grid. This worked noticeably better for Duke, and I'm not totally sure why - part of it is that Duke had enemies that ignored the grid and moved smoothly, whereas Cosmo doesn't. Combined with this, Cosmo has to get a lot closer to enemies rather than shooting them at a distance - he has to jump on them (often multiple times) with his only distance attack being bombs that are fairly rare (and that have to be set close to the enemy anyway if it's stationary!) Perhaps it's also at odds with the console-style platformer presentation that Cosmo is going for - it's noticeably janktastic compared to its counterparts.

  • No vertical visibility. 200 pixels isn't much in the first place, but the status bar takes up a quarter of that - on the ground you can look up and down, but during even quite short jumps there's no way to see what you're landing on. The game tries to remedy this by placing pickups in arcs to guide your jump, but trusting them is a mistake - look at the cluster of red fruit near the right hand side of the map. You can't see the bottom of the level from the ledge, and so it's easy to assume there's ground under there and walk off to instant death. I did it twice.

  • Combined with that, there are too many bottomless pits - the levels might not look long in the maps, but they encourage exploration so progress can be slow through them, and it's very easy to lose all of it with one slip.

  • And the lack of health in general! You get four hit points by default, and that number can be extended, but health upgrades are few and far between. When you switch levels, fall off the bottom of the screen or otherwise die, it doesn't even restore your motherwanking hit points - if you entered a level by the skin of your teeth, you'll start in that state again if you die at any point during it.

And while not a flaw, I want to repeat that it's strange that the game is called "Forbidden Planet" on all three of the episode title screens, and that the name "Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure" is only mentioned on a startup card before it along with the Apogee logo. Perhaps there were intended to be more cosmic adventures at some point?

I only played through the first episode and the second two are reputedly much harder... I'll see how long it is before I give up.

[personal profile] xyzzysqrl offers a second opinion here, which is quite similar to this opinion because it's correct.
davidn: (savior)
I'm testing out embedding music on here, because God knows engagement has gone down absolutely everywhere else. Here's the title track from The Poison Skies, an album by me and [personal profile] kjorteo. And I think it's pretty good!

davidn: (Default)
So, The Colonel's Bequest, then. Since completing the game I've read around it a bit more, mostly starting from this dedicated Colonel's Bequest fansite, and I think that despite its flaws - and the sense I had at the start of being completely clueless - I think I grew to appreciate what it was doing. There are also some interesting notes laid out in this recovered design document with some complimentary tea-stains - I love seeing how games of this era came together.

It's certainly an interesting game, particularly when you consider the time it was released - it's still hard to believe it was 1989, a time when most PC games I knew about resembled Jason Jupiter. In terms of graphics, obviously, it was very advanced, and it was an unusually early attempt at making a game that was more about observation than fiddling with things (something much more prominent in the modern era with 'adventures' like Gone Home and Rapture). If you look in "About" under the menu, you get a glimpse from the authors themselves of what Sierra was trying to do here:

They acknowledge that the inventory-based puzzles of their previous games are pushed to the background here in favour of being an interactive story, and - rather pompously, if you ask me - tell the player that if they don't get it then they're not putting enough effort in. Looking at some magazine reviews from the time, it seemed the setting and new idea was appreciated but that some reviewers found the game extremely dull (the linked reviewer's experience being exacerbated by being on the Amiga and therefore having to swap disks every two minutes). I would agree with this, as without a walkthrough there really is very little in the way of the player being given purpose in the game. From first principles, a new player would have to lap the house many times trying to discover the largely random-seeming events that they needed to witness to move the game forward, and there isn't really a thread of clues to follow - your role is to wander around observing things and there isn't any guidance as to what important things are about to happen, not even that you can dig up somewhere to hint as to where to go next.

For that reason, I wonder if this would work better as a visual novel with a limited decision tree instead - in a way, it already is, just with a ton of wandering in between important scenes while you try to find something else worth seeing. Though it's understandable that Sierra kept to the familar adventure-like appearance, as games as non-interactive as that were a long way off in the West when this was released. And it's hard to imagine how they could have balanced that while preserving the sense of mystery as you creep around the increasingly empty house.

One of the most significant things the game has going for it is just how sharply it improves towards the end, leaving me with a good impression! Including an entire alternative ending was something I didn't expect (I thought I'd just done something else wrong earlier because surely they wouldn't have put in an entire ending-like scene for making a bad decision when their usual go-to was just to kill you for the most minor infraction). The game seems very bland at first, but starting very late on once you reach act 7 (if you take the correct route), there is suddenly a sense of danger that's been lacking from the game until that point.

I went back and looked at just how little it's possible to discover - you can blaze through the game in about 20 minutes if you know exactly what you're doing, but you miss out on all of the story and get the Barely Conscious rating if you do so. The only actions that are actually required to reach the end of the game are detailed here - each action that advances time is fixed although the order in which you do them within an act doesn't always matter, so it's up to the player to notice when the clock moves and when to move to the next act. But as for the number of actions that are possible, that seems to be stratospheric - every time this walkthrough says "perform full conversation" it's asking you to run through the whole spiel that I did in addition to trying various combinations to see how their responses change. I'm not totally sure how many of these will produce more than brief generic responses, but... in theory, there's a lot there.

The trouble is that the important actions are so hopelessly arbitrary - the fourth act does the best job at illustrating this even when you have a walkthrough, because you're relying on random chance to prevent you from advancing until you've seen everything. From looking at [personal profile] kjorteo's playthrough, the sequel The Dagger of Amon Ra improved on this in some ways and absolutely fell flat in others - a lot of information you can gather in the sequel leads you to know that you have to be in certain places at certain times, so that you can then eavesdrop and discover further information. However, time seems to advance in a much less controllable way than in this game, meaning that your chances of actually getting anywhere on time are slim even if you do everything correctly.

The final complaint that I have is that even bearing in mind that the game improves the tension at the end, there really isn't any danger - in a game that should have been ripe for danger in every corner, you can't die except in incredibly stupid Sierra ways that aren't related to the ongoing mystery. Yes, you can get grabbed by the mysterious man who lives in the toilet roll cupboard, but most of the time you'll die from falling down the stairs or be pointlessly squashed by a falling chandelier. But I'll definitely give them extra points for the bell.

So that's about where I am - I'm still not quite prepared to call this or Amon Ra good games, because they're immeasurably more enjoyable with a walkthrough on hand that helps you to avoid what the authors considered the actual "game" part, but they're... interesting. And this one in particular was ahead of its time.

The Colonel's Bequest is available on GOG.com!

One last thing I want to note is an oddity with how the graphics in the SCI0 engine are stored - one of the secrets to how good the game looks for EGA is that the graphics weren't actually drawn with regard to limits of the EGA standard - the artists used many in-between colours in their background vector artwork and the engine was written to rasterize the graphics using dithering when a colour wasn't actually available. As the extra colour data still exists in the files, a source port like ScummVM can ignore the need to dither pixels and can produce the backgrounds as they were drawn - and this is what some of them look like.

Undithered artwork )
davidn: (skull)
Now that Laura has escaped from a traditional family getaway where everybody tries to murder everybody else for various reasons and the guilty party was the one who happened to get there first, it's time to be judged on our performance. How did we do, Roberta?

Colonel's Bequest - Finale )
davidn: (savior)
Welcome back to the severely depopulated scAry iteMs estate (yes, that really is an anagram of it, but then so is Rim Ecstasy). This is going to be something of a mini-update becauase the act is extremely short - but finally, we're reaching the end of a very long night...

Colonel's Bequest - Act VIII )
davidn: (skull)
So, it's Doom House Act VII. It's late in the game, but things are finally starting to speed up now - brace yourselves, because this is a good one.

First of all, let me remind you of the state of the diagram.

With not too many targets or suspects left, there is finally a real sense of tension beginning to build, and anyone might be next to go. Why did the act switch over when I knocked on the door, anyway?

Colonel's Bequest - Act VII )
davidn: (Default)
Misery Aches has, so far, been the site of four murders tonight. Let's see if anyone else drops dead by the time Act VI is finished.

Colonel's Bequest - Act 6 )
davidn: (Jam)
All right, it's time once again for our daily visit to Murdery Acres. Last time, a clock had appeared out of nowhere.

Colonel's Bequest - Act V )
davidn: (skull)
Creepy Acres is looking less and less like a nice relaxing weekend by the hour, isn't it? And I'm not counting on Act IV to change that much.

Colonel's Bequest - Act IV )
davidn: (Default)
All right, welcome back to Misty Hollows or whatever it's called, where we've currently got another dead body to interfere with.

Colonel's Bequest - Act III Part 2 )
davidn: (skull)
Just like before, Act III starts largely by accident when you next happen to wander into the library after doing some unknown subset of the actions that I described in the last post.

Colonel's Bequest - Act III Part 1 )
davidn: (Default)
Let's reanimate ourselves, head upstairs and enter Murder House Zone, Act 2!

Colonel's Bequest - Act II )
davidn: (Default)
After piecing together all the information we gathered from the previous part by looking through strategically placed portraits (which is one of the most seriously obvious ways of spying on people when you think about how it would look in real life, but options were limited in the 20s), I've produced this helpful diagram of the characters' known relationships overlaid on the Dijon family tree.

Colonel's Bequest - Act I Part 2 )
davidn: (Default)
Okay, with the introduction out the way, it's time to get down to a hard night's snooping. Act 1 of 8. Not even the Germans write plays this long.

Colonel's Bequest - Act I Part 1 )
davidn: (skull)
Well, [personal profile] kjorteo has been requesting for someone to do this for a very long time - partly because of interest in the game itself but mostly as repayment for the years of suffering she went through to produce her wonderful run of Laura Bow 2 - so at long last, I'm going to take a look at the first game Laura Bow appeared in, The Colonel's Bequest.

Colonel's Bequest - Introduction )


May. 11th, 2017 10:35 pm
davidn: (Default)
I'm having a serious try at the Starcraft campaign for the first time, now that it's free. I remember playing it online before but being severely crushed - I can just about get by with some saving and building about a hundred aerial units before attempting anything.

The Zerg Cerberates in the mission briefing screen reminded me of someone.
davidn: (rabbit)

#mylivejournal #lj18 #happybirthday

Thanks, Livejournal. You've helped me record a truly incredible stretch of my life, from unsurely feeling my way into adulthood in university, through graduation, marriage, moving to America, becoming a huge furry, and a voice actor for pigeons on the Internet, and other madness like that - up to buying our own single-family home and seriously, actually having a baby. It's an incredible record of fourteen years (started on April the 30th in 2003) - but I fell out of using it for the last couple of those, largely due to nobody really caring about reading anything I had to say any more.

And in this insane time, we have to take stands wherever we can, small actions to make ourselves feel we can at least have a tiny effect on the course of what's happening when we might come to harm. Therefore, everything from here on will be posted on my equivalent at Dreamwidth instead. I'll work on switching my site over to using Dreamwidth's API - and hopefully will find a reason to write again some time.
davidn: (rabbit)
I discovered a new fruit at Russo's! This one doesn't really look a whole lot like anything, and if you live in a remote place with houses built into mountains to hide from the Vikings like I did, even the thing that you think it might be is a trick.

What's my fruit? )


Mar. 3rd, 2017 10:24 pm
davidn: (rabbit)

I’ve finished Vulkan! Enough to call it a beta, anyway. Venture down into the Vulkan power station, a promising side project by UAC that as usual accidentally drilled into Hell and summoned an army of bloodthirsty demons.

This is a partial conversion for Doom 2, a bit more than a set of levels but not quite a different game. It features a ton of effects from Brutal Doom, a new weapon the Flak Cannon, several new enemies and a boss level that isn’t terrible.

It runs under GZDoom, which you can get here, and you’ll need a Doom 2 WAD. As you can see it’s particularly dark and bloody compared to most of my games, but not in a particularly realistic way.

Download: http://teamouse.net/games/vulkan/vulkan.pk3


Dec. 14th, 2016 02:58 am
davidn: (rant)

A post inspired by this, where I ended up writing rather a lot.

I used to play Bamboozle all the time before school (though I only ever really had a hope at the Saturday editions which were aimed at children of about ten)... it was interesting how it was set up, and so archaic now! I’m going to seriously go on about this, so get ready.

This is based on just my experience with it, but as far as I could tell, Teletext worked by broadcasting pages of text over the airwaves in sequence in blocks of one hundred, then looping back to the start. So at any time, the 1XX range of pages would be beaming into your aerial in the sequence 100, 101, 102... 198, 199, 100, 101 (and the same for 2XX, 3XX, etc).

This meant that when you requested a page (in this picture, number 390, but I can’t remember Bamboozle ever being at that page) a separate number display would come up showing which page was being broadcast at the time, and you had to wait for it to roll around to the one you wanted so it could ‘catch and display it. If you were lucky you’d catch it at the right time, but if you requested 390 and the TV was currently receiving 392, you’d have to wait until it came all the way around again... I think the whole cycle never took more than about 30 seconds but when you’re browsing around, that multiplies up quickly.

And those coloured buttons were used as “shortcuts” between pages! On each page, the coloured buttons would be wired to relevant other pages, and a bit of text would be displayed in each colour at the bottom of the screen describing where the four colours went - on the BBC News front page which let’s say was at 110, red might be wired to politics on page 112, yellow for sports on 113, blue for a delightful BBC Micro-rendered weather map on 116, and so on.

Bamboozle was a quiz game, and on each page, a question was asked with four possible answers presented in the four different colours. The link text at the bottom of the page just said “Answer” or something generic for each one - but underneath, three of those buttons led to a page telling you you gave the wrong answer, and one of them led to the next question. Once you’d played a few times, you got used to what the wrong and right page numbers were, and if you saw the page number in the “requested page” slot before the broadcast cycled around to displaying it, you could change your choice and find the right answer without it noticing. Eventually, the last question’s correct answer would direct you to the winning page.

But if each page had a number, you could just type in the winning page and get right to the end, couldn’t you? Well... no, and this was another quirk of the system - all the pages of the quiz were stored in slots with “numbers” like 12A, 12B, 12C that you couldn’t enter directly (you only had your remote control numbers to work with). I think the extra slots were A-F, implying that the whole Teletext system actually used hexadecimal numbering but that all pages were usually assigned slots that looked decimal for human use? Or maybe it was just a coincidence that there were six extra slots - I don’t know.

You could cheat a little, though - during normal operations, the Up and Down buttons raised and lowered your requested page number by 1. I’m not sure if this was universal to all televisions, but on the one in my family’s living room, you could also walk back through the hidden lettered pages by hitting the Down button - 12C, 12B, 12A... and if you went below that it would revert to 129, therefore linking you away from the quiz. The reverse wasn’t true - if you hit Up on 12C you’d be put straight to 130, so you couldn’t skip forward. This was useful, though, because the questions were arranged in blocks of 4 with “wrong answer” pages with the highest slot at the end of the block:

12A = Question 1
12B = Question 2
12C = Question 3
12D = Question 4
12E = Wrong answer for questions 1-4
12F = Question 5
13A = Question 6
13B = Question 7
13C = Question 8
13D = Wrong answer for questions 5-8
13E = Question 9
13F = Question 10

(The ‘wrong answer’ pages always linked you back to the start of their block and made you tediously pick through questions you’d already answered again - otherwise they would have to have had a unique wrong answer page for each question). So with a layout like this, it was possible to answer any question from 1-4 wrongly, press Down when on or requesting the 12E wrong answer page, and skip straight to question 4 - however, it wasn’t possible to skip upwards.

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