Monday, 24 June 2013

Retro remakes

First the announcement of a re-jigged Flashback in April and last week a teaser trailer for a forthcoming remake of The Chaos Engine. I’d be lying if my initial thoughts to both were to do anything else but cream oh so very slightly in my jeans having played both to death back in the halcyon days of yonder. Two of the most highly-rated games from the Amiga era, updated for the benefit of modern gamers, so we can all bask in the glory of their awesomeness. Marvellous isn’t it? Isn’t it?

The new Chaos Engine teaser trailor. Very teasery in that it shows fuck all game footage...

Okay, so it would be nice if such things always worked out spectacularly well. It would be great if these games were to be brought back for a vibrant young audience so they can understand what we used to do with our zipsticks and floppy disks (rather than ‘fnarr’ loudly). But all too often after the huzzah of ‘they’re remaking such and such’ comes a cynical ‘why in the blue hell did they bother in the first place?’ followed by cries on Twitter that one’s childhood has been systematically raped in the process.

Flashback reveal trailer - at least there is some in-game footage here to appraise!

Retro remakes are a slightly benign thing. Rolled out on the basis that a niche following will garner some decent self-promotion, developers instead often mould the game to the expectations of some other (modern) gamer instead. So what you end up with is a close approximation of what has gone before but with added bits of bobbins and cutting-edge sterility. Whilst they may make a bit of money in the short-term, critical reception will be unfavourable, the remake will soon be forgotten and the legacy of the original tarnished for evermore. That’s a lot of annoyed old school gamers looking to tear you a new one.

Look at Syndicate. All we really needed was another sodding FPS, wasn’t it? Especially when the original was a sophisticated god-game/resource-sim that was bastard hard. Alien Breed has turned from being a fast and furious bastard-hard Gauntlet clone into a dull, ponderous and linear shoot ‘em up. Speedball 2 has been remade enough now. Please stop it. If you’re not going to take it seriously and make a super-fast, bastard hard version where Super Nashwan always piss on you from the greatest of heights, then you’re not really trying? Sensible Soccer 2006. Hahahahahahaha. Both new and old gamers lose out. The new are subjected to sub-par gaming and treated to a distortion of what retro-heads constantly bang on about. The old are just likely to whinge that they’re not really being catered for and huff off in a grump.

For those born in the mid-ninties - this is how Syndicate really looks!

Of course, not all remakes have followed such a trajectory, proving that there is some value in making the old spangly and shiney if you happen to treat the original title and its audience with respect. X-COM: Enemy Unknown is a perfect example. A great mix of UFO: Enemy Unknown, minus the more cumbersome micro-management aspects of the original, mashed together with some stonking new features. The skill increases for your troops, for instance, actually increases the tactical play available whilst simplifying the mechanics beautifully (although failure to play with the Ironman mode switched on does mean you’re a great big pussy).

But all of this gets away from the real issue – why remake perfect games anyway? If we’re looking to enthuse modern gamers about the past, shouldn’t such titles be released warts and all rather than meddled with to produce a sanitised more accessible version for monkey’s that demand style and graphical overload to substance? Hmm, perhaps that rhetorical musing answers itself. Modern gamers don’t care much for old games or remakes of them, so why bother updating for a new audience when it’s the core aficionados that should be catered for? Granted, X-COM disproves the rule convincingly and is a great advancement on the original game, but for too many other remakes unnecessary changes are made, the purpose of the original game is lost and, rather unfortunately, they become far too easy to complete – just another meaningless milestone to ones burgeoning trophy bandwagon.

X-COM: Enemy Unknown - a delightful remake!

Hopefully Flashback and The Chaos Engine will be tinkered with a little more care, attention and X-COM in mind; games for oldies, but with enough quality to broaden horizons and find a new audience as well (at the very least the involvement of Hotline Miami publisher Devolver Digital on The Chaos Engine seems a good thin). Because at the very least, the enduring memory of Delphine Software’s finest moment and yet another classic added to the Bitmap Brothers’ Hall of Fame deserve that. And if they could make both bastard hard beasts and include the original in the package (like LucasArts did with The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition where you could choose to play the original or listen to Guybrush’s whiny voice in the update) that would be rather neat. Pretty fucking please, with cherries on top, unless you want to have Twitter plagued with complaints from old men that smell of wee…

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Top Three Greatest Amiga Games!

Recently, my colleague at The Pixel Empire, the most excellent Chris Weatherley (@novabug), asked fellow TPE staff writers to contribute a gaming top three for his April blog challenge. Of course, this was just another great opportunity to remind the professional 'yoof' of how amazing the Amiga was as a games machine which constantly stuck two finger up at the Super Nintendo and the Megadrive despite it's home computer stylings. But the choice of rounding down a host of titles to just three is quite insane. Where do you start when titles roll off the tongue like Formula One Grand Prix; Turrican; The Secret of Monkey Island; Flashback; Syndicate; Cannon Fodder; UFO: Enemy Unknown; The Chaos Engine; Captive; and Alien Breed to name a few. It was time to be ruthless. It was time to declare the following three games the best ever on the Amiga! 

3. Civilisation (MicroProse, Sid Meier)

Looks simple, but there is a wealth of depth in Civ's gaming mechanics. 

From tiny acorns do great oaks grow. That’s pretty much the legacy of the original Amiga version of Civilisation through to its current fifth iteration that has now seen it developed for ‘the consoles’. Still, Civ hasn’t been all that much of an evolution, as the pure game mechanics of taking on a band of settlers to grow an all conquering civilisation via a strategy master-class was the foundation of this Amiga classic. Little has changed (albeit Civ 5 is less difficult to play owing to the ‘console’ factor), which means the original version is just as replayable as any of its bigger brothers. Most importantly, there’s no other game out there that can beat Civ for its ‘just one more turn’ dynamic. And before you know it, it’s five o’freaking clock in the morning. Some of the best early morning hours of my youth and most of the summer of 1993 was spent on this bad boy, so obviously I’m not wrong. Civilisation is the best strategy game ever made. 

2. Sensible World of Soccer (Renegade, Sensible Software) 

As marvellous as Speedball 2 is Sensible Soccer probably has the greatest two-player mode ever created. Fast, frantic action that required quite a bit of skill to master made for an absolute bun-fight between argumentative brothers trying to determine which of whom was king of the motherfucking universe! Sensi would always prevail in revealing awho was the actual grandmaster. Years of ever-increasing additions to what started as little more than a bare-bones footy title with exquisite gameplay made SWOS an absolute treasure. Difficulty, depth and endeavour created a multi-directional scrolling footy title that actually played like a real footy match. The now classic stick-men sprites, the ball that refuses to glue to player’s feet, after-touch and killer sliding tackles have much to thank for the that, and whilst it is incredibly challenging to get the knack of it, once you do you’ll be a goal-scoring superstar hero! Incredible goals, frenzied gameplay, a huge management component that kind of gives Championship Manager a run for it’s money, Sensible Soccer is an absolute blast that makes both FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer blush with embarrassment.

 You're a goal-scoring superstar hero...!

1. Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe (Imageworks, Bitmap Brothers)

Now over 20 years old and not only the best game released on the mighty Amiga, Speedball 2 remains king of the world. A phenomenal piece of gaming in every sense it has bastard hard difficulty; delicious multi-directional scrolling; a futurism design that would make Ridley Scott cream in his jeans; tonnes of ways to score making every match unique; Super fucking Nashwan; simple management content to compliment the hardcore in-game brutalism; bounce domes; the terrific score multiplier; league and challenge play; two player mode - perfect for squabbling brothers; robotic ambulances to remove players beaten to a pulp from the field of play; exquisite design in the arrangement of the Speedball arena; perfect introductory music; replays; the genius of making games only three minutes in length; super fucking quick sprites; on the money collision detection; and a scary AI that has been programmed to constantly piss on your cereal and wipe its dick on your curtains making the game insanely moreish rather than frustrating as you look to improve your teams ranking. Oh, and ice-cream. In other words it’s pretty much the perfect game. 

Ice cream!

Agree or disagree. Let me know.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Halloween special!

With Halloween just around the corner The Pixel Empire are devoting the next week and a bit to a Halloween special. Four reviews on the horror genre, one each by the four site contributors, will begin to be posted on the site over the course of the next few days. Until then why not check out our responses to five very simple questions on scary games.  

The Pixel Empire 

Or read the extended answers I provided for each question below (which Tom ruthlessly edited for The Pixel Empire)! 

Favourite scary game? 

Survival horror at it's best...

This is likely to change in the future as I’ve not had the pleasure to play Amnesia: The Dark Descent yet, which is supposed to be amazingly spine-chilling. Hopefully it will be on Steam’s forthcoming Christmas sale! Until then it’s got to be Resident Evil 2. Perfect pacing, atmosphere and scenario, the Racoon City Police Station is just as highly memorable now as George A. Romero’s shopping mall in Dawn of the Dead. And whilst some of the scares are fairly obvious horror clich├ęs, there is still very little that can prepare your underwear for the murder of crows crashing through windows and pecking away at Leon’s nicely groomed hair. The low moans of zombies just round the corner, blinking huge hairy spiders in the sewers, a massive threat in the T-Virus and the spine-chilling notion that Racoon City has been completely desolated all add to the oppressive air of the game. It only gets better when you play the ‘what really happened’ scenarios and spend the whole time running away from the pre-Nemesis Nemesis’ that never ever stop, ever, until you are dead. They, like the Nemesis in Resident Evil 3, are utterly shit-inducing every time they appear on screen; no matter how much you blast away they just keep coming for you. Resident Evil 2 is a totally barnstorming survival horror. Turn up the volume, dim the lights and enjoy! 

Scariest creature/foe? 

Fucking spider! 

That fucking spider in Limbo. It’s animated far too well and moves far too quickly for my frayed nerves, making it utterly terrifying. That it out-sizes the tiny little protagonist by quite a way just makes it even more associated with squeaky bum time. Jump little boy, jump. Faster, the flipping spider is gaining. Arrgh, mis-timed jump. Splat! The little boy’s haunting, piercing eyes when you restart after breaking his tiny neck (the death animations are rather marvellous if slightly grim in Limbo) make you feel totally guilty, although his death rarely has anything to do with your platforming ineptitude. It’s that fucking spiders fault. 

Scariest scene moment? 

Seriously, avoid playing Heavy Rain if you are a Dad. It will give you nightmares. 

Ack. Dead Space almost topped this one after just missing out on favourite scary game and scariest creature (any of the Necromorph’s bar the Hive Mind which is just plain shit). But again it’s been piped to the post, this time by psychological murder mystery next-gen style point-and-click adventure Heavy Rain. And no, it’s not the torturously tense scenes of finger slicing, belly crawling on glass or executing drug dealers that will terrify your moral sense of well-being. It’s a simple sequence near the beginning where you lose your son in a shopping mall crowd, and no matter how hard you search you can never quite find him or get close enough to him through the mingling crowd until it’s too late. The scene, like most of the rest of the game (Maddison Page fighting off masked intruders in her apartment is a close second), is absolutely nerve-jangling beyond all belief and all the more terrifying because of it. Maybe it’s because I’m a dad, but I can’t think of anything worse than losing a child in a mass crowd of people. Scary, scary stuff. 

Are games scarier than ten years ago? 

No. Resident Evil and Silent Hill were at their peak at the turn of the century. I’d defy anyone to suggest that whilst games have become more stylish, those titles still hold their own against more modern horror games, particularly with regards to atmosphere. Dead Space, if anything, is from the exact same breed of survival horror that spawned both those titles, and still does not better them despite the awesome setting, scenes of mild peril and cack-inducing encounters with Necromorphs. Also, is there a modern equivalent for Pyramid Head? No. There isn’t. 

Where do you see horror games going in the future? 

Isaac Clarke, yesterday. Gutted to be going home as second best in three categories. 

Hopefully not the route that Dead Space 3 seems likely to travel; irritating AI co-op. It was an awful setup for Resident Evil 5, not just because the AI was truly terrible, but because it takes away from the pivotal factor that makes horror gaming successful. The player is, for the most part, on their lonesome. It’s their resourcefulness and courage in the face of seemingly oppressive odds that generates a truly marvellous horror atmosphere. When you’ve got some annoying cheese-eating dick-monkey constantly yapping on in your ear-hole in mundane fashion about nothing interesting whatsoever, it takes away from the atmosphere somewhat. No longer does every small noise as you creep along a corridor make your skin-crawl. Mostly because you can’t hear such things over inane chatter!

Instead, let’s pray that game designers keep an eye to what made the early Resident Evil’s and Silent Hill’s so impressive. An interactive adventure that was challenging, atmospheric and not for the faint hearted! If Dead Space was not so easy (far too many save points for its own good) it would be held in far higher regard than it already is. This is what we need in the future. Not Resident Evil 6. Alternatively, more games like Hard Rain. Like Japanese horror movies, the horror here is more psychological than gore-laden, and involves more aspects where you truly have to question your moral integrity. Perhaps there is little more challenging than that; perhaps that is the way forward. We don’t want scary games to become mindless schlock like the Saw franchise now, do we?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Stop this running madness!

On the 7 October I completed the Royal Park’s Half Marathon. Go me. And not just completed it; I smashed my personal best at this distance by three minutes. Which is not bad considering I’m four years older since my last half-marathon, trained less owing to work commitments and fatherhood responsibilities and drunk more beer during training than the previous time round. So, proof positive that beer contains magical properties beyond helping ugly people have sex since 1964.

Luckily, the mantras from semi-professional football managers of old constantly sounded encouragement between my ears during the run – “you’re only cheating yourself” I would constantly remind myself. And it seemingly worked. After a comfortable 10k (six miles) which whizzed by the last seven miles were painful and agonising. It didn’t help that the sun was shining brightly and there was nowhere to hide on the large expanse of Hyde Park that the last seven miles zig-zagged across. At one point, diving into the Serpentine appeared to be a refreshing idea given the lack of a comforting rain storm. But despite the nagging pain in the calves, the mantra kept me going, kept me ahead of the hour and fifty minute pacemaker and ensured I crossed the finishing line in one hour 45 minutes and 57 seconds.

The main difference between the MS tent at the Great North Run and the Royal Parks? No Wine Gums at the Royal Parks. Gah!

Of course, the other thing that kept me going was that I was raising money and awareness for the MS Society, as well as running in the memory of my Mum who suffered with the progressive form of the illness for 29 years. Given that I watched her slowly fall apart until there was nothing else left to fall off, stopping for a breather or even contemplating walking (unless I picked up an injury) would have been particularly poor form. Hopefully she would have been proud, especially the £700 currently raised by me and Callum (my co-runner who’s knee went wonky at the 10 mile mark but managed to finish despite the injury – good work bud). I’d like this to be a little more than at present so if you’re feeling generous and have not already done so, the justgiving webpage will remain up until the beginning of January. It’s for a very good cause and if everyone I knew just gave a quid, then the MS Society would have a shitload of quids:

Anyway, enough of this running madness! I’ve got sitting on my arse to do and games to play. Although I am starting to become fond of the washer-board six-pack that is starting to poke through the barrel; and the fact that I’m no longer out of breath after climbing stairs. I’m not doing a fucking marathon though. That’s crazy talk for crazy people…! 

Marathon? Even Dawson thinks that is a crazy idea...

Thursday, 20 September 2012


March 2011. That’s the last time I watched a film at the cinema. It was not even a night out. It was the local midday ‘baby’ cinema viewing of Hop. No balls to the wall action or inappropriate f-ing and blinding; just James Marsden fucking around as the Easter bunny whilst Russell Brand did voices! Apart from the ever delightful Penny from Big Bang Theory appearing as Marsden’s sister, I don’t actually recall much about it, which is a sure fire signal for defining mediocrity. So, the last time I properly went to the cinema was sometime in 2010, which was so long ago now I can’t even recall what it was I watched…

Kaley Cuoco - yum!

This wouldn’t have happened in 1999 when in the space of two weeks I saw things you wouldn’t have believed; the second coming being rightly trashed by the greatest sleeper hit ever is kind of what I imagine c-beams glittering on the shoulder of Orion and attack ships on fire by the Tanhauser Gate probably looks like. So where has it all gone wrong? Some delicate introspection is required to ascertain whether I have become a grumpy and reclusive cinemaphobe.

Taking a shit in George Lucas' cereal since 1999.
There is some tangible context to apply before coming to any pre-determined judgements. Clowny Jnr was born in January 2011; a point in time when I was immediately beset upon by hitherto unknown responsibility. Decision-making now followed a defined order – the boy before my own selfish wants and needs. Nappies and shit are flipping expensive, as is a night out at the cinema. Two tickets, popcorn, a possible meal beforehand and beers after to discuss the hidden depths of the latest Adam Sandler flick and you’ve pretty much spent the best part of £40 to sit though tedious wank like The Expendables (sadly, not every movie is Scott Pilgrim vs The World). That’s like 250 nappies. With such reasoning you can begin to see why cinema-going has fallen off the radar.

In addition, I’ve kind of moved out of my comfort zone. Essex to Surrey to be precise! Back in the homeland there is an entourage of like-minded individuals whom travel regularly to Festival Park in Bas Vegas to watch the latest cinema releases. And by latest I mean just that. There really must have been nothing else on the weekend Mission to Mars was released (I still haven’t forgiven you for that Wenty). Yet it did also provide the opportunity to sit through little known gems like Ravenous, The Limey and Syrianna as well. But I seem to be at a loss without having good company at the cinema. Frequenting the cinema on my own just seems weird, especially the mingling with poshos from Surrey. I never thought I’d ever have the need to say this, but it’s just not Basildon (shit, now you’re all going to think I yearn for The Sugar Hut) and, therefore, a little disorientating.

Just one of the very many good reasons to seek out The Limey.

Finally, it’s very rare an Amelie comes along (the middle ground between District 9 and Jane Eyre) to allow for the better half and I to agree on a cinema date together. She won’t come along simply to hold my hand and make it look like I’m not some weird and creepy thirtysomething who goes to the cinema on his own if she has to sit through Tucker and Dale vs Evil. Which I don’t even understand; Tucker and Dale vs Evil is freaking awesome!

So, I’m kind of at a loss as to what to do other than bide my time and wait for the DVD release. Just like I’m doing now for The Raid, The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists, Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises and Judge Dredd. If there is one thing I’ve learnt as a father its patience and these relatively non-essential things can wait. But that doesn’t make it an easy thing to see through; especially watching others discuss movies whilst you’re on the outside looking in with no frame of reference, carefully navigating a route through potential spoilers to DVDville. It’s a bollock-aching agony. Particular when you recognise Scott Pilgrim is an arsehole, rather than a hipster, only to find a million monkeys have already noticed this beforehand and propagated the Internet to bursting point with such obvious insight, stealing my thunder.


Just like Willam in Mallrats, I can no longer see the sailboat. 

What the fuck is wrong with me?

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Return of the Freeman

So, whilst we’re all still twiddling our thumbs and scratching our arses waiting for Valve to pull out their finger and deliver unto us the next instalment of the further adventures of Dr Gordon Freeman, it was announced earlier this week that Black Mesa would finally be released on 14 September. Well part of it anyway. It’s been eight years in the making and it’s still not actually finished. Even loyal followers of Valve seem unable to absolve themselves totally from the quantum peculiarity of Valve time (which the original resonance cascade may or may not be directly responsible for).

One day dammit, one day. 

Essentially a remake of Half-Life developed by around 40 modders using Valve’s Source engine, Black Mesa is the Half-Life community’s response to the barely noticeable and somewhat disappointing graphical changes to the original game when it was made available on Steam in 2004. But this is not just further graphical tweaks; Black Mesa is a fully realised remake. Supposedly it will divert little, if at all, from the main storyboard, but the more tedious parts of the original game have been streamlined and level maps increased in size to accommodate greater challenge. It has even been suggested that Valve’s marvellous AI routines have been tweaked and improved upon. If so, wowsers! As a bonus, Black Mesa makes Half-Life look just as crisp as Half-Life 2, if not better:

So, Black Mesa has the potential to be most excellent; although re-working a masterpiece means there is added pressure to deliver. Look at the remakes of most movie masterpieces, such as Psycho or the recent The Thing travesty. Oh dear. Then there’s the eight year wait which touches more upon Daikatana time, let alone Valve time. Let’s hope it’s just a perfection thing, rather than a ‘we’ve kind of ballsed it up’ thing. More worryingly, from the video sequence above, there seems to be a lot of swooping camera views. That means cut-scenes. One of the key reasons as to why Half-Life worked so well was that everything in game was witnessed from Gordon’s eye-view, absolving the need for an out of body experience and making the game more interactive as a result. Please, don’t let it be bloody cut-scenes.

'No to cut scenes'. Gordon Freeman, yesterday.

Anyway, enough of the pessimism! I’m sure it will all work out great in the end. Although Valve are not involved, there is enough Valve in the starting point for Black Mesa to rise above many a modern FPS. Despite only half a game (it ends in the Lambda complex around the point Gordon dimension jumps to the alien world Xen) there’s expected to be around 10 hours of gaming available, which means plenty of alien-arse kicking with the now iconic crow-bar. But the really awesome news is Black Mesa is being offered as a free download from the mod team’s main site. Bless them and their Tim Berners-Lee approach to sticking two fingers up at capitalism. Excited? I’ve just let out a little bit of wee…