Saturday, 30 November 2013

TV & Gaming: How Videogames Changed The World

There is very little presence of gaming on television, and what little is covered tends to focus on either the worst aspects or merely the unusual novelty. The wider and ever-growing culture of gaming is largely ignored by the mainstream media, which is odd for an industry that is about 30 years old and financially so massive.
Charlie Brooker, one of the UK's foremost voices on gaming and games culture (picture from

Earlier this week saw Charlie Brooker demonstrating the new Playstation 4 to a bemused Jon Snow on Channel 4 news. It was exactly the sort of cringe-worthy television I have come to expect and yet I was still disappointed. No planning had gone into the piece, Charlie Brooker seemingly having been brought in as one of the most visible gaming voices in the UK to defend the medium as a whole.

While Charlie wasn't quite successful in convincing Jon Snow, he made some reasonable points in an otherwise messy segment which lacked any real substance to inform the viewer at home. If you already knew about games and gaming, you were far too informed for the piece, if you knew nothing then you'd leave not much better off. It would be a stretch to consider it journalism, and served as nothing but to highlight the generation gap between the two men. I'd recommend reading this Martin Robbins article in the New Statesman about this particular episode.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Indie Gaming: Dear Esther

I first played Dear Esther as the original source mod, some time ago. Today, I replayed it as the full game. Some things have been changed, and generally it looks and sounds so much better. It remains a wonderful and thoughtful experience.

It's not really a game though, is it?

I'm not sure I care though.

The music, the narration, the atmosphere are all perfect. Jessica Curry's music in particular is a highlight for me, and I even bought the album from bandcamp. I bought it last year and have listened to it several times, it really is under appreciated.

Free Indie Game: Olav & the Lute

Olav & the Lute
It is a wonderful time to be a gamer. The vast amount of games available is staggering, and new games are being produced every single day. These range from the biggest blockbuster marvels all the way to quirky free independent games. As such, it is always great to find out about a gem of a game that I otherwise would have missed. Olav & the Lute is one such game, and it was The Adventure Gamer that uncovered it for me.

The magical lute, the key to awakening the loom

The game puts you in the shoes of Olav, and you find yourself in a strange post-apocalyptic fantasy world. As you progress from room to room, you find a book and a lute which allow you to create magical effects on the world around you. Strumming a tune on the lute can destroy, burn, poison and more, but by reversing the notes you can repair, freeze, heal and so on.

The silent, slumbering loom.

Figuring out these tunes requires interacting with the world around you, with certain items ringing out with a particular set of notes (helpfully colour-coded for those of us with a certain lack of musical talent). An early puzzle has you looking at a "king-sized key" to receive the tune of locking/unlocking, and using it on the conveniently nearby "queen-sized door".
Playing my way out

Indie Gaming: Papers Please

Glory To Arstotzka! The October labour lottery has been completed. Your name was pulled. You have been selected to write the review for the game "Papers, Please". Do a good job, your country is counting on you.
In Papers, Please you play a humble border checkpoint operator. It is your task to process the entry documents of all persons wishing to enter Arstotzka. The year is 1982, and while the countries are all fictional, the design truly makes you feel like you are working for an oppressive authoritarian regime.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Indie Gaming: The Stanley Parable (2013)

How do you go about writing a review, a blog post, a tale of your experience for something like The Stanley Parable? I'm not sure my writing can do it justice. It's a bizarre and wonderful creation, full of secrets, jokes and twists. I love it, it's one of the best games I've ever played, and yet I'm sure it would infuriate some people.
The End Is Never The End

I guess you could describe it as "meta", because it has a level of self-awareness and self-parody that can only be done with these sorts of small indie projects. I'm not sure it's the best description though, as it undersells the game, it undersells the experience of playing through it, and if you're anything like me you'll play through it a couple of dozen times or more.
Remember to make the right choice.

Playing Along: Loom (1990) - Finished!

Well that was quick. As soon as I decided to spend an hour or two with Loom, it was all over. They really did make them short and sweet back in those days, but in this particular case they left it with a huge cliffhanger ending. Anyway, to recap...

Head to the forest, or the city. There is nothing to the left, nor is there anything to interact with on this screen.

I had been stuck at a waterspout, which I couldn't get past. I needed to think a little bit more about how the game works, because all it took was clicking the waterspout to get its pattern and then reversing it. Simple really, but enough to confuse me early on when I was still getting to grips with the interface.
The forest! Nothing to do here but annoy shepherds.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Kickstarting: Shadowrun Returns

I backed Shadowrun Returns many moons ago, because it seemed really interesting. I've actually not played it yet, but it has been out for a while now. So why write a post? Well, because of some stuff I got in the post! Yes, the backer swag has arrived, and it looks rather good. If you'd prefer a review of the game, you can either wait months for me to finally get around to playing it, or read further at one of the following websites:

So here's a little gallery of what you get if you foolishly pledge far too much money towards an indie RPG (it might be more excusable if I hadn't done this a few times, but at least some great games will be getting made in a small part because of me!).
The box, the book and the t-shirt

Playing along: Loom (1990) - Introduction

Loom is one of the well-loved series of adventure games from Lucasfilm Games/Lucasarts, and one that I had previously disregarded. My early adventure gaming had been dominated by Sierra, and their popularity obscured everything else. It wasn't until The Secret of Monkey Island (or perhaps LeChuck's Revenge, I can't even remember which one I played first!), before I would finally properly play and enjoy a Lucasarts adventure game.

Ask me about LoomTM

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Indie Gaming: The Stanley Parable (demo)

Who has time for a demo any more? Who even makes them? They used to be a big deal, a way for developers to push their latest product on an unassuming populace and convince them to part with their hard earned cash. Somewhere, somehow, that idea got lost. It was easier, cheaper, to make a trailer instead. Thirty seconds of scripted events can make a game seem rather fantastic really, and even the most terrible of gaming experiences can surely have a few moments of beauty to dazzle the unsuspecting gaming public into pre-ordering.

The game is released on October 17th 2013. But play the demo first!
The Stanley Parable demo is different. It's not even a demo really... or is it?

Wait here. Or don't. It's just a sign.
You should play it now, before you finish reading this.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Indie Gaming: Thomas Was Alone

thomas was alone
Thomas Was Alone is a brilliant game created by Mike Bithell, beautifully constructed in it's minimalism. You begin as the titular Thomas, who is a red rectangle. Each level begins with a quote, seemingly referring to Thomas, a sentient program that is causing all sorts of problems. You jump, you meet interesting friends, and have adventures in your 2D platforming world. As the levels proceed, Thomas and his friends give their thoughts on the situation at hand, beautifully narrated by Danny Wallace (Yes, that one).

7.1 ...the first act of sentient AI was an act of selflessness.

Friday, 13 September 2013

PC Gaming and Me: Fallout, Fallout 2, Fallout 3 and New Vegas

A little bit of history
My first experience of Fallout was a pirated version of the first game. It was bundled with Diablo and something else that I can't recall, and was missing all of the FMV cut-scenes, voice-acting and so on (I feel I should point out that I was living in a country where there was very little access to legitimate copies of PC games, and PC shops would openly sell pirated copies very cheaply).

Right off the bat, despite missing out on some of the background information due to missing content, I knew I was going to love the game. Nothing I had played to that point had built such a fascinating and alien world. Built from the destruction of a nuclear war, the game is set in post-apocalyptic California and incorporates a mixture of 50s sci-fi technology, Mad Max and more. For an RPG, this was new and exciting for me, as the previous RPGs I'd played were almost all in the "high fantasy" category. You play the Vault Dweller, who had lived a sheltered life in a vast underground hi-tech bunker. A malfunction with the water purifier leads you to be chosen to leave the vault (the first for a very long time) and find a replacement water chip. The adventures you have affect more than yourself, and the decisions you make create different outcomes for the various communities you encounter.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Playing Along: Colonel's Bequest and Final Fantasy Legend

I guess this blog all began back when I discovered the CRPG Addict, which was followed by The Adventure Gamer and latterly the RPG consoler. They're all playing through a long list of games of their respective genres, starting from the earliest they can find. On occasion, I decide to play those same games at the same time. Sometimes it's a game I've played before and love, sometimes it's a game I played but never completed, sometimes it's just something interesting. In the case of the two games in the title, I'd played them both but never completed them (but got so very close).

First up: Colonel's Bequest (1989), currently being played by The Adventure Gamer.

Colonel's Bequest is an adventure game, which brings to mind Agatha Christie and other murder mystery writers of that period. Set in 1925, you take the role of Laura Bow, who is asked to join their friend Lillian on a visit to her uncle's mansion. The mansion is suitably creepy, located within a swamp, and filled with family members and friends who naturally all hate each other.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon

I'm a huge fan of the Space Quest games, they have just the right combination of things I like. Lots of humour, sci-fi references and adventure gaming goodness. The third in the series is one of the best adventure games of the time, if a little short. How short? We'll find out as we play through.
Sierra! So many great adventures (I took this picture at 23:05)

The game opens with our intrepid hero Roger Wilco finding himself on a garbage scow. After drifting in space in an escape pod, I guess it's the best he could hope for. (How did he end up in an escape pod drifting through space? Well, that's all told in Space Quest 2 and isn't really important except for a single inventory item - a glowing green gemstone).
Look at that dithering, making the most of 16 colours.

Monday, 15 July 2013

The Steam Sale: Summer 2013: Part 1

Too many games. I often lament that I have too many games, and not enough time to play them all. Then of course the summer sales start, and I end up buying even more games that I won't have enough time to play. I've installed quite a few and I'm trying to get through them all, and I'm doing okay so far. So, here's the list of games I've bought in the Steam Summer Sale so far, and my initial thoughts...

Hotline Miami

The best first, Hotline Miami is a masterpiece. At first I thought it was just too difficult and the control system was abysmal (the controls are awful though, but I got used to them eventually). It puts you in the middle of a murder spree, with your character either drug-crazed, psychotic, or worse. Everything is in garish colours, ripped straight from the worst excesses of the late 80s and despite the graphics being relatively low resolution, the killing is all as graphic as they can manage.

The very beginning... and it immediately gets stranger

Sunday, 30 June 2013

9th Century Gaming: Crusader Kings II

"It was the year 867 CE, and Caliph Al-Mu'tazz sat on the throne of the great Abbasid Caliphate. He looked across his many fiefdoms, and knew that this was not enough. Although he was only 20 years old, he knew it was his destiny to conquer Mesopotamia, Egypt, Arabia and beyond, all in the name of the Sunni faith. His starting point was strong, he had a well developed nation and mostly loyal vassals. His enemies were ripe for the picking! First though, he had to deal with his family, the thorns on this desert rose."
The start menu, from here to world domination

I had heard of Crusader Kings many times, but had never dabbled. The closest I got was experimenting with Europa Universalis III: Complete (it's not complete, two more expansions were later released), which ended mostly in disaster. I just couldn't quite get my head around the systems and my choice of England was perhaps a poor one. Both of these games are by Paradox Interactive, a rather wonderful slightly smaller developer and publisher from Sweden. They excel in these sorts of grand strategy games, and they have produced games that cover historically accurate strategy from the 9th Century to the 20th (Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, Victoria, Hearts of Iron).

Caliph Al-Mu'tazz the Great, head of the Abbasid Caliphate (892CE)

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Kickstarting: Expeditions - Conquistador

I've only begun to scratch the surface of all the Kickstarter projects that I've backed, and here's yet another one. This time, it's actually been released!
Creating your character

Expeditions: Conquistador is a exploration-based strategy game, featuring turn based combat and a heavy dose of historical context. You play an explorer heading out from Spain to see what the New World has to offer. The gameplay style sits somewhere in the region of King's Bounty or Heroes of Might and Magic, but instead of a fantasy universe you have locations and characters based on the early 16th Century period.
Finalising your character and group of explorers

Saturday, 15 June 2013

21st Century Gaming: The Walking Dead (Episode 1: A New Day)

The Walking Dead is a comic book series about zombies, or perhaps it's about people in an extreme situation. An ongoing series, it's also been adapted into a highly rated TV show and most recently an adventure game by Telltale Games. All three involve some similar characters and situations, but play out in different ways. The game in particular gives you a certain amount of choice in how you survive this zombie apocalypse.

I wouldn't consider getting out of these cuffs a puzzle, and yet it involves several repetitive small tasks to complete. Even more frustrating on my second playthrough.
To preface this, I should probably mention I have never really liked any of the Telltale games I've played in the past. I wanted to like their take on Sam and Max, but while the humour was okay I just didn't enjoy the puzzles or the stories, nor the episodic nature of it. Next I tried Tales of Monkey Island, but couldn't bring myself to complete even the first episode. Again, they produced something that felt close to the originals, but there was something I didn't like about it. The interface, the graphics, it just felt a bit off, and I found myself playing different games instead and have never returned.
Not quite a Quick-Time-Event, but there's a lot of stuff like this.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

21st Century Gaming: FTL: Faster Than Light

I have not played many "Roguelike" games. The only one I have spent any reasonable amount of time on (and what is a reasonable amount of time to spend on a roguelike?) is Nethack. I guess this is because Roguelikes can seem so unforgiving, so random, so unfair. They tend to throw you in at the deep end, with the very act of learning their processes and methods being the meat of the gameplay. In Nethack, it is highly encouraged for you to explore the game without referring to a guide of any kind. There is a fabulous wiki, but it should be reserved for the absolute last resort. Otherwise you lose some of the joy that is to be found by experimentation. Even after all of that preamble, and the tag on this post, I'm not even sure FTL is a proper Roguelike. But it bears a hell of a lot of similarity.

The Kestrel, the starting ship design
FTL, or Faster Than Light, puts you in charge of a Federation ship running from an ever-advancing Rebel fleet. Your aim is to get back to the Federation home base, deliver vital information about the Rebels and save the galaxy (or something). You start with one ship, the Kestrel, with a fixed loadout and crew (Through playing the game you can unlock the other ships and alternate designs). From there on, you're on your own.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Greenlight? Red light.

Steam is many things, at least if we're talking about the Valve games and DRM platform, which also doubles as a store-front. It's a clever piece of software that now runs in the background on the majority of gaming PCs. It has pushed forward digital distribution to an amazing degree, and it's competitors are still trying to catch up (unfortunately that might be impossible, due to Steam having a very dominant place in the market). It's a tool of marketing genius, which has many gamers checking for new deals and new games to buy and download from the comfort of their own homes.

For the independent games development community, it's been a massive boost to sales. Having such a large marketplace allows developers of a niche games to find their audience, and being on Steam can have a large impact on the relative financial success of a project.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Kickstarting: Jagged Alliance Flashback

I've only completed one of the Jagged Alliance games, but it just so happens to be widely considered the series' peak. Jagged Alliance 2 is an incredible strategy game, where you recruit a selection of mercenaries to overthrow a despotic leader of a tiny country. The mercenaries are all characters in their own right, with RPG-style skill progression and their own personalities. Take the wrong collection of mercs with you, and they'll bicker and fight. The right ones can make the game endlessly easier.

Also available via

I'll no doubt cover the game in this blog, because it does make for a great game to talk about. It also has a still-active modding community, and the 1.13 patch adds a massive amount of depth to an already great game. It's charm lies in the different ways you can approach the game, from the more stealthy to the full on Schwarzenegger. But enough about the old game...

PC Gaming and Me: Memorable Music (part 1)

There was a time when PC games had to rely on the on-board "PC Speaker", which would make a lot of noise but rarely anything you would want to hear. However, such is the constant progress of the platform, it wasn't long until gamers could afford dedicated sound cards and speakers to go with their beige boxes. The difference it made was huge, even in the early days. A few small pieces of music and more realistic sound effects added so much to the experience.

Soon, sound became as integral to a game as the gameplay and graphics. Music can add mood to a game, evoke feelings and expand upon an experience. You could even craft entire games around it! But my love of music in gaming really comes down to those catchy tunes that stick in your head all day, and the soundtracks that beautifully capture the mood and style of the game.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Kickstarting: Carmageddon: Reincarnation

Carmageddon is my favourite racing game of all time. This can be attributed to several factors: It's based on the film Death Race 2000, destroying your opponents is an approved race-winning strategy, you can run over pedestrians and spectators, it was ludicrously over-the-top and it isn't half bad as a racing game either.

So when Stainless Games decided they were going to kickstart a new version, I was thrilled. All the same sort of action, but bigger, better and high definition. So I was quick to back this one, and things have been looking pretty good so far.

To get myself in the mood for the new version, I've been playing the original on my Nexus 7. All things considered, it's a rather impressive port. The controls are easy to use, and the game is just as enjoyable as I remember.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

21st Century Gaming: Dishonored (part 5)

In my previous post, I stated that I desired revenge against those that poisoned me. The final parts of the game did not disappoint. I had begun this undertaking to find those responsible for killing the Empress and kidnapping her daughter. I had completed this task, and had been struck down by those that had assisted me. Perhaps they desired power and wanted me out of the way, or perhaps they were scared for the monster I had become.

Spying on the assassins
 Either way, they were beyond my sword at this point, and I had to get through the assassins territory. Daud the assassin was the tool by which my enemies had killed the Empress, and it seemed fitting that I dealt with him while I was in the neighbourhood. Either way, I had to go through his headquarters to find my way back to the Hound Pits and discover where my former colleagues were hiding.

Monday, 8 April 2013

21st Century Gaming: Dishonored (part 4)

So I think I'm at least half-way through the game, perhaps even two-thirds. So I feel like it's a good time to write a little bit while I have everything running clearly through my head.

The Boldest Measures Are The Safest

I've already mentioned the early game, with it's obvious betrayal and cliché plot setup. What follows is a trip through Coldridge prison and the sewers. It's where the game really feels like it's started, where you can begin to make your choices between stealth and death. Choose to kill and you raise the "chaos" level, or you can choose to avoid all combat (and for added difficulty, try not to be noticed at all for the "ghost" playthrough). The level of chaos (high or low) is supposed to change certain parts of the game, although I haven't noticed much yet. It's quite possible that my murderous ways have made things more difficult, but I won't know exactly until the ending. It says something for the quality of the game that I'm actually considering a second play-through (non-violent) before I even finish it the first time.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Bioshock: A Series Of Opinions

So I've decided to make a series of posts about certain blockbuster and highly influential games and essentially it's going to be a bit of a rant (hence the title), so bear with me but I hope to actually say something worthwhile at the same time. This time: BIOSHOCK.

All screenshots are from the demo, for reasons

I'm discussing the first Bioshock game here, I haven't played the second one or the new Skyoshock: Infinite, so I can't speak for anything they do. I might get around to playing them at some point in the nebulous future, but given that I have so many games to play and so much to write about, I can't see that happening any time soon.

"No encounter plays the same way twice. No two gamers will ever play the same way."

Sunday, 17 March 2013

21st Century Gaming: Dishonored (part 3)

The tools of the trade vary greatly between different games. While most first-person games tend to have a limited selection (generally a list of firearms of increasing power), the likes of Thief and Deus Ex provided weaponry, tools and more to the player. With Dishonored, the arsenal is comprised of three parts: Weaponry, Magical abilities and special tools.

The weapons of Dishonored are the least interesting of the three. Your first acquisition is a sword, for lethal takedowns and melee combat. Next up is a wheel-lock pistol, and finally a small crossbow. The pistol is noisy and inaccurate, and not really something you would recommend using. The crossbow has a wider variety of uses, with different darts for different uses (normal, sleep, incendiary). At various points you can buy upgrades for all of these (and for other equipment too), which makes them more useful to use.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

21st Century Gaming: Dishonored (part 2)

I mentioned last time that the game draws from a variety of other games in terms of it's general aesthetic and mechanics. But which games?
Metal walls enclose areas

Oddly enough, it wasn't Thief that I thought of first, it was Half Life. The opening boat ride is vaguely reminiscent of the tram ride in the first game, and the initial exploration and exposition is similar to the initial areas of the second game. Dishonored is a game that wants you to look around, and see the effort they've put into the world. Upon entering the Hound Pits, the pub that is your base of operations, you also get time to look around at your leisure.

The Wall of Light, futuristic security in an industrial era

21st Century Gaming: Dishonored (Part 1)

Generally, this blog is about old games, as I revisit classic games from my past or play through ones that I missed the first time around. However, I'm not just interested in old games! There are amazing new games being made all the time, and so I'm going to devote a little time to the ones that I've been playing. First up: Dishonored.


Dishonored is a first-person game, with a focus somewhere between exploration, stealth and combat. From what little I had read about it before purchasing, it seemed to be heavily influenced by the Thief series. After a few hours of play, I find it's influences are far more broad than that. But first: what is the game actually all about?

The boat ride, showing off the art department's handiwork

Saturday, 9 March 2013

X-COM: Mars Attacked

So this is Mars, the red planet. The alien base is surrounded by an atmospheric bubble, and with no noticeable defences we landed without incident. Odd, considering how well armed my bases are, and with retro-fitted alien technology to boot! I guess they underestimated our ability to attack them here.
Always a risk, keeping soldiers this close together

The battle on the surface of Mars is just  the prelude, and involves a scattered selection of Sectoids. They've never been the most fearsome of aliens, and now that I've got a squad of my strongest Psychic soldiers they pose even less of a threat. Since I have no need for their technology at this stage, I decide to use a few Blaster bombs, and level a few of the pyramid buildings.
A bit more spread out here, searching through these pyramid structures

X-COM: The Avenger, Assembled

It took a lot of time, a lot of money and a lot of resources, but I'm ready. My soldiers are suited up with the best armour, the best weapons and an interplanetary spacecraft. Our target is the Alien's Martian base, and we either destroy it or we perish in the attempt.

Get your ass to Mars!

With no requirement to salvage any technology from the base, I'm in an explosive mood. I've been hoarding some Blaster launchers and bombs, with this being the perfect opportunity to unleash them. Capable of smart targeting and massive damage, these have hindered my progress when the Aliens have used them. Now it's my turn to use their devastating force against them.

Here's the one I fit onto my Avenger

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Kickstarting: Quest for Infamy

There I was, posting about Mage's Initiation, and I realised I'd completely forgotten to mention a similar project, which I'd backed and had been funded a while ago. I guess I was sure that I'd written about it already. So with apologies here's that game:

Quest for Infamy is an adventure game with RPG elements by Infamous Quests, who many might know from their time as Infamous Adventures, where they were responsible for excellent remakes of King's Quest 3 and Space Quest 2. Quest for Infamy has been a long-held dream for these guys, who had played Quest for Glory and wondered how different things might be if the main character wasn't such a nice guy!

All pictures from Infamous Quests

Kickstarting: Mage's Initiation

For a change with these Kickstarter postings, here's a game that is still (as of writing) looking for funding. There's not much logic to the order in which I've been posting about these, and I suppose I should have gone in chronological order, but I'm just going to go randomly through them. So...

Mage's Initiation is a graphical adventure game with RPG elements by Himalaya Studios. The most obvious influence on the game is the Quest for Glory series (whose creators are working on Hero-U, which I previously mentioned). The art style is certainly evocative of those 90s Sierra adventure games I am so fond of, and it's no wonder when you look at their back catalogue.

(all picures from Himalaya Studios)

Saturday, 16 February 2013

X-COM: Open Your Mind!

On a few occasions, I'd had soldiers become panicked, go berserk and generally be affected by the punishing situations they have to deal with. However, there were also times when individuals were affected despite being in a relatively secure position. This indicated a new form of alien attack, and my fears were confirmed once we'd researched the Sectoid brains and their Mind Probes.

It seemed the elite Sectoid soldiers, the Leaders in particular, had an amazing psychic ability. They used this to undermine the mental state of my soldiers, and in some cases even control their minds. I had to respond in kind, discovering the means of this attack and finding a way to protect my troops. First I had to capture one of their Leaders, to gain more information.