Game Archeology – Zarch

•July 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

As you may know if you’re a long-time reader of this blog, I like Populous. I like Populous 1, I really like Populous 2 and have a love-hate relationship with Populous: The Beginning (though with mods that made it easier to play it’s swinging back towards love).

So I was browsing Wikipedia. You know how it be.

And I ended up at the entry for Populous (again). Only this time I noticed a little sentence I hadn’t earlier.

Peter Molyneux led development, inspired by Bullfrog’s artist Glenn Corpes having drawn isometric blocks after playing David Braben’s Virus.

Virus? What the heck was Virus? I knew a lot about David Braben (co-creator of Elite, creator of Frontier and founder of Frontier Productions, which, among other things, published Roller Coaster Tycoon 3.

But I had not heard of this game.

The game named as “Virus” was actually Zarch, a game for the Acorn Archimedes. (Virus was the name of the Atari ST version). In the game, you…well, just watch the damn video.

This game was released in 1987. Braben expanded on his groundbreaking work with Elite (which was the first game to use 3D polygonal objects with hidden line removal) to move up to a fully 3D, heightfield terrain using shaded squares to represent terrain types, altered the color of squares based on how far they were from the camera to simulate lighting, and had particle effects. As the game progresses, the terrain changes as it gets corrupted by the aliens – the colors go from green to brown and red and the trees become twisted and mutated. The game also had an incredible frame rate due to the fact that the Archimedes was quite a powerful machine for its time.

(It was also very difficult to play because of its mouse-only control scheme but that’s irrelevant to my point.)

Now that I’ve seen Zarch, I think it’s clear that it was an absolute inspiration – not for Peter Molyneux, but for Glenn Corpes.

Glenn was the landscape programmer for every Bullfrog game made, from Populous all the way through Dungeon Keeper. Populous actually got its start after Glenn played Zarch, got fascinated by the landscape generation, and came up with his own isometric version. But Glenn didn’t stop there.

Here’s a screenshot of Zarch:

Zarch_screen

Now compare it to Powermonger:

maxresdefault

It’s obvious that Zarch sparked Glenn’s interest in terrain generation in general. But now I think it’s clear that Powermonger was Glenn’s attempt to both replicate and improve on Zarch in every way he could. Powermonger even used a particle system almost identical to Zarch’s!

And here I thought I knew everything about the development of these games. That’ll learn me.

Pinball Arcade

•May 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

(Note to Fargoalians waiting for a Fargoal update – you will be served. Yes, you will. You just wait.)

In the meantime, I ran across this thing called Pinball Arcade.

Now, I had never been a big fan of pinball. Every time I played a pinball game it was over within moments, the balls caroming randomly off everything. I felt like I had no control and that the ball was attracted to the outlanes like they were magnetized or something. I never got it.

Then, while YouTubeing, I ran across this video of a guy absolutely owning a pinball game called The Machine: Bride of Pin*Bot.

It became clear as I watched this video that this game was complex and subtle, with many objectives to fulfill and many different ways to score. It also wasn’t nearly as random as I thought pinball games were and definitely rewarded skill.

It was also emulated, which appealed to me. Anyone reading this site should already know about emulators. Right? There’s tons of them. NES, SNES, Game Boy (Color) and Game Boy Advance, classic arcade games, the original PlayStation – all these platforms have been solved, with emulators providing experiences indistinguishable from the originals. If you’ve got a super-hot computer, you can even get near-perfect experiences with GameCube and PlayStation 2 emulators.

But unlike an electronic platform where you just emulate the CPU and memory and all the games suddenly start working, each pinball game must be emulated individually. The guys at Farsight Studios have to get a working machine (or a non-working machine and restore it to working order) and then spend months translating the machine’s internal workings, LED display and programming into their system. And of course they desire to be as accurate as possible.

This is more than emulation – it’s preservation. There are millions of working SNES machines in existence; you don’t need an emulator to play SNES games. By contrast, a very popular pinball machine would sell about five thousand units. And when all five thousand of those machines are gone – either sold for scrap or junked or just left to rust in a storage unit – then the game ceases to exist.

Unless it’s been emulated.

So I looked up Pinball Arcade and discovered that you can play it on practically any electronic device known to man. There’s a PC version (through Steam), PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, and versions for iPhone, iPod, iPad and Android devices. And they all play practically identically.

At this point, Farsight Studios has emulated almost thirty pinball machines through Pinball Arcade. They are living up to their name, doing the work of the gaming gods and making sure that these games do not die when the machines that contain them do.

You can download a version of Pinball Arcade on whatever you happen to have and it comes with a free boardTales of the Arabian Nights. You can then buy boards in two-packs or buy whole seasons of boards for a lower price.

Give it a try; it may just change your mind about pinball like it did mine.

GameStop Sucks

•May 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I mean, I knew this. Right? Deep down, everyone knows this. Penny Arcade has been called GameStop “glorified pawn shops” for years and it’s true. But sometimes I want a game that’s been out a while and I don’t want to wait for it to come in the mail and I may not want to pay full price and…you know. Excuses, excuses.

Well, a few months ago I was in the market for a PS3 (to replace our stolen one, may the thieves rot in hell) and I wasn’t in the mood to pay full-price. So I succumbed to temptation and went to GameSpot.

I had another motive besides price – I wanted to see if I could find an older one with backwards-compatibility. All my kids have old PS2 games that they would love to play again (like Amplitude, Katamari Damashii and the Spongebob Movie game) so it seemed like an older “fat” PS3 would be a good buy.

And it was! The hard drive was only 80 gigs or so but I’ve never found half a terabyte necessary on a console. We got it home, set it up and started enjoying all the PS3 games we hadn’t been able to play for years, like Fat Princess and Scott Pilgrim vs The World. I also bought Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix for my son and the Ratchet & Clank trilogy for everybody. (The appeal of Ratchet & Clank is universal.)

Then, about two weeks ago. The PS3 died while my son was playing Kingdom Hearts. Now, we had just turned the thing on so heat wasn’t the problem. Attempting to turn off the PS3 and then turn it back on resulted in a green light, then a yellow/white light and then a continuous blinking red light. We never get video. Heck, we can’t even get the Kingdom Hearts disc out of it now.

So I did my Google-fu and found out that on the old PS3s, the continual heating and cooling cycle would eventually cause the CPU or GPU to separate from the motherboard, thus rendering the whole device inoperable. There are YouTube videos that will show you how to disassemble the unit, reattach the chips and then put the device back together, but most people warn that this fix will only last a few months before the chips separate again.

“Well,” I thought, “this is annoying, but there’s a fix, hopefully if I do this it’ll last longer than a few months. I just wish it had happened during the 30-day return period…”

Penny. Drops.

GameStop already performed this procedure on this PS3. They bought it broken, “fixed” it themselves with a fix they knew wasn’t permanent, and then sold it to me knowing that the device would fail, but would probably last longer than the return period.

So, because I didn’t pay $100 for an extended warranty (which would have driven the price of the device so high I may as well have bought a new one) I now have to nursemaid this thing and hope my fix is better than GameStop’s.

GameStop sold me a piece of hardware they knew was defective and would quickly fail and there is nothing I can do about it. Except never shop there again, which is exactly what I intend to do.

Get Ready for Name That Game 100!

•May 9, 2014 • 1 Comment

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a magazine called Games Magazine.

(Okay, technically it still exists in an online-only format, but I fear it is but a shadow of what once was.)

GM did everything. They’d review board games, video games, card games, RPGs, you name it. Some issues came with complete boardgames inside, usually ones designed to use existing gaming pieces. Every issue came with “The World’s Most Ornery Crossword Puzzle”, a staggering full-page grid with several pages of clues. They also always included logic puzzles, word games, trivia – you name it. If it amused, you could find it in GM.

And sometimes they’d get really deceitful. Some issues would include puzzles that weren’t even identified in the table of contents. If you were clever and scanned every page, you might be able to find a hidden message that, when decoded, described yet another puzzle. Sometimes they would even make a contest out of this, giving prizes to the first people to figure out there even was a contest.

I loved Games Magazine and I miss it a lot.

So I’m going to pull out all the stops for NTG 100. Be prepared. There will be puzzles within puzzles. There will be hidden clues. There will be red herrings. Many games will be involved but there will only be one right answer.

And yes, just like with NTG 50, there will be a prize.

Needless to say, this will be more fun the more contestants we get. So spread the word far and wide – think you got gaming trivia chops? We’ll see. We’ll see.

More on Fargoal 2

•May 8, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been asked how working on Fargoal 2 will impact the developent of my own games, specifically Planitia. The answer is that since this is paying work, it would be inappropriate of me not to give Fargoal 2 my full attention. So work on Planitia (and Zeta and Chitin and all the other little projects I’ve got going) will be suspended until Fargoal 2 is done, just to make that clear.

On the other hand, while I’ll be posting a lot here about Fargoal 2′s development, I’ll also be doing my regular commentary/review/Name That Game thing.

Speaking of which…

The next Name That Game will be number 100. My intention is to create a series of deadly traps that my readers must go through, each deadlier than the last, until finally a single victor emerges who must then fight me in a gaming trivia contest to the death! I’ll stream the whole thing on Twitch.tv, of course.

Hang on, someone’s muttering in my ear.

(So I can’t put people in deathtraps for my own amusement?)

(And we couldn’t afford to construct them anyway?)

(And it wouldn’t be fair to have someone challenge me in a video game trivia contest, since I’m the best at video game trivia?)

Okay, that’s out. Aaaand of course it was just a joke. In case this blog post ever shows up in court.

I’ve got an idea on what to do for NTG 100, though. See the next post.

Greetings, Fargoalians!

•May 5, 2014 • 2 Comments

(To my loyal readers: I’ve been kind of keeping a low profile recently because I had something in the works and now I can finally talk about it!)

Hi there! I’m Anthony Salter, and I’m the new developer for Sword of Fargoal 2. I’m incredibly excited to be on this project and if you look around the site you’ll be able to see why – Fargoal is just the kind of game I enjoy.

My first encounter with Fargoal was at a friend’s house back in the…I’m going to say late 80′s. See, I didn’t have a Commodore 64 of my own, so every once in a while I’d go spend the night with my friend Dennis and we would stay up all night playing games on his. That’s where I first encountered Sword of Fargoal, and though I didn’t have long to play it, I enjoyed it – especially the sound effects.

But when you’ve only played a game for two hours 25 years ago it might not stick in your memory so much. So I completely forgot about it…until the CRPG Addict started playing it. His writeup of the game was excellent, and that’s where I found out about the Kickstarter for Sword of Fargoal 2. It had already passed at that point so I couldn’t contribute.

And that’s where things stayed until a few weeks ago, when a friend of mine named Ido Yehieli mentioned that Sword of Fargoal 2 needed a programmer. I’d been wanting to get back into game development so he recommended I email Paul Pridham, the current programmer.

So I did, and I had a perfectly pleasant exchange with him. And eventually he recommended a phone conversation with the project leader, Jeff McCord.

Wait. Jeff McCord. Why did that name sound familiar?

That’s when I realized I was going to be on the phone with the creator of the original Sword of Fargoal. He hadn’t sold the license or farmed the game out; this was his show.

So, after an initial phone interview (in which I may have fanboid just a bit) and a series of follow-up email back-and-forths, here I am.

I think Sword of Fargoal 2 is a great game already and I hope that I can improve and polish it and get it into shape for its initial release. And after that…who knows?

So, that’s the current deal! To any new readers: I’m glad you’re here, and I’d be honored if you stick around. I talk about game development, review games sometimes and run a (semi)-weekly gaming trivia contest called NAME THAT GAME!

Name That Game! 99: In the Original Klingon

•April 30, 2014 • 5 Comments

A lot of times games get retitled for foreign markets. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes it’s hilarious.

Here are seven games created in Japan and very popular in English-speaking markets. I’ve given you the literal translation of their Japanese names; can you tell me what the English name is? (Just to be clear, these are all console games and several of them are NES games.)

1. It’s a Wonderful World

2. Turnabout Trials

3. Devil’s Castle Dracula

4. ZERO

5. Downtown Hot-Blooded Story

6. Myth of Light: Mirror of Palutena

7. Beast King Chronicles

Good luck! If you win, I’ll give you a free copy of my game, Deeds Of Minor People As They Battle Against Gods.

Name That Game 98: I Have a Name, If Nothing Else!

•April 16, 2014 • 5 Comments

Continuing the theme of the last Name That Game, we’re now delving into the realm of (potentially) memorable characters with fairly generic names. Why?

Well, there are lots of games out there that allow you to customize your character, sometimes even going so far as to allow you to be male or female. But then these games have a problem – if you don’t know what gender the main character is supposed to be, how do other characters in the world address him/her/they/it?

Most games get around this problem by either referring to your character by their last name or by some sort of title. As the player, you should get used to this because you’ll be hearing it a lot.

Below are ten names that games use to refer to genderless (or gender-selectable) player characters. Can you name the games they are from?

1. Shepard

2. Boss

3. Hawke

4. Alex D.

5. Hacker/Employee 2-4601

6. Alpha 1

7. Avatar

8. Viridian

9. The Nerevarine

10. The Courier

Good luck and have fun!

Age of Mythology Made Me Feel Dirty

•April 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment

So! Just a few days ago I found out about this:

Now, despite my eternal love for Age of Empires II, I did really enjoy Age of Mythology. I played it a lot and I played it with my daughter (co-op against AIs, of course). So that video made me very happy; there are some long-standing bugs with the original Age of Mythology that rear their head every time I try to play it. Seeing these bugs fixed would make me happy. Plus enhanced textures, water and lighting, and tools to make streaming and commentary easier. I might get to watch commented games on Twitch.tv! I couldn’t see a downside.

But the community sure could.

See, the game is being released at the abominable price of $30. I know, right? Quel horreur! It’s not like Microsoft is paying an external developer to improve the original code and add all these features. And it’s not like this developer is actively encouraging feedback on what new features to put into the game. And it’s not like the only reason they are doing this is because they feel they might make money at it.

Oh. Actually, it is like that.

And the thing that bugs me isn’t the fact that some people think that the price is too high. There are always going to be people like that. The thing that bugs me is that people are actually outraged at this price. They are frothing and foaming. The price is an affront to them; they can’t live full and robust lives any longer because of this price.

So I (possibly stupidly) decided to dip my toe in.

You can’t see most of it now because it’s been scrubbed, but I was immediately attacked by one Baron von ZinGer who, instead of addressing any of the points I’d made, called me an idiot. He accused me of having such a big ego that I’d probably be fired from my dev team soon.

I can’t wait to have that conversation.

“Anthony?”

“Yes?”

“Can I have a word?”

“Sure.”

“We’re letting you go from the team.”

“What?! Why?”

“You’re too arrogant and sure of yourself. You’re egotistical and your self-confidence is completely obnoxious.”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“I’m sorry, but that’s how we feel.”

“We? Who’s ‘we’?”

“Me, Viridian and Badman.”

“But we’re all the same person!”

“I know. We’re drawing a line inside our brain. We’ll stay on this side and you stay on that side.”

“Well, fine!” (door slams)

Yeah. This same guy also looked up my profile, saw the Greenlight link to Planitia, and accused me of being a “lying stealing dev” because Planitia is based on Populous. When I asked him how I was lying when I explicitly stated that the game was inspired by Populous, he said it was because I called the game “one of a kind” on my Greenlight page.

Yeah, I’ll just stop working on Planitia now and play one of the forty other god-game/RTS’s out there. I mean, why did he think I was such a fan of Age of Mythology in the first place?

So all I can conclude is that people are stupid on the internet. Oh! And that Age of Mythology Extended Edition looks boss and I’m definitely picking it up.

Planitia Alpha 1, “The Gods’ Playground”, Coming April 4, 2014!

•March 27, 2014 • 9 Comments

Okay! I’d like to announce that on April 4, 2014, my multiplayer god-game Planitia is about to have a public alpha I’m calling “The Gods’ Playground” and you can sign up now!

It’ll be a simple version designed to test my networking code. If you want in, you can comment on this post, email me at anthony.salter@gmail.com or sign up on the forums. Both Windows and Linux versions will be available. Sorry Mac users, you’ll have to wait until I can afford a darn Mac. I hope to see you all there!