Tuesday, 25 October 2011

PC - Desktop Tower Defence

Desktop Tower Defence
Never played a Tower Defence game? Maybe you should.

You see, my problem was the name. It didn’t exactly… grab me. It sounded kind of boring.

And then, someone pipes up over on Fruit Forums, “Hey, have you guys played this game? Seriously, I’m hooked.”

So I gave it a try. Guess what? I was hooked.

The premise is simple. “Creeps” will begin to emerge from the top and left and make the quickest journey they can to the opposite exit. Every creep that makes it loses you a life, of which you begin with 20. The only way to stop them is to construct Towers of varying types which will automatically fire at enemies in range.

The best way I can describe this game is… think of Command & Conquer, but your troops cannot move.
Creeps come in many different flavours… standard creeps just amble towards the exit. There’s creeps that like to stick in a big group, so whilst they might get past towers that can only shoot one creep at once, explosions might wipe the whole troop out at once. There’s also fast creeps, flying creeps, spawn creeps and “dark” creeps, which you will just have to learn how to deal with.

Luckily, your towers also come in a variety, and all have their strengths and weaknesses. Some can fire single shots at a time, some fire explosive or “sticky” rounds, or there’s other effects you can induce. Bash Towers are devastating but only harm ground creeps real close by, whilst Swarm Towers will only attack airborne creeps.
Towers can be upgraded too, so that their damage, range and firing rate can be boosted to very high levels. And you’ll need to have some good towers to beat creeps on later levels as their health increases massively.

There’s a couple of accepted tactics usually employed… either concentrate on a particularly devastating section that the creeps must traverse, or create a long maze of low-level towers whose combined firepower should be enough to see off most enemies. Another tactic you can employ is “juggling”, although this is tantamount to cheating. But basically this involves getting the creeps into a long maze, then selling a tower that creates a very short route to the exit, which will actually tempt all the creeps to come back to the hole you just created… only for you to seal it up, causing them to go back through the maze of deadly towers you set up. And repeat ad infinitum.

The latest web version, which can be found here, is TDPro, featuring several scenario levels, a sandbox (with score multiplier based on how easy/hard you make things for yourself), sprint and multiplayer. There’s also a new version on Facebook called Desktop Defender, which I think is brilliant, and allows you to challenge your friends to beat your scores, as well as many other features and boosts you can use. Unfortunately it starts out very difficult as you have to buy extra towers with your in-game coins… But still worth persevering with.
In short, if you haven’t played it before, go and play it now. Although not at work… you might lose track of your dinner break.

Arcade & Spectrum - Operation Wolf

Arcade & Spectrum
Operation Wolf
Operation Wolf is one of the most well-known and iconic arcade games of all time. Basically, the game is pretty much a movie conversion of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Commando, only without the funny quips and one-liners.
The first thing anyone notices about Operation Wolf is the cabinet, and the rather prominent full-size Uzi sub-machine gun mounted on the front. If there's one thing above all else the game's going to be remembered for, it'll be that. Due to being relatively short in stature, I left it quite late to play the machine, as I wasn't tall enough to play the game comfortably. I'm not a dwarf by any stretch of the imagination, but a comfortable shooting stance just wasn't possible until I was in my teens, due to the fact that the gun wasn't "loose" and on a wire like most other gun games.

Fortunately by this time I'd played the game on the Spectrum many many times... thanks to getting the Light Gun version with the computer.
OK, so the premise then, is basically exactly what I said... Commando. One man versus an entire army, trying to rescue the hostage(s).

It's a side-scrolling shooting gallery, each soldier usually only takes one hit to die, although a couple will lie injured for a second and then leap up and attack again. Most are armed with guns, and will either run on screen or parachute down, or pop up from behind scenery. Some will hurl knives or grenades at you which can be shot away. Or, depending on the scenery, you may have to face tanks, or gunboats. By far the most deadly enemy are the helicopters, whose gunfire certainly has the most detrimental effect on your physical strength.

There's other things to be shot, too, windows are always good, but watch out for birds and pigs, they might even drop ammunition for you... for some reason. Alternatively you might just find useful pickups on the floor... such as drinks to replenish your strength, dynamite to act as a "Smart Bomb", or even the "Free ammo" machine gun, which is basically a few seconds of rapid fire without any need to reload.

In fact, this is one thing I've always liked about Operation Wolf over other games. Your ammo comes in magazines of around 30 bullets, a surprisingly accurate representation in days of "infinite clips" in both movies and games, but here you will actually have to stop firing whilst you change clip! So it’s worth keeping an eye on how many bullets are in your current clip, and if there’s only a couple, may as well fire those off just to enforce a quick reload.

There’s 6 scenes overall (5 in the Spectrum Lightgun version), and they do actually follow on and have their own plot… disrupt the enemy communications to stop them calling for help, get information from the enemy, rest up at the village, get yourself some fresh ammunition, raid the concentration camp and rescue the hostages, then bundle them onto a plane at the airport and escape. Easy, huh?

Taito were onto something here, and as usual it’s the little “touches” that make it such a great game. From the off, if you watch the game in “Insert Coin” mode, you see a short intro of Roy Jones (that’s you, by the way) preparing himself by strapping his rocket grenades to himself, sheathing his knife and tying his boots, but then there’s the equivalent of Sonic The Hedgehog’s “SEGAAAAA” moment when the cabinet tells you, “Operation Initiated!” And who can forget the Game Over sequence… the screen fades to white, and you are told in no uncertain terms that you’ve sustained a lethal injury. And then they apologise!

The other nice touch is the abundance of endings. Whilst you’re aiming to reach the “Splended! You are a real pro.” message (and yes, they do spell “Splendid” like that. My spell checker is going mad here… wait until I cover the “Eleminated” on Operation Thunderbolt!) and you will eventually see the “Lethal Injury” screen… try dying without any ammo left… or even completing the game with all hostages dead.

And then there’s the music. It’s superb, yet very understated. You’re likely to not even notice, especially on the real machine.

Luckily, the music made it over to the Spectrum Light Gun version very faithfully. Unfortunately the static graphics (like the Lethal Injury screen) didn’t. Neither did the Jungle Level.

But, apart from a little slowdown while firing, the Spectrum version is an excellent translation, and the lightgun worked pretty well too.

Whilst I’m sure there were other home conversions that were technically superior, I’m not aware of any other versions supporting a light gun. I could be wrong. But, as unlikely as it is that you’ll find a working arcade cabinet in the wild, don’t worry about settling for the Spectrum version… it’s pretty damn good and just as exciting.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Arcade - Chase H.Q.

Chase H.Q.
Must… resist… urge… to… start… review… with… sampled… speech… quotation… from… game...

Let’s Go, Mr Driver! Giddy Up, Boy! More, push it more!


Ok, Taito are definitely one of my favourite arcade machine manufacturers ever. The sheer number of high quality titles they produced, not to mention ending up being converted to home formats, speaks volumes about their ability to put a great game together.

If you read my Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins review, you may remember I mentioned an arcade with the broken machines and free credits. Well, not being total skinflints, us punters flocked to the machine in the corner, my brother in particular, despite the fact that the price per credit was twice that of the rest of the arcade.

Yes, Chase H.Q. it was, and although it was a stand-up cabinet, it was a fantastic machine. The bonus was that in this particular arcade the sound was turned RIGHT up, often drowning out the rest of the arcade, much to the annoyance of those on the silent Gladiator or Mat Mania machines.

Anyhow, if you’re not familiar with this great game, here’s the basic plot. You are the driver out of an elite “Chase” team, driving a black Porsche at high speeds along very fast scrolling roads. The “Chase” team’s job is a straightforward one… chase after an escaping criminal and catch up with them within 60 seconds, then batter their car until it breaks within another 60 seconds. Somehow your car will remain in one piece while the criminal’s car disintegrates steadily, so don’t worry about damaging your vehicle, it’s all about taking theirs out of commission. Do this 5 times against various vehicles and various naughty people, and you will be commended for your efforts.

So apart from a fast car, what else do you have to help you? Your car is capable of nitro boosts, which will increase your top speed by a hell of a lot for 5 seconds, but you only have a limited number of these (normally 3, but can be changed by DIP switches). Also, with the crims being a canny lot, they’ll try and throw you by turning off at an intersection. Luckily, your helicopter-bound colleagues at Special Investigations Airborne are there to point you in the right direction. Take a wrong turn and you’ll increase the distance you need to make up, so it pays to take notice of their advice.

You’re not completely on your own, you have a partner sat next to you who will give you encouraging words from time to time (as per the sampled speech thing I opened with), and you’ve got Nancy, a sexy-sounding girl sat back at “Chase Headquarters” who tells you who you’re supposed to apprehend, chastises you when you’re low on time, and tells you how crap you are if you run out of time.

And that… is pretty much it. The graphics are awesome, and the frame rate is astoundingly fast for the time. There’s a REAL feel of speed to this, and that’s helped by the excellent sound. Tyre screeches, revving engines and the sound as scenery whips past you as you skim on the outside of a corner are all present and correct, whilst tense music jangles along in the background. Add to that the sampled speech… great stuff. Whether it’s Nancy telling you what to do, where to go and what to crash into, your partner telling you to “Push the Pedaaaaaal” or the crim exactly why he’s being held at gunpoint and being arrested, or the helicopter bloke giving you directions, it’s all fantastically well done.

It wasn’t until I found the machine a few years later in the Derwent & Victoria Hotel’s Games Room (Torquay if you’re interested) that I finally beat the game for the first time, and within a day did it again on one credit. And then realised what a short game this actually was. If you’re looking ever to buy an arcade driving game to own, despite the fact I think Chase H.Q. is one of the finest driving experiences arcades ever saw, I would actually advise against it just for that reason, and say to you, “Get Roadblasters instead”.

Unless, of course, you were getting it to perfect a high score record attempt.

To finish off, a quick word about the confusion this game has caused me… the two characters residing in the Porsche are supposedly the same Tony Gibson and Raymond Broady from Crime City. Remember that lazy-arsed review I did where I basically just pointed you to someone elses website? Well, if you’d read page 3 of LordBBH’s review, you’d have seen the comparison of the characters, in fact here’s a section of the original Arcade flyer to absolutely confirm this:

However, I bought the Spectrum version, and I know the instructions to all the home computer conversions (done by Ocean, and considered by many to be one of the most successful coin-op conversions of all time), contain the following information in the Scenario:

"This is Nancy at Chase HQ" - we gotta few perps to catch, Algernon, Looks like you ain't gonna get much sleep tonight" 
"Gotcha, Nancy baby! We're on our way!"

What? ALGERNON? AL-GER-NON? Even Matt Bielby of Your Sinclair got misled by this duff bit of info:

Which is why I thought, for many years, that the actual names of the pair were Algernon and Mr Driver. Seems stupid now. D’oh.

Monday, 3 October 2011

PC - Duke Nukem 3D

Duke Nukem 3D

Prepare yourself. This is going to be a bit of an epic. Not only that, but due to the nature of the game itself, there's going to be some swearing. Only repeating what you can expect to hear in the game, mind... but still, warning you seems only fair. Like it says in the title pic... ADULT CONTENT.

Right, hopefully that's the kiddi-winks toddled off now, leaving just me and the grown-ups here, still reading. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.
Duke Nukem started life as a character in a platform-based shoot 'em-up, although his name was spelt Duke Nukum then, and starred in two old PC games. I may be wrong on this, but I'm pretty sure these games pre-date VGA graphics, so possibly used CGA or EGA. Whatever they are, they’re old-school, both in style and playability.

Several years later, 3D gaming is the norm, Doom and Doom 2 are huge hits and the first person shooter is rapidly gaining in popularity. We haven't reached the stage of 3-D modelling yet (although it’s not far off), so what we've got is a kind of faux 3D, which basically means 2D sprites moving in a 3D space. Effectively you can rotate around an object, and whilst the walls and floor move realistically and 3D-like, the object will still be showing the same face whichever way you look at it, unless it happened to have different sprites set up for it, like the enemies did.

Not meaning in any way to take anything away from Duke3D, because after all, I'm probably the World's Biggest Campaigner for substance over style, gameplay over graphics. If graphics look a little ropey, fine, as long as the game makes up for it by being playable and enjoyable.

ANYWAY, to stop digressing for just one moment and actually talk about the dang game, you play the role of Duke Nukem, Earth’s hard-nut (actually reminds me a lot of Ernie the Psychotic Madman), and you must take on hordes of Aliens that have seemingly taken over Los Angeles. Apparently you were in some kind of spaceship and got shot down, armed with only a pistol. Not to worry, you’ll soon come across some better weaponry…

And the weaponry is nothing short of FUN at the best of times. Whilst you start off with fairly standard stuff (Pistol, Shotgun, Machine Gun, Rocket Launcher) you soon start collecting fancier bits of kit like Pipebombs (more like a remote controlled mine), the ShrinkRay (make your enemies tiny, and then step on them!), Lazer-activated Trip Mines, the Devastator (Automatic Rocket Launcher, save it for the bosses) and the FreezeRay (freeze your enemies, then kick ‘em and smash ‘em!). Oh, and you can’t forget the mighty foot, as well, if you’re up close and personal to an enemy… or just plain out of ammo.

There’s plenty of fodder to use these weapons against, too… from annoying alien “grunts” to Shotgun-toting Pigcops, to the Octobrains and bosses. And usually Duke has an amusing quip just before a tasty encounter, maybe something like “I’m going to rip your head off and shit down your neck.”

Yeah, about that… you shouldn’t play this game if you’re easily offended by naughty words like piss and shit, they’re contained in abundance. Sometimes an alien will do a little poo on the floor. Walking through it will leave brown footprints behind, and Duke will exclaim “Shit happens”. In fact, all through the game are little touches and things Duke can interact with that were quite unprecedented at the time. For example, there’s many mirrors (which will usually cause Duke to say, “Damn, I’m lookin’ good!” and toilets (“Ahhhh, much better!”) and a few little “Easter Eggs” (usually references to other games) can be found too. Shall I spoil them for you?

Nah. If you want to know about them you can find them easily enough on the internet. But you can’t forget about the girls. Yep, some of the levels visit strip clubs and sex shops, where you can give money to the girls working there, who will quickly shake their assets in your direction for you.

In between each level there’s little cut scenes, one of which is particularly funny, where Duke makes good on his earlier promise to rip of the bad guy’s head and… well, I mentioned it earlier, you can guess the rest.

Once again, these features ensured the game courted controversy, at the time it was often a winning formula for games, having the “enraged parents” and the Daily Mail repeating their tired old routine (“Think of the Children” and “Computer Games Are Evil”, basically). What is it they say, no publicity is bad publicity?

There were other features too, such as the Holoduke (a fake copy of yourself to confuse the enemy), Jetpack (useful for those hard-to-reach high up places) and Steroids. Steroids made your “Mighty Foot” even mightier than it ever was before, allowing you to actually boot your foes across the screen in a hilarious manner.

I hope you’re sitting comfortably here, because I’m FAR from finished yet.

Duke Nukem3D, as well as being a fun single-player game, was an AWESOME multiplayer game too. Now, this is where my first real experience of on-line gaming came in…

British Telecom used to have a service called “Wireplay”. This was basically a dial-up service with its own DOS-based software which allowed you to play games online against other users. It was expensive, 6.5p per minute during the day and 2.5p per minute in the evenings and weekends (If I totted up hours I put in to online gaming now in comparison, it’d be frightening), but it was pretty much the only option open to me. 4-player Dukematches online were good fun, although plagued by “Out of Sync” errors.

Fortunately, new Wireplay software was on the way, and I got myself on the Beta Tester’s list. Now THAT was a tasty experience. 8 players at once, super fast, lag was a thing of the past, and best of all, the promise of a complete refund of any charges incurred once I returned my feedback at the end of the trial.

I proceeded to run up almost £800 of charges, all of which were refunded. I went by the name of Dameron back then (inspired by Myth on the Spectrum), so I’d be interested to hear from anyone who may remember playing against me. If it helps, I was most likely the one covering the RPG spawn and spamming it to death.

It would be nice to be able to play it online again, only without the Wireplay software, naturally.

The last thing for me to mention in this review is the fact that Duke3d was bundled with the “Build” software… effectively this meant you could make your own levels, which is exactly what I did. After a few test levels, I finally took the plunge and made an absolute EPIC level. To be fair, out of all the computer-related things I’ve done in my life, after my XM Music and Fruit Machine Emulation contributions, it’s probably my proudest moment.

In fact, in celebration of the fact that Duke Nukem Forever has finally arrived after over a decade’s expectation, how’s about I make that level available for you to play? I'll have to find it first... but if I do, you’ll need Duke Nukem 3D, and if I remember rightly you simply copy the map file into the Duke Nukem directory (or folder if you prefer), and run the game with the command line “duke3d –map impymish.map”

The map’s called “Impossible Mission”, although it’s really not. Especially if you find all the secrets hidden in there.

The plot’s pretty basic: You, Duke Nukem, have been captured and thrown in a prison cell awaiting execution. When your last meal is brought to you, you take advantage and smash the alien scumbag over the head with the tray. After eating your lasagne and cous-cous, it’s time to get make your escape, exacting some bloody revenge at the same time. Your journey will be long and filled with peril, and require you to use several transport routes, including hijacking a submarine to find the alien’s hidden temple, which holds the secret to getting back home.

The level is massive, I used practically all the space available to me to make it, and it’ll take a while to complete, but there’s some very varied ideas in there, hopefully it’ll be worth the time. Hopefully I'll be able to find it and upload it.