On The End Of A Quill

On The End Of A Quill

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Worlds of Power!

 Here is a quick look at some videogame related books. The Worlds of Power books were published at the height of NES popularity during 90-91 and were based upon the big selling games of the day. Here are the first three, I show these because these are the UK releases and the covers are different from the US books. The stories were based as closely to the in-game plot as the authors could manage. While Ninja Gaiden for instance had a complete story to work off of, with the Blaster Masters story they just made stuff up to fill the gaps.
At the end of some chapters you find a hint box that helps you with playing the game. It’s typed upside down so you would have to turn the book to read it. Hopefully most eager games players could crack that code and be privy to such gems as ‘To beat the Barbarian, throw small shuriken, then hit him with you sword’ from Ninja Gaiden. Invaluable. The books are also littered with sound effects from the games in the narrative such as, Yeeeeeeaaaackk, Dzzzzzit, Shcrrraaawwwwwk-clunk, Ffffoshhh etc.


The books were aimed at videogame hungry kids in an effort to get them to read. At the end of each book there is a recommended reading section from the books creator F.X. Nine (hint: ton sih laer eman) So after finishing Blaster master you might like to read The War of The Worlds or after you put down Metal Gear you might enjoy All Quiet on the Western Front. Then go and write into magazines and complain that not enough literary classics get turned into videogames I presume.
In the Metal Gear novel Solid Snake is named as one Justin Halley and  as a member of the Snake Men? He doesn’t shoot anyone and speaks very softly throughout the book and at the end he let CaTaffy escape, not that he’s happy about that mind.

The Encyclopedia of Game Machines was written by Winnie Forster and published by GamePlan in 2006; it is an excellent full colour soft back that covers hundreds of computers and games consoles from 1972 onwards. It is part of a trilogy of books being done by Forster. Games Machines, Game peripherals and finally just games themselves. This is the only one released in English at the moment, the second book, Joysticks, has been released in German only. This year a more up-to-date edition of this book is due to be released.

I show some random page scans (apologises, my scanner is not the best) just to give a taste of what this book is like. It is a very well put together list of exotic oddities and more common machines that we used to play games on. It has notes on how many games were released and what was the best or most interesting software for each. It has hundreds upon hundreds of pictures and screenshots from the Magnavox Odyssey right up to the PSP. At 224 pages long it is well worth a read.
This book is a definite must have, but looking around the net, to get it can be a chore, not many copies pop up on eBay, and Amazon list it at between $150-$300. If you do get the chance to pick one up then certainly do, or you could wait for the new edition to come out and try and see if you have better luck tracking down that one.

Nintendo World Cup

These days if you want to buy a football game you have two choices, Pro Evo or FIFA? Both good games, both improving every year, both sell bucket loads, and both, well, at this stage a little soulless and similar to each other. It wasn’t always like this. Many moons ago there were more types of football games than teams in the football league. You could even argue that there was ‘choice’ up to the days of the Dreamcast and PS2. But for now I want to talk about one of my favourite football games on the NES, one that doesn’t stick too closely to the rules of football at all! Nintendo World Cup.
Released in the year of Italia 90 but Nintendo decided to have only 13 countries enter their world cup, they also included some teams who didn’t quite make it to Italy that year, Mexico, France and Japan. When you picked your team you would usually choose W. Germany or Argentina as they played out the final that year. While the cool kids would play with the speedy Brazilians because they always played the best football, right? They got dumped out at the second round stage in Italy but would have the last laugh four years later.
13 Teams, that’s a bit odd? Indeed it is. The reason behind this lies in its Japanese roots. Technos Japan Corp, the developers, originally made the game starring Kunio, their main mascot; he starred in lots of games for them, some of which made it out of Japan, River City Ransom, Super Dodge Ball etc. Nintendo World Cup was set in Kunios’ high school and there were 13 high schools in the game and a story mode but that was all altered on a western release. These games used a similar style of character throughout and are very distinctive and popular. But enough of the boring history lesson, how does it play?
Looking at the box you would expect a normal football game but on playing a match that picture was as close as you were going to get! Only six players per team and no fouls whatsoever to speak of. It really was like no other football game before, most football games at the time took the tried and tested overhead view, where you only saw the players’ heads and occasionally feet. Games that took this side on view tended to have blocky players and run very slowly. Nintendo World Cup had bright colourful and distinctly different players on each team. It also moved at a quick pace, well some teams did.
When you popped the cartridge in you get your usual choice of tournament mode, 1 or 2 players or vs. match with up to four players, I wasn’t lucky enough to have a four score adaptor in those days unfortunately. But 2 player games kept us happy enough; this is a great two player game. There are no changing players during play so your player would have to be watched on the field map at the bottom of the screen and you had to ask your teammates to pass you the ball. If your friend in player two was a ball hog then it could be a long game, but without teamwork there was no chance of your team lifting that World Cup trophy. In Versus mode you get the choice of surface to play on, the normal grass pitch is there but you could also play on sand, hard concrete or even on a pitch made of ice! The music also deserves special mention as the pregame tunes are top notch stuff and you never feel like lowering the sound down like in other games I could mention.
So you have your friend helping you in player two, a team has been diplomatically decided upon, it’s time to win that cup. But before you set one foot out on the pitch you need to make some last minute tactical decisions. These decisions affect the way the other players on your team go about their business, you can only control one player remember. You need to answer four questions about them. Will they pass or try to dribble with the ball? Should the goalkeeper join in? Yes or No? Always a 'Hell No' from me. Will your teammates shoot? Yes, No or sometimes. Let’s just set that to 'No'. Finally set your defensive strategy, will they tackle or mark the opponent? With no free kicks, let’s set that to 'tackle' shall we. Right. First up, Cameroon.
The first few matches are relatively simple and you could with a bit of skill win by double figure scores. It does get harder though and to reach W. Germany and win the final will take some doing. You spend most of the game asking your teammates to give you the ball before they lose it. You can hammer the pass button only for them to call out ‘I Can’t’ repeatedly back at you as they run down the wing, just like football with your friends in the park, brilliantly infuriating. No other game at the time had this, or any since really. If you run a certain number of paces with the ball you could unleash a super shot with some players, different teams had slightly different powerful shots. If a defender got hit with one of these shots or got tackled repeatedly he would fall in a heap on the ground and not get up until the ball had gone out of play. What we tried while playing was to set up a cross from one player to the other, a quick tap of the A and B buttons, and an overhead volley or wicked banana shot would, hopefully, fly into the net. Against the better teams it was harder to score as their goalkeeper could save these types of shots. Plus don’t try and play football near his penalty box as he will just barge you off the ball, like today, goalkeepers get away with murder!
Today it’s still a fun multiplayer game to fire up and play. It seems to have more screen flicker than I remember as a kid, but it’s never so bad as to effect to game. As I’ve mentioned there has been nothing like it since, so it’s a weird one to judge really. While not the best or most accurate football game around it is still so much fun to play I rank it up there as one of my favourite multiplayer games. It also game out on the Gameboy. But without the fun of having all your friends with you playing and all the action trying to fit on the small black and white screen, it’s the poorer version by far, I never found myself playing it for too long.
Lastly I want to mention one of my biggest memories of this game. While at my cousins house one summer we played this game constantly. Taking turns to try and get as far as we could. I and my eldest cousin would take a go then my younger cousin and uncle would try the same. We were all of pretty equal standard playing the game so it was all fair. Until this one time my cousin and uncle somehow managed to lose 2-1 to Cameroon, it was almost unbelievable, we usually aim to try and score the most goals against them. The sight of their teams’ players trundling across the screen in defeat below the final score line was priceless. This led to constant reminders and weeks of verbal abuse. Cameroon for crying out loud! Brilliant.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Football Manager

In 1984 a game was coded by a certain Kevin Toms and released by Addictive Games. This game spawned two sequels and a world cup edition. It put you in the hot seat of any team from Division 1 through to Division 4 of the old football league. You start at the bottom and work your way to the top. This game was Football Manager.

The granddaddy of them all. It took an age to load off of cassette. But when it started it transformed you into a budding Jim Smith or Howard Kendall. Of course when it starts up you can put in your own name. You then get to choose what team to manage, Man Utd were number 10 if I remember. The next screen had you choose your difficulty, from 1 Beginner to 7 Genius. How good of a manager do you think you are? You then proceed to your main options screen. But the only one I used was to display my players or buy new players, it had lots of other stuff such as print league tables (I never had a printer back then unfortunately), and an option to change all the names in the game, so I guess we could load it up today and make it totally up to date, I’m sure someone has done that!
You get to pick your team from all the stars of the day, Frank Stapleton, Norman Whiteside etc. Unlike the fifty million stats values for your players that you see in the management games today you’re given two things to consider in relation to each player. Skill out of 5 and Energy out of 20. Trying to pack your team with highly skilled players might work now but when entering a new season all players skills would be reversed making getting a winning team together much harder. You then pick your 11 players, no goalkeeper needed to be picked, but you needed to have good defenders, or a highly skilled attacking team would get chance after chance. Once that’s done it’s on to the meat of the game, match time. It flickered onto the screen and you would be transfixed, three on three, would you be attacking or defending, would the ball be blocked, ballooned over the bar, saved or would it satisfyingly hit the back of the net. You would swear you could almost tell what was going to happen with the slightest movement of the players, but after playing it so much it was just your mind playing tricks on you. The tension during tough league matches or on cup days would be almost too much to take, there was no timer so the match could end at any time. The anticipation you felt with each change of screen would rarely be matched in any games, then as well as now. You could just skip along with the space bar from match to match and only stop when it forced you or you could try and get more involved. The club would have to be run smoothly. A big squad costs money which might not be covered by the gate receipts. How about a loan? Maybe sell some players, but not too many as an injury or two could severely dent your promotion push. With those bad results you would see a drop in morale. After some games you would get the chance to buy a new player, can you afford it? Put in a bid if you fancy him but don’t bid too low or his valuation would go up! If we had known back then what they were, we would surely be blaming the players’ agent. The stress could be too much to take for a young manager.
As with all early 80s games a heavy dose of imagination would be needed to get the most out of it. Up to that point it was the most immersive and graphically rich management game ever. So we tend to forgive its faults, faults which only come to light in retrospect. Even today though it is still playable and can be a joy to return to every now and again. Plus it’s much easier to save on an emulator today than on a cassette tape all those years ago, something I never got the hang of.
Not being able to save, well I wasn’t able, meant that I had to find other ways to get my team to the Division 1 championship. With the amount of time it took on the harder difficulty levels I was ‘forced’ to leave my Commodore 64 on for up to three days straight, only turning off the TV for a few hours of sleep or when my parents insisted on me eating or spending time with my family. Did they not know what I was trying to achieve?? I had to hide this fact from them though as I was sure if they found that the power box on the plug was now as hot as a nuclear reactor they would switch the whole thing off before I got the chance to say “I’ll try and save it to a tape so!”.
Football Manager was also given away free with Commodore Force in the early nineties, leading to lots more playing and use of the edit feature. I had moved on to Kenny Dalglish Manager by Zeppelin at that stage. The actual match engine wasn’t as good or variable as Football Manager if I remember though, big blocky players constantly hitting the post while the goalkeeper dramatically hits the floor and stays there as everyone else plays on.
Another time I was at some seaside town in the summer and picked up a number of games in a bargain bin, a pound each I think. When I eventually got home days later I tried the games out. Colossus Chess worked fine, but when I loaded up IK+ what should load up, Football Manager? Very strange indeed.
As this is one of my all time favourite games, I really recommend for anyone who plays football or football manager games to go back and give it a try, where else can you buy a star striker for £25000?

State of Play - Infinite Space

Occupying most of my time at the moment is the new Sci-Fi RPG from Sega on the DS called Infinite Space. I’m over 20 hours in and find myself at the end of chapter 4; I think there are 12 in all. I have no idea if that is slow going or not. It is definitely holding my attention more than the other RPG released on the DS that came out a few weeks previous, Phantasy Star Ø. But more on that in due time.

You play as Yuri. Who in typical JRPG fashion goes from wide eyed nobody to leader of a pretty varied band of space travellers, who fight intense space battles with scum from every sector of the universe. There just seems to be something about space travel that holds some mystique with people. You might be tapping between two dots on the screen and on any other game it would be crap, but this is space goddamn it! New planets open up to you as you progress from chapter to chapter. It’s a bit like Skies of Arcadia with all the pirates flying around. Between battles the story is pushed on with anime stills of all the various characters in the game. So far it seems to be a winner. A full and proper review if and when I finish it, you can only rate a game after you finish it, right?

Other games I have been dipping in and out of this month. Like most people I was drawn to the complex original active turn battle system employed by the...... okay, okay, it was the rather enticing box art by artist Hyung Taek Kim, and the game is no ugly duckling either, an interesting story and yes a rather novel but good battle system. I’m just after starting disc two. So I presume I’m halfway there.
My PS3 has just suddenly decided not to load any games anymore. It won’t take an update, won’t let me download any games from the internet and thinks my hard drive is full. So no games or DVDs, a big expensive ornament under the TV. I had hoped to get Resonance of Fate on PS3 but might just pick it up on the Xbox now. My GamerScore needs a much needed boost anyway.

Clash of the Titans

This latest adaptation from the stories of Greek mythology is itself a remake of a 1981 film with the same name. It has a lot of notable faces of acting talent on the cast list also, but somehow, somewhere it just all goes wrong.
Sam Worthington finds himself playing our main hero Perseus, son of Zeus. After playing half man/half machine and half man/half big blue avatar, he gets to sink his teeth into the role of half man/half god! So surely he would have the half man part down. Sadly the script seems to have given poor Sam only half his lines. Through a rapid-fire intro we find Perseus a grown man who has watched his family die, then after some pretty random events he is thrust by the royalty of the doomed city of Argos into their man/god saviour, very few questions asked. Not that this is Sam or anyone else’s fault, some scenes cry out for one or two more lines of dialogue to clarify things or expand on a character, but nothing, silence, lots of missed opportunities.
Even though the story doesn’t stick rigidly to the myth it is based on, surely all can be forgiven when we get to the big budget action scenes? “Unleash the Kraken”, you find yourself hoping beyond hope that this battle will somehow justify your ticket price, but sadly it’s not to be, you spend ten minutes waiting for this creature to raise himself up from the sea and then he’s dead. That’s as good as it gets though, there is a skirmish with giant scorpions in the desert but these look like scenes that were cut from the first Transformers movie.

3D or not 3D? If you wish to pay extra and watch this film in 3D you might think that your 3D glasses must be broken. Things that you expect to jump out in 3D at you don’t. It’s very poor next to Avatar. The film was not shot in 3D but they went back and made it 3D afterwards, you wonder why they bothered really. Liam Neesons beard and shiny silver armour don’t look any better in 3D.
So in summing up I guess all that is left is to grade this movie. Now I know most people go for a straight forward 5 Star rating system, it’s easier on the DVD box makers. But I want to do something different, maybe involving a multi-snaked Medusa head showing how much you should not look at this movie. Screw it, (any ideas?) I’ll come up with something another time; just don’t go watch this movie.

What's it all about?

The eternal question, the meaning of it all, the reasons for getting out of bed in the morning. This blog does not aim to answer any of the big questions that have tormented mankind for centuries (well not yet anyway). But it does hope to shed some light on those things that we do to pass the time.
Whether its watching a movie, reading a book, walking your dog or just playing solitaire on your laptop, we all have numerous hobbies and pastimes that we indulge in that helps us escape from the humdrum day to day toil we invariably find ourselves in. Well, some days can be toil! But nevertheless our leisure time is vitally important to us; we spend our hard earned money on it, and I know I for one am loath to find I have wasted my time, money and effort on something that turns out to be a big disappointment.
My passions include videogames, old and new, mostly old though, various types of music, all most definitely old! I try and follow a large range of authors and characters in books and graphic novels. I watch more films and TV than I really should. I find myself older everyday, which leads me to believe I’m part of some weird science experiment.
So the essence of this blog will be for me to try and fill people in with my thoughts of the big impending pop culture phenomenon of the day, plus everything else that gets in under the radar. I will update as soon as I can after winning any rare games on eBay, aren’t they all rare?, as I’m somehow managing to get a collection of more games together than I’ll ever play! I can’t promise that this blog won’t degenerate into waffle about what I find down the back of my couch, but let’s see what happens.