Game 32: Bal Cube (Metro, 1996)

Playing rules: Difficulty: Factory Default.
1st: 185,750 - Mark Spaeth - 2002
...that's it!

Well, that’s a surprise and no mistake. Looking at the next game on the list I was thinking: “Game I’ve never heard of? 1996? MAME isn’t going to be able to play that properly - Just enough time for a bollock related joke before skipping on past”.

Hang on though - not only does it work just fine, but it looks pretty interesting to boot. Who knew? So, right, strap yourself in, we’re going for it. Get ready to Bal Cube it up.

As a change from the norm, let’s start with a short “questions and answers” session.

What on earth does “Bal Cube” mean? Well, young traveller, I don’t have an answer for you. It was only released in Japan and I’ve already passed on the ball jokes, so I’ve got nothing. Nothing at all.

Very mature of you. Ok then, can you at least tell us what sort of game it is? That’s rather a demanding way of asking the question isn’t it? You’re not the boss of me. Ahem. Well, Its quite easy to explain. Imagine a game like Arkanoid, but instead of controlling the bat you control the ball. Only the ball isn’t a ball, it’s a block. Only it isn’t really a block, it’s more of a cube. (Tell you what, that could be what the name Bal Cube means. They clearly started writing the name, like you would etch a name on a trophy, and then, three letters in they realise they’ve buggered it up. “It’s not a ball stupid, it’s a cube. Shit. Ok. Abort that word, delete it. You can’t delete it? fuck it, move on and just add the word Cube. Nobody will notice. To be honest by our ‘crazy Japanese’ standards this is a pretty accurate name all things considered. Job done.”) Now further imagine this game with elements of an upside-down Puzzle Bobble, sort of a bit like Tetris and with visuals looking like those dodgy porn Qix knock off arcades they used to have in shady pool clubs (and Quasar in Hull back in 1995 if I remember correctly. I know! fascinating isn’t it? Bet you’re glad I’m back.) You got that game visualised in your head? Yeah, it’s just like that. Exactly like that in fact.

Not with me? Don’t blame you to be honest what with the standard of imagination these days (another Call of Duty? Why the hell not!). Ok, let’s take it one step at a time.

Have you ever played Breakout or Arkanoid and thought – “You know what, I’d love to play a game like this, but instead of controlling the bat thing down there, I want to *be* the ball (live the dream) - control that little bugger directly somehow”? No. Of course you haven’t. Ridiculous idea. Ok. What if that ball was a CUBE? huh? What then?! I know – we all want to see that game right? Whole different ball cube game that.

Well, you’re in luck – that’s what Bal Cube is. At least I think that’s what it is – I played it half a dozen times before I had the remotest idea what was going on if I’m honest, but I think I’ve cracked it.

See, in answering a dream that nobody had, you’re asking for problems. If you let the player control the ball/cube/whatever, then what do you do with the bat? Who controls that little guy, a guy so accustomed to being the saviour that being abandoned so blatantly might just be the end of him? Futhermore; what will become of Pong-Bat Town? Assuming the bat is left to its own devices, what does it do? It’s never had to move for itself before, that’s the stupid balls job, bouncing about on its angular journey of nonsense.

..and then it all becomes clear. Typically the ball has always showed Mr Bat where it should be, why should that change now that the ball is the one being cruelly manipulated? It shouldn’t change anything and it doesn’t. You can almost hear the bat scream “I’m looking out for you buddy!” as it follows the ball’s every horizontal move like a well drilled team of firemen moving the stretched blanket below a baby falling from a tree.

This all makes complete sense. Good job everyone. Right, go on – start the game. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. <greensleeves>

That was quick. Yeah. I know. Where’s the fucking bat, right? There isn’t one that’s where. What on earth is that all about? Where the bat should be, you have a bunch of triangular blocks that create a wall between you and off-screen death. (*What* is actually beyond the edge of the screen in these games? A void? Lashing flames of doom? Maybe it isn’t death at all, just a really boring waiting room with only one magazine between everyone and that’s a beaten up copy of Heat magazine from 2002 with the crossword filled in with nothing but the words “Peter Andre” – not very different from death then to be fair.) I’ve seen this sort of thing before in other Breakout style games – protection power-ups that essentially means that you have a bloody great wall down there. This will be a walk in the park – who needs a stupid bat? Bring it on!

Even when you notice that the triangular block disappears once you hit it, you are soon soothed back into confidence as you notice that only one of the blocks is gone at one time. You hit one, it goes away. You hit another and the original one comes back and now this one goes away. Nice and simple and ultimately means there is only ever a single block missing from this wall o’ protection.

Now tell me that doesn’t sound like a piece of piss?

Even when you start playing it feels way too easy. So if it’s so easy, why do you inexplicably keep on finding the only poxy hole and die. Over and OVER again. You scream at yourself to simply move somewhere else, just go *OVER THERE* for fucksake, and for a short while it works. That is until you concentrate somewhere else on the screen and before you know it, boom, really-weird-and-out-of-place man screaming sound effect and that’s you dead. It makes absolutely no sense.

But does it? hmmm *rubs chin*. Ok, here comes the science bit, concentrate.


(Man, I feel old even remotely remembering that advert, let alone remembering it accurately enough to search for and find in seconds)

So yeah, my theory. We’ve all played breakout games right? Course we have. What about Pong style games? You know it. What’s interesting about these games is that keeping a consistent angle or line is often a valuable thing to do, vital even. While it is useful to deviate for attacking purposes, keeping control of the ball tends to involve keeping a consistent and steady angle going, like treading water (just without any treading and on land/sky/whatever. Actually, has there ever been an underwater Breakout/Pong clone? Who cares? as you were.) This is even more prevalent when you are in danger or are struggling generally – your natural instinct is to regain control and that means a nice consistent angle and line. Cor, isn’t science boring. It feels like I have typed out the same sentence over and over (I have? oh.)

To summarise, for those that barely made it past Jennifer Aniston, let alone read that last bit – all these years we have been taught that keeping control of the ball is important and when the chips are down and your natural instincts kick in, you tend to revert to keeping the same line as you did before. Which of course in this game means you die. Over and over again.

You see. Piece of piss, this ain’t. One minute you are happily bouncing a slow cube between each new “wave” of blocks, internally applauding yourself for keeping the bounces away from the tiny death hole (If that isn’t also the name of a midget porn film then I’m kicking off), the next the game is throwing angled blocks that send you off on the wonk (technical term) and speeding up really rather unfairly. Which for those that were paying attention, extra speed + unreliable bounce = panic setting in = natural instincts = dead.

The scoring doesn’t make much sense either. There *seems* to be some sort of bonus going on, but it isn’t immediately clear what it is.

Hang on! What were we thinking? We’ve broken the inaugural rule of “who wants to be an arcade champion”! (no, not the “don’t write any bloody updates you lazy get”, the other one). We haven’t watched the attract screen! That will surely answer all our questions and give us some handy tips.

Now, remember, this game didn’t get a release outside of Japan – so when you’re thrown a title screen that looks a bit like Amsterdam it throws you a bit. Just like the complete cube overkill that follows before you finally get to see some of the game. Hmmm..no explanations, just a single player game and then a two player split screen that looks very similar. Not much use. AH! What’s this, a demonstration, now we’re talking. Ah yeah, Japanese, that’s right. As some of you may remember from one of my older posts when this were all fields, I have been tentatively learning Japanese, but this is beyond me and will be for pretty much everyone reading this (hello mum!). It does seem to be laboriously explaining things though – it takes about 12 separate boxes of text to explain that the cube bounces a bit and then throws some blocks in and explains that the cube bounces a bit again. Not much use then, although it hints at bonuses coming from hitting the same colour in a row maybe? Sounds feasible to be fair. Ah, also you can die from letting a block reach the bottom of the screen, just like upside-down Tetris. Makes sense.

So, overall, not much use then. Straight into the game!

Easy…….easy!……..hey this is quite fun…..whoops, straight in the hole (steady) – and again. How hard can it be to avoid the SINGLE hole for goodness sake. Oh, quite hard. Game over.

16,990

Rubbish.

It is weird though. You really expect it to feel like Breakout or somesuch, but it doesn’t. It feels more like playing “keepy up” with a football, only with a ball you are able to steer in the air. It takes a lot of getting used to that’s for sure. There are powerups too, very similar to a game like Arkanoid and just like Arkanoid, they float down the screen for you to collect. problem is, this game is Arkanoid UPSIDE-DOWN, so that means the powerups are going the wrong way in relation to the thing you are controlling. It makes the whole thing much harder than it should be and more than a little annoying. Not to mention they make very little sense even if you do manage to collect one. “Change” for example makes your ball a tiny bit smaller, which in the big scheme of things makes no difference to the game whatsoever. What’s the point?

Anyway, the key is to keep reminding yourself to steer away from the single hole. Almost every single bounce you need to mentally tell yourself to deviate. It works to an extent as my next score was much better.

41,380

Straight in for another go and I notice that quite early on they also change the size of some of the triangle platforms at the bottom, with the edge ones now twice as wide. I’ve not really paid it much attention, but of course that makes it a lot harder, as the saviour blocks are now fewer and the space they leave are now larger. Sneaky bastards!

Still, the technique still works -  46,350

Now I’m getting cocky and remember the bonus for grouping colours and boy does it effect the score! Even makes it feel a bit “puzzley” which can only be a good thing – 106,010

That’s not bad at all. It’s not a million miles from the record either (which usually means the record is shit, but hey!) Overall, I reckon it’s a pretty fun game. Ok, it may look like garish 90′s shit, have music to match and generally make you feel like a thumbless wonder, but for a quick challenging blast you could do a lot worse.

Also, the name almost has the word ball in it, as in cock and balls. Can’t buy that sort of class.

 

Posted in The games, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

So. Do I win the prize?

Word on the street suggested that there was a prize for the least updated blog, so hit me up already! Right?

Oh. That isn’t true at all is it. It’s just a weak way of introducing another return after all? I dunno man, I dunno if people are going to take that.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Game 31: Bagman (Stern, 1982)

Playing rules:

Difficulty: 2 (Medium). Start: 3 lives. Bonus: 1 life at 40,000 points. Freeze Frame: Normal.
Dip-Switch: 1=ON; 2-3=OFF; 4=ON; 5=OFF; 6=OFF/ON; [English/French] 7-8=OFF. 

Current Record holders

1st: 6,840,850 - Jerry McCloskey- 1983
2nd: 3,333,300 - Mark Robichek - 1983
3rd: 262,700 - Mike Miller - 1983
4th: 121,040 - Andrea Prioria - 1984
5th: 67,220 - Gregory S.Erway - 2004 

There’s a rumour I heard as a kid that it was illegal, proper lock you up in jail and bum you illegal, to make a film that finishes with the bad guys winning. It’s alright having a film that has loads of terrible things happening, but there needs to be a good or at least an ambiguous ending or that’s you in the slammer. Sounds mental but it’s exactly the sort of thing you believe when you’re a kid. Actually, thinking about it now, it’s pretty hard to think of a film where the bad guy clearly wins at the end, but I digress from the point (which I haven’t made yet, hold the bus).

Similarly, games these days rarely have you control the bad guy. Ok, maybe a few of the more inventive games allow you to *become* evil as you play, do evil stuff and all that as you go and even a few have revelled in the fact you’re a bad guy, but often it’s in some fantasy world and there’s usually some sort of opportunity for redemption. Very rarely do you get to play a proper villain, an absolute cunt of a man if you will – Welcome to Bagman.

Bagman though? Sounds ace doesn’t he? Sounds like the sort of guy who makes small bags in his spare time to help kiddies everywhere carry their toys or perhaps the harmless old guy that enjoys nothing more than collecting tin cans in supermarket carrier bags. He’s none of those, oh no. Bagman is a low-life thieving bastard who thinks nothing of stealing bags of money, bashing the shit out of old security guards (probably “this” close to retirement) with pickaxes as he goes. That’s right, pickaxes. The massive sharp metal bastards used for digging up rocks and shit. Talk about harsh.

Hang on though, I’ve learnt something today and I shall share it with you. Wikipedia has the following definition for a “bagman”:

bag man (or bagman), is a person designated to collect money in a protection racket, who in this context may also be known as a delivery boy orrunning man. Originally the term applied only to Mafia members collecting for mob bosses, but the term later spread to use in corrupt police precincts for patrolmen who picked up and delivered bribes from the local mob(s) to the precinct captain.
 
The bagman may receive a fraction of the money collected. The term can also be used for a person who performs small tasks for the Mafia, such as chauffeuring or transporting goods.

Nice. So we’re not even playing as a bad guy with balls, we’re just a bloody delivery boy not even getting to keep the money for ourselves. Nobody likes to hear the word “fraction” when it comes to divvying up your share, what a rip – get the slag locked up and let’s move on to a more wholesome game.

Oh, go on then – seeing as we’re here (and we’ve waited so long to get into the Bs after all) – crimewatch can wait, let’s have a little look at the game why don’t we?

First off, the scores and I think it’s fair to say that there is quite a range on display. 6.8 million at the top, halved to 3.333 million for 2nd (nice triple nelson there incidentally). Third place? 260,000 – course it is. Looks like the top boys know something the rest of us don’t. That or it takes days to marathon the bugger or some such nonsense. Hey ho, let’s see if I can get involved with the 5th place 67k – that seems a good place to aim at.

Being nothing if not that bastion of honesty, I must admit, I have a bit of “previous” with this game. That’s not to say it’s one of my favourites, or even one that I’ve played particularly much – just that it has piqued my interest on more than one occasion. Rightly so too as it’s a much more detailed game that it first appears, as you’ll find out. What does that mean in real money? Well it means that this is less an adventure of discovery than usual, but oh we have so much to explore.

First of all though, I always recommend that you have a watch of the attract screen to get a general idea of what the game is all about. Actually, now that I think about it, that’s another thing that modern games are missing on the whole, a good old attract screen. True, the environment is entirely different and arguably there is no need to attract people to play your game when they have it sat in front of them in a console, but still…a good attract screen is a beautiful and informative thing indeed. Colour me angry at no-one in particular.

Anyway, let’s have a look what we have here. Ah look, there’s the chap that must be our “bagman”, happily pulling his wheelbarrow slowly across the screen. Is pulling a wheelbarrow easier or harder than pushing it? I would have thought pushing was the ideal method for such a thing? I’m already finding it hard to relate to this guy I’m supposed to be controlling – if he can’t even use a bloody wheelbarrow properly why should I want him as my avatar? Hang on, what looks like a park keeper has stopped him reaching the edge of the screen and now has given chase back the other way. now *that’s* how you efficiently use a wheelbarrow son, just look how much easier that looks. What is that park keeper guy waving at us as he chases? Looks like one of those spiky sticks you pick up litter with? Bit dangerous that fella, we’re only borrowing your wheelbarrow, I’m sure we’ll bring it back when we’re finished. No matter anyway, the old coot is so slow we’re going to escape long before he reaches us – and there we go, safely off the screen and he isn’t even halfway. Ah bless, we get to watch him waddle all the way, go on fella, you can do it. A bit of the theme to Steptoe and Son wouldn’t go amiss here, go on son!….Here we go, nearly there, good work fella…hang on, what’s this? Here’s the bagman again. What do we have in our hand? WHAT! OH! WHAT THE FUCK?

Just as the old parkie finally get’s to the edge of the screen the bagman re-appears but now he has a bloody great pick axe in his hand, slapping it square in the old guy’s forehead. He’s down and clearly dying a horrible writhing death while our man stands over his twitching body, pickaxe raised and ready presumably in case he dares get up again. Told you the guy was an absolute cunt.

*This* is how the game wants to introduce us to our hero? Wow. Barely able to carry on, I watch regardless as the attract sequence continues to the game itself. There’s the screen we saw earlier and bagman goes straight up the first ladder, only pausing to pick up a moneybag on his way to the top. That’s where the true use of a wheelbarrow comes in as he throws the bag in and pushes the barrow onto the next screen. A weird bit of self doubt there from bagman before he pushes the wheelbarrow, if he’s looking for old men to twat, there are none to be seen – nor are there on the second screen, although there seems to be a lift and all manner of what look like mine carts whizzing about. Ok, he’s left the barrow now and is waiting for the lift – where is he going? Ah, straight to his trusty pick axe I see – still no old guys but fair enough. What’s this? He’s digging through a wall towards a differently coloured from the rest blue money bag. Hang on, he’s stopped one stroke short (that’s what she said) and off he goes again. Now he’s dropped his pick axe as he appears to be doing a chin up on a bar mounted on the ceiling. What is he doing? As a mine cart rolls by down he drops and he’s riding! Looks like fun, but he’s straight off again (what was the point of that, he went about 10 yards) and up the next ladder and on to a third (!) screen. Where he loses the pick axe and walks straight into a mine cart, dead.

Now, I have often wondered how people decide exactly what to include on the attract screens, but this one is even more baffling than usual. As I mentioned before, I know a bit about this game and what that has just shown you was a combination of a surprising amount of gameplay tips along with a load of nonsense. Maybe I’m being harsh, but showing you how to dig the special blue moneybag out is a very rare example of a machine giving up it’s secrets a little too easily. It’s shown you all three of it’s screens as well so there goes the usual sense of discovery. Or has it?

You see, this game is actually massively complex, with so many nuances and techniques I’m amazed it came out as early as 1982. Let’s briefly run through how the game works shall we? The idea of the game is to get all of the moneybags into the wheelbarrow and and escape from the extreme right of the third screen. Easy right? Actually, no. The parkie guys we saw in the intro are a rather persistent bunch and they get increasingly faster and craftier as it goes on. By the time you get near the third screen there are loads of them as well – what’s worse (although not for them) is that they’re a pretty hardy bunch and the pick axe attacks only leave them slightly dazed; a daze from which they awake with renewed vigour in only a couple of seconds. I mentioned crafty because that’s exactly what they are. No mindless wandering for these guys, they track you down like the dog you are, and you know what that means? That’s right, it’s actually a well disguised bloody maze game – the bane of my life.

So let’s jump straight in with my first go.

As ever with with games like this, I am immediately panicked by the pursuing parkie guy even though he is limping away slowly at the top of the screen minding his own business. After that comes the panic of just how I am going to approach this. See, that’s the thing with this game – It’s not massively obvious which bags you should go for first. Should you make sure you load all of the bags into the wheelbarrow before rolling it to the next screen, or should you use a combination of the screens to try and confuse the parkies? Let’s try the “clear each screen at a time” approach – starting with what I shall imaginatively call “screen1″.

 

Looks bloody complicated if you ask me. For those new to the game, let’s go through a few of the bits and bobs.

- The wheelbarrow that all the cool kids are talking about is at the top and there are 5 bags you want to be putting in it for this screen, easily done by simply standing over it and dropping the bags.

- The pickaxes are used donkey kong styley, although in this you can put them down again. They do seem to run out after a while mind you.

- Sacks of (NOT YOURS) money. As big as a man, each of this sacks must contain plenty of money and going by the small amount your mister slows down when carrying one, they’ll be notes as well. Would have to be I guess – It’d be a shit old game if it was filled with coppers and you couldn’t even pick one of the buggers up.

- Mine carts. Loads of these slags rolling about, fatal to touch but as you saw in the attract sequence, you can hang onto the bars and drop into them if you so wish.

- Old security guards (parkies). These buggers may look old, but they are sure footed and wiley with it. They don’t just follow a certain path, these buggers are onto you.

Ain’t learning fun? Anyway – off I go. Although I have no idea of a decent tactic, even considering I have played this before. Blindly picking up bags is all well and good, but by the time I have fetched the second bag, the parkie guy has sped up a little and is on my tail. Bagman is faster than these old codgers, but not when carrying a bag – so it’s really quite tricky. Pick up a pickaxe then maybe? Wisely they run away as soon as you arm yourself and even if you do manage to give them a massive old twat on the head, by the time you have got back to the bag and picked it up, the fuckers are up and on their feet again. I know I said hitting people with pickaxes was bad, but *if* you’re going to do it at all, at least do it properly and keep the guy down surely!

A right old mess and I’m down to my last life with only 2 bags in the wheelbarrow. Shit!

Then a game changer – I remember that you can hurt the guys by dropping the moneybags on them as well, so I do just that – when closely pursued up the main ladder I let the bag drop and it knocks the parkie on his arse and right down to the bottom. Unfortunately the bag goes with him (makes sense, damn you gravity!), but still – I feel better armed for the job. I also remember that you can slide the bags down the slopes at them as well, which is great for a laugh and all that (and very clever) but doesn’t really help much as it takes too much effort to engineer the situation. Well it does for me anyway.

Without any focus, that’s me soon knackered.

14,620

Nadgers. That wasn’t easy at all and just look at that stupid score.

Ok, new plan. I reckon most of the time is spent travelling around carrying the bag you are focusing on while trying to escape the clutches of the still completely innocent security guards (although I’m already beginning to dislike them). How about we instead try and move all the bags together, a little bit at a time like. Everytime you are caught up, drop the bag and move to another, inching all of the bags slowly towards the wheelbarrow, making the final loading of the barrow a lot easier.

Sounds ace, let’s do it.

11,020

FUCK! Hang on though, that wasn’t the fault of the tactic, that was me being a spacker. Even though you get points for walking about (weirdly) the big money so to speak is in the loading of the bags into the barrow and although I got a few of them close, only one actually went in by the time I was dead. Try again properly this time!

20,940

Ok, better. I reckon this tactic is a winner, although I still struggle – especially when other guys start appearing from the other screens.

So, let’s try bringing the other screens into it. You can move between the three screens as much as you like and the guards follow so perhaps using the whole playfield to lead them on a merry chase will be easier? Before we do that, let’s look at screen 2.

What a mess that is! That thing in the middle is a lift and it makes things rather tricky indeed. Also note hilariously that in the screenshot above the parkie guy on the right is currently falling to his death (well daze) after trying to pursue me by falling down a rather large hole. That’s right, falling is also death in this game and now I’m bringing lifts into it, that happens a lot.

Also note the blue bag eluded to in the intro. This baby is not only worth loads of points, but is also much heavier than the rest, so you tend to walk like a guy who’s messed his pants as you try and heave it towards the wheelbarrow. Worth it? Well I couldn’t bloody get it.

34,220

I’m missing something rather fundamental here and unfortunately it would appear that it’s “skill”. This really does play like a maze game and for that reason, I’m out – or more truthfully, for that reason, I’m shit.

Let’s have a glance at screen 3 anyway why don’t we?

Another bloody lift, and full length of the screen too. Nice.

I find myself  just under half my target score with very little chance of much improvement if I’m honest. Looking at some of the videos of people playing this properly it’s clear that playing in a blind panic, as I do, is *not* the way to go and the key seems to be getting the misters almost trapped in areas while you move the bags about. Way beyond me but interesting all the same.

With a game that has such an obvious “end game” you do wonder what actually happens if you *do* manage to lug all three screens worth of bags away into the sunset? In fact I bet you’re sitting there naked from the waist down wondering just like me. Well – the massive top scores suggest that the game simply loops (as so many old games do) but I can’t help but feel that maybe, just maybe there is a nice ending with a chunky old bonus awaiting us instead. Who knows or dares to dream?

Playing it one last time I wonder whether there is actually a way of getting away from it all, repent from the life of crime and escape with just expenses (I’m not greedy). I decide all I need for a good life is a single bag of money – so off I trot for the end of the third screen, bag in hand. Embarrassingly it takes a few lives to even manage this simple task, but finally there I am, ready for the life of a good clean man.

Clearly bagman doesn’t agree. On reaching the edge of the screen he just stops refusing to go any further. One bag not enough for Bagman, oh no. What a cunt.

Posted in The quest | Leave a comment

The new breed

So, here we are – all of the legacy “old” posts are finished and we’re into the exciting world of the new blood, starting with “Bagman”. Exciting innit?

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

*interlude* – Man vs Machine

As a nice little interlude, I thought I’d throw in an article I wrote for the wonderful wayoftherodent.com which is particularly relevant I feel. We have now reached the end of our “old” journey and it’s new content from now on in. Don’t get too excited, it’s a new carpet.

Until then, hope you enjoy…

Man vs Machine

“Games ain’t as good as they used to be in the old days…dribble dribble”. Find a room of 30 somethings that like a bit o’ gaming and that’s what you’ll no doubt hear all day long and hands up, I’m one of the buggers usually leading the charge. You can literally wade through articles and blogs full of nostalgic and wistful praise for the classic arcade games but if you were forced to put your finger on exactly *why* games were better it gets a little quieter. A few theories have been suggested; the excitement of emerging technology, the bedroom coder and plain old nostalgia glasses are all decent reasons, but whilst playing a game or two of Phoenix on MAME this afternoon a new and significant reason suddenly struck me.

You see, Phoenix is a fucker of a game – extremely punishing and demanding for what looks like a simple galaxian style shooter; the shield sometimes simply lets bullets through, the enemies float around like bastard butterflies dodging your attempts to shoot them down with ease and you get shot from extreme close range all the time with little chance of escape. As you stare at the GAME OVER screen for the hundredth time you are literally seething – fucking game, next time you’re going to get it something rotten.

And that’s exactly what is missing in today’s gaming world.

Back then it was YOU vs the GAME. You walked into the arcade feeling like a wandering cowboy who has just rolled into town as the fourth sheriff that week, there to clean up the town of scum and get the girl (ok, maybe getting the girl was a step too far with that metaphor but you get the idea). Each and every machine was out there to get you and you were there to dish out the spankings. Some days a machine would make you look a fool; they’d take your money and then spit you out mere seconds later. Some wouldn’t even have instructions on the cabinet, as soon as you start the game you’re in the middle of it – you don’t know how to play? Tough shit – BANG dead. Those were the days of men, the ultimate challenge hence the ultimate reward.

Compare that to games now. Now games don’t even ask you to read the manual, I don’t even know why they bother printing the bloody things as the first half and hour or so is usually a tutorial of some sort. Games these days love to hold your hand as you play, it’s not YOU vs the GAME anymore – it’s YOU AND the GAME, off on a wonderful adventure. That’s a load of old shit, I don’t want to feel like a member of the Goonies being helped along by that older ginger bird, I want to be a bloody cowboy! Even Nintendo, who still have a little gay place in my heart, started off with games like Donkey Kong, a game that I still can’t play past the second level today (King of Kong? More like King of Mong). Now Nintendo games almost literally stroke your hair as you play – “there there, we’ll all be alright. Look! There’s a pony!” ……FUCK OFF! I want to be the gritty hero, not star in an episode of Cities of Gold.


I Don’t want any help dammit!

The equivalent in modern time is of course online gaming, but that simply isn’t good enough for me. I don’t want to hate other people playing the same game, I don’t want to tone skills within the game, I want to BEAT the game. With online gaming you aren’t beating the game at all, the game is using you – can’t you see? Games of today are turning us against OURSELVES! All of the robot paranoia of the sixties is coming true in front of your very eyes and you do NOTHING. Don’t come running to me when a robot turns up and shags your wife that’s all I’m saying.

No, what we need are more games that hate us, we don’t need adventures we need rivalries. When I die in a game I want to be devastated, I want it to be the equivalent of having my trousers pulled down in front of Kelly le Brock on a day that I was wearing my worst pants – I want it to HURT. For me that is the reason to keep playing a game, not to see what level comes next but because I shitting hate it and want to teach it a damn good lesson. I really hope that feeling comes back in the modern era, but for now I’ll settle with battling with the oldies – are you up for it or shall I give the Care Bears a call so they can help you through that tricky cloud level?

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Game 30: Badlands (Konami, 1984)

Playing rules:

Difficulty: Factory default.

Current Record holders

1st: 146,080 - Gary A.Hatt- 1987
2nd: 92,920 - Chris Smith - 2005
3rd: 18,250 - Jason W.Spindler - 2005

Welcome to the wonderful world of the “B”s ladies and gents! It’s been a long (yeah I know, TOO long) journey but we are finally on a new letter. Personally I’m delighted, if not just so I can stop playing poxy “astro” games – I trust you are too.

Right then, what’s first? Badlands.

Ok, I know this game; in the arcades a while back and indeed remember playing it many an evening on my trusty Atari ST. For those that remember it, it was a waste-land, Mad Max style version of Super Sprint with guns and stuff. Good fun it was, and as Super Sprint is one of the games I am looking forward to playing (in about a thousand years time I reckon seeing as it’s an “S”) I quite fancied a stab. Well, alarm bells started ringing when I read “Konami” instead of the expected “Atari”. Further alarm bells rang when I saw the year was a bit early and then the alarm bell fell off the wall when I realised it was an entirely different poxy game. What makes matters worse, for some reason the Badlands that I remember isn’t even in the book! My little reminiscence up there moisten the old tastebuds for some funky Super Sprint style action? Tough tits cowboy, it’s not gunna happen. Sorry, I don’t makes da rules.

Right. So exactly *what* is this game that has so rudely misled us? No bloody idea I’m afraid – so off to the trusty klov.com we go. After ignoring the second reference to the game Badlands (damn you 1989!) I find the game in question.

Well well, they are some impressive graphics you have there mr Konami san. Hang on. 1984? Just after the revolutionary laserdisc game “Dragon’s Lair”? That’s right, we have on our hands a laserdisc game, which means three things:

1. The graphics are going to be amazing, like watching a cartoon on the telly – well, because you *are* watching a cartoon on a telly essentially. It may not be that impressive these days, but I remember seeing Dragon’s Lair for the first time in the lovely Clacton pier arcade and was completely blown away. Sitting next to it was Space Invaders and Frogger I believe and they looked decidedly sheepish, as should they as the laserdisc glory was making them all look a bit soppy.

2. The gameplay is going to be pretty pump. Although by the looks of the screenshots we could be up for some light gun style action which should be fun.

3. We are well and truly fucked as far as MAME is concerned as this is a laserdisc game, which MAME doesn’t support*.

* Fuck it, usually these asterisk comments are at the bottom, but I know emulation people very well (as I am one) and I need to get in before there are fisty-cuffs. MAME has actually just recently added laserdisc support, in 0.128 I believe, but apart from making us MAME burners burn through hundreds more DVDs as the games are rather rather large, support is still in it’s infancy and not many games are available. Naturally this one isn’t in yet.

So, we can’t use MAME. May as well give up then.

HANG ON! (don’t think I left enough space to build up the suspense there to be fair, I’d have never got the job of writing the cliff hanger endings for Danger Mouse) we have the wonderful world of Daphne. Named after the lady in distress from Dragon’s Lair, this emulator has been going for ages and specialises in Laserdisc games, exactly the ticket for what we need.

So, if you want to play along, pop off to http://www.daphne-emu.com and get downloading (and give a donation if you enjoy their work as it’s a cracking project). Even better, if you don’t fancy trying to find the game image, the client has a built in torrent jobby so you can try and grab it that way, Don’t worry – I’ll wait.

Will I balls, the Laserdisc games are bloody massive.

Right, enough of the history lesson, it’s getting it bit too much and besides I’ve barely had a chance to get some sailor language in, which frankly won’t do.

So what the shitting fuck is this game about then?

Well, before we go on, forget about my misplaced optimism in point 2 above. Looking at the cabinet pictures on klov.com we find that the game’s controls consists of a single button. That’s right, no fancy plastic gun, no joystick, just a big stupid button. I’m pretty sure you could play this game with your cock, if you so wished (or indeed if you have one), so by all means feel free – to be honest the arcade designers deserve such contempt, that’ll learn ‘em.

Ok, I’m over that – to be honest I’ve played enough Laserdisc games to know that the gameplay is never that complicated so a single button probably suits it just fine. In fact it’ll probably make the game better as in games such as Dragon’s Lair the joystick works just like a bloody button anyway. As a kid I used to wake up in the middle of the night screaming with the Dragon’s Lair “wrong move” BEEP in my ears, so keeping it simple is a good thing.

Before we have a go let’s look at the records. Quite a chunky looking score at the top there from a few years after the game’s release followed by a few pretenders where clearly some bugger found one of these machines tucked away somewhere and fancied a go. As with these games though, the score really is quite arbitrary so whether the score reflects getting shot in the face straight at the start or a complete run-through, nobody knows without playing so let’s do just that.

See how I mentioned being shot in the face right at the start? Funny that as I got shot in the face right at the start.

I have a few goes and I limp away with some rather disturbing news. The main problem I have is that even though there is only the single button, it doesn’t seem to do ANYTHING useful at all. Ok, you *do* get a flash of the screen whenever you press it, but it doesn’t seem to have any bearing at all to what happens on the screen. More importantly, it doesn’t appear to be stopping me getting shot in the face. Also, as with these games, you are presented with almost random scenes, so each game is slightly different. Usually this is done to help avoid people simply memorising the timings and breezing through the game, but for a novice like myself it does nothing but keep me disoriented all the time. Saying that I get to be killed in many wild and wonderful ways different to being shot in the face, but more on that later.

It’s still not good news though, as without knowing the timings I’m doomed to getting fuck all from this game. What makes it worse is the realisation that the timings that the game deems correct are completely stupid. It’s usually a case of waiting until the last minute before death to shoot, I know that, even though it makes absolutely no sense. Picture the scene:

You are riding through the desert minding your own business when a nasty looking giant scorpion pops it’s head from behind a cactus. That’s not on at all. Shoot the nasty looking git!

*BANG!*

game: Nope, wrong timing.

The scorpion has noticed you now, shit – it looks pretty mean. SHOOT IT!

*BANG!*

game: Nope, not yet son.

Now the scorpion has made a bid. It fancies a piece of your face clearly, it prepares to leap! SHOOT IT QUICK!

*BANG*

game: No stupid, why would you want to shoot it then?

Mid leap now, you can see death in it’s very eyes as it leaps to your face, stinger primed. QUICK FOR THE LOVE OF GOD SHOOT IT! SHOOT IT! SHOOT IT!

*BANG*

game: Nope sorry. I can’t be sure if your timing was off that time Mr games player, to be honest I’m kinda making all this shit up, but it doesn’t matter. Because you were clearly stupid enough to try shooting the deadly looking scorpion before he noticed you and before your life was in danger I’m going to penalise you anyway.

DEAD.

fucks sake.

Final nail in the coffin is the fact that apparently the arcade cabinet itself had a physical lamp/light of some sort that gave you some help regarding when to actually press the button, which while being an absolutely welcome addition is useless without the actual machine, so we’re on to a loser whichever way we turn by the looks of it.

Never one to be discouraged however, I decide to play on a bit; if not just to watch the annoying blonde haired hero get killed in lots of weird and wonderful ways – and my word, this being a Japanese game, weird and wonderful is what you get. In fact, I can’t get my head around exactly what market this game is aimed at. It’s almost as if the game was made by two conflicting groups of people: One group making a lovely Pokemon style cartoon adventure, the other group making a sick psychologically scarring horror experience that would make even a hardened gore fan shit right there and then on their copy of Fangoria magazine. To make it even worse, the tone flicks between the two polar opposites pretty much constantly so you’re never safe.

Allow me to demonstrate using the wonders of film, albeit statically, otherwise known as “pictures”.


Here is our Blonde haired hero. Cunt.

 


What’s this? friendly looking enemies need a good talking to? UP UP and away! Cunt.

 


Fuck me, don’t remember seeing this guy’s poster! Shit!

 


Erm hang on. I was just viciously murdered by that massive toothy Cyclops bugger, the death scene was actually rather clear and graphic. Why on earth am I being carried off the screen in a comedy fashion with little more than my arm in a sling? what are those two cocks smiling about as well? OY!

 


OK, again with the comedy. I have just seen myself killed in a gory fireball, now I’m on a plate with a slightly singed hat? I don’t feel well.

 


Bloody OWWW!

 


I’m still good, I’m still good!

 


ARGHHHH! What the juddering FUCK!

 


Yeah I know. Believe it or not this is a DEATH scene, and not an anally induced one at that.

 


OWWWWW! That is just horrible, right in the chops.

 


GO AWAY! I get it, I get it! EURGGHHH

 


Fuck you buddy.

 

Oh. What? You’re still here? That would have been a lovely way to finish this, one of the best so far no less. I left a few things unanswered? Oh ok, fine. My best score was 7580, and the best time to shoot the scorpion seems to be just after he has jumped at you although I still really have no idea. Just wait for the light I reckon and you’ll be just fine.

Posted in The quest | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Skiparoonie – Aztarac. Lovely looking game but….

Aztarac is next – a lovely looking vector game from 1983. Was *really* looking forward to it let me tell you, until……This happened

What do I mean “and then this happend”?

Well, what you see there is a picture of the arcade machine controls and yes, that’s right it has an analogue stick AND a bloody dial!

Try as I might i couldn’t get any sort of configuration working in MAME that allowed me to play the game properly – nearest I got was the stick on the arrow keys and the dial on the mouse but it was just so so clumsy.

So alas my shiney friend I have to skip you – and with that we LEAP into the “B’s”!

 

Hold me.

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Game 29: Avalanche (Atari, 1978)

Playing rules:

Difficulty: Factory default. Start: 3 Misses per game. Bonus: Extended play at 450 points. Extended Play: Enabled

Dip-Switch: 1-3=ON; 4=OFF; 5-6=Not Used; 7=ON; 8=OFF.

 

Current Record holders

1st: 2,453 - David Nelson - 2004
2nd: 1,334 - Jason Cram - 2004
3rd: 597 - Shawn Cram - 2004

1978 – When I were a lad, all this were fields – and by ‘eck it were grand. Lucky then that I was way too young to go anywhere near an arcade, because little did I know Atari had created the absolute terror that is “Avalance”.

Alright, alright – I can hear you from here; Absolute terror? Just look at that screenshot, it looks about as scary as a care bear in a trance. Well don’t you be fooled young traveller – this is by far the most stressful game I have played in years and if it doesn’t scare the bejesus out of you then you truly are dead inside – or at the very least you don’t have the sound turned up. We are still only in the “A’s” yet we’ve already had some bloody scary sound effects thrown at us along the way; well they are *nothing* compared to this game, believe me.

Anyway enough of that for now, think happy thoughts, think happy thoughts…aaaahhhhhh that’s better, thank you Felicity Kendall you can go now.

Where was I? Ah yes – 1978 (thirty years ago!).

Video games were still very much in their infancy all that time ago; one of the first recognised video arcade games, Space War, had only been out a year and Space Invaders was yet to arrive (albeit only by a matter of months), so realistically we should expect this early Atari effort to be quite simple. Well, simple we certainly get as you can see by the screenshot – in fact I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar looking game running on an oscilloscope. What’s an oscilloscope I hear you ask? Well, find yourself a scientist and ask him. Can’t find one? Ok, at the very least find a man with a beard, he’s sure to be able to tell you.

We also get simple with the controls; In fact if I didn’t know better (and I don’t) I would imagine quite a few PONG and Breakout spinners found their way back into the limelight with this game, as that’s all you get – no buttons, no joysticks, just a spinner. The control method isn’t the only familiar aspect either, the trusty pong bat is back, fresh from his last adventure “breaking out” and this time he’s brought some friends with him, six of the buggers altogether. What adventure could possibly require SIX pong bats for goodness sakes? Surely with that number you can take over the world!

Well, you see there is a major problem in pong-bat town (which is of course where they live in case you were wondering). Previously all the pong bats had to worry about was losing their precious ball, be it playing a nice game of tennis or fannying about vandalising walls. Well fuck your ball son, we are talking about a mother freakin’ AVALANCHE here. Why is it down to you bats to save the town? Well funny you should ask actually – y’see this is no ordinary avalanche with snow and shit, this is an avalanche of BALLS. Yeah that’s right, while we’ve been grafting dahn t’ pit doing proper jobs, sticking food on your table every night, you’ve been prancing about playing ball games all day long. Well now the tables are turned pal, time for you to earn your keep. Yeah ok, I know the avalanche won’t really effect us as we are underground in the pit as previously explained, but let’s not ruin the little story eh? If you want to question anything why not question who the hell “we” are, if not bats, and why are we looking after bats? Do bats even eat? Why are non bats living in pong-bat town at all as a matter of fact? Look, no time for that – avalanche on it’s way remember, loads of rocks about to plummet on our heads? There we go…ok, we better work out what we’re supposed to do i suppose.

The game is extremely simple. Using the spinner (or the mouse under MAME) you control all 6 bats at once, all tied together, and are able to go left and right as much as you like ( that’s all mind, don’t be getting greedy). The idea of the game is to simply prevent the “rocks” from reaching the bottom of the screen, which sounds easy enough – and it is. All of the rocks are visible from the off and they slowly start falling off one by one. Once you catch a rock it doesn’t bounce about or anything funky like that, it just disappears with a “beep”, surrendering itself to your mighty bat. That’s it! Easy – let’s get cracking!

First of all though let’s take a peek at the scores. As ever it’s hard to tell what’s a good score at the moment but it’s quite clear that some buggers suddenly found one of these rare machines in 2004 and proceeded to slap it about a bit as all three records are from the same time. A nice spread of scores as well so looks like we could be in with a chance.

Righto then, I’m ready to save batsville or whatever the place is called so off we go. No music, no fanfare nothing – straight away the rocks start to fall, really rather slowly. With a satisfying beep I hoover all of them up; occasionally I miss one with the top bat, but I have 5 others lined up that more than happily make up for it. Piece of piss this. Oddly though I notice a soft slow rumbling sound in the background which I assume is the best that they can come up with in the way of atmospheric sound effects – it does sound a bit like an avalanche I have to admit…..ahhhh how sweet – nice touch Atari.

It’s this “sweet” sound that for the past week has caused me to wake up every night with the sweats on something rotten.

You see, of course the game speeds up as you go – surprisingly viciously in fact, but that isn’t the main concern. The slow rumbling sound effect ramps up, not just in volume, but in intensity as well. Within a single minute the sound that this fucking game makes is entirely terrifying. It’s running on 30 year old hardware for christ’s sake yet it somehow has the technology to get INSIDE your head. Like when you watch a Cronenberg film you find yourself hitting your own head with a shoe, pleading desperately with yourself WHY you are putting yourself through this horror? I cannot believe that this machine ever lived in an arcade,  a lovely family place, uttering such evil, surely not. Maybe it sat in its own sound proof box, like an old fashioned circus freak show – that I can believe. “Come and witness the scariest fucking thing ever, roll up roll up!”.

As you may have gathered the sound is pretty intense.

The bats however, decide that they aren’t happy playing second fiddle to the sound, oh no. “Why not get intense too?” they think. “I know, what we’ll do is start shrinking in width, eventually doing legs, one by one until there is only a single skinny bat left. Yeah that’ll do it”.

“Hang on though you slags”, think the rocks. “Why should we miss out?. What *we’ll* do is start falling faster and faster leaving the smallest of the small rocks till last. That oughta do it, yeah let’s do that.

All of this happens at once in the space of about 45 seconds. ALL AT ONCE.

I’m an absolute jibbering wreck by the time my first go is over, my three lives were all a blur (although I did notice that on losing a life the sound resets giving you a few seconds of peace before it revs up again). What was my score? Do you get a score? What is my name? hang on, what does that say up there?

Score: 256

Fuck. My. Old. Boots.

That is one crazy game. It takes literally 20 seconds to start going mental and then it’s just a case of hanging on in there. I can’t see *how* anyone scores highly on this game as by the time you are a minute in the rocks are tiny and the bats almost as small. 256? I’ll take that and leave now if that’s ok? No? bugger.

If only to avoid going straight back in for another game I have a look around the screen. That’s interesting – “Extend play for 450 points” – wonder what that means? Also I see that you can play two player, one after the other though rather than together, which is a shame. Mind you, at least if you play two player you have someone to hug the tears away once it’s all over.

Ok, I’m ready let’s go.

Score: 378

An absolute blur. I managed to last about 15 seconds longer this time, mainly due to turning the volume down slightly and not messing my pants to distraction. It really is rock hard though, once the rocks speed up and the bats start disappearing you really are in trouble, proper proper trouble.

Ok, let’s go again (volume down a bit more)

Score: 364

Ok, again

Score: 356

Shit. Getting nowhere, let’s get the volume back up again.

Score: 228

Fuck that, back down again

Score: 397

Ok, focus now – focus. FOCUS!!!!

Score: 488

YES! I managed to reach the extend play, which surprisingly works just like a pinball machine. Once you reach 450 points, the screen flashes and you get a free game. The current game plays on though so don’t celebrate too hard if you get there, especially as the 3rd place score isn’t that far past it.

The good thing with this game is that it is over really quickly. Once you’re over the shock of it all (although the sound NEVER goes away) you can whip through games of this without even pausing for breath.

So I do, for another 10 goes – never getting to the extend score again. Shit.

So how does someone get over a thousand? I for one want to know what happens if you manage to clear the screen (i.e all rocks have fallen). For my highest score of 488 there could only have been a dozen or so rocks left to fall, I assume it resets but I don’t want to assume, I want to know!

It takes me a while to notice the scoring as well. Score wise the rocks start off at 1 point each, which I assumed would be the same all the way through, 450 points = 450 rocks etc… But It’s not. As the rocks get smaller they go up in value – when you reach 450 points or so the rocks are worth 5 points each, which makes my score of 488 all the more painful as 597 and third place actually isn’t that far away.

How do people get the high scores though? I just can’t see how you can manage the rocks once you are a single tiny bat and they are thundering down at you, the size of a pea? There must be a technique, there just must be.

And then it struck me – what about if you swaz the bats left and right as fast as you can, effectively making an impenetrable wall in the process? GENIUS! Worth a stab and it certainly looks the part as the bats whizz side to side with impossible speed, this is going to work!

Score: 122

No it isn’t. Fucking stupid idea – idiot.

Oh well, back to the old way

volume UP…

ARGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

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Game 28: Astro Invader (Stern, 1980)

Playing rules:

Difficulty: Factory default. Start: 3 lives. Bonus: 1 life at 10,000 points.
Current Record holders

1st: 56,330 - Fred Pastore - 2006
2nd: 41,680 - Donald Hayes - 2006
3rd: 39,880 - Brian Miller - 1983

Right that’s it SEGA, to bed with you without any tea – I’ve told you before about this astro obsession and now it’s gone TOO far. Oh wait, what? Stern? oh. Ok SEGA, you were lucky this time.

Ahem.

So 1980 and we have another Astro game to play, this time “Astro Invader”. Now, this game is a funny bugger and no mistake – I don’t think I have ever seen a game that offers so much originality and yet copies so blatantly all at the same time. You see, the “Invader” in the title isn’t an accident, oh no. We’re back in the wonderful days of “everything goes” game development, whenever a game is released that proves to be successful it’s a mass bundle for every other bugger to try and cash in and make a copy.

Stern HQ:
“Space Invaders selling like hot cakes? We need to make an Invader game and quick!”
“Let’s call it “Space Invaders”
“Don’t be stupid. Firstly we can’t completely copy the name, secondly its 1980, every other fucker is making a game with astro in the title we need us some of that”
“Deal! We’re going to be bloody loaded, I’m off to buy a yacht.”

Funny thing is, as derivative as the naming goes, it seems that nobody told the game’s programmers as this game is *nothing* like space invaders when you actually play it. Well I say that, taking a look at the MAME roms you find that the game uses the same sound effects as Space Invaders. I don’t mean similar ones, it actually uses the *exact* same files. Madness I tells you. Also you do control a space ship shooting invaders, but apart from all those things it’s nowt like it honest. Ok I can see you don’t believe me; that’s fine, at first I was just like you – but mark my words I shall prevail.

First though, the scores. Well, score wise we don’t have much to write home about; only the three scores listed with the top two being recent funspot efforts (interestingly Mr Pastore also holds the record for the last game Astro Fighter) and the bottom score being the original record from back in the day. However, again I get a sinking feeling as my chances are knocked into a cocked hat before we start as all three of those scores look a bit meaty for my liking, especially when you consider how points are typically hard to come by from this era of gaming.

No point crying about it though, so let’s get on with it – here comes another bloody version of space Invaders and all that.

Pretty much immediately the game throws my cruel initial dismissal right back in my face. As if by way of punishment, the game goes out of it’s way to throw a whole array of foreign game ideas at you from the off – this would be jarring for even the most open minded player, but as someone who clearly expected a simple shooter it’s a right old carry on. First thing that strikes you is the enemy formation. If you thought Space Invaders or even Galaxian were a bit “rigid” in their enemy formations, you ain’t seen nothing yet. As the game starts a massive blue mothership rolls onto the screen and before you can say “ah, look at that they’ve even written STERN on the ship, bless ‘em” it starts spitting out Invaders left right and centre.

Invaders! Invading our very own earth! Panic! Batten the hatches! PANIC!!!……….right?

Well no actually. These are truly the most polite invaders you ever will see. There is no shooting, no swooping, no flying about giving it all the big – no, slowly the invaders drop down individually and in order into the tube like rack above you where they proceed to have a bit of a sit down and possibly even a nice cup of Earl Grey tea. How very civil. This of course leaves me rather confused, so after what felt like cruelly shooting the first few I just sat there watching them fill the tubes. Now, the invaders must be English as when the first row is full up they simply start up small little queues behind them (us English love a good queue you see). Still no aggression at all and it all becomes rather surreal. I thought these guys were supposed to be invading for goodness sake and unless they consider queueing up in front of us a an act of downright hostility, they aren’t really doing a great job.

Hold on though, maybe that’s exactly what they *want* us to think, the clever buggers –  soon they will all break free of their queueing tubes and before we know it swarms will be upon us as we are well and truly invaded. I’ve got your number pal and I’ll be ready. But what’s this? Almost apologetically a small pink flying saucer flies down the opposite side of the screen making a silly shrill noise as it goes. At last an attack! Ok it’s absolutely no threat as I’m nowhere near it, but still it’s a start. Choosing to ignore the fact that after the game made all that effort with the mothership, this pink fucker appeared out of bloody nowhere, I watch as the ship slowly moves down the screen on its wasted and wildly inaccurate attack.

And then I die.

What? Hang on, WHAT? As the ship reached the bottom of the screen, rather than disappear and regroup for the next attack it crashes into the line behind me, creating what I assume is a massive aftershock which kills me stone dead even though I am nowhere near the bloody thing. What makes it worse is that not only do you die but the whole screen flashes red, whilst all the time letting out a shrill noise that I’m man enough to tell you made me shit my very pants. Not cricket, AT ALL.

It’s fair to say that the death display won’t be appearing in anyone’s “scariest moments in gaming” lists, but as with all good horror it was the absolute contrast that scared me titless. Best comparison I can make are those extremely annoying animations that went round the internet a few years ago – “look really closely at this picture to see if you can find the kitten or whatever…. closer…. closer….. GRAAAAARGHHHHHHH Big scary screaming face fills the screen!” (ok it doesn’t work so well in text form I admit but you know the ones I mean). All in all most unexpected.

And it only gets worse. Resuming my next life and the invaders that were already queued up are still there and the mothership continues on it’s merry way shitting new invaders out willy nilly. Still nothing happening with the invaders, but I’m on the watchout for those pink fuckers that’s for sure. Not a moment too soon another pink ship starts coming down the screen, this time on the far left – I’m after you ya shit and off I go to shoot him before he makes me change my pants again.

And then the whole world goes to bits.

It just so happens that while the second pink ship starts it’s decent, the queueing invaders on the left hand set of tubes decide that enough is enough and nigh on simultaneously all five of the lowest fuckers stream town towards me. All too much for me this and besides I am already halfway on my way to stop the pink doombringer so I’m right in the middle of it all. BOOM. Last life is more of the same as if you remember the invaders don’t reset so within seconds I’m blanketed by another assault and it’s game over.

Score: 560

Ok, time to work out what the bloody hell is going on – and soon enough I begin to get an idea of how the game works. While it is true that the invaders sit there all nicely queued up, there is only a very finite queue length (of five) before the first in line gets pushed out and makes a bid towards the bottom of the screen. Thankfully though it turns out that it is nowhere near as bad as I feared as if you let one of these invaders reach the bottom of the screen you don’t die regardless of where you are – no, you only get killed if you are within a rather small, yet hard to define “splash zone” around each one at the time of impact. The pink ships that appear every now and then are still instant death if they reach the bottom so the challenge seems to be thus: Keep the invaders trimmed down and make sure you don’t miss any pink buggers. Sounds easy, let’s crack on.

Second go and it’s a completely different story. As each invader calmly slots in to its little tube I follow soon after and shoot the fucker. Granted, even though I know the horrors to come they do look kind of serene and calm, but I know now that they should be afforded no mercy at all costs. The tactic seems to work as well and by the time the first pink ship appears most of the tubes are still empty – nice and easy, what a contrast! Even though I miss a few it really is quite organised even now, as the invaders continue to stream forward in a nice orderly manner – from left to right and then back again, meaning I can simply follow the line picking them off as they drop. The only time this rhythm is broken is when a pink ship appears, usually on the opposite side of the screen and I have to break off from the invaders and stop him getting to the bottom. A few invaders get loose but nothing I can’t keep away from and it’s a whole new ball game.

It’s only now that I have wrestled some sort of control back from the game that I notice that the mothership has a counter on it signifying how many invaders are left until it is empty. I can’t remember exactly but I’m sure it started off on about 200 or so, but it isn’t long before it gets to 0. i wonder what happens now? Maybe it’s the next level? is it balls. Once the mothership is skint the whole screen freezes, bullets in mid-air the lot, while we watch the empty ship slowly trundle off the screen only to be replaced with a new full up one, which we now watch come back to the middle, still frozen like a tit in a trance. Once it’s slow journey ends the game resumes rather abruptly without warning – so much so that I actually lose a life before I get the chance to move as I was in the middle of dodging an invader at the time, the slags. Yeah, don’t mind us Mr Important Mothership, you pop off for a refill, we’ll wait. Wanker.

Anyway, all of my cockiness soon disappears with this new ship as they obviously cotton on to the major flaw in their battle plan. Rather than fill the tubes in order making it easy for the dirty earthship to follow us about, why don’t we fill up randomly? That’ll learn ‘em – and learn me it certainly does as I am very soon overwhelmed.

Score: 2,180

A better score but still comically far off even last place in the records. For some reason I’m really struggling with this game, it is just so easy to get overwhelmed as the filling of the invader tubes is rather swift and completely relentless. I have a few other goes but they are pretty much the same – as soon as the second mothership load appears and they start coming randomly I’m simply buggered. Scratch this down as “one of those games” that I just can’t get on with then? Maybe.

But wait, a few further goes and I spot a pattern. From the second mothership onwards the invaders are not actually random – they purposely filter to which ever side of the screen you are on at the time. This may not seem like much of a revelation but believe me it is. While before I always found myself overwhelmed by falling ships, blocking my route to the all important pink ships more often than not, now I have an element of control meaning I can actually start to find safe routes when I need them. Pink ship appearing on the right hand side of the screen? No problem – I simply move left of centre and the invaders start pouring that way leaving a free route for me to rush over to the right, slap pinkie and get back to the middle again (which invariably seems to be the safest place to hang around most of the time). It starts to make sense!

This changes the game as I now get past the second load and indeed the third. The method stays the same as well, but the speed increases each time. At last I have a method for playing the game that sort of works and my third score is much better.

Score: 7,610

Still nowhere near the records but considering how it was looking at one stage it’s a vast improvement that’s for sure. Still, I don’t think this game is for me. Even though at first you fall into the trap of thinking the strict formation and tube like mechanic is an advantage, each and every game soon descends into a situation where all queues are full and every single invader unloaded is one that will stream down the screen at you. It really is quite a job keeping the fuckers weeded out and one that I think causes some inner child to panic all too often where a calm methodical head is needed.

So Astro Invaders, I doff my cap to you sir! In an era where all shooting games were starting to get a bit samey you dared to do something a little bit different. Ok, so the name is a cop-out (although interestingly it is called Kamikaze in some places which makes a lot of sense game wise, if not politically across the eastern world) but the game truly is unique. I don’t want to say I told you so at the beginning of this post, so I won’t.

No, I won’t – you trusted me anyway right?

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Game 27: Astro Fighter (SEGA / Gremlin / Data East, 1980)

Playing rules:

Difficulty: Easy. Start: 3 lives. Bonus: 1 life at 5,000 points.
Dip-switch: 1-7=ON; 8=ON/OFF [Stand up/Cocktail]

Current Record holders

1st: 26,670 - Fred Pastore - 2006
...
5th: 18,280 - Robby Jensen - 1983
...
11th: 2,210 - Justine Barker - 2005

Ah, here we go – a nice quirky early 80s shooter from good old trusty SEGA. “Astro Fighter”? Sounds like a cracking title as well, let’s get stuck in.

Hang on, what?

Man alive. Someone in SEGA obviously had the horn for astros, “Astro Blaster” and now “Astro Fighter” both within a few years of each other…….actually let me look something up.

Would you adam it?! It even carried on past the 80′s, bloody Astro Boy – bastard son of Astro Fighter and Astro Blaster no doubt. SEGA and astro, just get a room will you? While we’re on the subject, beginning the names of your games with “A” and hence being near the beginning of the virtual school register will get you nowhere either son (erm, apart from on this blog earlier…ahem), you took the piss with 005 which isn’t even a proper bloody name and now you’re overloading the A’s, shame on you SEGA, shame on you.

Anyway, I digress as usual - time to try and get beyond the name and actually give the game a chance, all’s fair in love and Astro war after all.

Astro Fighter is a curious beast, especially when compared to it’s namesake “Astro Blaster”; the games really are worlds apart. On one hand you have the 1980′s Astro Fighter which looks like it is running on a Spectrum (it even has the colour clash for goodness sakes) and on the other, just one year later, you have 1981′s Astro Blaster that looks like the FUTURE by comparison. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure technology improved in the year 1980 but with this it’s all a bit much. To compound matters a similar gulf can be found with regards to how the games play, but we’ll come onto that a bit later.

So, as you may remember (it was only last week after all) I quite liked the other Astro game – what chance does this relic stand when put in the spotlight? Well first let’s get the science bit out of the way.

First thing that demanded research was the whole “SEGA / Gremlin / Data East” thing, where do Data East come into it? Unusually the ever trusty klov.com comes up a little short with no explanation so it’s off to the less reliable wikipedia for our answer. This is actually Data East’s first game and apparently came about as a collaboration with the lovely chaps at SEGA. One for the trivia fans only that I suppose but at least it does clear up why the game a year later is so radically different sans Data East. On the same Wiki page it also cites the record score, correctly attributing it to young Fred Pastore but otherwise getting the score wrong (only by a few hundred admittedly) and also claiming that his score is the “maximum possible” score. This is by no means unusual, loads of games plateau out at a maximum score, but checking on twingalaxies tells me that it’s all a load of bollocks. Nearly a nice start there then, never a good sign when you find out early doors that the record can only be equalled (don’t you just love my positive attitude regarding the scores before I actually play the game?).

Seeing as we’re talking about the scores, you’ll notice a few interesting things about the ones for this game. Firstly the bottom end score looks nice and small so getting on the board *should* be achievable, which is nice. Also however, you will see that the top score is a recent one, 2006 in fact. This is rather rare for an obscure game and for comparison you’ll see that I have included the “original” top score from the 80s which just happens to be good enough for 5th. A game that’s still being played then eh? Now that is unusual. 

Unusual, how we love unusual. Shame then as once again I regret to inform you all that this game is by no means unusual gameplay wise, in fact it’s pretty bloody standard fare by the looks of it. You control the ship at the bottom of the screen as ever and you’re job as Mr Astro Fighter is to fight the nasty villains that come down the screen towards you. You shoot them, they try and shoot at you, they get faster as their numbers are thinned out until they all die or you do, blah blah blah. Add the fact that it looks like it’s running on a scientific calculator and we don’t have a great time on our hands. SEGA, SEGA, SEGA, what were you thinking? These Data East monkeys are obviously dragging you down! Still, let’s temper our disappointment and give the game a chance, people are still playing it after all so it must be worth a go right? Like I have a choice anyway…..

Loading the spectrum MAME emulator up greets me with a slowly populating menu style score table – let’s see what sort of score this record really is. Ah, so it’s one of them is it? Score ranges from 20 points all the way to a massive 60 points per enemy hit – ballbags. What’s this though? There seems to be a big guardian fella that’s worth 300 – now we’re talking, how rather exciting! Next up is a title screen filled with what appear to be several large Japanese characters. After quickly checking that I am using the correct english rom (I am) I set about keenly trying to see if I can translate any of them (I’m currently learning Japanese see). This is hindered in two ways – firstly it would appear to be written in an alphabet I haven’t been taught yet (arse) and secondly this little ship appears at the bottom of the screen and starts shooting the letters one by one. Oy, you little shit, I’m trying to read that! By the time he’s shot them all I’ve managed to recognise the number “10″ in there and that’s it. Looks like it will remain a mystery then – I don’t know, you *try* and broaden your horizons a little bit, get in a bit of culture and what happens? A space ship comes along and fucks it all up. How often have we all heard that classic story eh? If I had a pound for every time etc…

Perhaps because of this, when I start the game I feel little connection to my ship, as it’s the same vandalous slag as on the title screen. I console myself that perhaps it was a rogue pilot that caused such destruction and get on with the job at hand, which predictably is shooting the advancing horde of very threatening looking light blue things. What am I talking about, of course they don’t look threatening, they look like little thin weedy ships – surely the runt of the enemy fleet being sent out first. And despite the odd sod shooting diagonally at me they don’t pose much of a problem, although they really do speed up like buggers as you get them down to the last few I have to say. The next wave are even more laughable, they look like the fat lads who couldn’t fit into their costumes properly trailing behind the very end of the annual gay pride march (I used to live in Brighton, I know what that looks like so trust me on that one. Believe me the sight of dozens of overweight men trying to wear a costume when the theme is “gold cowboys” is one you don’t forget in a hurry – All I’ll say is this: “cheekless gold leather chaps”).

Anyway, I digress.

Several things of note jump out at me while I am playing this – firstly the sound. The sound effects when you fire are wonderfully sci-fi while the explosion sound is very loud and bold indeed, surprisingly so in fact. Now, I don’t know how the actual machine sounds but I did discover that MAME doesn’t actually emulate the sound effects, it uses the “shortcut” of samples so maybe it’s just that they were sampled quite beefily or something? Whatever it was it sounds great. The graphics though, as I have already alluded to, are awful – proper Spectrum awful. Colour clash is EVERYWHERE, including some crazy colour squares appearing when an enemy happens to overlap with one of the background stars; the bloody background! I may be being a bit picky here, but surely on seeing the clashing going on all over the place the development team would at least tone it down a bit or something? But no, they clearly love a bit of clash these guys, love it….the gimps.

And it gets even worse. By the time you get to the third wave the clash is laughable, the green space ship fellas all mould into one ridiculous mess of overlaps and it really is quite distracting. So distracting in fact that I died a final death.

 Score: 2060

Oooh so close to nicking last place there, which tells you something about the value of that bottom score as it was my first pretty poor attempt. That means top 10 is a possibility so straight back in I say! As I start my second go I make a point of paying attention to the busy panel at the top of the screen. As well as your usual lives and all that gubbins, there is a nice little “menu” showing you which wave is next (from right to left) which tells me that I died on the green buggers who were pretty much halfway towards to guardian lad presumably at the end. Fair enough, nowt groundbreaking about that – but hang on, what’s this? a bloody FUEL gauge that’s what. Now, the other astro game also had a fuel bar and that proved to be a particularly bastardy one if you remember, robbing you of any lives you may have left with an immediate game over if it ran out - although It wasn’t all bad as you could shoot the asteroids to refuel slightly along the way. Happily this game has asteroids as well, loads of the buggers in fact throughout every level - but hold them giddy horses, these ones DON’T seem to refuel at all when you shoot them. Oh no, these little shits just get in the way and give you a pathetic 60 points when shot, no fuel, nothing. wankers.

I’m halfway through my second go when the game falls apart and it becomes clear that this game is a pox upon all gamers. It’s not only a pox but it revels in it’s poxiness, poxxing you at every opportunity until you can be poxxed no more. “Please game, I beg you, no more pox, I truly cannot stand a further pox!” you cry, yet it carries on regardless like a man possessed. Ok, you get the picture. So what causes such horror? Well, as we have discovered you have a finite and actually rather stingy fuel gauge forever counting down. That in itself would be ok but for what happens on the third wave during my second go. The green buggers certainly love a diagonal you see, and they are forever probing forward at you while you try and shoot them and it was while I was chasing the last remaining ship, which was really rather speedy at this stage, that he reached the bottom of the screen and disappeared from view. “No matter” thought I, “I’ll catch him as he appears again at the top”. Well he *did* appear again at the top (after a pretty bloody long pause considering the fuel is still ticking down) but he also managed to bring all of his fucking mates back to life in the process, the complete shit! And this my friend is where it breaks as it is now next to impossible to reach the guardian as you simply don’t have enough time/fuel. As right enough I get a few waves on to the little yellow beggars and my fuel runs out. 2 lives left? fuck you – game over. Cunts.

Score: 2550

I blink a few times in disbelief, what sort of behaviour is that for goodness sakes? Feverishly I try and work out a way of negating this issue yet nothing comes. As result I whip into my third go in a bit of a daze, literally petrified of letting one of the baddies get to bottom of the screen and running out of fuel as a result. Because of this one of the first wave manages to creep by and again they all appear again at the top. Ruined on the first bloody screen! F3, 5, 1 go the keys as I reset the twat and start again, that was a practice I say out loud for no particular reason. To no avail – again a ship gets past me, this time on the third wave again as a green ship literally screams diagonally from the top half of the screen all the way past me and off the screen. There are still three or four fucking ships flying about, yet I *know* whatever I do I’ll face the buggers again. DAMN THEIR EYES!

And then an idea hits me. Seeing as lives aren’t really a problem, what if I purposely kill myself when the fuel gets low? New ship, new fuel – job done. How stupid of me. Of course the particular space station that the player’s ships come from are run by a bunch of wankers as your nice new ship arrives with exactly the same amount of fuel as the one that just blew up. Now, I’m by no means a mechanic but this can only mean that the engineers purposely drain the fuel from the fresh new ships before giving them to you, why would they do that for fucks sake, that’s just unnecessary! That’s ballsed that one up then, but hang on it does sort of help. What if I were to use kamikaze tactics to stop ships getting past me? Worth a bash and immediately it pays dividends. Again one of the green slags makes a bid for it and I’m still shooting with the accuracy of Ray Charles so I whip over and smash straight into him, boom! Not only does that halt their advances, but when my fresh new ship arrives (sans extra fuel the gits) the enemy are all sat at the top of the screen again and they haven’t regrouped. Wahoo!

That proves to be the key as you really can’t afford to let one of the waves repeat as you simply don’t have enough fuel to get through to the end. Finally though, after about half a dozen attempts I do get to the guardian and while I was expecting the worst he turns out to be a complete poof, ha! Once he’s dead, you finally get fully refuelled (curiously by a white line that extends down from where the boss used to be) and it’s time for a second loop worth or enemies, just this time ever so slightly faster and more shooty. I manage to get a good way through before a green bastard manages to squeeze past me, probably knowing that I only have the single life left and thus rendering my collision tactic worthless. That’s enough to make sure I don’t get far enough to see that weedy guardian again.

Score: 6760

Still, that’s more like it! It’s not a massive score but it’s good enough for 8th place which isn’t bad at all. In truth the second loop wasn’t that much harder than the first so with a bit of concentration I reckon the bigger scores are within reach for sure.

A funny one this game, I mean it looks awful and there are some *really* harsh gameplay mechanics that render progress almost impossible from just a single mistake. Yet, it’s somehow endearing. While in the arcades the short gameplay time would have meant that the money kept flowing, now in it’s emulated state it makes for quite a decent challenge without requiring a massive time investment and somehow I want to keep playing. Maybe it’s just the masochist in me speaking but I think that’s just what I’ll do and will stick this on the list of games to have a decent stab at come funspot this year. It really isn’t for everyone though so I would suggest you steer clear unless you really fancy being kicked in the balls repeatedly and are happy to run the risk of having nightmares about that accursed fuel gauge. One thing is for sure though, in the battle of the astros this game comes in at second place behind the pseudo sequel a year later – although to be fair it wasn’t anywhere near as clearcut as I expected.

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