If there’s one thing to appreciate about Golem, it’s the unusual level of candor the game’s creators were willing to express in the PDF manual regarding the source of most software problems:
Golem is a real time strategy (RTS) game developed by a Polish house named Longsoft (which isn’t in the database yet, which likely means that most of the developers listed in the credits are not in yet, which means I need to break out the Polish diacritics for copy and pasting). I have had limited success with RTS games so far but why should I let that stop me?
The manual establishes that there was an unspecified “cataclysm” that thrust the earth into chaos. The very well-produced opening FMV indicates that the cataclysm came in the form of radioactive meteors taking down the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, and the Sydney Opera House. The upshot is that the destruction of civilization in the ensuing tidal waves, combined with mutations, or lack thereof, caused the survivors to form 3 separate factions. The manual actually had a lot more detail. But am I the only one who gets bored extremely quickly when faced with a large volume of background story, particularly for sci-fi or fantasy games?
The game has to do with building facilities that harvest natural resources and then putting those resources to work building machines of war with which to attack the other factions. That’s the general impression I got from the manual. I’m pretty sure that this is the thrust of the famed Command & Conquer games, which I have never actually played (though I have collected several of the titles for the purposes of studying their multimedia). I gave the tutorial a whirl but when the game cut me loose, I was at a total loss. I came to the sad realization that today will not be the day that I learn to start caring about RTS games.
But that’s okay because I think I collected enough data for a reasonable MobyGames entry. I just wish I could figure out a way to rip the intro FMV, which appears to be encoded in Indeo 5, and upload it for posterity.
I decided to try to conquer my severe phobia of real time strategy (RTS) games. Plus, tonight’s game looked genuinely interesting, and its MobyGames entry needs screenshots besides. My first exposure to the game Star Wars: Force Commander — an RTS set in the Star Wars universe — was through a trailer scavenged from some other LucasArts title. I have uploaded the trailer to YouTube for your review. The thing that will strike most Star Wars fans right away is the curious re-imagining of the standard Imperial March theme with a decidedly edgier arrangement:
The game opens with a cinematic of a fleet of Imperial star destroyers descending on a planet for an invasion. Inside a troop transport bound for the surface, the game establishes two characters by showing two stormtroopers without their helmets. One is telling the other to be careful out there. Wouldn’t you know, when the invasion is winding down, one of the characters gets shot. He recovers while the other character gets promoted to a command position. This is your character.
Star Wars geek note: The opening intro depicts TIE Bombers flying in an atmosphere, something I don’t remember ever seeing in a movie. In fact, I think I read somewhere that TIE starcraft can’t fly in atmosphere.
The game proceeds to tutorial mode where a senior officer instructs you on how to control a unit of soldiers from the safety of your command console high up in an orbiting starship. Your team starts off small — just a few sandtroopers, some riding dewback, and also Dellis– the dude who was shot in the intro. This is where you get to learn the camera controls and there are a lot of them. My used copy of the game still includes the cheat sheet for mouse and keyboard commands. It’s quite detailed and intimidating, naturally. But the senior officer patiently walks me through the essentials. After I bumble my way through these basic exercises satisfactorily, the officer actually states that he has never seen anyone learn as fast as me.
Star Wars geek note: The preceding praise explains so much about Imperial management.
The above screenshot shows your command console as well as your unit getting dropped off on a certain desert planet in the Star Wars universe for the training exercise. The story cleverly intertwines with the primary SW arc as the senior officer advises you to check out an escape pod that is known to have landed close by. The cargo? 2 droids carrying stolen, top secret Imperial data. I was a little confused about how to proceed at this point. So I just started marching my guys around the big sandbox. Sometimes, some Tusken Raiders would appear and — rather foolishly — try to start something with my crew. This was good practice for how to react in a battle situation. The rest of the time was spent getting used to controlling a bunch of soldiers at the same time.
Doing anything in this game gets annoying pretty quick since the troopers feel it necessary to give obsequious auditory feedback in response to every order received. What they lack in brainpower and initiative, they compensate for with loyalty, enthusiasm, and boundless positive morale:
Me: “Move 10 meters in that direction.”
Sandtrooper: “For the empire!!”
But I’m being unfair. True, the guys can get stuck near trivial obstacles on occasion. But they’re smart enough to stay out of the Sarlacc-looking pit even if you direct them to walk in that general direction.
So after wandering around for a half hour in a game engine-designated patch of desert that probably measures less than a square kilometer, I eventually trip over a giant crate that the game labels as “escape pod”. When the finely-tuned soldiers touch it the mission is finally over. Next, I am told to… I don’t even remember now; something about finding the droids. The instructions are delivered verbally and whiz right past my mind that’s still reeling over the magnitude of the keyboard guide. The game does give the player an option to review the current objectives. However, when consulted, they just inform me to A) follow the captain’s orders (yeah, and what were those again?) and B) keep Dellis (your buddy) alive. I can’t shake the feeling that this game is going to be the Star Wars variant of Saving Private Ryan.
Out of desperation, I tried out some other buttons. I pressed ‘J’ for “open builder shuttle inventory screen”. I have no idea what that is, but the ‘J’ key might as well be a BIG RED button since the senior officer sternly scolded me, “Don’t do that.”
That ends tonight’s RTS endeavor, but I just might try this game again some night. I have at least one other RTS title in the queue, plus I might be inspired to give Gender Wars another shot.
I plugged away at a few more Sega CD titles this evening. I don’t think I meant to process so many of these flat, circular, bastard stepchildren that gaming forgot. But I did know that there is only perhaps a 50% chance of a Sega CD game working in Gens. Further, I realize that even if a game does boot up, there is an exceptionally slim probability that the game will hold my interest for longer than the minimum amount of time required for me to collect at least a small sampling of representative screenshots and write a marginally comprehensible MobyGames description.
Let’s start off once more with the games that I tried to make work but could not. First was The Adventures of Batman and Robin. This appears to be based on the early-mid 1990s Batman animated series. I can boot the game. I can start the game. I can watch the opening movie. But I can go no further. Still, with these few screenshots, a complete set of cover art, and the power of Google, I should be able to throw together some nonsense for a description. I’ve done it before.
The next failure of the evening was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I can only hope that this game is widely divergent from the previous Frankenstein-themed game covered in this experiment. I won’t find out tonight. I only have the disc for this game, a disc that does not like to be read. I am not entirely convinced that I have all the data correct to begin with. When I mount the ISO rip under Linux, I see some suspicious file entries such as:
-r-xr-xr-x 1 root root 12288 Oct 11 1994 men_sub.ovl
?????????? ? ? ? ? ? menu
-r-xr-xr-x 1 root root 38912 Oct 11 1994 muf_main.ovl
Moving along to stuff that worked even if it wasn’t very good: Powermonger. I somehow missed this last night when I was going through games already present in the database that only needed screenshots. Or maybe I blocked it out from my mind. I have the DOS version of this game (purchased as part of an Electronic Arts/Gravis collaboration for preording the Gravis Ultrasound sound card). I really enjoyed Powermonger’s predecessor, Populous. But I could never quite wrap my head around this one.
Powermonger is a realtime strategy game where you play an outcast warlord on a quest of world domination. You start out with a small following and start ravaging the countryside, territory by territory, taking what resources you can until everything belongs to you. I usually had the worst time controlling my armies who always seemed to be ambling off to pick flowers in the field or something other than marching off to battle like I thought I was ordering them to do. That’s why I took to calling this game the virtual cat herding simulation.
Given the technical capabilities of the Sega CD — or lack thereof — I’m rather impressed that the programmers were able to achieve Powermonger’s 3D effects on the console. How did they do it? Slowly, but they did it. It’s interesting to note that while my DOS version of Powermonger was delivered via a pair of 1.2-megabyte 5.25″ floppy discs, the Sega CD version expanded to fill the available capacity. The main data track is 320 MB large and there are 9 redbook audio tracks to boot. What to do with all that space? Why, FMV, of course. This is a different kind of FMV, though– it’s silent film FMV. Seriously, you sort of have to interpret what’s going on– no speech or subtitles:
Next game is Stellar Fire, apparently one in a long-running series of games under the Stellar 7 banner (I have yet another such game for the 3DO — Draxon’s Revenge — that’s not yet in the database). This game started out as a treat since the FMV on offer was actually very good. You’re humanity’s last hope, piloting a starship, yadda yadda, invading the Draxons’ homeworld and orbiting moons, blah blah. It’s a little more compelling when you’re actually watching the intro, of course.
You pilot something called a hovermorph. It’s supposed to be decked out with enough firepower to destroy a small solar system. That may or may not be hyperbole; the intro depicts this ship blowing up a Draxon capital ship. Too bad the ship’s pilot (you, I guess) hesitates until the Draxons had iced his 2 wingmates, a.k.a., the second- and third-to-last hopes for humanity, respectively.
Moving right along to the gameplay, the action takes place on a polygonally-rendered, first-person battlefield. The game’s box copy prides itself that it’s not an on-rails shooter but is instead real-time 3D. Hover around and shoot stuff with your lasers and missiles. There are flying creatures that are essentially drawn as 2 long arcs, similar to the way you used to draw seagulls as elongated McDonald’s arches when you were younger. The first fortified moon was teeming with the large beasts that I believe were called Xarz Voor. The disparity between the intro art and the in-game art reminded me mightily of the difference between Atari game cover art and the actual in-game character representations.
this is the artwork from the mission briefing
I think that polygon creature on the right is the in-game representation of the creature in the picture above
I can’t exactly figure out what the goal is in this arena, nor can I even find a way to die; I’m constantly knocked around but I don’t see any health meters diminishing. Indeed, if this ship really is tough enough to take out a star cruiser, it shouldn’t have a problem with these negligible opponents.
The final game tonight is Surgical Strike, one in a proud tradition of “FMV backdrop” shooters. I have a terrible, sinking feeling that this is going to suck notably. For the uninitiated, this type of game features an FMV clip playing, simulating intense 3D action, while you navigate a little target around the screen and shoot at opportune moments. One of the most in/famous examples of this sub-genre is Sewer Shark. (Aside: I know we’re supposed to reflect on these games now and cut them some slack because they seemed so novel and innovative at the time but I’m not playing along this time. I distinctly remember seeing Sewer Shark on display at a toy store when it was brand new and being wholly unimpressed.) Quick rundown: Middle-eastern madman launching rockets at civilians, U.N. secretary-general steps in to discourage this practice. You are assigned to pilot a heavily armored, advanced military hovercraft (built by a carpenter, according to the game credits) through war-ravaged cityscapes and hit highlighted hotspots at opportune times.
Fail and your commanding officer chews you out, while your teammates continue to cheer you up by offering some fairly generic advice. Fail too many times and even your peers abandon you, call you a bonehead and throw you in the slammer!
I admit: this game sucked harder than I was prepared to handle. Still, the most bizarre Sega CD titles are yet to come.
Gender Wars is another game that doesn’t strictly need any MobyGames data from me. But it’s a game I haven’t yet experienced. And what game could be more appropriate on Valentine’s Day? This is another game from the eBay 50-lot grab bag and came with no manual when I received it.
Executing the game launches into what is intended to be an academic point/counterpoint historical discussion about how the great Gender War flared. It quickly devolves into escalating barbs between the male and female historians. Drink it all in:
At its core, Gender Wars is an isometric perspective strategy action game. Your mission is to assemble a team of suitable soldiers for a variety of missions, sometimes bloody, sometimes sneaky. You have a selection of team leaders and soldiers from which to build your team of 4. Various soldiers are rated differently in 4 different attributes which is supposed to make some soldiers more suited for certain missions than others.
Mostly, the game is an excuse to exchange ruthless, equally sexist barbs at both genders. Here is a shot from the FMV sequence when the men approach their drop point. One is drunk and can’t offer much-needed assistance in landing the craft:
Here is the first mission briefing for the mens’ side. I retyped it because the screenshot was tiny and indecipherable:
Right lads, Coach (The Patriarch unless you’d forgotten who THAT was) has got in mind a little mission for us. It’s our job to stealthily infiltrate the female city and cause as much destruction and mayhem as is manly possible.
This will be the start of a cunning scheme to once and for all overthrow the Matriarch and her evil harlots.
Our target is their egg-shed. They reckon it’s well guarded but one of our lads could get through wearing only a pair of boxer shorts and armed with a can of beer. Once you’re inside grab the storage tubes and kill any women you see. The supplies you need are in repro-tower B but if you accidentally go to the wrong one and lots of women should accidentally die because you accidentally riddled them with laser bolts, I’m sure the Coach will understand that you were confused and misguided by the emotional effects of war. Our Boss knows the score. Remember, body count up, female population down.
As you might be able to guess, I’m just trying to fill up space here. I didn’t play the game too long. I had trouble figuring it out. Plus, real time strategy is another genre that I have never gotten into. I’m pretty sure that’s what this game is. It’s hard to gauge since I don’t have much of a reference point. Please correct me if I’m wrong. Here’s an action screenshot depicting the manly men invading a female lounge area:
You lead your team around the base, through series of elevators and corridors and lounge areas on your way to the mission goal. Kill any women you see. A lot of games where I control just one entity confuse me. These games where I am expected to control multiple entities in real time are always beyond my grasp. You can issue orders such as “fire at will” or “wait for my signal”. Plus, the character you are presently controlling only fires when you indicate; the others are operated on some limited AI. When I enter a new room, the other soldiers may or may not follow. This game reminds me a lot of Powermonger — the virtual cat herding simulator — in this regard.
I’m just thankful that there was an instructional text file on the CD-ROM. This isn’t exactly a point & click interactive movie (though I do like the FMV on offer). I didn’t quite understand this segment of the keyboard quick reference. Is there a range of keys between PgUp and PgDn on some keyboards?
PAGE UP - Fire at Will - soldiers fire at anything that moves
On my Signal - soldiers only start shooting when you do
Defence Only - soldiers shoot when they are attacked
PAGE DN - Fall Back - soldiers retreat and `fall-in' behind you
What kind of fun do the ladies have in Gender Wars? I’ll end with the briefing for the first female-on-male mission:
As the Matriarch lays down her plans to annihilate the Patriarch’s interbred forces, we have been blessed with the task of gathering information about their so-called Military Corps.
The Communications Sector is the backbone of all the city’s information exchange. If we access their computer terminals we can insert listening programs that will send copies of all their communications to our base. The squad should be kept small for this mission, to minimise the chance of alerting the enemy to your presence.
You will be given four encrypted cards, each of which must be placed in a different terminal. You only need to insert one card to complete the mission, but if you insert others our listening system will be more secure. Some of the messages that we will receive are certain to be encrypted so try to get your hands on a decoding card. Unfortunately you will have to kill one of the senior staff to get one. Oh dear, what a pity.
Once the mission is complete return to the pickup point for your triumphant return home.