June 16, 2007
So I was flying internationally and there was an onboard duty-free shop. Since I wouldn’t be doing much with this blog during my absence, I just knew I just had to buy this thing and write it up when I returned: Travel Game 1997 In 1 from Premier Portfolio.
The feature list is a tad sparse. To wit:
- 1997 in 1
- Folding design
- Sound on/off button
- Batteries included
- 12 month int. guarantee
Understandably, you might be a wee bit suspicious of the claim that this wondrous little device actually contains one thousand nine hundred and ninety-seven unique games. My first guess was that it had one game and 1997 different levels for that one game. At best, I figured that it would have several different games and hundreds of levels for each.
This latter assumption turns out to be correct. There are, in fact, 14 unique games listed on the tri-lingual instruction manual– err, instruction scrap-of-paper. Several of them, however, are the same concept repeated over and over again.
On a technical level, the game screen has a tall rectangle drawn around the left 3/4. This is the area that contains 200 individually-addressed picture elements arranged in a 10×20 grid. The right quarter has a few other hardwired elements such as the score. There is a speaker that sounds like one synthesized channel which can still produce a useful array of sound effects. The controls allow you to select among the 14 games, play them, force a hard reset to select a new game, and toggle the sound. Further, when starting the system, “MIRADA” scrolls across the screen. Developer, perhaps? I didn’t have time to disassemble the unit to learn more, though the screws are straightforward enough.
Among the 14 games, 3 of them are racing games– “Car Racing”, “2-line Car Racing”, and “3-line Car Racing”. The 3-line car racing game is depicted below (it’s notoriously difficult to obtain quality screenshots on this system):
The mechanics of all 3 games are the same. You can move to the left or right or speed up (since the car moves pretty slow by default). The car racing game just has the player maneuvering on a narrow race track. The 2- and 3-line car racing games have cars in 2 or 3 lanes that you must dodge.
There is a “Tank Fighting” game where you navigate your tank around the field and shoot other tanks will avoiding obstacles. The tanks each occupy 3×3 grid blocks so it’s a pretty crowded game.
A game called “Shooting” simply has a bunch of blocks gradually but relentlessly descending. Shoot them before they reach you.
There is “Single Pinball” and “Double Pinball”. They are both Breakout/Arkanoid-type games. They also strike me as somewhat flawed. It can probably be proven mathematically given the constraints of the system, but I was able to show empirically that it was easy to get the game into a state where the ball followed the same pattern and could not clear a screen until you let the ball drop. The double pinball game differs from the single variant in that there is a paddle at the top of the screen that you are controlling simultaneously with the one on the bottom. I.e., there is no hard border at the top.
I assumed that the game “Shooting Space” would be a Space Invaders clone. In fact, I have never seen anything quite like it. One row of random blocks descends one level, followed slowly by another. You have to shoot more blocks upwards in order to complete lines and keep the blocks from reaching the lower level. It’s sort of like an inverted Tetris.
Speaking of Tetris, this type of hardware lends itself quite naturally to a Tetris-type game. However, it is simply called “Block Game” in this incarnation. This is what it looks like:
So I can understand why they would shy away from using the name Tetris. But that doesn’t square with the fact that they openly call their Galaxian clone “Galaxian”.
“Cross The Fire Line” is a Frogger clone when it comes right down to it while “Dragon Pearl” is a variation of the common Nibbles theme.
The unit also has a game called “Crazy Ball” which I think is supposed to be a Pong-type game. I’ve never played the original Pong so I don’t know if Pong is supposed to be this naive. The computer player simply moves back and forth in a constant manner. It’s still hard to beat the computer since the paddle is 1/3 the width of the screen.
One last game– It’s called “Block Matching” and it struck me as the strangest. There would be 3 blocks at the bottom of the screen, e.g.:
XX X X
XX X XX
3 blocks slowly descend from the top of the screen, Tetris-style. They do not initially match the blocks in the same position on the bottom of the screen. It is your job to alter the blocks within the group in order to make them match the bottom blocks before the group reaches the bottom. The left arrow rotates through block types for the first block, up or down controls the second block, and right manages the third.
I bought this odd item on my way back to the U.S. and my first stop was to visit some relatives. My young nephew seemed far more impressed with this device than I was. So I just collected enough notes for this post and let him have it. I’m glad it will get some use.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Action Games,Puzzle Games,Racing Games,Shooter Games | Comments (5)
March 28, 2007
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.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Action Games,Interactive Movies,RTS Games,Sega CD Games,Shooter Games | Comments (3)
March 27, 2007
I went off the deep end with Sega CD games tonight. This is due to the fact that I got around to writing a Python utility that rips entire Sega CDs in a format suitable to play from the hard disk using the Gens emulator. You can find the Sega CD ripping script on my more technical blog. So I spent a bunch of time ripping games to the hard drive and concentrating on collecting screenshots for Sega CD games that are already in the database.
As best that I could, anyway. In the most ambitious evening yet of this project, I tried 7 different games. Only 3 worked. Among the ones that didn’t work:
- Sol-Feace: Space shoot-em-up with a large redbook audio soundtrack. I am listening to the energetic soundtrack ripped to MP3 right now and I am disappointed that I don’t get to try the game. It wouldn’t run in Gens. But at least it sounds like fun.
- Masked Rider: Kamen Rider ZO: I’m pretty sure this is based on the Power Rangers franchise. It, too, would not run in Gens.
- Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Severely multi-platform game based on the Coppola film, this game started to run but has trouble making it past the company logo movies; if it does, it never gets past the title screen movie. The problem is always the same: When the movie ends, the last second or so of audio gets stuck in an infinite loop. At least I got the title screenshot:
- Slam City with Scottie Pippen: This is actually a Sega CD/32X game. I’m not sure how well Gens is supposed to support the 32X hardware. The game does have a redbook audio track with the theme song which is performed by Pippen himself, according to the game’s credits. It’s a rap about respect that’s only 1.5 minutes long but feels much, much longer. I would post it for posterity but it’s not so much funny or embarrassing as it is dull. Definitely early-90s style, though.
Now it’s time to cover the games that actually did work. The first 2 are cut from the same cloth: Mad Dog McCree and Ground Zero Texas. While produced by different companies, they are both interactive movie-based shooters. McCree happens to be a little more straightforward in concept than Texas, but they’re both phenomenally obnoxious in their own ways. When I tried playing the DOS version of Who Shot Johnny Rock? with a mouse, I noted how difficult and tedious that was and I predicted how much harder it would be to play the same game with a control pad. I was right. McCree is from American Laser Games, same people behind Johnny (also for the Sega CD). What a chore! It’s less a game of skill than a game of memorization. You had better remember exactly where each goon emerges or be doomed to repeat the same level:
Actually, scratch that. It doesn’t matter if you know the precise coordinates of each crony. If you don’t hit precisely the right hot spot, your bullets have no effect. I routinely emptied my revolver squarely on the bad guy only to get plugged when my chamber was empty. I just played long enough to collect a diverse sample of screenshots and I was out. I often hear that this game was a huge hit in its day. I would like to hear more than second-hand testimonials to that effect.
Ground Zero Texas was a little more promising. The premise is that there is a covert alien invasion occurring in Podunkville, Texas, U.S.A. The military has sent out a minor military detachment to deal with this pressing end-of-the-world-type scenario and you are the new tactical ops specialist brought in. Your 3 predecessors mysteriously disappeared and the brass has thrown up its hands in frustration and declared, “If you can’t handle this, we’re nuking this Texan hamlet”. So there’s a sense of urgency. Your task is to sit at a console that is connected to four camera/gun combos in 4 locations in this tiny town. Watch for suspicious humans who are probably inhabited by alien invaders– they will spring up and shoot at the heavily armored gun.
Sci-fi fans will of course recognize the alien-host-inhabiting-human-bodies theme as a convenient plot device for avoiding having to create expensive alien costumes or effects. Anyway, the game was mildly promising until I found I was unable to switch to any other camera when I was done with a particular area. The A button was supposed to enable me to switch but that didn’t work. The A button responds fine in other games played in this emulator. So I got just enough screenshots to make this play time worthwhile.
Finally, it’s on to Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective which represents the rarest of rarities: a halfway decent interactive movie! It even has the distinction of being one of the very first I-movies. Checking my master list of Sega CD titles, I would also have to qualify it as the best Sega CD game I’ve experienced thus far (admittedly, the competition is not especially stiff). The game boasts something like 90 minutes of FMV, and it’s reasonably well done (even if it’s necessarily tiny and grainy).
The aspect of this early genre game that struck me the most during my brief gameplay is the level of extraneous detail. For example, there is an extensive newspaper archive to which Holmes may refer. Each newspaper has marriages, deaths, classified ads, all in addition to actual news. There is a sizable directory of London citizens that Holmes may opt to visit. Granted, not all of them have corresponding FMV clips, rather just Watson informing Holmes that the person didn’t have anything to say. Still, the game is not on rails as you would expect from an interactive movie. This is truly just an adventure/mystery game supplemented with competent use of FMV.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Action Games,Adventure Games,Interactive Movies,Sega CD Games,Shooter Games | Comments (5)
March 24, 2007
At long last, I’m working Sega CD games into this mix. I have at least 1/2 dozen Sega CD games in my pile that aren’t yet in the MobyGames database and a whole bunch more that are missing screenshots. I guess I have been a little hesitant to go to work on this matter since I know it can be a bit tedious to set up the Gens emulator for Sega CD emulation at first. You need to install ASPI drivers for CD reading, which I did, but still no luck. However, I went the other route which is to rip an ISO + series of MP3 files for the game to play from the HD. That worked splendidly and I can now cover my collection of Sega CD titles for this experiment.
And what a collection! Let’s kick it off with Revengers Of Vengeance. I’ll give you a few moments to re-read that title a few times. Revengers Of Vengeance. I found this in an eBay store while purchasing some other games. I had absolutely no idea what to expect as the CD-ROM surface (all I had to go on) doesn’t really give any clues. It bears an MA-13 rating from a system called V.R.C. which predates today’s omnipresent ESRB.
I think the game may bear the alternate title of Battle Fantasy; at least, that’s the title that Gens shows in the window title bar. The game is definitely fantasy in nature and kicks off with an awesome scene of griffons in the shadow of a castle:
From there, the game goes on to explain, rather generically and matter-of-factly, that the Devil King — who goes by the name of Venum — has gained the infinite power of evil. Despite that, it’s implied that you somehow have what it takes to bring this villain down. By what manner of gameplay will you achieve this feat? Well, that’s where things get tricky.
From what I can tell, this game represents a genre mashup of a 1-on-1 brawler game and a role playing game. So in addition to being the first Sega CD game in Gaming Pathology, it’s also the first RPG (or RPG-like game). Not that I have any aversion towards RPGs (although one brief evening of gameplay wouldn’t be enough time to do justice to the nominal RPG). But I suspect that the RPG genre as a whole tends to be quite popular with the type of hardcore gaming nerds that contribute heavily to MobyGames. Thus, the genre already has good coverage in the database.
But I digress. Aside from the options screen, there are 3 places to go from the main screen. The first is The Tournament. This allows you to select from among 10 unique fighters to battle it out with other characters against colorful, fantasy-themed backgrounds. It’s pretty tough, too, even on the easiest level:
Another route is the Arena Of Death which has the most curious logo of 2 Sega Genesis consoles fighting with each other. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what this mode is for. All I could do with it was create fighter characters with custom stats and the pit them against each other in an automated battle.
“The Quest To Destroy Venum” is where the RPG element comes into play. You begin in an RPG-style town:
You have a supply of gold and you can purchase dresses and perfume in shops, or coffee or cola at the village Starbucks franchise (serious about the coffee purchase, though at a nameless pub). When you leave town, you are shown this map of locations to warp to:
I head to the waterfall since that sounds like a pretty background. I get my mythological rear handed to me in the first battle. Even afterwards, I am awarded an amount of gold and experience points and sent back to the original town. Ostensibly, I need to spend some time leveling up and perhaps equipping myself before I can possibly hope to have a chance in this game. I also spy a fitness club in town.
During the Quest mode, each of the 10 characters appears to be following its own storyline with corresponding cutscenes. It occurs to me that a lot of beat-em-ups try to have storylines for each fighter, but that storyline is only fleshed out in the character’s brief ending sequence. This game has a full storyline from the get-go and tries to carry the concept even further. (Come to think of it, Criticom also had a storyline cutscene inaugurate each character’s quest, but… look, I’m sorry I even brought up that game again.) Some character backstories are more involved than others. One, though, for an absolutely enormous were-rhinoceros creature is quite simple: he simply wants someone — anyone — stronger to challenge in a fight. Maybe the infinite evil dude will fit the bill.
I have located cover art scans on other websites that evidence that this game must have been released in the U.S. Given that, it’s curious that the name entry box has a bunch of Japanese characters to choose from when writing one’s own name. I don’t know what any of them mean but I feel obligated to use a few since they’re on offer:
I see from this review at Sega-16 that a) I really suck at the fighting sequences, and b) I’m missing one genre– a vertical shooting type of game. I’ll need to devote some more time to this title some night.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Fighting Games,RPG Games,Sega CD Games,Shooter Games | Comments (6)
March 11, 2007
This is my first exposure to this curious genre of American Laser Games interactive movie shooters, a genre mashup that came about before anyone was likely aware of the concept of a genre mashup. Allegedly, Who Shot Johnny Rock? was wildly popular along with other games from the same group, the most famous of which was Mad Dog McCree. Maybe these games worked better in the arcade where players got to use a gun instead of a mouse. I do remember seeing such games in the arcade and they certainly were novel, which is great for an arcade run.
Unfortunately, I think novelty was probably the one and only thing this game and others like it had going. At first, I thought that maybe this would be an I-movie type game. But as I started it up, I remembered that this was from the Mad Dog McCree folks and that shooting would somehow figure prominently. So a lounge act by the name Johnny Rock has been brutally riddled with bullets. His now-former fiancee enlists the help of you, a private investigator, in order to find who killed him in this quasi-noir 20s-style detective comic story. The whole affair begins in a surreal enough manner. She wanders into your office but there is a thug close behind. You have to plug him fast before he can do you first.
The woman continues as if nothing is wrong, even as goon after nameless goon files through the door, or crashes through windows to put this P.I. on ice before you have a chance to accept the case. Shoot or be shot.
The mechanics of each possible encounter are as such: The encounter is a FMV scene that has a slight window of opportunity to react after the character actually brandishes a weapon. If they don’t show a weapon, no matter how suspicious or overtly threatening they appear, you are treated to a funeral scene where someone patiently and condescendingly tutors you on how not to screw up. If you don’t shoot within the proper window of opportunity, then it’s off to a hospital cutscene where a wisecracking doctor removes the foreign material from your body, but only if you have $400; otherwise, he leaves you for dead and it’s off to the morgue for a sly comment courtesy of the undertaker. If you happen to hit the hostile presence within the window of opportunity, you get to continue the quest/case.
There is a minor adventure element at work here in that you have an overhead city map that allows you to select where you would like to visit next. You must visit the hangouts of the “Four Diseases” — big time gangsters in the city — to learn what they know. But not without a major shootout first, one for each locale. The game is primarily trial and error, mostly error on my part. But what it lacks in playability, it makes up for in comedy relief. When you take out this random henchman during the pool hall shootout, he actually leaps forward onto the table to die:
This game was also available on the Philips CD-i and Sega CD systems. I can’t imagine having to play this on a system with no mouse! To have to react to the characters using only a control pad — ouch.
- Mad Dog McCree for the Sega CD — I was right, it’s a nightmare to control
Posted by Multimedia Mike under DOS Games,Interactive Movies,Shooter Games | Comments (6)