Category Archives: 1999

Podcast 22: Crazy Taxi (#100)

Format: Dreamcast Genre: Racing, Arcade, Sandbox Released: 1999 Developer: Hitmaker

Here at 101 Video Game Towers we often enjoy games that somehow turn mundane activities into fun adventures. Yes, you may have a good time being a space fighter pilot, or the heroic saviour of a post apocalyptic wasteland, or even a low-level gangster in the 1980s clubbing someone round the head with a baseball bat, but it can also be just as satisfying walking a dog, fishing or running a railway business.

Despite this fine pedigree there must have been some consternation when, during a meeting at Hitmaker HQ, the Big Boss pointed with his fat cigar at a lowly, nervous looking  programmer and demanded he make a game that recreates the thrills and spills of driving a taxi.

The advertising was very subtle.

Still, they don’t call Hitmaker ‘Hitmaker’ for nothing. They know how to make hits. In case you haven’t noticed it’s literally their name. Hitmaker… a maker of hits. If they didn’t know how to make hits their name would look stupid and boastful. Which it certainly isn’t. Though they did change it a couple of years ago to Sega AM3 which suggests they tired of putting so much pressure on themselves and instead became extremely early risers.

Anyway, all it took to turn mini-cabbing into a successful game was to add a bit of *pause* ‘Crazy’ (raise eyebrow when reading the word ‘Crazy’).

A taxi flying into the air? How crazy.

Welcome to the 22nd 101 Video Games Podcast! Listen as Ian and Lewis discuss Crazy Taxi on the Dreamcast, the disappearance of Tower Records, how pretty much anyone can’t help but like Offspring while playing this game even if they don’t usually, what a British version of the game would be like and once again reminisce about wasting time at university.

So, as someone with some kind of throat problem once said, ‘Hey, Hey, Hey its time for Crazy Taxi!’

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Podcast 22 Crazy Taxi

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In many ways Gena is Ian's perfect woman - beautiful, cool and, most importantly, she can drive.

Ian & Lewis

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Filed under 1999, Arcade, Dreamcast, Hitmaker, Podcast, Racing, Sandbox Game

#66: Emergency Call Ambulance

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Racing Released: 1999 Developer: Sega

Failing to complete a level in most arcade racing games results in little more than the inconvenience of having to insert another credit. But failing to complete the first level of Emergency Call Ambulance results in nothing less than the death of a ten-year-old child called Jack.

In what has to be one of the most macabre game set-ups ever, this coin-op sees you take the wheel of a Chicago ambulance with the aim of rushing various patients to hospital without them expiring en route. A heart-rate monitor at the top of the screen reveals the patient’s condition, and a little inset in the top right shows you what’s going on in the back of the ambulance. Take a corner too wildly or collide with another vehicle and the patient’s condition worsens – take too many hits and they kick the bucket.

Unfortunately, the floaty handling of the ambulance combined with the tight time limit and abundance of other road users means that it’s almost impossible to actually get the patient to hospital without them moving on to a better place. In fact, this game has to rank as one of the hardest driving games of all time – in the many, many times I’ve played it, I’ve never once got onto the second level. (Although perhaps that says more about my driving skills than anything else.)

It’s almost heartbreaking to hear the long ‘beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep’ as the heart-rate monitor flatlines and you know you’ve failed to save Jack yet again, but there’s something compelling about the game that kept me coming back time after time.

“If only I hadn’t hit that car on the last corner… I know I can save him this time. Don’t worry Jack, I’m coming!” [Inserts coin]

Of course, I’m kidding myself – if I really cared about Jack I’d leave the machine well alone and let someone a bit more skilled in the driving department deliver him safely to hospital.

Still, the fatal [no pun intended] allure of this game is that it gives you the opportunity to be a hero, and how many driving games can you say that about? That’s what makes it so addictive – every driving game from Gran Turismo to Pole Position gives you the opportunity to win a championship, but how many driving games give you the chance to save a life?

Or, in this case, cause the repeated death of a critically injured child through reckless driving.

In many ways I’m glad I never got past the first level; apparently a later level sees you transporting a badly burned woman who’s pregnant with triplets… It’s bad enough my conscience has to deal with the death of a ten-year-old – I’m not sure I could deal with the deaths of three unborn children too.

(I apologise in advance for the poor quality of the video clip by the way – it was the only one I could find on YouTube…)

Lewis

(Images from The Killer List Of Video Games: http://www.arcade-museum.com/)

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Filed under 1999, Coin-Op, Racing, Sega

#37: Sega Bass Fishing

Format: Dreamcast Genre: Fishing Released: 1999 Developer: Sega

I love this game because it’s just such an unlikely concept: who’d have thought fishing could be so much fun? It’s a bit like the TV show Late Night Poker – explain the concept to someone and they’ll probably roll their eyes in boredom, but when you see it in action you suddenly find yourself addicted. Likewise with Sega Bass Fishing – get past the naff-sounding concept and one go is all you need to get you hooked (sorry).

Sega Bass Fishing Dreamcast Box

The best bit about the whole game is the sampled speech – I’ve no idea where they found the guy who does the voiceover, but he’s absolutely priceless. I’ve never heard anyone strangle the English language in quite such a fantastic and delightful way as he does – just click on the video below and have a listen to him say “select a casting point” to hear what I mean. The best bit is when you catch a big fish, which triggers a crescendo of J-pop guitar riffs followed by the voiceover guy excitedly booming “WOOOAH!!! A BIG ONE!!!” as your avatar struggles under the weight of an enormous bass.

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The game is so dependent on sound that if you took away the wonderfully over-the-top music and speech, I reckon the game’s appeal would easily be halved. The act of reeling in a fish would actually be quite dull without the blare of hyperactive guitars reverberating in your ears and some ambiguously accented narrator demanding that you “LOWER THE ROD!!!” (with ‘rod’ pronounced ‘raaard’). Perhaps real-life fishermen would do well to hire someone to stand behind them and excitedly comment on everything they’re doing – it might make the time pass quicker.

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In addition to the sound, the other main appeal of this game is of course the motion-sensitive fishing rod controller (dubbed the ‘Fission Controller’ by some wag). Motion control is two-a-penny now, but it was a real novelty back in 1999, and anyone who saw me playing with my rod would often be astonished by its capabilities (sorry, couldn’t resist). I seem to remember that the controller wasn’t all that sensitive, and it was certainly nowhere near as responsive as the Wii controllers, but it did the job well enough. And let’s face it, the game wouldn’t be half as much fun without the plastic fishing rod.

Speaking of which, has anyone played the Wii version? I’ve been very tempted to buy it for old time’s sake, but I’m not convinced that it would be quite the same without the proper controller…

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Of course, the game wasn’t without its down sides. The chief disappointment was that it became repetitive quite quickly, although this was diminished somewhat by the ability to unlock extra lures. Even so, the game was quite limited in that it only had three levels (actually, I think it was four including the special stage) and just one type of fish to catch – after hours and hours of fishing for bass I was crying out for a bit of variety (“A perch! A perch! My kingdom for a perch!” etc.).

That said, the game had excellent pick-up-and-play appeal, and I found myself dipping into the arcade mode again and again, long after I’d grown tired of most of my other Dreamcast games. A true classic.

Lewis

(Screenshots from http://www.ign.com)

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Filed under 1999, Dreamcast, Fishing, Sega

#34: Commandos: Beyond the Call of Duty

Format: PC Genre: Real-Time Tactics* Released: 1999 Developer: Pyro Studios

I’m not even sure if I actually like this game or not, but I feel it deserves inclusion for the simple fact that it dominated my life for a week or so in early 1999 or thereabouts. Whether it made my life better or just scarred me for life is up for debate…

Commandos Beyond The Call Of Duty Box

In early 1999 I was in the first year at university, and one of my friends in halls had a one-level demo of Commandos: Beyond the Call of Duty on his PC (incidentally, the game is a standalone expansion pack for Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, which was released the previous year). The idea of the game is simple – you control a squad of commandos (sniper, driver, spy, green beret, etc.) and the aim is to sneak around behind enemy lines performing various acts of sabotage and assassination. However, the actual execution (if you’ll forgive the pun) is mind-numbingly difficult – if you’re spotted by one of the enemy troops, it’s pretty much game over, which means you have to plan every single move in excruciating detail.

Commandos Beyond The Call Of Duty screenshot 1

Before moving anywhere you have to scope out the patrol paths and lines of sight of all of the enemy guards to ensure you don’t end up wandering across any wayward Germans. This generally equates to crawling around painfully slowly and hiding behind bushes – as you might have guessed, this definitely isn’t an action game. In fact, shooting anyone is practically committing suicide, as the sound of gunshots draws in every German from the surrounding area, resulting in a quick death for Johnny Englishman. The only way to really progress safely is to sneak up behind each enemy and dispatch them silently before hiding the body – no mean feat when the level I played was approximately the size of Normandy (you can see why it took me a week to complete one level).

Commandos Beyond The Call Of Duty screenshot 2

The cautious nature of the gameplay and the massive penalties for detection meant that I had to save the game after practically every move I made, and there were several occasions where I had to backtrack to a previous save point and redo a whole section of the level because I’d gone the wrong way or found myself in an impossible situation. God knows where I got the patience from.

However, as they say, the greater the challenge, the greater the reward, and the sense of achievement I felt on completing the demo was utterly amazing – somehow the elation of triumph over adversity overshadowed all the hardship and frustration. I imagine it’s the same kind of feeling as being trapped down a mine for a week and then stumbling, squinting and bewildered, into the sunshine, safe in the knowledge that you can happily get on with the rest of your life.

Commandos Beyond The Call Of Duty screenshot 3

That makes it sound like the game was a chore to play, but that’s definitely not the case – frustrating and difficult it might have been, but it was also extremely rewarding, not to mention very pretty to look at (I reckon the hand-drawn graphics still stand up pretty well today). Then there’s the fantastic sound effects, the speech in particular. The green beret (I think it was the green beret anyway) said everything in a wonderfully sneering tone, and ordering him to move anywhere would elicit a sarcastic “Yes… sir“.

But does the game stand up today? The inspiration for this post came from seeing Commandos 2 on the PS2 for a ludicrously low price in a game shop over the weekend. I couldn’t resist picking it up for nostalgia’s sake, but I was bitterly disappointed when I got it home – after less than an hour I’d become utterly frustrated with the glacial pace of the gameplay and the constant restarts. Perhaps this game is best regarded as a fond memory. Or at least as a worthwhile exercise in endurance.

Commandos Beyond The Call Of Duty screenshot 4

Although having said that, the PS2 conversion was utterly dire – the attempt to map the various controls to a joypad resulted in probably the least intuitive control system I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience. Plus it had the most tedious tutorial I’ve ever seen in a video game, but I had no choice but to sit through it because the controls were so damn complicated that I didn’t have a hope in hell of playing otherwise.

Still, these days I prefer my gaming in bite-sized chunks – I just don’t have the time to play games like this anymore. Anything that requires me to play a level for an hour or more – let alone a week – just doesn’t get a look in. Aaah, to be 19 again, with acres of spare time spread in front of me…

(This is actually a video of Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, but you get the idea.)

Lewis

*Bit of an odd genre this – Commandos was an early example of a real-time tactics game, but Cannon Fodder (which will be appearing on the list soon) was one of the very first. A list of RTT games can be found here.

(Screenshots from http://www.gamespot.com)

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Filed under 1999, PC, Pyro Studios, Real-Time Tactics

#27: Silent Hill

Format: Playstation Genre: Survival Horror Released: 1999 Developer: Konami

This game deserves an honourable mention simply for scaring the bejesus out of me. Looking back at it now, you’d find it hard to believe that the slightly shonky graphics and shambling animation would be enough to scare anyone, but somehow the game succeeds in creating a very creepy atmosphere indeed.

Silent_Hill_PAL_box

The key to this creepiness is the sound. Early in the game the hero, Harry Mason, finds a radio that seems to be broken. However, after being attached by some sort of naked mutant pterodactyl, he quickly realises that the radio emits static whenever a monster is nearby.

The radio is a stroke of genius. It means that you know a monster is coming long before you actually see it, allowing the anticipation to build and build and causing you to imagine things that are probably a lot worse than what’s actually around the corner. Couple this with your relative helplessness (unlike Resident Evil, you spend most of the game with nothing more lethal than a crowbar as your weapon), and you’ve got the makings of a real nerve-jangler.

A naked mutant pterodactyl, yesterday.

A naked mutant pterodactyl, yesterday.

The stand out moment for me occurred right near the beginning. I was taking it in turns to play the game with my university housemate Chris. Chris was in control, and we were exploring the elementary school. The school seemed deserted, but after we passed by one particular door, the radio started going crazy. Chris looked at me.

“Shall I go in?”

I gave the nod to open the door.

The room seemed empty as Harry swept his flashlight around, until something moved in the corner…

“WHAT THE HELL IS IT????” Chris shouted.

It was a baby.

A ghost baby.

And it scared the hell out of us.

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The Larval Stalker (just about visible as the black shape). Brrrr.

We fled the school room in terror, only to gingerly step back in, crowbar at the ready, to ascertain the nature of this malevolent beast. As it turned out, it was completely harmless (I later found out that these creatures are called Larval Stalkers – stupid name if you ask me), but the game designers did a fantastic job of scaring the willies out of the both of us.

It seems utterly ridiculous now that we were both terrified of something so trivial, but it just goes to show that the scariest stuff is what actually comes out of your own head – the imagined terror will always be worse than the reality.

Lewis

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Filed under 1999, Konami, Playstation, Survival Horror