Tag Archives: Amiga

#83: UFO: Enemy Unknown

Format: Amiga 1200 Genre: Strategy, Turn Based Tactics Released: 1994 Developer: MicroProse

 

UFO: Enemy Unknown box art with, as was usual in those days, a picture of something that did not appear in the game.

 

Do you believe in love at first sight? That you could be at a crowded bus stop in the rain and your eyes meet with a special someone. Suddenly you know that this is the person who is going to make your life complete, that will bring sunshine and happiness into the darkest corners of your soul and will be the one who has to sort through your stuff after you drop dead from an aneurysm which struck as you were bending over to pick up a (101 Video Games) pencil off the floor?

I don’t. In fact I’ve had several relationships with women that, when we first met, neither of us was particularly interested. Or more accurately they weren’t particularly interested. But on the second or third meeting something clicks, and before you can say ‘I must warn you that there’s a history of aneurysm and pencil related death in my family’ you’re strolling through parks holding hands and kissing each other inappropriately in front of friends while they try to pretend they can’t see you and awkwardly carry on their conversation.

It’s not just love that sometimes strikes the second time around. Ever seen a film or heard an album that for whatever reason you just can’t get into? Then you’ll go back to it a few months, or even years, down the line and for some reason you see or hear something you just didn’t notice before.

Happens to me all the time. But for some reason it doesn’t really happen with video games. Maybe it’s because the video game, as a medium for entertainment, is constantly evolving. That in the same time you might try an album once then give it another go a bit later a game would have had three sequels with vastly improved graphics and game play. There was one game though that I definitely came back to years later, and got far more into than I ever did the first time around, and that’s UFO: Enemy Unknown.

I got UFO: Enemy Unknown (also known in the US as X-Com: Enemy Unknown)for Christmas 1994. Set in the insanely futuristic world of 1998, UFO put you in charge of a secret, international, military organisation dedicated to intercepting UFOs and defeating the cattle bothering, probe wielding aliens within. A mixture of resource management and turn based tactics, UFO tapped into the general popularity of aliens, conspiracy theories and the unexplained that was floating around in the premillennial mid-90s. The tone of the game was all dark shadow-y. The X-Files had just started to be shown on terrestrial British TV and I remember how every review of the game ‘hilariously’ referenced Scully and Mulder in some way.

 

Find out what makes a 'Grey' grey.

 

I was really into all that kind of stuff back then and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the game and start dissecting aliens. Imagine my disappointment when I realised I was rubbish at it. My troops would be wiped out during the turn based missions. My bases would struggle to break even as various countries would pull their funding and start making secret deals with the aliens and I never seemed to have enough alien materials to build better weapons. After about a year of trying, I gave up.

 

Equiping your troops so they can face those evil aliens. The game would randomly generate a name for each soldier, all of which were ridiculous. For some reason MicroProse seemed to think that just 4 years into the future we'd all change our names to things like Boris Zachery.

 

Flash forward to the even more futuristic year of 1999. I’ve just got a second-hand laptop so I can write essays at home rather than in the University Library. And of course play games. While out one day I came across a budget collection of all the X-Com games and, on a whim, decide to get it. I more or less ignore all the follow ups but decide to try UFO: Enemy Unknown again and this time… This time I get it.

 

The mission sections had a curious feature where an enemy would only appear on-screen if a character was looking at them. This lead often led to you stumbling on a group of aliens, or worse, being killed by an alien which you somehow didn't notice as it wasn't directly in your eye line, despite it standing right next to you!

 

I don’t know if it was just me being a bit older, or by sheer chance I had stumbled on how crack the game (lots of saving basically – maybe I felt that saving every other go was cheating when I was 15). Whatever the reason the second time around it clicked with me, and I became obsessed with finishing it. I certainly wasted a lot of time playing it when I should have been writing those essays. A lot of people seem to have been similarly obsessed, there seems to be a massive on-line fan community with all sorts of updated versions of the game and mods. There’s even a new sort of sequel currently in development – a first person shooter. (An FPS? Is nothing sacred?)

It still ranks as one of my favourite games ever. Indeed writing this has made me think that maybe I should give the game a third go…

 

You were recommended to place your first base in rich countries as they'll give you the funding. The UK was always my first base's location though. National pride was at stake!

 

Ian

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Filed under 1994, Amiga, MicroProse, Strategy, Turn-Based Tactics

Podcast 12: Best Ever Console Round 1

It begins. The already legendary 101 Video Games Best Ever Console Contest! Or Competition! Or Thing! To be honest we’ve not properly agreed on a title.

Anyway, listen as Lewis and Ian discuss, debate, argue, call each other names and play rock paper scissors stone through 12 rounds of red-hot console on console action. And if you think that sounds dirty and disgusting you should have been at the recording.

 

Lewis and Ian's debate over whether the Amstrad 6128k is better than the PS2 becomes heated.

 

Click below to listen directly through this site:

Or download and listen on your MP3 player of choice:

Podcast 12 Best Ever Console Round 1

OR subscribe to our podcasts through iTunes by clicking the link below:

WARNING – We do swear a bit in this podcast. The debates we had became very passionate and strident and we sadly couldn’t stop our language occasionally reflecting that. Plus we drunk quite a bit of beer and got a bit silly. Sorry.

We want to hear your thoughts (please let us know you listen and you like us, pleeeeease). Do you violently disagree with any of our judgements? If so, really? Violently? Just calm down, it’s only video games. But do tell us, we’d love to hear from you! As always the best comment wins a 101 Video Games pencil.*

* N.B. Still no pencils available.

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Filed under Podcast

#68: Sid Meier’s Railroad Tycoon

Format: Amiga Genre: Business simulation Released: 1990 Developer: MicroProse

Railroad Tycoon was one of the few games my Dad bought during his occasional dalliances with home computing. I remember him coming home with it and thinking, “Pffft, a game about building railways? Jeeeez, my Dad is SOOOOOOO sad!” (I was a sulky teenager at the time.) Then lo and behold, a few weeks later guess who was hooked on expanding his fledgling  railway network…

I damn well made sure my friends didn’t find out what I was doing though. I mean, just look at the front cover – this has to be one of the geekiest games ever created. But if you delve a little deeper you’ll find a solid and perfectly balanced strategy game – classic Sid Meier (he of Civilization fame). The graphics are pretty damn awful, even for the time, but once you get past the ugly exterior it’s easy to get hooked on manipulating your tiny trains.

The meat of the game centres around connecting towns and industries and micromanaging cargo. One town might produce iron and another might produce coal – take them both to a steel factory and you can produce steel, which in turn can be used to make canned goods or be exported… If it sounds complicated that’s because it is, and once you’ve connected five or six towns, micromanaging all of the various cargoes carried by each of the trains becomes a real headache. But somehow fun at the same time.

There are all sorts of strategic decisions to be made. Do I make my trains longer to maximise profit but at the same time reduce their speed? Is it worth the expense of new tracks and trains to connect to a nearby stockyard, or will the profits be too slim to make it worth it? Do I lay single track, which is cheaper, or double track, which allows my trains to move faster? It all adds up to an extremely complex but compelling game experience, even if (like me) you have absolutely no interest in trains whatsoever.

Both my Dad and I were totally hooked on this game at one point, but in the end it all got a bit too samey. The best bit is at the start, when you’re rapidly expanding your network, but once you get past a certain size, managing all of your trains becomes a bit of a nightmare, and you find yourself repeating the same actions again and again. Having said all that, the game impressed me enough to buy Railroad Tycoon II for the Dreamcast… although I kept that pretty quiet from my friends too.

(By the way, the little bell noise that signals when a train has arrived at a station used to drive me mad – have a listen in the video above to see what I mean. When your rail network got to a certain size the bell would sound almost constantly – it was almost like having tinnitus.)

Lewis

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Filed under 1990, Amiga, Business simulation, MicroProse

#38: Cannon Fodder

Format: Amiga Genre: Real-Time Tactics Released: 1993 Developer: Sensible Software

[Two of The Four Cyclists of the Apocalypse (the only minor deities committed to a programme of rigorous consumer testing) are drinking tea.]

FIRST CYCLIST: Another biscuit?

SECOND CYCLIST: Don’t mind if I do. Now let me see… Bourbon I think. [Sound of munching.] Mmmm.

Cannon_fodder_box_art

[The THIRD CYCLIST enters.]

THIRD CYCLIST: Morning chaps! It’s a lovely day out on the ethereal plane, you should go for a ride. Oooh, are those biscuits? [Takes custard cream.]

FIRST CYCLIST: I would do, but I’m getting my bike resprayed.

THIRD CYCLIST: [Speaking with difficulty while chewing.] Ogh yesh? What colough?

FIRST CYCLIST: Black.

THIRD CYCLIST: [Swallows.] But didn’t you get it sprayed black last time?

FIRST CYCLIST: Yes, but it’s midnight black this time – the guy reckons it’s the blackest black you can get.

SECOND CYCLIST: But I thought black was simply the absence of colour, and hence it’s actually impossible to divide ‘black’ into shades – it’s either black or it’s not black, i.e. grey.

FIRST CYCLIST: [Pauses…] Yeah, but this is really black.

cannon_fodder_06

The mangled corpses of your enemies, yesterday.

[The FOURTH CYCLIST enters carrying a large box wrapped in a bin bag with a note saying ‘TAKE ME’ pinned on the side.]

FOURTH CYCLIST: Hey guys, look what I found! Someone just left it lying around outside the front of their house!

[The FOURTH CYCLIST whips away the bin bag with a flourish to reveal an Amiga 500+ with a stack of games.]

THIRD CYCLIST: Cool! Hey you know that reminds of that time at Amiga Power – you know, when we brutally slayed the entire staff?

[The others stop what they’re doing for a moment and gaze thoughtfully at the ceiling.]

FIRST CYCLIST: Oh yeeeahh! I’d forgotten about that!

[The Four Cyclists meditate on the thought for a moment, with wistful smiles playing across the voids where their faces should have been. The SECOND CYCLIST stands and claps his hands together, breaking the others out of their reverie.]

SECOND CYCLIST: Right! Shall we see if it works then?

Cannon_Fodder_recruits

'Cunning Metaphor For The Futility Of War', more like.

[Half an hour later the cyclists are gathered around a dilapidated TV listening to the A500 disk drive grind and sputter its way back into life.]

FOURTH CYCLIST: Right, what shall we play on then? Zool?

THIRD CYCLIST: Frankly I just have one thing to say to that: ‘up to jump‘.

FIRST CYCLIST: How about Cannon Fodder, the Game of Champions?

[Ten minutes later the quartet are watching the words ‘This game is not in any way endorsed by the ROYAL BRITISH LEGION’ appear on the screen, immediately followed by a giant poppy and the words ‘CANNON FODDER’. The accompanying music is ‘War Has Never Been So Much Fun’.]

SECOND CYCLIST: Reminds me of all that fuss about the poppy on the front cover of the game. Yet despite all the Daily Star’s accusations of warmongering and insensitivity, the game actually carried a distinctly anti-war message, as evidenced by the fact that your new recruits queue up in front of the graves of the newly dead – surely a potent image of the futility of war?

THIRD CYCLIST: Errr… yeah.

SECOND CYCLIST: Not to mention the fact that every soldier in the game had a unique name, which meant you couldn’t help but grow attached to your recruits as they steadily moved their way up the ranks. Seeing your favourite general die halfway through the game was nothing short of a tragedy – and by extension, this emphasised the tragedy of death in real-life combat.

THIRD CYCLIST: Yeah, it was annoying when they died.

1242577203-01

Igloos and snowmen were a common occurrence in Cannon Fodder. Natch.

SECOND CYCLIST: Erm, I’m not sure you’re really getting this are you? The point is that in most war games you’re in control of nameless goons or some ridiculous super-soldier that can be resurrected at the touch of a button, and as such you never really end up caring about them. But by giving the soldiers individual names, Cannon Fodder succeeds in creating a bond between the player and the game characters, and their very fragility and the permanance of their death serves to strengthen this bond. Because you know that your character can be killed by just a couple of shots, and that if he dies he’s gone forever, you take extra care to look after him. Do you see?

FIRST CYCLIST: YES!!! GOT HIM! DIE YOU MOFO! Right, that’s level 1 done, anyone else fancy a go?

THIRD CYCLIST: ME ME ME!!!

SECOND CYCLIST: Sigh.

Lewis

(Hang on – what on earth was all that about? – Ed)

Sorry, it’s a review In The Style Of… Amiga Power. You can read more about the mighty beings of Amiga Power by cruising down the InformationSuperHighway to this CyberInfoDump. If you didn’t find any of this in the slightest bit interesting or amusing, then you probably used to read (“Michael Jackson” – Ed). Tsk.

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Filed under 1993, Amiga, Real-Time Tactics, Sensible Software

#20: Wizkid

Format: Amiga Genre: Miscellaneous Released: 1992 Developer: Sensible Software

Wizkid is an early title from Sensible Software, who went on to develop the legendary Sensible Soccer and Cannon Fodder. It makes it onto the list by merit of its sheer lunacy – a trait I feel should be encouraged in games wherever possible.

wizkid_box_art

The R. Crumb-inspired box art for Wizkid

Wizkid is a sequel to the 1987 game Wizball, although it bears little resemblance to the original game. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to actually classify Wizkid into any kind of genre. The main chunk of the game involves clearing the screen of enemies by knocking blocks into them with your floating head, but once you’ve finished a round, your head is reattached to your body and you have to solve a series of increasingly bizarre puzzles to find the route to the next level. An example of one such puzzle is when you’re presented with the screen below.

wizkid_08

One of the earliest puzzle screens.

 Here’s what you have to do, according to the GameFAQ by Johnny “ThunderPeel2001” Walker:

Keep winding the well’s handle until the bucket appears. Jump onto the bucket to sink deep into the well. Go into the Ladies room and use a toilet in order to unblock the volcano (this is Wizkid, weird things happen). Go out and into the Men’s. Use the urinal one in from the left and it should leak when you flush it.

Head back outside and jump into the bucket again before you drown. Water should rise and take you back onto the upper screen. Now you can keep winding the handle for infinite colour bubbles, but you can also jump into the volcano (where the bubbles come from) and you’ll find yourself next to a Kitty and the exit to Round 3!

In short, you have to use a ladies’ toilet at the bottom of a well to unblock a volcano, then flood the level with a faulty urinal. Told you this game was weird.

The toilets at the bottom of the well.

The toilets at the bottom of the well.

In a later level, entitled ‘Wizkid Meets Dog Girl’, you have to jump into the mouth of a barking, digitised woman, and in the level entitled ‘The Ghost of Wizkid Past’, you have to work out a way to kill yourself in order to descend into the grave, fight Dracula and find the exit for the next level. The whole game is like some crazy acid trip of inventiveness, and you get the impression that the developers were having an absolute whale of a time coming up with all this stuff.

The turtle jail where the evil Zark is holding your cat hostage.

The turtle jail where the evil Zark is holding your cat hostage.

The game also keeps up Sensible’s tradition of including loosely justified hidden obscenity: to finish each level you have to collect a set of musical notes, which then cascade down from the top of the screen in what the manual calls the ‘golden shower’. Ah, good old Sensible, where are you now? Best Amiga developer ever? Probably. Any company that releases a game called Sim Brick is all right in my book.

If you jump on the fourth and sixth sheild of the Viking ship a donkey is revealed. For no reason.

If you jump on the fourth and sixth shields of the Viking ship a donkey is revealed. For no reason.

So there you have it, Wizkid made my life slightly better because it made me laugh. A lot. Possibly even as much as Advanced Lawnmower Simulator (but more on that another time).

Lewis

(Screenshots from www.lemonamiga.com)

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Filed under 1992, Amiga, Miscellaneous, Sensible Software

#11: Beneath a Steel Sky

Format: Amiga Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure Released: 1994 Developer: Revolution

Ah, the point-and-click adventure – a genre so fondly remembered yet so close to extinction…

The fortunes of these most traditional of adventure games took a nosedive with the demise of the Amiga and never really recovered; the kids got into their fancy new ‘Grand Theft Autos’ and ‘Tomb Raiders’ and rapidly lost interest in figuring out how to combine broken string with some mud in order to create a mask with which to frighten the temple guard into giving you the key for the dungeon. Actually, when you put it like that it’s probably not surprising that the popularity of these games waned – after all, one of the best points about Grand Theft Auto is that you never have to spend twenty minutes painstakingly combing the screen with the mouse in a bid to work out whether you’ve missed picking up an essential item. “Ah, so that tiny yellow-green blob 14 screens back was actually a key!” is something you’ll never hear uttered by players of GTA.

beneath_a_steel_sky_cover_art

Of course, I’m doing the genre a disservice – for all the frustrating back-and-forth wandering and pixel hunting there were a hundred more golden moments of ‘Eureka!’-style puzzle solving, not to mention elaborate plot twists. For, of course, ’tis in the narrative where these games truly excel, and Beneath a Steel Sky was a shining beacon in this respect. The developers even went so far as to create a mini-comic to be shipped with the game, detailing the events leading up to the opening credits.

beneath_a_steel_sky_hunting_kangaroos

Set in a dystopian future Australia, the comic describes how the main character, Robert Foster*, is raised by Indigenous Australians after a helicopter crash in ‘The Gap’ (the Australian Outback). He learns electronics and builds himself a robot, Joey, who becomes your companion throughout the game. Upon reaching adulthood, Foster is kidnapped by stormtroopers sent from Union City (a possible future Sydney), and his tribe is murdered. The stormtroopers have been sent by LINC, the mysterious computer mainframe that controls the city.

beneath_a_steel_sky_screenshot_4

The game proper opens with a jaw-droppingly animated (for the Amiga) sequence as the helicopter crashlands in Union City and Foster escapes. It emerges that in this ruthless future world, cities comprised of mammoth skyscrapers have swallowed up most of the remaining liveable land. Working class citizens are confined to the upper levels of the city, whereas the leisure elite luxuriate below (‘beneath a steel sky’, geddit?). In order to confront LINC and learn the truth about his past, Foster must evade security and work his way down to the lower levels.

watchmen_characters

If the set-up sounds a little similar to Mega-City One in Judge Dredd, then it’s no coincidence – Dave Gibbons (of 2000 AD and Watchmen fame) did all of the artwork for the game (including the mini-comic), and every screen simply drips with cyberpunk chic. At the time it looked astonishing, and even now the dystopian backdrops are capitivating. The anticipation of what graphical delight awaited you on the next screen was almost as much of a draw as the fantastic plot.

beneath_a_steel_sky_screenshot_1

Even though the game plot was more serious than some of it’s point-and-click contemporaries (e.g. The Secret of Monkey Island), BaSS still managed to squeeze in a fair amount of humour, mostly of the British variety (i.e. double entendres and sarcasm). Indeed, the fact that the game never takes itself too seriously is one of its most enduring features (Gears of War take note – non-stop, po-faced machismo is more likely to make gamers laugh derisively into their sleeves than empathise with the characters).

beneath_a_steel_sky_screenshot_2

Of course, it wasn’t all a bed of roses. The chief problem with the game was it’s sheer size (in terms of memory space anyway): the Amiga 600 version of the game came on a whopping 15 floppy disks (which I believe is actually the most disks used by one Amiga game – correct me if I’m wrong). This meant that backtracking through screens might involve several bouts of disk-swapping and loading, which became very tedious very quickly. Luckily I upgraded to an Amiga 1200 after I got BaSS, which meant that I could load the game in its entirety onto the 1200’s mighty 60 megabyte hard drive.

Blimey, it’s crazy to think now that my current mobile phone has nearly 67 times more memory than my old Amiga 1200…

beneath_a_steel_sky_screenshot_31

The other major problem with the game was the problem shared by many point-and-clickers – that of the obscure puzzle. To be fair, BaSS was relatively good in this regard compared with some other examples in the genre, but even one of the first puzzles in the game (which involved wrenching a rung from a ladder to use as a crowbar) had me backtracking between screens for AGES. And of course, all this was in the days before GameFAQs.com (God bless you GameFAQs! Sing hallelujah, for yay, the days of becoming frustratingly stuck in video games hath endeth!).

Of all the games on this list, I’d rate BaSS in the top five games I’d like to play again, which just goes to show how much of an impression it left on me (if you fancy giving it a go yourself, you can play it for free using ScummVM). Interestingly, it seems that point-and-click adventure games are starting to make a bit of a comeback, chiefly thanks to the Nintendo Wii and DS. The laid back pace of the point-and-clicker is perfect for the older end of Nintendo’s gaming spectrum, and the Wii remote and DS stylus might as well have been custom made for playing this kind of game… With talk of a Director’s Cut of Broken Sword to be released for the Wii and DS, as well as the release of a new generation of point-and-clickers (e.g. Sam & Max: Season One, The Secret Files: Tunguska), perhaps this is the start of a point-and-click rennaissance?

In the meantime, here’s a clip of BaSS to whet your appetite – this is the CD-ROM version of the game, which used voice acting rather than text (although, inexplicably, everyone seems to be American, even though the game is set in Australia…).

Lewis

*An empty can of a certain Australian beer is found near the crash site, thus providing Foster with his surname.

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Filed under 1994, Amiga, Point-and-Click Adventure, Revolution

#1: Stunt Car Racer

Format: Amiga Genre: Racing Released: 1989 Developer: MicroStyle

Bizarrely, the inaugural post on this blog is for a racing game. Bizarre because generally I don’t actually like racing games that much; yet, when I think about it, the two or three that I’ve really enjoyed (Ridge Racer, Burnout 3, Gran Turismo) probably rank up there as some of my favourite game experiences, and Stunt Car Racer certainly deserves a special mention.

Most racing games before the mid-nineties were pretty rubbish. It was only with the 3D revolution that racing games really reached their full potential – before that it was all stripey grey race tracks and simplistic leftright leftright holddownthebutton gameplay (try playing a game like Lotus Challenge now and I guarantee the nostalgia won’t last beyond a couple of pixellated crash barriers). However, Stunt Car Racer WAS in 3D at a time when perhaps only a handful of games were, and what’s more it used the 3D space in a way that few games have, before or since.

The raison d’etre of Stunt Car Racer is the tracks – glorious, insane, rollercoaster-like tracks that leave you gripping the joystick for dear life as you hurtle through the air after burning up impossible ramps, then gritting your teeth as you plummet back down, engine still racing, the screen cartwheeling as you miss the track by inches and smash into the dirt below with a bone-shattering crunch. At a time when racing meant dodging in and out of identical 2D cars, Stunt Car Racer did vertical – and how. There was even a loop-the-loop…

The key thing about all this vertical fun was the ever-present sense of danger – there were no barriers to any of the tracks, so you always felt that just one small slip of the wrist could send you hurtling into the abyss, costing you valuable time as your stricken vehicle is winched back onto the track and, more importantly, causing potentially race-ending damage to your car. Above all, it was the intense adrenalin rush this caused that is my stand-out memory of the game; that and the excellent two player mode (only available over a link cable, but more than worth the considerable hassle of stringing together several wires and tellies).

I sold my Amiga recently (sacrilege I know), but I booted up Stunt Car for one last go before I carted the whole lot off to Mr Ebay. It’s lost none of it’s charm: sure, the graphics are basic (even for the time) and there’s only one other car on the track at any one time (believe it or not, that blocky red thing in the screenshot is a car), but it still retains an impressive sense of speed and danger as you hurtle round those suicide bends.

The creator of the game, Geoff Crammond (dubbed ‘Sir’ by Amiga Power), later went on to create the seminal Formula One Grand Prix series on the Amiga, but I’ll always remember him for this classic game. Nice one Sir Geoff.

Lewis

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Filed under 1989, Amiga, MicroStyle, Racing