Monday, March 30, 2015

Choicest VGM - VGM #175 - Frontier: Elite II - Frontier Second Theme

Composed by: Dave Lowe

This is the second piece of original music that plays in the 1993 space trading sim Fronter: Elite II. While Dave Lowe composed and arranged the music for the game - most of the music in the game are actually popular pieces of "classical" music (I say "classical" since they're not from the "Classical" period - probably more Romantic/Modern) with only two being originally composed by Lowe. Last week we had the main theme from the game (that plays during the introduction) and today we have the creatively titled "Frontier Second Theme". But here's an interesting bit of trivia for you: apparently this theme was actually the first piece of music submitted for use in the game. Holly Jazz Lowe, Dave's daughter, explains:

He'd already written the second theme and had sent this to David Braben, but although Braben really liked that theme and it was used inside the game, he wanted something more strident and battle-y for the main intro scene.

Oh and where did I get the music? I recorded it directly from the game audio (using the Adlib/Sound Blaster option) while running the game through DOSBox. I did find MIDI files of the DOS version's music online but they just weren't the same as how I remembered. So there you have it :)

Thanks to Dave Lowe for composing such a memorable soundtrack!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Spotlight Sunday - Week 14 - 2015

Spotlight Sunday is a way for Choicest Games to feature PC games that are scheduled for release on the following week - games that we consider worthwhile checking out.

This week (30th Mar to the 5th Apr 2015) there's a few games I think are worth checking out - a couple of them are sci-fi and the other is an expansion:

The Spatials

  • Release Date: 30/03/2015
  • Availability: Steam (pre-order not available), Direct $9.99
My first impressions of this game was that it seemed to be a game inspired by the likes of Space Colony (which I talked about last week) or Startopia - both quite old games. Basically you run a space station by designing which rooms are built and then generating income from visitors that stop by your station. Apparently there are some hostile lifeforms that you can battle with too but what is especially nice is that the galaxy you can explore is apparently randomly generated with over 100+ planets - which will no doubt help with the game's replay value.

Out There: Omega Edition

  • Release Date: 02/04/2015
  • Availability: Steam (pre-order not available), Direct $9.99
The game's description on Steam says that "Out There is an award-winning space exploration game blending roguelike, resource management and gamebook mechanics." When you first look at the screenshots you're probably thinking the game looks a lot like FTL (not that that's a bad thing) and this is probably where the "roguelike" and "resource management" elements come into play. But what I'm really interested in is the fact it has "gamebook mechanics" meaning it'll probably be more story focused. The game apparently has "350+ unique text adventures with multiple choices" which sounds pretty neat as well as "4 different endings" so these are the aspects that get me excited. Also the game's soundtrack is composed by Siddartha Barnhoom - the same chap behind the soundtracks for The Stanley Parable and Antichamber.

The Sims 4: Get to Work

  • Release Date: 02/04/2015
  • Availability: Origin $49.99, EB Games $49.95
Get to Work is the first actual expansion pack for The Sims 4 considering that up to now there's only been one DLC (Outdoor Retreat) and a few free content updates too. The functionality added in this expansion pack though are things that were taken for granted in previous iterations of The Sims. It seems they've taken one of issues I raised in my First Impressions article in that they didn't introduce very realistic jobs in the initial release of the game; thankfully in Get to Work you can finally pursue the law enforcement, science or medicine career tracks. One of the more interesting aspects of this expansion though (and I'm not sure if this was present in an earlier expansion - but probably was, most likely The Sims 2's Open for Business) is that you can run retail businesses now. Apparently there are a lot of store types to choose from and of course, decisions to be made with respect to designing the store itself.

So are you interested or excited about any of these PC games being released next week? Which games are you looking forward to?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Where are they now? - Bruce Campbell Shelley

Bruce Shelley - Designer of Age of Empires

For today's "Where are they now?" I will fill you in on a guy that actually worked with that famous Sid Meier character I talked about last week. While he seems to have disappeared off the radar a bit in recent years it doesn't mean he's out of the game (of making games) just yet. This week we're going to talk about Bruce Campbell Shelley, a man who is most famous for developing one of the most beloved Real-Time Strategy game series of all time, Age of Empires.

Judging by when Shelley went to university (late 1960s and graduating in 1970 with a forest biology degree) I'm guessing he was born in the late 1940s. He was always interested in making games from a young age and a couple of his favourite board games while growing up was Stratego and Risk. He got to realise this dream in 1980 when he and some of his friends formed a role-playing game company called Iron Crown Enterprises which acquired the license to make games based off J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. In 1981 Strategy & Tactics Magazine published Shelley's first game that he collaborated on, a game that was based on the American Civil War.

In 1982 Shelley joined the famous board game company Avalon Hill and worked there for a few years designing wargames and board games. Designing board games helped teach him the value of "prototyping" and "designing-by-playing". When Shelley played Sid Meier's Pirates! however, he decided that he wanted to get into computer game development and joined local company Microprose.

Shelley is credited with doing some development work on 1987's F-19 Stealth Fighter and 1989's F-15 Strike Eagle II but the games that followed would be the ones he's probably most remembered by (at least while he was at Microprose). I'm talking about 1990's Railroad Tycoon, 1990's Covert Action and 1991's Sid Meier's Civilization. Shelley was a designer and project leader for Railroad Tycoon, and did the research and documentation for Covert Action. Probably his biggest achievement at Microprose though is working alongside Sid Meier in the development of Meier's most famous game, Sid Meier's Civilization. Meier would be responsible for coding any changes while Shelley would playtest the changes every morning and then provide feedback to Meier later each day. Using this iterative development process they were able to create one of the true classics of PC gaming.

In 1995, Shelley left Microprose to work with a friend of his called Tony Goodman in Dallas, Texas. They formed a new company called Ensemble Studios and this is where Shelley did what I believe is his best work, designing the classic historical RTS Age of Empires which was released in 1997. He would also help design its sequels, 1999's Age of Empires II (which was an even bigger success) and 2005's Age of Empires III.

Ensemble Studios was acquired by Microsoft in 2001 and was eventually closed down in 2009 after the release of Halo Wars. Shelley then did a variety of consulting jobs over the next few years with companies like Ubisoft, Blue Byte, Zynga, the Shenandoah Studio and InnoGames. Since 2013, Shelley has been working as Chief Designer at a Texan mobile games developer called Bonusxp and while they sadly don't make games for the PC it's good to see that the next game they're planning to release is an RTS called Servo. That should keep Shelley happy. Although I wouldn't mind another RTS for the PC though...

[ Wikipedia: Bruce Shelley ]
[ Wikipedia: Ensemble Studios ]
[ MobyGames: Bruce Campbell Shelley ]
[ BonusXP Official Website ]