Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Choicest VGM - VGM #97 - The Secret of Monkey Island - The Voodoo Shop

Original Soundtrack composed by: Michael Land, Barney Jones, Andy Newell and Patric Mundy

This track plays when Guybrush enters the Voodoo Shop on Mêlée Island. It also plays shortly after preparing some weird voodoo concoction that ends up directing Guybrush's ship to Monkey Island. For those who have watched the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, you may notice that there is also a mysterious Voodoo Lady just like in Monkey Island - both with very similar accents and both with hidden agendas. Okay they do look a bit different (the one in the games is big-boned) but then there are also a lot of other similarities between the game and the movies (e.g. a zombie pirate, a wannabe pirate for a protagonist, a love interest born into wealth, etc.). Is there a reason for this? Well there was apparently this claim by artist Steve Purcell :

The really interesting thing is that the movie was going to be produced by Steven Spielberg (who is a big Monkey Island fan himself). He asked Ted Elliott, a script writer who has worked on several Disney movies (including 'Treasure Planet') and on 'Steven Spielberg’s Director's Chair' game, to help with the story for the MI movie. The Monkey Island movie never got the green light and years later Ted Elliott wrote 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl', which took several ideas from Monkey Island. So basically the first two PotC movies are the Monkey Island movie.

However, a scriptwriter who often collaborates with Ted Elliot called Terry Rossio denied any connection:

Ted Elliott was never hired to write a story or screenplay to the computer game Monkey Island, not in the year 2000 or any other year. Ironically, the creators of Monkey Island have acknowledged their inspiration and debt to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

Thanks to the Monkey Island Wiki for the interesting info.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Choicest VGM - VGM #96 - The Secret of Monkey Island - Mêlée Island

Original Soundtrack composed by: Michael Land, Barney Jones, Andy Newell and Patric Mundy

This track plays when Guybrush travels around the starting island, Mêlée Island. It's a pretty groovy tune that always gets me tapping my toes as Guybrush meanders along the island's trails. Consequently it's also the track you hear before insult sword-fighting the numerous pirates you ambush. Here are some of my favourites:

You fight like a dairy farmer!
How appropriate! You fight like a cow!

Soon you'll be wearing my sword like a shish kebab!
First you better stop waving it about like a feather duster.

People fall at my feet when they see me coming!
Even BEFORE they smell your breath?

I once owned a dog that was smarter than you.
He must have taught you everything you know.

There are no words for how disgusting you are.
Yes there are. You just never learned them.

My handkerchief will wipe up your blood!
So you got that job as janitor, after all.

I got this scar on my face during a mighty struggle!
I hope now you've learned to stop picking your nose.

I've heard you are a contemptible sneak.
Too bad no one's ever heard of YOU at all.

Thanks to the Monkey Island Wiki for the quotes.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Deadlight Review

"... power lines are a reminder of Man's ability to generate electricity."

  • Developer: Tequila Works
  • Publisher: Microsoft Studios
  • Release Date: 25 October 2012

Oh look it's another game with zombies in it (and believe you me it won't be the last for awhile yet). "EVERYTHING IS BETTER WITH ZOMBIES!" seems to be the catchphrase of the past few years, especially with computer games considering almost every second game deals with them. I'm not a big fan of the zombie genre, at least when it comes to movies (I think my favourite is Shaun of the Dead and that's not even a real zombie film!) but the gaming medium actually provides some opportunities to experience a zombie apocalypse in unique ways. So when I heard that there was a cinematic platformer set during a zombie apocalypse in the 80s – that seemed a unique enough combination for me to give Deadlight a second look.

Plot (4/5)
As mentioned the game is set during the 1980s when a zombie apocalypse envelops the entire world. You play a guy named Randall who used to live in a town called Hope in British Columbia, Canada with his wife and daughter. You learn that Randall eventually makes his way to Seattle which is where the game is set as there is news of a "Safe Point" for survivors of the outbreak. Randall travels with his companions in the hope of finding his family and has to navigate through the labyrinthine city while trying to avoid zombies.

As mentioned, I don't normally like the zombie genre but this game has quite a human story and all it took was a large diary to mainly tell it (a few flashbacks didn't go astray either). However I did find the ending a bit confusing; while I can understand the choices made somewhat, the advice that Randall gives to another is hypocritical to say the least. So your appreciation for the ending may vary.

Gameplay (3/5)
The game is a cinematic platformer with a zombie skin pretty much. The game is an obvious console port with fiddly controls and the keys being situated all over the keyboard – not ideal. I'd recommend that anyone playing this to play with a gamepad, especially considering how frustrating it is to jump off walls; I ended up attempting one part about 50 times before getting to the next save point, thanks to how difficult it was to jump using the keyboard. But that wasn't the only reason I ended up doing it 50 times.

If you followed a previous post of mine about how games go about saving progress, Deadlight sits firmly in the Type 1 camp, i.e. you have no indication of where the save points are and it saves automatically. Consequently, after completing the aforementioned jumping sequence I thought, "surely the game would save now. I'm assuming it has so I can go out and do some shopping now." When I got back, it turns out I didn't walk far enough to the next save point and hence I had to attempt the jumping sequence all over again! I'm not going to lie, it was pretty infuriating. I was tempted to /ragequit and stop playing right then and there, but I persisted and thankfully that was probably the only really difficult part to the game.

Sound (3/5)
The game has some decent voice acting and the appropriate sound effects you'd expect from a zombie game. There is, however, an issue where the volume during cut-scenes doesn't appear to be controllable. I remember setting the volume down and it works for every other part of the game but not for the cut-scenes resulting in my eardrums being blown every time it played one.

Music (3/5)
The game consists of mostly sombre and serene piano music combined with the occasional action music. It almost sounds like a movie soundtrack to be honest.

Graphics (4/5)
The game has some awesome background scenery of a slowly decaying 1980s Seattle and animations are of a high quality. The comic book style cut-scenes also work a treat.

Deadlight's story is told through comic book style cut-scenes

Replay (2/5)
There probably isn't much incentive to replay the game considering how linear it is except for achievement hunting (although the achievements do have pretty awesome names, as they're all named after 80s songs :)). Although having said that, I found out while reading a bit more about the game that completing the game on Nightmare mode (where you have to complete the game in one sitting with no saves) would reveal a bit more background story about Randall. So if you want to hunt for that little bit of extra story, you could replay the game on an insane difficulty level!

Do you come from a Land Down Under?

Polish (4/5)
I occasionally encountered bugs such as once where the level wouldn't load properly – thankfully reloading from the last checkpoint seemed to get rid of the issue.

Score – 6/10

Deadlight is a decent enough platformer with a novel setting (if you can call another game with zombies, "novel") although its obvious console heritage may cause some frustration when being played by us PC gamers. For the sake of your sanity, invest in a gamepad if you're going to play this game!

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam .

If you like this game, you might like...


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Top 10 PC Game Developers - #1 Will Wright

Urban planning and virtual doll house games are his forte

Famous for: SimCity, SimAnt, SimCopter, Spore and The Sims
Affiliations: Maxis

Will Wright started developing computer games in the mid-80s but it wasn't until the 1989 Maxis release of SimCity did Will Wright experience true success. The game was unusual in that it didn't really have any goals and was probably the earliest example of a sandbox game. Considering how unorthodox the game was with respect to not having any goals for the player, many publishers saw SimCity as a risky prospect and refused to let it see the light of day, at least initially. Eventually scenarios were introduced into the game since many believed that gamers wouldn't find the sandbox part of the game (where you build your own city) fun. They were proven wrong, with SimCity being a huge success (and I don't think it was because of the scenarios). In fact, without SimCity, we probably wouldn't have had another awesome game.

Wright continued to design many more "Sim" games for Maxis, including SimEarth, SimAnt, SimCity 2000 and SimCopter. However the game that would become the best-selling PC game of all time (and eventually spawn sequels to make it the best-selling PC franchise of all time) almost didn't see the light of day. The game was to be virtual doll house simulator yet once again, people were skeptical about Wright's ideas:

"The [Maxis] board [of diretors] looked at The Sims and said, 'What is this? He wants to do an interactive doll house? The guy is out of his mind. Doll houses were for girls, and girls didn't play video games.'

The Sims was released in 2000 and became a huge success - an even bigger success than SimCity. Today, the Sims franchise is worth billions of dollars and it's all thanks to Wright's ability to think outside the box and realise that there was a previously untouched market out there, waiting to be tapped.

The last core game Wright would work on at Maxis was the 2008 game Spore which was an ambitious game that covered the evolution of life itself, the growing of a civilization and eventually exploration of space. The game received generally favourable reviews although as reported on this blog, it wasn't perfect especially the choice of DRM.

Wright left Maxis in 2009 and is now part of an "entertainment think tank" known as Stupid Fun Club.

And that's it for my Top 10 PC Game Developers (not quite "of all time" but at least from the last 30 years or so of gaming :)). Who are your favourite developers?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Top 10 PC Game Developers - #2 Sid Meier

If Civilization were a drug, Sid Meier would be the world's richest dealer...

Famous for: Civilization series, Pirates!, Alpha Centauri, Colonization, etc.
Affiliations: Microprose and Firaxis

Sid Meier founded the company Microprose in 1982 with Bill Stealey. At the start, the company focused on flight simulator games although in 1987 Meier would publish Sid Meier's Pirates! which would continue a trend to this very day where Meier's name would appear in front of the game name. Eventually, Meier started focusing on strategy games after being inspired by SimCity and Empire!, creating the game Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon in 1990 and later, arguably his most famous work, Sid Meier's Civilization in 1991.

Meier eventually left Microprose in 1996 and founded Firaxis Games with Jeff Briggs. At Firaxis, he designed remakes of older games (e.g. Pirates! and Railroads!) and also designed the excellent American Civil War game, Sid Meier's Gettysburg! Meier works at Firaxis to this day.

While Meier's name does happen to appear on many games, not all of them had him as the lead designer - notable exceptions being Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, Sid Meier's Colonization and the rest of the Civilization series. Ultimately though, Meier's influence was still there and without the ground-breaking original Civilization, we wouldn't have fans everywhere saying ""

Up next at #1, the genius behind a crucial sandbox game and the creator of the best-selling PC game franchise of all time.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Top 10 PC Game Developers - #3 Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts. Sitting in a starfighter, naturally.

Famous for: Wing Commander franchise, Starlancer and Freelancer
Affiliations: Origin, Digital Anvil and Cloud Imperium Games

In the late 80s, Chris Roberts joined the company Origin Systems and produced a couple of games for them before releasing the game he's most famous for, Wing Commander, in 1990. Afterwards, Roberts worked on the flight sim Strike Commander which retained the same mechanic of cutscenes and character interaction that made the Wing Commander games so great. This time though, you were also able to manage a company of mercenaries which added that extra challenge in that you had to be efficient. Wasted too many bombs and missiles and you were soon broke. Roberts would also design the original concept for Wing Commander: Privateer which his brother, Erin, produced.

Roberts left Origin in 1996 and formed his own studio called Digital Anvil. At Digital Anvil, he developed games which would basically become spiritual successors to both Wing Commander and Privateer, i.e. Starlancer and Freelancer respectively. Freelancer turned out a huge success and dedicated fans still have servers running this game to this day. Roberts didn't stay long at Digital Anvil and spent most of the 2000s making movies, serving as producer on movies like The Punisher, The Jacket and Lord of War.

Roberts did eventually return to the PC gaming industry though and launched a crowdfunding campaign in 2012 for an ambitious new game called Star Citizen. Part of his pitch video encouraged viewers to prove that space simulations on the PC weren't dead. The game has so far raised over $17 million which is an amazing feat for a crowdfunded game.

Roberts has always managed to live up to Origin's old motto which was "we create worlds". Not only were the space sims he created fun in their own right, but the characters, the struggles, the destinations you visited felt real. When I think of space sim designers, there are only a handful I can think of (the only other two being David Braben and Lawrence Holland), but Chris Roberts has definitely left the biggest impression on me out of all three of them and this is why he deserves his place at #3 on my list of Top 10 PC Game Developers.

Up next at #2, the master of turn-based strategy games.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Top 10 PC Game Developers - #4 Ron Gilbert

Mr Gilbert is in the middle

Famous for: Maniac Mansion, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Monkey Island and SCUMM
Affiliations: Lucasarts and Hothead Games

Ron Gilbert developed his first game, Maniac Mansion, for the now defunct Lucasarts (known as Lucasfilm Games back then) in 1985. Before creating the game, he actually developed a scripting language specifically for the game known as the Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion (SCUMM). SCUMM would be used in almost all of Lucasarts's point 'n' click adventure games and was only finally replaced in 1998 by GrimE (Grim Fandango's engine). Not bad considering it was developed in the mid-80s. Anyway, Maniac Mansion turned out to be a success and Gilbert would go on to create the pirate adventure franchise Monkey Island which to this day still has a legion of loyal fans.

More recently Gilbert has worked on such games as the hack 'n' slash RPG, Deathspank (broken up into three games) and this year the puzzle platformer, The Cave. While his early contributions have been few, they have had a significant impact on the PC gaming industry. His recent games, although not as pioneering, still retain that humour we love so well and this is why I think he deserves the #4 slot on my Top 10 PC Game Developers list.

Up next at #3, a man who has become a sort of crusader for PC gaming in recent times and he's a veteran space sim designer to boot.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Top 10 PC Game Developers - #5 Tom Hall

Is that a dinosaur patting Tom on the head?

Famous for: Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Rise of the Triad, Anachronox and the Dopefish
Affiliations: iD Software, Apogee and Ion Storm

Tom Hall has developed games for over two decades, starting in the late 80s. Eventually he and John Carmack, John Romero and Adrian Carmack would go on to found id Software in 1991. Hall worked on such classics as the Commander Keen games, Wolfenstein 3D and Doom while at id. Interestingly, a big, stupid green fish he created in Commander Keen 4, known as the Dopefish, would go on to become a cultural icon in gaming. Usually the Dopefish would be an easter egg hidden in other games and still appears in games even to this day.

While Hall did work on Doom, he didn't enjoy it and this is probably the reason he left for Apogee. He felt he wasn't able to make the game to his liking since there was limited story, no characters and no puzzles. At Apogee, Hall worked on several more titles with Rise of the Triad probably being his most important contribution. In 1996 Hall left Apogee and formed Ion Storm with his buddy John Romero where he produced the hilarious RPG, Anachronox. Here is what he had to say about its development:

I loved making this game, even though the company struggles were insane. The guys that stuck it out were bonded in ways that no one else will understand. Likely by body funk.

After Ion Storm closed down (not before releasing the critically acclaimed, Deus Ex), Hall switched jobs several times over the following years working for Monkeystone Games, Midway Games, Kingisle Entertainment and Loot Drop. According to his blog, he accepted a position as Principal Designer at PlayFirst (developers behind the Diner Dash games) in March this year. He also started a Kickstarter project called Worlds of Wander last year which was to be a game creator and spiritual successor to Commander Keen but sadly it failed to get off the ground.

Tom Hall's contributions to the FPS genre and PC gaming culture as a whole means it’s not surprising he's on my Top 10 list of PC Developers. Up next at #4, a man who has previously been featured on this blog and the fifth adventure game developer to feature on this list (if you can count Scott Murphy, Mark Crowe, Corey Cole and Lori Ann Cole as the first four).

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Top 10 PC Game Developers - #6 Brett Sperry

Brett Sperry adopting the Thinker's pose

Famous for: Dune II, Command & Conquer, Eye of the Beholder and Lands of Lore
Affliations: Westwood Studios

Brett Sperry co-founded Westwood Studios with Louis Castle in 1985 while they were still in their early 20s. While the Eye of the Beholder and Lands of Lore games were fun games in their own right it was in 1992 that Brett Sperry had his "Eureka!" moment with Dune II. Sperry set himself a personal challenge to incorporate "realtime dynamics with great game controls into a fast-paced wargame". He wanted to better utilise the mouse as a tool for selecting and controlling units instead of keyboard hotkeys. As a result, Dune II was a critical success but it wasn't until 1995, when Command & Conquer was released, that Westwood Studios was truly seen as the bona fide king of RTSs (okay there was always Blizzard too – but I think at this time, Westwood were way out in front).

Since 2008, Sperry has been CEO of Jet Set Games, a company that specialises in mobile games so it's unlikely we'll be seeing any revolutionary RTSs from him in the near future. However, he and Westwood Studios have left their mark on the PC gaming industry by bringing the Real-Time Strategy genre to the fore.

Up next at Number 5 – a man who has had a hand in a variety of genres, but mainly First Person Shooters.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Top 10 PC Game Developers - #7 Chris Avellone

Mr Planescape: Torment himself

Famous for: Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale series, Star Wars: KotoR II, NWN2, Alpha Protocol and Fallout: New Vegas
Affiliations: Black Isle Studios, Obsidian Entertainment

Chris Avellone initially started writing campaigns for Dungeons & Dragons-inspired fantasy RPGs before entering the video game industry in 1995 at Black Isle Studios/Interplay. His breakthrough game was the critically acclaimed Planescape: Torment which was released in 1999 and redefined what CRPGs were all about. The game remains one of the classic games of the genre and there's even a spiritual successor in the works called Torment: Tides of Numenera which gathered a decent $4 million in Kickstarter funding.

Avellone went on to design the Icewind Dale games before moving to Obsidian Entertainment where he worked on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, Neverwinter Nights 2, Alpha Protocol and Fallout: New Vegas. Sure Obsidian Entertainment's games were buggy as hell, especially in the early days, but their strong narratives were a big selling point and it was mainly thanks to the work of people like Avellone.

Currently Avellone is working on Project Eternity – a successfully funded Kickstarter project that claims to be a spiritual successor to the Baldur's Gate series which should have D&D CRPG fans very happy indeed.

Avellone's ability to suck the player into the imaginative worlds he creates means he deserves his place on my list of Top 10 PC Game Developers. The CRPG genre would be sadly lacking without him and the contributions of his Black Isle and Obsidian Entertainment colleagues.

Next up at number 6, a man who was instrumental in the creation of a well loved company – a company which would become famous for their Real-Time Strategy games.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Top 10 PC Game Developers - #8 Peter Molyneux

Molyneux giving the Choice Seal of Approval

Famous for: Populous, Dungeon Keeper, Black & White, The Movies and the Fable series
Affiliations: Bullfrog, Lionhead Studios and 22cans

Peter Molyneux started selling games as early as 1982 for the Atari and Commodore 64. He created a game in 1984 called The Entrepreneur which was a text-based business simulation game although since it only sold two copies, it was a total failure. Molyneux and business partner Les Edgar used funds from sales of an Amiga database system to found Bullfrog Games in 1987 which is where many classic games of the 90s were developed. Molyneux designed the first god game for the PC called Populous in 1989 and went on to design, produce or program several classic games for Bullfrog Productions and eventually Lionhead Studios, including but not limited to:

  • Syndicate
  • Theme Park
  • Magic Carpet
  • Dungeon Keeper
  • Black & White
  • The Movies
  • The Fable series

Peter Molyneux is probably the most controversial choice on this list as he does have a reputation of over-promising features and the resultant games falling short of his hype – however, you can't fault him for his enthusiasm. He's also one of the only well-known developers out there who is willing to bring innovation to games and that's something the industry is starting to sorely need.

Up next at number 7, a designer who is probably the best storyteller on this Top 10 list.