Sunday, May 31, 2015

Spotlight Sunday - Week 23 - 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 (1st June to the 7th June 2015), we have a couple of games that we wish to place under the spotlight, both are sci-fi games (although one uses the term very loosely):

Duck Game

  • Release Date: 04/06/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
So when I mentioned that one of the games to feature today uses the sci-fi label very loosely, this is the one I'm talking about. Duck Game is apparently set in an alternate timeline 1984 where ducks run wild fighting each other for glory. The game looks like a mix of Worms, Super Mario Bros. and Quake deathmatch considering the array of ridiculous weapons you can use (saxophones?) and the fact it has online multiplayer. The game also has local multiplayer too if you're into that sort of thing. Anyway, looks like it could be fun.

And I promise you that this track was most definitely not going through my head at the time.



Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy

  • Release Date: 04/06/2015
  • Availability: Direct - $4.99 USD, Steam - Not available for pre-order
While the trailer doesn't show much (so we've only got the screenshots to go on) this games looks promising. It basically looks like a modern take on Homeworld but apparently there's another layer to the game since you're able to lose battles but still win the war, at least that's what it seems like (the game apparently promises a "branching story"). Your actions are also measured against a "War Scale" which determines if your command will be "a legacy of tactical bombardments, or aggressive and reckless assaults".

As an added bonus I found out this game is being made in my neck of woods - it seems the developer is only a couple of suburbs away from where I live! So if you want to support a Western Australian developer, be sure to check the game out.




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

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Where are they now? - None for today

The system... is down.

I was going to do a "Where are they now?" post for today but turns out that one of my major sources of info, namely MobyGames appears to be currently down.

The funny thing is, the article was going to be on a very famous developer, especially in recent times... a certain Chris Roberts of Wing Commander, Privateer, Freelancer and Star Citizen fame, however it's interesting to note that you visit his Wikipedia page, it's looking pretty scarce.



Anyway the bottom line is, no "Where are they now?" post for today. So go out and get some fresh air - or not (and play PC games). Your choice :).

Monday, May 25, 2015

Choicest VGM - VGM #183 - Wing Commander: Privateer - Combat I




Soundtrack composed by: Laura Barratt, Marc Schaefgen and Nenad Vugrinec

And now we get to hear one of the combat tracks that features in Wing Commander: Privateer. This one sounds particular menacing and suspenseful at parts, so it works especially well when you're counting the seconds before a missile impact (and hoping you can somehow evade it). Another thing I fondly remember about Privateer during combat is the lack of variation when it came to the insults. Usually the enemy would taunt you during combat but they'd only have maybe three insults they'd ever utter. Not only that but all the pirates, for example, have the same lines. Consequently, if you're fighting a wing of pirates this is what it would sound like:

Pirate 1: "You're about to suck void buddy!"
(5 seconds later)
Pirate 2: "You're about to suck void buddy!"
(5 seconds later)
Pirate 3: "You're about to suck void buddy!"
(5 seconds later)
Pirate 1: "You're about to suck void buddy!"

and so on and so forth. No wonder the protagonist wanted to get rid of those pirates so quickly in the intro...

Thanks to C75 and WCNEWS for providing these memorable tracks.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Spotlight Sunday - Week 22 - 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 (25th May to the 31st May 2015), is going to be a relatively quiet one compared to the whopping six games under the spotlight on the last Spotlight Sunday. This week we have a couple of games to feature, one involving a nuclear holocaust and another is a point 'n' click adventure:

60 Seconds!

  • Release Date: 25/05/2015
  • Availability: Stean - Not available for pre-order
I suspect despite this game being labelled as a "dark comedy" it might end up being quite disturbing and potentially depressing since a family trying to survive nuclear fallout isn't one with a happy ending. However, I guess that's the whole point. In this game you're tasked with collecting as many items in 60 seconds before a nuclear blast hits your home. You then take what you've collected into your fallout shelter (although what good is a fallout shelter if it didn't already have emergency provisions?) and I suspect the game becomes a bit similar to the Oregon Trail or Organ Trail where you'll encounter several scenarios where you have to make do with the meagre provisions you have and ensure everyone survives - although to what end? The town you live in has been incinerated by a nuclear blast right? Anyway, definitely one to look out for thanks to it being unique.



Subject 13

  • Release Date: 28/05/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
Apparently this point 'n' click adventure game was a Kickstarter project that managed to raise over $40,000 (which really isn't much in gaming terms) but apparently was enough of a boost I guess to help improve what Microïds had already developed. You may be wondering "Hmmm, I've heard of these Microïds guys. What else have they developed?" - well quite a few point 'n' click adventure games actually, such as Syberia, Syberia II and a whole bunch of others. The game is also developed by Paul Cuisset, a French game designer who was responsible for games like Cruise for a Corpse and Flashback. So it's definitely got some talent behind it and I always love a good ol' sci-fi point 'n' click adventure which this seems to be.




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

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Lux Delux Review

You can get some pretty interesting variations of traditional Risk maps as seen here

  • Developer: Sillysoft Games
  • Publisher: Sillysoft Games
  • Release Date: 1 May 2015 (Steam Release - original Lux released in 2002)
  • Time played: 3 hours

My wife has always commented that she used to play some version of Risk on the computer with her father. Good times. I vaguely remember playing similar games many years ago with the most recent computer game version of Risk I've played being the 2011 Hasbro-endorsed Risk Factions. While it has a zany sense of humour (factions available include yetis, cats and zombies) and functioning multiplayer it still didn't feel quite right, not to mention the game was prone to crashing too. Of course there’s always the actual board game (which we also own) and while I do enjoy playing it the two major drawbacks are (a) a lack of available players and (b) some calculations are required when playing Risk which is better served by a computer, don’t you think?

So fast forward to 2015 and we now have the Steam release of a game that looks very similar to Risk called Lux Delux which I've seen featured before on Positech's game site. So I already knew that the game has been around for a while but what I didn't realise is how long. The original Lux was first released in 2002 which is over a decade ago and way before the digital distribution of computer games became popular (i.e. before Steam became the powerhouse it’s known today). So the game has been around for quite some time and kudos to the developer for continuing to work on the game.

Anyway, considering my wife is really into PC-based Risk I thought I might as well get the game as a gift (and a copy for myself so we could try it out multiplayer). After playing the game for a few hours here are my thoughts on it.

Gameplay (3/5)
While there are some minor alterations to the original formula (I'm pretty sure you could move your units between friendly territories in the original Risk) this is just Risk the board game on your PC. Plain and simple. If you’re a big fan of the original board game then you’ll probably love this game. There are lots of parameters and options you can tweak to make each game a unique experience and there are some features that streamline the whole process (e.g. only needing to click once to resolve conflict between two territories).

Ultimately though, if you're like me who thinks Risk is a game that is heavily reliant on luck (dice rolls are used to resolve conflict after all) and accumulating stacks of doom to wipe out any opposition, there's not much on offer . Risk is fun as an actual board game (besides the performing calculations part) or as a quick distraction but only the hardcore Risk player would invest their time in the product.

Sound (4/5)
Sound effects are minimal but they do the job. My only criticism is that the sound effects sound exactly the same no matter what map you're playing (whether it be fighting WWII, fighting in space or laying siege to a castle). Apparently there's the option to change the sound effects when you create your own maps, so not sure why it hasn't been done with the default maps.

Music (2/5)
Thank God you can turn the music off! The music in Lux Delux consists of 1990s style MIDI and it keeps repeating! Anyway, each to their own but I'm definitely not a fan. Again some variety with respect to the music (i.e. dependent on the map you play) would've been a good idea.

Graphics (2/5)
There really isn't much to the graphics in this game with very basic attack animations and with some maps looking as if they were pulled straight off a Windows 95 game or MS Paint. However, there are good maps out there too so it really depends somewhat on how much effort modders are willing to put in their submissions. Mind you, setting the bar low is encouraging for those of us wannabe modders and it could also explain why there are so many maps currently available for the game.

Replay (5/5)
Replay value is definitely one of Lux Delux's strengths, especially if you're a fan of Risk: you've got online multiplayer, leaderboards, over 900 maps to play with and if you ever get sick of the maps on offer, you can create your own! The Steam version of the game also comes with the obligatory Steam achievements and trading cards too, if you're into that sort of thing.

The Steam overlay doesn't exactly work properly yet

Polish (3/5)
The interface is pretty clunky and old-fashioned. It took me ages to figure out how to run a multiplayer game and it involves using a combination of menu-driven options as well as IRC style commands. So it doesn't help that there are hundreds of radio buttons and drop down boxes flooding the screen to distract you from what you actually want to do. Mind you, that's only on the main menu/options screen. The actual game's interface is pretty easy to understand.

You also can't run the game in fullscreen it seems – at least not the main menu and as a result the game has some issues with the Steam interface whenever it tries to pop-up in the bottom right (as it tends to obscure a lot of the game).

Score – 6/10

If you're a fan of Risk you'll probably overlook the oldschool, 1990s interface, graphics and audio, and find an infinitely replayable PC version of Risk that you can enjoy with other fans of the board game. Otherwise, there's not much to recommend here. It's still better than Risk: Factions though...

Lux Delux is available from these retailers:

Is the game worth $9.99 USD?: Yes.

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

[ LINK: Official Lux Delux website ]


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Where are they now? - Richard Garriott

Richard Garriott - RPG and MMORPG pioneer (oh and an astronaut too...)

For today's "Where are they now?" post I'm going to talk about a game developer that probably needs very little introduction, especially amongst RPG and MMORPG fans - today I'd like to talk a bit about Richard Garriott a.k.a. Lord British who has had quite a remarkable life so far, for anyone, let alone a game developer. Garriott has done crazy things like flying into space, trekking through Antarctica looking for meteorites, officiating the first wedding in zero gravity and building manor houses in Texas. But let us (try) and focus on his relatively mundane game development career (I say "relatively" because it's no less impressive than the rest of his life).

Garriott was born in 1961 in the UK but to American parents. He managed to get the nickname "Lord British" while at school but not because he had a British accent (while he was born in the UK he moved back to the US at a very young age) but because of the way he talked which apparently some kids thought sounded more formal than usual and the nickname stuck.

Garriott was raised in Texas by his mother and father who were a professional artist and astronaut respectively (yes, now you can already see why Garriott wanted to fly into space). Garriott was first exposed to computers during his high school years in the mid 1970s and excelled at programming. The first games he made though were on rather primitive teletype machines and it wasn't until 1979 while working at a computer store that Garriott discovered the revolutionary Apple II with colour graphics. Garriott would develop what would become the precursor to the Ultima series, a game called Akalabeth and the owner of the store thought it was good enough to sell. He only managed to sell a few copies in ziploc bags (that's how games were sold in those days) however one of those copies manage to land him a publishing deal with a company called California Pacific which ended up selling over 30,000 copies of the game with Garriott receiving $5 per game sold. The game is considered one of the first computer role playing games to be published and this would be the first of many breakthrough games Garriott would develop.

Ultima I was released in 1980 but was basically Akalabeth with "bitmapped graphics for the outdoor areas". Ultima II would end up being published by Sierra On-Line in 1982 as Garriott wanted the game to be sold in a box with a cloth map. However he was ultimately dissatisfied with Sierra and for the third game in the series, Ultima III, decided to form his own company with his brother Robert called Origin Systems in order to publish it in 1983. Ultima III turns out to be another crucially important RPG in gaming history having influenced JRPGs such as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.

Oh and if you've heard of Origin Systems before (despite it ceasing to exist in 2004), there's a good reason for that as it was arguably one of the best development studios in the 1980s and 1990s. The studio had such talents as Chris Roberts (creator of the Wing Commander series) and Warren Spector (creator of Deus Ex) working there and they developed many classic games (not just the Ultima series) - but that's a story for another time :). Back to Garriott!

In 1985 Garriott released Ultima IV which introduced the virtues system that became a cornerstone of the sequels that followed. Ultima V was released in 1988 and in 1990, the first Ultima game that I ever played was released: Ultima VI: The False Prophet. Garriott continues to churn out the Ultima games during the 1990s with Ultima VII being released in two parts over 1992 and 1993 (and is often cited as the best of the Ultima games) along with the controversial Ultima VIII: Pagan in 1994 - controversial because it isn't set in Britannia, the view is switched to a 3D isometric one and there's no party based combat.

Garriott pauses the development of Ultima IX in order to develop 1997's Ultima Online - a breakthrough in the world of MMORPGs (and in fact he apparently coined the term "MMORPG" to describe Ultima Online itself, distinguishing it from graphical MUDs prior to its release). Ultima Online was one of the first, if not the first, of the current generation of MMORPGs that we play today. Despite the game being released almost two decades ago, the game is still active making it the longest running MMORPG ever. It was also the first MMORPG to reach more than 100,000 players, which seems like peanuts compared to the millions playing popular MMORPGs today but was quite an achievement back in the day.

Ultima IX was finally released in 1999 and was not received very well by the fans (the bugs didn't help). Garriott left Origin the next year and founded his own company called Destination Games with his brother Robert and Starr Long (producer of Ultima Online). Destination Games eventually partnered with Korean game publisher NCSoft and was renamed NCSoft Austin where Garriott worked as an Executive Producer on the MMORPG Tabula Rasa until 2008. Tabula Rasa failed to generate significant revenue and the servers were shut down the following year which is also when Garriott created a new company called Portalarium.

However during this tumultuous time Garriott also flew into space to visit the International Space Station on 12 October 2008. Garriott became the sixth tourist to visit space reportedly paying $30 million USD and is also the first second-generation American space traveller (thanks to his aforementioned Dad being an astronaut too).

When Garriott returned an Austin District Court awarded him USD $28 million in a lawsuit against NCSoft over how they handled his depature. Meanwhile, at Portalarium, Garriott started work on a spiritual successor to Ultima Online called Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues. In 2013, they managed to successfully raise almost $2 million USD through a Kickstarter project and have raised over $6 million USD in total when taking into account other sources. Today, Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues is nearing completion and is already available on Steam Early Access.

So I hope you can see now that the world of gaming, especially with respect to RPGs and MMORPGs would probably look a whole lot different if it weren't for Richard Garriott's achievements. We also wouldn't have had several awesome games by Origin such as Wing Commander, Privateer and Strike Commander if it weren't for him (and the Roberts brothers of course :)).

Garriott is still CEO and Creative Director at Portalarium. I wish him all the best with his future endeavours including the imminent release of Shroud of the Avatar!

LINKS:
[ Wikipedia: Richard Garriott ]
[ Richard Garriott's Official Website ]
[ MobyGames: Richard Garriott ]

Monday, May 18, 2015

Choicest VGM - VGM #182 - Wing Commander: Privateer - Launch




Soundtrack composed by: Laura Barratt, Marc Schaefgen and Nenad Vugrinec

Okay we'll now resume to feature the choicest music from Wing Commander: Privateer's soundtrack! The next track to feature is the music that plays whenever you launch your ship into space. It's bold, heroic, adventurous with a hint of impending danger and what's even better is that the first few seconds of the track syncs with a cutscene showing your ship ascending from the colony/planet/outpost. Neat huh?

Thanks to C75 and WCNEWS for providing these memorable tracks.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Spotlight Sunday - Week 21 - 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 (18th May to the 24th May 2015), unlike the one game to feature this week, there are many games with potential to be released next week. Most are games with rich stories including one big ticket item:

The Witcher III

This game probably needs very little introduction as the previous two games were both critically acclaimed. It's a pity I only managed to play half-way through the first one and never actually touch the second (despite owning it) but these are definitely the kind of games to go for if you're into gorgeous looking action RPGs where the consequences of your actions will come back to haunt you when you least expect it - at least that was my experience with the first game anyway which I totally dig. It also helps if you're a straight male who think women should be treated as sexual conquests (since there's stuff in the Witcher games to cater for that crowd too!). And, no I'm not going to get into that debate (suffice to say I think it does detract from what makes the game actually fun).



Dustbowl

  • Release Date: 18/05/2015
  • Availability: Direct - $8.99 USD, Steam - Not available for pre-order
I've dabbled in Adventure Game Studio (AGS) several years back and there are I'm wishing I continued making games with it since there are several examples of commercially successful retro point 'n' click adventure games nowadays using AGS as an engine. Dustbowl is another game developed using AGS but this time you get to play a retro post-apocalyptic adventure/RPG hybrid. Since I'm a fan of adventure/RPG hybrids (Quest for Glory anyone?), I'm looking forward to this indie game especially considering its post-apocalyptic setting.



The Curious Expedition

  • Release Date: 19/05/2015
  • Availability: Direct - $12.00 USD, Steam - Not available for pre-order

Another game with retro-styling, The Curious Expedition is set in a fantasy version of the 19th century where you're able to explore the unknown on procedurally generated adventures. It sounds like it has a lot of promise and you even get to pick unlikely explorers such as Marie Curie, Nikola Tesla and Ada Lovelace to accompany you on your expeditions!



Sunset

  • Release Date: 21/05/2015
  • Availability: Direct - $14.99 USD, Steam No pre-order available
At first glance, this game seems to be another "walking simulator" in the same vein as Dear Esther and Gone Home and while I appreciated the atmosphere in these games, they were terrible as "actual" games. Immersive experiences? Sure. But that's about it. Sunset is probably going to be very similar but the unique setting is what's really piquing my interest: you play the role of an immigrant housekeeper in the 1970s who is working in a Latin American country ruled by a military junta. Apparently a violent uprising will erupt in the city and you will be a spectator to the events that unfold. Could be worth a look but the current price for the game seems a bit steep. It does have a soundtrack by the great Austin Wintory though...



Technobabylon

  • Release Date: 21/05/2015
  • Availability: Direct - $14.99 USD, Steam - Not available for pre-order, GOG - $19.39
Here's another game developed using AGS to add to this list. Technobabylon is a retro-style point 'n' click adventure set in a dystopian, cyberpunk world (you know, mentioning that a cyberpunk world is dystopian is pretty redundant, but I digress) and it's being published by Wadjet Eye games (responsible for publishing and developing a whole bunch of awesome point 'n' click adventures). You're also able to control multiple characters in the game which reminds me of games like Day of the Tentacle or Resonance. Sounds good to me.


Epanalepsis

  • Release Date: 21/05/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
This game looks like another game developed with AGS and despite graphics that look as if they were developed in MS Paint, it sounds like the game is going to have an interesting story as you play the role of three characters from three time periods: the 1990s, the 2010s and the 2030s. The game is apparently inspired by New Wave science fiction, cyberpunk and art cinema of the early 1990s.



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

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Where are they now? - Kevin Pickell

Creative Assembly developed the PC port of FIFA International Soccer but Pickell developed the original Sega Megadrive version

Last week I talked a bit about one of my favourite PC games of all time called Stunts aka 4D Sports Driving and how the game developer Don Mattrick had a big part to play in its development. Mattrick became more of a designer/manager/producer throughout the years but one of the original Stunts team remained passionate about programming right up until recently. For today's "Where are they now?" I'd like to talk about Kevin Pickell.

I wasn't able to find too much background information about Pickell but I do know he's worked in Canada for most of his professional career. Pickell got into computer programming in 1981 and the first computer he created programs for was the Commodore PET. During the early 80s he developed a word processor in assembler and also developed his first computer game which was a clone of Defender (also written in assembler). He also developed a couple of C64 games for a Canadian company called Paradigm Creators: Gemstone Healer and Gemstone Warrior before he got his gig with Distinctive Software Inc. (DSI) in 1985.

Pickell designed and programmed the first Test Drive which was released in 1987 and also programmed its sequel The Duel which was released in 1989. However, his greatest achievement (in my eyes at least) was the development of 1990's Stunts or 4D Sports Driving; Pickell not only designed and programmed the game but he was also responsible for the art too. Interestingly, it was also one of the very few games he actually developed for IBM PC, most of his work going into console games it seems such as 1993's FIFA International Soccer where he designed and programmed the original Sega Megadrive version.

Pickell had (has?) a hobby where not only would he buy actual sports cars (he seems to have a preference for Porsches) but 1/18 scale die-cast model cars as well. It's probably not surprising considering his early interest in racing games that he would end up starting a business that involves cars and in 1997 that's exactly what he did. Pickell's mail-order business started off with die-cast model cars lying about in his garage but soon he needed an entire warehouse to store all of them. He apparently closed the business in 2012 however when it became too expensive to manufacture.

DSI got bought out by EA in 1990 but Pickell worked with them for several years more eventually retiring in 2002 (to focus on his aforementioned mail order business). It wasn't until 2008 that he got back into games development at a company called Foundation9. While he was there, he worked on some console games (that I don't care too much for, but I'm a PC gamer through and through ;)) before leaving the company in 2012.

From 2013 until March this year, Pickell worked at Capcom's studio in Vancouver but he's now apparently "working from home". Does that mean he's still involved in game development? Maybe he's working on the next ground-breaking indie game? Let's hope so but in the meantime, I'd like to thank Pickell for the fond memories thanks to his efforts on that gem of a game Stunts.

LINKS:
[ MobyGames: Kevin P. Pickell ]
[ Kevin Pickell's personal website ]

Monday, May 11, 2015

Choicest VGM - VGM #181 - Frontier: Elite II - The Blue Danube



Composed by: Johan Strauss II
Arranged by: Dave Lowe

Unfortunately the Uncle Art Elite II Orchestral and Retrogaming Kickstarter didn't quite make it but it got pretty close - like more than 90% funded close which is much more than I expected. Seems like the guys are going to reboot another Kickstarter next month so stay tuned! Anyway, to finish off the Frontier: Elite II soundtrack I present you a piece of music that has become a staple of every Elite game to date: The Blue Danube by Johan Strauss II. Obviously inspired by the iconic docking sequence in the film "2001: A Space Odyssey", the music has featured in every Elite game when you dock as well. In the most recent Elite, Elite: Dangerous, you can hear the piece the way it was meant to be played: by a live orchestra.

Dave Lowe's rendition in Frontier: Elite II is pretty good too though - especially by 1993 standards. So don't go knocking it! ;)

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 :)


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Spotlight Sunday - Week 20 - 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 (11th May to the 17th May 2015) there's really only one PC game that comes to mind this week that I think is worth checking out and it's by a critically acclaimed indie developer:

Invisible, Inc.

  • Release Date: 10/05/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
This game is developed by Klei Entertainment - the same developer behind well received indie games Don't Starve and Mark of the Ninja. While I've never played these games I can tell you that the premise of the game is good enough to capture my interest. Invisible, Inc. is apparently a cyberpunk, stealth-based, espionage game. It's turn-based which means I already like it and it's got very stylish visuals. They've gone all out with the cutscenes and audio (with apparently hundreds of lines of voiceover) but despite this the game's levels are procedurally generated - maybe they're taking a leaf out of Diablo's book in that regard perhaps?



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

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Where are they now? - Don Mattrick

Don Mattrick was the designer behind 1990 stunt racing game "Stunts" aka "4D Sports Driving"

For this week's "Where are they now?" I want to talk about a chap that to me is responsible for developing many memorable racing games of the late 80s and early 90s and oversaw the start of some best-selling franchises. In recent years, he has been behind some controversial business decisions but we'll get to that in a bit. Let us learn more about Don Mattrick.

Don Mattrick was born in 1964 and there's not too much information about his early years, although he did start a game development company at the very young age of 17. In 1982 Mattrick and Jeff Sember established Distinctive Software in British Columbia, Canada. Mattrick would design and program 1987's critically acclaimed Test Drive which was praised for its excellent graphics and sound and would be the first of many Test Drive games over the next few decades, including Test Drive Unlimited 2 which we have reviewed. Mattrick would only directly work on one more game in the Test Drive series and that was the sequel Test Drive II released in 1989 which he also designed and programmed.

Mattrick would also be responsible for designing one of my favourite games of all time: 1990's Stunts aka 4D Sports Driving. This game wasn't only a racing game but one where, as the name suggests, you can do stunts like driving around in a corkscrew, driving upside down in a loop or even jumping over bridges. You also got a whole bunch of cars and opponents to race. The best part of all though was the ability to design your own stunt tracks which meant hours upon hours of replay value.

In 1991 Distinctive was purchased by EA for $11 million (which seems like chump change nowadays) and became known as EA Canada. It's also EA's largest and oldest studio (if you count the original formation date of Distinctive) and has developed many games, mainly under the EA Sports brand. Mattrick is credited as being the executive producer of two games that would become huge franchises for EA: 1993's FIFA International Soccer and 1994's The Need for Speed. The FIFA series is now the best-selling sports video game franchise in the world and the Need for Speed series is also very popular having sold over 140 million copies.

Mattrick worked his way up the corporate ladder to become President of Worldwide Studios at EA before resigning in 2006 to eventually work at Microsoft as an advisor to the Entertainment and Devices Division. He oversaw the Xbox 360 and PC gaming businesses, and is credited for bringing the Kinect to the Xbox 360. In 2010 he was promoted to Head of Interactive Entertainment Business.

In 2013, Mattrick unveiled the Xbox One and copped quite a bit of flak for his controversial response to the Xbox One's original lack of an offline mode:

"We have a product for people who aren't able to get some form of connectivity; it's called Xbox 360"

Microsoft and indeed Mattrick backpedalled and shortly after stated players could choose to play offline Xbox One games if they wished but dropping the online-only requirement also resulted in the axing of several other features.

Shortly before the launch of Xbox One, Mattrick left Microsoft to work at the (in)famous Facebook game company, Zynga as CEO. Shares in Zynga skyrocketed at the announcement and Mattrick took some pretty harsh measures in order to bring the company back into the black including layoffs of over 300 staff. However despite cost-cutting measures and investments into new technologies such as the procedural animation technology used by British software company, NaturalMotion, it wasn't enough to save Zynga's continual losses and Mattrick recently resigned from Zynga just last month.

So what exactly is he up to these days? Beats me but something tells me Mattrick's story isn't quite over yet. He's apparently pretty wealthy though so he'd probably live a comfortable retirement if that's what is in store for him but wouldn't it be choice if he could develop a successor for Stunts? Although I suspect Trackmania may have filled in that niche... would be nice to see him return to his racing game development roots though :)!

LINKS:
[ Wikipedia: Don Mattrick ]
[ VentureBeat: Why CEO Don Mattrick is Done at Zynga (08 Apr 15) ]
[ MobyGames: Don A. Mattrick]

Monday, May 4, 2015

Choicest VGM - VGM #180 - Frontier: Elite II - The Great Gate of Kiev



Composed by: Modest Mussorgsky
Arranged by: Dave Lowe

Here's the final track to feature from Dave Lowe's Frontier: Elite II soundtrack that is composed by the great Modest Mussorgsky. It's "The Great Gate of Kiev" from "Pictures at an Exhibition" and if it weren't for Mr Lowe, I probably wouldn't have such appreciation for this piece of music as I do now. Sure, it doesn't sound as good as a real orchestra but the grandiose nature of the piece makes it a perfect accompaniment to whenever you receive a promotion to the next rank in the game. Too bad they never added it to Elite: Dangerous.

Also, I'd like to take the opportunity to mention about Dave and Holly Jazz Lowe's Orchestral and Retrogaming music project that only has a few hours left as I upload this video. It's hanging around at £24,422 and there's still some way to go to meet the £33,000 goal, so it looks pretty unlikely to succeed at the moment if I was to be perfectly honest, but every little bit helps. Regardless of the outcome, I want to thank Dave and Holly for all their efforts - to have at least given the fans a chance to back this project :).

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 :)


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Spotlight Sunday - Week 19 - 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 (4th Apr to the 10th Apr 2015) there's three games coming to PC that I think are worth checking out - all of them are indie titles:

Apollo 4X

  • Release Date: 05/05/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
I must admit that the only reason I was initially attracted to this game was the fact it had "4X" in the title, you know, the term usually associated with games like Civilization or Master of Orion that stands for "eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate"? Well apparently that's what this game is all about. The graphics don't look very fancy but I'm hoping the gameplay will really shine through. It also has a very interesting mechanic where it uses cards to resolve combat, so it's definitely giving off a board or card game vibe to it. Sounds like it's worth a look to sci-fi strategy buffs.



Last Word

  • Release Date: 08/05/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
This game was apparently a contest entry for an Indie Game Maker Competition. There is a free-to-play contest entry version on the developer's website, but the one that is for sale is apparently "enhanced" with "extra options, polished dialogue, secret secrets and more!" What makes the game interesting is that the JRPG engine RPG Maker was used but the game is more of a visual novella or one that doesn't use traditional JRPG combat mechanics: in this game you fight through the art of conversation! The game has appealing graphics and I love it when people do things differently with a game engine, a bit like what was done in To the Moon (another RPG Maker game).



Mainland

  • Release Date: 08/05/2015
  • Availability: Steam - Not available for pre-order
Some would probably baulk at the idea of playing a game like this and say "WHERE R TEH GRAPHIX??!?!11!" and admittedly it seems like graphics are minimal but some older gamers (or hipster gamers) might be quite excited by playing what is effectively a game that is similar to the interactive fiction titles of old such as Zork. Mainland is one such game but the even more exciting thing about it is that it's made using an interactive fiction game engine called INSTEAD which is not only quite portable but you're even able to make non-interactive fiction games on it too (such as puzzle games or Lode Runner clones). Neat!

You can play the original, free, web-based version of the game here.



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