Saturday, April 30, 2016

ADventure Lib Review

But... but... I AM a chicken!
  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Fancy Fish Games
  • Publisher: Fancy Fish Games
  • Release Date: 5 August 2015
  • Time played: 1.2 hours

I have a very large Steam wishlist. In fact, it's now at a whopping 817 games (help me)! So whenever games go on sale, especially cheaper ones, it's way too tempting to grab the deal, and this was definitely the case for ADventure Lib which was on sale for just one measly dollar.

So why was ADventure Lib on my wishlist? In a word, "nostalgia", but it's all thanks to a certain game that used to be bundled with Microsoft Encarta called "MindMaze". Wait, you don't know what Microsoft Encarta is/was? Well, back in the days when the Internet was in its infancy and before Wikipedia (2001), people used to either own encyclopaedias in book form (which took a lot of space on your bookshelf) or they got these new "multimedia" encyclopaedias in CD format, one of them being Microsoft Encarta which was introduced in 1993. Besides offering encyclopaedic content in an interactive format, Microsoft Encarta also had a trivia game you could play called MindMaze. As a reward for completing a level, you'd be given the opportunity to play a word substitution game where you could enter words that would substitute more appropriate words to create a rather silly story. Pretty simple concept right? And yet, I have fond memories of the game.

It's only until after playing this game that I found out that there was a special name for this kind of game, at least in the United States. Apparently a couple of chaps came up with the "Mad Libs" concept which was a "phrasal template word game" and has sold more than 110 million copies since the series was first published in 1958 (thanks Wikipedia!); there's a good chance that this is where ADventure Lib gets its name from.

What I like:


Silliness

The voice acting is silly. Your inventory items are silly. The actors are silly. Everything is silly! If you like surrealist, absurdist or Pythonesque humour, this is your sort of game. It's a game where a chicken can be the hero, a fire-breathing butter can be a fearsome monster and where "no adventurer is ready to face the unknown without a handy Elizabeth".

Cheap

As mentioned already I managed to get the game for a dollar. It's normal price of $2 USD is still pretty damn cheap.

Ability to create custom items

One of my favourite features is the ability to easily add new items for use in the game for download on the Steam Workshop and I believe the modding scene will be critical to the game's longevity. The tool is quite easy to use and I was able to create a rambutan (a red, hairy, tropical fruit) and have it uploaded to the Steam Workshop in very little time (about 30 minutes). The only drawback is that it's quite hard to test your item in the game since the game by it's very nature randomises the objects!

ADventure Lib has a built-in editor that allows you to create your own items for inclusion in the game

What I dislike:


Short

It only takes half an hour to complete the game. Sure, you could play the game again and it'd be very unlikely you'd have the same actors and items as your previous playthrough, but it's essentially the same story. It would be nice if there were more adventures bundled in the game or the ability to create your own. Thankfully, the developer seems to be thinking the same thing and plans to introduce a new chapter plus the ability to create your own storylines in a future update!




However this was mentioned quite awhile ago now and nothing has eventuated. Fingers crossed it is released later this year!

Score – 6/10 (Not Bad)

If you enjoy absurdist, surrealist, Pythonesque humour or word substitution games like "mad libs", you'll find ADventure Lib to be a fun, albeit very short, adventure. If you don't, you'll probably feel like this is a waste of time and money, even though it only costs two bucks and takes half an hour to finish. If more work is done to make the game even more moddable though (as you can already create custom items for inclusion in the game quite easily), Fancy Fish Games could be on to something big.

Is the game worth $1.99 USD?: Yes. Despite the game being really short, if you like "Mad Libs" style games, this is the only one you'll ever need considering it comes with a built-in object editor!

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

[ LINK: Official ADventure Lib Website ]

Friday, April 29, 2016

Senate Committee Completes Inquiry into Future of Video Game Development Industry

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (Author: Jpp)


Written by: Mark Goninon

The Australian Senate's Environment and Communications References Committee has just completed its final report on the "Future of Australia's video game development industry" which was originally conceived on the 22nd June last year.

I made my submission in around September and offered my two cents - crazily enough, I managed to get referenced in the final report! Check it out!



Anyway, thanks to the many submissions and research, the report offers 8 recommendations to the Senate and Government:

  1. A funding scheme based on the former Australian Interactive Games Fund
  2. A refundable tax offset for Australian expenditure in the development of game titles
  3. Co-funding of shared game development workspaces with states and also the establishment of regional innovation hubs
  4. The encouragement of "serious game" development for the health care, education and other sectors
  5. That perhaps there should be temporary tax relief on crowd-funded game projects
  6. Recommends the government develop a discussion paper and consult on the utility of the Export Market Development Grants scheme for businesses that operate in a digital economy
  7. That any measures to help the industry also ensures a diverse workforce and fair employment conditions
  8. 21st century broadband infrastructure

It will be interesting to see if the government actually listens to any of these recommendations and actually believes its own rhetoric: if they truly believe in innovation, they should invest in video game development.

[ LINK: Future of Australia's video game development industry - Parliamentary Business Homepage ]

Monday, April 25, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #227 - The Chaos Engine - The Forest



Soundtrack composed by: Richard Joseph

To finish off Choicest VGM's coverage of The Chaos Engine soundtrack, we have the music that plays during the first level known simply as "The Forest". It's my only memorable in-game track, mainly because the game was so difficult and I never managed to get past the first couple of levels! It's an awesome track though, especially for its time, although I had to merge different passages of the music together to create the track you're hearing now; that's because Richard Joseph was a bit of a pioneer when it came to interactive music, i.e. music that changes with what's occurring during the game.

So apologies if it doesn't sound quite like how you remember but I tried my best :).

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #227 - The Chaos Engine - The Forest ]


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Bolt Riley, A Reggae Adventure: Chapter 1 Review

Well unless you're planning to use that rope to... oh never mind...

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Adventure Mob/Corbomite Games
  • Publisher: Adventure Mob/Corbomite Games
  • Release Date: 20 April 2016
  • Time played: 1.5 hours

There's quite a long history behind this game and I'm sure my retelling of events is only the tip of the iceberg but I'll give you a recap anyway.

Adventure Mob, an indie developer based in Tel Aviv, Israel, originally pitched the idea for a point 'n' click adventure game where you play a Jamaican boy named Bolt Riley who becomes a reggae legend (no way inspired by the story of Bob Marley, right? ;)) back in late 2013. The Kickstarter project managed to raise $51,668 USD from 1,082 backers, but the campaign was ultimately unsuccessful because the goal was $120,000 USD.

Oded Sharon (CEO of Adventure Mob) came back to Kickstarter in August 2014 to have another crack at raising funds but this time with a very modest target of $31,668 USD. The rationale behind this is that Adventure Mob required about $63,000 left to just focus on development of the game's first chapter and they were going to apply for an OUYA program (yes, that Android micro-console that is in dire straits nowadays) to provide the other half of the funds. The campaign was a success, despite it only running for one week, with $32,104 pledged from 757 backers.

So fast forward to a few days ago, a bit over two years since the original Kickstarter, and we've finally got our hands on Chapter 1 of the game. It's also been released as "Early Access" on Steam so I'm guessing Adventure Mob are hoping any sales of the game in "Early Access" will help fund the rest of the game's completion. Oded Sharon has reminded Kickstarter backers:

Anyone who is playing the game on Steam, please write a review. Positive reviews this week are very important to the game's success.

With that in mind I decided that I would try the game out and see if I could help out by posting a positive review; unfortunately, that's not going to be the case.


What I like:


Music

The soundtrack by Omri Lahav is top notch and is one of the best aspects of the game - which is just as well, as this is meant to be a reggae adventure after all! Be sure to listen closely to the intro theme to Bolt Riley as it sounds very much like the Monkey Island theme (probably because Oded Sharon is a huge fan of that particular series and its music ;)).

Point 'n' click adventure

I love point 'n' click adventures and those familiar with the point 'n' click adventures of the 90s (or even the modern ones by Daedalic Entertainment) will feel right at home playing this game.

Art style

The art style in general is one I find appealing. It reminds me of the art style used on The Curse of Monkey Island, a game also set in the Caribbean.

Setting

I can't recall many point 'n' click adventure games set in 1970s Jamaica; in fact, this is the first one I'm aware of which already makes the game pretty unique. The fact it's a "reggae adventure" makes me like it even more.


What I dislike:


Discrepancies in the artwork

There are quite a few discrepancies with the artwork - sometimes there's some jarring differences between resolution, other times the perspective is way off (for example, the microphone in the tutorial seems larger than Bolt Riley's head at one point).

Bugs

I encountered a weird bug that kept triggering every time I wanted to continue my game from the main menu screen; basically, the game would seem to be loading up but I wouldn't be able to interact with anything and the scene would be dimly lit like the screenshot below:

Hey! Who turned off the lights?

The workaround was to press the ESC key and then restore the saved game from there, so at least it isn't a showstopper bug but it's, nevertheless, kind of an obvious one.

Also, when finishing the chapter I encountered a crash-to-Desktop.

Short

There's a grand total of four "rooms" in this chapter and it took me 1.5 hours to complete. Considering the first chapter of King's Quest costs only a bit more than this game (King's Quest Chapter 1 is $9.99 USD) and you get a well polished chapter with over 5 hours gameplay, Bolt Riley's price seems a bit steep in comparison.

Also, a note for anyone who does end up playing this: the game does indicate to you when the chapter is over, so if it seems like you're stuck, you're actually just stuck and haven't finished the chapter yet.

Weird UI design decisions

There are a few weird UI design decisions in this game that seem to differ from your typical point 'n' click adventure. For example, let's say you want to look at a tree; you use the look cursor on the tree and Bolt will give you a description of it. However, after he's finished giving his description, the cursor will change to a use cursor. Normally, the cursor would remain as a look cursor but not the case in this game! Yes, I know it's a First World Problem, but video game reviews tend to be full of them ;). Also, if you decide to try and use an inventory item on something in the scene, if you fail to make a meaningful connection, you'll have to navigate back to the inventory, select the item and repeat the process. On one hand, it probably encourages you to think about what you're doing before trying since you can't do the usual click-an-inventory-item-on-everything-on-a-scene-to-see-if-it-works trick, although on the other hand, why break with tradition?

Score – 5/10 (Average)

It would be in my best interest to give a glowing review since I want to see this game completed but I need to be honest about the progress made so far. I do realise this game is considered Early Access and I know the budget for this game is pretty small, and you should keep that in mind too while reading this review, but ultimately, is it something I would recommend to my friends or the gaming public in its current state? Considering the artwork still needs some touching up, bugs were encountered way too frequently, the UI needs fixing and the first chapter is way too short, probably not. I'm hoping that Adventure Mob will eventually prove me wrong though, as I really want this game to succeed.

Is the game worth $8.99 USD?: No, based on what is already in the game, it's not really worth the price tag. Also, the price will be hiked up once the second chapter is finally released.


If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official Bolt Riley Website ]

Friday, April 22, 2016

Bad Rats: The Rats' Revenge Review

*Cue RatGyver Theme*

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: invent4 Entertainment
  • Publisher: Strategy First
  • Release Date: 20 July 2009
  • Time played: 0.5 hours (INCOMPLETE)

I've got so many games in my Steam library nowadays that it's becoming hard to track how I acquire certain games, although I do believe I managed to get this one as a freebie and it's thanks to Mix-Master, so once again, thank you for your generosity mate :).

However, let me start by saying this isn't the sort of game I'd normally purchase of my own volition as I dislike games that are violent for the sake of being violent, but incidental violence is okay. The game would appeal to anyone who likes solving physics based puzzles or Rube Goldberg Machines though as there are 10 types of rats and 10 items you can use to build contraptions over 44 maps. While I don't mind puzzle games I can't say I've ever really played The Incredible Machine or any of its clones so the closest experience I have to playing a game like Bad Rats is probably Lemmings: but that game is all about rescuing the eponymous lemmings whereas this one is all about killing cats.

So do I like Bad Rats? Yes and no...

What I like:


It's actually not a bad game

As mentioned, the game is similar to The Incredible Machine and Lemmings and these games are classics. So the gameplay part of the game isn't too bad. Basically, you're given a whole bunch of different rats, such as a rat who can blow objects horizontally or one that can vacuum objects off the ground; you also get access to a variety of objects like planks, barrels and balloons. Your goal is to get a ball from one side of the room to the other, where there will usually be some kind of lethal device, such as a guillotine, microwave or gun, and this is what you'll use to kill the cat, the objective of each level.

While the first few levels are rather easy and you can even get hints on how to go about them, it eventually starts becoming more difficult and you actually only have a limited time to solve all the puzzles; once your time is up it's game over – just as well you can save and restore the game then!

Funky soundtrack

The game has actually got a pretty funky and bluesy soundtrack. It is so cool, but why on Earth does it accompany a game about rats killing cats?

Steam achievements and Trading Cards (CHECK)

For such an old game, it actually manages to have Steam achievements and Steam Trading Cards which I'm sure makes it more appealing to the Steam fanbois out there.

Cheap

"I'D BUY THAT FOR A DOLLAR!"

What I dislike:


"11 different and bloody deaths for cats"

Yep. I'm not making this up; what you see there is one of the touted "features" of the game. If your reaction to that is "AWESOOOOOME" then you're probably going to love this game. If you're like me though, you're probably going "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Violence against cats – Australia says no!" or something along those lines. There is the option to tone down the violence but just as it is in the "Itchy and Scracthy" show from The Simpsons, the game is all about how creative you can get with killing cats: Can you get cats to explode? Check. Can you slice them up with a chainsaw? Check. Can you nuke them to a crisp in a microwave? Check. Etc. etc.

Very primitive graphics

Considering the game is about 7 years old, it probably comes as no surprise that the graphics look dated although even by 2009 standards they seem primitive. It is an indie game though, so you can't expect too much :).

Score – 6/10 (Not Bad – except for the rats)

Bad Rats is a very affordable physics puzzle game with 44 levels to play on and usually multiple ways to achieve your objective… which involves killing a cat – AND it all goes downhill from there. If you're a fan of the "Itchy and Scratchy" show off The Simpsons or you just really, really hate cats and would enjoy seeing them blown up, microwaved, eviscerated, etc. you'll probably find Bad Rats hilarious. Otherwise, the violence kind of detracts from the fact that the game is actually quite competent as an Incredible Machine clone.

Is the game worth $0.99 USD?: Yes, provided you enjoy (or can tolerate) killing cats in a myriad of violent and bloody ways.

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official Bad Rats: The Rats' Revenge website ]



Monday, April 18, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #226 - The Chaos Engine - Title Theme

I killed a diiinosaaaaur.... I killed a diiiinoSAAAUuUUuUURRR...

Composed by: Farook Joi and Haroon Joi

Here we go, a classic, top-down run and gun, Amiga game known as The Chaos Engine and its awesome soundtrack. I only ever ended up playing the game on DOS as I wasn't cool enough to own an Amiga at that time, but if there was one thing good about The Bitmap Brothers is that they seemed to invest in good soundtracks - well, at least for Xenon 2 and this particular game. The actual soundtrack was composed by a chap named Richard Joseph who sadly passed away almost a decade ago and he was a bit of a pioneer in the art of composing game music. He didn't compose the title track though, according to the game credits; that honour goes to Farook Joi and Haroon Joi.

Like other tracks in the game, the title theme is a pretty funky piece of early 90s dance music which always gets a thumbs up in my books.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #226 - The Chaos Engine - Title Theme ]


Sunday, April 17, 2016

16bit Trader Review


Mmmmm.... Ragu

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Forever Entertainment
  • Publisher: Forever Entertainment
  • Release Date: 5 Jun 2015
  • Time played: 1 hour (INCOMPLETE)

I've actually played games developed by Forever Entertainment before such as its games from the Frederic series; they didn't rate too badly on this blog probably because I have a soft spot for rhythm games. I eventually purchased 16bit Trader since I found it to be incredibly cheap (I managed to get it for 29 US cents), the game didn't look too bad from the screenshots and it was a game by a developer I know are capable of making good games.

Looks can be deceiving though and that's very much the case for this game - but in a negative way unfortunately.

What I like:


Cartoon art style

I found the art style used by this game appealing; in fact, it's probably one of the main reasons I was attracted to buying the game in the first place.

Cheap

Another reason I bought the game is because it is incredibly cheap. It's standard price is $3 USD but you can easily get it for a matter of cents (like I did) when it goes on sale.

Steam achievements, trading cards and leaderboards

The game is integrated well with Steam so you'll be able to earn Steam achievements and trading cards. You're also able to compete with friends and the public on leaderboards.

What I dislike:


Mobile port

The game is obviously a mobile port which is probably why it's so cheap and has a touch-screen mode. While I don't have anything against mobile games, 16bit Trader fits the stereotype of a game ported from mobile to PC: The game lacks any depth or longevity and involves a lot of clicking to get anything done.

Repetitive, boring gameplay

The entire game involves travelling from one town to another in order to complete quests and trading routes. There is no skill involved with respect to the gameplay and most decisions are based on chance. The only thing you really have control over is where to buy low and sell high, but that in itself is a hit or miss affair.

Repetitive music

I think there's only really one track that plays throughout the entire game and it gets a bit grating on the nerves after awhile.

Spelling and grammatical errors

I've spotted several spelling and grammatical errors in this game and I'm by no means an expert at English. Having said that though, I should probably cut the guys at Forever Entertainment some slack considering English is probably not their first language.

Quest bugs

There were times where a quest told me to go to a particular town but in fact I had to go to another. This not only resulted in wasted time but money as well (as it costs money to travel from town to town).

Game is unforgiving

It's bad enough that you really have to pay attention if you want to make any money through trading (there are different prices for buying and selling goods, not every town buys and sells everything, the profit margins are very small, etc.) but the game is even more unforgiving thanks to random encounters.

Every time you travel between towns, there's a chance you can get ambushed by brigands who end up stealing about half of your gold (at least early on in the game). Hiring mercenaries is meant to help reduce the chance of this happening although it doesn't eliminate the risk altogether (and mercenaries are expensive). Ultimately, the only thing for it is to keep restoring your saved games every time something bad happens, which isn't an ideal way to play if it's the only solution to the problem. Considering you can also lose the game once you have no money left (because remember, it costs money to travel and buy goods) a game that looks deceptively casual, isn't really the case.

Why is it called 16bit Trader?

Why?

Score – 3/10 (Poor)

I honestly expected better from Forever Entertainment as I quite liked their Frederic rhythm games, but despite this mobile port having charming artwork and a low price, there's nothing much else to recommend. The game is repetitive, boring and chance plays a huge part in your success or failure.

Is the game worth $2.99 USD?: No. Okay, it's really cheap and might not be too bad if playing on your phone for a distraction but even at the ridiculously low price of a few dollars, your money is better spent elsewhere since the competition is that strong in the PC indie game market.

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official 16bit Trader Review ]

Saturday, April 16, 2016

12 Days Left for Kickstarter Project: A Documentary about Game Composer Dave Lowe

Dave Lowe walks through a video arcade. Reminds me of the Flynn's Arcade scene in Tron Legacy...

Lucy Lowe, one of the daughters of legendary game composer, Dave Lowe, launched a Kickstarter project at the end of last month to raise £8,000 in order to fund a feature film documentary about her father. Originally, she was just planning to record the Chamber Orchestra of London playing the orchestral version of the Frontier: Elite II theme (which features in the Kickstarter project trailer video - can't wait to hear the whole thing!) but she has now decided to pursue an entire documentary including not only interviews with her father (who is no doubt a fountain of knowledge) but also some legendary game developers including Jez San and Charles Cecil (co-founder of Revolution Software - the company that developed classic adventure games like Broken Sword and Beneath a Steel Sky).

The film will cover the world of retro gaming, the music that accompanied these games, and some of the technological challenges Dave faced back in his game music composition heyday. Being a fan of video game music, especially retro PC game music, means I'm quite keen to see this project succeed. The project currently has £5,353 pledged of the £8,000 and that's from 116 backers, but with only less than 2 weeks left, it's just about crunch time.

So if you're interested in Amiga music or just retro PC game music in general, you might want to check out this project. If you really like the idea, you might even want to pledge a few quid ;).

[ LINK: Uncle Art - The Film Kickstarter Project ]

Friday, April 15, 2016

King's Quest - Chapter 2: Rubble Without a Cause Review

Yes, you'll be hearing that line quite a bit in this episode.
  • Review by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: The Odd Gentlemen
  • Publisher: Sierra
  • Release Date: 16 December 2015
  • Time played: 2.5 hours

After thoroughly enjoying the first episode of the new King's Quest, I was keen on playing the second one. I did end up playing the original King's Quest I first, which did help explain some of the references made in this episode although I think it's by no means essential that you revisit it (and if you do, I'd recommend you try the VGA fan remake).

Chapter 2 is set shortly after the events in Chapter 1 (although it also occurs after the events in the original King's Quest I which explains how Graham became King of Daventry). This chapter tells of King Graham's first serious test as king as he tries to deal with a goblin horde that has kidnapped him and some of his people.

The second chapter isn't rated as highly as the first on Steam, only garnering a rating of "Mixed" with 67% of the 31 user reviews rating the game as positive, but is the backlash warranted or not?

(by the way, I'd recommend you read the review for the first episode prior to reading this one as it does contain many similarities!)

What I like:


Yes, there are still lots of puns...

... however there aren't as many puns or as much humour in general compared to the first episode, probably because of the (slightly) darker tone for this episode and the fact it's half as long as the first one.

Yes, there are still some in-jokes...

... but like the puns, there are less of them, probably for the same reasons. There was one reference that encouraged me to play the original King's Quest though and it revolves around an infamous riddle...

Music

The music is still great although you have a lot more sombre pieces in this episode than the previous one.

Great voice acting

The voice acting talent is just as good as the original, but that's to be expected as there aren't any new actors I believe, just the same top notch talent from the first episode.

A shift in gameplay

While the game is still very much a PG title, this episode is a bit darker than the first one and the gameplay is slightly different too, adopting a "survival sim" approach similar to games like The Organ Trail, Gods Will be Watching and even parts of Mass Effect 2. The bulk of the episode takes place over several days as you along with some other captives, have to fight for survival. You will decide who gets medicine, who gets food and who will eventually break out of prison first to confront the Goblin King.

I actually quite like it, although I also believe this is one of the main reasons this episode didn't rate so well amongst some of its fans since it's quite a dramatic shift in terms of gameplay.

Steam achievements that you have to work for

Yep. Just like the first episode you still have Steam achievements, and you can't get 100% of achievements by just playing from start to finish – you need to explore multiple paths.

What I dislike:


Considerably shorter than the first episode

While the length of this episode is considerably shorter than the first, 2.5 hours is about how long you'd expect for an episode from a Telltale game so I'm not too fussed. However, it's quite easy for players to be spoilt by the long first episode and feel like they've been ripped off on the second.

Occasional graphical glitches

I sometimes experienced graphical glitches such as black lines running across the screen, but they were usually infrequent and tended to only occur when I was escaping to the menu screen.

Seems like a rush job

Not only is this episode shorter but a lot of other elements of the game feel rushed such as the decision to have 90% of the episode set underground meaning less beautiful vistas of Daventry or the fact that the episode ends rather suddenly with no proper epilogue indicating what happened to the Daventry of the past or present.

Score – 7/10 (Good)

The second chapter in the new King's Quest plays like a "survival simulator" where you basically have to choose who survives and who suffers; it's definitely an important lesson to learn for a newly crowned king and I actually don't mind it at all. The chapter is however half the duration of the first one and seems like a bit of a rush job so it's definitely not as good as the first chapter but I still find it entertaining nonetheless.

Is the game worth $9.99 USD?: Yes. With the current exchange rate, that's about $13 and considering you get over 2 hours of quality adventure gaming, that's pretty good value. It's even better value if you purchase the game altogether (assuming the later chapters are as good as the first) as it's $39.99 USD - meaning it's like buying four chapters and getting the fifth free.


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

[ LINK: Official King's Quest Website ]



Monday, April 11, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #225 - Betrayal at Krondor - Charge into Battle



Soundtrack composed by: Jan Paul Moorhead

There are a few tracks that play when you're in a battle but the only track that really sticks in my memory is this one and it's by far my favourite battle track. It just sounds so heroic and, dare I say, jaunty. It's a pity that the track that's included in the CD version of the game is so short and doesn't really loop since it could do so quite a few times and, hey, I wouldn't get bored ;).

The music was extracted from the CD version (Redbook Audio version) of Betrayal at Krondor

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #225 - Betrayal at Krondor - Charge into Battle ]


Sunday, April 10, 2016

King's Quest I (1987) Review


This is the scene of one of the most ridiculous riddles in gaming history

  • Review by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Sierra On-Line
  • Publisher: Sierra On-Line
  • Release Date: 1987
  • Time played: 3 hours

Prepare for some blasphemy. That is all I'm going to say!

Okay no, that's not all I'm going to say. You've come here to read a review so I'm going to deliver it.

So how did I end up playing the 1987 version of King's Quest also known as Quest for the Crown? Well, as some of you may know, I've been recently playing the new King's Quest game by The Odd Gentlemen. I've only just finished the first chapter but so far I think it's fantastic - however, it remains to be seen if the following chapters will follow suit. I was a bit late to the Sierra adventure gaming scene, only starting at the middle of the era (i.e. the late 1980s/early 1990s) so I've only played two King's Quest games from start to finish: King's Quest V and King's Quest VI. Consequently, even though I know who King Graham is, my only real experience of his character is when he's much older in King's Quest V; I know nothing about the character prior to this instalment.

So, I felt that I was potentially missing out on some of the in-jokes or references whilst playing King's Quest - Chapter 1: A Knight to Remember, but what pushed me over the line to replay the old King's Quest games was when I started playing Chapter 2 as this chapter is actually set after King's Quest I, unlike the first chapter which works as a sort of prequel (by an unreliable narrator of course, I mean The Odd Gentlemen need some leeway when rewriting this story, right?).

Consequently, it was about time I checked my backlog on Good Old Games and downloaded King's Quest I, the 1987 EGA version for DOS, so I could finally experience what the very first King's Quest was like (well, actually, the 5th release of the game, but anyway, you get the idea).

What I like:


Retro

A game that was developed in 1987 is obviously going to be retro by today's standards (as it's almost 30 years old): you've got the Adventure Game Interpreter's (AGI's) 160x200 EGA graphics, the PC speaker bleeping out Greensleeves, and everything was controlled using the keyboard. So if you're a gaming hipster, you'll want to be seen playing this game ;).

Text parser

I know the text parser can be kind of cumbersome (and this one is particularly primitive compared to other Sierra games - there are so many words and verbs it won't accept) but one thing I always loved about the text parser is the ability to slowly learn more about your surroundings by examining the room. With the point 'n' click Sierra adventure games, you could often end up hunting for pixels in order to find a crucial item whereas in the age of the text parser, you could just type what to look for or at least search the room so that you'll be offered some keywords to use.

You're playing a piece of PC gaming history

King's Quest was developed as a flagship title for a new home computer IBM were to release in 1983 called the IBM PCjr. King's Quest turned out to be Sierra's first animated adventure game and the first to use the Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI) engine which would be used on many of their titles in the 1980s including King's Quest II and King's Quest III, Space Quest I and Space Quest II, and Police Quest. The game had revolutionary graphics for its day with Computer Games magazine giving it an A+ and stating that playing the game was "like playing an animated cartoon, but requires more than the eye-hand coordination of an arcade game like Space Ace." They go on further to suggest that the game "does more than just point the way for graphic adventures of the future - it opens up a whole new genre". Seems like the reviewer was right.

What I dislike:


Extremely difficult

There's really only one thing I dislike about this game but it's a big one: the game is simply too damn difficult. I managed to plod along through the game hunting for items and managed to get around 50 points out of the 158 but then I got to a point where I wasn't exactly clear what I was supposed to do and I had a hunch that I would be in for a world of hurt if I tried to pursue the puzzles in this game any further: it turns out my hunch was right.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against dying, many, many times - that's a hallmark of Sierra adventure games straight into the point 'n' click age - but what does infuriate me are these things: (a) random encounters to produce mission critical items, (b) the ability to reach dead-ends without even knowing it and (c) ridiculous puzzles with answers that don't really make any sense. King's Quest I has all of these! There are many times where you can accidentally give away important inventory items and you end up wandering around for hours not quite knowing whether you've yet to encounter the thing to help progress the plot or you've actually reached a dead-end. Worse, some critical items (e.g. an invisibility ring) can only be gained if you randomly encounter an elf on a particular screen. If you never encounter him, how would you know to keep walking back into the screen to generate the random encounter?

Finally, probably the most infamous puzzle in the game involves answering a "riddle" where you have to answer a certain character's name. Now, it's hard enough you have to guess the character's name (since I don't believe there's any indication up to that point who he actually is) but you're meant to find a note in an unrelated location that simply says it sometimes pays to think things backwards. After reading such a note, you might think (I wouldn't know why you'd think this, but you might) that "Oh! Maybe that guy's name should be spelt backwards!" Almost right, but wrong again! The answer actually involves using a cipher in order to decrypt the name into the correct answer. Seriously, WTF? The wrong answer is the correct answer? And since when is Sir Graham, Bond 007?

Look, I know this is a controversial thing to say to the hardcore Sierra fans - I mean I consider myself a Sierra fan as well - but I think there are a couple of generations of Sierra fans (at the very least): ones who grew up on the 1980s Sierra adventures and those who grew up on the 1990s ones. The ones who grew up on games like the original King's Quest will think that the current crop of gamers or even the gamers of the 1990s are too soft and are unable to do basic problem solving - and there's probably some truth in that. However, some of the puzzles in King's Quest are borderline insane and it makes me think that the rumours about adventure game companies purposefully making games difficult so that players could pay for hints through books and phone calls, might have some merit.

Score – 4/10 (Mediocre)


King's Quest I is an important game; it was responsible for a whole bunch of Sierra adventure games to follow and was a pioneering effort in the world of graphical PC adventure games. However, the only people who could possibly gain any enjoyment from this game nowadays are masochists and the hardcore Sierra fans that grew up with the game in the 1980s (and already know how to complete the game). The game also lacks much in terms of plot so if you really want to experience the first King's Quest, I'd recommend one of the excellent VGA fan remakes by AGD Interactive; they're still pretty difficult but nowhere near as diabolical as the original.

(And before I get burned at the stake by the Sierra fans, I'm trying to judge this game on its own merits, playing it today in 2016. No doubt the game was revolutionary and a critical success in the 1980s, but nowadays, things have evolved and, in my humble opinion, generally for the better).

Is the game worth $13.19?: No. Although it really depends if you're an old fan (so you've probably already got a copy anyway) and what price you would put on retro games in general. The $13.19 gets you King's Quest 1, 2 and 3 though. However, considering you can get a VGA fan remake of King's Quest I for free that actually adds a lot more to the experience, that's why I reckon your money is better spent elsewhere.

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: King’s Quest 1+2+3 on Good Old Games ]

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Heroine's Quest: The Herald of Ragnarok Review

Hey there's a little heorine walking on the wall! No... wait... that's just the mouse pointer...

  • Review by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Crystal Shard
  • Publisher: Screen 7
  • Release Date: 20 March 2014
  • Time played: 14 hours (INCOMPLETE)

This review of Heroine's Quest is going to be another review that will read very similar to its First Impressions article, thanks to reasons I've specified already in my Running with Rifles review that I posted yesterday. In fact, it's going to be so similar (since my opinion hasn't really changed after publishing the First Impressions post) that anyone who has read the First Impressions post, really doesn't need to read this review, unless you want to know the score.

So the full title of Heroine's Quest is Heroine's Quest: The Herald of Ragnarok and it's described as "a retro styled adventure/RPG hybrid with atmosphere and spirit reminiscent of the classics." They are 100% correct in this regard as it's basically like the classic Sierra adventure/RPG hybrid Quest for Glory 1 (aka Hero's Quest), except with a Nordic theme... and it's the VGA version... oh and the protagonist is female.

Considering I was a huge fan of the Quest for Glory series, I just had to try this game out, especially considering it's free. However, is it as good as Quest for Glory and even if it is, does it measure up to the huge competition you have nowadays with respect to indie games?

What I like


For the Quest for Glory fans

This is a game by Quest for Glory fans, for Quest for Glory fans. There are just so many references to the series with respect to the gameplay, the plot and the setting. There are even several Easter Eggs related to Quest for Glory (and Sierra games in general). If you played point 'n' click adventures in the 80s and 90s, you'll love this game.

Expands on Quest for Glory

But wait, there's more! Not content to just make a clone of Quest for Glory, there have been some enhancements, such as the fact villagers actually go about their lives throughout the day (a bit like Skyrim). You also have two towns to explore instead of just one like you did in the original Quest for Glory. I've probably missed a few things but those are a couple of improvements.

Price

You can't complain about the price since it's absolutely free. Crystal Shard also have many other free games on their website but understandably, this seems to be one of their most polished ones.

What I dislike


Unforgiving at times

While the game is easier and more user friendly than old Sierra point 'n' click adventures (e.g. map with objectives, even hints if you talk with townsfolk) you're still able to get stuck on occasion and there won't be any indication you're going about things the wrong way (e.g. I spent several hours trying to solve a puzzle but found out after reading a walkthrough that I didn't need to solve the puzzle completely in order for it to work - it would've been handy if there was some notification after moving the tiles in place that I was on the right track). Also you can sometimes give away crucial items and never get them back. Nothing new to Sierra fans but it's weird that on one hand the game is more forgiving yet on the other, it's as if you're playing a game from 20 years ago.

Poor voice acting

Some of the voice acting seems a bit off or monotone but hey that's to be expected from an indie development house I guess. A certain thief in the game however has a particularly annoying accent and I'm not sure if it was exactly intentional or not.

Score – 7/10 (Good)

If you're a die-hard Sierra adventure game fan or Quest for Glory fan, this game is a must-try especially considering its price of $0. I'd also recommend this game for any who are curious about what the Quest for Glory games were all about and don't want to fork out the $13.19 to get the collection off GOG (although I personally think that's fantastic value). For everyone else though? Mileage may vary.

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official Heroine's Quest Website ]

Friday, April 8, 2016

Running with Rifles Review

Pretty sure the trenches are just meant for infantry hey...
  • Review by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Modulaatio Games
  • Publisher: Modulaatio Games
  • Release Date: 3 April 2015
  • Time played: 7 hours

This review is going to read a lot like the First Impressions article I’ve posted before, for two reasons: (a) My opinion hasn’t really been changed that much since I wrote it and (b) I’ve enacted a new policy where my future reviews are going to be a similar format to my First Impressions articles.

As mentioned before, we originally got this game as part of a 4-pack so that the Choicest Games contributors would have a co-op game we could play together. We've played the game on and off over the past few months and it seems like the game still has a "Very Positive" rating on Steam and a score of 78 on Metacritic. So, how good is it really?

What I like


Kind of like a MOBA but not

I'm not a big fan of MOBAs, maybe because there's too much expectation that you'll follow a certain build and because it's pretty competitive (which means you need to invest time into a game in order to be any good – not a good game when you don't have much time on your hands or too many other games to play). However, Running with Rifles does share some similarities with MOBAs, such as mobs of AI controlled soldiers fighting each other in a seemingly endless war and you're (potentially) one of the super powerful heroes (I say "potentially" because you just start off as one of the grunts in this game and work your way up. Also the AI themselves can have "hero" characters too, so it's a bit different in that regard). Unlike traditional MOBAs though, in Running with Rifles your ability to aim a gun comes into play meaning that it requires a bit of hand-to-eye co-ordination.

Authentic weapons

... but not so authentic vehicles. There are three factions in this game based off real life nations: the Greencoats (the United States), the Browncoats (Russia) and the Greycoats (Germany). Each of them have guns used by their respective armies such as the M16, AK-47 or G36. There aren't any fictional names for the guns although you do have fictional vehicle names for some reason (like the RWR1A1 instead of the M1A1 Abrams).

Large armies

The game has a large number of soldiers fighting each other on the battlefield and firefights can become pretty hectic, especially when grenades and artillery start flying all over the place. It really gets the adrenaline pumping.

Ranking system that matters

The higher rank you are in Running with Rifles, the more weapons and abilities you will have access to. While you'll always need Resource Points or RP in order to pay for your weapons loadout or using certain abilities, you'll also need high enough Experience Points or XP in order to use higher powered weapons (such as sniper rifles) or abilities such as calling in mortar strikes or troops. Usually when you get to the rank of Corporal you will finally get a taste of these extra abilities through issuing radio commands.

I love it, since it basically means the more experienced or higher rank you are, the more responsibility you get. Too bad the Battlefield series has kind of been heading in the opposite direction to this since Battlefield 2.

What I dislike


Can get boring

Games can take a long time to finish especially when the human players aren't co-operating or when you simply don't have enough senior ranking players (which come along with awesome abilities, like being able to paradrop a tank). You can play a game for well over two hours with it just turning out to be a big tug-of-war with the opposing force, neither side really grasping victory. It can get demoralising after a while and while you may have helped grind some more XP with your character during that time, you go away feeling you really haven't achieved that much.

Hard to tell the height of the terrain

The game is played from a top-down view similar to old run and gun games like The Chaos Engine. Consequently it can sometimes be quite hard to tell if you actually have line-of-sight with your weapon resulting in you firing several rounds into the crest of a hill but not actually resulting in you killing the enemy. Worse, you may empty a clip only to be ambushed by an enemy on your flank and it’s game over (at least for that soldier).

Experience system is grindy

As far as I can tell, killing the enemy awards you XP which level up your character. However, dying causes you to lose XP which means there’s an extra element of grind. The good thing about this system though is it tends to promote those who are probably smart enough to stay alive longer before those who are gung-ho (like myself). Although technically someone acting as a sniper for the whole game would probably do well at being promoted as a consequence and I’m not sure if that’s behaviour you actually want to encourage. It also means if you have a few bad rounds you can undo lots of work delaying your chances of ever being promoted and leaving you stuck with one basic assault rifle, machine gun or shotgun and not much else.

Lip-service tutorial

The tutorial is really short and only covers some of the basic concepts in the game. It also doesn’t inform you how to do things (you basically have to experiment). Consequently while I know how to move my character around, check the armoury for weapons, shoot, pick up items and use the radio, there’s not much else. You won’t learn how to gain promotions and what abilities are linked to each of the promotions; for that you'll need to read the wiki.

Score – 7/10 (Good)

I like how Modulaatio Games has taken what is essentially a Battlefield game but made it a more tactical, top-down shooter game with large-scale battles. Experienced players are rewarded with awesome abilities like mortar strikes, paradrops and vehicle drops that can turn the tide of battle too. However, the game is a bit grindy and games can potentially last for hours without either side making much headway, leading to a sense of disappointment when you finally give up and quit the game. It's also a game that only really shines if you manage to play with a bunch of friends, otherwise it might lose its appeal very quickly.

Is the game worth $14.99 USD?: Yes. $20 AUD is good value for a well polished co-op indie game.

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official Running with Rifles Website ]

Monday, April 4, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #224 - Betrayal at Krondor - Title Theme


Soundtrack composed by: Jan Paul Moorhead

I never got very far in Betrayal at Krondor but I loved how they digitized real actors as the game's characters, the ability to explore the world of Midkemia in 3D and how well written the game was thanks to Neal Hallford and John Cutter (fantasy author, Raymond E. Feist, oversaw plot development at a high level). Anyway, another excellent aspect of the game was the soundtrack which complemented everything that occurred on the screen perfectly.

What you're listening to here is the Title Theme which is a bit more complex than your typical computer game tune - check out all the passage and tempo changes!

The music was extracted from the CD version (Redbook Audio version) of Betrayal at Krondor

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #224 - Betrayal at Krondor - Title Theme ]


Sunday, April 3, 2016

King's Quest - Chapter 1: A Knight to Remember Review

Just wait until King's Quest V, Graham: you'll get to see a great disappearing act

  • Review by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: The Odd Gentlemen
  • Publisher: Sierra
  • Release Date: 29 July 2015
  • Time played: 5.8 hours

I'm a big fan of the point 'n' click adventures of the late 80s and early 90s meaning I played quite a few Sierra and Lucasarts adventures (and when I was older I filled in the gaps). Quest for Glory was always my favourite Sierra series but I did dabble with Police Quest 1, Police Quest: Open Season, Space Quest II and a couple of King's Quest titles: King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder! and King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow. I had fond memories of playing the King's Quest games but I was never motivated enough to revisit the games preceding King's Quest V nor the games that followed King's Quest VI despite now owning King's Quest 1-8 thanks to GOG. With the older games, it was mainly my fear of becoming frustrated with them, since Sierra games in general have a reputation of being unforgiving. I've got no excuse for King's Quest 7 and King's Quest 8 although I don't think they rated as well as previous games in the series - so maybe that's why I never bothered touching them.

Well, fast forward to 2014 and Sierra is resurrected by Activision as a sub-division that specialises in the publishing of indie games. Not only that, but they also indicate that a new King's Quest is in the works by some chaps I've never heard of before called The Odd Gentlemen. I was initially quite skeptical that these guys had the capacity to pull off a reboot of such a venerable series. My concerns were somewhat abated when Roberta Williams, the creator of the original King's Quest, gave her blessing to the project after reviewing what The Odd Gentlemen had done so far. I was also quite relieved when the game was finally released last year to glowing reviews with a Metacritic rating of 82 and a Steam rating of "Very Positive" (90% of the 816 reviews for the game are positive). I eventually managed to grab a copy of this game as one of my birthday pressies so I can finally tell you all what the fuss is about!

What I like:


Puns!

My unhealthy love of puns is probably all thanks to those old Sierra adventure games since this is definitely one of their hallmarks. Thankfully (or unfortunately, if you hate puns), there are a plethora of puns to stumble across while playing the latest King's Quest. Puns aside though, I find the game to be generally humourous and light-hearted which is refreshing to see in an adventure game.

In-jokes

Along with the puns there are quite a few references to the old Sierra games such as using inventory items on just about everything as well as that special audio clip that they always played in later Sierra adventures whenever you picked up inventory items (or were awarded points in general).

Music

The music is whimsical and beautiful. You can even hear passages from the King's Quest V soundtrack originally composed by Ken Allen and Mark Seibert.

Great voice acting

The game has some great voice acting talent including Doctor Emmett Brown, er, I mean, Christopher Lloyd as an elderly King Graham, as well as a mix of talent including veteran voice actors Fred Tatasciore, Kari Wahlgren, Kath Soucie and Tom Kenny, as well as some voice actors with experience in Disney films, such as Josh Keaton, Jean Gilpin, Michael-Leon Wooley and Richard White. There's even Zelda Williams (daughter of Robin Williams) and Wallace Shawn (Vizzini in the Princess Bride - incidentally he plays a very similar role in the game as he does in the movie).

A Family-Friendly Telltale Adventure

The game is like a family-friendly Telltale Adventure, except not made by Telltale. I'm not sure about some of the more recent titles by Telltale, such as its adventure game interpretation of Minecraft, but when I played games like The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, or even Life is Strange (which, I know, isn't a Telltale game, but bear with me) they often had a lot of gruesome violence, nudity or adult themes such as rape, torture, etc. Definitely not games you could play in front of your kids. King's Quest on the other hand is suitable to play in front of your kids, well except for one part when a chraracter dies, that might be a bit disturbing for the younger kids, but besides that one instance, it's great. Also, like Telltale adventure games, you have the usual multiple narrative paths you can traverse as well as the occasional Quick Time Event (QTE) sequences (so if you hated these in the Telltale games, you might not enjoy this game either.

Steam achievements that you have to work for

Like the Telltale adventure games on Steam, there are Steam achievements with King's Quest; unlike the Telltale adventure games on Steam, most of the achievements are harder to come by with only a few being awarded for successfully completing the game, which I think is a good thing. You should work to get 100% achievements instead of you having it given to you on a platter :).

What I dislike:


Hyperactive Graham

Graham is kind of crazy in this first episode of King's Quest; he reminds me of those anime characters where they're super excited, bouncing around the screen, speaking in a hurried tone without punctuation. I'm hoping he eventually mellows out across the series and you see him evolve into the character he was in the later King's Quest games since at the moment, this isn't the Graham I remembered.

Occasional graphical glitches

I sometimes experienced graphical glitches such as black lines running across the screen, but they were usually infrequent and tended to only occur when I was escaping to the menu screen.

I'm tempted to replay all the old King's Quest games

Now that's going to be a lot of games to replay, since I only really ever finished King's Quest V and King's Quest VI. In fact, I've already tried playing the first King's Quest and I'm already stumped... time to find the walkthrough (which means I have already failed... NOOOOOOOO!)

Score – 9/10 (Brilliant)

I'm finding it really hard to fault the new King's Quest; you get over 5 hours of gameplay for one episode (which is a lot compared to Telltale titles). You also get a hilarious, family-friendly Telltale-style adventure packed to the rafters with puns . The only real criticism I have is that the game might not be challenging enough for the conservative and hardcore Sierra fans who are used to devilishly difficult puzzles which often result in death as an outcome (although this King's Quest does have moments where you can die, so it's not like they completely discarded that tradition).

Is the game worth $9.99 USD?: Yes. With the current exchange rate, that’s about $13 and considering you get over 5 hours of quality adventure gaming, that's pretty good value. It's even better value if you purchase the game altogether (assuming the later chapters are as good as the first) as it's $39.99 USD - meaning it's like buying four chapters and getting the fifth free. But this of course assumes the rest of the series will be as good as the first episode - I definitely hope so.

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

[ LINK: Official King’s Quest Website ]