Low Cost Medieval Soldiers

This post brought to you by Hermes and symptoms of Freelancer withdrawal. Right at this moment in time I am severly deficient in both time and thought — a quandary I imagine a number of you can relate to.

One of the exponents of this situation is the recently release Digital Anvil production Freelancer. This game basically takes most of the things that were good in David Braben‘s epic Elite 2: Frontier and fixes the major thing that was wrong with this classic: the ship-to-ship combat. Frontier basically gave us a lesson in the impracticality of warfare in the void by showing us that dogfighting and relativity to not mix. This — while being admirable and realistic — did not necessarily result in the best fun. In fact the only way to fight in Frontier was to set your autopilot on your victim and hope that by holding down the trigger you somehow managed to atomise the unfortunate soul’s hull. Freelancer does away with alot of the realism and brings back a whole universe of fun — a process which should be applied more often in life.

Freelancer is compulsive playing at its best. It takes Civilization‘s life-wrecking “just one more turn” game play and applies it to missions in outer-space and I thank the great gods that I do not have anything of a crucial nature to achieve in the immediate future. In fact my hands are sweating and my brain is racing trying to think of a way to finish the post within the shortest possible span of time so that I may feel that instant gratification of running my mouse pointer over its delectable executable and throughly executing it — oh how it pains me to know that word is synonymous with another, not so pleasant activity where people actually leave this world but not via space vessel.

Just a few quibbles — the game from what I have seen does not have the same scope as Frontier in that there aren’t as many systems or planets or ships for that matter. Braben basically shipped an entire galaxy of systems on one 880KB floppy through the clever use of an algorithmically generated galaxy. This has not been done with Freelancer which forgoes some of the grandness associated with that other great space trading game. The missions you carry out as fillers from the main story arc are not as diverse either. In Frontier you could look up entire bulletin boards featuring advertisements for people desiring passage to other systems, goods in need of delivery, people looking for other people and the usual assassinations; to name a few. Freelancer has somewhat bland “proceed to this sector and annihilate this bunch of random no-hopers” type missions. This situation may improve though — at least I hope it does. On the up-side you can still engage in the usual commodities trading between planets and the obligatory asteroid mining.

Do not expect solar systems modeled on our current theories of stellar evolution either; most of the ones in Freelancer resemble UBD street directories with roads going between planets which seem to be only a few kilometres apart and orbiting nothing in particular. You can basically see detail on each planet from every other one, rather than just points of light; so you get the idea of the unrealistic scale we are talking about here. Who am I to talk though? It’s not like I’ve been to another planet before — although I realise that some of you probably think otherwise.

Given the long running and seemingly endless polarisation of the PC games market into real time strategy games and first person shooters, Freelancer is a very welcome addition and is the type of game that has been absent from the industry for far too long. The only modern space flight games that I can recommend are the Freespace series, Edge of Chaos, Starlancer and this. I know that Freelancer started off as being a far more ambitious title than what has been delivered but what we have here is most certainly better than having nothing at all.

Sad really considering the capabilities of today’s personal computers.

Click, click.

Leave Luck to Heaven

While it would seem a logical progression for me to post some sort of dissertation on the mammoth game that is Master of Orion 3 at this point in time , I will refrain from any such action for I feel I lack any qualification currently to utter anything about the game. I use the word game quite liberally in this regard as I am sure that Quicksilver has not shipped a piece of interactive-software per se but in fact an application you would expect any galactic overlord to be using while sitting on their stellar throne.

Instead I will make the focus of this post a subject for which I feel a great amount of apprehension about discussing — those of you privy to knowledge of a more trivial nature may already have surmised the topic from the enigma that is the title of this post. Yes — I am going to discuss the Nintendo situation.

It would seem that every man and his proverbial dog has been writing about Nintendo of late. Most of the commentary has had a somewhat negative vibe about it. From those questionable gaming industry analysts advising that Nintendo would be better off just publishing software to jabs from the lads over at Penny Arcade, it would seem that the company has being drawing its fair share of the critics eye — as has very often been the case it recent years. Unfortunately this discourse may convey the same negative feel I describe, not because I think the company is bad and going down the tubes — those of you who know me are acutely aware of what a staunch ally I am of the Japanese gaming giant — but because there have just been a few alarming occurrences concerning the company lately which has made me somewhat disgruntled. Most of this angst is solely aimed at the puzzling behaviour of the Australian arm of Nintendo’s worldwide operations.

I do not know what it is about Nintendo of Australia but they seem intent in rubbing every Australian Nintendo fan’s face in the dirt. It is not hard to see that the Gamecube in Australia is not faring too well in the sales department and its not for want of excellent hardware. I will say this now: the Gamecube is a fantastic piece of hardware. The only minor issue I have with it is to do with the regression of technology associated with the location and cardinality of the memory card slots. Nintendo pioneered the controller memory card slot idea, which was in turn aped by both Sega’s Dreamcast and Microsoft’s Xbox. You may hear me extol the virtues of this idea at some other time. Certainly there is nothing wrong with the quality of the software coming from Nintendo either, which as usual, is nothing short of outstanding. Well if the hardware and software are both fine, what is the problem exactly?

Quite frankly I think the majority of Nintendo’s woes in Australia stem from the total and utter lack of commercial promotion of its products within the country. I have not seen one TV or newspaper ad, not to mention the absolute dearth of advertising actually occurring within mainstream gaming media such as magazines like Hyper. So Nintendo of Australia is seemingly content to not win any additional customers outside of its sycophantic cadre of loyal fans that they have already. Unfortunately recent behaviour from them is actually testing the patience of these loyal few who are actually the lifeblood of the company in this country.

Firstly is the insane amount of time we Australian Nintendo loyalists must endure just to get our hands on Nintendo games. We had to wait over six months from the US Gamecube release before we could even lay our hands on the hardware. Now we have to wait months for PAL versions of Nintendo blockbusters — it has been almost four months since the release of the apparently outstanding Metroid Prime in the US and we still have another month remaining before we can engage in the privilege of paying $100 for it. This situation is so maddening you may understand my annoyance at seeing this poll at Nintendo of Australia’s website:

Why are you so excited about Gamecube for 2003?

  1. Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
  2. Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
  3. Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
  4. …or…The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

Now while I am sure Nintendo’s intent with this poll was to emphasise just what a massive event this game is sure to be, I was left quite disturbed by it. Indeed, my initial reaction was that some smart arse had hacked their web page and deviously tried to highlight to Nintendo that they seemed to be relying on one title to carry their entire business. After the realisation of the motivation behind it, my brain was massaged enough to try and think what they could possibly put in there for the other three options if they had decided to give us a genuine choice. They could fill one slot with Metroid Prime I suppose, except for the fact that it was the biggest game of 2002 — effectively old news for our overseas brethren. A similar reasoning could be applied to Animal Crossing. I have heard so much about this game and am constantly taunted by it. I have lucid dreams of caressing the controls of my Gamecube while its splendid title screen is made known to me via the electron gun of my TV — and yet I will not see it released here at all because of nefariously sounding “localisation issues”. I guess I should be content that the wording of the poll is some semblance of an assurance that Zelda will be released here at some time this year. I will not hold my breath however — I died a long time ago attempting that for Metroid Prime.

Another slap in the face has arrived concerning the very afore mentioned game. In Japan and the United States, Nintendo is running a special pre-order campaign for Wind Waker whereby customers pre-ordering the game will receive a special game disc bearing a Gamecube version of the Nintendo 64 tour-de-force that was Ocarina of Time, along with a version of the highly under-rated masterpiece Majora’s Mask. Note that people in these two great countries do not have to expend any currency for this disc — this makes it a fantastic offer in my mind’s eye. Lately I have heard whisperings that in PAL territories, specifically Europe, this extra disc will be released at the same time as the Wind Waker under the guise of a “special edition” package retailing for 60 Euros. This almost seems fine, even considering that both products will be released at the same time, excepting the situation involving the 60 Euros — which is approximately 110 Australian Dollars. Perhaps I am doing too much of the premature assuming but I will not be impressed if I have to pay for something that the NTSC regions received for a scant nothing. Call me fickle — I really do enjoy it.

One final vent on the topic of the otherwise excellent Gameboy Advance SP. For whatever reason this device, unlike its ancestors, lacks a headphone jack. For those of you unfamiliar with the Gameboy hardware, the headphone jack represents the only way to revel in the delight of Gameboy audio:

  • without pissing off those not so sonically robust in your immediate vicinity
  • in glorious stereophonic sound.

I consider these to be fairly important capabilities of a hand-held console and I like to imagine that there was simply no room left in the exquisitely crafted device for a place to insert your headphones. Nintendo very rightly designed a device to allow for the use of headphones — an adapter — and then absurdly decided to charge extra for it. Even worse for us beleaguered Australians — we will not be able to venture into a store on the 28th of March and come out with a GBA SP and a headphone adapter. We will have to ring Nintendo’s metered phone line and humbly request an adapter. Is it just me or is this just totally ludicrous?

While I have divulged all of these feelings towards Nintendo of Australia let me say that I do feel that there are also circumstances outside of Nintendo’s control conspiring to lower their market share. In particular I refer to Microsoft’s wanton economic vandalism in what amounts to the dumping of their monstrosity of a console onto the market for half of the price that it costs them to manufacture. Nintendo had the ability to produce an elegant console which is still competitive with the arguably more powerful Xbox but for considerably less cost — for this they are repaid by competition which subsidies their bland, soul-less, unimaginative PC derivative of a console through funds they have acquired through monopolistic behaviour in a different market. This annoys me far more than anything else I have discussed earlier, do not be deceived.

Perhaps the most poignant sign of Nintendo’s position at the moment was illustrated in an ad I saw recently for the Nintendo Gamer publication. It featured a screen shot from the Hoth level of Factor 5‘s outstanding Rogue Leader title which demanded that you “Support the rebel alliance”. The magazines catch-line at the bottom was that they delivered “All of the news from Nintendo’s front lines”. This simple but profound advertisement highlights Nintendo’s precarious position in this console war which I have no doubt they will survive, perhaps with a few victories under their belt, perhaps with a bloodied nose. But Nintendo, you have to make sure you have things in order behind your front lines, in your rank-and-file, if you want true security and to ensure a position from which you can assault from in the future. Please pull Nintendo of Australia into line — they sure as hell are not fighting very effectively at the moment.

In fact they seem to be relying solely on luck — but isn’t that heaven’s business?

Recent Acquisitions

I will use today’s entry to elaborate a little on some software I managed to pick up at reasonable prices at the weeks end. It has certainly been a while since I have expended any kind of currency on such things but I have just produced my inaugural budget and one of the side effects of these economic devices is that sobering feeling which originates from seeing just where exactly spending that money here and there leaves you in the nebulous future. But enough of such matters and on to the elaborations.

007:nightfire – NINTENDO GAMECUBE

Before I start on this game I will draw your attention to the fact that I reproduced the NINTENDO GAMECUBE trademarks as per Nintendo’s very own decree on the matter. I will admit to being a bit of a perfectionist in this regard, so the casual reader may not necessarily — how should I put it? — give a damn. I now, on the other hand, sleep marginally easier at night; however this could be attributed to my cessation of sleeping upside-down in an attempt to produce bat guano. Don’t ask — it really is better that way.

I can recall a fair few 007 licensed games that have been produced over the years but depressingly few have stuck in my mind as being anything other than titles falling into the category of “the usual crap movie licence fare”. The exceptions being:

  • The Living Daylights (Amstrad CPC) – Only because of the milkman who threw explosive milk bottles; that always scores points with me.
  • Goldeneye (Nintendo 64) – Only because it is one of the best pieces of electronic entertainment ever created.
  • The World Is Not Enough (Nintendo 64) – Only because I always wanted it but never got it (and the fact that from all accounts, it was pretty good).

As you may think, some of these games may not wholly deserve to be remembered but regardless — they still represent a precious minority of the total body of work where 007 is concerned. I wholly feel though, that Nightfire may be another rare strike against the status-quo.

Nightfire is the creative work of Eurocom, the same development studio responsible for the FPS based on the TWINE license, which is allegedly: “A bit of all-right”. From what I have sampled of it thus far it seems to keep true to Eurocom’s reputation and delivers a thoroughly enjoyable 007 romp which is high on “Bondism” and low on crap. Some clarification:

[n] Quintessential James Bond associations such as stealth, action, gadgets, cars, women and innuendo — to name but a few.
Nothing to do with bondage.
[n] Excrement; both figuratively and literally.

And so my desire to work-in a HTML definition list has been quenched.

The game is thoroughly well presented with nice touches throughout; from inferno framed pixel masks of lithe feminine figures toting guns in the background of menus, to various reworks of the classic Bond musical theme. The story is Eurocom’s own, without the support or restraint of having an actual Hollywood movie behind it, Eurocom have basically produced their own game-movie. Missions vary from stealth infiltration and straight out gun fights to piloting various contraptions such as motorised snow-mobiles with cannon turrets and sleek motor vehicles equipped with rockets and smoke screens. Just about every aspect of the game has been crafted with the highest production values and the engine delivering the action never misses a beat; it is quite possibly the finest FPS engine ever to grace a home console. I say “just about every aspect” as I have stumbled upon a few things which — while they do not destroy the game — mar the experience and in my opinion, would not appear to have been difficult to rectify.

Firstly, and as noted by several reviews around the web, there are instances where you will shoot someone — with like a gun — and the victim will not even flinch. This is strange as I have it on good authority that such an action normally results in some kind of harm being enacted. I think it goes beyond simply not triggering an animation as the receiver of the bullet can still take several more hits afterward before succumbing to the wounds that bullets normally inflict. It would appear that the hit is just not detected at all. This is exasperating in the extreme, especially when the assailant you are shooting is repaying the favour; except that his bullets actually cause you a great deal of grief.

Secondly, and less critical, is that in one particular mission your opponents and other generic office workers develop a severe case of verbal diarrhoea. Every security guard on the level will constantly yell such memorable phrases as:

  • “I need some backup!”
  • “There’s the intruder!”
  • “Go! Go! Go!”;

while the terrified Tokyo office workers (whom happen to all be female) scream snippets of Japanese panic in a continuous cycle of whimpering annoyance, even long after they have fled the area of torment. Being in Japanese I cannot interpret what they are saying, but I would not be surprised if it were something along the lines of: “Why can’t I stop whimpering!”. It almost incites you to turn the sound off and miss out on the rest of the audio the game has to offer which is, in contrast, deafeningly good.

In the end though, it all boils down to one question: is it better than Rare‘s masterpiece Goldeneye? Eurocom: You are getting very close.

At a RRP of AUD$69.95, this game is a steal. At the price I stumbled upon it for (AUD$38) — it is positively grand-theft.

Final Fight One – Gameboy Advance

When gamers of my vintage turn maudlin and talk about the good old days when a large portion of video games involved players taking the role of some protagonist who subsequently goes on a rampage of kicking the living snot out of hoards of nameless thugs, they invariably speak about titles such as Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, Golden Axe and Final Fight. Readers — the good old days are back.

I had been eying off the GBA edition of Final Fight — titled imaginatively as Final Fight One — for some time. The only aspect of the game which prevented be from authorising the expenditure on it was the fact that it cost AUD$50. While this price represents the absolute most I am prepared to expend for any GBA game, it is still significantly higher than what I am willing to spend for a port of a thirteen year old arcade game — regardless of the fact that I consider it to be the pinnacle of the entire beat-’em-up genre.

For those of you who may not have any recollection of this game or have not had the privilege of playing it, Final Fight is a side-scrolling beat-’em-up from Capcom. The “story” line involves the mayor’s daughter being kidnapped by a mad gang who act under the quite appropriate and non-cliché moniker of “Mad Gear”. Mad Gear’s motive for committing this heinous act is to try and sway the mayor to let them have full reign of the city’s criminal activities without intervention; for which they will also generously enhance the mayor’s salary and not harm his attractive daughter.

Naturally Jessica’s boyfriend — Cody — and his colleague — Guy — are both skilled hand-to-hand combatants while the Mayor — Mike Haggar — is a 6′ 6″ tall, champion street-fighter who weighs a very mayoral 297 lbs.. Please do not try to extol how unrealistic this is; I will not have a bar of it — there are similar precedents in actuality.

The main reason behind my affection for this game is it’s unparalleled pick-up-and-play qualities combined with numerous named opponents (even if there are twenty punks all named “Bred” who, in turn, all look strikingly similar) and meaty, bone-jarring hits. It may also be because I can count on my nose all of the video games where you, as the mayor of a city, can walk around the street, sans-shirt, dropping people on their heads.

The only quibble I have with the game is that the developers have changed parts of it slightly to be more, I guess, politically correct. During Mike Haggar’s conversation with the leader of Mad Gear in the original version he vents: “You sons of a …”; whereas in the GBA version its: “You fiend!”. Other parts have a more sanitized feel to them too. They have removed the acrobatic female punk “Poison” and replaced her with a male version called “Billy”. I guess it isn’t PC for the mayor to beat up a girl — even if she is trying to rip his scrotum off.

The original version also had an engaging exchange between Guy and Cody during the attract mode prologue. It went something similar to this:

Cody: “Jessica was kidnapped!”

Guy: “Jessica!?”

Cody: “My sweet heart since childhood.”

Guy: “The Mad Gears must pay! She’s my friend too. Count me in!”

This is probably the best writing I have ever seen in this genre; it makes you feel sympathetic towards Guy with his sudden bouts of amnesia. Alas, they have changed this dialogue in the portable version — it now actually makes sense. I can only hope that the final scene where Guy kicks Cody in the back of the head for no apparent reason before running off into the night, still remains.

Just a warning to you: if I see anyone on the street who look anything remotely like the villains “J” or “Two P” from this game, I will become extremely agitated; especially if you attempt to approach me from behind.

On a final note, I had a dream last night. In this dream I was playing a new X-COM game in the same style as UFO: Enemy Unknown. It was a very good dream.