Friday, December 17, 2010

Alone in the Dark, it is.

Fear of the dark. I have a phobia that someone`s always there. That`s what Bruce Dickenson said about being alone in the dark in 1992, exactly when Infogrames launched the epic video game "Alone in the Dark".

It`s also exactly when I got the game from our neighborhood`s game store, which proudly sold solely pirate (meaning illegal, not jolly roger) games. Back then, on the Asian side of Istanbul we had this game store - The guy was recording games to floppy discs from his extremely illegal hard drive. He got himself a Mustang through the investments of people like me.

Anyway, I played this game, and played once more. Honestly, I usually don`t play games twice, especially the ones with a plot (as opposed to racing, soccer etc). And I never ever play again, if the game has a horror aspect to it. See, that`s my thing - I`m a jumpy guy, I get easily scared in horror games.

Above is the reason why I played the game twice: It was my first game that I could choose one of two characters! Edward Carnby, or Ms. Emily Hartwood. Nothing changes depending on the character, but still!!

The game is set in 1924 in Louisiana. A classic, yet cool haunted mansion story. It`s mainly an adventure game with some fighting aspects built into it. What you fight against are zombies, other supernatural enemies, rats etc. But the main trick of the game is the changing camera angle. 

The camera angle changes as you move within a room, adding a cinematic feel to the game. Items and characters in Alone in the Dark are three-dimensional, rendered upon a two-dimensional fixed background. A good example of adapting to a more realistic world! Mixing polygons and 2-D prerendered background images required a fixed camera angle back then, which designers used to their advantage to create dramatic scene setups appropriate for a horror-themed game.

Similar to Veil of Darkness, one of the scare elements of the game is the lack of technology - poor sounds and irrecognizable faces of monsters. Aahh, sweet times. 

Have you ever been alone at night
Thought you heard footsteps behind
And turned around and no-one's there ?
And as you quicken up your pace
You find it hard to look again
Because you're sure there's someone there...fear of the dark.

images by

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Panzer Misery

This one comes for my brother, who sacrificed his most wonderful years of youth and freedom to little mean hexagons.

It was mid-to-late 90s, (which means either 96 or 97, I don`t know why I wrote it like that) our 486 SX-25 endured a serious fire in our living room, which turned everything in the room into ashes and rubble. Well, except our Samsung PC. It`s 14-inch screen turned into a black can of soda, the floppy drive boiled and squirt itself out the case. But the PC, the motherboard and everything attached to it, survived. So did we, thanks to the best dog in the world, Archie.

 *not actual PC

I guess the fire wasn`t the best thing for our family`s finances, we had repaired only the fundamentals of the PC. As a result, it turned into a toaster looking thing, pitch black - and the best part: it did not have a on/off switch. We turned it on by plugging, and off by pulling the plug. Exactly like a toaster!

Panzer General came into our innocent lives at this very troubled time, when we had very few luxuries. The game was developed in 1994 by SSI, which was acquired by Mindscape, which was then acquired by Mattel, which is now owned by Ubisoft. Ha!

Panzer General is the book definition of turn-based strategy, staged in WWII. Sounds like a cool idea, maybe if finishing it didn`t take as long as the war itself. 

The formula of the game is very simple: pick a side (axis or allies), develop a strategy (just for fun, it won`t work anyway), and attack your enemy one tank (plane, cruiser or soldier) at a time. The game then multiplies, divides, takes derivative of the 15th permutation of your army`s strength and decides whoever wins that attack. At the end you probably lose that battle for a reason you don`t understand, because the AI in the game is a nasty, mean whore which manages to surprise you every time.

I remember my brother playing the game for 14 hours straight, inhaling the soot out of the computer`s loud fan. But the problem wasn`t the hours, or the smell of 15000 matches burning at the same time. It was the miserable fact of losing the game 90% of the time, since the game`s AI is...well, see the previous paragraph.

Talking about this game is like telling you about a bus that never hit you. My aim is to give you happiness and joy because you never had to play this game and live in peace, probably never aware of this. 

Let this nightmare of hexagons perish in the lost pages of time, just like the world war II itself. Amen.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ken sent me

80s. Aaah, 80s. Beautiful, colorful, tasteless, exaggerated in every sense. Time of Robocop, MC Hammer and Thundercats. When people thought leather miniskirts and padded shoulders are the path toward being sexy and cool.

That`s exactly when we`ve met Larry Laffer, or the legendary Leisure Suit Larry. Being the lovechild of the talented Mr. Al Lowe and Sierra Interactive, Larry`s first and most acknowledged adventure - Land of Lounge Lizards - came out in 1987.

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of Lounge Lizards is the first game of a 6-game series, which went worse in every game, and never could get the same popularity of the first game. Even the remake in 1991 (and re-release in 1997) of the original version was not as popular as the original, where you typed in (not clicked) your commands for Larry.

Perfect, original, creative: You had to go into the bathroom, sit, and try to figure out the nasty carvings and posts on the walls to get the password "Ken sent me", run and tell the bouncer at the back of Lefty`s bar for a night in the arms of a wonderful pixelated prostitute. ..or something like that.

The most important part was the text-adventure style commands, where you can tell Larry to do even most ridiculus, unacceptable things, and Larry would give you a hilarious response, even if it`s not the right action to do.

The way you type your commands are like : "Open door", "Dance with the woman in red shirt" etc. So you can be as creative as you want.

I remember falling in love with the 16-color lady at the back of the bar like it was yesterday. I was trying all the curse words I`ve heard in English to find a funny comment, or maybe an easter egg (usually some sex related graphic or comment), cleverly hidden in the game by the programmers. The keyboard of my 386(sx 25) probably knows the darker side of my adolescence better than anyone else.  

80`s had a weird approach to sex, money, humour and fashion. And funny enough, Larry is one of the best 80`s experiences you can get now.

I say put on your white sneakers, tight light blue jeans and go back where everything was 16-color CGA. If anybody asks, say Ken sent you.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I haaaveeee theee pooooweeeeerrr !

Let me tell you this: This game is the jewel of Amstrad. Coming out right at the golden age of gaming, it is one of the first games made from a movie. A bad movie, to be fair. It is He-Man: Masters of the Universe, in 80s technology, and 80BC`s taste of entertainment.

First, I want to give you a quick walk-through of the Loading screen. The tab on the left and bottom is your HUD, which will remain there from the loading screen till the end of the game (almost like a gamewatch). The HUD contains a compass, your life and weapon gauges, a "chord" indicator and your score. The image depicts you, as legendary Dolph Lundgren. Could you recognize the guy at the back? He is one of the greatest villains of all times. He is Skeletor!

Here on the left you can see the title screen, which evidences the effort and time put into this masterpiece. It really is a masterpiece. You`ll understand why.

Your in-game info and mission is given by the beautiful and talented Teela in a pop-up window. It may look more like a passport picture of a eastern European transvestite, but she has vital information for your game...well actually no, she has not. Because whatever you do, everything is the SAME in this game. Nothing ever changes. Even the gameplay screen remains the same.

Basically, what you do is wandering around bunch of corridors, which literally feels like Eternia. When you enter a new screen, you`ll notice that it`s the clone of the previous screen with new enemies scattered around the black parts of the screen. The bad guys are from Skeletor`s army, they are the little mighty pixel people flying around.

These sneaky and very dangerous people throw small dots at you, but do not fear - you can do the same. You`ve got to make sure that no small dot hits you. I believe these are laser beams, which confused me a lot for many years. Thinking about the whole concept of He-Man, I don`t remember He-Man`s sword (THE power sword) was able to blast laser. But hey, who am I to judge the successful designers at Gremlin Interactive.

In this picture above, you can see He-Man going after a chord, while the bad guy relentlessly fires his fearsome dot at him. 

The informative gameplay immediately lets you know that you, He-Man, found a chord. You know, that happens in Eternia.

In case too many small dots hit you and the number over the small head in your HUD drops to zero (your lives), you lose the game. Game over. Skeletor and his army of pixel people have won and became the masters of the universe. Shame on you!


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Buenos Dias. My name is Manny Calavera and you`re my next customer..

You know it, I know it...It is one of the best games ever made. Such elegance, such sophistication, art and all that jazz..literally. 

Grim Fandango came out in 1998 from Lucasarts, and gave the gaming world something that was never done before, and probably never will be done again: an artistic depth. I`m not talking about some good drawings and nice music, I`m talking about art deco architecture, free form jazz, illustrations full of culture, and a plot that says "somebody sat down and actually thought about this" all over it.

Grim Fandango is a graphic adventure set in a world stuck between our world (whatever that means) and the afterlife, called the Land of the Dead. The story follows the travel agent Manuel (Manny) Calavera, who attempts to save Meche Colomar, a newly arrived but virtuous soul during her journey to the nine underground (afterlife). 

Manny`s world combines elements of the Aztec belief of afterlife with some film noir tones and Casablanca-like old movie setting. But at the end, it`s an adventure game where you click your way into the game`s beautifully designed plot. So it kinda feels like eating a five-michelin star dinner alone at home in front Seinfeld. 

There are some problems with making a classy game. First of all, as a player, you can`t tell anybody. What are you gonna do, run and tell people that the game is frickin full of character? As a person playing computer games, your reputation of understanding and commenting on art and class is probably not too high. So your whole enthusiasm explodes inside, nodding to the screen with a stupid smile on your face. Secondly, classy games don`t sell much, because it`s not democracy, but mediocracy ruling on this earth. Sadly, the game became a victim of too high of a quality and could not sell too well. 

All in all, not many games talk about death. They show death, they create and celebrate death, but never ever really talk about death. This one does - with cool jazz, latin overtones and some unexpected referrals to other uncommon topics like freedom, poetry and inward journeys.

I`m not going to suggest that you should take that journey, play this game or make an effort to understand it. I`m just saying whatever you do, if you have to talk about games someday, don`t you dare to ignore Grim Fandango.

..or this whole crowd below will get you to the nine underground by force.

pics by lucasarts and

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A long time ago, in a house far far away...

Games are not just about computers and least they were not when I was a child. Not that I`m talking about 1920s, but even 80`s were a little less digital and little more analog.

When we were kids, my imagination was a bit above the capabilities of my Amstrad. There was so much creativity that they could fit into 128kb. So, my friend A!riza and I had to invent games to entertain ourselves.

As I mentioned in one of the older posts, one of the first games that we invented was called something like "Alien Attack". We were two space soldiers (it`s totally your fault if you don`t know what a space soldier does) and we were travelling in our small space ship (my room).

My room was literally as small as a matchbox back then - a perfect spaceship. The window was the display, my small electric piano was the main controls for the ship, the Amstrad was the main computer. As if there was any other computer.

We had laser guns and after landing on an alien world, we used to storm out of the space pod and fight against the aliens in the living room, a.k.a alien world. These aliens were so sneaky, they were imitating shapes of lamps, chairs etc. Awesome stuff.

I won`t recommend you this game though, I figured out there is no way of trying it without looking abnormal after a certain point in your life. Or you know what, go ahead and try it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Have a scary Halloween with "Veil of Darkness"

dotpixel by me!
Days of Amstrad opens the veil...and here it is - Veil of Darkness. Arguably the best horror game ever made. 

Veil of Darkness is a horror-action-adventure game for the PC, which was developed by Event Horizon Software and published by SSI in 1993. Some of the main reasons why it may have escaped your radar could be poor marketing of games in 90s, your lack of taste in good games, or you could be too young for that. In any case, you`ve missed a lot.

Veil of Darkness is a 2D point-and-click adventure game with some RPG elements mixed in. It features a fixed isometric perspective and a good amount of action-RPG style combat. Except the leveling system, it could be the grandfather of Diablo or a far relative of Sacred. But the coolness of the game lies in the twists of the plot. The plot overall sounds cheesy at first (your plane crashes in Romania, a dark curse affects a small village), but feels mysterious and the atmosphere is scary. 

The biggest factor making the game scary is the lack of technology. Don`t take my words as an insult to the game - because that`s not true. The low resolution graphics and midi sound are irritating. It is similar to being afraid of the dark, you tend to get more scared when you cannot fully see, hear or understand the details. And when this unintentional element meets the intentional horror aspect, you find yourself in a tasty horror experience.

One of the disturbing twists is figuring out who it was attacking and eating villagers - an unexpected werewolf action from an unexpected town resident. Overall, the game has a disturbing atmosphere.

Of course, do not expect like a horror movie tension, as things evolve and occur at a much slower rate and speed, nevertheless couple of plot twists, unpredictability, low detail graphics and disturbing midi sounds are its strongest points. And the slower pace will make itself unforgettable as it slowly sneaks into your conscious and subconscious.

One caveat though - if your eyes are already adjusted to the colorful HD world and hi-res sounds, it may become hard to look at this old boy on your PC. But I say, try it when you have time. It`s only like 3MBs to download.

I hope you`ll enjoy your Halloween, and may the veil of darkness (the game, not death) surround you one day. 


Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween is coming to "Days of Amstrad" (teaser)

Carve your cross, prepare your silver bullets because Halloween is coming to town...I`ll talk about a scary old gem that most probably escaped your radar all those years. Coming this weekend!

copyright goowik design

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"This won`t work."

I played every Indiana Jones title made for pc and home consoles. Don`t you miss a fine 2D point-and-click adventure sometimes? Although there is and steam selling some of the finest selections of older adventure games, I miss the days when they came in approx. 28 floppy discs, a fine box and a manual. 

Fate of Atlantis is special for me as it has a unique plot, and does not rely on a movie script. Even if you`re not familiar with the game, you`ve probably guessed that it`s about Indy`s search of the lost city. Sophia Hapgood, an old co-worker of Indy who gave up her archaeological career to become a psychic, joins him along the journey. As expected, Indy and Sophie are opposed by the Nazis who are seeking to use the power of Atlantis for warfare, and serve as the adventure's antagonists. The game came out in 1992, and 1993 again with voice acting. As usual, I had the previous version and wanted to kill myself when they released the new version. (That`s why I`ll wait for the newer version of iPad, so sneakily.)

There is no need for me to talk about the gameplay or the marvel of point-and-click adventures - your loss if you`ve missed them. But the limits, beautiful, tight limits of these games- that is something to talk about. Unlike new technological breakthrough games like GTA, where you can beat up senior citizens, kick pigeons and explode buildings, 2D adventures have a single route, a character. 

If something happens, that`s because it is supposed to happen. It`s like reading a fine book, smooth and less plastic. You encounter less bugs, no physical weirdness, just plain game, where your character proudly says: "Can`t do that", when you try to open a jar with your whip. For a change though, Fate of Atlantis had an interesting twist. Depending on your selection in the first part of the game, you were allowed to pick one of three gameplay styles: Cooperatively with Sophia (easier), alone (you have to think a lot), or using your fists more than your wits (lots of button mashing). 

The locations and the plot do not change much among the 3 selections, but the experience is slightly different, as your inventory options and conversations differ. I finished this game 3 times in my life, 1992, 1999 and 2010 (don`t judge me); and I liked the "wits" option the most (1999).  

I miss the days where you could not find 323 ways to overcome an obstacle. When it comes to games, I like my limits. I love it when "There`s no room to maneuver..."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Joy and the stick

You don`t know Combat School. You don`t know what kind of an evil game it was. It was our 4th joystick in a month, I remember my mom`s eyes when I asked for the fifth...oh, the horror.

Combat School is actually an arcade game by Konami. The game can be played against the CPU or another player. Player one takes control of Nick, a green haired recruit in a green shirt. Well thanks to my father, our screen was a poor green screen, so no colors for that boy.  His rival`s name is more creative than Nick, he is Joe, another green haired dude with a green shirt. Joe was a little lighter green on the head though, so I assumed he was blonde in the real and colorful world. 

The game has 7 different training stages that you have to go through against your opponent. But the trick is here: if you fail at any level, you have to do push ups. I swear real push ups are easier than this thing, as you have to pummel your joystick right and left to do the moves to a level that 80s plastic engineering can not take anymore. The brutal move usually broke my joysticks at the neck, which makes the "stick" part detach and leave you with a blank "joy". 

Believe me when I say Amstrad never excelled in making joysticks. The two parts of your stick was attached thanks to this 2 mm cheap screw, which is ready to blast into new adventures rather than doing his job. 

Back to game: After all seven training courses are cleared, during which you`ll break your joystick anyways, the graduate (only the winner of the 7 challenges) will go to rescue the president from the terrorists. What a turn off. Your friend has to sit down and watch you play half of the game, because he could not shake his joystick fast enough...well, games have not developed into Fallout in one day.

In my case, Combat School shared the same disc (or disquette if you will) as Gryzor. So that was the golden item in my room. Throw all my clothes, pencils, posters if you want; but my friend, if you touch my golden disc, well we will have some problems.

Please take one last look at the craftily programmed graphics of that marvel. Nick is crossing the bridge while Joe is waiting for his turn, oh so anxiously. 

Pixel hunting 101 for couples

(image credit: coba)

Playing games as couples is more like an art than science (don`t know why I said that). You have a world that you may or may not want your significant other to be a part of. In any case, there should be games that you can share, if you have to. Mystery Case Files is definitely one of them.

The concept is extremely basic. There is a list of items on the right, and you are trying to find them in the picture. Actually the developers are clever enough to embed this puzzle pieces into a story and the items are not easy to find.

My favorite one was Madame Fate, a twisted circus story with lots of different puzzles in addition to hidden item quests. There are 6 games available for Windows or Mac. After a while, your eyes get crossed, and the fun activity with your partner becomes more like a frustration, where her incapacity to find a hidden item becomes your only focus, you fight, plates crashing on the wall, slamming doors, lawyers and so happy ending in this one.