Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Cheap Windows CE Laptops, Good? Bad? or Ugly?

I’ve been taking a look at the low end Japanese Windows CE ‘Mini NoteBooks’ systems lately (also sometimes called Mini NetBooks) after seeing these slated on various public forums and especially on YouTube, and it didn’t take much digging before I realised that a lot of this venom seemed unjust, unfounded or at best misguided...

Most of the naysayers seemed to be ill-informed of what these machines actually are and of what their purpose may be. A lot of the comments seemed to be based solely on comparing the specs of these machines with those of a modern full-blown PC system. Something which is akin to comparing the specs of a smart-phone with a modern PC, although this fact seemed lost on the barraters. Some of these comments just didn’t add up to me. I had managed to get a quick look at one of these some time ago, and you can get one for around £30 on eBay. I have to say that I thought the one I saw was perfectly adequate for what it is. It won’t replace a desktop system as a main computer, and won’t ever get near the lofty heights of the iPood... sorry, iPad for ‘coooolness!!’ But as a basic big-PDA come network-browser it works fine, with very little to no configuration.

Just remember: It is not a PC, but it isn’t intended to be...

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Free Steam!

In this thread I decided to take a look at the best free games on steam.

There are various forum and blog threads out there that purport to be an exhaustive and definitive list of free stuff on steam.

This is definitely not one of them.

No, this purely consists of my own opinion, musings, and ramblings about some of the free games I found interesting, with very little basis in reality outside of my own head... 

... so no change there then.

First off I must admit to not showing much interest in the steam site until I stumbled across a thread telling of their time-limited free download of Portal (sadly now expired). 
This was one of those games I kept meaning to play but had never gotten around to. So I downloaded it and got my introduction to the world of Steam! 

Just in case you don’t know, Steam is a PC and MAC based download site somewhat akin to the ‘PSN Store’ and ‘Xbox Live’ services for consoles. Some people may pick holes in this evaluation, but for the most part I think it’s a pretty apt comparison.
Steam lets you pay for games on-line in a minimum-fuss environment and then lets you download them within the nice shiny, and easy to use, wrappings of the steam application’s framework. This also provides you with an easy access point-and-click interface to your downloaded games, and/or other content.
Like the popular console-based offerings it also has a combination of pay-to-play and free content. And it’s this fee content that I’m having a look at here.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Massively online through the ages… or not.

I’ve seen it all

Well, if I haven’t actually seen it all, I’ve at the very least mostly heard about it. And more-or-less at the time it was happening. 

What am I on about this time? 
Multi User On-Line gaming of course, what else?


  The very first exposure I had to on-line gaming wasn’t actually on-line at all. It wasn’t even on a computer. It was whilst reading an article about CompuServe’s MUD, the Multi-User Dungeon, in a very early edition of Computer and Video Games, and the article immediately caught my imagination...

If you don’t know already, MUD on CompuServe was probably the very first time an on-line multi-user computer game was available to the general public. Sure, the boffins with their mainframe and mini computer access had been hacking and slashing their way through reams of text for a fair while by this point. And there were some rather obscure BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) running versions of it, but finally this strange new concept for an adventure game was available to the rest of us.
Looking at the simple text-screens of MUD toady it’s hard to believe just how important a milestone this really was. At the time it was viewed by most as a bit of an elitist novelty. Then again, they say hindsight always comes with 20/20 vision…

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Is retro-piracy a legitimate way to see old games?

So you’ve got a bunch of old machines....
But they don’t make new games for these machines anymore, so who are you hurting by downloading some old ROM and disk images?

Well, the short answer is quite possibly nobody would, but, and of course there’s a ‘but’ … not all manufacturers want you to have those old games. Why? You ask. Well there are the fairly lucrative mobile-phone, hand-held, and on-line markets. Not to mention the various compilations that always seem to be amongst the first things to appear for every new console or other gaming platform. Quite a few older games have been re-released with a fair degree of monitory gain for little effort. Always a good thing if you are doing the selling. And the copyright holder do have the legal write to ‘just say no’ without giving, or having, any reason at all.
Having said that, and although there is no such legal thing as ‘Abandon Ware’ (the copyright always reverts to somebody), much of the software houses responsible for developing 8 and 16bit games have released these programs to the public domain, or otherwise given permission for them to be freely used and distributed. Ultimate – Play the Game, being a notable exception to this.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The Dandy wars…

I’ve read three different independent reviews lately that all said Dandy was a Gauntlet clone. Not true, my inner ATARI-Geek shouted. In fact the exact opposite is (more or less) possibly true; because, if anything; the mighty Gauntlet is in fact a Dandy clone.

Originally adorned with the snappy title of ‘Thesis of Terror’ and written in 1982 by Jack Palevich's for his bachelor's thesis at MIT. The game was based on the cellular automaton principles displayed in John Conway's Game of Life, and wasn’t especially produced with a commercial goal in mind.
The system designed for running the game was a two-part affair. With a file-server program running on a Hewlett Packard Workstation, which supplied the maps data, and a series of four Atari 8bit machines connected up as graphics-terminals through their serial ports, to display the graphical front-end.
The design of the game was very much based on, and influenced by, the Dungeons and Dragons role-play table-top systems of the time (although reportedly Palevich had never played D&D in his life!). Imaginative, yes… but not the type of setup most people could whip up in their bedrooms.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Down on the farm…

Ok, when I go retro I don’t do no wishy-washy half-measures!
This blog was inspired by an accidental glimpse of an old advert I remembered from my misspent youth.

The advert was by the, then, mysterious ‘Softwarwe Farm’ and promised ‘hi-res’ graphics on the ZX81… a machine that everyone knew couldn’t do user-defined hi-res graphics, and I have to admit that I was sceptical.

Well it turns out that everyone, including sceptical teenage me, was wrong, and the humble ZX-81 could indeed do ‘hi-res’ user defined graphics. My dumb was well and truly struck, and probably like many others I immediately began to wonder how this was done. As it turns out Julian Chappell, the main programming half of the one man / one woman Software Farm team wasn’t too forthcoming on this front. And who could really blame him. It reportedly took him six months just to work out the user-defined graphics procedure code.

In hindsight I think the most remarkable thing about this revelation is that it was done at all, far-les done commercially and successfully on a machine that was already falling out of favour. This really was a relatively major software coupe at the time, and although the games were more-or-less successful I still don’t think the user-defined graphics process got the technical accalation that it richly deserved. If this had come just a few years earlier it would have been hailed as a major accomplishment.
In today’s world of neo-photorealistic graphics this may not seem much to write home about, but at the time it was scarcely believable. Imagine the impact of some little-known software firm announcing it had come up with a purely software only solution to allow the 360 or PS3 to show real 3D on a normal monitor. Yes, it was that fantastical a claim for some people in the ZX-81 community at the time. It was something that accepted knowledge said just couldn’t be done.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

A console for life…

…but how long is that? 

My PS3 just died this week.

 It was an original 60G model...

The one that played PS2 disk.

I asked around on a few PS forums to try and figure out if it was worth trying to fix it, and the consensus of opinion seemed to be that I was lucky to have had it last this long.

Now, the thing is a lot of these people were very genuine in their response. They really did believe that this was a good run for a console. Even though I didn’t even play it all that regularly.
And there lies the current problem…

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

But is it art?

As a follow-up to my Strange games through the ages post I decided to have a look at those ‘art’ games I mentioned…
And ask some obvious questions like:
    1. What makes it different?
    2. What makes it art?
    3. Are they games?
    4. What is available?
    5. Where did this ‘movement’ come from?
    6. And perhaps both most and least importantly, how well does it sell?
The supposed art-house games scene has become a bit of a semi-underground phenomenon lately. But is this a real movement and a bona fide genre, or just more industry hype and spin?
I decided to have a bit of a root around with these self-styled ‘art games’ and see what I could find out. I asked the six seemingly most asked questions as above, and have attempted to answer each in turn. But remember this is all just my opinion, and I tend to veer away from the standard FPS and like stranger games.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Strange games through the ages...

OK, so this post is pretty self-explanatory really. Here I’m going to take a look at some of my favourite games that were always considered a bit strange.

 I think it’s fair to say that we now have a bit of a sub-culture of developers making intentionally ‘different’ games (see my ‘When is a game not a game’ thread) but that isn’t where this post is going.
Here I’m interested in programs that were released as main-stream games, which genuinely had something different, innovative, or just plain odd about them. And make no mistake, strange games are by no means a new phenomenon. As well as the odd left-field game (pun intended) from the mainstream software houses of the times; there have always been some developers that seemed to specialise in the strange and different.

The first game I ever picked up that seemed to break, or at least crack, the mould was the eponymous ‘Attack of the Mutant Camels,’ followed quickly by ‘Revenge of the Mutant camels’ both by Llamasoft and created by the hairy hand of the Yak; AKA Jeff Minter. It wasn’t long after this that I stumbled upon a copy of ‘Weird Dreams’ for the C64 and then ‘Trap-Door’ for the ZX Spectrum. I think that was the start of me becoming hooked on games that looked and played a bit different from the norm. But the strangest and best was still to come…

Friday, 8 July 2011

A resurgence of retro?

Is the games industry having a bit of a retro revival, or is it just maturing and diversifying?

I’ve decided to look at the popularity of newer retro-styled games like Braid, Galaxy Wars, and the latest incarnations of old staples, like Space Invaders Infinity Gene, Pac-Man Championship Edition, or Sonic 4. 
These are just the tip of the ice-burg as far as retro-type games are concerned nowadays. Look through Xbox Live or PSN and you are sure to dig up numerous examples of both new games based on retro gaming styles and concepts, and re-released or new versions of the well-known older franchises. But this isn’t a new thing. One of the first types of software released for practically any of the new platforms are the retro-compilations.

My first question was, “why are they being made?” And the rather obvious answer was, “because they are still commercially viable and popular.”
But why are they popular?
And who is buying them?

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

When is a game not a game?

I think the so-called backlash of Alternate Gaming is a natural outcome of today’s commercialised mainstream gaming industry.
Which begs the obvious question, an alternative to what? 

Back in the boom-time of the mid-eighties to late-nineties there was no such thing as alternate gaming, mainly because at least every second game was completely different from the first. There were definitely some very weird games produced, but nothing was ever really seen as truly alternative, because there was no standard to be alternate from.
That all started to change as the market grew, and the standardisation began to draw all the creativity into the safe middle-ground of 3D platforms and First Person Shooters. With the advent of the ‘SONY Playstation’, 3D, and birth of ‘modern gaming’ the big players became predominantly market driven, and the market was growing at an expediential rate.

So the coining of the Alternate Gaming market is a relatively modern invention. But still, what exactly qualifies as an alternate game? In some cases it can be seen as something with a slightly edgy or underground quality to its game-play. In others the game-play can be a derivative of a much older style of game brought up-to-date for today’s technology. But there is another, artier, form of entertainment program evolving, and this type forms the main body of the controversy…

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Online Only Games from PSN for the PS3

Despite a continual uptake of players I’ve noticed a distinct lack of information, or even interest, about console based multiplayer gaming on the PS3. 

 So, in this blog I’m taking a look at what MMORPG and MMO games are available through PSN for the PS3.

 PNS On-line Only Games Quick list:
Near future, up to 256 players in a game.

Battlefield 1943
World War 2, up to 24 players in a game.

Modern Combat: Domination.
Contemporary, up to 16 players in a game.
Middle future, up to 32 players in a game.

Section 8
Far future, up to 32 players in a game.

Near future, up to 32 players in a game.
Free Realms    
Fantasy past, massively multiplayer game.

DC Universe
Contemporary, massively multiplayer game.

Angel Love Online
Fantasy, massively multiplayer game.

Angle Genki.
Fantasy, massively multiplayer game.
  • FPS = First person Shooter
  • 3PS = Third person Shooter
  • RPG = Role-Play Game
I’ve taken a look at what’s available, and compared their pricing structures, game-play, graphics and sound.
Not every type of game will suite everyone, and there can be a world of difference between what a MMO and a MMORPG player thinks is good.
Just one other thing before we get started on the mini-reviews: You may think I’m being overly generous in my prise of the graphics for these games, but you have to remember the yard-stick is different for massively on-line games. Today’s machines simply can’t process the type of graphics capability displayed by the latest single-player games in a massively on-line environment.  The reasons are both complicated and boring, so why yatter on about frame-rates and network speeds, yada, yada… Ok, so given all the techno-reasons, my estimation of the graphics is based on other similar types of on-line only games. Oh, and a game that has on-line options isn’t the same as a true MMO system. There are more technical reasons for this, but bottom line is they would just crunch with the amount of simultaneously connected game users a true MMO or MMORPG can handle. And this isn’t a bolg about technical stuff…

Friday, 24 June 2011

Digitising Alice

A history and round up of Alice's Adventures in Videogameland…
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is perhaps one of the most enduring children’s stories in the western world, and many, if not most, of us have probably grown up with it on one form or another. Alice has spanned many film versions over the years, starting with the 1951 animated Disney version and including at least one ‘adult’ version. The book has practically always been in print, in one form or another, since first published in 1865. And I’m sure you are all at least relatively familiar with the various book and film adaptations, but how much do you know about Alice’s long and often rather obscure digital history?

For many people the gaming history of Alice started, and for a while stopped, with the original American McGee Alice game released in 2000. If you were one of those who assumed this you would of course be wrong. And I’m not referring to the newly published ‘Alice: Madness Returns’ 2011 sequel ether, although that, along with the Tim Burton film adaptation, has brought the series back in to the media spotlight.

The real history predates the American McGee’s game by quite a few years. As far as I know the first commercial game to appear based on the Alice in Wonderland concept was in 1984 for the Commodore 64 home-computer, although I’m by no means certain that this was the very first instance of an Alice inspired game.  There have been quite a few other games based on the concept over a range of 8 and 16 Bit home-computers of the eighties and nineties, and although it is perhaps an iconic western story, Alice based gaming was also taken very-much to heart in the land of the rising sun, an it is from Japan that much of these early and forgotten games originated.

However, Alice’s adventures aren’t just limited to her own games, there have always been many other games where ether she, or Wonderland in general, makes an appearance. The following is a short (and by no means exhaustive) list of the more instantly recognisable titles: Kingdom Hearts, Psychonauts, Rule of Rose, Silent Hill, Thief, Bloody Roar, and not forgetting the LaserDisk game Dragon's Lair II.
But Alice-based gamming is most definitely not a thing of the past. As of 2011 we had a brand-new American McGee game released. And another parade of game incarnations came, part-and-parcel, with the release of the 2010 Tim Burton film adaptation.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Sonic Unleashed? Well not always…

  Sonic Unreleashed

I have to admit that the Sonic the Hedgehog games have always been one of favourite series, ever since I played the very first one on my shiny new Master System. But this isn’t going to be a fan-gush on the brilliance of the games, and I’m the first to admit that that initial shine got more that a little tarnished as Sonic got on in years. To be faire though, the old Sonic seems to be making a bit of a come-back lately, but I digress…
What I want to look at here are the miss-starts and blind-allies of the Sonic race. I want to take a look at the games that didn’t make it, and it may turn out to be a more interesting story than you may first think. At one time there was a lot of miss-information and out-and-out fiction circulating about ‘lost’ Sonic games. As such, I can only recant the things I have acquired, seen or heard about. I will leave it up to you to decide how much truth there is to any of this. All I can say is that I genuinely have, or have ‘officially’ heard about, everything I have included here.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Shut the SHMUP up!

I was in GAME buying another PS3 joy-pad recently, and overheard two of the ‘gamers’ behind the counter discussing ‘shooting-games.’ They were of course talking about first-person shooters. They must have seen me roll my eyes or something, because I got a rather funny look from the bearded twenty-something.
Maybe it was the smirk on my face. Maybe that smirk said, “…and you call that a shooting game?”

So am I really that old, has the definition changed that much?
Now, I’m not against a good FPS. I remember the sheer awe of first playing DOOM on an Amstrad 386SX PC. I also think many of its modern descendants are vastly superior. You won’t find any rose-coloured glasses here folks, but a shooting-game…

Ok, technically I suppose they are correct, but technically a tomato is a fruit. Doesn’t mean it would go well with some double-cream in a fruit-cocktail does it?

Hello and welcome to my Computer Games Blog

Hello, I’m Garry and this is my blog about all things computer-game related.
To a lot of today’s gamming-generation I’m probably an old-fart. That’s ok. I’m old, and I fart. So why should you listen to me rambling on about… well any stuff and nonsense that enters my head really?
Well, I could say that I was around, and playing games, since the advent of the first TV-games consoles. I could say that I have worked in the computer industry most of my life, or I could even regale you with tales of my teenage attempts to write knock-off programs for the 8bit home computer market. But that could all be pretty boring really!

Like most other bloggers, all I really have is my own view and take on things. Well, that and a lot of questions. So if you like my ramblings, or at lest find them interesting, feel free to follow. If not, well I’m quite happy to talk to myself… it’s only when you answer back that you should begin to worry, right?

As I said I’ll be covering pretty much anything, games related, that pops into my head on this blog. That means a fair amount of retro musings, as well as the more up-to-date stuff.
I’d like to think I’m one of those people who can see a good game, and a bad one, for what it is irrespective of what level of technology it’s using. That doesn’t mean this is a retro-love blog. People seem to forget how much utter crud was released for the ‘classic’ machines of the past.

Oh, I’m also a bit of a collector, or should that be hoarder, of computer and games systems and their software. So expect some stuff on that from time to time. Although as a family we do have at least one of practically every current games console, and they are all, more or less, in daily use.

That’s about it really. Welcome to my Computer Games blog.