Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Polybius – Not a parrot on public transport...

... but is it a game?

For those who don’t know the original Polybius game was apparently released in 1981 and has become a bit of an urban-myth.
It may, or may not have been an arcade cabinet system, programmed by a mysterious company called Sinnesloschen, which also may or may not have existed. The original game became famous for its apparent ability to cause seizures in its players, and become rolled up in wilder and wilder accusations of government cover-ups and experiments in mind control...

If you are interested in the ‘legend’ you could do worse than having a look at the Wikipedia page. I would also strongly suggest taking a look at the very strange, but hysterical, RetroGamer forum thread, where the apparent author ‘debated’ the game at length.

But this review isn’t about any of that!
This is a review of the fan-made re-make (or recreation) game produced in 2007...
... if you can re-make a game that may or may not have been real in the first place, from a company that may or may not have evere xisted, that is.
This game can be downloaded from the Sinnesloschen website...
N.B. This is not the original ROM, which may, or may not, exist.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The power of PI

The raspberry PI is the new £16 or £22 computer that has a lot of people talking.
The first 10 boards from the initial production model run were recently auctioned off on eBay as a publicity stunt, and gathered thousands of pounds each, but will this new system be any good for gaming?

If you haven’t heard of this before I’d suggest having a look over on the official site, as this really is an interesting little piece of hardware.
The computer is sold as the bare board only, a strategy not done since the early days of home-computers. Although many dedicated third party case designs have already been produced.
As can be seen from the photo to the right, the PI board is smaller than an iPhone and just a little taller with all the interfaces attached.
It will run a variety of Linux operating systems and has already been shown to handle relatively processor intensive games like Quake 3. Obviously it would be silly to expect this to run your modern PC games or to compete with a PS3 or 360.

It was Acceptable in the 80s...

So sung Calvin Harris in 2007, but when it came to cloning popular games, never a truer word was spoken.
Today we are told to look on copying in any form, even intellectual copying, as a bad thing, but without that first wave of bedroom coders sitting up all night trying to write their own versions of the popular arcade games of the day there would be no games industry. And that’s not a ‘maybe there wouldn’t be a games industry’ it’s an absolute certainty, because that spirit of free innovation is where the modern industry directly hailed from, and not from any corporations, they only really got involved much later, when they saw a market developing that they could make real money form.
The fact that some of these same bedroom coders are now heads of companies that seem to wish to stifle innovation in favour of market forces now baffles me. In many cases they started by cloning Space Invaders and Pac-Man for the 8bit home-computers, and now they are churning out the same old FPS wrapped up in (slightly) different skins... Ok so I suppose there’s certain symmetry to that, but it’s the innovation that has been lost. The games market of the eighties was all about taking the big-game concepts and running with them, advancing the concepts and trying to come up with the next new big thing. Very often this innovation led to completely new and innovative games. Games that now form the very bedrock of a stagnant pool of FPS sameness.
It seems that there isn’t enough profit in innovation for the big-name companies to risk any game that hasn’t been proven to have a ready made mass market audience, although the recently developing on-line Independent games market is making good inroads into bringing back innovation to gaming. Unfortunately this could all be set to change.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Pivotal and Landmark games: from the beginning up

This post looks over what were, in my view, the landmark industry-changing games from the early years up until present day.

Of course everybody’s idea of this will be slightly different. I suppose the writer's age and game preference will always play a part in this type of thing (even if it is subconsciously).

I have tried to be as objective as possible, and the choices definitely contain games I both personally like and dislike.

I’m not claming this selection  is definitive in any way, and there are a lot more games that almost made my list.
Feel free to let me know if you think I’ve missed something important, or if I've added something you think is largely irrelevant.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Back to the future with cloud gaming?

So first of, what exactly is cloud computing?
Well it sounds good doesn’t it? 
It sounds all technical and important. 
But it seams that the truth is nobody ‘exactly’ knows. 

‘The cloud’ had been used to mask a variety of disparate distributed network systems and at one level seems to be little more than a new catch-all buzz-word for combining existing networked stuff in new an interesting ways...
Basically, it’s a generally used term meaning any centrally-based system or resource that is accessed through a non-specific network infrastructure.

Got that? No, nether did I...

What does all  this gobbledegook mean for gaming?
The cloud is spreading all around us whether we see it or not. It’s running web-based applications and/or services; like Google’s Apps, web-based  document storage, and on-demand video; as well as much of  the information you are accessing through simply browsing the Internet, and gamming hasn’t escaped this trend.
Like using one of Google’s on-line apps, or even playing Runescape you don’t have to physically download any actual program code to your machine in order to use these products. This means that the physical hardware you are using to view these ‘cloud’ programs is largely irrelevant, and games are no different.
Using this ‘cloud’ technology it’s perfectly feasible for any modern networked TV or other networked device  to play the latest games, irrespective of the format they were originally written for; PC, MAC, xBox 360, Playstation3, VIC-20... it doesn’t matter; as long as you have a client capable of connecting to the server platform hosting them.
With services like OnLive now beginning to provide live games streaming directly to your client hardware the only limitation is whether or not a ‘thin-client’ program is made available for your device. You may have noticed that I didn’t say ‘computer’ here, because the ‘client’ hardware doesn’t have to be a computer. Any device capable or running the client software is capable of accessing and running the games directly on and from the central server. Just as if you were using the high-powered machine directly... and if that all sounds a bit familiar... well, there’s a very good reason for that.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Run, but no Gun!

It’s software-house review time again.
 I’ve had a look at another little-known developer. This time from Helsingborg in Sweden. 

The outfit is Frictional Games, and it all kicked off when the founding members produced a non-commercial tech-demo for MS Windows in 2006.
This demo was simply titled ‘Penumbra’ and was intended to showcase Frictional’s new HPL Engine (standing for H.P Lovecraft) the intended use and leanings of this new engine were rather obvious. Work on the original engine was started in 2004 and it was coded with 2D gaming in mind. The concept was later updated, with a new 3D  layer being added to the system. The Penumbra demo received much interest and acclaim upon its release, and this success spurred its creators on to produce a full commercial game using the system.

Unlike many other companies nowadays Frictional Games have taken the time to produce and develop their very-own proprietary game-engine, and very good it is as well. The code has been rewritten and tweaked for each subsequent release. So much so that by the time ‘Amnesia’ was produced the engine had developed into a very strong and solid piece of coding. This gives the games a very different look and feel to most mainstream stuff, which can generally all be traced back along the same engine-family trees.

I personally hope to see more games produced using the HPL engine. In some ways Frictional’s design is a nod to the point-and click type adventures of the past. But it mixes the level of exploration provided by these systems up with the unrestricted first-person perspective movement of modern games. Along with a well honed physics engine this leads to a game that feels like it puts you much more in touch with your environment, and lends itself very nicely to the atmospheric adventure based game-play offered by Frictional Games.

Friday, 6 January 2012

The Alternative way to Mainstream Gaming

If you don’t know, OnLive is a pay-to-use based live streaming service that delivers games-on-demand through a broad-band connection. The major difference between this and the more traditional download services like Steam is that absolutely nothing is downloaded to your local machine with OnLive. This gives the advantage of being able to play the latest mainstream games ether through their dedicated proprietary TV-Box console, or on practically any PC, Mac, or even an Android 2 enabled smart-phone.
The downside of course is that you are completely reliant on your Internet connection, and any serious lag or loss of service will render the OnLive system unusable.

The fact than any purchase made is entirely virtual also initially put some people off. No program downloads are ever saved to your local device with OnLive. Instead all programs are held on central servers, and you are buying a ‘user licence’ right to play the centrally held games, a good thing for multi-player system where all players are running their game on the server machine.
To me the convenience of the service outweighs the chance that I will loose any purchases I have made if the company ever ceases trading and the servers go offline.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

All aGOG with old games

GOG stands for Good Old Games, and is a pay-to-download internet site hosting a range of old (or ‘Retro’) computer games.

This is a review of that site from the perspective of an old gamer who grew up with some of the games on offer...

I must admit that I’d heard of GOG on and off through various web-sites and forums, and my first thought was always the same, ‘Why are people paying for old games that they could probably find on Abandonware sites anyway?”
Well the lure of the ‘three free games’ over the Christmas holiday period eventually lured me in, and I was quite pleasantly surprised by the site, and the services it provides.

Upon logging into the site I was presented with a screen showing six games on my ‘owned’ shelf. One of these was Ultima IV, the first PC based RPG game I ever completed way back when, on a green-screen Amstrad 1512 no less.
Ok, I thought, so I’ll have that one then.
Next came the downloading. It seems you have two options here. You can ether let your browser do a standard download, or setup GOGs own download manager program. I selected this option and it all went very smoothly. The game installed and run without any problem. Before I knew it I was staring at the Ultima IV start screen, in colour no less.
Wow, that looked old...

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Dislodging the ice-pick

Hello again. This time I’d like to have a more in-depth look at the relatively unknown Ice-Pick Lodge studios.

Ok, so first things first, who are Ice-Pick Lodge?
Well, they are a studio-based games development team from Moscow. The team first formed in 2002 and became a quite well-known name in Russia after the release of Pathologic, their first ever full game.
This release gained both critical acclaim and some notoriety. Pathologic won several major gaming awards in Russia, and earned the company a reputation for a certain degree of quirkiness, something that was to be continued in their later games. As if to underline this eccentricity Pathologic went on to win the "Most Non-Standard Game" award at the 2005 Russian Game Developers Conference, a feet they would later echo in 2007 with ‘The Void.’

To date they have released three games, Pathologic, The Void, and Cargo, each of which retained their unique take on the first and third person genres.