This week, in our Gaming Made Me series, Lewis Denby explains to us how it was that Quake came to make him. In a very personal account, find out how violent videogaming took away a child’s loneliness, and even got him to go to school.
After Richard Cobbett’s impressions of You Don’t Know Jack, it encouraged me to go all the way back to the beginning to play the original 1995 edition. And then write about it for Eurogamer. It contains things like,
“It’s a quiz game. And wow, do those usually suck as videogames. The late nineties and early 2000s were a time of great darkness, as those who cared about gaming looked at the best-seller charts and saw inane, lazy crap like the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and Weakest Link games sitting in the top spot, presumably bought by the masses resulting from a mad scientist splicing slug brains into humans. But You Don’t Know Jack was something else. First and foremost, it began as a videogame, despite a few attempts at making television shows out of it. It was intended to be played this way. Yes, it pretends to award prize money, but here it acts as points for a high score. And it was really damned funny.”
You can read the rest here.
Do you know what I did? You do? Oh. So yeah, I wrote about Tron 2.0 for Eurogamer. With the new movie coming out soon, it seemed a good time to go back to a game that is oddly similar to the plot of the next film. I wrote words. Some of them were:
My lasting memories were of three things: 1) The pink worm monster thing I could never beat. 2) The light cycle races I could never win. 3) The Disc weapon. What I’d forgotten was that it was in many ways as much of an RPG as Deus Ex. Not only is there a good deal of walking through friendly areas, or areas populated with friendly NPCs at least, but there’s a lot of chitchat with them and your companions. Combined with this is the levelling up – something that’s so incredibly rarely featured in an FPS. And then on top of that is the absolutely superb way it lets you add in various abilities, augmentations and weapons.
A hundred years ago, when I first started out writing reviews for PC Gamer, I was sent the adventure games. This was partly because I knew a lot about adventure games, but mostly because they were far more likely to be awful. And everyone hates me. Which meant I suffered at the hands of Myst. Myst, a game more tedious than being shown someone’s photographs after they’ve been on holiday to Swindon, spawned so many copycat pre-rendered mechanical-puzzled miseryfests. And sure, while they paid my rent, my loathing grew and grew. You may have played Myst when it first game out, and in your youthful naivety mistook it for something not purest evil, but I’ll bet you didn’t play Dracula: Resurrection, Jerusalem: The 3 Roads To The Holy Land, or Arthur’s Knights 2. Or Schizm: The Mysterious Journey. Or The Secret of Nautilus. Or The New Adventures Of The Time Machine. Or The Watchmaker. Anyway, the point being, I’ve written a retro of the original Myst for Eurogamer. Choice quote below.
Playing old games makes you more handsome, so in my desperate struggle to ascend from “bridge troll” I’ve created another retrospective for Eurogamer, this time about Indiana Jones & The Fate Of Atlantis. Made at the same time as The Secret Of Monkey Island and The Dig, I argue that it’s the best of the three. Despite not having any fondness for Indy. I say:
“It’s a good job the Nazis didn’t have access to all the mystical, powerful idols and machinery that gaming would have us believe. Although it’s equally odd that our fiction wants to take one of the most horrific and murderous forces ever to have existed, and suggest that had they only got their hands on the Holy Grail or secrets of ancient worlds then they could have caused some real trouble. But such is the way of both gaming and the Indiana Jones franchise, and so once more the good doctor is trekking about the planet, trying to beat the Nazis to finding the lost city of Atlantis.”
It’s important to admit when you’re wrong. All my life I’ve maintained that The Curse Of Monkey Island was rubbish. So I went back to check, and found out that, well, it’s not. So many of the puzzles are. The tacky line drawings often are. But it’s a better game than I’d remembered. I write all about it over at Eurogamer, including this representative paragraph:
With series regulars like the Voodoo Lady and Stan appearing, now it seems daft that the game works so hard to reintroduce them. But with over half a decade having passed, a good proportion of the potential audience wouldn’t have had any idea who they were. Plus a lot of the references were starting to feel dated back then and now seem positively archaic.
During my eighties childhood, about 70 per cent of the programmes I watched included quicksand at some point. To misquote comedian Adam Carolla, until the age of 10 I was certain I was either going to die by falling in quicksand or by being eaten by cannibals who would first make me their god. Now, outside of madman Bear Grills’ on-screen suicide attempts, there’s not a drip of quicksand to be found. And worrying about being eaten by cannibals is perhaps considered culturally insensitive.
Sometimes, with enough time travel and science, it’s possible to play games from the past. For instance, last week I played Uplink. Then, having done this, I wrote about it. Eurogamer kindly agreed to publish this article on their website, and now I link to it. It’s the circle of life.
I think it taps into a nightmarish fear that we all must have experienced at one time. That thing we did, or may have done without knowing it, that catches up with us. Like that time I paid for a packet of Fruit Pastilles in pennies, knowingly one coin short, and the man in the petrol station said to me: “I won’t count it. I’ll trust you.” Mobil closed down a few years later, which surely has to be at least partly my fault, and I know that one day the policeman will knock on my front door. I’ll look up from the jigsaw puzzle I’m completing with my wife and our two children, and he’ll say, “Are you John Walker? I’m going to have to ask you to come with me.”
This retrospective post was originally published on RPS in 2007, and we repost it here to celebrate the arrival of Planescape: Torment on Good Old Games. It was first written by Kieron for PC Gamer. Some spoilers follow, but nothing absolutely critical.
Ignored by the gaming press upon release, only receiving warmish reviews that stopped well short of open adulation and the victim of one of the most ill-judged marketing campaigns (“A corpse with irresistible sexual charisma”) in history, Planescape Torment is the classic Underdog. Inevitably, it became the (relatively speaking) commercial runt of the Baldur’s Gate litter. In the years since, the coin of its critical worth has accumulated to the point where aficionados regularly cite it as the greatest of the PC RPGs. In fact, it’s rehabilitation has gone too far, with its name being a simple byword for narrative excellence without anyone really feeling the need to say why. There’s more here than dogmatic romantic myth.
Ever since I visited the ill-fated Iron Lore in 2005, I’ve wanted to find the words to talk about a peculiar response I had to their level editor. It’s taken me this long to gain the vocabulary needed to even take a stab at it, primarily gained/cribbed from the essays and thoughts of film theorist André Bazin. (Whom I confess I first discovered through Linklater’s excellent Waking Life, rather than from the half a degree of film studies I slept through in ’98.) And so, smuggled onto the internet in a large wooden retrospective article on Titan Quest, my thoughts on the teleological nature of level editors. I don’t know how successful I’ve been, since I’m massively out of my depth without a useful background in either philosophy or semiotics. The EG commenters appear to have opted for pretending the article was only one page long, which is understandable. I’m nervous of what happens if someone who knows what they’re talking about responds. There’s a quote from it below, since I’ve waffled so much up here.
With only coincidental timing, this week I wrote about the original Grand Theft Auto for Eurogamer – Dave Jones’ game that spawned the empire that led to his creating APB. Does the top-down 1997 original stand the cruel passage of time? Is it still controversial? I write:
It’s not like gaming had been an innocent pursuit until 1997. Obviously not. But it was the year that things got noticeably controversial. (The same year also offered us another chance to mow down innocents with Carmageddon.) And when a mainstream game from DMA – who had entertained us with suicidal green and purple rodents – contains lines like, “My brother knows I’m bangin’ his wife. Waste the sonofabitch before he finds me,” it comes as quite a surprise. To go from Christmas Lemmings to people shouting about “getting pussy”… it’s like your gran revealing she used to be a porn star.
My love for Soldner is real and weird. The most bugged game I’ve encountered (while Boiling Point’s bugs were extraordinary, it was at least a decent game underneath), it plays like slapstick comedy with an unbreakably straight face. I returned to it, playing the completely unpatched original version, and sticking to the single player (I did try to play some multiplayer later, but of course it didn’t work), to see if it would deliver the joy years on. It, of course, did. You can read my adventures here.
There’s a quote from it below, as it’s a bit long.
It’s thanks to Alec that I played King’s Bounty. Seeing turn-based combat in KB: The Legend my “Ew! Strategy!” alarms went off and I moved on to the next game on the list. But having read Alec’s My Zombie Wife piece, I felt I should give it a go. It’s fabulous. So when exploring the retro-weighed shelves of a nearby gaming store, finding the original King’s Bounty for sale meant a guaranteed buy. Except, well, it was on Megadrive. “Traitor!” shouted Kieron at me, repeatedly, all last week as I played. I’ve written all about it, and it’s almost entirely true for the DOS version too – a game I heartily recommend getting hold of. And the Megadrive version emulates beautifully on PC, I found out when taking screenshots after playing it for a few days on a real Megadrive on a television with a refresh rate low enough to give me a headache. There’s no good to be found in traiting. You can read my Eurogamer retrospective here, where I find much love and happiness in the game. A game with the most brutal game over message I’ve ever seen.
“Oh Mad Mohan,
You have failed to recover the Sceptre of Order in time to save the land! Beloved King Maximus has died and the Demon King Urthrax Killspite rules in his place. The Four Continents lay in ruin about you, its people doomed to a life of misery and oppression because you could not find the Sceptre.”
Peering back through time, my retrospective hands seized upon Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, which I use as an excuse to explore the Tomb Raider series a little. It contains a paragraph that says this:
Lara is, let’s not forget, a truly dreadful person. Much has already been written about how she’s a grave-robbing thief, uncaring about either history or wildlife. And despite her having encountered dinosaurs, dragons and giant killer statues, she’s utterly blase about ignoring ancient texts warning of terrible plagues being unleashed upon the Earth if she takes one trinket or another. Screw Earth! She wants the shiny thing! Yeah, just steal it Lara. No one minds if you KILL EVERYONE ON EARTH. But of course Von Croy is the baddy, because he tried to do the world and its history a favour by killing her when she was a squawky teenager.
How funny was Armed & Dangerous? Yes, yes it absolutely had the Land Shark Gun, and no one can dispute its magnificence, but what about the rest of the game? I took a look at the 2003 game for Eurogamer, and then wrote words about it in the correct order. Some were:
“The reception is all down to context. You know when a golfer makes a funny mime to the crowd when someone’s phone rings, and everyone falls about laughing? Context. It’s not funny. It’s just unexpected. Put that golfer on stage at an open mic comedy night and his hilarity would be put into cruel perspective. It’s just not okay, not after 3000 years of games being around, for something just not being completely humourless to be good enough. And it’s not that A&D is unfunny – not at all. It’s occasionally wry, often silly. But just not “hilarious”.”
And the rest are here.
It seems like only yesterday that my retrospective of bonkers genre-blurred Fahrenheit appeared on Eurogamer. A ha, my little joke there. It was yesterday! It’s a Bank Holiday, my brain is on holiday. I replayed the game five years on to see, well, all sorts. Any of the ideas hold up? Anything been picked up by others? Still as completely trousers-down, purple-hatted batshit insane? Well, of course. The intro:
Here’s my impression of David Cage brainstorming ideas before making a game:
“Okay, it shall be set in a regular city, slightly in the future. Our character must get through his day, while becoming embroiled in a strange mystery. A peculiar girl is stuck in a tornado, and the player must rescue her before all the water in the world turns to stone. Aliens attack. At the end it rains cars.”
While Heavy Rain stayed in reality, Omikron and Fahrenheit begin with a facsimile of a recognisable life, and then dive headfirst into a swimming pool of insane.
Combing my hard drive for dusty manuscripts to rehome on RPS, I stumbled happily across this revisit to Star Wars: Republic Commando, originally written for PC Gamer. Admittedly I’ve already given RepCom a little retro cuddle on RPS, but as Lucasart’s Star Wars shooter is now available on Steam it’s well worth restating its surprising marvellousness…
I’m still waiting for Imperial Commando. It was never promised, never so much as rumoured, but it always seemed the logical next step for Lucasarts’ surprisingly vigorous Star Wars squad-shooter to take. A sequel to this avowedly heroic FPS in which you play a Storm Trooper hunting down Rebel enclaves, brutally razing Jawa settlements or setting fire to Aunt Beru? That’s dream gaming – and a precedent laid down by, years previous, their following up saintly X-Wing with devilish TIE Fighter. Republic Commando seemed to be the way back to great things for this so-long unreliable developer – if you will, a new hope.
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Max Payne zooms back into our consciousnesses with the appearance of Alan Wake. But stupid stinky Alan Wake is only on 360, and Max Payne is still available for the PC. Does it hold up nearly a decade on? I attempt to answer that question, and also to mock the hilarious writing for as long as I can bear. It begins:
“The third-person shooter had been our first dance with Bullet Time. Sure, we’ve all been to bed with the gimmick now, but this was the first flirtation. For reasons unknown, Payne could enter a slow-motion world like a hand enters an oven glove. It doesn’t stay forever, but it can handle a lot more heat when it’s there. Able to react in real-time, it allowed Max to demonstrate his super-reflexes, filling enemies with bullets like he was making bullet pie with a human crust.”
You can read the rest here.
When we wrote about the DotEmu beta opening we expressed enormous chagrin that, despite them claiming otherwise, Transarctica wasn’t available to download. Oh noes! Oh noes no more, as Frankie The Patrician noted that it’s up there now. You can get it now. Transarctica is a strategy game about enormous armoured trains in a new ice-age, and is one of the games that seems to stick in people’s imaginations, even if you’ve never played it. Got to be worth downloading for the files, yeah? Video follows…
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Hmm. Looks like Good Old Games has a competitor in the old-classics/no-DRM/low-price market. DotEmu is basically an old-classic/no-DRM/low-price online retailer who has just gone into open Beta. Currently it’s got a limited range, which leans Francophile with the most obvious deals being the Alec-loved Gobliiins Trilogy for 4.90 Euros and the 16-game Silmarils collection. As an encouragement to sign up, during this beta period, people who do so will apparently be able to download Ishar I, Nicky Boom 1, Metal Mutant and Transartica for free. I say “apparently” because at the time of writing, of the four, I can only find a free download link for Ishar I. Though there is the (freeware) Beneath a Steel Sky and – I have no idea – Draskula. Oh – and some webgames, which just lead me to wasting 10 minutes playing Street Fighter 2 CE. ME BLANKA! STRONG! NO FEAR THIGHS OF CHUN-LI. YOU LOOK LIKE A RUGBY PLAYER, LADY.