Browsing category: Retrofit

Games Sampler For Windows 95 – Monolith & Microsoft (1995)

The year is 199X, you just signed on to your new Personal Computer Machine for the first time and finally finished the arcane incantations to get Windows 95 running. You look at your hands, clasped as they are shakily around the Computer Disc Read Only Memory device that came with your new Machine. You seat it in the CD tray, press the button, and you’re transported to a new world, a better world, a digital world.

If, like me, you grew up in the 90s with nary a console to your name, you were intimately familiar with shareware, endlessly copied to floppies (against contemporary advice regarding copying that floppy) and passed around the playground (or, in my case, church pew). But what always caught my attention was not the veritable jenga tower of small black squares that cluttered my desk and infested my youth, but the new shiniest circle on the market: The CD-ROM. This was the age of the demo disk, and Windows was in ascension, it makes sense then that Microsoft too cornered the market on sneak peeks into the murky future of PC gaming.

Enter Games Sampler for Windows 95, aka Manhattan Space Station Odyssey.

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Vindictus (2010) – by Nexon (gameplay footage: Dokuji)

MMORPGs, they come in so many different flavors and so many of them are very… very… protracted and dull. There’s been many attempts to shake things up by breaking the formula and mixing in various genres’ elements as tech evolves and allows for more real time combat within the traditionally auto-attack based medium, but one of the most remarkable attempts was an early one, Vindictus. Demon’s Souls had just come out the year prior, and Dark Souls was still on the horizon in 2011, the notion of having multiplayer combat in a game that featured intensive physical combat was a novel one, even more so as the underpinning of an entire MMORPG.

Yet with Vindictus, somehow, Nexon pulled it off using, wait for it, The Source Engine. Yes, a Source Engine MMORPG with exactly as much jank as one might expect of such an endeavor, but if you loved Dark Messiah Of Might And Magic are you ever in for a real treat.

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Half-Life: Opposing Force (1999) – by Valve Software and Gearbox Software

If Gordon Freeman was the emblematic poster child for the Silent Protagonist, then for a time his foil, Adrian Shephard, became the iconic parallel for the faceless ones. Gordon’s robust Gen-X “nerd turned combatant” archetype was intended as an answer to the typical grunting brawn-over-brain space marine motif we have come to endlessly celebrate in every perennial iteration of DOOM, subverting the expectant trope audiences had grown accustomed to over the years.

Gordon had a ponytail, he didn’t speak in one liners or at all, and the player’s perception of who he is was built up entirely from in-world clues and inferring meaning through NPC commentary. A theoretical physicist seemed like an unlikely protagonist for 1998’s hit action game blockbuster, so when it came time for Gearbox to approach Valve to make an expansion pack, they had to come up with a character that not only built upon this framework, but also made a powerfully distinct protagonist. Thus, Adrian Shephard was born and swiftly embedded into the adolescent imagination of thousands of gamers.

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Crytek’s Crysis: Remastered

Sitting with your mates in the VTOL as you hurtle across the skies of Colorado, packed full of parachutes and fully loaded weapon kits. The objective? A war factory on the far right hand corner of the map spewing out enemy tanks. Your closest buddy explains the plan over Ventrilo; night time air drop, pop chutes at 200 metres to get past anti-air, spike the skylights and drop in flash bangs to disorient the hostiles while bravo team dashes to seize the spawn point. Before you can get in range you hear everyone groan suddenly and say they’re dead, but to your confusion you’re very much so still alive with nobody else inside the ship in sight.

Suddenly, you notice the VTOL is looking a touch…. crispy, your HUD is freaking out and you turn to your left: The hatch is blown wide open, and the hull is doing barrel rolls fast enough to make you hurl. With lighting quick reflexes, you mash the E key and plummet down to Terra Firma, deploying your chute right before you hit the ground.

You think to yourself, “I did it!” as a sense of victory washes over you. Both for outsmarting the glitch and managing to land far behind enemy lines by a total fluke. *CRUNCH* Oh, looks like the fuselage just caught up with you, care to pick your new spawn point?

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Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force (2000) – by Raven Software and Activsion
Star Trek The Next Generation: Klingon Honor Guard (1998)
– by Microprose

There was a sentiment in many game communities in the early 00’s that you just couldn’t make a satisfying shooter game set in the universe of Star Trek. The aspirational sociopolitical commentary of the show with its emphasis on intercultural understanding came across to most as bereft of action potential despite its imaginative settings, fierce naval conflict, factional strife, and well-established arsenal of exciting technology.

The struggle to adapt Star Trek‘s more passive nature into a satisfying action romp was perpetually brought out as an argument against even trying to tackle this fool’s errand whenever there was anticipation of another franchise entry that would seemingly disrupt or misinterpret the storytelling strengths established by The Next Generation. Voyager, however, was a rulebreaking contender, well-known for a fire-tempered might-makes-right captain that made the show uniquely ripe for adaption, culminating in finally pulling off the unthinkable: a fun and gritty Star Trek shooter… the only thing is, it wasn’t the first.

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For many years, the general public has had a misconception about the nature of Shakespeare, regarding his collective works as the pass-time of the upper-class and intellectual elite on par with opera. With funny accents and fancier words that are seemingly incomprehensible to a more modern audience accustomed to the casual pulp noir tone of radio plays and the action-packed police procedural that followed later with the advent television, the performance arts gradually fell out of favor.

The truth is, as many know, that Shakespeare’s plays were actually an extremely mundane form of entertainment in their time, on par with our perception of media in the vein of going to the movies or seeing a musical. His productions often tackled humorous or tragic concepts that everyone could relate to- love, daily life, sex, rivalries, and conflict, presenting them in a way that was engaging for the general populace and at times absurd. After all, community theater is just one step in a long lineage of narrative tradition, itself having supplanted wise elders at the campfire ingratiating their families with some nighttime storytelling.

So… what’s this got to do with Half-Life?

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(Final Fantasy XIV [1.0], Square-Enix, 2013)

Countless times through the ages, hundreds of thousands (if not more) fans and players of a multitude of MMOs have congregated in streets, fields, and other such spaces across their worlds; banded together in solitude against the breaking of the light as their preferred online space/game is forever shut down. After a night of dancing emotes, tearful goodbyes, exchanges of contact info, finally, the servers are turned off, and all goes black. Months and years of memories shared amongst friends, old and new, are lost to the ether of time.

The end never comes the same: a meteor collides with the game world, admins summon a legion of demons to murder the players over and over, or a silent simultaneous worldwide death descends on the remaining few. Regardless of method, the end of an MMO always feels like the end of an era for its playerbase. Many pump endless hours into these games, build massive social networks, and eek out every ounce of fun the game could possibly contain — and, when necessary, make their own. The freeform play of MMOs brings together all kinds, and when the bills can’t continue to be paid for upkeep, all of these people unite once more in the face of loss.

That is until those fans rob the grave and prop the body back up to keep the fun going.

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Parallax Software’s DESCENT (Interplay, 1994)

“And here I thought indentured servitude ended in the 21st century”

Material Defender, DESCENT II

Parallax Software’s Descent was one of the first games pioneering a different kind of flight sim- ‘6DOF’ or ‘Six Degrees Of Freedom’ was the central gimmick employed to garner hype and attention towards the ‘mine-sweeping’ shooter epic. But how free really are you when confined to tight corridors packed full of prowling killer drones, ready to rip your ship in half? Descent dropped us deep within the confines of not just the cavernous guts of dense mining operations, but the very inner workings of inequality itself.

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The dudes big on discourse.
(Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, Troika Games, 2014)

Just what is a Thin-Blood, anyway? According to some in the lore of Bloodlines, they’re fledgling kindred with a tenuous connection to their forebears, earlier generations of the clans aren’t just more powerful but necessarily more in tune with their origins and the primal energy that drives them. Bloodlines has it’s own in-universe equivalent stand in for the apocalypse for all kindred- the belief that the grand ancestors of yore will once again rise from their slumber only to consume their descendants as the blood runs so thin as to be impotent and dry.

Exhaustive repetition of a concept, once-unique traits with diminishing returns, the newest members inducted into invisible, involuntary social pacts with unwritten etiquette that has visible and harsh consequences for failing to correctly guess them, a paranoid fear of the end times, the belief that the most affected fledglings somehow portend such an ever-present, overshadowing threat. Petty politics, presumed loyalty to an unelected prince, anarchs running rampant, violent sabbat overthrowing all around them to establish furious fiefdoms. Is any of this sounding familiar? If not, it should- in a sense, we’re living it right now.

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The kind of game that hurts to play for all the right reasons. (Homesickened 2015 – by Snapman)

Is home a physical space or a state of mind? Then again, maybe it’s the feeling of booting up a long-forgotten machine, comforting clicking churrs audible as an ancient magnetic platter spins to life. This is, in my experience, the real homeland for many of our generation, a world locked within the shifting grains of decaying binary, digits, and bits left to erode like so many distant ancestral abodes.

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