It’s hard to know what to make of the weird gold rush of FMV games during the early 90s; rail shooters weren’t exactly popular outside of arcades. At the time, it probably seemed like an obvious choice to combine the digital powerhouse of cutting-edge special effects with interactive media like games… until it flopped, hard. Enter ROCKET SCIENCE GAMES, a company that, no joke, literally employed Elon Musk at one point.
Browsing category: Retrofit
Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines is an interesting game with a lot of… quirks. Something overlooked is how the game’s style rapidly pivots between the weirdly cartoonish and the plausibly realistic. One can expect to see Dishonored-style facial composition one moment; nigh-photographic portrayals of characters the next. The environments, too, are no exception. From a design perspective, the levels give some real insight on how to capture the zeitgeist and feeling of a place, weaving a visual buffet where only a few things are tactically edible. So, let’s craft some hauntology, shall we?
As I continue my first playthrough (yes, shameful, having had the game for ages yet hardly taking the time to fully sit down with it at length past the beginning Santa Monica drudge) I will be doing a few short writeups on my thoughts and experiences throughout.
In their early years, before resolving to churn out Gundam and Macross games until the sun burns out, Japanese developers Artdink fiddled with quite a lot of bizarre simulation games. Setting the Japanese train enthusiast world ablaze with incredibly complex railroad simulator A-Train in 1985, it eventually grabbed the attention of Maxis who published the third title on western shores. Alongside that, they experimented with other games such as No One Can Stop Mr. Domino, and Tail of the Sun: one a puzzle game built around toppling anthropomorphic dominos, the other tasking the player with building a tower of mammoth tusks to reach the sun.
What defines the self? A name? A role? The tasks we are set to? What others perceive us to be? What we perceive ourselves to be? Or perhaps something more? This question has possibly plagued mankind more throughout the ages than any other, but it defines a key conflict in the world of OFF in which we emerge fully-formed, and find our existence immediately questioned. As we begin we find ourselves perceived as little more than a figment of the imagination of a humble cat.
The original Moon Patrol was a 1982 arcade game from Irem, likely best known for introducing parallax scrolling . The player operates a buggy, which drives through a sidescrolling landscape while jumping or shooting from its dual cannons, simultaneously firing above and in front of itself. Between jumping and shooting, the player is equipped to take care of myriad lunar dangers, such as UFOs, boulders, or pits. It’s quite fun (and readily playable to this day anywhere from the Switch to MAME), although, being an arcade game, it’s obviously designed to be hard in a way that extracts maximum coinage from patrons.
As with many arcade titles of the time, it found its way onto just about every 8-bit home computer, including the Apple II, the Commodore 64, the TI-99/4A, the TRS-80, and even the IBM PC. However, again, just like its arcade contemporaries, every single port was awful. 37 years later, however, thanks to video gaming’s rich culture of nostalgia, it now has a good home computer release! Enter Yok‘s Moon Patrol.
The 90s were an interesting time: tearaway pants, presidents rocking saxophones, the Atari Jaguar… It was a grab bag of culture, packed to the gills with foundational artistic forays that still ripple into today. Simply look at how Rob Schneider or Adam Sandler have permeated mainstream society and become cornerstones of our modern cultural tapestry. Alongside the many technological milestones of the time, gaming and otherwise, there was an entire new world of marketing, full of opportunity.
Jumpstarting the modern understanding of survival horror, 1996’s Resident Evil set the standard for what could be achieved with the right mixture of tension, tight item management, and puzzles. A breath of fresh air amongst the unending torrent of platformers and JRPGs, Resident Evil would quickly find itself subject to the commodity machine that is the blockbuster video game market. Beyond countless sequels over the subsequent years, the true legacy of Resident Evil is in its copycats, however stripped they may be of director Shinji Mikami’s deliberate pacing, use of lavish pre-rendered backgrounds, and spot-on attention to crafting tension. Stripping away Mikami’s direction left the core of the experience: the nail-biting agony of clunky controls and piss-poor item management.
Monolith is a classic developer that you may or may not have heard of, whose library includes more well-known titles like FEAR and Condemned. They’re also very well known for one of the most expansive list of titles available on the PC to date, having produced a ridiculous amount of memorable titles often powered by their in-house engine. LithTech was powerful and gorgeous, often rivaling at times games like Quake with their visually impressive graphics and implementation of cutting edge animation technology. Today we’ll take a glimpse into an era when engines like Unity didn’t even exist, and Unreal wasn’t quite so ubiquitous or dominant.
Unfairly considered a disasterpiece upon release, Arkane Studios’s Dark Messiah Of Might And Magic was actually the result of a contract negotiation gone wrong that cost the studio their chance at making a follow up to their cult classic, Arx Fatalis.
In retrospect, Arkane isn’t given enough credit for managing to lure Ubisoft into publishing an incredibly innovative Immersive Fantasy Sim with an emphasis on melee. Dark Messiah had an extremely intuitive combat system with finely tuned camera inertia which instilled a strong sense of positional awareness and visceral momentum behind every cut and thrust of the sword. It’s hard to pidgeonhole Dark Messiah into the same genre as its stealthier slow-paced peers, feeling much more akin to a swashbuckling simulator.
Thief, Thief! What a great set of games that so many of us are familiar with. But I’m not here to talk about the immersive gameplay, the thoughtful stealth mechanics or the incredible level design of any of the entries.
No, I’m here to discuss something often neglected at the hands of critical analysis. The narrative. I largely regard Thief as a franchise to have one of the most thematically satisfying arcs in any game trilogy I have ever played. Everyone loves Garrett, the titular Master Thief, but few talk about the game’s amazing cast of villains and antagonistic factions.
The City in Thief is a living, breathing environment that is both timeless yet clearly present. An anachronistic city-state bubble in a medieval flavored era, it presents an atmosphere not too far off from the tech-fantasy realm portrayed in The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind.
The hand of The Builder is in the smallest nail, the tiniest gear, if they be worked well. The hand of The Builder is in the tallest tower, the grandest bridge, if they be worked well.
– Hammerite Scripture