There is no Origin link to speak of but I’m planning on taking a look at the original Grand Theft Auto over the next month. This is a series that completely passed me by until the third game took the world by storm some years later. Since we are just coming up on the 20th anniversary of it being released, I am as usual I’m a bit late to the party.
Normally, I’d play the game first and then look at the reviews but I’m about to start packing for my house move in hopeful anticipation of agreeing a moving date next week. The logical place to start packing is the stuff I can live without for a month or two which in my case means lots of old computers, games and magazines. So before they get stuck into boxes, here are all the GTA reviews I could dig out.
First off we have the Xmas 97 PC Gamer:-
This is from the Xmas 97 PC Zone:-
This is from the Xmas 97 PC Format:-
And to finish, a review from the ever tardy PC Guide in April 1998:-
It’s safe to say that the reviews are all glowing which begs the question as to why I never bought this game back at the time. The answer probably lies in this coming out about the time I started my first job of any note. As I recall they took nearly 6 months to get around to paying me. It was a sizable paycheque when it finally arrived, a large chunk of which went on a rather nice PRS guitar that I still have, but I probably wasn’t spending much on gaming in the first half of 1998. Better late than never anyway. I’m a little wary about the lack of saving mentioned in one of these reviews but am looking forward to getting stuck into this game whether I can finish it or not.
I’ve scanned in one last PC Gamer Top 100 article to see off the millennium. Some real classics enter the list with the big new entries from my point of view being Half-Life, Thief, Final Fantasy 7 and Baldur’s Gate. There is also the usual crop of relatively forgettable new titles (at least to me) to go along with them. Grand Prix Legends still has it’s followers to this day but ultra-realistic racing games are definitely not my thing. Descent Freespace also makes an entry as high as #20. It deserves a place but I would have it behind Wing Commander Prophecy which never made it on any of these lists. 1999 looks like it was a good year at any rate with a stack of titles I’ve got fond memories of as well as the usual crop that I still need to play one of these days.
It was another bad year for Origin with Ultima 8, Ultima Online and Longbow all dropping out of the list. The only games left were developed by Looking Glass in the shape of Ultima Underworld and System Shock. Underworld is notable for being the oldest game on the list at this point and quite the relic even back then. Alpha Centauri enters at 21 which was tested at Origin as I understand which must make it the last game they were involved with to hit the top 100.
Some months back I got a request for PC Gamer Top 100 lists. I pulled out a small stack of them ready to scan, only ever did 1997 and the rest have been sat around ever since. About time I carried on with 1998.
This list sees the beginning of the takeover of 3D accelerated games with the likes of Unreal and Jedi Knight entering the top 100. I remember Battlezone being a surprisingly good first person strategy game so it’s nice to see that up there. Fallout also makes the list as a new entry but way further down than I might have expected.
More Origin games drop off with Crusader and Shadowcaster losing their places. There is what I imagine must be the last new entry from an Origin game in the shape of Ultima Online (unless Ultima 9 makes a shock appearance next year). We’ll find out next time, hopefully a lot sooner than the last post.
As far as more regular posting goes, I’ve been spending 4 hours a day commuting since February which hasn’t left me much time or inclination in recent months. I’ve been trying to move nearer to the new job but the process of moving house in the UK is long and drawn out to say the least. I’m nearly there now and expect to be moving some time before Xmas so maybe things will get back to normal next year. At the very least, I’m planning a series on putting a games room together as the new house will have enough space to do the job properly. At some point before then I have to pack all this stuff up, not something I’m looking forward to.
I have still put some gaming in and played through the whole Quest For Glory series from the start over the last couple of months, something I’ve wanted to do for many years. Loved the first four, No 5 not so much but I should be glad the series got an ending at all given the state of Sierra at the time.
Finding the time to play it has been tricky in recent weeks but I’m far enough in to offer an opinion on the FM Towns port of Wing Commander. When I started, I was hoping it would be the definitive version of the game. Having reached the end of Secret Missions 1, I’d struggle to call it either way as it gains in some areas and loses in others.
Let’s start with the sound which is where the biggest differences lie. The entire soundtrack is played directly from the CD rather than the MT-32 original. The music hasn’t been rearranged as far as I can tell but simply mapped to another fairly similar synthesizer with some more realistic samples for some instruments than were available on the MT-32. Usually I would always prefer the MT-32 in these circumstances but here the new versions are an improvement. Where they do suffer is by taking about 2 seconds to start each track due to that single speed CD-ROM. This is particularly jarring when the music switches up in combat.
I also prefer the digital sound effects for shooting, space debris etc. It would have been nice if they didn’t always play at the same volume but it’s not a big deal. I even like the Japanese voices for the pilots. The language being unintelligible to myself doesn’t really matter given that there are English subtitles. I do wish they had done a Scottish accent for Paladin just to hear what Scottish Japanese sounded like – probably more convincing than the Scottish American in WC2 I expect. On the whole, the FM Towns wins on the sound front.
It doesn’t win out anywhere else however. Graphically, it looks identical to DOS but the speed of gameplay and animation is much slower than you might expect on the FM Towns given that the original Wing Commander would run on a 286. The cutscenes are particularly slow and jerky. The FM Towns has some extremely capable sprite hardware which is clearly being entirely ignored in this port. Surely adapting the Origin FX engine to use the hardware would have been relatively straightforward. Games like Viewpoint or Tatsujin Oh pushing sprites all over the screen show just what is possible on even the slowest FM Towns machines. Ports like this don’t exactly show an expensive bit of hardware at it’s best and it might be one of the reasons Wing Commander never took off in Japan.
When you get in the cockpit, the game runs reasonably well at standard clock speed for Wing Commander 1, if still a little less smoothly than I might have liked. When it came to the Secret Missions levels though, it slows to a crawl and I’ve had to run the machine in turbo mode. At this speed, the gameplay is fine but the cutscenes now whizz by in fast forward and the mouse is uncontrollable so I have to use the joystick to move around between missions. I’ve played the final mission of SM1 below (in turbo mode) which gives an idea how this plays on the 486SX 25 Mhz version of the Towns.
The only way to get a half decent picture on my phone was to play this in the dark. One of these days I might buy myself a decent camera for this job but it hasn’t happened yet. Using a strange foreign keyboard with extra keys when I couldn’t see which key was which gave me no end of grief as you will notice but I made it through the mission…. just.
With turbo on, Wing Commander does play pretty well apart from occasional glitches where the music randomly switches itself off. These may be to do with using a 25 year old CD drive but I’m not convinced and they only seem to happen when turbo is on. I’m sure I could have got the DOS version working at a more consistent speed and it certainly didn’t need a 486 for a decent framerate. I’m left with the impression that the FM Towns got a bit of a quick and lazy port and the results are far less than they could have been. Having said that, the Towns does have the power to get away with it so this is still a decent version of Wing Commander by any standards. Maybe it outstrips the original because of the sound but they are similar enough that there really isn’t much to choose. Wing Commander isn’t really the reason to own an FM Towns but it’s been a good excuse to play it again if nothing else. I’d forgotten how tough those Secret Mission campaigns were. There was also a port of Wing Commander 2 which I’ll be trying out next, but first I have to finish SM2.
By “popular” request, here is a scan of PC Gamer’s top 100 games article from July 1997, exactly 20 years ago. This time period just about marks the end of the non 3D accelerated era as evidenced by some of the new entries on the list such as Tomb Raider, MDK and Carmageddon which were initially released without 3dfx support and patched shortly after.
I haven’t checked but expect that Origin’s contribution to the list are much the same as the year before with System Shock at 16, Ultima Underword 1/2 at 28, Ultima 8 at 60, Crusader No Regret at 74 and Shadow Caster at 95. Wing Commander however gets emitted entirely with a nod only in the special award for perseverance! UK PC mags really didn’t like Wing Commander in this era.
There are at least some genuine favourites of mine among the new entries, especially Dungeon Keeper and Toonstruck. Some choices look very odd in hindsight and it goes without saying that my list would be entirely different but that’s always the case with these things. I do find picking Ultima 8 out of the whole series indefensible but it’s nice that someone likes it I suppose.
It’s the games on here that I haven’t tried that interest me the most so I’m coming away from reading through this list thinking I really should get that copy of D/Generation off the shelf and actually play the thing.