Demoting the BBC Master

Vecalabeth is on hold before I’d barely had chance to start as due to a couple of bugs with the Vectrex32 cartridge (including one to the firmware updating), all of the cartridges are being recalled for repair. That’s a round trip to the states and one to two weeks in the post each way. Plenty of time to play another old game or two but first I’ve got another bit of hardware to try out.

The BBC Master has made an appearance or two on this blog before, not least for a playthrough of the first couple of missions in Elite some months back. One thing that has always bugged me about it, is the fact that the Master is incompatible with a very large portion of the BBC games library, near enough all of which were originally written for the BBC Model B. I’d say about 30-40% of the games I’ve thrown at it haven’t worked and they are often the better ones for the system.

Thankfully there is now a solution and it doesn’t even cost all that much. For £20, RetroClinic.com sell a switchable operating system ROM which allows you to use a couple of variants of both the BBC Model B or the BBC Master system ROM’s. This doesn’t guarantee to get every game working since the two BBC machines are after all still different but it’s apparently near enough everything which will do for me.

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Installing is simply a case of slipping in a new chip and bolting the switch onto the case where the modem lead would be if I had one installed. It’s a very quick and easy installation process attemptable by anyone unless you are unlucky enough to have one of the few machines with a soldered in ROM chip. What took me far longer was figuring out how to get my SD drive working in Model B mode (Tip: *CARD on the command line swaps you from the disk drive to the SD card).

With that worked out, my BBC has now run every game I’ve tried on it and I’ve been having a great time trying some of them out. It’s a system with a bad reputation for games quality but it’s not entirely deserved as it was always capable. The problem it had was the high price point keeping it from ever being mass market outside of schools. As such the library of games was small and the best developers tended to write for systems where there was clearly more money to be had. There are still worthwhile games on there and it’s certainly nostalgic for people who used these in school like myself.

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Plenty of developers got started on the BBC whatever its faults including coincidentally the two biggest names at the moment in space sims, Chris Roberts and David Braben. Prior to this, the only Chris Roberts game that I’ve managed to run on the Master was Stryker’s Run which was one of the rare titles with a BBC Master enhanced version. Now all of his earlier games work including his first release of note, the cute but infuriatingly difficult Wizadore above. Comparing this to Star Citizen, we’ve certainly come a long way in the last 30 years although he did knock the games out a bit quicker back then.

I wouldn’t be half as interested in having all this old hardware without some of the modern upgrades that are available and this ROM kit is a prime example. For the sake of £20, it’s a compulsory upgrade for BBC Master owners as far as I’m concerned and I’m looking forward to trying out some more of the BBC library at long last. I only heard about this last week or I’d have bought one the moment it came out.

While I’m posting, there are two Wing Commander fundraisers going on. First off, possibly the worlds most famous Wing Commander fan, Ben Lesnick is running a GoFundMe campaign to buy all the artwork used for the Wing Commander Academy cartoon series with a view to scanning and preserving it all. This campaign is going extremely well and may well be funded by the time I post this.

More needing of the money right now is George Oldziey’s Kickstarter for a second Wing Commander orchestral CD. The first one of these turned out great and I’m certainly up for another. It could do with some more backers as funding is only about a quarter of the way there after 10 days. I’d expect it to be close at best as to whether this reaches the target.

 

The Legacy – Part 2

I didn’t get all that far into The Legacy in part 1. The wealth of options on how to approach the game kept sending me off in directions my character wasn’t able to cope with. I’d eventually decided to work my way up the house and was making steady progress exploring the second floor.

Today starts off with a simple door puzzle where I have to go through several numbered doors in ascending order to unlock another door in the middle of the level that has a knocking sound coming from it. Behind the locked door is another NPC is the shape of PI Dee Kirby who isn’t all that helpful in truth not telling me anything I haven’t already figured out. She leaves me when we are done talking with the intention to somehow leave the mansion.

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That just about finishes off the second floor so I head up to floor 3. Just when you think the house can’t get any stranger, this whole level is an asylum complete with my last remaining relative who tries to butcher me with an axe. This encounter is my abiding memory of playing the game from years back as it truly creeped me out at the time. It’s mainly the laughing my aunt is doing while trying to run that axe through me. The effect is considerably lessened with the passing of time but it’s still not what you would call pleasant. She leaves behind her axe and blood stained straight jacket which I’ll be needing later in the level to pretend to be her so I can get through an invisible barrier.

I’ll later learn that the asylum was used to provide victims for the dark gods in the lower levels of the house which at least partially explains its presence.

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The exit to level 4 is guarded by one of the uglier monsters ever to grace an RPG and these guys are all over the asylum. They don’t chase after me at least and don’t have a range attack but I’m really not up to fighting them at close range yet.

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While exploring the asylum, I happen across a green gem which is just what I need for a puzzle right back in the entrance hallway where a painting had a conspicuous hole where the jewel in a pendant should have been. Sure enough placing the gem destroys the painting (begging the question how anyone ever used this in the past) revealing a door behind it. That takes me through to a room that could be straight out of Hellraiser with swinging chains and body parts everywhere. I can walk through the portal in the middle to get teleported elsewhere but have to time this to avoid the chains.

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This takes me to an Egyptian temple level. I fail to get very far here running into lots of locked doors. I do learn that a dark cult were doing something nefarious here and run into one of them in his natty suit. Since I’m not getting anywhere here I decide to come back later.

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I still don’t fancy fighting my way past the two headed thing on level 3 so instead I try one more set of steps from the ground floor of the house which lead to a tomb level. The first thing I run into here is a gun toting zombie who I defeat with hit and run attacks dodging out of the way of his formidable shotgun blasts each time. The main foe down here after him are skeletons which spring back to life every time you walk over them. They are reasonably easy to defeat but do start to grind my health down after a bit.

I don’t find much else of interest other than a temple complete with organ. Using some sheet music I found near the start of the game, the window smashes revealing a swirling portal. Foolishly I head into this.

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This leads to the ethereal plane which looks a whole lot different to Ultima Underworld but isn’t any easier to navigate. This one is a swirling blue vortex with invisible boundaries and precious little in the way of landmarks. It is absolutely swarming with monsters including the jellyfish on the right who I’ll learn later is one of the dark triumvirate of gods round these parts. It throws endless spells at me and I run away as quick as possible. The cubes are teleporters to various parts of the house and this level could be used at a shortcut if you can manage to learn where everything is I suppose. Most of the portals need opening up on the other side before they will work though.

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Once again, I’m unsure where to go next so I head for level 3 and find a load of rooms that I missed first time around. The place is populated with fire spawn who are invulnerable to any conventional weapons I’m carrying around right now but can be dispatched with one or two blasts from a fire extinguisher.

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I manage to get some more of the locked doors open and explore the rest of the level. The most notable encounter is with a face bulging out of the wall in a padded cell. Whoever it is wants me to rescue them from the ethereal plane. I didn’t enjoy my first trip there much so I’ll hold off on that particular request for now.

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Instead, I head for the top floor which is the museum, kind of like the top floor of my house now I think about it although on slightly different scales. Nearly all the best items in the game will be found up here although not necessarily on this first visit. I also get to meet the bad guys as there are paintings of the dark gods starting with Belthegor on the bottom left. I’ll need to defeat this particular god at the end of the game. Right now, I’m having enough trouble with the crawling green slimes and pink crawling frog like things on this level.

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The museum has lots of plinths with all sorts of goodies on that will help when fighting the denizens of the Winthrop estate. Unfortunately for me most of them aren’t immediately grabbable and I have to replace the missing plaque on each plinth before I can pick them up. The only plaque I’ve found so far is a for a shuriken so I grab that while I’m here and then fail to use it throughout the rest of the game so I’m not so sure how effective it would have been.

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I find paintings of the rest of the triumvirate with Alberoth on the left and the nameless master of the void on the right. Alberoth hangs around in 3 locations simultaneously on one of the basement levels blocking access until I complete a puzzle much, much later on in the game.

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I run into another relative which is becoming a common experience considering I’m the last surviving member of the family. This time its Carl Winthrop who wants me to summon the Karcist in the temple. This probably isn’t a good idea as near enough every word this guy tells me is a lie. I’ll learn much later that the Karcist is the relative that started this whole mess 300 years ago but giving their soul to the dark gods. Carl Winthrop vanishes as soon as we are done talking.

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I find a room with plinths for 3 statues and I know from various scraps of paper that I can banish all the pink frog-things from the level by placing the appropriate statues on each plinth and casting a fireball spell at them. Casting the fireball spell proves to be the trickiest part of this and I have to devote a load of experience to the spell before casting starts to work.

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At the northeast corner of the level is another entrance to the void. I decide to take the plunge and this time find Charles Wenlock (or at least his astral projection) walking around. He is a magician of sorts who was trying to banish the evil from the house and is by far the most helpful person in this whole game. He gives me some crystal glasses to help me find a path through the void (another item I never used now I think about it), teaches me a new spell and also give me the advice that I’ll need to fashion a talisman from a meteorite fragment in the room of skulls in order to defeat Belthegor.

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My only choice at this point appears to be to head down into the basement of the house again. When I attempt to go to the second basement level, sure enough Alberoth is waiting for me looking even less welcoming than in his picture. I’m completely unable to dodge round him but I have found clues about him disappearing at a certain star alignment.

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It’s fair to say I made a whole lot more progress in part 2 although playing this game does feel like stumbling around in the dark at times. I kept going back and forth trying to figure out which direction to strike out in. The story in the game is extremely sparse with only a minimum of guidance. Near enough every little clue you do find is needed to figure out the puzzles. Keeping all the screenshots for blogging has certainly proved extremely useful.

Part 3 will see me to the end of the game and should be coming around a whole lot more quickly than part 2. It’s not the way I usually do things but I was enjoying playing this enough that I ended up finishing the game instead of writing up this post.

The Legacy – Part 1

The Legacy (aka The Legacy – Realm of Terror) is a highly unusual RPG developed by Magnetic Scrolls and published by Mindscape in 1993. Magnetic Scrolls were known for text adventure games and were regarded by many as the British Infocom throughout the 80’s. The Legacy was therefore something of a departure for them and despite a largely positive reaction from the press, it didn’t get the success it possibly deserved and would be their last creation.

This is a game I bought and played on first release but returning to it 20 years down the line, I can’t say I remember a whole lot of the detail. I do recall it being quite tricky and it was quite possible to get into unwinnable states but I’ll do my best to get through to the end once again.

The copy I have now isn’t my original as I sold/traded that one a long time back. I rectified that mistake eventually and bought another one. This is a game that comes in a particularly large and good looking box even if mine could do with gluing back together on one side.

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I’m sure the contents here aren’t complete but I do have 7 floppies, a technical leaflet and the manual itself which goes into all sorts of detail considering how intuitive the game is to play. The manual contains a brief section allegedly written by Edgar Allen Poe about a particularly scary house he was unfortunate enough to visit. It’s hinted to be the same house as in the game but the influences once you start playing are much more Lovecraftian the way I remember it.

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The game has an impressive intro for the time in which some hapless idiot draws up to the extremely sinister looking house, and only manages to make it up the steps before something emerges out of the floor dragging him to his doom.

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It’s at this point that the game hung on me and I had to spend a while figuring out that it will always crash after the intro with SoundBlaster/Roland combo selected for audio. Either on their own worked fine but didn’t sound anything like as good. The readme file came to my rescue – basically select Soundblaster for sound and then start the game with “legacy -roland” and it works fine during the game. The snag here is that the intro and presumably outro if I make it that far still only have SoundBlaster music. I’ll worry about the ending if I make it that far.

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The story of The Legacy is a nice simple one allowing anyone to jump straight in without reading the manual. You the player have inherited a house and at the start of the game arrive to take a look around. Before starting the game, you have a choice of 8 characters to play all with their own stats which will affect how you play the game. If you don’t like those stats, you can redesign the character as you please. Something I recall from playing this years ago is that all of these characters are stored in text files so if you want to make the game much easier you can simply edit the text file to beef them up. Tempting as that is, I stuck to playing it properly and chose the ex-military Robert Kowalski.

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And with that it’s straight into the mansion. The setting is very different but the game is effectively a dungeon crawler in the style of Dungeon Master and Eye Of The Beholder. The interface is interesting in that it’s all point and click with context sensitive menus. All of the windows are resizable meaning that if you want to play full screen you can. You won’t be able to see your automap without clicking on it to bring it to the front but it’s entirely possible. This may seem unremarkable now but this was cutting edge stuff for a DOS game back in 93. The system was previously used in Magnetic Scrolls earlier game Wonderland back in 1990.

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Using this sort of interface is second nature these days at any rate. The first task at hand is to get my bearings and the game wastes no time in setting the scene as the note immediately in front of me says that the house is possessed by an evil entity. Apparently there are strange goings on every 20 years and I happen to have arrived at just the wrong time. It’s too late to get out now as the door is being held shut by a magical force that laughs at me every time I step on that square.

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I’ve no choice but to explore and it doesn’t take long before I come across my first zombie. All the creatures in the game are pre-rendered in 3D studio but move around quite smoothly despite this. The animation puts the likes of Doom to shame but there were only four possible camera angles here. There are loads of these zombies on this level and they tend to chase me around as soon as they spot me but won’t come through doors provided I don’t hold them open. It’s something of a theme throughout this game that whenever you run into a new monster, you aren’t equipped to deal with it so there is a lot of running away even with the character I’ve chosen to play. I do find a poker fairly quickly which becomes my weapon of choice for these early sections.

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Further exploration reveals a spiky green floating thingy that doesn’t actually attack me but does terrify the player enough that they are rooted to the spot until it’s gone out of sight. This sort of fear reaction is used throughout the game and the willpower stat can be raised to overcome it.

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Near enough the whole house is open to explore right from the start of The Legacy. This is not a game that holds your hand through each section one by one and it’s entirely up to the player to decide what to do next which does make starting out tricky. I venture down into the cellar when I come across a set of steps but don’t last more than a couple of seconds so decide to carry on exploring upstairs instead. legship_036

Most of the locations in the game are rendered as corridors. They aren’t entirely bare with sofas, chairs and the like but are largely generic on each floor. There are however, some specific locations such as the room above which have a pre-rendered screen and the player can search within that for things to do in the same manner as a point and click adventure game. I.e. here I can open the curtain to discover a hanging corpse, or more usefully open up the dumb waiter to find a severed head which I can carry around with me. I assume it will be useful at any rate.

The inventory space is extremely limited in this game. I have found a suitcase at this point which I can use to store about a dozen items but I’ve ended up using the entrance hall as a stash room to store all those things that I expect will come in handy much later in the game.

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I decide to venture up to the second floor and have much the same experience I did in the basement only with a ghost this time around. All the fuses have now blown because of the storm so the house is quite dark and makes life trickier still. I do find a fusebox on the ground floor but it needs repairing and I haven’t found the appropriate equipment yet.

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I eventually locate my first spell which is used for avoiding getting hit by enemies. The game’s magic system works by equipping a spell book in one hand and then selecting the spell and power level from a window of icons which pops up. Each spell has its own skill level which you can spend experience points on if you wish to improve your chances of casting successfully. The stat system in this game is quite complex with a lot of options on where to spend your experience. I’m tending to concentrate on combat skills and hope this won’t come back to hurt me late in the game.

The experience system is unusual in that it appears to be about exploring rather than combat and I’m unconvinced I gain any experience at all from combat. The Legacy definitely doesn’t have the usual RPG mechanics in this sense. There are no levels either and experience is just gained gradually and can be spent at any time.

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I’ve run out of places to explore on the ground floor so decide to do my best a floor up and run away from anything dangerous. There are some imp-like creatures who throw spells at me but I do find out I can destroy these with holy water which I have a small supply of. I spot another human but she just walks back and forth across some trapped areas and ignores me if I try to talk to her so I leave her well alone.

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I do come across my first NPC shortly after in the form of a friendly ghost who tells me how he is chained to the house by a particular painting which I must find and destroy.

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That painting is practically around the corner. I drag my matches onto it and can now explore the level without being hassled by ghosts any more.

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This leads me to a fusebox which I switch to get the lights back on for this floor. This doesn’t really appear to help in any way except the screenshots look much clearer.

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Level 2 looks to be the guest quarters with loads of bedrooms and bathrooms all of which are more or less identical. Opening the toilets is not recommended as a blue worm will attack on suspicion.

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I learned early on in this game that triangular symbols meant safety and I’ve been desperately looking for one so that I can rest up and regain health ever since. When I do finally find one, I’m not tired enough to rest so it was wasted effort. The only way I’ve got to regain health is the first aid kits I’ve run across which don’t last long and are in short supply. I’m definitely going to have to be more careful about not getting hurt from here on out. Presumably if I run out of first aid kits it will be game over as this game doesn’t strike me as being exactly forgiving in that sense.

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I figure a baseball bat ought to help me out in fending off monsters than a poker so I grab this for my weapon of choice at this point. There are firearms in the game also but I can’t honestly say that I found them all that effective and ammo is in extremely short supply so I’m tending to stick to melee weapons. There isn’t anything to say it’s a +2 weapon or the like so I simply have to try it out and see how it goes.

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Before I call it a day, I get to meet some of the family using a VHS I found earlier in the TV room. Not surprisingly since they owned this place this isn’t your run of the mill family video. The man is just saying how Ellen has escaped and how he doesn’t know what to do when she turns up and gives him the axe.

I can’t say I’m a whole lot wiser as to exactly what is going on in this house at the end of this first session but it definitely isn’t good. The Legacy is everything I remembered it to be though and is holding up extremely well. The graphics have barely aged as far as I’m concerned. I’ll admit the monsters are a little clunky when moving around and they do tend to face the wrong way at times (not that it dampens their ability to hit you any). It doesn’t do anything to reduce the air of dread that is hanging over me while playing these early sections. The constant threat of a quick death certainly adds to the tension as does the atmospheric music and sound throughout.

We’ll see if I can’t shift the balance a little more in my favour next time anyway and speed up progress a little. Either way, the floors on this house are unrealistically enormous so I expect there will be a good number of posts before I make it to the end.

The Lawnmower Man

I decided it was time to indulge my guilty pleasure for FMV games and picked The Lawnmower Man for my next game. This was one of those games that I can’t say I especially wanted to own but since it came with a bundle of others + I already had the sequel, it got added to the collection.

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The box is a giant metallic silver monstrosity with a grinning Cyberjobe on the front. Mine is in a sorry state, no doubt due to having hung around bargain bins for several years before being snapped up by some poor fool at the £10.00 sticker price. When first released in 1993, the retail price was a whopping £54.99 (somewhere around US$100).

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The inside of that sizable box isn’t exactly stuffed full of goodies with a single CD and a reasonably substantial manual. The manual has an introduction from the producer of the forthcoming Lawnmower Man 2 movie saying how the second film was going to be produced to take advantage of assets from the game whatever that means. I vaguely recall seeing that film many years back. It’s not an experience I intend to repeat but I do recall it picking up from the events of these games instead of straight after the first movie.

Speaking of which, I ought to briefly mention the first Lawnmower man movie which was allegedly based on a Stephen King story but didn’t bear much resemblance in reality. The film tells the tale of an intellectually challenged man called Jobe who makes his way in the world by mowing lawns. Through the powers of a pre-Bond Pierce Brosnan and his virtual reality lab, Jobe is made super intelligent before ultimately becoming evil and loading himself into cyberspace at the end of the film to become an all-powerful virtual being and set up the sequel. The film was the first I can think of to feature VR so heavily with impressive CGI graphics for the time. That was definitely it’s selling point, the rest of the film was nothing special.

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The game picks up straight after the film ends. There is a lengthy FMV intro in which using his new-found powers Cyberjobe somehow zaps Dr Angelo (Brosnan) and colleagues into Cyberspace. Playing Dr. Angelo, you have to make your way through Cyberspace picking up as many spiky balls as possible to rescue both colleagues and then escape yourself. To make that more difficult, Cyberjobe also brings along several villainous characters from the movie morphing their characters so that they do his bidding trying to stop you. For some reason he takes the form of a lawnmower himself so that he can mow a message into his cyberlawn…

When you eventually get to the game, it’s mostly Dragon’s Lair inspired where you have to press the appropriate direction or fire at the right time. I do have to say that Dragon’s Lair looked a whole lot better than this even if it did come out a decade earlier. The underlying CGI isn’t bad by 1993 standards but the compression is terrible. The pixels are at least as large as in The Black Cauldron and it doesn’t have the greatest frame rate either. The thumbnail images here make it look far, far better than it does on a full screen. It’s bad enough to be difficult to see what is going on at times.

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There are 12 subgames many of which have to be completed numerous times in progressively harder forms. I’ll look at a few of them here but not all as the game really doesn’t warrant a post that long. The first involves running along the information superhighway (it was a lot less busy in 1993) while Cyberjobe in lawnmower form chases along behind you. The player has to jump over the spiky balls and duck under the enemies who somehow float around above the road. In short press up or down at the right time. The correct key can just be held down with no timing required meaning these sections are nice and easy. This section has to be completed 5 times in all with later versions involving several trips along the highway and linking platform sections where the player has to carefully time jumps onto moving pads.

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Another section you’ll be seeing 5 times is the Cyberboogie where the player has to navigate twisty passages, all alike, in their flying contraption. This is easily the most successful section but also the most difficult. It can be played as a straight arcade game without learning the route if you can react quickly enough but learning the route is recommended as it will be the same every playthrough. Later levels introduce balls to be shot by the player on the way through and barriers that shoot out of the walls at the last moment – you have to be extremely quick with these or know they are coming.

I particularly like the music in this section. All the music was composed by Steve Hillage who has a long history in the music industry going back to the 1970’s. The soundtrack is a mix of electronic and guitar and it’s easily the best part of the game fitting perfectly to the theme.

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Many of the other sections are more puzzle than arcade. There are security doors full of IQ style tests. I.e. in the one above, 73 is the only number that isn’t a cube + the underlined picture is the only one that isn’t a rotated version of the others. Most of these are easy, some have several potential solutions and you just have to learn what is expected through trial and error. You have to get all four right to progress but get 3 chances before losing the game.

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The puzzle above is Simon. It’s ridiculously simple and tedious which is confounded by the fact that having selected your sequence you have to watch slow animations play where your character presses each button at the rate of about one press every 10 seconds.

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There is another section where you have to navigate around a series of pads taking turns with an invisible protagonist that starts at the opposite end. If you both end up on the same pad at once you lose. Since he can see me, my opponent could guarantee a win if he just moved back and forth from the starting pad. In practice the same route works every time so it’s just a case of figuring that route out.

I’m sure this puzzle was stolen from an old British TV series called The Adventure Game in which minor celebrities would be dumped in “outer space” and have to solve puzzles to get home again. If any of them made it to the end of the show, they had to outwit a talking pot plant to get across an identical board to the one in this puzzle.

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After completing each level, the player is rewarded with snippets from the film in super grainy mono vision.

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I will give the Lawnmower Man credit for presenting a challenge to the player. One of the reasons I chose this game was that I didn’t have much time and figured an FMV game on a single CD ought to be quick and easy to complete. You can’t fit that much video on the one disc after all. Finishing this was anything but easy involving many, many attempts where I would gradually learn the required moves. There is no saving and only 2 continues so there was a lot of starting from the beginning but I would get further each time.

Eventually, there is a final jumping section and I rescue my second colleague before the end cutscene springs into life.

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Dr. Angelo is sucked through a vortex to meet up with Cyberjobe face to face. Despite spending the last hour trying to kill you, he has a change of heart, regains his humanity and sends the Doctor back to the real world. Mysterious tentacles then spring out of the ground surrounding Cyberjobe and before we can find out what they are or where they came from there is a to be continued. The sequel Cyberwar came out the following year and would answer neither of these questions. It will probably be getting a playthrough at some point but defeating this first entry was quite enough for the moment.

The Lawnmower Man is certainly a strange game and could only have come out in a very specific period of time. There is no plot to speak of – it’s more like a surrealistic repetitive nightmare in which the player is constantly under threat of death by lawnmower. I can’t say there wasn’t some fun to be had. It does have that arcade quality of always getting slightly further as you learn what to do. This did get frustrating nearer the end – completing the game must have taken at least 40 minutes even skipping cutscenes. That is a lot of replaying if you cock it up but since most of it was variants of earlier scenes I did more or less get through the last 15 minutes on the first attempt.

The point of these early FMV games, if they had one, was to show off your expensive system and the visuals/audio it could produce. The gameplay would be limited but with the compensation of all that glorious video coming out of your computer. On those terms, Lawnmower Man succeeds in the audio department with a soundtrack that could be a classic had it been attached to another game. The visuals however are a grainy mess and miss the point entirely. It’s also massively more repetitive than it needs to be sending you round and round the same levels with slightly different camera angles and obstacle placement. I would have been seriously put out if I’d paid £55 for this at the time. If I can look past the graphics, it’s not that bad a game for what it is I suppose. I’m certainly not going to recommend this to anyone though.

I’m extremely curious to see what the press thought of it at the time and will attempt to dig out a few reviews for the next post before I start another game.

Creepy Corridors

I’m continuing to play through Chuckles’ early games and next on the list is Creepy Corridors. This was first released in 1982 by Sierra on the Apple II as part of a collection of 4 games called Laf Pak. All of the games were written by Bueche and came on a single disk. I don’t have a copy of this so the photo below is courtesy of vintage-sierra.net.

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On loading the game, the player got a little menu with some beeping music to select one of the four games. I’ll stick with just Creepy Corridors for this post and look at the other games another time.

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Creepy Corridors is a simple maze crawl where the player has to work their way around the screen collecting diamonds and shooting at monsters. You can only fire one shot at a time so don’t want to miss on a long corridor. The monsters all spawn gradually from the same location. Once all the monsters are dead or all 4 diamonds collected, it’s off to the next level via the door that appears. Collecting all the diamonds gives an extra life.

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The concept of the game is simple enough, and an obvious Pacman variant, but I found this strangely good fun to play on the Apple II. The levels start out extremely easy and the player can simply find a safe spot to shoot every monster if they wish. Later levels introduce white skulls which are invulnerable and these levels get extremely frantic. The monsters chase the player around the map once they have a line of sight and when one of these has locked onto you they are very difficult to shake.

There are hordes of monsters on later levels and everything (including the player) speeds up on each successive screen. The code handling the speed of the game could have stood some improvement. The speed is all over the place while monsters spawn at the start of a level. Think of the speed of that last space invader when there is just one left and you won’t be far off. Things slow down when there are a few monsters on the screen but it’s lethal at first. I’m surprised just how fast the Apple II can push these sprites around.

The main claim to fame of Creepy Corridors is that it was allegedly the third ever Apple II game to include sampled speech with Chuckles himself providing the dying scream should you blunder into one of the monsters. The rest of the sound is more mundane but functional.

I’ve got a theory that there are only 10 levels in the game but I only managed to get that far once and was far too busy to get a photo or finish the level. Level 10 was extremely open with very little maze allowing access to me for the monsters from all directions. If that is the last level, I’m sure I could beat this game with a little more practice and a lot of luck. It does run so fast at this point, I’d need a stack of lives left to make suicide runs to the diamonds.

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I can’t say that Creepy Corridors is anything particularly special but I still liked it and for one game on a four pack it’s not too bad at all. It grabbed my attention enough to make me have numerous attempts to complete level 10 at any rate. On its own it would have been a definite improvement on Brainteaser Boulevard and this came with 3 other games thrown in.

The story isn’t quite finished there as Creepy Corridors saw a 1983 release on the VIC-20 as an individual game. The port was done by Don McGlauflin and I thought I should give this a quick go. There was a slight hitch in playing it however. NTSC VIC-20 games will run on PAL machines but end up in the top left corner of the screen. Plenty of games allowed the player to simply move the screen to the middle with cursor keys at the main menu but if this option was present here I couldn’t find it so the left edge is slightly clipped. Other than that it all ran fine.

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The VIC-20 version is immediately familiar and plays largely identically. There is a title screen this time around but no screaming Chuckles when the player gets caught and the screen is monochrome. What really lets this version down is the horrible collision detection. As I understand it, the VIC-20 can’t do sprites in the conventional sense and instead uses character based graphics where the screen is effectively made up of a load of tiles that are swapped to create the illusion of bitmaps.

This is all well and good and the “sprites” in the game move smoothly meaning you wouldn’t know the difference. The snag here is that the collision detection appears to work purely on the basis of intersecting characters meaning you can be nowhere near and get hit. It absolutely ruins what would have been a decent port when you can get killed by monsters that aren’t even in the same corridor. If you really want to play Creepy Corridors, avoid this version and stick with the original.