Tag Archive: Video Games


A farewell to 2017

‘lo,

My belated review of 2017.  Hadn’t made time to jot this down until today.

So, how would I sum up 2017 in a snappy sentence?  Difficult.  In some respects – and being my own worst critic – it was kinda wasteful.  I think for me, I allowed many opportunities to pass me by.  Kinda turned into the sort of person who I loathe in respect of maintaining contact with people and forgetting appointments by not writing them down.  However, I did try some new things, visited two new countries (Malta and Poland), did a couple of small, personal growth activities so there’s some stuff to cheer as well as boo loudly.

World events: lots of schadenfreude.  The chickens of 2016 are starting to come home to roost in 2017 with 2018 being I suspect, something of a “crunch” year.  The sexual abuse scandals hitting people in positons of privilege, certain MPs being forced to resign because they think they’re above the rules, humiliations of celebrities because they just don’t know when to stop (Katie Hopkins, Milo Yiannopoulos, Piers Morgan).  More optimistic than pessimistic I think overall.

Travel: As I said earlier, Malta and Poland were the new countries of 2017.  Having the two trips to Cardiff at the start of the year were quite nice, forgot how much I enjoy the place.  Did Swansea a couple of times, always a pleasure.  Squeezing in a couple of visits to Brussels didn’t feel like a chore this time, not least as I got to play tour guide with a colleague.  It’s nice to feel useful.

Personal Life: Like 2016, it’s been pretty good in terms of mates and doing stuff together.  I also feel that with work colleagues, a number of them have stopped expecting stuff to happen just because we all happen to work together and things are being more organic, spontaneous and that works for me a lot better.  Still gaming most weeks and meeting more people through the gaming network.

Vices: Because of a certain Mr Ringsell, beer consumption went up in August and September which is why I had a month away from the sauce in “Stoptober”.  Developed a taste for Erdinger Blue though.  And December was a particularly booze-heavy month thanks to Germany and Xmas.  Sadly, snacking has been a constant except for those virtuous weeks where nothing happens.

Love Life: Erratic.  Failure.  Depressing.  However, I have at least recognised that most of the failures are of my making and am seeking to improve that for 2018.

Ailments: Achilles Tendon healed nicely and there was no further limping after February 2017.  Had two really nasty summer colds where I felt lousy but other than that, a good year in terms of health.  Keep getting praise from the dentist every time I go which is nice to hear.

Gaming: With the release of Battlefront 2, Wolfenstein the New Colossus and South Park: The Fractured But Whole, I’ve been returning to video games a little more in the latter part of 2017.  Board gaming has been a strength: tried to stick to buying more expansion packs rather than whole games although there’s still a copy of Rebellion on my shelf which has yet to be played and I’d love a copy of Ghostbusters and Thunderbirds.  I have also been investing more in card protectors – 7 Wonders, Bang, Sushi Go Party, Avalon, Resistance and some of Talisman are now protected up.  Worth it!

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Board Games and Video Games sound like they were made for each other.  We’ve been playing board games for thousands of years, from Sekhmet in Egypt and Go in China to Chess in India/Iran.  There was an explosion in the titles available from the 1920s as long-standing favourites like Scrabble, Monopoly and Cluedo were developed and helped while away the time, particularly during the worst economic predation ever.  This continued right the way through after WW2 with manufacturers like Parker Brothers, MB Games, Waddingtons et al churning out set after set.  Granted, they peaked in the 1980s as more and more houses explored these funny little grey and black boxes.  After a decline in the 1990s, board games reinvented themselves with economic and large strategy games picking up some of the slack whilst Role Playing titles gained ground in the mainstream. 

The conversion to those funny little grey and black boxes have been a little less smooth however.  In the beginning, the first home computers were little more than glorified calculators with keyboards integrated into the machine.  They were barely able to do more than manage spreadsheets and databases.  As they slowly evolved, the first games began to appear and whilst there were no early licensed (official) conversions, there were several turn-based trading games which were just about manageable and could have easily been played on a board.  Games such as Chess, Draughts and Reversi were available on the earliest machines though the AI did frequently take its sweet time in deciding where to move. 

Interestingly enough, the first cross-over was in the opposite direction – MB released Frogger in 1981 as a board game taking the basic premise of guiding the frog across the road to its lillypad.  It wasn’t long before other video game conversions hit board games – Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Popeye et al.  Most of them were faithful recreations of the original games (except one couldn’t hurl a joystick across the room) although dice had to provide the randomness of the game which could lead to more sulking.  Unless my brain is totally faulty, I think the first licensed board games hit home computers around 1985 when Parker Brothers allowed the biggest names (Monopoly, Cluedo, Scrabble etc) to appear on the 8-Bit formats.   

Some of these early conversions were surprisingly good given the limitations of the 8-Bit machines.  Whilst graphics would always be an issue, the computer could do things which human players couldn’t; with Monopoly, it could keep track of your total net worth thus allowing for a proper decision on the “Income Tax” Square rather than a guess.  In Cluedo, you’d never run out of clue sheets.  There was also music and sound effects to jazz things up a little.  But there were downsides too; Scrabble was limited in the number of words the CPU could retain and customising dictionaries was not possible to allow for more contemporary updates.  And the games rigidly adhered to the official rules, not allowing for house variants (notably Monopoly). 

There were 3-D board games which appeared to get the video game treatment – look at Screwball Scramble and tell me that’s not Marble Madness.  And there were several RPG games such as Hero Quest and Space Crusade (with the legendary Weetabix Monsters) that saw consumers snap up copies.  Why did these sell?  Simply put, you didn’t need a friend or relative to play a game with.  The AI would always be there for you as soon as you loaded up the game and their difficulty level could be customised.  Of course you couldn’t be sure that the AI wasn’t cheating after all, it controlled the dice throws and handled other game resources. 

One of the biggest disasters was the first conversion of Trivial Pursuit; the computer could only handle multiple choice answers rather than free text answers and the answer was always “Yes”.  It was many years before Trivial Pursuit returned to the home computer.   

On a similar vein, as Board Games made their mark on home computers, so too did we see conversions of quiz shows and game shows after all, the formats are broadly similar.  Play mini-games, answer questions, win prizes.  And so was the reverse true as several game-shows added computer games to their repertoire.  The first was a kids game show (the name I cannot recall) but in-between kids trivia rounds, there were levels of Paperboy and Summer Games played.  There was also an adult games show featuring a cat in a series of minigames on ITV (I wish I’d paid more attention as a child to their names).   

Board games also began appearing on consoles but as there were no keyboards to input with, games weren’t quite as versatile and didn’t sell as well.  But that didn’t matter – as the 8-Bit era gave way to the 16-Bit era, the first big-selling Strategy games (non-trading games) began to appear which were in effect huge board games themselves.  Of course you didn’t need to have a massive box with a million pieces and the computer was capable of performing so many more calculations than its progenitors.   

Based on items like the Argos Catalogue and what was on the shelves in Woolworths, the only people still interested in board games were old farts and people with gifts to buy without actually understanding the nature of the intended recipient.  However, this _did_ have the benefit of separating the wheat from the chaff so those games which were poorly designed and executed disappeared and newer games were a little more thought out and added more bells and whistles.  Of course this just _happened_ to push their prices up, particularly for the bright, noisy games but lost revenues have to be made up elsewhere.  

And the digital revolution came to games – video board game and DVD board games.  The first one (that I can recall clearly) was Atmosfear and then subsequently Star Trek and Sports editions of Trivial Pursuit.  I had a Star Wars video game which actually saw James Earl Jones voice Darth Vader once again and David Prowse donning the costume. How these games worked were that an hour long video was shown during which the participants of the game would play as normal.  At various stages, the video would halt the action and different commands were issued to certain players changing the nature of the action.  Typically, the idea was to beat the game before the video ran out because the villainous character would win.   

It always felt as if video board games were a stop-gap in the market as around the time of the release of Atmosfear in 1991, the Mega CD was showing FMV in games albeit of the crappy quality variety.  I don’t think the writing was on the wall just yet for them but they would only have a finite span before home computers and games consoles could pick up the slack.  Again, technical restriction on video tapes meant every game was linear; at least DVDs could have more data stored and could randomise chapters making each game unique (or a high degree of unlikeliness that exactly the same chapters are seen twice in the same order). 

End of Part 1

Mario 64 – Controversy Ahead

One of the great Video Game mysteries IMHO is “Why does Super Mario 64 keep appearing in the top 3 games of all time?” 

For the non-gamers who follow my blog, Super Mario 64 was one of the launch titles for the Nintendo 64 back in 1996 which took Mario into a 3D landscape.  Like most Mario games, Princess Peach (though I think this was the first time she was referred to as “Peach” rather than Princess Toadstool) had been kidnapped by Bowser and he had seized the source of the Castle’s magical potency, the 120 Power Stars (and before the nit-pickers seize upon this, I’m referring to all the stars and not just the ones in Bowser’s possession or the ones of his minions).  

Whilst 3D platform games had been tried before, it was Nintendo’s efforts which really made the format work demonstrating how all future efforts would look in the future.  The game was far more open-ended and less linear than all previous incarnations giving the player choice on how they wished to proceed and each time a level was entered, things could occur just a little differently translating into a unique experience. 

But is this enough to warrant inclusion in the top three games of all time? 

Depending on who’s compiling the list, the top three games will vary in choice and ranking but Mario 64’s inclusion is all but a foregone conclusion.  Other titles will include Space Invaders, one of the Link games (Ocarina of Time is a feature), Final Fantasy (one of), Tetris etc.  What many of the games in the top 3/top 5/top 10 lists will have in common is that they are the first in the genre or the epitome of the genre.  Think “Turn Based Strategy” and you’ll think of Civilization.  Think “Real Turn Strategy” and you’ll either think Age of Empires or Command and Conquer.  Think 3D Platform and you’ll think “Mario”.   

Mario didn’t really offer anything “new” and by that I mean it enhanced existing concepts but put them in a larger playing field.  Much of what was in SMB3 and SMW was recycled into Mario 64 whilst several other game concepts (Luigi, Yoshi) were dropped quite inexplicably.  They were inserted into Super Mario DS which enriched the gameplay quite a lot but at the time, bare bones.  

I believe there are better, far better 3D platform gamers out there which took some of the core concepts of Mario 64 and really made them better games.  My first thought as one might expect, extends to Rare’s Banjo Kazooie and Banjo Tooie as well as Donkey Kong 64.  Mediaeval was also a great game in its own right though more Action Arcade and there’s the Rayman series of games.  Are they all Mario clones though or do they deliver a better experience? 

In my opinion, some of them are better than Mario 64 for a series of reasons – Banjo Kazooie & Tooie have the ability to transform the heroes into a series of weird and wonderful objects whilst the uniquely British humour inserted into the game gives it a more friendly approach.  Donkey Kong 64 worked along a similar vein, but allowed each of the four main characters to access different parts of the game’s levels so that you needed to take each character through to the end.  I’d offer more examples but my overall appreciation for 3D platform games waned once I got my Gamecube and in my secret shame, I never did finish off Super Mario Sunshine, nor Super Mario Galaxy.  Hell, I thought Yoshi’s Story on the N64 was a better game as the choice of levels allowed each run-through to be unique and completable within a couple hours playing. 

At the time of the N64’s launch, I spent way more of my time going through Shadows of the Empire – probably because I was a Star Wars fan – but I also loved the fact there were both 2D/3D space combat levels as well as the 1st person & 3rd person shooter.  Seasoned gamers got to brush up on differing sets of skills rather than doing the same thing through a series of landscapes.  I can’t remember what else my early N64 collection consisted of though Starfox 64 was one of those as was Mission Impossible, Pilotwings 64 and Goldeneye. There were far more game hours racked up on those titles than on Mario 64 – how can a truly great game be played once and forgotten?  There was only one difficulty mode, a few “secrets” though easily uncovered and there was never any tension except in the final Bowser fight.  This doesn’t really put the game in the top 3.  Top 10 or even top 25 maybe but not the top 3. 

Video games have been around for 40 years and Mario is shortly to enter his third decade.  Whilst we cannot deny the impact the little plumber from Brooklyn (though why he speaks with an Italian accent is beyond me) has made on the VG landscape, is he still a character that is in games which are the best ever or has the legend overtaken the man?

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All’s well in Greece – the Brutii have fallen. Following a stunning defence of Tarentium where our hoplites were outnumbered three to one, the armies of the House of Scipii and Brutii were repelled and reinforcements marched south towards Croton where the city lay under siege for four years before a desperate breakout was repelled and the tip of Italia once again reverted to direct control from Sparta. With the fall of Thessalonika to our forces in the north, the Macedonians are reduced to Bylazora and the small fishing village of Byzantium although their core armies have not been destroyed which may prove somewhat…problematic. Meanwhile the Gallic colony of Salona quietly fell to a surprise attack thus delivering a slap in the face to the upstart barbarians from the north and has all but eliminated their presence in the Adriatic. The Kingdom of Pontus has not made any successive moves towards Peraginum since our diplomats…persuaded an advancing army to disappear with a substantive cash sum – more fool them.

Gone native? You bet! Alas I keep recruiting armies from Sparta thus retarding the growth and development of the city. Sparta is the only city that can recruit Spartan Hoplites and only at a certain level. More of a note to myself to get peasant armies from Athens and Corinth to artificially boost the population.

Weekly Quiz report: Came third, perhaps would have won had answers not been changed but that was a pan-team fault because we were all at it. Though I like the way that I’m being accused of causing…results to dip given how other people don’t contribute as much. Still, I’ve mentally noted and filed it in the back of my mind along with everything else.

Was supposed to be going out tonight but that’s been cancelled owing to illness. I’m not too disappointed but for the wrong reasons, specifically that I don’t have to spend any money. Now that the financial…ravages of the middle of the year are over, socking money away can be the order of the day. I only spent £15 at the quiz last night – two drinks and food + the cost of the quiz itself. But as I’d spent liberally at Pie then it’s justified. That leaves me with £35 which I’d taken out Monday evening and it’d be good to have the bulk of that still in my pocket by Saturday.

I’m also continuing to work my way through Professor Layton on the 3DS but I’m nearing the end of that and therefore either need to get a new challenge to work on or just wait for Mario on the 18th. There are no other games worth getting from the new release schedule with the obvious exception of Mario Kart 7. Well, for my consoles, anyway.

Right, end of another blog entry. Time to…do something else. Like go home. Perhaps a different routed walk is in order.