If there’s one thing I need to improve on in my life, it’s to write something in the moment. I’ve bought plenty of games, played a bevy of mods, grabbed other assorted things for potential blog fodder…
Then I do nothing with it. This has happened more often than not, but only because I get the problem of being an ideas person and rarely act upon them. I’ve been slowly improving on this front, at least more than I was years ago.
Which brings me to this post about a game mod. I played this on a whim back in 2018, and thought it was pretty neat. While I’m currently wrapped in a few other things right now, I thought I’d write something quick for this month.
A few years back, I wrote an article praising the wonders of Red Book CD audio. CD audio tracks that would play in certain games, fromPC classics like Half-Life, to even Sega CD games like Sonic CD. Unfortunately, modern technology is not too kind to the concept, as it often struggles to work properly on modern devices. In some cases, digital re-releases of games like Starsiege: Tribes didn’t even come with the CD music, removing part of the ambience.
There have been solutions thanks to source ports and game updates. For instance, playing Half-Life on Steam has all its music files as MP3s, so if the game (or a related mod) calls for that CD track, it’ll play it without needing the CD.
Which brings me to a classic in Red Book audio: Quake. One of the earliest PC games to use it, popping in the CD would fill your ears with weird ambient music by Trent Reznor and his band Nine Inch Nails. Modern source ports such as Quakespasm actually support playable CD tracks in MP3/OGG formats, which means one can rip the soundtrack from their copy of Quake – or just find it on the internet, I doubt id and Zenimax care these days – and play it easily, proper looping and all.
There’s a handful of Quake map packs that come with custom soundtracks tailor-made for the level pack, such as Travail. Others outright replace the Nine Inch Nails soundtrack with different ambient tracks, like EpiQuake or Quake Epsilon. But what if I told you someone replaced Nine Inch Nails music with Nine Inch Nails music?
“Ghosts I-IV for Quake” is an interesting mod. Replacing the original 1996 soundtrack with the entirety of Ghosts I-IV, an album by Nine Inch Nails with nothing but ambient instrumentals seems like a good fit. In a sense, Ghosts I-IV is a spiritual successor to the original Quake soundtrack, even if there’s little similarities in style.
The album itself is interesting: Frustrated by their record label, Trent Reznor severs their contract with Interscope Records and decides to go independent – for a while anyway – and released this under a Creative Commons license. This license is how the mod exists without lawyers getting involved, as it’s a free mod for a commercial video game.
There is one other feature of this mod: There’s no monsters or weapons. Now there’s mostly empty levels with switches, lifts and other assorted things, but nothing to shoot. With god mode turned on. In a sense, this changes the perspective of the game entirely. No longer a straight explosive romp, it’s strictly an exploration-based affair.
Welcome to the first Secret Area post of 2019. Here’s something that was several months in the making. This was mostly due to procrastination. Naturally, I’m writing about a game I finished last year, two days short of a year after I had beaten it. And it’s a callback to a post I made last June. Let’s do this.
Last year, I had written a somewhat scathing review of the 2010 Medal of Honor reboot, which took the legacy of a long-standing WWII FPS franchise and basically ruined it by being a Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare copycat. You can check that post out here. At the end of that post, I had hinted towards a game that I had said was just as close to the original Medal of Honor games.
Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch, but it is a World War II FPS, and surprisingly a decent one at that.
Enemy Front was a shooter released in 2014 for various platforms, including PC. Released by CI Games, it was a fairly unknown budget shooter in an era where those kind of shooters were slowly disappearing due to the drought of retail games as well as the prevalence of Steam making it a newer (and cheaper!) haven for the cheap schlock of the past.
I had heard of it thanks to a certain YouTube personality. Ahoy – later a maker of wonderful flashy documentaries about Doom, Half-Life, the Amiga, and many others – had done a video chronicling the arsenal of Enemy Front. He had done similar videos before for Call of Duty and other franchises, and would later be revised to an all-purpose format with his Iconic Arms series of videos. I’m still waiting for the new season of Iconic Arms, just to see what games he uses as an example for the weapon he’s talking about.
Though, it wasn’t just a British YouTube personality talking about a budget polish-developed FPS’s weaponry that got me to snag Enemy Front. It was also dirt cheap on a Steam sale. All it takes is something to be under $5 and you’ve caught my interest almost immediately.
Enough preamble. Let’s get to the meat and actually talk about Enemy Front proper. You play as American journalist Robert Hawkins as he reports the stories of a resistance front all around Europe. Later joining with resistance fighters, Hawkins must stop the Nazi menace in various locales around Europe, including during the Warsaw Uprising. A fair share of the game takes place around that Polish conflict. It’s fitting, considering developer/publisher CI Games is based in Warsaw, Poland.
Over the years I’ve written about games, I end up writing about games from a certain genre, and that’s first-person shooters. It’s my genre of choice, with enjoyable action romps like Doom and Quake to more cinematic experiences like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Though for every Call of Duty, there’s a clunker of a single player experience, such as Homefront, which I replayed recently.
Homefront is a game developed Kaos Studios, a development team consisting of people who made the popular Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942 way back when, were the ones working on this infamous game.Backed by THQ’s ambitious marketing campaign, the game had the chance to be something really, really interesting. Except it wasn’t.
Prior to Homefront, Kaos Studios only made one game: the middling Battlefield clone Frontlines: Fuel of War. After the lukewarm reception that game got, they soon were hard to work on a spiritual successor in Homefront. According to a retrospective over at Polygon, the game was meant to be strictly a multiplayer-only experience – which makes sense, considering the developer’s pedigree – but executive meddling caused a shift in marketing to add a traditional single player campaign, causing it to drown out the carefully crafted multiplayer they had made.
I decided to replay this, on PC this time – my previous experience was through the streaming OnLive service around 2012 or so – and it hasn’t gotten any better. If anything, it’s much worse than I remember.
Homefront’s single player campaign checks off every single thing Call of Duty did, but somewhat worse: there’s a section where you kick open a door and shoot everybody in slow motion like in Modern Warfare 2, a portion of a stage where you’re picking off enemies as a sniper as you infiltrate an enemy camp ala “All Ghillied Up” from Call of Duty 4, even a section at the very end has you using a CUAV drone to pick off targets on the Golden Gate Bridge much like a section in Modern Warfare 2.
It feels like someone up top at THQ said to Kaos, “Hey! Remember that thing that Call of Duty did? Do that!” and did so without having a say in the matter. A shame, really.
But that’s not what I’m here to write about. I’m here to write about the game’s product placement.
Product placement in video games is a sticky kind of subject matter. I can’t think of any recent game that used it effectively short of sports games, and even there it can get pretty bad at times. Homefront is littered with advertisements for so many brands that taints the atmosphere of the game, taking place in a modest town in the middle of the United States. For being part of “the resistance,” you sure see a lot of product placement.
Kaos Studios’ lead level designer once talked about using brands in their game, and how they were allegedly rejected by several companies in doing so. Though it sounded like there’s only a brand or two in the entire game, there are many, many more brands than what they say here. It also looks pretty ironic considering in this interview they condemn Infinity Ward for making Burger Town, a fictitious brand in Modern Warfare 2.
As I played through Homefront’s campaign, I started documenting all the brands I saw. Now I don’t think I got every single bit of product placement here, there’s likely a few I missed because there’s shockingly so many of them. I’m ranking them from the least offensive to the most egregious in the entire game. It gets pretty ugly in spots, so strap in.
Homefront starts with a section where protagonist Robert Jacobs – a successful graduate of the “Gordon Freeman School of Character Development” – is shoved onto a bus ostensibly to be retrained as an enemy fighter pilot. That gets stopped short by the supporting allies of the resistance, Connor and Rianna. Though it does give a glimpse of a few Pabst Blue Ribbon banners strewn throughout the city before the bus is flipped over.
Not long after Jacobs escapes, they slip through a certain restaurant chain – more on that later – and walk past a Full Throttle vending machine. An energy drink brand by Monster, it’s one of two brands they own that are featured in this game, the other being NOS, which shows up a little later into Chapter 3. Oddly enough, Monster itself is a no-show here.
While playing on Bog, a dark, wide map filled with small gaps of cover and two small buildings ripe for camping, I noticed an enemy player’s been using the infamous “noob tube” – an M203 grenade launcher – to get easy kills. I decide to switch over to my sniper rifle build, with an R700 equipped, ready to pick off the offending noob tuber.
I then started sweeping around the map looking for enemies. I spotted enemies on the other side of the map and starting aiming down the scope and taking shots, occasionally moving to avoid being easily killed. I then spotted an enemy with a rifle and his grenade launcher prepped, and I nailed him in one shot. However, he had just shot a grenade before he died. A grenade that landed right on me. I couldn’t resist to type “good trade” in the chat.
It’s 2018, and there’s people still playing Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare online 11 years later. I had picked up the PC version of COD4 as well as World at War on Steam for $10 each. I had hoped they would hit the $4.99 sweet spot, but Activision doesn’t believe in the concept of making their games that cheap.
Honestly, I didn’t need to buy these versions again. I already had both of those games on a console – hell, Call of Duty 4 was the first game I ever got for my PlayStation 3 in 2008 – but the PC version had a fair share of advantages that I wanted to check out. Plus I couldn’t resist replaying the campaigns to some of the best games in the entire series. (Black Ops would probably be a close third.)
First, I also wanted to look into the mod scene. There was a Star Wars-themed mod for COD4 calledGalactic Warfare that was making the rounds around 2009-2011, and it was kind of the reason I wanted to look into the PC version. Sadly, it seems the overall mod scene has died out, leaving me with just vanilla COD4 to play with. With Hardcore settings on, no less.
Alright, finally got to this. A few weeks late, but I was never known to be prompt on things like these.
So a while back, the Portland Retro Gaming Expo happened. On its twelfth year, it’s a convention that has retro arcade games, pinball machines, loads of booths to buy merchandise of various kinds, and panels about retro video games in some fashion.
Regrettably the past few years I’ve missed out on a handful of panels, but I’m grateful for at least checking out the Nintendo History Museum by the cool peeps at the Video Game History Foundation. I also bumped into my friends Weasel and Cassidy while during my roaming of the show floor, while also spotting a fair share of notable personalities here and there. (Weasel told me I was “right next to The Gaming Historian” at one point and I didn’t even notice.)
I’m at that point where I don’t really need many video games at this point, considering my burgeoning backlog. Yet against my better judgment, I did buy games for super cheap, trying to fill up my original Xbox collection and snagging a few cheap deals. But I also grabbed a few tech-based things during and after the expo, so let’s get to recapping.
– A component video cable for an original Xbox ($10)
– Xbox: Medal of Honor: European Assault ($5)
Okay, these were after the expo. On Sunday I had put a goal to find some video cables for some of my consoles because I felt they needed an upgrade. I didn’t find one of them, so I had eventually went to Video Game Wizards (the closest mom’n’pop game shop to me) and snagged some cables, as well as an Xbox game for good measure.
At this point, now I am able to play all of the early-to-mid 2000s game consoles in component video quality. I have component cables for the PS2 and Xbox, and I have a Wii with Gamecube backwards compatibility, which I also run through component.
I know there’s solutions now to get those systems to output in HDMI, but I feel that’s a bit excessive. Though, EON had a booth for an HDMI adapter for the Gamecube, which might be cheaper than trying to get the very expensive component cables for the system. If you’re going that route, check them out here, perhaps that’s a better option for those who have more recent TVs where it’s HDMI only with no other video inputs.
As for Medal of Honor: European Assault? Well, we’ll get back to that one in a bit.
(UPDATE 11/8/2018: The cables in question refused to show any video on my television regardless of resolution, so I exchanged them for different cables. While those actually showed video in component, the signal occasionally flickers out and doesn’t work in 720p. Sadly, I think my TV is slowly dying, which I’m not surprised considering how old it is.)
$10: Xbox: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2x
Now to cover stuff I actually got at the expo, starting with probably the most expensive thing I bought.
The Tony Hawk games were a franchise that passed me by. I played the first two, but tapped out not long after. I snagged Pro Skater 3 on disc for PS2 a long while back, and I thought now’s the time to start getting into the series proper while they’re still easy to get.
A launch title for the original Xbox, this was a spit-shine “HD” version of Pro Skater 2 by Treyarch, before they became 1/3rd of the Call of Duty Cerberus. In addition to prettifying the original game’s levels, there’s a few levels exclusive to this port as well as the original Pro Skater stuff in there.
In my head, this is probably a better way to start playing the franchise in order than hunting down fairly pricey copies of Pro Skater and Pro Skater 2 for older systems. Though, I wouldn’t mind finding any of the Pro Skater games for the Nintendo 64, as those are interesting technical marvels. Well, that and the N64 version of Pro Skater is how I got introduced to the franchise back in the day.
Surprisingly, I enjoyed the chopped up music loops they used because of cartridge space limitations, and Pro Skater 3‘s soundtrack pretty much makes them outright remixes.
When I wrote about Half-Life: Before, I had realized that writing about such a mediocre Half-Life mod felt disappointing to me. I usually try my best to avoid going for easy punches and writing about bad stuff. Besides, there’s other people that cover bad stuff so much better than I ever will.
So I wanted to make good and write about a different Half-Life mod. After all, Half-Life is probably the game that got me interested in mods, after Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. So after playing and writing about Before, I had stumbled upon an existing mod that had recently updated, and decided to give it a whirl once more.
I always get a kick out of crossover mods. Counter-Strike into Half-Life. Mario platforming in Doom. That sort of stuff. I don’t remember how I read about this one, but last year I had stumbled upon one of the coolest crossover mods I’d seen. This Half-Life mod takes the concept and character from another iconic game franchise and transplants him into the original game.
This is why I said “grab your Berettas and painkillers” at the end of the Before article. We’re about to do some bullet time on Black Mesa.
Half-Payne is pretty self-explanatory: It’s Half-Life but instead of the crowbar-wielding silent protagonist Gordon Freeman, you play as Max Payne, the pill-popping, dual-wielding protagonist from the titular series.
Sounds pretty simple on the surface. Max Payne’s primary gameplay feature was the “bullet time” mechanic, one of the earliest action games to use that feature. Go into slow motion and shoot enemies with your trusty Berettas. That seems easy to make, right?
I remember a couple years ago when Steam Greenlight was a thing. A way for more independent publishers and developers to get their games on Steam, Greenlight was a simple voting system where one’s game could be published under the system if it got enough support.
Unfortunately this lead to a lot of fairly questionable works hitting Greenlight. A fair share of games using stock assets from Unity, Unreal, and such. Others were people not understanding copyright law and posting stuff like World of Warcraft to Greenlight. One game was a fairly unremarkable team shooter that got re-posted to Greenlight several times after the creator had difficulty taking constructive criticism, even changing the name to “Tactical Anal Insertion” in a fit of rage.
On the bright side, games like Divekick, Broforce, and Undertale were some of the more standout choices that made it to Steam thanks to Greenlight. So it wasn’t all bad, even if there were people spending the $100 to release a proof-of-concept game that wasn’t even in a playable state.
Though, not everything was a game. Sometimes software made the Greenlight seal of approval. Even community mods like NeoTokyo made it into the mix, which was nice for people to get their project noticed. Though, much like a majority of Greenlight submissions, not all of them were winners, such as this one.
Half-Life: Before is a cheap free mod from developer Creashock Studios, a one-man studio who I hadn’t heard of until this game.
Now I’ve played a bevvy of Half-Life mods. Some of the best and most notable like They Hunger, Poke646, Azure Sheep and many others. Though for every good mod, there’s at least a dozen bad ones. Before falls into the latter category.
The thrilling introduction.
The story really doesn’t make a lot of sense: You play as Black Mesa scientist Andrew Winner as they’re teleported onto a cargo ship to… find something to go to Xen? The story isn’t that clear, and the brief amount of story given doesn’t explain much beyond what the Steam store page and the main menu gave me.
So it’s a Half-Life mod. Some mods try to make the areas look unique and different, changing up everything so it barely resembles what Valve made, like Poke646. Others are content with just giving the player new levels to play with while leaving the Half-Life formula intact. This is not a bad thing, I’ve played a fair share of decent level packs.
Before is definitely in the “level pack” category. Short of changing the default pistol to some P226 model presumably taken off the internet, the rest are all stock assets from Half-Life, Opposing Force, Counter-Strike, even from Gearbox’s “HD pack” originally made for Blue Shift. Even the scientist model seen below is just a reskin with no moving mouth. It all comes off as extremely cheap.
Before was originally made in 2009 according to the store page, so 11+ years of amazing single player level packs had come out since. There isn’t a lot of effort put into the customization, and the mod maker probably would’ve been just fine leaving the models alone.
This uses the “Spirit of Half-Life” technology that modders made to make the GoldSource engine do things that it couldn’t do previously, but if the mod maker used it, I don’t really see it being used here, short of the boss fight on the second level.
Much like the rest of the confusing mod, the “boss fight” is a modified Nihilanth from the base game, except he now has a magic tongue like the game’s Barnacles. Alongside a bunch of Alien Controllers, Winner must dump a bunch of ammo, grenades and other assorted things to destroy the weird monster. Get sucked in, Winner dies and the game restarts, forcing the cutscene that shows off this monster to replay. The fight isn’t even that interesting, as circle-strafing while shooting it full of holes is enough to kill it.
This is certainly an awkward credits sequence.
Once finished, there’s an epilogue cutscene doing a pan across a facility as a makeshift credits sequence, followed by a scientist (presumably Winner) finding the yellow crystal, the same one the boss alien monster absorbed for some reason. Presumably, this is meant to be part of the crystal that starts the events of Half-Life, but it certainly isn’t clear.
Half-Life: Before is not that long, in fact my played time was about 15-30 minutes. Even some of the more passable Half-Life level packs at least get a few hours of entertainment, this just feels more like a proof of concept than something ready for prime time.
What baffles me more than anything about this mod is that this was something Valve thought was worthy enough to put on Steam. There were likely so many other projects that possibly got skipped over for this extremely mediocre mod.
This was the main problem I had with Greenlight: There wasn’t much of a vetting process for quality, where several games only got on Steam because they enticed gullible Steam users with free keys for other games just to get their work on the service.
Towards Greenlight’s end there was so much trash that it was impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff. It just became a punching bag for Jim Sterling and Twitter accounts like Steam Greenlight Gold, highlighting why Greenlight was more of a trash dumping ground than the place to find hidden gems.
Imagine putting in a lot of effort to make something good only for mediocre trash like Half-Life: Before to get the go-ahead. It would certainly discourage one from making games, that’s for sure.
The ratio of good-to-bad games is probably why Valve abandoned Greenlight for Steam Direct, which skipped the voting process entirely, allowing anyone with $100 to publish their own games. Unfortunately, this just skipped the middleman Greenlight had, and now Steam is filled with trash asset flips from other games, games with malicious software in it, even garbage that touted having 5,000 Steam achievements for the explicit purpose of making bank off the trading cards.
One of these games, Abstractism, had items that resembled the most valuable items in games like Team Fortress 2 and DOTA2 for people to swindle unsuspecting traders. Worst, it also had a cryptocurrency miner secretly installed alongside the game. It took a fair share of outrage before Valve removed it from the store. But by then the damage had already been done.
Honestly, this makes me want Greenlight back. At worst you would just have mediocre games that would do Steam key giveaways for votes, which is less scummy than cryptocurrency miners and stuff that wouldn’t even pass Newgrounds’ muster in 2001.
As for Creashock Studios, the studio released one more game, the dull-looking Telepathy Zero, which looks like something from the bygone Xbox Indie Games era. However, that’s not the only game the guy has made. Under his real name Andrii Vintsevych, he made a fair share of boring, unremarkable horror games, including Gynophobia, a horror game where the protagonist has a fear of women.
…Now that I think about it, Half-Life: Before is probably the best thing he’s ever put out.
Writing about this bad Half-Life mod is a bummer, really. I don’t like being cynical that often, but there was a small amount of potential for this to be good, and it wouldn’t even get coverage in PC Gamer twenty years ago. I wrote about some damn fun mods over the years, like Counter-Life.
There is another Half-Life mod I’ve been playing lately that’s damn good, similar in spirit to Counter-Life. I’ll probably write about that next. Grab your Berettas and painkillers.
(NOTE: When I originally published this, the screenshots I took were accidentally using a field-of-view setting that was too “zoomed in” for 16:9 resolutions, presumably an oversight by Valve. The original screenshots were replaced with ones with correct FOV, though I didn’t get perfect one-to-one recreations.)
It feels weird these days that there’s no James Bond video games being released. The last major James Bond game was 007: Legends in late 2012, made to advertise the then-new Skyfall film. Activision revoked the James Bond licence the following year, and unfortunately killed off the wonderful Eurocom in the process. Since then, nobody has come up to the plate to bring the titular spy back in a big-budget licensed game. A shame, really.
While most people probably remember the heyday when Nightfire was the in-thing, or even tried to give stuff like 007 Blood Stone a try, James Bond games have been around much, much longer. There’s so many of them, more than you’d expect. Most of these are fairly quick to talk about, except for one that came out in the early ‘90s.
But before Activision, before EA, even before Goldeneye 007 was having people go Slappers Only in The Basement, there was those really awkward years throughout the 80s and 90s.
Some of the many less-fondly-remembered Bond games, from left to right: James Bond 007 (Atari 2600), A View to a Kill (Apple II) and James Bond: The Stealth Affair/Operation Stealth (Amiga).
Before Nintendo published James Bond 007 and the famous Goldeneye, there wasn’t really a definitive publisher of James Bond games. Parker Brothers put out a passable action game on the Atari 2600 where you play as one of Bond’s fancy cars rather than the character. Mindscape published a few Angelsoft text adventures – written by James Bond historian and later Bond book author Raymond Benson – at one point even Interplay got in on the Bond thing, taking Delphine Software’s Operation Stealth and slapping the James Bond license on it, changing only a few names here and there. But the primary publisher for a lot of Bond games during this period was British publisher Domark.
Domark’s challenging, yet creative takes on The Spy Who Loved Me, Live and Let Die and The Living Daylights.
When Domark had the license throughout the late 80s to early 90s, they released many different kinds of games. Often times these were action games inspired by existing games, like the game based on The Spy Who Loved Me being a passable Spy Hunter clone. There were also games based on Licence to Kill, Live and Let Die, and The Living Daylights.
I do not recommend actively seeking out these games. If you’re morbidly curious, find a cracked copy where you can turn on cheats. A lot of these games are stupidly hard, probably to cover up how little there was in overall game content. For example, Licence to Kill can be beaten in less than 15 minutes if you’re skilled enough. Probably wasn’t worth the $50 price tag with that little gameplay value.
While most of these games were on home computers, there was a James Bond game on home console and it was quite an interesting little piece.
Oh god, no, not that one.
James Bond Jr. is technically a James Bond game, based on the “how did this get made” cartoon series where you play as James Bond’s nephew, rendering the show’s title completely inaccurate. No matter if you’re playing it on the NES or SNES, they’re frustrating, unfun games. Unsurprisingly these are published by THQ, which were infamously known for terrible licensed games throughout the 90s, some rivaling LJN/Acclaim in sheer badness.
No, I’m talking about what ended up being Domark’s final James Bond game: James Bond 007: The Duel.
Released in 1993 for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive and Game Gear, this is an action-based platformer. Developed by “The Kremlin” – in reality Domark’s in-house development team – this is the only James Bond game to appear on Sega platforms. Surprisingly this is not based on an existing film, but rather an amalgamation of various elements of Bond films up to that point.
I have made a fair share of questionable purchases over the years. Back when I was still a Nintendo apologist, during the heydays of Gamecube puttering along way behind the PS2 and when the Game Boy Advance was king of all portable gaming, I had bought stuff that in hindsight wasn’t that useful. Such as the GBA-GC link cable that connected a GBA to a Gamecube to transfer data, or in the case of games like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, have all the action take place on the GBA.
But that isn’t nearly as much in terms of questionable purchasing decisions as me buying into Nintendo’s e-Reader. Not to be confused with an eBook reader, the e-Reader was a Game Boy Advance add-on where you could scan cards with codes printed on the side to get cool goodies. It sounds like a good idea on paper, but the execution was poor: Games sometimes needed 3-10 codes scanned to play something, you could only hold one thing on the e-Reader’s memory at a time, and you needed a GBA link cable if you wanted to transfer anything from an e-Reader to another system, or the Gamecube.
It was a mess. Needless to say, Nintendo of America wasn’t having more of this and discontinued the thing around 2004. Thus leaving me with a bunch of cards I had acquired that I didn’t really have much use for anymore.
Over 15 years after the e-Reader came out, I still have the damn cards. And I’m gonna show some of them off here. Now, these aren’t the most rare, or the most valuable, these are just cards I find interesting, because they have a story to them. Note I’m only gonna list cards I personally own, as much as it would be interesting to write about Japanese exclusive e-Reader cards, I don’t have those.
Donkey Kong Jr.-e
One of the two pack-in classic games – the other being Pinball – this was part of the “Classic NES Series” which featured almost nothing but early NES games, the ones you see crop up everywhere on Nintendo platforms: Donkey Kong, Balloon Fight, Ice Climber, even much-maligned brawler Urban Champion got the e-Reader treatment.
The first card shows how to play the game, with each subsequent card giving some important tips on how to play and eventually master the game. It’s nice considering people even of my generation never grew up on the older NES catalog, but them not being based on more “powerful” NES games like Super Mario Bros. really made this particular series only interesting to diehard Nintendo fans.
It also didn’t help it came on five cards, with one set of two dot codes each. That’s 10 codes I had to scan to play this thing. Worst off, if I wanted to play any other game, I had to remove the game from memory, thus requiring me to scan all ten codes again if I wanted to replay it.
Funny enough, some of these games later got treatment as part of a brief stint of a different “Classic NES Series,” which was on traditional cartridges. These featured more of the NES classics you’d be familiar with, like The Legend of Zelda and Metroid. Why scan 10 codes of Ice Climber when you could buy the same thing for a higher price on a traditional cartridge? Nintendo probably didn’t think that one through too well.
I’ve seen some of these Classic NES Series card packs on sale during the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, and I sometimes get the temptation to get another one of these. Then I realize I’d have to scan 10 codes, and I could play that game elsewhere with less hassle.
…Have I mentioned I hated having to scan 10 freakin’ codes yet?
Hey folks. Sorry that my posting is still somewhat erratic at the moment. Things have been going on in my life, and for a good while I didn’t have anything interesting to write about. I’ve amassed so many junk items over the years that they’re all strewn about in my room, hoping one day they’ll be played and/or written about.
So instead of struggling to think about something, I’m gonna do some posts about some of the games I’ve beaten throughout 2018. Surprisingly it is a small list, as I had fallen into the trap of playing the same quick pick up and play games instead: Killing Floor 2, Payday 2, Asphalt 8: Airborne, and more recently, Quake Champions.
Despite having a massive backlog, I still did finish a few games throughout the year. This was originally gonna be a post with two reviews, but this particular review got so lengthy that I had to split it up.
So let’s talk about a failed reboot of an iconic franchise, shall we?
(Warning: Spoilers for the story of Medal of Honor 2010 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 lie within.)
Back around 2014, I had written (but oddly didn’t publish) a thing about Medal of Honor: Airborne, which I had replayed because a friend was streaming the game. It’s one of his personal favorites, and while I liked some elements of it like being able to drop anywhere on the in-game map, or even the creative weapon upgrade system, it just felt like a tired shooter going through the motions, and was going beyond the more historical angle of Medal of Honor, even having Nazi super soldiers wielding MG42s like it was nothing.
At the end I had written something to the effect “It’s not as amazing as Frontline or Allied Assault, but it’s probably better than Medal of Honor: Warfighter.” At the time, I hadn’t played the most recent Medal of Honor games, and 2018 felt like the time to tackle Medal of Honor 2010 – as I’m gonna call it from here on in, to distinguish it from the 1999 original – and I felt disappointed all the way through.
Realizing World War II games were on their way out after a near ten-year period of them constantly coming out, EA was in a bind. Medal of Honor was considered this prestigious franchise, and they didn’t know where to take it. Their solution was to see what their competition already did three years prior and follow suit: Go modern, and see if it stuck.
The problem was that this came out right after the extremely successful Modern Warfare 2, and was out the same year as Call of Duty: Black Ops – probably in my top three favorite Call of Duty games for various reasons – so already EA was climbing a very, very steep hill. With Medal of Honor 2010, EA didn’t get to the top, but instead slipped and started rolling down the hill, giving themselves bruises and broken bones along the way.
Sometimes when you’re like me, sifting through thrift stores and finding unusual stuff, you sometimes find things you remember hearing existed, but didn’t know if it was real.
I’ve written about game show games in the past, from portables to knockoffs. I try my best to keep up with the current game show-related merchandise, and that includes games. Yet, this was one I wasn’t expecting to find.
Concentration: The Classic Game of Mix and Match, based off Concentration, a show you might’ve heard of if you’re as old as I am, or know a lot about game shows like I do. Developed by casual game developers Freeze Tag and published by Mumbojumbo, this came out around 2007 for PCs, and is something I honestly forgot existed until I picked this up and talked about it on a recent post.
For those who never saw the game show, I’ll give a brief explanation since there are betterplaces that explain the show in more detail: Concentration was a game show that aired on television throughout the 1950s all the way until the early ‘90s. It first aired on NBC from 1958 until 1973, being a daytime staple for the network. After being canceled, the show was revived two times: Once as a syndicated show from 1973-1978, and once more back on NBC from 1987-1991; this time under the name Classic Concentration and famously hosted by Alex Trebek. Classic’s last new episodes aired in 1991, but it aired in reruns until 1993.
A combination of the board game Memory with rebus puzzles, players tried to find matches to earn prizes and eventually win them by solving the mystery rebus puzzle beneath. There were changes and rule adjustments throughout the 35 years the show was on the air, but that’s the general gist of the game.
So why I am surprised this exists? Well, Concentration is slowly becoming one of those shows forgotten by the general populace. The last time it aired anywhere in the US was in 1993, when NBC reran Classic Concentration.
Unlike other classic game shows, it never reran on USA Network’s game show block, or even on Game Show Network. This is because NBC bought the rights to Concentration back in 1958 from Barry-Enright Productions, a TV company who was a part of the big quiz show scandals at the time. Even though the later revivals were produced by Mark Goodson and Bill Todman’s production company – producers of Match Game, Family Feud, and The Price Is Right – the show was still owned by NBC. Presumably NBC was asking too much for rerun rights, hence why the only places you can watch Concentration is YouTube videos of old VHS recordings.
(Update 9/30/2018: It seems pigs are flying and the impossible is now possible, as Buzzr, FremantleMedia’s game show channel, is now airing Classic Concentration on their network daily. For historical purposes, I’ve kept the out-of-date information so people are aware of what once was.)
Through various acquisitions and mergers over the past sixty years, Concentration is now pretty much under the arm of NBCUniversal. Make note of this, as it will come up later.
Now that I’ve given the refresher course about the show, let’s talk about this game, shall we?
I don’t go to thrift stores all that often anymore. I’ve bought too many things over the years that I should write about, but haven’t gotten the time to. It also doesn’t help that thrift store hunting is an adventure in and of itself, so I think I can’t just hit one. But I did just hit one, and it was good to me.
I’ve mentioned Deseret Industries down in Portland before. It’s where I found a bunch of old demo discs from the 90s and 2000s for real cheap. I’ve found PC games I’d never expect to find, even stuff like a cardboard long box copy of NFL Gameday fairly recently. For some reason, this store tends to give me the best luck in finding stuff I wouldn’t expect to find otherwise, whereas I could go to the same Goodwill and be lucky to find a single thing I want, let alone several.
But enough about that, what’d I get?
Mad Dog II: The Lost Gold (PC)
Okay, so Mad Dog II is the sequel to Mad Dog McCree, the fairly popular laserdisc-based light gun game. It’s probably American Laser Games’ most iconic game, next to maybe Crime Patrol or Who Shot Johnny Rock. The sequel is however mostly forgotten, however it didn’t stop American Laser Games from porting it to every system known to man after its arcade run had finished.
I honestly bought that more as a lark. These games are fairly simple, easy to memorize, and beatable within 10-30 minutes. It’s just a novelty, through and through.Read More »
In the many years I’ve been writing about games, I try my best to broaden my horizons and check out stuff that’s not as well known, or written about. In some cases I just end up writing about obscure first-person shooters from the ‘90s most people don’t know about. Such as Operation: Body Count.
For those unaware, Operation: Body Count was a first-person shooter released in 1994 by Capstone Software. In it, you play as a nameless commando who has to stop the evil Victor Baloch and rescue world leaders. It had a fair share of interesting features like AI buddies you could control to help you complete floors, semi destructible environments, a map of the area to avoid getting lost, and a semi-realistic environment in the days when things looked pretty abstract.
The game gives a really bad first impression where Our Hero has to fight the dreaded sewer rats under Baloch’s brainwashing for the first several levels. It also doesn’t help the game looks like… well, this.
It looks like a bad Wolfenstein 3D clone, doesn’t it? Well, it uses id’s Wolfenstein 3D engine as a base, which looked pretty cool in 1992-93. Many games ended up using the engine for their games, including Apogee’s Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold and Rise of the Triad.
But then Doom happened. Basically any FPS that still had the 90 degree maze-like look of Wolfenstein looked extremely dated, especially by 1994 standards. Even Capstone’s other big FPS of the time, Corridor 7: Alien Invasion, didn’t fare so well either for the same reasons as Operation: Body Count. I wouldn’t be surprised if many FPS developers were swearing their heads off when the shareware episode of Doom hit in 1993, with its open areas, tall floors, and level geometry that went beyond 90 degrees.
Despite the game’s relative obscurity, a Doom modder by the name of Impie decided to take the fairly maligned DOS game and give it a Doom-style makeover. The result is nothing but amazing. Also called Operation: Body Count, the game is similar to the 1994 Capstone original, but with significant changes that make the gameplay more fun and exciting.
So I was playing Asphalt 8: Airborne, a fairly fun if grindy racing game, and suddenly this popped up on my screen.
Asphalt 8 meets Fall Out Boy, meant to advertise their newest album? Now that’s a crossover I wasn’t expecting to see.
Admittedly, I don’t listen to a lot of Fall Out Boy. I know a few of their songs, but I always kept confusing them with My Chemical Romance and similar “emo rock” bands that permeated the landscape in the mid-2000s. From the songs I have heard from them, they seem to be an passably entertaining rock band, and I’m surprised they’re still going in 2018.
You’re probably wondering why this crossover exists. They’re a pop-rock band that hasn’t really mentioned being big racing game fans, so it seems like an ill fit, right? Well, Vivendi, the French mega-conglomerate, owns Island Records, which is Fall Out Boy’s label; as well as Gameloft, the developer behind Asphalt 8. So while it’s not completely random like, oh say, KISS Psycho Circus, it certainly doesn’t feel like a natural crossover.
The event goes like this: You join a new racing league, the Fall Out Boy World Tour. In it, you must build enough hype to impress the staff and members of the band to win the championship and earn a brand new car, the BMW M2 “Special Edition,” which differs from the standard BMW M2 in game by having rear spoilers and a cool paint job. You’re given a whole week in real time to do this.
However, the fight will be tough as you’ll be facing stiff competition, including one from the “ultimate Fall Out Boy fan,” Adam Knowles. He’ll taunt you throughout, saying he has the best tuned-up vehicle and that you’ll never beat him. As you complete challenges and gain fans, you’ll eventually have to defeat multiple AI in head-to-head races to win the championship and the BMW M2.
So how does this work? You gain fans by completing challenges in each race. Most of them are fairly simple challenges – beat the race in the target time, get first place, knockdown more cars than your opponent – others more difficult, such as requiring you to do 6 flat spins off a ramp or drift for 4,000 yards. Successfully pull off the challenge and you’ll earn fan points and build up hype. Hype increases the amount of fan points starting at 1 times the value, to 1.5 times the value, all the way up to 3x the normal value. Every normal race is 200 points, whereas the championship racers increase drastically in value as the story progresses.
However, failure will kill fan hype, give fewer points, and end the streak. You can try again but you’ll be starting back at a 1x multiplier; or you can buy out and keep the streak at a fairly costly number of tokens, the game’s premium currency.
Oh, and you need “streaming passes” to broadcast these events (i.e.: race). You’re given three to start, a new one is given to you every 2 ½ hours if you have used one already, though you could buy extra passes with tokens if you were super-impatient.
Over the many years I’ve been collecting games, I’ve always found particularly unusual game show games. Besides the common Jellyvision/Jackbox collective, I’ve found stuff like Outburst, a board game that decided to become a poor man’s You Don’t Know Jack; Another Jack clone that was endorsed by MTV’s TRL… I even have Pat Sajak’s Lucky Letters – I’m probably one of the 34 people who bought a physical copy – which I might write about sometime. But this one’s a bit different. It comes from across the pond, and features one of the most notable fad games of the mid-2000s…
It’s Carol Vorderman’s Sudoku. A somewhat obscure Sudoku game, this came out courtesy of Secret Stash Games, a weird Eidos Interactive imprint. Though Empire Interactive is also credited on the box and in the game itself, which mostly published games in the UK (and were the original distributor there, presumably).
So you’re probably asking: Who the heck is Carol Vorderman, and why is she endorsing a Sudoku game?
I’m going to assume the people reading this post are not from Britain and/or game show nuts, so I’ll give the skinny on who she is: Carol Vorderman is a long-standing television host, being the co-host for a British game show called Countdown.
Countdown is a fairly simple game show where players either try to come up with the longest word from a semi-random pick of letters, or solve a mathematics puzzle by hitting a target number with six randomly chosen set of numbers.
Vorderman was well known especially for the latter, sometimes getting solutions to the math problems that even the players couldn’t figure out. She was on the show for a very long time, from the show’s early beginnings until 2012. She’s almost like Britain’s Vanna White, but with much more to do.
As for Sudoku, it’s a little more complex. A long standing game that got an unusual resurgence around the mid 2000s, the game involves placing the numbers 1 through 9 on a 9×9 grid split into 3×3 subgrids. The goal is to make it so each row, column, and subgrid have one of each number without any duplicates. It’s a nice mental puzzle that gained traction in unusual ways, and it’s one of the mini-games in Nintendo’s then-popular Brain Age games. It’s certainly more enjoyable than Jumble or Crossword puzzles, anyway.
So here’s the first problem I have with this game. Carol Vorderman doesn’t have the name recognition that someone like Gordon Ramsay or James Corden has outside their native England. Had I not told you who Carol Vorderman was, you would probably assume she was a fictitious entity a la Mavis Beacon. But I assure you, she’s a real person who endorsed a Sudoku game, and for some reason somebody thought it was fitting to bring it here without any context of who she is or where she’s from.