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LONG BLOG

OkändOnsdag 11/2017: Game or dev?

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Cool names are cool, so cool that they work both as studio names and game names. That was the theme for November's games, and as it happened, it wasn't particularly inspiring (for me), especially since I got sick at the end of the month. Even worse, I got Fire Emblem Warriors (waste of time) and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (better).

Of the games discussed in this blog, Hostile Waters, Battlezone, Battlezone 2 and Descent are the only ones I've played enough to warrant a mention.

Incoming Forces (Rage Software, 2002) - PC

(Youtube gameplay video by Naceo, levels 1 and 2)

I don't know how many people remember Rage (the game from 2011), since I could imagine more people to be familiar with RAGE (Rockstar Advanced Game Engine) instead. But then there was Rage Software (1992-2003).

They had a reputation for doing the type of games that got bundled with graphics cards to show the power of those. Incoming (1998) and Incoming Forces were such games.

Neither Incoming game is 'deep'. For a deeper game by Rage, looking at Hostile Waters: Antaeus Rising (2001) would be nice. That game felt a bit like what Battlezone was like and from what I hear, the old Carrier Command (Realtime Games/Rainbird, 1988) game as well (I never played that). That game is probably the reason I have a soft spot for Rage -- Hostile Waters didn't really set the world on fire, but I was still wanting more in the vein of Battlezone (1998) and Battlezone 2: Combat Commander (1999). (As a reboot of old Atari IPs, those are still way ahead of Haunted House: Cryptic Graves, Alone in the Dark: Illumination or Asteroids, I imagine.)

Unfortunately, while Incoming and Incoming Forces are available on GOG, I can't get them to run on my PCs with Windows 10. As such, I can't really refresh my memories of how the games play... since I didn't play the rereleases I bought on CD years ago all that much either.

Dam Busters (Sydney Developments/various, 1984) - C64, ...

(Gameplay video on DerSchmu's channel, played by Andor Peces)

It was time for me to learn something new, too; this game may be somewhat based on a movie/book of the same name in the 1950s. Even more so, the movie seems to be pretty well regarded in the UK.

Dam Busters is a WW2 flight game. The goal is to fly from the UK to the continental Europe, destroy a dam by bombing it with bouncing bombs and that's it. The mission takes place during the night, which is all the better for the game. Why, there's no need to draw the ground except for various light spots to create the feeling the plane is moving forwards.

This is one of the games I've never played myself, but I recall reading the review when I was a kid and seeing the searchlights' beams in the screenshot (printed in black-and-white). Now that I've seen actual gameplay video, it's not as impressive.

But what is the studio, then? On Wikipedia, Dambuster Studios has one game to their name: Homefront: The Revolution (Dambuster Studios/Deep Silver, 2016). If you think that's bad, well, their predecessor was Free Radical Design, who created TimeSplitters (2000-2005) and Haze (Free Radical Design/Ubisoft, 2008). The former series has its fans, the latter.. not so many.

Epic (DID/Ocean, 1992) - Amiga, Atari ST, MS-DOS, PC-9801

(Gameplay video by einokeino303 of the Amiga version)

Digital Image Design may not ring a bell to many, but they made many 3D flight sims for Amiga and PC. F29 Retaliator, TFX (Tactical Fighter eXperiment), EF2000 (that's the Eurofighter Typhoon), F-22: Air Dominance Fighter and so on. Epic is different from those in that it's a space shooter instead... with only seven levels, according to Mobygames.

The game definitely sounds good, and with David Whittaker doing the music, that shouldn't be a surprise.

Unlike the other titles in this blog, Epic the game was published when Epic Megagames already existed. Epic Megagames is, of course, the second name of Epic Games (the first being Potomac Computer Systems). 

The concept and design for Epic is credited to Martin Kenwright, who is still active in the industry. He co-founded Evolution Studios, which developed the Motorstorm games for PS3.

But overall, actual commercial flight simulators haven't been all that popular or numerous lately, have they? Microsoft Flight Simulator saw its last (non-Steam) release in 2006. X-Plane seems to be getting releases even in 2017, but that's about the depth of my knowledge of present-day flight sim genre. I suppose messing with Kerbals is more fun...

Firefly (Special FX Software/Ocean, 1988) - C64, ZX Spectrum

(Gameplay video on DerSchmu's YT channel, played by Reinhard Klinksiek)

Firefly is probably not a name you'd associate with games but TV. I doubt you'd know the developer either: they're known for one game series: Stronghold (2001, 2002, 2005, 2006, ...).

As for the game, its developer Special FX Software didn't turn out to be a studio with a heavy-weight legacy. Looking at Mobygames, their games are typical Ocean license games like Hudson Hawk (1991), The Untouchables (1991), Batman: The Caped Crusader (1988) and so on. Of a bit more interest here is the sound engineer: Fred Gray. His merits aren't much unlike Special FX Software's, except he was also very involved with Denton Designs. Note that this is not DMA Design, who eventually became Rockstar North. Instead, Denton Designs was one of the studios that popped up after Imagine's implosion (and they were eventually bought by Rage Software -- the same company I talked about first earlier in this blog).

Back to Gray. Looking at the credit listing on Mobygames, we can see games like Mario Bros. However... most of those are ports to C64 and the original composer is quite possibly or even likely someone else.

Mind you, he still got his name on the credits of a Mario game. And that's not all: some of his original music is also well-regarded. For example, his music for Batman: The Caped Crusader is considered very good (and I'm happy to hear nods to the old Batman TV series tune in there). That game was released in 1988 and Tim Burton's Batman, with Danny Elfman's theme, in 1989, so Adam West was still the one true live-action Batman.

Oh, just one more thing... Britons around the early 1980s might know the game publisher Imagine. At least going by their magazine ads, Fred Gray had been hired by them to work on their "megagames", Psyclapse and Bandersnatch. If you've never seen a TV documentary being made just as a games company is about to implode, you should watch this episode of Commercial Breaks which is just that.

Parallax (Sensible Software/Ocean, 1986) - C64

(Gameplay video from DerSchmu's YT channel, played by Reinhard Klinksiek)

Parallax is quite possibly the best-known featured title in this blog. For one, this C64 game was the first game made by Sensible Software -- a very big name in the late 80s, early 90s. It might even be that the company (Parallax Software) is less known. They're best known for the first two games in the Descent series (1995), the six-axis-of-freedom shooter with mining robots gone amok and a reactor to blow up.

"Parallax scrolling" might be a term less familiar for present-day gamers, but it refers to the background scrolling in multiple layers at a different speed. For instance, in Super Mario Bros. on the NES the clouds, ground, blocks and bushes all move at the same pace. NES didn't support this without some trickery. Parallax scrolling was actually one of the things Shovel Knight did that wasn't really feasible on the NES.

In some cases, the games faked the effect by having the background scroll at a different pace on bands that never crossed. The background of Sonic the Hedgehog's first level on Megadrive, for example, did this to look like there are more layers scrolling than there are. Make no mistake, that game has real parallax scrolling, but the number of layers appears higher than it "technically" is.

Parallax the game is a top-down shooter -- both on a spaceship and unusually for games of the era, also on foot. Eurogamer made a retro review of Parallax and they weren't impressed with it 'today'. That review is, after all, a bit over ten years old now... as the final sentence in that review says:

Kids today with your 2GB machines. Don't know you're born....

Unsurprisingly, the music needs to be mentioned. Martin Galway's theme for the game is highly regarded, even though I don't really understand the reason for it myself.

What about December?

As you may have noticed, December's theme is games kind-of related to Lord of the Rings, or at least inspired by them. That'll also be the last blog in this series for now.

May that blog be better than this... as impossible as the opposite happening can sound.

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About Flegmaone of us since 11:34 PM on 01.17.2015

Very much unprofessional writer, don't take anything I write without a truckload of salt.

On a hopefully long-term break from saying anything.