Friday, January 25, 2008

The Great Game Throw Down: Adventure

This was the toughest category to narrow down so far. There was a time when adventure games, particularly in the point-and-click style, absolutely dominated computer gaming. Nowadays adventure game fans are lucky if one decent adventure game gets released a year, and even luckier to actually be aware of its existence.

But these were the types of games that really got me into computer games in general. I remember staying up late during a sleepover at a friend's house playing the first two King's Quest games. I can remember trips to my Dad's office to play King's Quest V, because our home computer wasn't speedy enough to handle it. And I remember back in the day before the internet calling the Sierra hint line since I couldn't just Google up a walkthrough when I'd get stuck.

There's also a ton of great adventure games I've never played, and I'm actually pretty excited to see the other guy's lists because a lot of these old games have become abandonware and you can download them, legally, for free.

5 - Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge

My favorite game in the hilarious Space Quest series starring Roger Wilco, the janitor. This particular game involved a plan by the evil Vohaul to unleash an army of cloned vacuum cleaner salesmen on an unsuspecting universe.

This was also the first game I played that paused when you typed your commands. This was a huge step above frantically trying to bang out the correct phrase in previous games of its ilk (I was killed many times in the original Space Quest trying to figure out the right combination of words to get Wilco to crush a deadly robot with a rock).

Vohaul is fat

The fine folks at Infamous Adventures, who provide free, graphically updated versions of some of these types of games, have recently announced they're working on a remake of this game and I'll be looking forward to taking the trip down memory lane.

4 - King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow

In my opinion the best of the venerable King's Quest series, which took a sharp left turn towards awful immediately after this game (King's Quest: Mask of Eternity is a lot like Highlander 2: The Quickening in that you try to pretend it doesn't exist).

Yeah, well, I didn't like that boat anyway

I like this one best because it had my favorite story of any of the KQ games: in the end it's a classic "hero rescues the princess" story, but the stuff you did to get there was a lot of fun. It also featured the song Girl in the Tower which actually got popular enough to get some radio air time. That might have been a video game first (I have nothing to back that up).

3 - Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle

If anybody were to put this game at #1, I would have a hard time arguing with them. Not only is it the sequel to the venerable Maniac Mansion which could also qualify for top 10 lists, but included in the game is a computer where you can play the original Maniac Mansion.

The game has a wacky plot and was developed when LucasArts were at the height of their adventure gaming prowess.

The gist of the story is this: a nerd and his two house mates travel back in time in a Port-a-Potty (called a "Chron-o-John") to turn off a toxic waste producing machine that an evil Purple Tentacle drank in the present day, giving it terrible powers. By doing this they hope to prevent said Tentacle from ever having to chance to drink the waste and become the dread beast the toxins morph it into.

You can see the Purple Tentacle means business

It gets better, because the "Chron-o-John" requires a diamond to operate but the one the heroes use is a cheap imitation diamond, and so the machine malfunctions and sends one person 200 years into the past (where you interact with George Washington and the like), one 200 years into the future (where the Purple Tentacle reigns supreme), and leaves one stranded in the present.

It's an awesome game and one that made me laugh many times.

2 - Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers

It's tough to pick a best game in the Gabriel Knight series, which remains my absolute favorite adventure series to this day. There are only three games in the series and each is very different in terms of the graphics and controls since they were produced so many years apart, but the original GK sticks with the classic point and click model and for my money tells the best story.

And story is where the GK games really, really shine. All three of them are compelling, ranging from hunting lost Wagnerian operas that cure lycanthropy to solving the mystery of the holy grail (in a game that had a story that bore startling similarity to the Da Vinci Code 4 years before that book was published).

You can tell Gabriel Knight is a badass because he walks right through police tape

Fans of the series have been hoping beyond hope that a 4th Gabriel Knight game will happen someday, somehow, but it seems increasingly unlikely, which is sad because the two main characters were left in a very interesting place at the end of the third game and I'll probably never see how it all turns out.

1 - The Longest Journey

Without question one of the best stories I've ever seen told in this medium. It's as close to a perfect game that can be produced in this genre. It's a combination of fantasy and sci-fi with truly interesting, believable characters. I play this game and can't believe Neil Gaiman didn't write the novel first.

Just get it.

Worst Ever - Phantasmagoria 2: A Puzzle of Flesh

The fact that I even have to mention this game and not just extend the adventure category to a top 10 makes me sad, but them's the rules.

The original Phantasmagoria was written/created by the same woman who did the King's Quest series, which is really surprising since the game was a major departure from the kid friendly KQ games (it included grisly murders, "adult situations", and even a rape scene). Phantasmagoria was part of the "full motion video/interactive movie" craze that swept this genre when designers though it would be awesome to use real actors and bundle a game across a zillion CDs instead of just plain old graphics (incidentally I think the only game I ever played that executed this remotely well was Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within). Most of these "interactive movie" games were horrible games, and this mode of design I believe had a huge hand in bringing down this genre to the niche market that it is today.

Phantasmagoria was bad, but Phantasmagoria 2 was a million times worse. The game starred a hallucinating computer tech who keeps having horrible, bloody visions of awfulness. What that means is the game tries to give you cheap scares because random blood/gore/other nonsense would happen whenever you performed the most trivial action. This wore thin because something violent/horrible would happen every time you did anything.

I don't remember the context of this shot from the game, but that might be because there wasn't any

Add to that the fact that the plot made absolutely zero sense (aliens were somehow responsible) and the puzzles made less than zero sense (combine the fungus with the blue alien, combine the starfish shaped alien with the horseshoe... if you don't get it it's because it MAKES NO SENSE) and you had an exercise in frustration that spanned across FIVE FREAKIN' DISCS. I think it was grim curiosity that kept me playing all the way until the end, much like when I saw Apocalypto in the theater. With every scene you just couldn't believe it could get any worse, but gosh darnit it did and when all was said and done you wish you could carefully drill the portion of the brain that was storing the memory.

Here's a great example of a cheesy scare scene in the game. The music really adds to the whole ambiance of suckage:

Here's a death scene. The acting, the music, the cheap effects... I mean my lord they combine to create an absolute cornucopia of awful:

See The Philosophy of Time Travel's list here.

See LastBestAngryMan's list here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Great Game Throw Down: Platformers

5 - Pitfall! (Atari 2600)

I have fond memories of playing this game obsessively because if you sent in a snapshot of the elusive "gold bar" to Activision, you would receive a Pitfall! poster.

I don't remember what the poster looked like, but the box for this game was magnificent:

What's great about this box (besides the rainbow coming out of the protagonist's back) is that it is truth in advertising. What you're looking at on that box is the entire game. Go from one screen to the next and you will see the same thing over, and over, and over again. That kind of audacity is just not something you see in video games anymore with people requiring things like plot and context and endings.

4 - Rygar (NES)

I debated putting this on the list because I don't know that any game brought me closer to tears of frustration more often than Rygar. But I kept playing it anyway because there was something hypnotic about just bashing things with a flaming yo-yo.

That's right, a flaming yo-yo.

Look at how bad ass this dude is. He is vaulting over what looks like some orc while wielding his yo-yo.

Actually my brothers were much better at this game than me (not surprising since my brothers are better at everything than me). I remember marathon sessions of this game because unbelievably, there was no save or password feature despite the game's absurd length. So basically you'd have to break for lunch and possibly dinner to have any hope of getting to the end. It's that kind of "screw you" to the player that makes this one a classic.

Hardcore Gaming 101 has a detailed analysis of Rygar, if you'd like to learn more about the game's historical significance (which I still believe can be summarized simply with "flaming yo-yo").

3 - Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS1)

The Castlevania games are probably the best platforming series out there (with apologies to Mario and Mega Man), and Symphony of the Night is still the best of the bunch.

The game introduced a leveling up concept to the series, and as World of Warcraft has ably demonstrated, there is nothing more addicting than leveling up. Add to that the fact that when you complete 100% of the game, you discover that there is an additional 100% of content you need to finish, and you're locked in for awhile.

A lot of what puts these games on my lists has to do with fond memories, and I remember visiting my buddy Jay in the Bronx one weekend during college. We played this game for about 48 hours straight while rotating turns at the controller. Anything that inspires that level of insanity has to be good, right? Now based on that logic go out and buy yourself some crack.

2 - Contra (NES)

Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start.

'Nuff said.

1 - Cave Story (Doukutsu Monogatari) (PC)

I'm going to be accused of being obnoxious for putting an independently made, lesser known, free game as my #1 choice, but I'm telling you it deserves it.

Cave Story has a surprisingly complex plot, terrific gameplay, a wonderful cast of characters, and you can download it free on PC or Mac. When thinking about this list and this game I had to go fire it up again and it is just as awesome as ever.

I mean c'mon, the main character's name is "Quote" and the female friend is named "Curly Brace", you know you're in for something original.

Go try it now.

Worst Ever - Captain Novolin (SNES)

Many attempts have been made to make video games educational tools. Some of them have succeeded. Captain Novolin is the Hindenburg.

The game was targeted towards kids with diabetes to help teach them about taking insulin and staying away from sweets. Actually playing the game however teaches you nothing but a desire to throw oneself out of the highest available window to end the pain.

Fast forward a couple minutes in to see actual gameplay. The controls are so bad that it is difficult to avoid actually getting hit by the enemies (such as the evil bouncing donut), and you have no obvious means of attack to aid your chances of survival. Imagine if you're a kid with diabetes and you're thinking "Hey, this superhero has diabetes, it can't be all bad." Then you play this game. If I saw a box of Dunkin' Donuts after playing this mess for a couple of hours I would just curl up into the fetal position.

See The Philosophy of Time Travel's completely wrong choice for worst game ever here.

See LastBestAngryMan get so angry he refuses to even name a top five here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Great Game Throw Down: Fighters

Over the next several weeks, two of my fellow friends and bloggers from LastBestAngryMan and The Philosophy of Time Travel will be listing our top 5 all time favorite games in a variety of categories.

Games on any type of platform are acceptable. I will also be using the blog space to rip their selections to pieces when they don't agree with mine.

To get the ball rolling, here are the Top 5 Fighting Games:

5 - Dead or Alive 4 (Xbox 360)

So the first game I'm going to mention here is a game I have never actually played. However, judging by the almost anatomically impossible females in this game (a quick search of "Dead or Alive" in Google Images will explain) you know that this game must be awesome. The girls are so popular to drooling teenage geeks everywhere that they even made a volleyball game featuring the Dead or Alive girls in tiny bikinis.

Incidentally a movie was also made based on this series, and it netted a whole $270k or so at the box office before being yanked from the theaters and relegated to bargain bins everywhere.

4 - Mortal Kombat 4 (Arcade)

This makes the list because my friends and I used to play it all the time in college under the name of "The Kick-Punch Game", since mostly all we did was mash buttons and never bothered to learn to many of the moves.

One move we DID learn, however, is the most hilarious fatality in Mortal Kombat history:

3 - Super Smash Bros. (N64)

Playing this game is like trying to pull a pack of rabid squirrels off of you while running from an angry swarm of bees. You really don't have much idea where you're going or what you're doing because you're too busy just trying to survive.

I do however have fond memories of getting pummeled repeatedly over the holidays by my younger brothers in this game.

2 - Street Fighter 2 Turbo (Arcade/SNES)

Probably one of the best, most balanced fighting games ever (by reputation, I really have no clue) and certainly one of the best ports to the SNES. I spent a ton of time playing this game, even conducting tournaments with all of the characters with my brothers. I don't know that I ever really got any good at it but it was an awesome game.

Sadly, the last film the great Raul Julia ever appeared in was the movie version of "Street Fighter", which was just a terrible shame.

1 - Mortal Kombat 2 (Arcade/SNES)

This was the only fighting game I ever played obsessively in the arcade mall when I was a lad. I got good enough at the game that I could often hang out at the mall for an hour or so just on fifty cents, as the rules of the arcade floor made it so that you were forced to queue up against the jerk who was winning and knock him off the machine before another could step up.

With Mortal Kombat 2, I was that jerk.

Worst Ever - Shaq Fu

If you have never heard of this game before, nothing can prepare you for the horror.

The LastBestAngryMan's top fighter here.

The Philosophy of Time Travel's top fighters here.

Quick Hits

With the wedding now 12 days away, as you can imagine things have been a little busy. Add to that the fact that I'm trying to get a big project done at work in the middle of all this and you basically have a situation where when I do have some free time available I haven't been spending it blogging.

In lieu of some meatier updates, I'm just going to do a real quick rundown of some things I've wanted to blog about but haven't done so yet.


Last weekend I spent about an hour or so putting a bookshelf together. It's one of those "no tools required" bookshelves so that anti-handymen like myself may end up with something that has an outside chance of actually holding up books when completed.

I used to love to play with Lego when I was a kid, but I have zero skill (or desire to develop skill) when it comes to building things. I have no idea why this is. I love design when it comes to writing software, which a lot of people seem to think is like building. I say anything you can do while eating M&Ms is not really "building". Building to me requires some kind of physical component, and it's that lack of ability to make my hands do what my brain is telling me that usually results in the problems I have on any type of home improvement project or sport.

The bookshelf sat in the box for several weeks before "Build the damn shelf" ended up on last weekend's honey-do list. Obviously I complained as much as possible to avoid more construction projects ending up on future lists, but I dutifully built the darn thing. For me there's not even a sense of satisfaction when I finish putting together a piece of furniture because I usually end up with four or five critical pieces that I missed putting in their proper place; I'm more concerned with the structural integrity of what I've just "finished" than any feeling of accomplishment.

At any rate all of my comics and tabletop gaming books are on the new shelf, so if it collapses the worst thing that will be hurt is my pride, which I'm pretty sure consists solely of scar tissue at this point.


Speaking of the "building", I've been using ASP.NET as the back end for this web based project at work that's been monopolizing my time.

Is there any company that so has so thoroughly screwed itself lately as often as Microsoft? The mess of a release that was Vista has been well chronicled. The Xbox 360 had unbelievable failure rates: even though the console has sold well it's difficult to tell if Microsoft has made a single dollar yet on the console due to having to replace so many of them. Their developer tools are the best in the business, but they release new versions of their languages too often to be comfortable keeping up with the latest and greatest, particularly since the backwards compatibility from one version to the next isn't always there.

ASP.NET is just a mess in terms of how it expects you to design. My problem with the very basis of the thing is that it tacks on too many new tags and components and they don't ever seem to render quite the same across browsers. When you are doing web design there is only ONE thing you really should be thinking about: making the app cross browser compatible. ASP.NET is the absolute worst tool possible for doing that if you use it the way Microsoft seems to want you to use it.

Instead of using all of the special stuff that comes with ASP.NET I've just been writing small web pages that will never get seen by the user that handle all of the heavy lifting (database calls, etc.) and writing the whole front end in plain ol' HTML and Javascript. I'm using Prototype to make all of the calls to the back end. I've basically taken away everything that makes ASP.NET special and that seems to be what works best.


Prepare for the most annoying two weeks in American sports. Seriously, does it get any worse than the build up for the Super Bowl?

Also, when is it going to be okay to start suggesting that the Packers may have won another Super Bowl by now if Brett Favre had retired?


Jules and I went car shopping last Saturday and got her a new ride. Car shopping is another experience that I have found pretty unpleasant in the past as well, but this time with some good research and a target price in mind the whole thing went reasonably smoothly. The downside is that it made me want a new car, as the Hyundai Accent I'm driving right now runs fine but is missing some amenities, like door handles.


There's a lot of buzz starting to build around the latest Wii game: Endless Ocean. It's being praised for being "innovative", which I think these days means that it isn't a first person shooter.

I haven't played the game and probably won't because I sold my Wii over the holiday, but after reading some reviews it looks a lot like the space exploration simulator Celestia, which similarly has no goals, plot, etc. but is just a gigantic sandbox. It also came out several years ago and is free.

Point I'm making here is I'm not really seeing the innovation angle on Endless Ocean. It looks like it might make a nice screen saver though, and the soundtrack does feature at least one tune by Hayley Westenra, who can flat out sing.


Somebody needs to take away my copy of MLB Power Pros. The debate about whether or not to get a PS3 or Xbox 360 this year has been put on hold indefinitely by this game.

You know how when you were a kid playing baseball games you would make a team with all of your friends on it? That's basically what I'm trying to do with MLB Power Pros right now, which means I've been playing Success mode nonstop trying to assemble what will be the most awesome team ever (still working on a name, but it's a tossup between the Juicers and the Djerkababalash).


Andy, who is basically the reason people find this blog, started one of his own. Make sure you check it out.


Finally, if anybody has some book recommendations toss them out there as I'm almost at the end of my reading queue and I'll want to stock up for the honeymoon.

Monday, January 07, 2008

American Gladiators is Awesome

I don't watch too much TV. I only say this because if a picky snob like myself endorses a TV show, you know it has to be awesome.

So let me just say right now that the new American Gladiators which debuted last night is a shining example of just what is possible with the medium of television.

If you're not familiar with American Gladiators, it's a contest between 2 reasonably athletic but otherwise average schmoes against gigantic roid monsters who could snap a loser like me in half with a menacing glance. They're so badass they don't even have normal, god-fearing Christian names. They've got names like Stealth, Titan, Militia, Fury, and Hellga. These are names that let you know they mean business.

The contestants play various games against these gladiators. Each game is worth points and the objective is to build up a lead against your opponent which translates into a head start in the final one on one showdown between the contestants in the Eliminator. The Eliminator is what an obstacle course would be if it was designed by Lucifer and the Marquis de Sade on a bar napkin over a couple of cocktails. People limp across the finish line of this thing looking like they've just run 4 marathons in a row while being beaten with a shoe.

Let me just summarize the high points of the debut episode last night:

1) Five minutes into the program, one of the female contestants blows out her knee getting tackled into a wall. She further destroys it attempting to hobble back to the home base and twisting it awkwardly. She ends up on crutches and is out of the competition.

2) About seven more minutes after that, Gladiator Militia blows out his arm swinging from rings, attempting to catch a contestant also swinging on rings.

3) Over the course of the next half hour, at least 4 piledrivers are executed on the contestants across 2 different events. We get to see the replays from the contestant's perspectives thanks to cameras mounted in their helmets (you didn't think the helmets were actually there to prevent head trauma did you?).

4) A guy has such a huge lead in the Eliminator that it appears over until he reaches the final obstacle: a treadmill that is on a very steep angle up. You have to run up this thing against the flow of the treadmill to get to the finish line. Completely exhausted by the rest of the Eliminator, the dude falls down at least 6 or 7 times trying to make it up that last ramp, giving the other contestant time to catch up and win the match. Watching the dude try to get up the ramp was what I imagine it would be like to watch Sisyphus try to push that boulder up the mountain: you feel bad for the guy, but not bad enough to stop laughing.

5) A woman cracks open her forehead on one of the first obstacles in the Eliminator by leaping into a steel beam. Blood running down her face, once she passes that obstacle she then has to get on the "barrel roll". On this thing you are standing at a great height looking at a barrel on a ramp lying horizontally. You have to grip the thing and then a helpful fellow pushes you down the ramp, spinning you at a rapid rate while you struggle to hold on. Confused and bleeding, the woman does not hold on very long and falls, landing almost head first. She tries to get up but falls down again from dizziness and disorientation. Undaunted she eventually finishes behind her opponent with her face covered in blood. Her daughter screams in the audience when she goes to hug her.

The show is on again tonight and I absolutely can't wait.

Friday, January 04, 2008

If Golf Looked Like This, I'd Play It Every Day

Okay, it's pretty well known that I'm not real good at golf.

Yesterday gaming website Kotaku announced that Konami would be porting terrible coin-op game Target: Terror to the Wii as what is apparently a never ending parade of horrific third party ports continues.

What these two things have to do with each other is that in the spirit of Wii game publishing standards, the port will include several mini games (nobody loves mini game collections like the Wii). One of those is a golfing game that looks like this:

Look at that thing for a second. This is the most spectacular screenshot I think I have ever seen for a video game. As near as I can tell those are hooded terrorists on those golf carts. Some of them in the middle appear to be sinking into the earth. The guy actually hitting golf balls looks like he is standing on the driving mat but is actually hitting the balls off the grass at the terrorists in an effort to defend his right to appear in a game this horrendous.

Let's not overlook the attention to detail as well. Next to the whimsical sign "Replace Your Divots" you can see a shadow effect. What makes this fantastic is there are no other shadows to be seen anywhere else on the screen.

If I hadn't sold my Wii over the holiday, you can bet Target: Terror would be on the very top of my list of games to purchase in 2008.