Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘retro gaming’

It’s been mentioned before on this blog that Tropico is my favourite game/series of games in the world. Shortly I will be reviewing the recently released Tropico 5, but before I do that, lets quickly recap how the series has developed thus far.

Taverns of Tropico

The taverns of Tropico, Top left – Tropico, top right – Tropico 2, bottom left – Tropico 3, bottom right Tropico 4

Tropico – 2001

It’s important to remember that the Tropico series dates back to a time when building/management sims were actually AAA games. Games like Sim City, The Sims, Railroad Tycoon and Rollercoaster Tycoon were all serious franchises that dominated shelves and discussions.

Tropico was from the makers of Railroad Tycoon and came into that market offering a quirky island version of a sandbox management sim. You picked a historical dictator (or created one of your own complete with backstory, talents and flaws) and tried to survive ruling a Caribbean island, complete with lush plants and impeccable Cuban music for the allotted 50 years. Your final score was based on not only how big and wealthy your island was, but also how much you managed to stash away in your Swiss bank account.

It was a remarkably deep simulation. You were forced to adapt your approach to economic growth in each game based on the skills of your dictator and the available resources of the island. As your island took off, immigrants would arrive looking to take advantage of the jobs and general idyllic lifestyle offered by your tropical paradise. Every one of these migrants had needs, a family and political leanings And so began your political problems. You needed to find ways to keep enough of them happy to survive regular elections, or risk being voted, Survivor style, off the island and into an instant game-over failure.

It was also a very small game. Unlike other similar games which could go for weeks, a game of Tropico was a pleasant 3-4 hours. Your island and population were also very small, around 200-600 citizens. It felt like everyone and their family mattered. With such a small population you seldom had enough time, money or construction workers to build everything the game had to offer.

This gave the game an amazing truthiness, you really felt like you were running a small, petty little island. Rather than gaming everything to min-max your economy and work out the perfect build order for everything, you instead would spend the whole game dealing with a list of strangely realistic problems. These might include winning a string of elections through micromanaging faction politics or dealing with rebels who would hide out in the jungles before attacking your favourite cigar factory. Most feared of all was trying to wrestle control over the economy back from the World Bank, who insisted on taking control of citizen wages (and hence general happiness) if the island went too far in the red. None of these were preset challenges or scenarios, they were just what happened to occur due to whatever area of the island’s development needs you weren’t quite able to keep up on.

Your problems might also be much smaller. In keeping with the island feel, Tropico managed to capture the idea of lazy tropical island life. Rupert the dockworker was going to go to the pub, go home, go to church and get his shots at the clinic no matter what. If that meant he wasn’t around when the trade ship came in, well, he’d help out on the next one. This made you care, to a ridiculous degree, about Rupert’s daily life.

Unfortunately, that significance of individual citizens was also the source of the game’s biggest frustrations, as an entire regime could be brought down because Pedro the 48 year old teamster died of a heart attack while pushing his wheelbarrow containing two years of cigar production down to the docks.

The combination of a quick, deep game that just felt perfect made Tropico being what I described as a “booty call” game. I would just get these random cravings to play one or two games, and then put it away for another couple of months.

 

Tropico 2: 2003

Tropico 2

Tropico 2 – completely different look and setting to the rest of the series.

In hindsight, Tropico 2 is very much the odd one out in the series. Unlike all the others, which take place primarily between the Cold War and today, Tropico 2 was set during the golden age of piracy.

Essentially you played the role of a pirate king. You provided a safe port and various ‘services’ to pirates who would go out, plunder the seas and bring back their treasure to spend and store on the island. By making them happier, and providing merchants to kit them out with cutlasses and parrots, you increased the potency of the pirate fleet, who in turn would be more successful and bring back more loot.

To complicate things, you essentially had two different populations. The aforementioned pirates stayed on the island, drank, visited bawdy houses and generally desired a good amount of “anarchy”. The other population were captives, who actually did all the work serving the alcohol, building buildings and providing, well, personal services. They were borderline (perhaps not so borderline in some cases) slaves who needed to be kept in check with “order”.

To explain the quotation marks, “Order” and “Anarchy” were actually a kind of aura generated by buildings and decorations. Brothels and taverns created the “anarchy” atmosphere that the pirates craved. Alternatively, making the place look like the set of Game of Thrones with the gratuitous placement of gallows and skeletons provided the necessary “order” to keep the captives in line. It was frankly a strange system, which was downright problematic with respect to captives who had to work in the pirate areas. It is a good thing that this design feature didn’t make it into any of the other Tropico games, but it did at least have the aesthetically pleasing effect of making you develop areas of the island a bit like a theme park.

A final, tiny creative flourish which I particularly enjoyed was the ability to name many of the buildings on the island. This allowed you to really add character to your game as Pirates visited the SCUMM Bar or the Llama and Pickle.

Most important in the context of the Tropico series was that Tropico 2 was primarily built around a campaign. The campaign was a series of islands and scenarios that took you from your first little island through to a bustling pirate stronghold. This was to be an idea that would dominate subsequent games.

Tropico 3: 2009

It had been a long time between rum-based cocktails when Tropico 3 was released in 2009. PopTop the original developer ceased to exist in 2006 and it was generally assumed that we would never see another game. Somehow however the Tropico franchise found itself in the hands of a Bulgarian game developer called Haemimont Games.

Tropico 3

Tropico 3 – a visually stunning reboot/reskin of the original

Much as I loved the original two games, I was very nervous about how good the game could possibly be. Although I was somewhat encouraged by the fact that it was now coming out of a nation with relatively recent experience of dictatorship.

Fortunately I had no need to be worried. This was still Tropico, lush, green and infected with a terminal case of the mambo. Haemimont had been extremely faithful to the original, and most of the buildings, edicts and mechanics were identical to what they had been in 2001. As we wrote at the time

“It looks better, runs better and has ironed out a veritable fruit stall of little quirks and bugs”

Of course, after 8 years, presentation was a notable upgrade. The game was now fully in 3D and had an impressive day/night cycle. There was also a bunch of really nice touches. Your Presidente was now an entity in-game who could visit buildings to improve production, or stand on the balcony of the palace to deliver speeches. And OMG the radio. I loved the addition of the radio. Tropico had always had amazing music, but now it was delivered interspersed with quirky radio DJ commentary on how life was going on the island. Simply awesome.

El Presidente

El Presidente is now a customisable avatar who appears in the game world. Here he is portrayed by a greaser in a top hat.

Then there was the addition of vehicles, which completely transformed the game cosmetically and structurally. By dramatically reducing travel times it solved the “Pedro’s heart attack” issue mentioned earlier. Vehicles also made it possible to develop an entire island, rather than being trapped in the tiny corner that Rupert could reasonably walk to. Incidentally, and a little ironically, it also finally enabled your island to look like the opening sequence to the original Tropico.

There were negatives to the change however. With larger islands and populations, now easily over 1000 people, faction politics became significantly less personal. The game transformed from being about appeasing 200 or so people on an island into a game about supply chains and traffic management. Essentially it went from being a ginormous game of The Sims into being a tiny version of Railroad Tycoon.

The balance was also completely different. Where previously a larger island made life really tough politically, in Tropico 3 your island could just keep growing in a state of perpetual happiness once you nailed down the economy and traffic flow. Now you pretty much could, and would, build every possible building and solve every possible problem in each game. Tropico had turned from a pretty but flawed banana republic into an utopia.

This probably would have made for quite a dull sandbox game, which may be why they decided to take the scenario idea from Tropico 2 and run with it. The game now became very much about building an island according to the requests and parameters provided by the game, more so than the resource availability or needs of the island.

Despite these changes, it felt like the developer had Tropico 3 was a refined but faithful homage to the original game.

Tropico 4: 2011

Tropico 4 felt like it was when the developer really started to commit to the idea that Tropico could be a significant commercial franchise.

Despite the fact that the two games looked very similar, Tropico 4 was a lot more sophisticated in almost all areas. The roads and traffic elements were balanced and no longer needed the obsessive control that they did in the previous version. The campaign was longer, more detailed and structured around a cast of jokey voice acted characters like Reverend Esteban the drunken priest and Brunhilde Van Hoof, a spoof of Margaret Thatcher.

The game also had a large amount of downloadable content (DLC). The previous games, going all the way back to the original each had expansions, but this time there were also ten small $5-15 packages that typically provided a building, a new scenario and some cosmetic changes.

In terms of actual gameplay, not much was different. The main change was the introduction of progress over time. Certain buildings would only become available later in the game. This continued the trend of increasing the potential island population size and reducing the importance of the island’s resources. By the end of the game you replaced your traditional resource gathering and dwellings with aesthetically ridiculous biofarms and ziggurats which enable you to house and feed a population the size of Shanghai on Nauru.

Tropico 4 ziggurat

The ziggurat – a visually ridiculous addition to your island utopia.

Another change, not huge in terms of gameplay, but significant in terms of the series was adding a sense of character development to your Presidente. While previous games had you pick a series of talents and flaws – eg an administrative genius with flatulence and a gambling problem, you now picked from traits which would “level up” and provide more powerful effects as you played more games. Now even Presidente could be perfect.

Conclusion

Tropico has evolved and developed much like one of the islands it lets you run. At the beginning it was a tough, tight little political simulation in which, like Civilization 5, you had to balance the strengths of your leader with the resources available to you. Islands were small and your objectives were focussed purely on satisfying the needs and desires of each citizen if you hoped to finish the game and not get voted off the island.

Over time the gameplay has experienced somewhat of an urban sprawl. By Tropico 4 it has become a game about managing traffic and supply chains to build incredibly large and densely populated cities. Winning/finishing the game is now achieved by completing a series of pre-ordained quests. It now feels like an anachronism that it is possible to lose the game instantly by losing an election, not that it is ever likely to happen since it is now also possible to build a tropical utopia ruled by the most talented person on the planet.

That could be characterised as an evolution into a more focussed, tightly designed game with a defined and desirable objective. All of which are good things and make Tropico 3 and 4 games I love to go back to on a regular basis. And to be honest the original Tropico, like many retro games, is now practically unplayable due to its old bugs and limitations.

But I do miss the days of seeing if an entrepreneurial former-nightclub singer with a severe case of kleptomania could survive ruling an island of 150 religious nutters.

Read Full Post »

Heading further and further into the 3D generation, particularly before 2D was made cool again, is really making it hard to find games that I love that aren’t obvious to everyone what they are.  This little ditty is a game that honestly I love to death.  If you get it and have played this game, count me as a big fan of you. (updated 23 December, answer provided by LewisPackwood)

1997 – Relentless: Little Big Adventure

I actually had the choice of two years to put this game.  I could’ve included it for its PC release, which I played, in which case it would’ve been 1994.  But I chose to include its PS1 release date, which was three years later in 1997.  Either version, as I have found in the last couple of weeks after tracking down a copy of the PS1 port, is still the same fantastic and decidedly french feel from a game developed in France.  That is once you get past the Resident Evil-esque controls.

At the risk of sounding absolutely ridiculous and cliched, the journey the game takes you on is absolutely magical.  Everything about the world really stokes your imagination as everything in the world is fleshed out – from the species on planet Twinsun to the prophetic dreams of the antagonist, it really feels like the game world has a deep seeded history that goes beyond the timeline contained within the game.

When I first played the game what first struck me was the simple graphical style of the game.  Possibly a function of the graphical processors available at the time, but everything is relatively simple geometry and very flat textures. But despite all this the world absolutely exudes character and draws you into the world.  The main protagonist for example is a basic-ish 3D model with very flat gouraud shading, but over the course of the game he is fleshed out so well that despite his simple (and slightly silly) aesthetic, you can’t help but really grow attached to him.  All of this is certainly not criticism, and honestly I remember thinking the game looked amazing – something I can now confirm after playing the PS1 version upscaled and smoothed on the PS3.  In fact its graphical style has really allowed it to be timeless in a way that more early complex 3D console games (like Vagrant Story) just haven’t been able to graphically.

But the actual technical aspects of the game aside, the most important thing is the game still holds up.  It may look and play just like an isometric adventure game, but rest assured if you give it a chance it will stay with you until long after the credits (and the rather endearing ending).  Now its your job to find out what the game is, and just take a gamble and my word for it that this game is honestly one of the greatest examples of 1990’s videogaming.

13 Days to go 13 Years ago

1997

Do you know the game? Post your guesses in the comments section.  Come back tomorrow 0r link below to earlier entries in the countdown to 2011.

14 Days to Go – 1996

15 Days to Go -1995

16 Days to Go – 1994

17 Days to Go – 1993

18 Days to Go – 1992

19 Days to Go – 1991

20 Days to Go – 1990

21 Days to Go – 1989

22 Days to Go – 1988

23 Days to Go – 1987

24 Days to  Go – 1986

25 Days to Go – 1985

26 Days to Go – 1984

Read Full Post »

Bah Humbug.  Or something like that at least.  Its not even the middle of the week yet and I’m already hanging out for christmas.  So here is another game, dammit. (updated 24 december 2010, correct answer from LewisPackwood)

1996 – Samurai Shodown IV

Let’s try and rank the seriousness of 2D fighting games back in 1996 from least serious to most serious.  At the very top of the not at all serious pile sits Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct complete with their ridiculously large combos and stupidly violent finishing moves.  Next we have the World Heroes of the world which comes with a stupid array of historical figures and a Deathmatch mode which really doesn’t feel like its at home in a 2D fighter.  Then we have the King of Fighters and Street Fighters, which by 1996 had developed into fully fledged frame countin’ competitive fighters complete with rosters as long as your arm and move lists and complicated combo gauges and air blocking techniques that really started to show the intricacies of the genre.  Then you have this game.

Actually that’s not really fair, as an avid KOF and SF fan, I take offence at my own words.  But what I’m really trying to get at here is this particular series was, at the time, known for a slower pace and more strategic approach to 2D fighting.  To draw a comparison (and not a very apt one, but it works on some levels) it really was the Soul Calibur of its day, employing a slow paced weapons based fighting system that rewards good defence as much as it does good attack.  Again, I’m not saying that Street Fighter and King of Fighters are purely attacking games, but the overall pace of a fight between two players that know the game leans much more to defence than it does to attack.

15 Days to go 15 Years ago

1996 (image from arcade-history.com)

Do you know the game? Post your guesses in the comments section.  Come back tomorrow 0r link below to earlier entries in the countdown to 2011.

15 Days to go – 1995

16 Days to Go – 1994

17 Days to Go – 1993

18 Days to Go – 1992

19 Days to Go – 1991

20 Days to Go – 1990

21 Days to Go – 1989

22 Days to Go – 1988

23 Days to Go – 1987

24 Days to  Go – 1986

25 Days to Go – 1985

26 Days to Go – 1984

Read Full Post »

After a long drawn out process of trying to work out what on earth the game for 1990 was, we finally got there with some time on Google (or Bing if you’re as cool as me) and a cracking hunch from Mr Lewis Packwood.  And like usual, I’ve fallen a further day behind which means my Christmas break and boxing day, aside from watching the Aussies win the Ashes will more than likely involve me putting together a few of these.  Fun times for all. (Updated 19 December 2010, answered correctly by LewisPackwood)

1993 – Rock ‘n Roll Racing

Even the behemoths had to start of small.  That’s really the story behind this game.  My history with this game is one that unfortunately doesn’t involve ownership – despite a chance to buy a port of the game on the GBA ten years later that I foolishly ignored.  It was one of those games that you rent.  And rent.  And rent.  And rent.  The strange thing is, despite the repeated rental of the game, parents still never manage to see the value in just investing in the goddamn thing rather than repeatedly having to spend money to rent it over night.  I’m sure it was in issue of liquidity or some such bullshit.  Regardless I still haven’t forgiven them.

Developed by a studio formerly known as Silicon and Synapse, know known as something entirely different to millions and millions and millions more people.  Yep, I just gave it away but if on the off chance you don’t recognise the old name, just trust me that its a developer almost in a league of its own in terms of pedigree and strike rate of simply great games (and games with legs). Of course none of the games since have been anywhere near as good as the Lost Vikings. WoW I can’t believe I just said that (and i swear just then a brick with a death threat just flew through my window)…

The game itself is a true arcade racing game consisting of great multiplayer, exagerated but nuanced handling and a rocking selection of tracks and cars.  And as was the standard back in the day all this happened from an isometric perspective that sat somewhere between the all seeing eye of Super Off Road and the you’d better memorise the track view of RC Pro Am.

Oh yeah and there were weapons.  Which leads to my one and only complaint with the game: looking back at how the game worked it favoured first and foremost the better player in multiplayer scenarios.  Of course I was too young at the time to realise this (or even to think about it really) but if you were behind you were basically screwed.  The game incentivises ruthlessness first and foremost, scoring players money (used to upgrade and buy new vehicles) for destroying opponents and also rewarding you for lapping your opponents. You could never be knocked out indefinitely, and the only real set back was losing time – but in this game losing a race literally meant losing money, which literally meant losing the ability to upgrade.  But I guess its no different to any other circuit racer of the day in that respect.  And in the end who even cares, it meant I was winning.  All the time.

Did I mention there’s a Black Sabbath song on the soundtrack?

17 Days to go 17 Years ago

1993 – Rock ‘n Roll Racing

Do you know the game? Post your guesses in the comments section.  Come back tomorrow 0r link below to earlier entries in the countdown to 2011.

18 Days to Go – 1992

19 Days to Go – 1991

20 Days to Go – 1990

21 Days to Go – 1989

22 Days to Go – 1988

23 Days to Go – 1987

24 Days to  Go – 1986

25 Days to Go – 1985

26 Days to Go – 1984


Read Full Post »

Now we’re really in the swing of things with P1ayerOne and resident Englishman Mr Packwood from yours and my favourite gaming list 101videogames.wordpress.com weighing in a few guesses (while managing to get two right).  No excuses now, get guessing. (Updated 16 December, answered correctly by LewisPackwood)

1991 – Solomon’s Club

Interestingly enough I didn’t actually play this game until much later in life, despite having played its predecessor and the first game in the series that appeared on the NES which like this game, was developed by Japanese developer, Tecmo.  But what I can say for this game, after searching high and low for it on and off for about 10 years or so, is that its hard.  Perhaps not as hard as the NES game, which is almost universally considered to be a difficult game, but it certainly is a challenge. And not in a new game hard way – its difficult comes in two forms, time limits and a steep increase in the difficult of levels as you move through the game.  Not something we see these days.  *To place a disclaimer on that though the years between playing the NES game and the Game boy sequel may have distorted my memory of the first game.  In which case I just suck.

The other thing is that despite it being a puzzle game on a system saturated by puzzle games, it manages to stand out if only for the fact that its basically an early version of the types of puzzle games we’d see later in the system’s life through classics such as Donkey Kong – vertically oriented puzzler platforms that essentially present a level and the tools required to solve a puzzle but gives little to no clues or prompts as to how you go about solving it.  Either that, or I am just daft.

The game itself requires you to guide a wizard (or something to that effect) through increasingly more difficult levels by finding the key to the door located somewhere in the level.  The main gameplay mechanic revolves around the simple mechanic of creating and destroying blocks reminds me, in hindsight, of a game I remember very fondly on the Amiga 500 called Troddlers (which like North and South mentioned a few days ago has fantastic multiplayer) .  While this seems super simple, its the creativity of the levels that really gets to me, and is a reason I hope you know this little ditty yourselves.  So get to guessing.

20 Days to go 20 Years ago

1991 – Solomon’s Club

Do you know the game? Post your guesses in the comments section.  Come back tomorrow 0r link below to earlier entries in the countdown to 2011.

20 Days to Go – 1990

21 Days to Go – 1989

22 Days to Go – 1988

23 Days to Go – 1987

24 Days to  Go – 1986

25 Days to Go – 1985

26 Days to Go – 1984

Read Full Post »

Its that time of year, where instead of counting months, we’re counting days until the new year.  And what better way to start a count down to the new year by marking each day with a video game from yesteryear.  Think of it as kinda like an advent calender – except healthy. (Updated 19 December, correctly answered by LewisPackwood)

1988 Bionic Commando

This is a gimme really – but no list of any video games would be complete without it.  In short, I love this game.  I love its remake. I love the 3D sequel (despite a lacklustre reception).  I love the sound of the sequel to the remake.  And I would LOVE to find the Gameboy Color version.  There you go, there’s an entire history of the franchise in two lines.  But anyone who knows this game (and really, who doesn’t) need not even read it to get giddy inside thinking about swining around with a metal arm that comes equipped with a grappling hook type aparatus. And no, its not Just Cause….

If you asked me to suggest any 2D game to play, any at all – almost without hesitation I’d mention this game.  Of course a few other thoughts would pop into my head, you know the Turricans, Contras and Metal Slugs of the world (or even Ninja Five-O). But ultimately, no matter the bribe offered it would always come back to the dude with the sunglasses, red hair and the metal arm.  That is until I remember how hard the game was – then I may consider Turrican…

Just don’t think about jumping.  At least not for another 12 years.

22 Days to go 22 Years ago

1988

Do you know the game? Post your guesses in the comments section.  Come back tomorrow 0r link below to earlier entries in the countdown to 2011.

23 Days to Go – 1987

24 Days to  Go – 1986

25 Days to Go – 1985

26 Days to Go – 1984

Read Full Post »