Age of Donkeys

As part of my college course we were required to play a online RTS with the class and write about the experience. For me this did not work out well.

Survival of the fittest, I believe is the phrase uttered by Darwin in the Origin of the Species. Darwin never played video games, indeed the species were probably living off board games at this time. I am sure that he turned, nae, spun in his grave at my epic (cough) attempt at Age of Empires.

I must confess to never having played this, RTS (real time strategies) never being my forte, and they do say, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Who are they? You know, them. So I was pleasantly surprised when I started the game, logged onto a local server, and found an intuitive and self-explanatory control system waiting there for me. And lo and behold, my Stone Age land lay before me. I dub thee “Donkeyland”. My own land, finally I can realise my dream of a beautiful Eden, filled with well fed and housed people, living in awe of me, their kind and generous King. With magical all knowing donkeys roaming everywhere searching for edible paper Airplanes. Or something like that. Maybe without the last bit about the Donkeys.

So I send out a man to tend for food, my food gatherer if you will, and let him hunt creatures to feed my soon to be sprawling population. With wood as a resource I create a few villagers and make a lovely Stone Age town center. Soon they had houses and a storage place. Then I explored and all was well, with a growing population I was ready to get an upgrade to the next age, and maybe a few magic donkeys. All was well and my people looked happy. Food was a problem, but exploration would soon sort that.

15 Minutes later, Donkeyland is an ever growing pile of ash, with flames and terror, citizens milling around in confusion like shoppers in the January sales, but the January sales with flames and death. Something my food gatherer had disagreed with ate him. Food was non-existent and the population was rapidly dying in a rain of arrows. So what was the problem you may ask, where did this god like smiting come from on a land that was at peace, and wanted donkeys. Well I never counted on my neighbors. You may have guessed this already, but a rain of arrows is not really a common meteorological event. Indeed a rain of anything that kills is very uncommon. Unless you are made of salt or something very unfortunate like that, then normal rain will kill, and even then a rain of arrows is not good for your long term health. So to summarise, a neighbouring country passed my borders, and without so much as a “how’s it going lad” started a systematic smiting of my people. Very upsetting, with no food to spawn villagers and no villagers to build, I left the server and the dreams of a Utopian society behind.

There are 2 strong points that can be made from this. Firstly, Age of Empires is closer to real life than you think. Survival of the fittest often favours the species that had a very good head start. If you have a lot of resources you will advance to higher levels and can survive, if you have problems getting food or housing material, it is likely you will move elsewhere or watch as your neighbours thrive as you shrivel into oblivion. Because you have a small amount of resources and are showing promise, it is very likely that neighbours will take advantage of this. If they are advancing technologically and need more resources to progress this is especially true. Nations like this have little need to integrate the more unfortunate into their progression and nurture them to the same level. Why, ethically, would a nation with arrows kill a nation with nothing more than rocks and not even one donkey? That my friend, I will leave to you to ponder. But know this, the scenario above is happening in this world today, I don’t need to go through a history of the world here to point this out. All you need to do is watch the news.

The second point is also pointed at online games, or any type of multiplayer. More so in the RTS online bullying is very common. Those who log into a server game, capture all strongholds, hoard all resources, and crush all newbies (noob’s in web speak) who come into the online world to flex their muscles against human opponents. With ample practice you can hold your own, but I read many articles about unbalance in RTS (Real time Strategies) when played online. Even in games like Quake, on certain servers I have had the experience of being slaughtered by everyone logged into the server, as they did not know me and so ganged up on me to get rid of me. This is in essence bullying as well. I have even read articles about people sing MMORPGS (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, phew) being “ripped off” for goods and equipment by experienced players who figure out they are new. This is appalling to me, as it seems the school ground bully’s have found another place to hang out.

Online gaming in this country is only in its infancy. With many more broadband connections being installed every day the online gaming world is becoming more and more accessible to the Irish gamer. So lets use some ethics here people. Never say anything to anyone on a game server that you would not say to persons face. Always treat the new players with respect, don’t gang up on them in a game. And if they admit to being new in any other game, give them a hand, never know, later you may have a gaming clan and they may be a valuable player in your team. Let’s kill bullying once and for all. Also let’s have more games with magic Donkeys, Peace out, respect and all that. Except to the person who crushed Donkeyland owned by “Master_Shake’. You know who you are. I hope you feel remorse for your evil ways. I shall defeat you soon.

PS: From this article, if you are made of Salt I meant no offence. Also if you are made of salt and your friend who is not falls in a ditch full of thorny briars, resist the sadistic temptation to pull him/her out.

PPS: Kill bullying, but a little taunting never goes amiss J

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Board Games

As part of my degree in Video Games development, we were required to play some older game and also look at the rules on Board games. We tried a number of Board games and had to write up our thoughts on that aspect of gaming. This was the result of my rambling thoughts.

At the dawn of time, when the world was flat, people used to gather in each other’s houses, huddled together for warmth with maps of foreign landscapes spread before them, as flat as the earth. They prepared to do battle with hordes of warriors and win honor or glory. Probably.

But the earth is round and we now have televisions and video games. However many people still gather to keep the tradition of the board game alive, and win respect and admiration amongst their peers. And so it was on the cold winter day, Friday the first of October, the year 2004, that 4 intrepid adventurers gather around a table to battle for an eastern country in the war-gasmic frenzy that is Shogun.

“Cool, swords, ninjas, armies” I thought, and indeed the game offered thus. With my army spread before me and my noble sword at my side, I placed my troops in the countries, ready to hammer seven shades of **cough**, stuff, out of my friends. My excitement level peaked, and I eagerly awaited the first move.

One hour later, after digesting many rules involving numbers that I have forgotten to compute in my head I was waiting for the end of the first move. And here is where the problems lie. This is not my first introduction to board games and indeed will not be my last. I took up Warhammer in college years ago as a way to socialise, and indeed it is that, a wonderful way of meeting people. However I underestimated the dedication it takes to play one of these games. You have to be very patient and be willing to learn many rules. Many rules as well have sub rules, often held by the Games Master which can be pulled out at any time to stop you using all the experience you have gained to defeat another player. That being said, it is the initial struggle that gets me first.

Many years ago I was thought how to play snakes and ladders, which I will admit, was fun. Then there was monopoly. Ahem, well this was another story altogether, after a few hours play I resorted to using dice to attack my opponents houses which each throw, when arguments ensued I defended myself with the “Act Of God Argument”. Barred.

Years later I played a Star Trek board game. After the explanation of the lengthy rules and talking notes, I started with a ship on the board. After 3 bad dice throws I was dead. I started the next round keeping to the rules, with a ramming tactic on another ship. I rolled my dice with a shout of “Set Phasers to Maximum Insult”. I destroyed the other ship. Barred.

I started to learn chess, but my teacher was not patient, the rules are quite simple, but I have a cavern where my head should be.

“Where can I move the prawn again?”.

“For the umpteenth time, it’s a Pawn you (deleted for publication reasons) “.

“Er, it kinda looks like a prawn to me”.

Barred.

I have learned rules for a few different board games, and I have little interest in them. I see the video game as the replacement for board games, where the rules are already in the system and you have to beat them to continue on your quest. I might seem biased and indeed I believe I am. But now in my closing paragraphs I must digress and make a little confession.

Some of the happiest memories of my childhood were when my parents and I stayed up in the evening around an open fire and played Snaked and Ladders. And many people I know who I quizzed on this whole phenomenon of the board game said the same. Indeed you, the reader might have similar memories. I am not prone to be stricken by nostalgia (I took my tablets) when I see a picture of an Atari 2600 or an old Snakes and Ladders board. And to those who say things were better in the old days, well, they are pretty awesome now.

The Catholic Church has a saying “A family that Prays together, stays together”. I would like to say that a family that plays together stays together. There is great social benefit in Games. Board games brought many families closer together, and as board games become less common in the home and the PlayStation generation (perhaps us) are raising children there seems to be less and less time spent playing together even though there are many video games on the market that are fun for all the family. Perhaps however, the video game will become to my descendants what the board game has become to me.

Ironing board – Chase the crease out of the clothes.

Board of Directors – Fight the bosses to secure your budget for the year.

These are but 2 boards, and to me the rules of these boards and Board games generate about equally as much fun. Ill stick to my video games. I hate to sound negative, but I found it very hard to find the positive inspiration to write at length on this, im just bored with board games. Now, where did I install that Chess Game on my PC?

Tempest 1000, review from college

When I was in college studying video games we were asked to review an older game. I found a version of Tempest on a flash website. Here was the outcome.

Aliens are coming, pouring through a black hole in the very fabric of time and space itself to tear our race from limb to limb, or make contact and drink themselves into another reality in our company. Whatever their intent, here you are, perched on the edge of the wormhole, armed with nothing more than your spaceship, reflexes and an intense Xenophobia, ready to disperse their atoms into space, proving space is a vacuum, not a place that needs to be vacuumed. In space, no one can hear you clean!

And so the scene is set for Tempest 1000. This is a game that requires quick reactions and timing to shoot down the enemy spaceships. They come out of the black hole in random waves. There are purple slow moving ones, and green ones that zoom by. Also in the way of variety there are faster moving purple ones that shoot boxy white beams at you, proving they are a highly advanced species after all. Any enemy alien that reaches your level on the wormhole will move around after you, to collide with you and take his or her (or its) own lives as well as yours, therefore making intergalactic insurance claims vastly chaotic in terms of paperwork. Probably.

To make your life easier you have a number of gravity defying jumps. Using these you can rain down fire on any enemy that tries to use the fore mentioned tactic. But remember these jumps are limited to 3 per level. You may also use one megablast per level, sending all enemies on the screen back to their creator in very small pieces with the note “in case of reincarnation, some assembly may be required”. But use this wisely

Level progression occurs when you have cleared all the enemies on the current level. You are then sucked down the wormhole to an almost identical wormhole to fight with faster and more numerous enemies.

This game was the brainchild of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dave_Theurerin Atari and was one of the first games that had 3D vector Graphics. It is very hard to find the original arcade incarnation of Tempest in its true form outside of getting an arcade cabinet, or purchasing an Arcade emulator. But many excellent conversions exist on the web, thanks to the cross platform (cough) wonder that is Java. Reviewed below is the closest Tempest 1000 clone I could find available at this time. The search continues to find one closer to the arcade machine. Be assured though, I will not rest until I do. Well ok then, maybe the odd snooze and a break to play this.

Sound:

Dreadful, even for its time. The Java version has all the flair of buzzing wasps, stuck in a bean tin, fighting to the death for the love of another wasp or a Solpadine tablet, only to be invaded by riot police wasps with chainsaws. Overall lots of pings, treble and buzzing in a bean tin style environment. I remember walking away from the original Arcade cabinet with the distinct feeling I was in a nightclub for a few days, or listening to Happy Hardcore. Ears ringing, if its nostalgia you are after, use headphones with this. It will bring back memories, or headaches.

Score: 5, Functional, but play some background music in case you feel the need to scratch the inside of your brain with a biro introduced via your nose. Neither medical insurance nor the medical card will cover that. Or so I hear.

Graphics:

Solid and functional, with an excellent sense of perspective. There are times you really feel you are on the edge of a vast black hole somewhere in the universe sending the alien nasties back to the evil spawning ground from whence they came. Earlier version such as the arcade cabinet had simple dotted lines for the black hole arranged to give the sense of perspective, later version had the sides of the black hole change colour from level to level. Each version keeps the simplicity. An excellent feature of this game is that prolonged exposure can cause a slight queasy feeling, made all the worse by the jump action and the fact that as you move around the edge of the black hole it tilts slightly. There is a cool falling effect when you are sucked into the black hole and placed on the next level.

The enemy ships and your ship are believable and recognisable in an early Sci-Fi kind of way. Things that can kill you (i.e. everything) are very visible and your weapon projectile is a little underpowered looking but nonetheless effective.

Score: 8, Awesome for its time and excellent now, stands the test of time well, simple and clear. I would have given it a higher score but it lacks special effects like explosions. Top marks nonetheless.

Gameplay:

I was going to write this review about 2 hours ago, and get some other stuff done, but this is a game that makes you want to come back for more. Constantly. There is very little variation in level design, even if this was one of the first games to have varying levels, although I am sure this version is missing some of the more unusual level designs of the original. There is a distinct feeling of satisfaction of getting as far as number 5 in the high score table and feeling proud you have done so well to repel the evil invasion. I would prefer to play the game with a joystick as opposed to a keyboard though. RSI inducing.

This is one of the few games that pass the test of time again and again. This was released on the Atari Jaguar (remember that) as Tempest 2000, with improved sound that actually made you feel like you were in a rave (I.e. naff really). But the original is still the best.

Score:10, fantastic replay value, replay value, replay value, replay value, I cannot say it enough, thank you copy and paste.

Overall: 7.6

This is a fantastic Tempestuous (couldn’t resist) battle against the Aliens in some far-flung hole (literally) in the galaxy and stands the test of time.

In the future you will be in your spaceship on the edge of a black hole, listening to gravity distorted music on your intergalactic A-Track and wondering how time passes back home according to Stephen Hawking. Just remember your training on this simulator. Forget about your loved ones and don’t worry whether or not you left the gas on in your house. If the Aliens get through your house will be a charred crisp anyway. Just start jumping moving and keep on blasting. The invasion must be repelled.