Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Screamer [GAMES]

One of the games I downloaded from Good Old Games several months back was Screamer, a realism-light auto racing game released in 1995.  The controls were simple to learn: left arrow (left), right arrow (right), up arrow (accelerate), and down arrow (brake)--that's it!  So, easy to play and pretty fun at first.  The game has both individual practice races and a bare-bones "league" mode, which requires you to get at least third place in a series of tracks.  The leagues go from pretty easy ("Rookie") to harder and harder.  The first couple presented a good but fair challenge and I really enjoyed it, despite the fact that, for whatever reason, the game would crash rather frequently.  The Pro league amped up the difficulty considerably, and I couldn't even do better than 8th place on the first track despite repeated tries.  Since it kept crashing, I felt like I had a good enough excuse to delete the whole thing and move on with my life.  I will say, in the game's defence, that my son loved watching me play and he often pretended he was controlling the cars by pulling on a USB cable . . .

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Realms Toowoomba Session # 48 [RPG]

[24 Kythorn 1372 continued]

In the mysterious complex on the far side of Terrigo Multivar's mirror-portal, the adventurers remain stymied by a door guarded by a magical trap. Daisy volunteers to try opening it, and suggests that if every other door in the corridor opened by pressing four panels, then the four corners of this panel should be pressed. The others seem dubious, but when she tries it, the door opens! 

Before she can explore what lays beyond it, however, the strange purplish haze observed by Myst coalesces into a four-armed, insect-like humanoid creature. With clicking mandibles, it appears it is trying to communicate, but only Dolcetto and Myst understand. The creature names itself T'Klack, and says that the adventurers have pleased it by entering into its home and passing the initial tests it has placed in their path. It promises to meet those who survive the next test in an arena for the honour of battling to the death. The creature then begins to fade into mist before disappearing completely.

The adventurers decide to explore what lays beyond the door opened by Daisy. They see a wide room with high ceilings that is a museum or trophy-collection of some sort: massive skeletons, preserved animal heads, and grotesque stitched-together bodies are all displayed with obvious care. Daisy is extremely upset to see that several animal corpses are on display, and begins slamming her axe into the wall. Dolcetto tries to calm her down, but has little luck, and decides to venture into the room to explore it further. She reaches a far corner of the room and notices an open space in the floor and the mechanism for a rope & gear-operated lift. Before she can investigate further, however, three of the giant patchwork corpses begin to twitch and groan before taking herky-jerky steps towards her!

Dolcetto reacts quickly and dashes out of the room, while Daisy, enraged, dashes into the room and begins hacking at one of the creatures with her greataxe. Fargrim initially takes the defensive, but is drawn into the fight as one of the creatures heads for the corridor. Markus finds himself briefly trapped, only to find his rapier won't pierce the abominations' thick, fleshy hide! Fortunately, Gelkar bravely pulls him temporarily out of harm's way; his own attacks on the creatures with his shovel, however, seem to have no effect. Dolcetto summons creatures to help distract and delay the attackers, which she identifies as flesh golems. Myst stays on the far side of the corridor, unable or unwilling to assist in the battle.

Daisy's axe repeatedly cuts into her opponent, but Fargrim's axe (made out of a strange, red metal) seems to have more effect. The vigor of the flesh golems' onslaught catches both of the adventurers by surprise, and each is knocked into unconscious during the battle. Gelkar manages to revive Daisy, and Markus throws a vial of acid at one of the golems to destroy it! Another one focusses on him, however, and he risks staying within its reach in order to ready another attack. The decision proves fatal, as a stone-hard fist catches Markus in the face and smashes his skull against the wall, killing the swordsman instantly. Dolcetto grabs Markus' rapier and then casts a spell to make the area underneath the golems slippery. One of the them falls, and Daisy quickly moves in to decapitate it. 

The remaining golem continues fighting, undeterred. Gelkar is knocked to the ground during the fighting, with a jagged wound from a collision with a glass display case. As he bleeds, the adventurers manage to destroy the golem and then rush to his aid. Myst, Dolcetto, and Daisy scramble to try to stop the bleeding, but their frantic efforts are in vain: the heroic Gelkar expires.

In the aftermath of the tragic battle, Dolcetto takes command. She says the party needs to retreat, heal, and then return to finish their mission. Once the magick that has brought them here expires, they'll be returned to Silverymoon and can attempt to have Markus and Gelkar raised from the dead. Myst and a badly hurt Fargrim and Daisy agree, and carry the bodies of their fallen comrades to a secure room where everyone can rest.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Diary of Jizana M'rell: Entry # 2 [RPG]

RECORDING ROD ACTIVATED

RUN TIME: 38584937

BEGIN VOICE RECORDING

I don't have much time to talk, or I'll be late for the oh so important "Barracks Inspection."  I swear we're treated like orphaned toddlers at a run-down boarding school.  I won't go into all of it, but there's a lot about this place that I just can't stand!

First of all is the sheer gall of these Jedi--they act like they know everything in the world, and they refuse to share any of it!  They even have several floors of the library sealed off with secret books there--but I found a way to find out what's inside.  Most intriguing is this place south of the Academy grounds called Sorama--none of the books talk about it, but now that I know where it is I can find out what it is.

I actually don't mind the initiates (my roommate turned out better than first impression led me to believe) and even most of the Jedi masters, but there's a few who are insufferably arrogant--particularly Maisa Trinity (our barracks instructor) and Makomonus, the Peckwa-riding instructor.  This last bastard gets off on not telling initiates how to do something, and then laughing when they don't do it right!  I could learn more watching a decade-old vid than learning from him--I'll learn to ride the damn peckwas myself!

I've started to figure out which classes I'm going to take.  I talked to Anatis who's going to teach me how to use the library and also agreed to be my advisor.  Alek Fury is going to show me more about The Way, and I'm going to attend the head Jedi (Xandriana Bes') class on Jedi history with some of the others in my barracks.  I still need to find two more advisors, and maybe another class--though most of this stuff I can learn on my own--though I haven't decided about lightsabers yet--I keep getting the run-around when I ask about them.  (and that reminds me of another thing!--these Jedi always talk about tradition, tradition, tradition, but they can never explain why the traditions got started--I think I'm going to build a lightshield of some kind, and show them all that there are different ways to do it).

I'm rambling now, but I can hear that bitch downstairs lining everyone up and I have to hurry--I saw Donita, one of the Shadow Jedi, come on a secret mission from somewhere else wanting to talk to the council--I know something's up, and pretty soon I'll figure out what it is.

You'd think the Jedi would know by now that secrets don't lead to trust, and hiding information simply keeps people ignorant, not safe.

END VOICE RECORDING

RUN TIME: 1837483721

RECORDING ROD DEACTIVATED

Monday, June 30, 2014

Realms Toowoomba Session # 47 [RPG]

[24 Kythorn 1372 continued]

In a mysterious underground complex on the far side of Terrigo Multivar's mirror-portal, the adventurers continue their explorations. Dolcetto enlists Daisy's help in manipulating one of the panels in the secret room, and hooks descend from the ceiling to draw up the razor wire trap. Dolcetto says she has done as much as she can to render the area safe, and that the party should proceed onward. She says that if the party finds any treasure, it should be split evenly. Gelkar looks somewhat suspicious at Dolcetto taking the lead.

The adventurers move to the door that caused Dolcetto's summoned monkey to fall to its death. With the pit trap disabled, some trial and error is all it takes to figure out that the four handles of the door have to be rotated in a specific way to open it. From the doorway, the adventurers see a room willed with numerous display cases along the back wall. Intricate shelves and padded pillows hold a variety of equipment that gleam with polish. Daisy notices a quartet of wooden animal carvings and dashes forward, only to realize she's rushed into yet another trap!

The display cases somehow merge into a single monstrous creature, whose flesh seems to be made out of the wood, glass, and fabric of the cases! A long tendril uncoils from the creature and wraps itself around Daisy, and she finds herself completely unable to free herself. Fargrim charges into help Daisy, and finds himself stuck as well, as the creature's flesh is covered with some type of gluey adhesive. Gelkar tries to help out, but his shovel sticks to the creature. As Fargrim and Daisy are slowly crushed by the creature's tendrils, Dolcetto summons a monstrous centipede to aid in the fight and covers the area with a shadowy gloom. Working together, Daisy and Fargrim smash the creature into the back wall repeatedly to weaken it. Gelkar suddenly grows enraged as every muscle in his body seems to bulge, and he frees his shovel with a powerful pull and then slams it into the creature twice until it stops moving! Fargrim finishes it off with his greataxe. Afterwards, Myst says she thinks the creature was some type of aberration known as a mimic. The adventurers quickly divide the numerous items that were thrown off the fake display cases, including several high-quality sets of tools, musical instruments, jewellery, and more.

The party then proceeds to the other side corridor and attempts to open the door at the far end. The means to unlock it are quickly discovered. Inside, the adventurers see a room lined with luxurious dark wood and filled with elaborate displays of gleaming metal weapons. Many are quite exquisite and some are strange and exotic, but all look impeccably maintained. Gelkar attempts to step into the room, but is suddenly attacked by a bastard sword which levitates into the air and swings at him! The half-orc retreats and slams the door shut. While the other adventurers discuss what to do next, Daisy slips one of her chalk drawings under the door in a bid to communicate with whatever is on the other side. Much to everyone's surprise, she hears whispers in a foreign tongue in response. Seconds later, the drawing is slid back with a strange runic symbol carved into it. With the aid of a spell, Gelkar is able to read the symbol and says that it means "Danger--Must Protect." Myst casts another powerful spell so that he can converse with the creature directly and relate what it says to the others. Whatever is on the other side of the door says it was trapped there by the "master" and that it cannot leave. Instead, it is compelled to defend the room from all intruders. It says it has never heard of the amulet the adventurers are seeking.

Daisy continues trying to befriend the being from the other side of the door, talking and drawing pictures for the being she calls "I". Dolcetto says the group should enter and break whatever enchantment compels the creature to stay by defeating it in combat, but Daisy is far from convinced. The decision is made to leave it where it is, at least for now.

The adventurers turn their attention to the last remaining closed doorway. Here, a large set of metal doors is divided with a diagonal slash. On a panel nearby are a grid of strange symbols that can obviously be pressed inwards. The adventurers examine the panel closely and, reasoning that almost everything else in this complex has involved a pattern of four, decide to press the only type of symbol that appears four times. The door slides open without incident, only to reveal, a little further on, another door and panel. The new panel has different symbols. Dolcetto, acting on a hunch, presses a combination of symbols only to be weakened by a ray of mystical energy that lances out from the wall. Myst, however, studying the panel carefully, realizes that if the two matched pair of symbols are pressed at the same time, the door will open. A third door and panel beckons. The adventurers notice that four of the symbols do not follow the pattern of the others, and press them to open the door. A fourth, and final door remains. Dolcetto tries a combination that fails, and suddenly the area in front of the doorway is filled with dozens of writhing black tentacles! The scholar barely escapes with her life. After the tentacles have faded from existence, Gelkar decides to try another combination--but this fails as well, and Gelkar finds himself being crushed by the tentacles! In desperation, he activates a magical spool of rope from his belt which flies out and wraps itself around a nearby handle in the wall. Pulling with all their strength, the other adventurers manage to tug Gelkar out of harm's way--alive, but badly hurt.

The adventurers seem to have met their match in the fourth and final door. Meanwhile, Myst carefully watches as a purple cloud of smoke seems to grow in a particular area of the hub chamber. The wizard knows that this represents an area where the walls between dimensions are thin, and that something is watching them from the other side . . .

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dakota North (Marvel 1986) [COMICS]

Dakota North was an interesting attempt by Marvel Comics, in its 25th anniversary year (1986), to move beyond spandex-heavy superhero stories.  The bimonthly title only lasted 5 issues, which is evidence itself of how well that approach worked.  Anyway, the character who lent the title her name is a tough but fashionable head of a private security company with offices all over the world.  Supporting characters who occasionally assist her, but more often get in her way, include her little brother Ricky (a too cool to care type), a cop named Amos (who has a big crush on Dakota but won't tell her), an assistant named Mad Dog, and her father (a former secret agent who still has connections).  Dakota's main antagonist throughout the series is Cleo Vanderslip, a big-wig at a corporation named Rycom.

In Issue # 1, Dakota is hired to provide personal security for Luke Jacobson, a fashion designer whose showroom was recently vandalised.  Dakota arrives at Jacobson's showroom and is mistaken for a model, put in a (hideous!) dress, and given a make-up case to take to Jacobson--only, the make-up case is actually a bomb!  The crisis gets averted, but soon after Jacobson gets kidnapped.  Dakota gives chase to the kidnappers on her motorcycle, which leads to both pursued and pursuer crashing into a department store for a shootout.  After another encounter at the docks, it turns out that the kidnapper is one Otto Shanks, an old enemy of Dakota's father who was hired by Cleo Vanderslip.  Otto is killed and Jacobson rescued.  The plot's a bit murky, but overall it's a charming debut with some wit and interesting characters.  The interior art is not particularly good, but it does provide a style different than most of Marvel's superhero comics at the time.

In Issue # 2, Dakota's little brother has up and decided to move in with his big sister.  He tags along with Dakota on a meeting arranged by Dakota's dad with his old spy friend, George Cooper.  Cooper, realizing that gunmen are closing in, arranges to lose his "gold pen" to Ricky gambling.  The pen is actually filled with an experimental nerve gas, but only Cooper's aware of the fact.  Lots of assassination attempts on Cooper's life are foiled by Dakota, but, unbeknownst to her, Cleo Vanderslip wants the pen and arranges for a model (Daisy) to try to seduce Ricky.  The episode ends on a cliffhanger, as Ricky and the model arrive in Paris.  The plot of the nerve-gas pen and Ricky's peril actually continues through the rest of the series, even if it seems rather slight in essence.

Issue # 3 features Dakota realizing that Ricky is gone and, after yelling a lot, heading off to Paris to find him (leaving Amos behind to secretly pine for her).  Cleo Vanderslip sends a goon to intercept Dakota, and he attacks her in an airplane bathroom!  But she stabs the poor bastard with a plastic boot knife she managed to smuggle through security, proof that you don't need adamantium claws to be bad-ass.  Dakota eventually tracks Ricky and Daisy down at an art museum, but before she can explain another assassin attacks.  She deals with the problem, but by the time she's finished, Ricky and Daisy have set off on the Orient Express . . .
Things get a bit weird in Issue # 4.  Daisy takes Ricky to a private car at the very end of the Orient Express, and it turns out that this train car is also an automobile: once decoupled near Venice, the pair (and Daisy's "butler") drive off the track and head towards Switzerland!  Dakota flies ahead to Venice and waits for the train to arrive, and Amos meets her there as well; but of course, no Ricky.  Then, an evil Sheik Ibn Bheik (Cleo Vanderslip's boyfriend), who has a very mean bird and a chateau in Switzerland, lures Dakota and Amos there, and everyone, including Ricky, is captured and tied up--but after a thorough search, the golden pen with nerve gas is nowhere to be found.  This issue reminded me most of Jonny Quest in spirit.  The letters' page, the first one published in  the series, contains several quite enthusiastic missives about the debut issue.

There's a fun sequence in Issue # 5 where Dakota escapes the bird of prey while tied to a chair.  As she, Ricky, and Amos flee the chateau, Ricky reveals that he slipped the pen into one of the thugs just before he was searched.  The trio make it to the motor pool, but Sheik Ibn Bheik's goons arrive and a fight ensues.  In the melee, the pen gets broken and the escaping nerve gas kills all of the bad guys (and none of the good guys)--convenient!  The trio return to New York.  The series ends on a bit of an unresolved note, with Dakota's father confronting Cleo.  I never really figured out what Cleo's motivation behind everything was, or what was so special about the experimental nerve gas.  At the bottom of the final page, there's a funny note: "This is where we usually put the blurb for the next issue, if there was a next issue, but there isn't." Ironically, the editor's comments in the letters page are clearly unaware of the cancellation, as they talk about future issues.

I think it's fair to say that Dakota North was published at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Fast forward several years, hand the title to an independent publisher, clarify the tone, and I could imagine the title being a minor success.  As it was, though, it's hard to imagine the title ever having much hope of success for a publisher like Marvel during the 1980s.  Still, don't feel about about Dakota.  Although her debut series failed, she ended up making dozens of appearances in mainstream Marvel titles such as Black Panther and Daredevil.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Long Time Dead [TORCHWOOD]

SOMEWHAT SPOILERY

Long Time Dead is one of the three Torchwood novels released prior to Miracle Day, and, like the others, has to rely on characters and events that wouldn't create continuity conflicts with the show.  In this one, one of my favourite Torchwood antagonists, twice-dead former member Suzie Costello, awakens in the bowels of the Hub's wreckage due to an alien device that implants itself in her stomach.  But with the new stab at life comes a new thirst to kill, and Suzie's not exactly the type to resist that evil impulse.  Her killing spree is investigated by fan-favourite PC Andy (with some nice allusions to his knowing where Gwen is hiding but knowing he can only contact her in the utmost of emergencies) and DCI Tom Cutler, making a follow-up appearance from the novel Into the Silence.  Cutler was a memorable character in that novel, and I'm glad to see him reappear.  He has the classic persona of the hard-bitten detective with a modern spin, and his unknowing involvement with Suzie adds a nice element of suspense to the novel.  We're in a darker type of SF than Doctor Who, and this novel encapsulates the distinction well.

The book is set entirely in Cardiff and I can't say it has the most original of plots, but it is nice to revisit some of the show's classic concepts.  If you're in a Torchwood mood, you could do worse than picking up this book.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Lure of the Temptress [GAMES]

Normally I'm very appreciative of Good Old Games for making some of their stock free, but I feel they owe me money for playing Lure of the Temptress.  I can safely say it's probably the most annoying, frustrating game I've ever played.  I won't say it's the worst game ever--The Wife makes fun of me for reading Retro Gamer, and there's talk in there about games so buggy they can't even be completed--but Lure of the Temptress has to rank up there somewhere.

At its core, LotT is a standard point-and-click "adventure" game with a generic medieval theme.  You control a character who has taken it upon himself to free a small village from the domination of an evil witch.  Not winning prizes for originality, even if the game writers think they're clever by treating their own plot with contempt.  Anyway, the reason LofT is both innovative and infuriating is because it contains the first incarnation of Revolution Software's "Virtual Theatre."  Virtual Theatre is a concept that would be used quite well in a later game, Beneath a Steel Sky; the idea is that everyone in the game has their own lives to attend to, so instead of standing in a fixed position waiting for the player's character to stop by, they go to work, go shopping, have conversations with other computer-controlled characters, etc.  The idea of trying to make the game world "realistic" is a good one, but in LofT it's a disaster.  The main problem is that whenever two characters physically bump into each other, something that happens with annoying frequency, they stop, say "excuse me", and then wander all over the screen.  The screen is thus likely to be filled with annoying chatter, and any attempt to get your character to go somewhere is a long and frustrating process.  It's bad if there's two characters on the screen, but just wait if there happens to be four or five!  Even worse, for some reason the movement routines are off, and just telling your character to talk to another character on an otherwise empty screen could involve long, circuitous, senseless walking that ends up not working.  Something simple, like opening a door, could take four or five tries.  It's like a terrible comedy sketch, and it's the first game I've played where I thought Rifftrax should have a go.

I'm a completist at heart, and found I could only stand the game for a few minutes at a time.  Because the movement system is so annoying, the normal sort of exploration and trial-and-error of adventure games is definitely not fun.  With my patience at a minimum, I happily resorted to walkthroughs more readily than normal.*  But in any event, I have now finished the game and never have to play it again.  I have learned a valuable lesson: just because it's free, doesn't mean you have to take it.

SPOILERS

* Places I got stuck:  (1)  Finding the forge: It's obvious when you know what to look for, but I kept walking past it and had to rely on a YouTube walkthrough!; (2) The alchemist equipment: I examined the diary loads of times, but never whilst in the laboratory--and that's the only way the burner becomes visible; (3) Getting Luthern to drink what's in the flask to empty it out; (4) Talking to Ultar twice to get the gargoyles' names; (5) Looking through the window just when the Skorl is revealing his plan.