Archive for the ‘DOS’ Category

Jazz Jackrabbit: Episodes 2, 3, and 4

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

Imagine if you will that Sonic the Hedgehog is Green instead of Blue, is a rabbit instead of a hedgehog, is heavily armed instead of unarmed, and fights an giant turtle with his turtle army of turtles across a series of planets instead of a vaguely egg-shaped scientist and his army of animals turned into robots across one planet. You might then have a general idea of what Jazz Jackrabbit is all about. Or you might be confused. Terribly, terribly confused.

Jazz Jackrabbit is a green jackrabbit that carries around a bazooka and runs around real fast, shooting turtles… In space. The game describes itself as the rivalry between the tortoise and the hare taken to its futuristic extreme.

Episode 1 of the Jazz Jackrabbit saga (known to me as the Shareware Episode) was installed on just about every computer that I came across in the early 1990s. The goal, as was the goal with all shareware, was to give out discs with a small part of a game which you would take home and install. You’d then play the game and like it enough that you’d eventually call the manufacturer and demand the rest of the game (or in this case, episodes) at a reasonable price.

I still have yet to actually meet someone who’s actually bought the full version from trying the shareware trial.

Imagine my surprise many years later when I walk into my local K-Mart and find that they have a disc that not only has Jack Jackrabbit on it, but that it has episodes 2, 3, and 4 on it exclusively. I presume that they dispensed with putting episode 1 on it due to the ubiquity of the shareware. I was only partially shocked to learn that episodes 2, 3, and 4 were almost identical to the shareware episodes with the exception that they took place on different ‘planets’. What that means is that the background of the levels looked a little different.

Jazz Jackrabbit is a reasonably good time-waster, but if you’ve played the shareware edition, and there’s really no reason that you shouldn’t have, then you’ve seen all that this game has to offer.

Mystic Towers

Monday, April 9th, 2007

Once upon a time the company now known as 3D Realms (formerly Apogee) put out piles of computer games, with hallmarks of being fun, engaging, and put together well. They also somehow managed to put out Mystic Towers.

I’m sure that to someone somewhere Mystic Towers is not a terrible game. I, unfortunately, am not one of those people. The game goes something like this: You take control of Baron Baldric, a wizard who also happens to be an old man (this is important). You are tasked with saving the land by venturing into a series of Mystic Towers, solving their secrets, and making the world safe for another day.

The towers are teeming with monsters, and the Baron, who is an accomplished wizard, has a handful of magic spells to take out the vermin. These towers are also, thankfully, well stocked with food, water, and additional magic spells. The Baron, it happens, needs to make sure he stays fed and hydrated. He doesn’t use the restroom, but he is an old man so he does break wind occasionally (and by occasionally, I mean all the time) with a smirk on his face which takes care of the food, but I don’t know where the water goes. Perhaps he sweats constantly into his large green robe, I don’t really know.

I was never able to endure much past the first tower, the ‘easy tower’ if you will. Easy, in this case, meaning a tower that took about two hours to complete, with one life while carefully balancing food and water intake and killing indigenous creatures. It was too much work for too little reward.

Warcraft: Orcs and Humans

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

I remember being told by a friend how awesome Warcraft was. He would play it almost daily in class, although, curiously, not Warcraft class. I think it was Physics. He’d tell me all about playing as the orcs and the humans, and pitting them against each other in epic struggles. Based on his recommendation, and the fact that I found the game for $9.99, I decided to pick it up. I installed it and invited him over to spend some time with the game, maybe show me some of the ins and outs of how to play. He came over and said, “That’s not the game we’re playing in class.”

Turns out he was playing Warcraft II.

So I settled in with Warcraft, learning the intricacies of the ongoing war between the different yet somehow identical factions. The game itself is Real Time Strategy. All that means is that there are no ‘turns’. Everyone playing has the ability to command all of their units all of the time, with the winner being the person that not only is the superior tactician, but also the speediest commander. Your goal is usually to gather enough resources to build a bigger, better army quicker than your opponent, and then to smite them.

Each side can decide to spend their accumulated resources on ‘units’ to flesh out their armies. Units on each side of the fray have corresponding units on the other side. This is a pretty crude but effective way of providing balance to the game, that is, no one side has an obvious advantage over the other. This is especially important in multiplayer.

I never played multiplayer.

The original Warcraft is not compatible with Blizzard’s matchmaking service No Warcraft game would be until Warcraft edition (i.e. a sequel and a tweak later). So I spent considerable time losing at the single player mode. I would end up finishing the Human campaign, roughly half of the content, before I would shelve this game. I wouldn’t think any more about it until 2002 when Warcraft III was released.

Skullduggery: Adventures in Horror

Monday, March 12th, 2007

It’s no secret, I would have no problem putting it on a tee shirt and wearing it out in public: I like, but am terrible at, text-adventure games.

Text adventure games should be perfect for me. I like reading things, I like to think that I’m reasonably intelligent (I may not be, but I like to think I am), and I like solving puzzles. Text-adventure games bring together all three of these things to tell an interactive story that is fueled by imagination. Text adventure games were borne by necessity. Older computers didn’t have the graphical horsepower to push amazing visuals, and even if they did, storage space was at a premium. You couldn’t just put crazy-high resolution pictures in your game. This was in the days before the Internet, so unless it fit on a couple of disks or took more than an hour or so to download from your favorite BBS, then it wasn’t getting played. It was too much hassle.

The classic format of a text adventure game is presented entirely in the second person, putting you directly in the middle of the action. You are the prime mover, if you will. You can envision the entire world as being divided up into discrete ‘rooms’ laid out on a grid. You can generally move in any of the cardinal directions, and sometimes, if you were lucky, the diagonals. Your goal was to MOVE throughout the rooms, PICK UP and EXAMINE items, SEARCH for clues and attempt to solve whatever mystery you were presented with. In the case of Skullduggery the mystery is: Where is the secret treasure that was hidden by your ancestor?

Skullduggery presents you with the standard description of what’s around you, and has the standard one line at the bottom of the screen to type the cryptic commands to your avatar. One of the things that makes it stand out is the map. Skullduggery has a somewhat crude map made out of ASCII characters (letters numbers and symbols) that shows roughly where you are, and largely removes the need to sit there with a pencil and graph paper to keep track of your movements.

The writing in the game is reasonably good, especially taken in consideration with the minimap. They come together to give the locales a sense of scale that is refreshing as you search the countryside to solve the puzzles.

Oh yes, the puzzles. Like any good text-adventure game there are puzzles. You have to PICK UP and USE the right items in the right order to proceed. The only problem is that many times you have either no clues to help you or the clues are so obtuse they may as well be written in Esperanto. For example: One part of this game has you putting a corpse (I won’t even go into how you even get the corpse in the first place) on a Ouija board, killing yourself, crossing the river Styx, fishing a bottle out of the river, filling up the bottle with river water, going to the other Ouija board, getting the corpse (the Ouija board is apparently a magic portal of sorts), taking it to an altar, setting it on fire, putting the ashes into the jar of river water, setting the ashy river-water on the Ouija board, letting the Grim Reaper resurrect you, going back to the first Ouija board, retrieving the jar, and using the contents as one of several ingredients in a magic potion. As a wide-eyed kid playing this on his monochrome computer, I figured out how to to cross the river and get the water. And that’s about it. And it wasn’t for lack of effort, I poured at least two dozen or more hours into this game, and just couldn’t make any headway.

Years later, in January of 2007, I found a text file on some website with the solution and a copy of the game from an old shareware site. I downloaded both, played through the game, and finally know what happens to the protagonist when you don’t have him commit suicide out of frustration. It turns out that if you know what you’re doing you can finish the game in about two hours or so. All in all, it was a good afternoon.