Wednesday 27 February 2008

Now I'm goin' to hell

A couple of weeks in to Hellgate: London, and I'm still rather enjoying it. I've performed a highly complex statistical analysis of what I most like about the game; I'm afraid the results utilise some incredibly advanced theoretical modelling techniques to represent the concept of "fun" in a thirteen-dimensional topographical waveform that might be a bit advanced for you earthlings, but hang on to your hats and and see if you can follow along. Here we go...

There's loads of loot in Hellgate. I like loot.

Hrm. Maybe it's fairly simple after all.

Course it's not just the loot, the general running-around-shooting-demons (and zombies and beasts and freaky floating head things with tentacles that just appear right next to you and go EEEEERRRRRUUURRRURUR) side of things is also good. As a Marksman, and concentrating on passive skills for the most part, it's extremely FPS-y, there's only a couple of active skills I frequently use. Loot, though, definitely gives it an "oh, go one then, just one more round of the mini-game" impetus (the mini-game consists of three icons that appear on screen challenging you to kill x of a certain type of creature, or make x kills using a certain type of damage, or pick up a certain type of loot; once you fulfil the three criteria, voila! More loot!) Aside from the mini-game, rare mobs and named bosses are fairly common (well by definition they can't be that common, but they're common for rare things. If you see what I mean.), and they explode in a particularly satisfying shower of money and, oh yes, loot! I do seem to be getting quite lucky, though; Hellgate uses the good old green/blue/orange uncommon/rare/legendary loot classification, and I'm pretty much kitted out in legendary gear now, whereas Melmoth only has a couple of bits.

Hitting level 20, I wandered off to Stonehenge to make the most of being a subscriber. It's fun enough, plenty more demon, zombie and floating-tentacle-head shooting fun. I got the items needed to unlock Moloch, the super-uber-head-demon-beast chap, so Melmoth and I popped in to say "hi", maybe have a cup of tea, then while there it seemed rude not to unleash a devastating rain of fire and destruction upon him. Unfortunately Melmoth was much lower level than Mr Moloch and scarcely able to scratch him. On the plus side, he made an excellent diversion, enabling me to stand and shoot the beastie for the ten straight minutes to knock his health bar down to around 75%, at which point a bunch of priest things spawned that healed him back to full health by the time we could clear them. Another twenty minutes, Moloch at 50% health, back came the priests... half an hour, 25% health, oh look, it's the priests... If they'd spawned again at 1% health I think I might've gone on a mad rampage around the living room, or at least said "tsk", but fortunately they didn't, so a mere hour and a half of constantly shooting the big ol' demon netted the spoils (of a couple of legendary items for me, and... none for Melmoth. All that +luck gear must be paying off.) Next time, maybe recruiting a few more people might make it a bit quicker...

The best thing about Hellgate, though, is Lucious Aldin and Techsmith 314 (well, maybe second best, after UBER LEGENDARY LEWT). Unfortunately I seem to have finished their missions for now, I'm rather hoping they'll make a comeback later on. As a taster of the crazy madcap japes these two get up to, if you don't mind a few spoilers see the quest walkthrough for "That'll Get Infected". Already, "bio break" has been replaced in our online conversations with "I think I need to use the privy-OF DESECRATION!"

Monday 25 February 2008

There was music in the cafes at night

Still playing Guitar Hero III, I finally managed to beat Lou in the hard career (just; I thought he'd got me as the screen faded to black, then suddenly it kicked back in with "FINISH HIM!" Tried a couple more times after that and didn't get close, so I guess that was a particularly flukey combination of me hitting my attacks and him not getting particularly annoying ones at bad times). On with Expert now, where I managed to pass 3s and 7s for the first time, but Before I Forget still does me in on the bridge.

Since Rock Band for the Wii was confirmed a few weeks back, I've been keeping my eyes peeled for possible release dates in Europe (estimates vary from "March" through "2009" to "sometime after the heat death of the universe"), and news on whether the Wii will support downloadable songs. It doesn't seem terribly likely, what with the Wii's limited internal storage, and a distinct lack of other games supporting downloadable content, but I'm really keeping my fingers crossed. The extra songs available for PS3/Xbox 360 Guitar Hero III so far are rather uninspiring, so I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything there, but there's already some great stuff out for Rock Band with more to come, including the greatest ever song ever in the history of time ever.

In non-plastic-guitar related musical gaming, Audiosurf has been released on Steam. I'd noticed Audiosurf mentioned in a few places before Christmas, signed up for the beta, and played that once or twice but wasn't terribly captivated. There's a demo available on Steam alongside the full retail version, so I gave that a try, and it hadn't changed that much since the beta. It still doesn't really grab me, despite my previously professed love of music games. It's hugely impressive, the way it transforms a piece of music into a "racetrack", a Mahler symphony looks absolutely stunning, but then the colour matching gameplay doesn't quite work for me. When working with multiple colours, I can't really see the correlation between block colour and the "intensity" of the music, so I'm more keeping track of placement and colours than listening to the music. Even in mono mode, the block placement is too random; just occasionally everything really clicks, the track and blocks totally match up in an inspired way, but most of the time the music is a soundtrack than an integral part of the game (even though it created the track). Expecting otherwise would be a bit much; while obviously a somewhat different prospect, it takes a while to produce a decent Guitar Hero/Rock Band/Dance Dance Revolution chart for a single song, and Audiosurf produces a track from anything you throw at it (and I've tried a fair bit) within seconds, but for me it's just missing a final push that would turn it from a neat little diversion into a really addictive game. After saying all that, I still bought it; it's only $10, and innovation like this should be encouraged even if it's not quite the best game ever. Also, it includes the Orange Box soundtrack, and have I mentioned Still Alive being the greatest ever song ever in the history of time ever yet?

Tuesday 19 February 2008

Goldilocks and the Three Devs

Once upon a time, Goldilocks was wandering through the woods when she saw a house with an open door. Going inside for no adequately explained reason, a dev gave her a bowl of porridge. Tasting a spoonful, she spat it back out, shouting "THIS IS AN OUTRAGE! Teh porrij is cold!" A second dev took the porridge and microwaved it, and Goldilocks took another spoonful. "WAHT TEH HELL teh porrij is rilly hot now ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME I COULD HAEV BURNTED MYSELF TO DETH" she exclaimed. A third dev added some cold milk to the porridge, so it was just the right temperature, prompting Golidlocks to bellow "OMFG i haet porrij I WANT READY BREK and the chocolate one not the plain rubbish AND WITH SPRINKLES!"

After throwing the porridge on the floor and flinging the spoon through a window, Goldilocks fancied a sit-down, so a dev brought her a chair. "JESUS this chair is TOO LOW dammit my knees are SLIGHTLY TOO HIGH i bet the devs DONUT EVEN SIT ON CHAIRS" she yelled, and so a second dev placed a small plinth beneath the chair. "ZOMGZ now this is WAY TOO HIGH my feet are SLIGHTLY OFF THE FLOOR this is RIDDDDDDICKYOULESSS" said Goldilocks, a vein bulging in her neck as she provided the valuable feedback. The third dev then trimmed the legs of the chair slightly, so it was at the perfect height. "JEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESUS" screamed Goldilocks "you nerfed the chair you sawed the legs of you totally nerfed the chair now the chair is not fun any more what the hell is wrong with you why did you nerf the chair why did you not just elevate the entire rest of the house by a few inches and then cut an indentation in the floor so the chair was the right height I DONUT PAY FIFTEEN DOLLARS A MONTH FOR THIS", and Goldilocks smashed the chair with a hammer and said she was never going to sit on a chair ever EVER EVER again and called for everyone else to boycott chairs.

Goldilocks then decided it was time to start playing a massively multiplayer online game, so she sat down at a PC (on a chair, conveniently forgetting the chair boycott) and logged in to the MMO the first dev had worked on. "God this is BOOOOORRRRING" said Goldilocks "there is no PvP I want to PvP games without PvP are rubbish and boring", so the second dev swiftly re-wrote the whole game to be PvP-centric, and Goldilocks was ganked and corpse camped and had all her in-game possessions stolen and Goldilocks screamed "I HAET PVP it is stupid who put pvp in this game they are stupid it is totally unbalanced and rubbish and all the pve game changed to support it i rilly liked the pve game but it is rubbish now this is a SLAP in the FACE", so the third dev unleashed three giant bears who ripped Goldilocks apart to cries of "THIS IS SUCH UNFAIR MOB PLACEMENT i'm totally going to cancel my subscription now just see if i don't".

The end.

Thursday 14 February 2008

This weekend in hell(gate)

After wrapping up Crysis, I started casting about for something else to play. A few months back, when in the midst of Orange Box fever (note to self: in typing that, I remembered I still have Episodes 1 and 2 of Half-Life 2 to finish), I tried the demo of Hellgate: London and rather enjoyed it, but had a plethora of other games going at the time. With nothing else more tempting around, I thought I'd give the full version a spin.

During installing, updating, and patching I got dangerously bored, so while creating an account I thought I might as well have a look at the subscription option, and decided the benefits weren't earth shatteringly exciting so I wouldn't bother. After another five minutes of thumb-twiddling I figured what the heck, it's only seven quid, and typing in my credit card details would at least kill some time, so I slightly subscribed a bit.

Firing up the game, stepping into the desolate ruins of London was fairly familiar from the demo. It's similar in some ways to City of Heroes, fast paced action on randomly generated maps with a limited number of tilesets, so like City of Heroes it should be fun to hop on for a quick blast now and again. I really like the post-apocalyptic setting of the game, a ruined London with survivors huddling in tube stations is obviously quite evocative of the Blitz, and the scarred barricades and shells of armoured vehicles give the impression a not-insignificant dust-up happened recently, and the people in the tanks didn't come out of it too well. Boxes, crates and barrels strewn around the place sometimes yield money or items when destroyed, and there's something terribly satisfying about vandalism on a grand scale, like City of Villains mayhem missions, or driving around in the late lamented Auto Assault knocking down road signs, barriers and especially pedestrians to gather crafting materials.

Something that wasn't familiar from the demo was the grappler. The demo let you try out the Blademaster and Marksman classes, and I much preferred the ranged weapons of the Marksman to having to get close enough to use a sword. While trying out various characters in the full game, I whipped up a Guardian, and found a grappler, a weapon of some sort. Equipping it and pointing it at a zombie wandering down the street to find out what devastation it would unleash, it shot out a hook, caught hold of the zombie and with an audible "twang!", catapulted the surprised undead shambler over to me, conveniently saving that long hike all the way over there to smite it with a sword. (Actually, I was lying about the audible "twang!", the only tiny flaw in the grappler is that it doesn't do that. Then again, it doesn't really need to, as I shout "twang!" myself every time I fire it now.) The grappler is 39 carat mithril genius, I don't know why nobody's done it before (that I can think of). There's plenty of knockdown and knockback (in CoH, sometimes far too much knockback if you're a Scrapper in a team of Storm Defenders), but no... what's the opposite of knockback? Pullforward? There's hardly any of that; maybe telekinetic type powers like in Bioshock, but it's not quite the same. It solves some of the frustrations of a melee character in a ranged world (sprinting full speed towards the enemy who get shot by your comrades just as you get there, or jumping up and down trying to poke some flying thing), and is just generally fun. I must try grouping up with a bunch of melee types to see you can play Grappler Ping-Pong with zombies... It might even work for tanking; never mind shouting "yo mama" jokes at some demon to try and persuade him to attack you instead of the squishies, twang! him away from them and over to you instead! The major drawback is that the grappler takes up a slot that could be used for a shield or gun, so unless you get very adept at twang!ing an enemy in then switching weapon sets (as well as using all your other hotkey abilities), it's not the most efficient use of gear, and disturbingly twang!-resistant enemies were turning up, even at the lowly levels my Guardian's progressed through so far. Talking of tanking, I gather that's what Guardians are supposed to do (they even have some sort of taunt, not that I bothered reading what it did, 'cos it's a taunt, pah), but I'm not entirely sure how you accomplish the role when the greatest challenge is finding a live opponent. Nothing outside the uber-bosees survives long enough to be taunted, or indeed twang!ed; I guess the fiendish army will get a bit more challenging in future levels.

Neat though the grappler is, it's not enough to lure me away from guns, guns, more guns, and a couple of spare guns in case the aforementioned guns run out of ammo (which they don't, the game has no concept of finite ammunition, but you can never be too careful), so my main character is a Marksman. I've only been playing a few days, but the story and quests are quite engaging so far, within MMO limitations. There's been plenty of boding, portents, mystery and a bit of a cut-scene, leading up to missions for Lucious Aldin and Techsmith 314, the greatest lunatic NPC double act since Minsc and Boo of the Baldur's Gate series (not that Boo was a lunatic, obviously, Boo was a perfectly normal miniature giant space hamster). I can't remember any specific lines of dialogue, but they've been very funny in a bonkers-in-the-nut way.

I can't see Hellgate as a very long term thing, but it's certainly diverting enough at the moment.

Monday 11 February 2008

It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry(sis)

Back to the present after all that reminiscing, and these past few weeks I have been mostly playing Crysis (interspersed with Guitar Hero 3; I finally beat Raining Blood on Hard, the resultant victory dance being rudely interrupted by the Hard version of The Devil Went Down To Georgia being arse-bendingly ludicrous. Boss battles move gameplay away from being "hit most of the notes, if you can" to being "hit these very specific notes (as well as most of the others) *and* hope you don't get hit with particularly unpleasant attacks in the meantime", altogether too much chance getting into the equation.)

Crysis, though; I hardly need to mention its visual loveliness, which is just as visually lovely as everyone says to the point where you'll quite happily skip down the beach going "ooooh, palm trees swaying in the breeze! Coo, crabs scuttling across golden sands into sapphire-crystal waters! My, look at the detail on the assault rifle that soldier's carrying, you can see the laser sight illuminating a spot between my eyes so clearl*BANG* urgh." Once you've stopped goggling at the beauty of everything, it's a very well-done shooter. Your nano-techno-bio-suit-o thing offers some neat options, particularly the cloak; the weapons are nicely done, particularly being able to customise them with your choice of sights and other accessories; vehicles provide occasional diversions, although they usually seem to include absurdly powerful magnets that attract bullets from kilometres around the moment you climb in. The first half to two-thirds is generally excellent, as you sneak around swathes of enemy troops single-handed (or occasionally double-handed if your nano-suited chum Psycho is around). Then... well. Minor spoilers follow, so look away if you want to be totally surprised (and you've never seen Predator): then, the aliens turn up, as presaged by the various spooky happenings up to that point, and much like Half Life, it's not nearly as good as the pre-alien stuff. The zero-gravity alien ship was a neat trick, for about five minutes then it dragged rather. After you're spat out and have to escape the island, where before you could study the situation, pick an appropriate suit mode and weapons and choose your own approach, once the aliens turn up everything's armour mode (or you die in seconds) and hold your finger on the trigger in an attempt to dispatch the space-beasties. I suppose you could say that's in keeping with the story, of a covert assault that uncovers unexpected opposition leading to a panicked escape, but it's a bit annoying. In general, the story isn't going to challenge for the Nobel prize for literature any day soon, but it's functional enough to keep things moving. The cast include a requisite bunch of shouty Marines/soldiers, your aforementioned team-mate Psycho (or Jason Statham after escaping from Crank) and some archaeologist's daughter to fill the standard Doctor Who assistant role (look pretty for the dads and get captured now and again). There's a segment after you escape the island, on an aircraft carrier, that takes forever to get going as you tromp around from briefing to briefing, but picks up nicely once it actually gets going. In the final battle you're faced with a giant boss, and you have to take out several turrets before proceeding on to the final vulnerable segments, which is rather satisfyingly Old Skool.

All in all, not a bad game, and I might well have another crack on a higher difficulty level, at least 'til ET turns up. After wrapping Crysis up, I was searching for a game, and thinking back I rather liked the Hellgate: London demo, so coming up soon, Actual MMOG[1] Type Posts!

[1] Depending on whether you classify Hellgate: London as an MMOG or not. Which I do. So there.

Friday 8 February 2008

The history books tell it (part 5)

For some reason, my memory of the PCs I've owned gets worse as the systems get more recent, so after rambling endlessly on for the first few computers I'll wrap up the last ten years or so in a single post.

After the 486 was a Pentium, maybe a P133, from another random box-shifter out of PC Plus (MJN Computers, as far as I recall), during the second year of university. I probably had this longer than any other PC, as after graduating and getting a job I blew all my money on fripperies like a house. I couldn't really remember some of the subsequent upgrades, but my MMO pack-rat-ism extends to e-mail and electronic documents, so I poked around a bit and found records of a new PC pretty much every couple of years from 1999: first a Simply Computers Pentium II 350, then an Evesham Athlon 1400, a JAL Athlon 2800, and finally the bunch of components assembled into my current Athlon 64. It also turns out I don't have the best luck with PCs, as half the documents I found related to problems: the estimated delivery date of the Simply kept slipping back to the point I was on the verge of cancelling the order, the Evesham machine fell over after about a week and needed a motherboard replacement, and the original graphics card of the JAL and my current system were both knackered and need replacing. Maybe I get overexcited when new machines arrive and start emitting electromagnetic pulses or something...

Games-wise, I don't really have much of a sense of chronology either, so I'll whip through the Wikipedia video game genres list and see what I remember, doubtless missing out a whole bunch o' stuff...

I went on a wargame kick for a while, starting with a budget purchase of Panzer General (then on to others in the series, Allied General, Fantasy General, Pacific General, Panzer General 2, Hatstand General, Specific General, General Practitioner and the like, though the original was probably the best). That led on to the Steel Panthers series, and also the Close Combat games; I hadn't been very keen on a demo of the first, but a friend lent me Close Combat II, and that was superb. III, IV and V were decent enough follow-ons without quite matching up to the Arnhem campaign. The same friend tried to get me into Combat Mission, but it just didn't click, and I haven't really played wargames since.

Overlapping with wargames in the real-time/turn-based/tactical/strategic fields, like I mentioned in the previous post, after playing Dune II, Warcraft, Command & Conquer and Warcraft 2 (plus various expansions/sequels and possibly a couple of others I've forgotten) in rapid succession I was about done with RTS games, up until Company of Heroes. Warhammer: Dark Omen was a rather excellent RTT game, I thoroughly enjoyed deploying siege weapons and charging around after undead in that, and the two MechCommander games were also fun RTTs. The sequels to UFO: Enemy Unknown never quite lived up to its heights, Terror from the Deep was more of the same only harder, and X-COM Apocalypse went a bit real-time (sort of, you could switch combat engines I think) and more futuristic. Strangely, despite loving the original Civilisation to bits, the only sequel I played at any length was Colonisation, maybe I should pick up Civ IV sometime.

I can't remember particularly playing any flight-sims after the 486; space sims didn't do too badly for a while, peaking with Conflict Freespace 2 which I even revisited recently. Tachyon: The Fringe was a fairly average game elevated by Bruce Campbell's voice, X: Beyond the Frontier was interesting without being great, then there wasn't much else until I picked up X3. I always liked giant stompy mecha-robot games too, which basically boiled down to a couple of Earthsiege games and the always splendid Mechwarrior series (the PC1512 hadn't quite been up to the first, but I completed 2, 3 and 4 along with most of the expansions).

Driving games have never been my thing, though I had some compilation that included Driver and played that a fair bit. As a result, I'd never bothered with the Grand Theft Auto series, but then GTA3 got such plaudits I gave it a shot, and couldn't get enough of cruising the streets to the sounds of K-JAH. Vice City and San Andreas were similarly fantastic, so I'm hoping GTAIV makes it to the PC before to long.

Adventure games gradually faded away, though I rather liked a couple before they all but vanished completely. Starship Titanic was an interesting attempt to bring the text parser back, quite frustrating, but with some fun bits. Discworld Noir I really liked; despite being a Pratchett fan, I couldn't get into the first two Discworld games, but finished Noir, which was probably the furthest from the source material. I don't think I even had to resort to a walkthrough.

In offline RPGs, it's basically been Bioware all the way. After the Gold Box heydey, computer implementations of D&D had tailed off a bit, until the excellent Baldur's Gate and the genius of Minsc and Boo. Planescape: Torment was the pinnacle of CRPG storytelling, Baldur's Gate II a solid followup to the first. Neverwinter Nights had such great promise, but the single player campaign was a little disappointing, and though we had some fun with modules and multiplayer, it never quite worked out. Its expansions were good, though. Knights of the Old Republic was great, I missed out on the second having just got into City of Heroes then World of Warcraft instead, maybe that's something else I should pick up. The XBox exclusivity of Mass Effect is a shame, but Dragon Age could be interesting.

First person shooters have been a constant throughout; Blood sticks out in the memory from the early stuff as quite a funny, freaky over-the-top mess of setting cultists on fire with a flare gun and playing zombie-head football. I never really liked the original Quake, but Quake II was good. That was the first FPS where I used mouselook and WASD to move, which took some getting used to from just using the keyboard, but is now as natural as turning my head... Half-Life and its various expansions and sequels, of course, not much more to say about those. Call of Duty and its expansion were very good, I really ought to pick the sequels up. I loved the first Unreal Tournament for its frenetic never-mind-a-story-just-shoot-stuff action, and Unreal Tournament 2004 was one of the first games I seriously played online. Most recently Crysis has been rather fun, but I'll get onto that in another post...

Possibly the games I've loved most have been FPS/RPG hybrids; I'd be hard pushed to decide between System Shock 2 and Deus Ex for my Favourite Game Ever Of All Time (Probably, At The Moment At Least, Unless I've Forgotten Any Others). System Shock 2 was even better than the first, which made Deux Ex 2 all the more disappointing, I never got into it at all, though at least Bio(it's really System)shock(3) was a worthy follow-up, if not quite as good as System Shock 2.

So there we go, the Fairly Incomplete And Rather Badly Illustrated History of PC Gaming by Zoso, aged 33 1/3. Next up, Back to the Present for a spot of Crysis!

Tuesday 5 February 2008

The history books tell it (part 4)

The 486 Years

After the quantum leaps of floppy disk to hard drive and CD-ROM, CGA to VGA and PC speaker to Soundblaster, I can't recall any particularly astounding developments in PC hardware. After the 386SX, it was pretty much a case of more of the same (but faster, with more memory, more hard drive space, more colours on the screen and a slightly different shade of beige for the case). Somewhere around 1993 I upgraded to a 33Mhz 486DLC (a budget Cyrix chip roughly on par with a 486SX) system, just in time for Doom. What more can you say about Doom? Literally hours of chainsaw, shotgun and BFG fun. Doom also felt like the tipping point, from the PC being a bit of an afterthough for games, meekly trailing behind other systems saying "please sir, may I have a port?" to an Intel (or Cyrix) powered gaming-Cyberdemon, stomping around crushing lesser systems beneath its robo-hooves. In my mind, at least. And the mind of newsagents too (well, publishers more likely), as magazines like PC Zone and PC Gamer appeared next to PC Plus and the ever-imaginatively titled PC Magazine. PC Format had turned up a bit earlier as possibly the first not-really-business-oriented PC publication, but it was still a bit too "lifestyle" for me, rather than the ideal of games, games and extra games, with a couple of games on the cover and some extra games coverage. There might even have been magazines that didn't feature "PC" in the title, but I can't remember any of them offhand which serves them right for veering into such absurdism.

Being cash-strapped (though the knowledge gained from a few years of PC-tinkering had at least enabled me to escape from paper rounds and weekends in a godawful gift shop in favour of doing some spreadsheet and database work), magazine cover disks (still mostly 3.5" disks, though with an occasional CD-ROM starting to appear) were a major source of games, mostly shareware or demos. Doom itself had a free shareware episode, Jazz Jackrabbit, Epic Pinball... One Must Fall: 2097 was an excellent robot fighting game, a genre usually overlooked on the PC, I could probably still perform most of the special attacks of the Jaguar robot from the shareware version of it. I never really succumbed to Tetris, I think I initially experienced it as a poor CGA knock-off that rather put me off, but I did spend an awfully long time on the block-shuffler Squarez.

I took the 486 off to university, and fell in with a bad crowd there. That's "bad" in the "street" sense, my home people, because I am down with that. Noun. Though the few of us with PCs at school had copied a few games around, with photocopies of word lists or similar copy protection, it wasn't exactly a large scale operation. At university there were a bunch of us computer science students, some who'd been part of the cracking/demo scene, with access to the internet at high speed, someone had an early CD burner (though the blank disks were madly expensive as I recall, maybe a fiver a time?)... There was quite a bit of software floating around. In my defence, I did still buy a few games, even as a poor destitute student, and those years so thoroughly inculcated me into PC gaming at just the time the original PlayStation was really taking off that I barely glanced at a console until the Wii, so I'm sure I've paid my debts to society (or PC games publishers at least) since. Anyway, my chronology is pretty hazy, but around that general time were games like...

Dune II, which might've been on the 386SX come to think of it, the prototypical RTS game, and a real revelation at the time. After that was Warcraft, Command and Conquer, Warcraft 2, possibly a couple of others, and by the time I finished that lot I pretty much burned out on the RTS genre and only really went back to it recently in Company of Heroes.

Flight sims were going strong with Aces of the Pacific, Aces over Europe, Gunship 2000 and 1942: Pacific Air War amongst others. Comanche Maximum Overkill was one of the first games I installed on the 486 for its voxel landscapes, graphically very impressive, but I really preferred space combat (no ground to crash into, apart from anything else), so after Wing Commander 2, X-Wing - Space Combat Simulator and its sequel TIE Fighter were firm favourites. They actually had stories too, which made them more engaging than the standard flight sim that generally just packed you off to bomb/shoot down the enemy until you got shot down yourself, or got bored. Wing Commander itself was followed by Privateer, which was decent enough, but eclipsed by the Star Wars games.

I entirely neglected RPGs in the last post, I think I worked through a couple of other Gold Box AD&D games previous to getting the 486, but aside from extra dragons, they weren't wildly different from Curse of the Azure Bonds. I played Ultima VI, though I don't think I got very close to finishing it, I think the scale of the world put me off a bit, but I'm fairly sure I completed The Savage Empire, a Lost World type "World Of Ultima" spin-off using the Ultima VI engine, with extra dinosaurs. Eye of the Beholder was a Dungeon Master-esque AD&D game, but I never really got into that first person move-one-grid-square rotate-90-degrees type of RPG so much (I think Lands of Lore used a similar engine). On the 486, though hugely impressed by Ultima VII, I think the scale did for me again, and I never actually finished it, then I hardly played CRPGs for a few years. Daggerfall was probably the next one I seriously played, which might not have been on the 486.

I really enjoyed a couple of squad-based research 'em ups; the real-time Syndicate, and turn based UFO: Enemy Unknown. Researching new weapons and deploying them in the field, either in the chaotic city flame-fests of Syndicate or the tense landscapes of UFO, deploying from your transport aircraft, carefully hunting for downed alien craft, never quite sure where you'd find the occupant(s)... UFO in particular was really engrossing, right up to taking the fight back to the alien base on Mars (by which time I'd developed my psychic troopers to such an extent, I think most of the final mission consisted of spotting aliens with a hover-tank, then mind-controlling them to toddle off and shoot their comrades...)

Doom spawned a whole wave of first person shooters like Heretic, Hexen, Rise of the Triad, Duke Nukem 3D, of course; one of the best was Dark Forces, a Star Wars FPS with the added fun of stromtrooper shooting. Descent as well, not really technically an FPS, was most impressive, with its total freedom. I was strictly a keyboard player then, not using WASD and mouselook until Quake II, so I played Descent entirely around the cursor keys... I think the cursors themselves for pitch and yaw, 7 and 9 for roll, 1 and 3 for strafe left and right, / and ins for strafing up and down... something like that. I got fairly handy with them, at any rate. When System Shock arrived, the 486 only just coped with it, but even with slightly jerky gameplay and low detail graphics it totally blew me away, amazing game.

Descent and Doom in particular were early vehicles for networked gameplay too, about four of us kitted out our PCs with network cards, though the eternal fun of DOS networking rather restricted the amount of time we actually played. In fact, once we got the games going over the network, it wasn't so much as a deathmatch, more a "Hey! Look! It's a (trooper/spaceship) controlled by an actual person! WHOAH!"-match; we mostly stuck with XPilot on the university workstations for multiplayer mayhem.

Aside from games, one of the early magazine cover disks included the Second Reality demo that was utterly mind-blowing, and could rapidly gather a crowd in the halls of residence, especially when followed up with Cthugha (from the same disk). The inexorable march of Windows also brought Windows 95, which the 486 could just about handle, though I was more impressed by a digitised (probably predating MP3... AIFF maybe?) version of the "Start Me Up" parody, "Windows 95 Sucks" (widely misattributed like 95% of comedy songs to Weird Al) doing the rounds.