Play It Once, And Again, Santa

How The Operative: No One Lives Forever Made A Lasting Impression

The Operative: No One Lives Forever was released eighteen years ago and, having played it recently, is a fun romp in the era of the Cold War. Published by Sierra and developed by Monolith Productions. The story riffs on TV shows such as The Saint and Get Smart, while lurking like a spy in the shadow of Austin Powers. NOLF is a tongue in cheek adventure that wanted to do it all. Being a brilliant game that achieved what it clearly set out to do– dazzle its audience.  Yet while colourful graphics, funny writing and a sexy femme fatale is also a recipe for Tropetown, Population: Pop Culture. NOLF had a winning ingredient in The Great Market Make-Off; Replayability.

 

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The Secret of GOTY Island

 

Nowadays it seems that most pubs have leaned on Multiplayer to give their products new and exciting, unscripted and unpredictable experiences. And while NOLF did have the option for multiplayer, it was really mandatory at that time, it wasn’t the focus or the modus operandi. So while multiplayer was an option it was more of an after thought. And that’s fine. The campaign held far more entertainment than just navigating a maze to release the pressure of a twitchy index finger when you finally found a target.

Similar to games like the N64’s Goldeneye and Thief but with a Tenchu twist No One Lives Forever offered mission objectives like an RPG-lite. Carried out through a succession of thematically varied stages, formated as missions, with each stage you could select your best equiptment for the level. Where more wild, strange and often outlandish equipment unlocked as you progressed through the game. But you weren’t put straight into the dip. Any new mission with new toys was introduced with an appropriate tutorial. Which was thankfully succinct.

Diving deeper into the game there was also a touch of Metroid as your evolving abilities, courtesy of more robust gadgetry, would later allow you to find collectables unattainable in previously played levels which would also let you more efficiently strategise your approach on each mission; Essentially you could mutate the game. These tokens which were mostly irreverent intel would also spawn in (mostly) different places on each playthrough. And so rewarding a close study of the environments with better routes and more bonuses. Making your meters easier to maintain. As such with new ways to tackle each environment it let you choose your own adventure.

Adventures in gaming have a short lifespan and an even shorter shelf-life regardless of what genre the game is.  There are defiant and resourceful players who reluctant to give up the ghost update their favourite games beyond what any company aftercare has done and who, to be quite honest, without the gaming landscape would be lost. If not for their love and hard work many of these titles would be abstract memories in an industry throwing every card out of the pack hoping for a rulebook. With that sentiment No One Lives Forever is a divine comedy with its sum held in limbo. As the legal state of play is, like espionage, still in a gray area [at the time of writing – Ed.]

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Locked up Cate attempts to aggravate her captor Magnus Armstrong into a fist fight.

No One Lives Forever didn’t run on the prettiest or most feature heavy engine at the time but the game had depth. Has depth. And variety. Variety to match the colours in its garish sixties fashion. And diversity in its approach to progress. These things together created a dynamic but lighthearted experience.

Spanning many drastic locales. Each offering their own thematic hazards and hinderances. And presenting new challenges, more easily overcome with the fantastic gadgetry you could expect from a spy comedy, with fun rides through a silly Whodunit of conspiracies and personal vendettas. However most importantly through the mechanically sound gameplay The Operative: No One Lives Forever is a training course for the genres elegant but recursive objectives.

#Devtober Post-mortem

What Went Right

I have been working on an untitled project for a couple of years now. I had made a working prototype in a simple arcade game making tool that I had found on-line years ago (called Arcade Game Studio.) I liked it. It was fun. I asked other people to play the demo. It was fun and it made people laugh. And as my confidence grew so did my ambition.

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The original Demo made in Arcade Game Studio. Download link available at the end of this article.

I originally wanted to take the core game and port it to a more well know and robust engine. I chose the Unreal Engine for this which to be honest was a default choice as I was familiar with the layout having meddled with it back in the days of UT ‘99 and Unreal. It did not crash as often with the newest iteration.

UE4 was so easy to use. And it made prototyping ideas so much quicker than rolling my own engine and compiling it every time I wanted to implement a cool new feature, which is what I originally wanted to do. Seeing is believing after all and UE4 helped me to virtualise my ideas quickly. It felt great seeing things work like ingredients in a pot.

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A mixture of old and new, and in development ideas. Programmer Art (C)2019.

What Went Wrong

I had however over estimated my abilities. Couple that in with feature creep and I quickly found myself overwhelmed. All those cool features that I thought of; If I could not implement them I would become heavily pre-occupied wondering what was going wrong and angry at myself for not getting it. This led to a lot of day dreaming and in my haste to get things done I created needless stress for myself. My narrative development soon became a projected self-insert set on every failure.

How Things Could Have Went Better

Now I made a project plan but I did not keep to it. In hindsight I admit that I was overconfident because I knew what I was doing; compensating for my inexpereince. If I had followed the framework I set out for myself I would have greatly decreased the stress I brought on myself. As my expectations would have been more realistic and I would have been more comfortable, knowing where I was going and what I needed to do.  I had expected to meditate on an idea and for it to be completed in unreasonable timescales.

Understanding and using iteration more effectively would have greatly increased my productivity. Allowing me to move on to other things rather than dwell on broken and bad ideas. Overthinking was ultimately what undermined my efforts and the key to my success in future is: practice makes perfect practice.

(Codename:) Foul Tongue Demo

This week: I’ve mostly been playing.

Drakengard 3

I’m coming to this title from the first two which were on the PS2 and so I can assure you that there is no obtuse Yoko Taro or Nier fan-boying here. The first two were interesting even if the game-play was a bit bland. With the entertainment coming mainly from the obscure story.

The characters from the first game were Biblical in their horror. Which fitted the redemption narrative. The first game was really strong in its narrative and different from what the mainstream was selling as normality in comparison to family friendly gaming. And whoa boy was it dark.

Unfortunately the second one, not affiliated with Yoko Taro, was a completely bland matinee love story that had more in common with Little House On The Prairie than a dank dragon combat game. Let us forget that it happened. Yoko Taro did.

So this brings us to the third game which is a prequel to the first game because– details.  Set one hundred years before the events of the first game Drakengard 3 returns to its dark roots. Blurring morality and requiring critical thinking to understand the reasoning behind it in the same way that other mature narrative driven titles did (here’s to you Legacy of Kain.) As a game it is pretty shallow. A generic third-person hack and slash with intermittent moments of vehicular combat.  Its deep story is really where the game shines. It does not try to reinvent the genre thankfully but uses the method of gameplay to carry the tale.

I have not got far into it, I am on chapter three, but I am hoping for some cool surprises which are more than just superficial and anecdotal hooks with the aesthetics.

Shadow Hearts

Sequel to Koudelka and first in the series of Shadow Hearts games this game complicates the lore of Koudelka turning the story into a tale of tragic heroes. While it also features the much lauded attack wheel. More on that later however…

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I’m doing another run through of this classic FPS.

THIS Week: I’ve mostly been playing…

It was a long slough but I have finally finished Nights of Azure 2, and after I got the platinum trophy I returned to the, in my opinion, much better Nights of Azure to complete a few achievements to platinum that as well.

Nights of Azure

While I was grinding to get the final trophy, which was to fulfill three-hundred in-game requests, I was reminded on how much cooler it was.

The protag, with her catchy red trench (instead of lusciously long red hair,) was a real hybrid creature in the debut and had several awesome demon forms. While these were alluded to in the sequel their impact was lessened to the point of being irreverent.

I have so much love for the first game. However both games have stellar soundtracks and it is a shame I cannot find them on disc.

Prince of Persia – Forgotten Sands (PSP)

It is important that I annotate what version of PoP I am playing because there are three very different games that share the name. This version is a 2D platformer. And while it does have some clunky controls and uninteresting level design it is fun for what it is.

The Prince of Persia reboot series is a game that could be sold on the movement of its main character. A bashful Prince whose Princely trainer, David Buelle, incorporated Parkour into the exercise plan of our hero. Yet this unique selling point was made redundant by the environment focusing more on puzzles and timing than exploration.

The vertical movement was utilized as a twist on the types of background the hero could traverse. Where without offering any freedom in travel was more of an obstacle than a liberation from the ground. And this made it a game showing off a novelty rather than an innovation.

Plus arena battles I find tedious but the game is decidedly charming. I think this is mostly in part to the wonderful character acting from Yuri Lowenthal who returns from the first game and who unquestioningly fits the role.

When it comes to story I have to admit to being lost. As narratives that involve time travel often become convoluted for my meager brain to understand. It is not so bad on The Forgotten Sands games as each version seems to be a self contained tale. But remembering the first game in the series it seems like there is a disconnection between events. Again this can be attributed to the use of time travel.

THIS WEEK: I’ve mostly been playing

I am still getting through LBA2. I have found myself a way to the alien planet where Gene Simmons exists as a character. I shit ye not (see below.)

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I have rekindled my other saves this week and have mostly been playing…

Nights of Azure 2 (PS4)

Many years ago there was a game called Alisia Dragoon. It was released exclusively for the Sega Mega-Drive. It was a simple premise: a 2D platformer, but its unique selling point was that the protag had four pets which you could alternate through and they would dole out damage on your behalf. Unfortunately to this day it has not seen any kind of remake or any interest.

The character Alisia might not have survived but the premise has. And the original Nights of Azure is close to what can be imagined as its new 3D incarnation. Having a system close to the companion based game play Nights of Azure amplifies it and features a fantastic cast of weird and wonderful Servans who are like protagonist Arnices’ pets.

Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon is a different game with a similar theme to its predecessor. It unfortunately replaces the Servan system with a Servan plus supporting-cast-member-called-a-Lily system. This opens up for more character development but it lacks variety when battling in real time as the Servans are given less responsibility in fighting and screen time.

Nights of Azure 2s’ strength is not in anything comparable to a AAA license or even with the standards of a TV or film license. Its strength is its simplicity.

A casual cRPG with a great soundtrack. Which like the cast is filled with personality.  The story plays like a text book. As each chapter accumulates more and more knowledge about the characters. The story is campy and there are heavy Yuri overtones. While apart from the costumes the romance is classy and each individual thread is woven with wise words the overall script, while not Doki Doki Literature Club, is charming. I do not know much of the Japanese language but the translation is coherent with consideration to the subtleties within the main cast (who to be fair come off as total creeps during the combat segments.)

There are mechanics in this game which keep it nice and manageable in comparison to heavier RPGs. Mainly a time limit which is present on each level. It is something which upgrading the main character Aluche can itself be increased but this helps keep each area a run and not a slog. The enemy encounters are also geared into this form of development and I find it helps stave from fatigue as doing missions requires you to revisit already cleared areas.

Nights of Azure 2 is not a step up from the first game in the series unfortunately and it does have a few problems and oversights. But these can be overcome with ease and the game remains fun and engaging.  Although it is more densely populated by a supporting cast the games’ atmosphere is more ominous and foreboding than the original title too.

A Gothic game with a Steampunk style Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon is a great arcade-like RPG that I have been playing for like half a year. It is awesome and I hope it qualifies for a sequel.


Bulletwitch (Xbox 360)

It is a if Bloodrayne died and went to Xbox 360, except which those titles are already available on the platform. But anyways this is available on Steam now. It is a brain dead third person shooter that has a summery soundtrack. It is like a spiritual sequel to Army of Darkness. But not as Raimi.


Tomb Raider III (PC)

I have nearly completed this game and in anticipation of this will only comment once it has been finished.


 

THIS WEEK: I’ve mostly been playing.

Here’s the script for a little feature I’m going to start doing every Thursday. As the title suggests it’s called ‘This week: I have mostly been playing.’ And it’ll be a focus on my thoughts and observations about the games I’ve been playing (in the last week.) Mostly retroware but I’m sure to pick up some new titles too.

You might be wondering why I’m making glib notes about games when I should be working on my own, in isolation, without any need for reference or another source to completely protect my IP from copyright trolls. And well it takes a great deal of time and effort to mask ones sources and it’s a bit egomaniacle to do that. We live in a so… called echo chamber after all.


Little Big Adventure 2 (PC)

Created by Adeline Software the original LBA was released in 1994. LBA was ported to a good few systems even long after its initial release. The sequel however hasn’t seen as much love as the first installment. It’s a pity too because the sequel was an improvement on the original title in quite a few distinctive ways.

Little Big Adventure 2 (LBA2) was released in ’97 and one of its technological improvements was its level design. The first game was an isometric cRPG* and while LBA2 didn’t change the kind of game the series was known for it did use a precursor to the open-world style of world map. And Rendered in 3D which was neat compared to the first games pre-rendered backgrounds.

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With a myriad of weird and wonderful characters LBA2 expanded on the roster established in the first game. While the first game used mostly anthropomorphized mammals and a species of geometry. (It’s weird and it’s definitely wonderful.) The sequel saw an extension to the cast with the inclusion of an entirely new planet of creatures, these include walking hot dogs, sentient mosquitoes and mole men. The character design is something straight out of a 60’s sci-fi romp.

It’s all cute enough. But what is really inspiring about this game is the story. Where you play as the resident clandestine chosen one Twinsen (the world is called Twinsun, coincidence? probably,) who must first regain his magic heirlooms to then free some sort of gray alien cum transcendental being from the horrific intentions of one Dr. FunFrock, who is just your normal utopia seeking villain.  It’s a charming tale of nature vs. science layered over a contrast of magic vs. technology. The sequel expands on this idea, reiterates it and pushes it farther.

The music is fantastic. They’re just short motifs but they carry a lot of emotion. Each short passage inspires a mood, however as I’m playing the GOG version and I no longer have the disc I wonder if there’s an indexing issue as the tracks all seem to be random with no one song fitting a theme to the environment yet they seem to correlate stylistically.

LBA2 is a 3D/2.5D cRPG and platformer that’s in equal parts charming and surreal. I like it for it’s wonderfully fantastic world and its campy voice acting. And it’s a nice relaxing experience that’s filled with the stuff of dreams.

*cRPG is shorthand for Character Role-playing Game and is used to describe a game that uses a predefined character who you play as.

Body Harvest (N64)

I’d love to see this game remade in the GTAV engine.

Before Rockstar was a thing them peoples at DMA Design were toying with 3D open worlds in this Starship Troopers riff.

Another cRPG, this time you play as Adam Bloke who has time traveled from the year 2016 in the future to one-hundred years prior to the events in the opening cinematic. After barely escaping a research facility in space looking like a faded tin of Irn-Bru that was attacked by alien bugs. Cheer up Bruv have a Barrs Irn-Bru.

So this game would never win any awards for exemplary story telling yet it’s still a fun little exploration title for the N64. With great music again. Using incidental pieces that play randomly as you explore the world.

Set into five levels each with about three to four stages this game is both an autophiles dream and a classic video game movie appropriation with the aesthetic of being built out of Playmobil.

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None of those thing are the point though of this title, the point of this game is that it’s a B-Movie game and that makes it awesome. The dialogue is more ripe than a rotten lemon but its silliness is its virtue.

There’s not any platforming in this game as most of the game is played from within a time appropriate vehicle but its relaxed projectile accuracy makes this a fun little counter on the old hi-score meter.

I admit that I’m only playing this for nostalgias sake. It does a few things that I feel are wasted opportunities. These mainly involve the collectables. There are two types of object to find within each level and they are alien artifacts and weapons crystals. Once all the alien artifacts are found in a level you can replay that levels boss. Fair enough: in my day we had to fight for our replayability.

However my biggest bugbear are the weapons crystals that offer you a monster weapon once they’re all obtained. Basically you get this cool weapon and nothing to use it on, well maybe one sub-boss because the weapon doesn’t carry over to the next level. Really all the ammo you collected and hard work finding it is basically for fireworks.


I’ve finished both of these games before but I find inspiration in them. Also a few honorable mentions go out to Shadowhearts (PS2,) Lady Sia (GBA,) and Akuji The Heartless (PS1.) which I have been playing on and off (the lavy haha!)

Come back next week for more thoughts and tribulations!

Digital Atavism

There’s an idea that when you’re composing genre music you should avoid listening to the genre exclusively and branch out. Take influence from outside your comfort zone. I think it’s great advice. It brings questions like how can the genre adapt to; and how does it translate to; to the front.  It’s similar with game development. For example the original Tomb Raider could of been shovelware if it was just another Prince of Persia clone but the change in perspective turned it into a compltely new experience.

I’m making a 2D platformer. I’ve been researching platformers and happily none of the titles I’ve played or read about can be a mold for what I want to create. I feel innovation can only be awarded through hindsight so what I’m doing is just trying new things to see what works. Ideas that are both fun and challenging for me to make and for the player to explore.

In retrospect gaming mechanics as an art movement is something I’ve taken into consideration when doing this.  Software Engineering is an art just as much as it is science and developing a game would be tedious if we just plaguarized the real world for in game tasks. Genres like cultures sometimes need to adopt new ideas to support the old ways.