Monthly Archives: November 2011

Planescape: Torment – Fall From Grace (Mark Morgan)

I’ve mentioned before, that I do not write about games I haven’t played. I try to be in touch with most of interesting part of the gaming world, but its like with books or music – there’s too much of it to know it all. Thus, some great games eluded me, yet they deserve to be mentioned. So, today we’re having Marek Papierski / temporar, my friend, also a gamer, who was kind enough to make a guest appearance in “The Music of Video Games”. Thanks!
rattkin

How would it feel like living in a city featuring hundreds of doors and windows, each leading to another plane?
The city full of light, no access to sky that cannot be entered or exited save via portals.
How would this city’s music sound like?

Planescape: Torment was released in 1999 by Black Isle Studios, following great successes of Fallout 2 and Baldur’s Gate franchises. Once again, Mark Morgan was asked to create music score. Soundtrack featured 38 themes totaling almost an hour of great, distinctive work.

Now imagine a world governed by three principles:
1) Rule of Three – things tend to happen in three.
2) Unity of Rings – thins on the planes are circular, coming back around to where they started.
3) Center of All – everything and everyone is the center.

Imagine its habitants bursting with lines of memorable quotes:

Dak’kon: “Endure. In enduring, grow strong.”
Annah: “Yeh like me wee tail? I could wag it for yeh.”
Fall-From-Grace: “Time is not your enemy, forever is.”

Finally, think of yourself, somewhere out there.

More about Planescape: Torment –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planescape:_Torment


World of Warcraft – Dun Morogh (Jason Hayes)

It’s very hard to write about World of Warcraft. I’m already aware I have no chance of properly describing it. But, whatever the outcome will be, you should just carry on with the thought that WoW is both social and gaming phenomen and it’s worth knowing. Unless you’ve lived under a rock for past 8 years, you must at least have heard something about this game. It’s definitely most important game of our times and probably the ultimately best one, too. A milestone, dividing everything on before and after. A masterpiece production from the legendary Blizzard.

World of Warcraft is a massive multiplayer online role playing game. In short, it means that you only play it online, through the internet, you play it together with tens of thousands people in the same time and the game revolves around creating a character and “being” that character. The game is based on a fictional universe, created for previous Blizzard’s strategy game Warcraft. This world is filled with fantasy, sword and magic, honor and betrayal. On great lands of Azeroth and Kalimdor, two factions of Alliance and Horde are fighting each other. Alliance joins Humans, Night Elves, Dwarves and Gnomes, while Horde recruits from Orcs, Trolls, Taurens and Undead. Each race, each faction has its own history, its own rights, its leaders. You, as a player, can pick which side you want to enlist with, and which race suits you. After that you’re picking a class, that is – what’s the playstyle of your character. Is it Mage? Priest? Warrior? Hunter maybe? How about Shaman? There are more classes and more races even, added in further expansion sets to the game. The class you’re taking will determine what you will do, what skills you will have, how you will fight your enemies and how can you help others in their struggle. Just a quick load… and there, you are lvl 1 character, starting in your own area, and the digital adventure of your life is just in front of you. You will kill monsters, you will find treasures, you will rescue people, find things, carry things. You’ll learn new things, you’ll get better equipment, you’ll advance through enormously big world, and “ding” through 85 levels of your character. And then, it’s just a mere begininng… there will be mortal adversaries, dragons, evil things, robots. You are the hero of this world. You are going to bring back the order and save the day.

World of Warcraft has over 10 milions of subscribers – people who are actively paying the monthly fee to access the game. It’s a huge community. WoW has its own jargon, own cartography, own set of memes, jokes, sayings. Not all the people play together, people are scattered around on so-called “clusters”, each being a separate “world”, but even that single world can hold approx 10k-20k people. It’s incredibly approachable game. I had success of showing it to girls, elderly people, small kids, guys of my age. Everyone and I mean everyone, wanted to play after a while. The sheer power of the game is just mindblowing. There’s not enough space to even cover 10% of all the aspects of the game. At its core, I think, lies the flexibility, the complexity and the freedom. There’s no simple goal in WoW – you choose what you want to do, when you log in. You may want to talk to people. You could visit local faire. You could be the auction house animal and make insane money on controlling the market and speculation. You could by an avid player killer or competetive player. You could seek for adventure behind the horizon. You could kill a dragon. You might want to travel all around the world and see beautiful things. Heck, you can even decide that you will sit on that bridge and wave hi to all passers-by! That’s the greatness beyond WoW – everyone plays it differently, everyone CAN play it their way. People have different turn ons, different motives, motivations. Yet, they will still find themselves well in WoW. The game is enormous. But it’s not a “virtual reality” toy. The world itself matters. You feel you are part of some greater epic history. You can sometimes just forget yourself and stare into setting sun, rippling water. People tend to do “photos” (screenshots) in the game all the time – just like shots from last trip or holidays. These hold similar load of emotions. There’s really way too much to be simply described. You should play the game. It has the potential of being your best gaming experience you ever witness. The game is so good, that it’s even a threat – there are these borderline people who are reportedly addicted to it and simply cannot stop. You will understand, when you enter WoW… but don’t worry, as with everything, that can be controlled :)

Makers of World of Warcraft – you have my deepest respect and gratitude. You. Created. Best. Game. Ever.

Dun Morogh theme will be forever my favourite music from WoW. It’s because I associate it with great memories. Dun Morogh is a starting area for Dwarves. It’s cold, snowy, windy, but light and beautiful. It’s also a place, where a great Dwarven capital city is carved in stone – Ironforge. Dun Morogh promises a hint of an adventure that will await you, something extraordinary, something truly epic. Similar to the snowy forrest of Chronicles of Narnia. One of my great moments in WoW was in Dun Morogh, back then, eight years ago, when all in this game was new, fresh and overwhelming to me. I know very little about it, I just played my character. I remember staying almost all night with my friend Matt. We travelled Dun Morogh and experienced a lot of “wow, this is so amazingly fun and cool!” things, finished lots of quests and discovered a story of the place, tales of its habitants, local worries, sorrows and cheers. It felt perfectly matched – us two, passing through snowy mountains deep in the night, scouting some scary creatures that were threating villagers. So silent, so calm, so focused. And this violin music in the background – it was truly an amazing experience I will always remember. It mixes art, music, gameplay, the sense of achievement, the sense of adventure, companionship, friendship, socializing, helping each other, quest, journey, surroundings, weather. Best parts of the music for me – 1:08 – 1:50 and 4:55 – 5:25.

More about World of Warcraft –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_of_Warcraft


Bastion – Build That Wall (Darren Korb)

I’ve discovered Bastion just few weeks ago – it’s a relatively small indie game from this year by Supergiant Games. I think I will express feelings of most of those who had a chance to play it – this game is a freakin’ jewel. For me personally, it could easily compete for the title of game of the year.

In it’s essence, Bastion is a isometric 2D hack’n’slash game, you know the “Diablo”-like. You wander around, you kill things, you collect bonuses and upgrades, and push on. There are many games pursuing that scheme. But Bastion stands out because of two things. The gameplay and the story.

The game is brilliantly balanced, I imagine tons of hours being spent in testing to tweak the game to the final state. Bastion is not hard, it’s not ridiculously easy, but it should not be an obstacle for an average gamer. The game is about to experience it, not to beat it. Then, there are rpg things – your character levels up, you can choose from several types of weapons for your primary and secondary weapon (each weapon has 5 upgrades), you can have extra powerful skill, you can take some “bottled spirits” with you, that will further boost your abilities. Heck, you can even control the difficulty level, by enabling or disabling gods’ idols. Whenever you enable one, a part of the game is harder – monster can be faster, flying, deflect your missiles, etc. As a reward, you get more bonuses and experience. Different weapon combinations can result in dramatically different playstyle, melee or ranged, so you can tailor something to your exact needs. And when you play a level, whatever you do, feels very rewarding, be it killing a monster, smashing furiously all the barrels and boxes around or killing a boss.

The story is where Bastion gets really unique. Basically, there is a narrator. All the time. Always with you. When you play, he’s describing what you do, and this way, he tells a story. You might fall of the cliff or pick a certain weapon, you might choose to do something wacky – narrator will always notice this and comment this in a funky way. It’s incredible. This way, you feel like you’re participating in both creating the story and listening to the story. You’re the story hero, and story listener, in the same time. Initially, you don’t know who is telling the story and who is listening – further in the game, you will discover answers to both these. Because of the narrator, developers achieved a very interesting result of, maybe for the first time, disconnecting from the main hero and rooting for him in the same time. You know it’s not “your” story, yet you still want to see how it ends. And, because of this, you absorb more facts, you tend to listen more and pay attention. It’s like these new language learning methods – you absorb the game and the story by immersion, by being in it, by listening. Play Bastion and wait for the “didn’t make it” narration part. Then, at the end of the game, you will hear it juxtaposed in different situation. The effect is just mindblowing.

I don’t want to spoil much of the story. You play as Kid in a world of Caelondia, which has been recently touched by terrible Calamity. Eventually you reach Bastion, which is a floating island-device, and will be your hub for the rest of the story. The Bastion is also a key for all the events in Caelondia. You will meet few people on your way and their stories will affect greatly your further actions. You will learn about a great conflict and how different people were tossed into it. Time will be also involved. The story is fantastic, I promise. It does not aspire to tell you a epic tale. It’s just a small novel, but a meaningful one.

The overall music background for Bastion revolves around western-ish feeling, classical or specially amped guitars, slow tempo. Surprisingly, the music combines with the game very well, even if the game visuals are not showing you the Wild West. The world pictured is an imagined one, but has this small flavours, details here or there, giving us the impression, that while it has its own roots, they definitely come from stories, where you had this lone traveller with a rifle or gun, driving hundreds of miles on a dusty road, chasing the setting sun on the horizon. Kid resembles that type of hero, there are hints in the way he’s dressed.

The song I’ve picked has lyrics and is kinda important to the game itself. If you intend to play the game soon and don’t want any spoilers, don’t listen to this track. It does not reveal any significant truth about the story, but the pleasure of hearing it for the first time in the right place is something you want to have. I’ve finished Bastion, but this song stays in my head.

The game sort of reminds me of Braid (I will cover Braid too), it has similar graphic style, it revolves around consequences of time and also attempts to provide a different kind of narration.

More about Bastion –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bastion_(video_game)


Lotus III (Patrick Phelan)

Back then, before Need for Speed was born, or actually any currently ruling racing game, Amiga players had only one true racer game – and it was Lotus III.

Lotus III is a pseudo 3D (faked in 2D) speed racer released in 1992. It was an instant success, as previous editions of Lotus already laid out the groundwork for remarkable game. This version offered great music, great sense of speed and amazing levels to go through. New in Lotus III was RECS – a system to generate a customized version of a track, based on multiple editable factors. But, what was really great about Lotus, was the ability to race with your friend in split-screen mode – and that was probably most of my time spent with the game. When we chased each other, almost side by side, pushing our joysticks to their limits… ah, the memories.

The intro theme is epic. Several seconds building up to main hit, and then bam! It was great for racing, it was stimulating the adrenaline rush and then carried you smoothly further. To many players, this track will remain a synonym of racing music.

More about Lotus –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_(series)


Pitfall II (David Crane?)

Indiana Jones, Helmet Nesingwary, Harry Pitfall – different incarnations of the same man: adventurer and risk-taker, neverending treasure-seeker getting himself in all sorts of trouble on the way. And that’s what this game is about.

In the game, you’re mr Pitfall. Apparently you are helplessly lost in the jungle and you’re going deeper and deeper to… I don’t remember actually. Find a treasure? Get back to home? Rescue princess? All of the above? But I remember, it took a great deal of preservance and skill to help him out in this. Pitfall collects gold treasures and is pushing forward through the caves. He sometimes swims, trying to avoid electrical eels, sometimes flies on the baloon (watch out for deadly bats) but most of the time just runs, climbs and jumps over wild animals trying to kill him. That would be frogs, ants, scorpions, butterflies… you know, all sort of these dangerous ones, not lions or tigers, bah, who’s scared of them anyway? What I remember most from the game, was the sense of adventure, “epicness” of it, given the machine it was played on (Atari) and also the sense of swimming – it was the first game I know allowing the main character to swim and it felt very “real”, Pitfall was pushed up, slowed down, he moved his arms to crawl further, he could dive in to the bottom, to look for treasures… it was nice.

There were few music patterns, i.e. from 1:15 you will hear a minor-keyed part that was played when player touched a creature. Nothing terribly bad happened then, but the player was moved back to the last checkpoint, marked by a cross on the floor. This allowed for as much attempts as you want, so if you were stubborn enough, you would always eventually finish the game. But when you saw yourself moved back through all these chambers you so carefully passed, it was really frustrating. However, when you finished the game, it was really rewarding. Maybe because back then, most 8bit games were not exactly designed with “end” in mind, they still had “saloon game machine” design, where new levels just increased the speed or complexity, making the player to fail eventually. Pitfall 2 was different – it had the beginning and end exactly planned.

Later, I’ve learned that the original cartridge for Atari 2600 with Pitfall had custom hardware built in, to boost that poor console and aid in displaying Pitfall’s smooth graphics. Imagine graphic accelerators being added to today’s games – bizarre concept.

There was another tune, when Harry reached the baloon chamber. It’s a waltz called Sobre las Olas (“Over the Waves”) by Mexican composer, Juventino Rosas. Here’s someone playing it on accordion –

More about Pitfall –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitfall_II:_Lost_Caverns


Bubble Bobble (team Zuntata)

Probably the best of “dual-player” games on 8bit computers. I remember countless hours spent playing Bubble Bobble with my friends, cousins, girlfriend even. It’s so innocent, so colorful, so fun to play.

The game is series (100?) of one screen levels. You control a small dragon, that can jump and spit out bubbles. Each level will feature some enemies, several types of them, behaving differently. You fight them by trying to “bubble them up” and then manually bursting the bubble. Later in the game, other methods were available, like napalm, flame breath or some kind of snake/rope/rollercoaster thingy I tend to call “phlegm” (can’t remember why). When killed, enemies turned into all sorts of consumable “things”, starting from delicious bananas or apples, through candybars, big cakes, ending on diamons and other precious stones. That was the thing with Bubble Bobble – you could expect these things all over the place, coming from different directions, falling on you even. Fruits, candies, stones – nom nom nom. There were also some items triggering level skip, insta-kill of enemies, bonus consumables or providing you with a letter from the word EXTEND. Once you made it all, you got some sweet sweet bonus, lot of points, and … whole thing goes again. When enemies stayed alive on the level for too long, they first get “angry”, changing color and moving faster, later, few “jaws” spawned in corners of the screen, chasing you. These could not be killed, so it was best to avoid them and finish the level quickly.

The game can get you bored when played alone, but it really shines in two player mode. The other player controls another dragon and you can execute all kinds of strategies to help each other pass the level quickly. Dragons can even support each other by sptting bubbles the other dragon can jump on to get to unreachable places. Two good players could survive for a long, long time.

I never actually finished the game. I saw different ports since then, amiga, pc, consoles, but I still like the C64 version the most. Little did I know back then, that the main goal of the game is to actually save two girlfriends of our dragons – namely: Patty and Betty. Who knew?

In some levels, a blink skull-like thingy appeared sometimes (visible in 2:30 in the video above, but the dragon did not take it), and when taken, froze all the enemies and increased the speed of dragons. The game went into some kind of “crazy chaos” mode, changing the music into this one. I loved it and always hunted for that titem, just to hear it –

More about Bubble Bobble –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bubble_Bobble


One Must Fall 2097 (Kenny Chou)

One of most underrated fighting games of 90’s. Released in 1994 by already “epic” Epic MegaGames, floated around as shareware first (shareware was big back then and Epic was creating very good shareware editions of their games), never got into “mainstream”, overshadowed by Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Yet, OMF 2097 is extremly polished fighting game and it deserves to be known. I don’t remember exactly how I run into it, but it could be a shareware floppy my friend bought on a class trip in primary school. We liked the game so much that I’ve convinced him to buy the full version :)

One Must Fall is a fight between… robots. Or rather, human assisted robots (HAR). You can pick one of 10 pilots and then 10 of the robots to fight with. The game offered single player story mode, where each pilot has its own story, goal and secrets to discover in talks with other pilots before matches. But the most fun part was the career/championship mode, where you could enlist into one of four tournaments, fight your way in the ladder and gain money to enhance your bot, resulting in more speed, more energy, etc. There are several arenas, some of them featuring things that can harm you, like electrical nets, spikes or airplane attacks. Each robot has few special moves that joined together could become a combo. At first, fights are easy, but later, in the hardest tournament, to win with certain opponents took great amount of skill. Each bot also has very different playstyle, as not of them were totally human-like. Some were swift, some were slow but strong, some dominated air. In general, the game followed the first rule of fighting games, that each fighter has to be different and learning one does not transfer to another.

One Must Fall was always drowning in mist of mystery. There were insane amount of secrets hidden in the game. Starting from special characters in tournament that had to be found or unlocked (starring characters from other Epic games even, hi Jazz!), through hidden gameplay options, difficulties, ending in whole new palette of special moves and “fatalities” called scrap/destruction moves. None of them were ever described in the manual – Epic just left all these things to be found and figure out. To these day, there are rumours floating, that you can unlock special this or that and noone really knows for sure, because with OMF, all of them seems plausible.

The music was created by Kenny Chou known as C.C.Catch at pc demoscene, a member of the group Renaissance. The game started with few credits displaying as thunder crossed the sky with overwhelming roar. So you had few of these, pressed enter, and then the menu showed up with the music kicking in. It’s energizing, pumping energy into you and asking you to jump into the battle.

Years later, another version was created – One Must Fall : Battlegrounds. But it was too late and noone really cared. The game got transformed into 3D and haven’t received good reviews. It has a nice music remix of the original theme, though, Check it out –

More about One Must Fall 2097 –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Must_Fall:_2097