Saturday, April 25, 2020

RIP Hector Garrido

I had heard the name Hector Garrido but I didn't know much about him other than his work. He was an Argentinian artist who immigrated to the U.S. and began working professionally in the 1950s. While he did a lot of book covers for the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew novels among others and plates for the Bradford Exchange he will be forever immortalised as one of the people who brought G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero to life by creating the artwork that accompanied each action figure.

Because Palitoy, owners of the distribution licence for G.I.Joe toys under the Action Force name had a marketing design team bereft of any talent whatsoever, it would not be until they ceded market control to Hasbro before we began to see the proper artwork (and Larry Hama's filecards) printed on Action Force in the EU.


In many cases the artwork was a key factor in deciding which character to buy next. This may often have been the incorrect decision because Garrido's artwork could sometimes illustrate a toy in a much better light than what was rendered in plastic. But the images nonetheless are just as clear in my mind now over 30 years later as when I was playing with them.

Garrido retired some 20 years ago and it was announced yesterday that he passed away on Sunday last at 92. Rest in peace Mr. Garrido, and thank you.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Replay Review: Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered (2005)(2015)

Note: The original game was either Indigo Prophecy (U.S.) or Fahrenheit (other territories) and released in 2005 by Quantic Dream. In 2015 Aspyr released an uncensored Remaster with UHD resolution support and HD textures. The latter version is reviewed here.


Despite Quantic Dream being a french production house I played this when it was released originally in 2005. I found it a very unique experience; interesting premise, quick-time-event (QTE) gameplay and had the production quality of a movie with it's camera views and angles, high quality voice acting and Hollywood class score delivered by Angelo Twin Peaks Badalamenti. While I thought the story was interesting, I'll admit a lot of the gameplay wasn't great. Still I thoroughly enjoyed it, and both the game as a whole as well as creator David Cage were nominated for Whopper Awards that year.

I had been looking forward to playing Fahrenheit again with this "remaster" after picking it up on sale and got that chance recently and took it to mark the game's 15th anniversary this year. Sadly this took a bit of determination to get working; The game won't launch as normal, it will sit there with a blank screen after the logo. To get around this you have to either ALT+TAB to the separate error console and 'IGNORE' the call stack error messages or press Return during the blank screen period which 'hopefully' launches the game. When first launching you choose your language - In my case English. When you get around the first issue, the game launches in french. You have to google translate the screens to create a profile to verify what it is you're doing which is fairly obvious, but still... The game will likely crash when you create a profile, so restart, select the selected profile and continue. You finally change the language to English in the in-game menu but it doesn't save this setting in the main menu - it will however save language in your game so say "Oui" to "Lodez Voux" or whatever the fuck you figure out the french is - I mean seriously!? Of all the fucking languages this could have been defaulted to!!!!


That launching bullshit pales in comparison to a corrupted save error. If your save is corrupted you  have to start again from scratch. The error translated message was "Loading failed! The backup you are trying to load is Corrupted" which I presume is a mistranslation of "Your savefile is corrupted." Thankfully this only happened once after less than 90 minutes, but if it had happened again I'd have given up. Steam discussions reveal the hoops one has to go through to get everything working, it's a bit more than one would expect for something released just 5 years ago, it would be more acceptable if you were trying to get the original DVD version running on a modern system. Aspyr were glad to listen and engage people who suffered from the errors, but seemed to be satisfied that people were able to workaround the launching problems and simply apologised to anyone who got a corrupted save as opposed to implementing a fix. No patch of any kind was ever issued. Certainly no goodwill earned by Aspyr either.

Anyway, EVENTUALLY it's working, it defaults to 4K and the graphics settings are as good as I can expect due to the age of the game regardless of the retexturing. Model polygon counts are unchanged. I couldn't change the settings other than volume of characters, SFX or music, language or difficulty level. Anything else resulted in a crash. I played on easy mode as my ol' reflexes and co-ordination are not what they were in my 20's and I was able to play away without any additional issues. 


You mainly play as one of three different characters at different points throughout the game. You are Lucas who finds himself being possessed and committing a gruesome murder in a New York diner restroom. You also play Carla and Tyler, the two detectives who are hot on Lucas' trail. This puts you in the unique position of investigating the murder you've 'done'. You elaborately hide clues only to 'find' them when playing as the cops! Later the game devolves from a gripping noir-ish serial-killer manhunt into esoteric concepts like the occult, ancient prophecies, saving a orphaned girl who is the only hope of saving the planet from the next ice-age, you know, regular stuff. So it sort of falls off the rails, but despite it's shortcomings it still engages.

At time of release, Quantic Dream had achieved success with developing The Nomad Soul for PC and Dreamcast published by Eidos and by all accounts they upped their game to create Fahrenheit for PC, PS2 and Xbox, published by Atari. Interviews with creator David Cage revealed he was influenced by the TV series 24 which often used multiple views of the same scene in order to see all the action. While the work of David Lynch as well as the movies Fight Club and Angel Heart had a major influence on the story. The impact of The Matrix on the fight choreography design is evident to anyone who has played.


Fahrenheit is still the thoroughly engaging game it was. It is very atmospheric, the music and score have a lot to do with setting the mood. The graphical enhancements and presentation in 4K are quite acceptable considering the game's age. You don't really have to shoot anything apart from one mini-game target-practice sequence, and it's not a point-and-click adventure. It's probably unlike most things you've ever played especially if you've never played the QTE-fest Shenmue. My favourite aspect though is how much like a movie it's presented, only here you get some control over the direction.

Quantic Dream have since achieved success with Heavy Rain, Beyond Two Souls and Detroit: Become Human and while originally developed exclusively for the Playstation 3/4, I'm looking forward to them being released on Steam later this year. 

 

There are three significant issues which can't be ignored. 1. The launching issues reveal that this remaster remains unpatched - so either Aspyr are unwilling or unable to fix the issues. 2. The QTE gameplay, I can understand why some people may find it frustrating, there are sequences you may have to try several times (the eagle-eyed military base guards got me) to get right. And 3. The story starts out fantastic and engaging, but descends into utter madness. That's why I can only recommend this when it's on sale for less than €2 which happens fairly frequently. 

Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered is available from Steam for €8.99 [DO NOT PAY THIS!] Humble Bundle €8.99, Fanatical for €8.99 [€1.79 at time of writing] or Green Man Gaming €8.99 [but just 59c at time of writing]. 
Alternatively, the original 2005 version (non-remastered) is available from GOG for €5.39

Monday, April 06, 2020

Covid-19 Emergency Instruction - Quick Cut T-shirt Mask

 

The US Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools have issued this instruction showing a no-sew skivvy shirt facemask. It may also be useful for civilians to use on your own shirts if necessary at this time.

Remain at home.

Major General "Whopper" Creedon, April 6th 2020

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Classic Review: Call of Duty [2003]



In January 2002, the developers of EA's Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, 2015, Inc brought the franchise which had achieved success on console to it's true representation on the PC. It won awards and accolades and established EA Game's position in the forefront of World War II shooters. Then EA for some unknown reason took development of further MOH games in-house and so 2015, who had already begun thinking about MOH:AA's sequel were left high and dry. That didn't last long because long-time EA rivals Activision had their iron sights set on stealing EA's WWII crown and they did it by hiring all the displaced 2015 developers who had reformed into Infinity Ward and putting them to work on what would become a new franchise: Call Of Duty.

In October 2003, Infinity Ward produced a game somewhat similar to, but different in several ways to MOH:AA. Graphically it was slightly better as the developers had already become familiar with the idTech3 engine on MOH:AA so they had a superior understanding before beginning work on COD and even built IW Tech 2.0 a version of idTech 3 with a skeletal animation system. The campaign was from the viewpoints of three different soldiers, an American, a British and a Russian soldier who were all pretty green but the core of the gameplay in COD emphasised that the player, spent most of the time with A.I. team-mates who support the player and helped the immersion and the realism of the situation in difference to the common one-man-army approach winning WWII mostly by yourself. 


Including being part of a squad, the game embraces more realistic elements, so one can't bring 10 or more weapons into battle. You get two main weapons, likely a rifle or sub-machine gun together with a machine gun or a scoped rifle, a sidearm with grenades and that's it. As the levels tend to be long, one often runs out of ammunition before the end and you do well to learn to pick up and use the weapons of the Germans you kill, or you may need a different weapon than the one you have so you'll have to drop one to pick it up, a trade up which you may often second-guess. The weapon damage modelling was considerably better applied than in MOH:AA insofar as one wouldn't need to practically empty an entire sub-machine gun clip into a Nazi as was necessary in the older game.

Infinity Ward crafted a very cinematically-framed experience as this was now more possible to do dynamically, rather than predetermined scripted sequences. One could show several dozen moving characters on screen at once now, especially during the harrowing Battle of Stalingrad [pictured below], which rivals MOH:AA's Omaha Beach landing for intensity. Shooting is the core and following the compass is essential but the mission types have some variance, so every now and again you may be in a support role with a machine gun, clearing out bunkers with grenades or be the sniper taking out enemies before they have a chance to kill your allies. The British and U.S. campaigns feature on-rails levels where you're shooting your Thompson while leaning out a car window, or firing a Bren Gun from the back of a lorry, but the Soviet campaign gives you command of a tank, and you get to do both the driving and shooting, much more fun. 


Activision threw considerable resources into acquiring significant voice talent for Call of Duty. Giovanni Ribisi (Saving Private Ryan) Earl Boen (Dr. Silberman in The Terminator franchise) Micheal Bell (G.I.Joe) Nick Jameson (24) Michael Gough (Diablo II & III) Neil Ross (Mass Effect, Transformers) and Steve Blum (Star Wars: Rebels) all lent their voices, and even Jason Statham, yes that Jason Statham was roped in as Sergeant Waters of the SAS - who spent much of his time yelling at you. Composer Michael Giacchino who who would later go on to compose scores for both the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises, had earlier provided the exceptional score to the Medal of Honor games. He was enlisted by Activision to out do his earlier work and while he did succeed in delivering a suitably brilliant and unique score, in my opinion the music for Medal of Honor remains superior.

The only aspect that COD was genuinely criticised for really was the fact that the campaign's total length was about 6 hours in comparison to the 8 or 9 hours required for Medal Of Honor: Allied Assault even though the game concentrated it's development squarely on the campaign rather than the multi-player. However, in time gamers would soon come to terms with the shorter length of single player FPS campaigns further into the decade and upon replaying, it seems a normal length today. 

 

It's worth noting that while Medal of Honor evoked Saving Private Ryan and Return to Castle Wolfenstein nodded to Where Eagles Dare, Call of Duty pays homage to... well almost everything else. A Bridge Too Far, Enemy at the Gates and even Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was referenced to name but a few. In fact it would become a staple point of the COD franchise going forward to pay homage to a notable cinematic movie sequence or two in every subsequent entry in the franchise, always resulting in a better experience than trying to play an "official" movie-tie in game.

Call of Duty itself still holds up to this day and I do prefer it to Medal of Honor. While technically and graphically inferior to all modern engines and representations of WWII now of course, it still provides the player with a cinematic experience of being part of a U.S., British or Russian squad as you and your allies proceed to take back German occupied land, destroy their weapons, defences and other infrastructure and of course kill hundreds of Nazi's which I'll admit, never gets old.


Since 2002, the Medal of Honor franchise saw more titles released by EA each year, usually either exclusive to one platform or another, with varying degrees of commercial success until 2007. In 2010 they attempted to modernise the series away from WWII as Activision had done by then, but this was successful for only a single game, as it's sequel in 2012 was enough to put Medal of Honor on ice indefinitely. Activision have released a new Call of Duty game every year without fail since 2005. All ten Call of Duty games released between 2010 and 2019 occupy a place in the top-20 highest selling games list in the U.S. It was nice to go back and see where the ideas that would define the franchise take form for the first time.

Call of Duty is available from Steam for €19.99 which for a 17 year old game is fucking ridiculous. This is the worst thing I've personally experienced with Activision - while the game certainly was worth the full price in 2003, today most 17 year old games are under €5* when on sale but the pricing of Call of Duty franchise, even when the maximum 50% off remains premium and thus prohibitive to this day.

*Steam full price today of example games released in 2003: Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy / Knights of the Old Republic (€8.19), Deus Ex: Invisible War (€6.99), Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne (€9.99), Rainbow Six 3: Gold Edition (€4.99)



Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Classic Review - Medal of Honor: Allied Assault [2002]

 

In 1997 when Steven Spielberg was making Saving Private Ryan he observed his son playing GoldenEye 007 and had the great idea of creating a realistic World War II experience that would satisfy both history buffs and people what wanted to kill Nazis. Two years later, Electronic Arts published Dreamworks Interactive's Medal of Honor for the Playstation. The game, in which players filled the shoes of fictional Lt. Jimmy Patterson, an OSS officer, received favourable reviews and quickly spawned a sequel in 2000 entitled Medal of Honor: Underground in which players became french resistance operative Manon Batiste. It was not until 2002 however that developers 2015 granted the franchise it's true form - Medal of Honor: Allied Assault for the PC. It exceeded the mark famously, earning earning millions for EA and won universal acclaim including 91% on Metacritic.

Using a modified version of the id-Tech 3 game engine, developers 2015, inc crafted Medal of Honor's best self - a genre-defining game that rejuvenated interest in the the era and propelled the developers to later create the Call of Duty franchise. Allied Assault was able to utilise the superior power of the PC to push graphical boundaries and introduce superior gameplay elements into players hands which was most notably seen during the harrowing Invasion of Normandy and the Omaha Beach Landings where the action on screen featured many characters moving during the relentless assault from German guns. Spielberg himself considered his work done when he saw this work and left the series to EA at this point but not before crafting the interwoven stories of his three protagonists with the Allied Assault saga telling the story of Lt. Mike Powell as he undertook dangerous missions for the OSS (meeting Manon Batiste and raiding the same fort as Lt. Patterson did in the original Playstation game).


MOH:AA is a bit more than Quake with a WWII skin however. While you get to use and shoot authentic WWII weapons at hundreds of Germans there's a little more 'realism' at work here influenced by Spielberg with his angle of educating the masses about the era. Your run speed and jumping height are a lot less than you may be used to as an FPS player, likely an effort to be more realistic. That said, you can still in common FPS fashion, can quite happily lug a fine collection of weapons such as a Thompson SMG, M1 Garand rifle, Springfield Sniper rifle, Browning Automatic Rifle, Winchester Shotgun and a Panzershrek anti-tank weapon along with a pocket full of grenades and a Colt 45 sidearm all at once - maybe that's why running and jumping are curtailed? Unlike most games at the time however the Medal of Honor franchise did not feature blood or gore, as Spielberg asked for it to be absent as the Columbine Massacre happened just months before release.

There are a number of elements that set MOH:AA apart and were used in many later games. One of the more useful mechanics was a compass with objection pointers rather than the staple mini-map. This allowed the player to follow his practically linear objectives quickly without breaking immersion or consulting a map every few minutes wondering where he needed to be going. While not the first game to use the 'lean' mechanic, it was the first time I used it and by all accounts much better implemented than previous efforts such as Soldier of Fortune and Return to Castle Wolfenstein . It was also the first non-tactical FPS game in which you had an AI 'squad'. They were basically useless and died easily but it did give the appearance that at least for some of the game, you were not responsible for winning WWII entirely on your own, but for the vast majority you were.



Along with the obvious attention to graphical details, the weapons, uniforms, vehicles and scenery of the era, sound played a very important part in Medal of Honor. Everything from the 'ping' of the M1 Garand to the rumble of a Tiger tank sounded unique and atmospheric while Captain Dale Dye and W. Morgan Sheppard among others leant their voice talents to NPCs. However it was the music of the game that stole the show. A young Michael Giacchino who had only composed scores for either little known or movie tie-in games up to the point where Dreamworks got him to compose Medal of Honor and Underground, took the scores for both games, added some new Allied Assault themes and crafted what is not only one my my favourite but easily one of the best video game scores of all time many years before achieving the fame he enjoys now.

While it feels overall very like Saving Private Ryan and the Omaha landing remains one of PC Gaming's defining moments, the majority of the game feels like a very sanitised version of WWII in comparison to more modern efforts. However it's still worth taking for a spin especially with 3rd party enhancements such as this texture pack


Medal of Honor:Allied Assault is only available with the Medal of Honor: Allied Assault Warchest, which includes the expansions Breakthrough and Spearhead on Origin for €9.99 or on GOG for €9.09.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Retro Review: Soldier of Fortune [2000]

Note this review includes experiences only made available with the SoFplus Mod

It's the 20th Anniversary of easily one of my all-time favourite First Person Shooters - Soldier of Fortune, so I thought as I had purchased it from GOG during a recent sale after thy had finally secured the publishing rights in 2018, it was time to take it out for a spin.


Soldier of Fortune is a truly dumb game, it's plot is insane and would have been laughed off the pages of a comic book in the 1980's, let alone accepted in one of the first videogames which rang in the new century. The story such as it is makes you feel like you're in a classic '80's action movie, probably starring Chuck Norris. It's filled with cheese and tropes from TV, movies, comic books and other video games but the gameplay is sublime and it's what has brought me back now again after what I reckon is about 10 years since I last played.

Soldier of Fortune is considered a classic example of the FPS genre and a fantastic example when looking at a game of that era. It shares a lot of aesthetics with 3D shooters of the time like Deus Ex, SiN and Half-Life - clearly developers were still coming to terms with the possibilities the new 3D engines were affording them, and each developer was keen to add their own mark on the genre in order to stand out. One way for Soldier of Fortune developer Raven Software, was to make the whole game a gun-porn lover's wet-dream. It was one of the first games (with the like of Counterstrike and Rainbow Six) to take the majority of it's arsenal from real-world weapons as opposed to the previous efforts of the genre like Doom, Quake and Duke Nukem 3D which feature mostly sci-fi or otherwise fantastical weapons. The second, and by far the more important hook was adding the GHOUL damage engine to the Quake 2 FPS engine to create something unique - one of the bloodiest shooters ever released!

 

You see, most First Person Shooters did not (and most still don't) depict intense graphic violence. When someone was shot there was perhaps a texture change where "blood" appeared on their clothing. If one was lucky, a pool of blood appeared under a fallen body. Even when games began to incorporate rudimentary rag-doll physics - a "body" on the floor my 'jerk' if you deliberately emptied the clip of your assault rifle into your slain opponent; it most certainly didn't react like it would in reality, i.e. explode against the wall with blood, flesh, bone and internal organs freed from the confines of the body as you spat white hot leaden death at it. This tame approach taken by most developers ensured that FPS games were at least released everywhere as very few of them are banned, but Raven and Activision eschewed this for Soldier of Fortune.

Soldier of Fortune had GHOUL. From Wikipedia: "The GHOUL engine enables depiction of extreme graphic violence, in which character models are based on body parts that can each independently sustain damage (gore zones). There are 26 zones in total. A shot to the head with a powerful gun will often make the target's head explode, leaving nothing but the bloody stump of the neck remaining; a close-range shot to the stomach with a shotgun will leave an enemy's bowels in a bloody mess, and a shot to the nether regions will cause the victim to clutch his groin in agony for a few seconds before keeling over dead. It is possible to shoot off an enemy's limbs (head, arms, legs) leaving nothing left but a bloody torso." What this does not tell you about though is the death screams. Even though Earl Boen, Todd Sussman and Michael Clarke Duncan are heard, the game's voice acting is so-so, but enemy death screams are magnificent, it really does sound like you've just blown a guy's limb off, or set him on fire as he writhes around on the floor screaming. 

 

Soldier of Fortune naturally sprouted much controversy and was banned in many territories. Notably it was labelled an "adult motion picture" and was rated as a pornographic film in British Columbia, while in Germany, it was placed on the Index List of the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons. This was all despite an option in the menu where one could turn off the violence/gore effects as one can in many games. There was also a version produced which entirely and permanently locked out the violence/gore called Soldier of Fortune: Tactical Low-Violence Version, but I know of no pussy who was subjected to it.

The game primarily uses the Quake II engine and so shares lineage with Heretic II, SiN and Daikatana. Playing today I'll agree it's aged significantly but if one applies the SoFplus mod, you get to tweak graphics features including playing in widescreen resolutions, but beware that you may get some slight hall-of-mirrors effects on screen edges as the game was ever only designed for 4:3 aspect ratio. The game ran with no significant issues on Windows 10 1909.

While entries in the Hexen and Heretic franchises helped establish Raven Software, it's with Soldier of Fortune that they truly made their mark and allowed them to develop more notable games later such as a sequel Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix as well as significant FPS entries - Star Trek: Elite Force, Star Wars - Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast and Quake 4. They have a significant role to play today in the Call of Duty franchise and I'm glad I took a nostalgic 9.5 hour journey back through one of my favourite games to remember where they came from. 




Soldier of Fortune Platinum is currently only available on GOG for €9.09 but watch out for frequent sales.

The SoFplus mod is available here: http://sof1.megalag.org/sofplus/

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

First Chief of Space Operations sworn in

Vice President Mike Pence swore in General John “Jay” Raymond today as the first Chief of Space Operations, the title of the officer in charge of the newly created sixth branch of the U.S. armed forces - The United States Space Force.


When I began this multi-part series in 2017 and even following it up last year with the inevitable realisation that this was probably actually going to happen, I still didn't think I'd be writing this today. But once the chief is assigned, the ball is rolling and over the next few weeks and months Raymond will work with the Department of Defence in establishing immediately, a force of space specialists drawn from what was the Air Force Space Command, the administrative, training and procurement entity of the USAF for space. Gen. Raymond will also command the United States Space Command, the joint-service combatant command that conducts space operations.

According to it's mission statement, The U.S. Space Force is to "organize, train, and equip space forces in order to protect U.S. and allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force. Its responsibilities include developing military space professionals, acquiring military space systems, maturing the military doctrine for space power, and organizing space forces to present to the Combatant Commands".

A force of 16,000 personnel will be stood up over the next 18 months but Gen. Raymond suggested that adopting a new uniform, logo and of course, a song will take much time in the months, if not years ahead.

Although that said, I thought they had the song sorted:



Sources: 
US Space Force Fact Sheet - https://www.spaceforce.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheet 
Twitter account of Mike Pence -  @Mike_Pence
Video: Starship Troopers 3 - Youtube