Sunday, December 29, 2019

Retro Review - Beneath A Steel Sky [1994]

One game that sadly never got a proper remaster treatment [save a quasi-'remastered' IOS port] was Revolution (Broken Sword) Software's Beneath A Steel Sky, a 25 year old point and click adventure with a dystopian/cyberpunk sci-fi setting and a cult following to this day. I said it would be nice to sample a short adventure game for a change and as BASS has been freeware since 2003, and delivered free with GOG accounts, there was no reason not to.

As Robert Foster, stranded in an irradiated desolate wasteland outside the city walls as a child you are found by theatrically evil security forces and returned to the Union City. Foster soon escapes from his predicament and begins to uncover corruption and conspiracy around every corner - much of which as he discovered is all about someone important called Obermann - but is Foster Obermann himself?!!! 

One of the principal draws of the game however is the collaborative effort of famous comic book creator Dave (2000AD/Watchmen) Gibbons on the game. Gibbons was responsible for the character designs as well as the backgrounds and had an extraordinary level of input including a graphic-novel style intro and finale.

It wasn't quite as slapstick as Lucasarts' point and click efforts but it was certainly more tongue-in-cheek than Sierra's offerings from the period. I would compare it far more to the Star Trek 25th Anniversary/Judgement Rights games in tone. While the plot is certainly dramatic and dark, the interactions and dialogue is absolutely fucking hilarious and delivered with just as hilarious voice acting - including a turn from a young Jason Issacs.

Puzzle wise, there were a few quite less than obvious solutions that I'll admit needing a walk-through for, and each time I'd admit I'd likely never have tried that as a solution to the pending issue, but there are not many of these situations. Most puzzles/solutions are revealed by carefully moving your mouse around at anything that might look like it's vaguely interactive and most of the time it is, and there is a palpable sense of accomplishment when you do figure it out for yourself.

Beneath A Steel Sky sports an exceedingly simple control system - you can select everything from right or left click and F5 brings up the save/load/quit menu, and that's it! It's certainly easier to play than any other point and click and that simplicity made it a more immersive experience. In fact when coupled with Gibbons' influence it was almost more like reading a comic book for seven hours than playing a game.

This year, Revolution announced a sequel: Beyond A Steel Sky, was in development. It is again in collaboration  with Gibbons and is expected to release in 2020.

Beneath a Steel Sky is free on GOG.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

First Play Review - Bioshock [2007]

Note: This review is for the 2016 Remastered version of the game.

With so many people surprised I hadn't played a Bioshock game and so many recommendations were given, when I had to opportunity to get "The Bioshock Collection" a bundle of all games in the trilogy in November last year, I took it.

Now I want to start by saying I'm not a fan of the horror genre itself. I can't relate to most horror movie characters because they're so incredibly dumb. I also particularly isolate the games, or movies of the survival-horror genre. I regard survival horror as unentertaining and a waste of my precious time for the most part. For example, I hate Ridley Scott's Alien [1979], the thought of going into outer space without an arsenal of heavy weaponry and the military training to use it is the most dumbass concept I've ever seen committed to film. I only bring this up here because Bioshock is often labelled as survival horror. I disagree with this label as unlike the say, Resident Evil series, because Bioshock gives you enough guns and ammo; and while it's tense and atmospheric, it's not frightening or scary. I just wanted to nip that concept in the bud before the entire internet goes wild with "Creedon played a survival horror game!!!?" or some such social-media 'panic'.

Bioshock, the spiritual successor to System Shock marries Steampunk/Cyberpunk with biological elements creating a sort of 'Biopunk' as it were and if you can visualise that concept then you have a fundamental understanding of the world in which the game takes place. The story is a simple concept, it's 1960 and you survive a plane crash, washing up near a lighthouse that's actually an entrance to a giant underwater city - Rapture. Unfortunately it's a world in chaos and you must navigate it's perils guided by an ally on your radio to get you to safety.

Despite it's somewhat horror-oriented setting, you never feel like you're in too much peril. You have an array of weaponry as you would expect from an FPS: pistol, shotgun, machine gun and the like but also a few weapons unique to it's biopunk setting. The trick is that ammo for all the weapons is not plentiful but you can pick up raw materials and craft ammunition at special stations which are plentiful enough. If an arsenal of weapons wasn't enough, you also have some biologically created "superpowers" called Plasmids that allow telekinesis, mind control or the ability to burn or freeze enemies or the environment to name but a small few. You can upgrade not only your powers and talents as you would in an RPG but also your weapons, so eventually you feel powerful enough to ignore most dangers and waltz around killing everything like an omnipotent god.


Most of the characters are unfriendly towards you, which is not unusual for an FPS but sadly enemies are not incredibly varied. All are humanoid, mostly the former denizens of Rapture who are all driven insane but in contrast - one duo of enemies is very interesting - Big Daddies and Little Sisters. I will say now that I say these in my head as I type, it feels really weird! Little Sisters are a plot point, they are the ones who carry magic essence harvested from the ocean floor, they are immune to your interference while their protectors, the Big Daddies - mutated humanoids in deep sea diving suits - are active. One of your main objectives is to incapacitate the Big Daddies, so you can rescue the Little Sisters from their power-induced mind-controlled state or if you're evil you can harvest their power for yourself! 

The environment of the game is truly unique and I've never seen, let alone played in one like it. It ran great at 60FPS in 4K. I didn't play the 2007 version of the game but I know that lighting, texture detail, volumetric smoke and surface reflections were unlikely to be as good in that as they are in the 2016 version. The sound plays a very important part adding to the atmosphere. You will need to become familiar with the groaning and moaning of the Big Daddies to track them and you'll likely hear them long after you turn the game off! Voice acting isn't shabby with Armin Shimmerman and J.G. Hertzler (Quark and Martok on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) lending their voices to characters as does Juliet Landau (daughter of Martin Landau) who is remembered as Drucilla in Angel.


Bioshock was a worthwhile diversion for 24 hours, which is certainly longer than the norm for first-person-shooters and I'm looking forward to Bioshock 2 and Bioshock: Infinite at some point in the future.

Bioshock: Remastered is available on it's own for €19.99 or €4.99 in many sales on Steam or GOG. Steam also offers Bioshock: The Collection which has Bioshock 1 & 2 Remastered and Bioshock: Infinite in one package, and this collection is often discounted from €60 to €14.99 or even cheaper on a Key-vendor like Fanatical.

Note that the 2007 edition of Bioshock is no longer available for sale, but a purchase of the 2016 remastered version (or collection) will have the original version also added to your game library. The same goes for Bioshock 2. Additionally if you own the original versions of Bioshock or Bioshock 2 on Steam, you have access to the remastered versions for free.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Review: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain [2015]

The 32 year old Metal Gear franchise, brainchild of Japanese developer Hideo Kojima, spans over 20 games and is often referred to as one of the most complex narratives in video game history. It's also a predominantly console-oriented affair with only about five of them being ported to the PC. I never played any of them because more often than not, console games are crud when ported to the PC and I dislike playing franchise sequels without playing the original. The mouthful of a title Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain however, the last in the series, was really pushed for the PC more than any MG title before it and as I got it free with my GPU when MG fans were paying €50 for it so I felt it would be rude not to try it.

I've played games which one completes and indicates you're done in the form of an end credit sequence and only offers you to reload your last save, likely the last one made before the game ends. Some games offer the ability to go through the whole thing again on harder difficulty, only now you have all the weapons and gear you picked up along the way. Others offer some sort of continuation to online multiplayer, while most genuine online or MMO types of games offer the promise of continuation and "the grind" until content is updated. In the Autumn I self-imposed a completion of MGSV, easily one of the most interesting, rewarding and addictive gaming experiences ever. It felt strange uninstalling this as while I had finished all the main missions and seen the story to it's conclusion, there was still hundreds of hours of game to get lost in. I guess I didn't feel I was entirely finished with it yet; but after 589 hours (according to Steam) I figured that I probably should be, so that I can play others, so I had to forcefully pull myself out.

My initial thoughts were mixed. The first hour of the game is heavily scripted, with little by way of gameplay. Without spoiling anything, you're escaping from a hospital being invaded by a paramilitary force and you've just woken up from a coma, so you're not yet "at your best". It's filled with scripted events, blocked exits, fake doors, and you're lethargically following a bandaged man unmistakably voiced by Kiefer Sutherland (which somehow is also your own voice?) in a backless hospital gown telling you to do everything. That said it was exciting and spectacularly directed in terms of visuals but it makes no sense until the end of the game about 50 missions later!

Prepare yourself for a whopping 4 hours or so of cutscenes and scripted sequences spread throughout the game where Kojima advances the bizarre story, which does have some exceptional dramatic moments, one of which I had I can only describe as "traumatic". It certainly makes me appreciate the level of following the franchise has and perhaps justifies the adoration for Kojima I've seen online. Sadly while the game satisfactorily ends it's story, there was a few threads that were left unfinished but this was because publisher Konami put pressure on Kojima to finish it up and thus did not have time to complete everything including the most major thread which should have been "Mission 51" - the details of which can be viewed on Youtube. However I must stress that MGSV:TPP does not have a KOTOR2 situation to the ending, where the publisher demanded the developer cease development, tack on an ending and release it in that state, leaving a plethora of unanswered questions. In MGSV the main ending to the game is intact and was likely completed at the same time as the start, so various Internet musings on the game being "unfinished" are inaccurate, it's just not 100% complete. I can't speak for it addressing all the plot points that the overall lore of the whole 20-game MG series demands but unlike KOTOR2, the ending is paced adequately and the game is bookended satisfactorily.

While the 50 or so story missions are the driving force behind the game, one would have a difficult time as you progress through the story without completing Side Ops - similar to side-quests in any bog-standard RPG - which are the real meat of the game, more so than the story missions. This is certainly where one would sink most of their time into as one really has the freedom to complete Side Ops in which ever way you choose as there is only a single win condition. They can take as long as you like, use whatever tactics and resources you want and it's all good so long as you eliminate (kill or extract) a target or rescue a prisoner etc. There are 150 of these missions throughout the game and often you find yourself repeating them for the rewards in order to build up your military strength. The list of Side Ops available changes every time you complete some and return to the helo and are often updated with new ones as you complete story missions so one must always check them out after a main mission as some of them needed to be completed before a main mission will unlock and vice versa.

Building up your military strength is a crucial component of MGSV and one I particularly enjoyed. One can't really progress in the game without doing it because the enemy begins to develop countermeasures to your attacks and you need to stay ahead of the curve by developing better weapons and equipment. You eventually get a Fulton recovery device which you attach a balloon to a person or animal that you have incapacitated (not killed), a container or a vehicle and it's magically added to your resources. The person is brainwashed into joining your team, you get a reward for rescuing the animal, the container translates into resources needed for development and the vehicle becomes yours to drive later or sell.

This brings me to Mother-base - your base of operations which you really need to build up so you can hold more staff, develop more and more weapons and equipment and thus can complete missions faster, easier and with higher chances of success.  Mother-base can be visited (a lot of the the plot points force you to return too) and there are some training missions to be had there. It does get rather big (35 separate platforms when fully developed) but you can drive between platforms in a jeep (if you have the time), fly on a helicopter (of you have the money) or my favourite: sit in a cardboard box on a delivery area and Fed-Ex yourself to another site!

Of course when you complete building Mother-base, the building doesn't stop. The Forward Operating Base or FOB is the final type of content for MGSV. One develops a basic FOB (essentially a near identical copy of of Mother-base in other territorial waters) during the single player game but it's really for multiplayer or event driven content. Developing an FOB increases the limits you can expand your staff even more. This is needed if you want to develop a higher grade of weaponry than you have and also generate automatic materials procurement through automatic mining, which in turn allows you to expand even more, and build even more FOBs, to expand more staff limits, to get higher levels of staff, to get higher levels of weapons and so on. I didn't get to the maximum level, I don't know what it is but I had 109 platforms which cost filled with 2800 unique staff when I called it quits.

There is a con to the FOB though. As your FOB (containing a percentage of your resources - even though you collect as part of the single-player story game) is permanently online, it is actually vulnerable to attack from other online players! Other players can actually land on your base - and if they're good enough - kill or abduct your staff and steal your raw materials! Unless you're good enough to retaliate, the only real defence against this is to not develop an FOB which severely limits the military level you can achieve and you would find it more difficult to complete. While I'm confident the issue was serious a year or two into the game's release - four years on I was only invaded once losing a mere 13 staff which were replaced instantly with staff from the base's "waiting room". It would be prudent to develop security devices and adjust the security level as high as you can so that only vets could ever attack your base and not some random noob!

In addition to a kit that might take you a while to decide what to bring from dozens (later hundreds) of available options - each of which can be customised to your liking - you also can take an AI 'buddy' to aid you in your mission. You start out with a horse first, it's good for getting around but it's limited. The buddies I used most often were D-Dog, a dog, a good dog that can sniff out weapons, vehicles, enemies, wildlife, resources and medicinal plants or Quiet a sexy semi-naked expert sniper for which no expense was spared on the movement physics of her breasts - remember the game was developed in Japan and they're a bit strange over there. I spent about 100,000GMP in game to develop clothing for her, thus treating her like a soldier and not the Dutch underwear model that provided her motion capture. Quiet's a dab hand with the sniper rifle and can actually be sent on command in to an area and methodically eliminate enemies while you leave the game to go and take a shit. She's actually a good quarter of the story to the game too so don't kill her when you first meet her.

I will say graphically the game is top tier. The Kojima Productions FOX engine is easily the most optimised graphics engine I've seen in years netting me a steady 45+ FPS at 4K Ultra detail. I needed to drop to 2K during the hot summer due to heat but FPS rose to 60 which I limit manually. This is much better performance than any Western-produced game in it's class. Character modelling is impressive for the main characters, but secondary characters not so much. Animations aren't the best either with some of the characters stances looking a bit constipated but environments are astonishingly detailed even though there are really only two regions; rocky and sand-brown Afghanistan or swampy green yet more brown Zaire. This game proves that there is indeed beauty in the mundane but it would have been nice if there had been a reason to have more temperate, arctic environments or even coastal regions.

I need to mention the game's soundtrack because it's certainly the most impressive I've heard since World in Conflict. The game is set in a version of 1984, and the soundtrack reflects that exceptionally. Midge Ure's "The Man Who Sold The World" is sort of the game's theme, and there are other offering from Kim Wilde, a-Ha, Hall & Oates, The Cure, Ultravox, Billy Idol and many more. As you invade installations you can take tapes of the songs out of the cassette players and they'll be available to listen to on your own in-game Walkman as you play or there's an option to choose your "helicopter music" - So I challenge anyone to say they have lived until they ride in a helo that's blaring Kajagoogoo's "Too Shy" on it's loudspeakers! Additionally, the in game score by Swedish composer Ludvig Forssell with Justin Dungeons & Dragons Burnett and Daniel Call Of Duty: Black Ops III and IV James deservingly earned them the best score at the Game Awards. 

Bring a trained Force Recon Marine allows me to appreciate it when game designers understand the value of a tactical approach to warfare. Often such designers and Hollywood directors are of the idea that "Special Operations Forces" means "louder bangs with less men", and while it certainly can be, more often than not it's the completion of an objective before the enemy realises you've been there. What MGSV:TPP allows, is for you to take any approach, from any direction, from any distance, in daytime or night, lethal or not and complete the military objective by killing everyone loudly, neutralising everyone silently or vanishing without ever being discovered. Games like Call of Duty rely on scripted sequences to convey stealth but it's eventually just an exercise on who you kill first and how many, while the Splinter Cell franchise is built on stealth and penalises you for going loud or being discovered. MGSV in contrast gives you to the freedom to adapt to do whatever you want to do to the point where I'm sure many other games will now feel a little hollow or too constricting, even "ruined" by comparison to such a free-form experience.

I have no issue recommanding Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain to anyone who appreciates shooters and stealth games but this is not for casual gamers. The only way to progress is by spending time doing some legwork and that takes serious man-hours, but I feel the rewards are worth it in the long run.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is worth the €29.99 you'd pay on Steam but you can find it bundled with it's prequel episode Ground Zeroes as METAL GEAR SOLID V: The Definitive Experience for the same price but as with all you can wait for a sale and get it all for about €6.99.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

First Play Review - Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines [2004]

Note: This review is for the game using the Unofficial Patch v10.4 (31/5/2019)


This year marks the 15th Anniversary of Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, one of the most unique RPG experiences for the PC that is beloved by many and often spoken about when referencing the best RPGs of the '00's but also as one of the best bug-ridden games of all time. It's also the year in which a sequel - Bloodlines 2 was announced much to the surprise and delight of fans of the original. So now that it has received significant fan patch support and was recommended by a trustworthy source I thought it was was time to see what the fuss was about.

My first pen and paper role-playing situation was not with D&D but in fact with White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade. It wasn't a particularly long adventure but I learned the basics of role-playing through White Wolf's system and I found the World of Darkness setting itself to be most intriguing, later even sampling Mage: The Ascension. I recall in the late '90's / early 2000's that White Wolf was to bring elements of their world to video games. Having achieved some success in 2000 with Nihilistic Software's Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption set in the dark ages, White Wolf later licenced V:TM to Troika Games who leveraged Valve's powerful new Source engine to craft an action RPG set in 21st Century Los Angeles.

The combination of melee or automatic weapons with vampiric powers made real by the engine for Half-Life 2 was certainly a winning combination in theory but sadly the execution fell just short of perfection. While it's fair to say Activision gave Troika many extended deadlines, they finally forced it's release in November 2004, creating a game that was "playable" (as deemed so by Activision, not Troika) as opposed to complete. The remaining bugs themselves weren't game breaking but excessive load times, apparently missing content and moronic A.I. were just some of the peeves that prevented the game from greatness. What didn't help the case was that Troika's previous game Dungeons and Dragons: Temple of Elemental Evil was also pushed out the door before completion as well, so people were already weary of another instance of that and Bloodlines' state upon release was enough to dilute enthusiasm. Despite very favourable reviews from the game press, Troika itself didn't survive the poor sales and financial failure and it shuttered in 2005.

In the meantime two enterprising individuals sought to open the game up and make valiant attempts at 'fixing' V:TM-B. Dan Upright first created an unofficial patch but it was taken over by Werner Spahl from version 1.2 and Spahl continues to update the patch to the time of writing. Not only are there substantial graphical improvements but all the content that was cut from the game was restored as well as a significant amount of character 'paths', dialogue trees and added features. A feature of the patch allows for a basic experience that simply fixes bugs but leaves the gameplay otherwise untouched from 2004 or the "Plus" version which includes the restored content and other tweaks that bring the game into a more modern way of playing. Spahl has received praise and creative assistance from former Troika developers and the GOG version of the game actually includes the unofficial patch today.

So how does the game play now? Well I can only tell you that as this was my first time with the game but it was an interesting experience. It's an FPS at heart but clearly an RPG in execution and scope. As a Kindred (vampire) you choose a clan, sort of like choosing an RPG race/class combo and this determines your powers. Based on a series of questions you answer at the start the game chose the Tremere (Blood mages), Brujah (anarchists), Malkavians (the insane), Toreador (the sexy ones), Gangrel (animalistic) or the Nosferatu (monstrous). For me it was Ventrue, Vampire nobility, destined for leadership. Your powers duration and intensity is determined by a blood pool - which can be refilled by feeding from people - but don't get caught by someone else as the whole point of Vampire: The Masquerade is not to reveal the existence of the Kindred to humanity. The rest is standard RPG faire: get quests from NPCs, complete quests, get loot, sell loot for money, get XP points, spend XP points on character sheet to increase power and ability, advance plot and repeat until end credits.

So one would have assumed that using an FPS engine like Source would have made the action element great and the developers would have only to worry about story, animation and RPG elements, but no, combat is bad! I get the idea that the pen and paper system itself is being emulated to some degree and one must spend points into say - firearms to improve accuracy, but I'll be honest, in a video game situation, where you are carrying around about seven of them at a time, it's not fun shooting at someone with a gun and hitting your enemy once in six shots before reloading, especially when they are all crack shots against you! This would be acceptable if there were ways to avoid combat completely, but other than areas you can use domination or charm (Jedi mind-tricks for vampires) or stealth - which despite the patch, is a broken or cheesy mechanic depending on how you look at it - combat is still inevitable. There are really too many combat sequence especially in the last 20% of the game for you not to put all the experience points you can into combat abilities just to stay alive. In fact I admit that I turned on "god mode" for much of the game because I was genuinely becoming bored by the combat itself.

But if the combat was boring, why continue? Well thankfully, the plot is well written, rich and nuanced and has a level of freedom that I did not expect for this era. It has consequences to your actions and has a range of possible endings to your storyline that Bioware should have taken a cue from it for the Mass Effect saga. The story drip feeds you V:TM lore through NPC dialogue which is much more satisfactory than the usual CRPG trope of reading a book you've looted. The lore as presented in the game itself is merely the skin on top of the soup that is the pen and paper sourcebooks but its plenty for the game purposes in which you are cast as a newly embraced fledgling Kindred who is completely clueless as to what they have become and not only must now navigate the game world but also the complex intricacies of vampire politics.

The design of the world itself is worth noting, it's naturally in perpetual darkness as it's taken as a given you don't wander around during the day for obvious reasons. The locations are mostly urban L.A. but there are distinctive differences between them, e.g. Santa Monica is by the seafront, Downtown is comprised with tall skyscrapers and Gothic architecture and Chinatown is filled with lights and eastern style signage. This isn't a sprawling open world, you're eventually blocked by a fence and inaccessible tunnels at the ends of each street which act as invisible walls, but there's no reason to explore beyond anyway because for the most part you're going to a specific building to advance whatever quest you're on. Exploration only occurs within a building, down a sewer, or other enclosed area, rarely topside in the streets of L.A. There was one particularly well crafted level that took place in an abandoned hotel that your character is sent to in order to get rid of a spirit that had chased away the renovation crew. It was filled with eerie sound effects, jump-scares and poltergeist-like shenanigans. Had the entire game used the investigation-style gameplay employed in this level in the rest of the game without instead such a heavy reliance on combat it would have been a much better game. 

Voice acting is 90% excellent but some was abysmal, and I expect I could tell when Spahl got a fellow fan to record a piece of missing dialogue for the cut-content, but not having played the unpatched-version I'm unsure. That said it's less than two-dozen lines of dialogue in several thousand so I wouldn't be too concerned. The score was produced by Rik Schaffer who composed the music for Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer and Activision licenced songs from contemporary minor artists at the time and they form part of the games nightlife atmosphere especially in the many bars and nightclubs you frequent which are littered with the posters of real-life bands.

Having now played the game myself I can say that the game is a product of it's time and hasn't aged as well as others from the mid 2000's. Sadly while the unofficial patches have made the game quite  playable, it suffers from often moronic A.I. or the lacklustre and at times, chronic combat. With that in mind however, the strength of RPGs like this lies in the story they weave and combat is just a means of navigating obstacles in the way of advancing the plot, of which this game certainly worth the €5 price tag.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines is available from Steam for €19.99 or GOG for €17.99. However the game is often on sale from either vendor for somewhere in the region of €5. However during the most recent sales I observed only a minor drop in sale price to €9.99 possibly due to a resurgence of interest in the game because of the imminent sequel in 2020. 
At time of publishing, the unofficial patch is v10.5 and available here.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

RIP Robert Forster

RIP Robert Forster [78]. I first remember him as the bad guy in Delta Force [1986] and since then, while never really a lead actor he was also never out of work. He gave life to memorable characters which elevated many movies above their station such as Jackie Brown [1997] and even Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle [2003].

Forster was no stranger to TV appearing in more than 60 roles since the 1960's as a guest star with more substantial parts in Heroes [2007] and recently in the 2017 version of Twin Peaks. He also reprised his character Ed from an episode of Breaking Bad in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie released yesterday, the day of his death. He will indeed be missed.

Forster as General Edward Clegg, a magnificent performance from the sublime cinematic treats: Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen.

Monday, August 12, 2019

First Play Review - Assassin's Creed [2007]

My first experience with Assassin's Creed was in fact on a console. I had the opportunity to see it in action on a Playstation 3 at Christmas in 2007. What struck me initially was the scope - Ubisoft recreated, from historical maps and records, what Acre, Damascus and Jerusalem existed as near the end 12th century. They were vibrant, populous cities, teaming with life, both benign and hostile and the game blended stealth, investigation, assassination and parkour to play in them. While I was aware that the game's inception was from ideas for a new Prince of Persia, I was intrigued by the fact that one of the chief designers modelled the protagonist's look and skills on the early representation of G.I.Joe's Storm Shadow. I knew when the opportunity arose to play it properly on a real machine a dozen years later I had to take it.

It was a good move, Ubisoft enhanced the version to be released for the PC some months after it debuted on consoles providing more content and combined with today's hardware it ran flawlessly. History reflects that when released first, levels took about up to 5 minutes to load and there was significant framerate drop in crowded scenes. Fast forward twelve years and Assassin's Creed can be properly enjoyed as it never drops below 60FPS, even with over a hundred people on screen and it takes mere seconds to load each city now.

 You play a character called Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, a member of the Assassin's Brotherhood based in Syria in 1191 but you're really playing Desmond Miles, Altaïr's descendent and a near-future New York bartender who is reliving Altaïr's genetic memory through a device called The Animus. OK that last part is a descent into bollox but while it's the story, it had precious little to do with the gameplay. It can be likened to a confusing version of The Matrix, but what little we see of "The Future" or the "real world" is nothing more than a framing story that apparently links the franchise together - as the meat of the franchise takes place in many different time periods - and for Assassin's Creed the real game is centred primarily in the Holy Land in the 12th Century.

As Altaïr you are tasked with nine assassinations, which doesn't sound like a lot of people to kill for a video game and indeed it can take only mere seconds or a minute or two to actually eliminate them - but finding them and preparing for the assassination can take hours. One must investigate the areas, represented by the icon filled maps that Ubisoft has really grown to love, and only by securing your exfiltration route by pre-preparing the areas means getting to your target and just as importantly, getting away intact, is 90% of the game. If this sounds like pacifying outposts in Far Cry games then yes, this is pretty much the same idea. Ubisoft are nothing if not consistent and much like outposts, the investigations themselves get a bit repetitive the third or fourth time.

The learning curve is short and the game has a very unique control system. It's possibly more suited to a controller - if you can use one of those bloody things - but if you have a gaming mouse with a few extra buttons it will stand to you. You control Altaïr pretty much like puppeteers marionette as you need keys or buttons bound to eyes, feet and hands. It feels very strange at first but the tutorials are good enough to get you free running over rooftops and eliminating sentries before long. Altaïr can blend in a crowd and take in the the sights and sounds of the cities but he must also climb to the highest towers and rooftops to reveal new points of interest for his investigations.

Melee combat is what you eventually won't avoid for long and it can be quite finicky to get it to work but Altaïr can be a great swordsman once you get your training and practice in. You have a sword, a shortsword, my favourite: the Hidden Blade and even some lethal throwing knives which represent the only ranged combat you'll engage in here. Your best defence however is to just run because the longer you are fighting, the more attention you'll draw and you could eventually be overwhelmed. Altaïr is swift and nimble but needs you controlling his jumps so you can get him to a hiding spot before his enemies catch him.

Some of the games highlights, other than the varied final assassinations are scaling vantage points in the cities to reveal new map areas and looking below to see dozens if not hundreds of people going about their business. You will occasionally come across a Templar knight, they are quite unhappy to encounter you as evidenced by the fact that they will draw their blade and attack you on the spot and until you learn how to fight them, they can be dangerous foes (Pro Tip: Approach from above or behind). They're all mostly french, so are fair game and they shout french obscenities at you which remind me more of John Cleese in Monty Python and The Holy Grail than anything. But I think the most exciting part of the game is when you eventually have to cut and run; you've been discovered, the bells are being rung in alarm, citizens are screaming and running in panic, the music has ramped up in tempo and every guard in the city is after you, yelling  in their native tongue. Eventually, you're so skilled you probably could fight them all, but it would take hours, running is the better and more exciting option - until you fall - so don't fall!

Overall Assassin's Creed is a pretty unique game and a welcome change from a deluge of RPG or FPS games, the parkour mechanics deliver a fresh and unique movement system though controls are a little finicky but you'll get used to them. Some of it's elements are pretty repetitive and suffer from common Ubisoft tropes that you well may be used to/sick of by now and sadly the very end of game degenerates into pure combat rather than assassination as it had been up to that point but obviously set it up for it's many, many sequels. The game is graphically "grand" for a 12 year old title and runs as good as it could ever today. It's an awesome historically-contextualised representation of the 12th Century Holy Land which makes a nice change from a high fantasy world of strange magics and creatures or a sci-fi planet with a dozen moons and belligerent aliens.

Assassin's Creed can be found for as little as €3.39 during sales for UPlay, GOG and Steam.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Retro Review - Half-Life: Opposing Force [1999]

Modern gamers, younger modern gamers that is, are only used to DLC which serves to extend a main game with extra levels for multiplayer or a few extra hours of content for single-player. They will never know the thrill of waiting 8-12 months after the release of a 'main' title, to pick up a so-called 'expansion pack' from store in a box with a CD-ROM/Floppy disks for a few more hours of fun likely with some extra enhancements for the main title. Some of the greats from the 1990's were Defender of the Empire for Star Wars: Tie-Fighter, Tales of the Sword Coast for Baldur's Gate, Mysteries of the Sith for Star Wars - Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight and The Plutonium Pack for Duke Nukem 3D, but none of them came as close to being the sublime masterpiece that was Half-Life: Opposing Force.

While Valve's 1998 breakout game Half-Life, one of the most significant video game events of the late 1990's actually did live up to it's massive hype, as would it's sequel years later, the task of creating it's inevitable expansion pack was outsourced to the fledgling studio Gearbox, who would go on to make their own name much later with the Borderlands series. Gearbox took the engine and assets from Half-Life and skilfully created, a practically new game that while similar in many ways to Half-Life, was different enough to become it's own thing.

Opposing Force casts you as Corporal Adrian Shepard one of the U.S. Marine Hazardous Environment Combat Unit antagonists of the original game. Only from your perspective now of course, you are a protagonist, oblivious for a while as to your true purpose in Black Mesa but it's handled with some pretty logical storytelling without either interfering with Half-Life's main story or casting you as 'the bad guy'.

Now in addition to the denizens of Black Mesa from Half-Life like scientists and security guards, you encounter invading Xen aliens (you kill them), Race-X a separate alien race who will attack you or Xen aliens indiscriminately (so kill them too) and Black-Ops soldiers who are there to silence Black Mesa personnel, any variety of alien they encounter while doing it and have no issue about shooting you on sight too (so kill them). In fact the only people in this game that you don't shoot are your fellow Marines who are there to provide assistance. You get fire support from the Machine Gunner, a shot of health from a Corpsman and an Engineer is sometimes needed to open an otherwise inaccessible door. Now these were not the same class of AI teammates as in Rainbow Six or Hidden and Dangerous at the time, as they basically charged into battle with reckless abandon without using either common sense or cover but they would serve to add some character to the world and remind you you weren't entirely alone on this crazy mission and if nothing else they all dropped much welcomed weapons when they were taken out.

As for weapons, Half-Life had a fantastic arsenal but I always found it daft that a bespectacled research scientist Gordon Freeman seemingly was able to pick up any military grade weapon and instinctively know how to load and use it with precision accuracy. Opposing Force has a much better excuse for this as you're a Marine, so it's kind of your bag to be able to use the weapons (they even train you in the prologue) - and you get plenty of cool modern military, cutting edge science and of course liberated weird alien weapons to eliminate the obstacles in your way that would prefer you not to escape Black Mesa.

At the time of it's release in November 1999 Opposing Force was a pretty big deal as far as expansion packs went. In 2000 the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences gave it Computer Game of the Year Interactive Achievement Award. PC Gamer dubbed it "Best Expansion Pack" and nominated it as 1999's overall best game of the year (although it lost to Homeworld), they wrote that Opposing Force "makes history by becoming the first expansion pack to be considered for Game of the Year. Yes, it really is that good."


Opposing Force is as dated as Half-Life looks today but thanks to HD texture packs it looks slightly better than it did back then, which was graphically on par with Quake II or Jedi Knight. While nowhere near up to Lucasarts level design in comparison, Gearbox copied Valve's design play-book and did just as good a job as Valve originally did. It's pretty much as linear as they come, but does a good job of masking that by interposing large cavernous areas reached by funnelling you down narrow corridors or vent shafts. In my option it's gameplay is solid enough to warrant sparing a mere 6 or 7 hours to go and relive the glory days from 20 years ago.  

On a modern Win 10 system with SSD storage and a fibre connection, Opposing Force will download and install in about a minute and a half. I report no configuration or initialisation issues, pauses or crashes and it ran within 4 seconds after execution.  4K resolution is accepted but there is no hud scaling (nor did I seek any 3rd party modifications) so one needs to drop resolution to a level where you can read the hud and text.

The only faults I had with Opposing Force today, are pretty much the same ones I had 20 years ago. Gearbox had clearly no military advisor nor apparently anyone close to the production who was related to anyone in the Marine Corps. I'm thinking they probably watched Full Metal Jacket or An Officer and a Gentlemen a couple of times and shoved in their own idea of a drill instructor from that who jarringly referred to Marines as "soldiers" all the way through the training levels. The word "soldier" was repeated about 40 times and I gritted my teeth every time I heard it. Of course they do other little things like calling the Corpsman a "Medic", but that's a standard Hollywood mistake too. There was a HD texture pack released between Opposing Force and the second Half-Life expansion pack Half-Life: Blue Shift that did include some SFX alterations and I hoped they would correct at least the drill instructor's offending dialogue, but sadly no, that itself creates a new issue of using 9mm ammo in an M4! So it's just a case of doing what the DI says and "Suck it up!" At the end of the day I guess it's an issue that only really annoys those who wear the uniform.

Note: The original CD-ROM version of Opposing Force required the original Half-Life disk to authenticate - but the Steam version is treated as a stand-alone expansion and does not require the original Half-Life to be in your game library. The team version will automatically load the HD texture pack.

Half-Life: Opposing Force is only available from Steam for €3.99 but can be found in some sales for just €0.79.

Monday, January 07, 2019

RIP W. Morgan Sheppard

William Morgan Sheppard was a British actor and a permanent fixture on TV and movies from 1983 to 2012.

Among his credits were General Trimble in Gettysburg & Gods and Generals, Captain Archibald Witwicky in Michael Bay's Transformers and several credits in the Star Trek franchise where he appeared in Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek [2009], as Dr. Ira Graves in Star Trek: The Next Generation [pictured] and the Prison Warden in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Other fans will note him as Professor Martinson in SeaQuest DSV, The Soul Hunter in Babylon 5, from an appearance in Dr. Who or his voice of Dum Dum Dugan in the Iron man animated series. He was also the narrator for the Medal of Honor video game series and Civilisation V.

Sheppard passed away Jan 6th in Los Angles, he was 86. He is survived by his son, actor Mark Sheppard (Warehouse 13, Dr. Who, Supernatural, Lampkin in Battlestar Galactica).

Friday, January 04, 2019

First Play Review: Crysis Warhead

As I recently replayed Crysis, I decided it was time to try out Crysis Warhead for the first time. Crysis Warhead was a standalone expansion for the original Crysis that was released in 2008, a year after Crysis itself. It's purpose was not so much to extend the Crysis story but to enhance it by showing you the same story from a different perspective as well as address some of the critical concerns with the game.

Firstly, as this is not a sequel, but an expansion, one must never expect too much by way of evolution to the game engine or its features. Crysis Warhead delivers much the same experience in terms of gameplay and features as Crysis with a few additions in the form of some new weapons to play with, some new vehicles and a couple of new alien types but nothing so overt as to break the immersion that this is basically the same time-frame as the parent game just experienced differently. The Nanosuit, Crysis' main 'gimmick' is still as awesome as ever, so once you remaster it's settings and controls you'll have few issues with the game.

The game engine is the same, but according to the developers at the time, it went under some significant optimisation to address most reviewers concerns about needing an impossibly specced PC to run it. I can't say it runs any differently to Crysis as far as I'm concerned, I still kept the resolution at 2K (1440p) as 4K was too much for my GPU to render Crysis at so I presumed there would be no change. I did notice a better use of volumetric smoke for smoke grenades, but lighting, shadows and reflections were as awesome as before.

Playing a different part of the game through the eyes of another is not new. Valve in fact did this with great results by releasing Half-Life: Opposing Force and Half-Life: Blue Shift where you played from the perspective of one of the Marines sent to Black Mesa or Barney, one of Black Mesa's security guards respectively. In Crysis Warhead you play as Sgt. "Psycho" Sykes, one of your player character (Nomad)'s team mates from Crysis, and you now follow Psycho's adventures on "the other side" of the island to Nomad and you fill in some of the blanks left by Crysis - such as the big obvious one where at the end of Crysis, Psycho is on the flight deck of the USS Constitution with his captured an alien! Little things like that.

Psycho is voiced by Sean Chapman (whom movie buffs will know as the guy who first opened the Hellraiser puzzle box) and his East-end of London accent is as thick as Jason Statham's. While the original score to Crysis was produced by veteran video-game Israeli composer Inon Zur, for Warhead, Crytek enlisted Peter Antovszki who would go on to compose music for Sudden Strike IV, Ryse: Son of Rome and subsequent Crysis games. His score here certainly seems more intrusive than Zur's and it probably overuses the Japanese takio drum a bit but it's still excellent and I think fits the pace of this game more than reusing Zur's sore would have.

Much of the story is told through 3rd person perspective movie-style cutscenes. This serves to flesh out the character of Psycho to a far greater degree than Nomad's character ever way and even you eventually feel more connected to Psycho. There is a cinematic quality here that would not be lost in a Michael Bay movie and this quality actually works much better even though Psycho's 'choices' in the cutscene are taken away from you; but even this accepted as this is not a free-open-world RPG though, this is a linear shooter, although you don't feel as confined as in liner shooters such as Half-Life.


The pace of Warhead is quite different from Crysis. The original game had long periods of wandering though the jungle or alien ships where you weren't shooting, but Warhead has you in a firefight almost every 60 seconds. It's possible to be evading a group of pursuing enemies and running into another group. There's not a great deal of taking in the scenery - as here the scenery is pretty much identical to Crysis, I guess Crytek assumed you already did your sightseeing there, and they were right. Now is the time for shooting!

All in all this is a fun diversion that expands the Crysis saga by about 5 hours and gives you some new toys to play with in Crytek's world while you kill North Koreans or Aliens.

Crysis Warhead is strangely €19.99 on GOG, but much cheaper on Steam for €9.99, or on Origin for €7.99 , but as always watch out for frequent sales and bundles as this is now over 10 years old and no reason to not get it when it's below €5.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Retro Review: DOOM

As in December 1993, id Software released DOOM the public, I felt it was fitting that it would be the final game I would play in 2018, 25 years later. Now I actually never played DOOM on my own PC instead ever only experiencing it on someone else's machines, nor had I ever intended to go back and replay DOOM because I knew it was just too old and primitive in comparison to what's available now. However, a recent too-cheap-to-pass-up offer on gave me DOOM 3 along with Win10 compatible versions of both "Ultimate Doom" and "DOOM2: Hell on Earth", so I thought 'what the HELL'!

DOOM is one of the most written about an analysed video games in history, and I'm not going to spend hours explaining the cultural impact and worldwide phenomena that it was but I will just state the four things I credit the game with; DOOM was (1) responsible for truly establishing the IBM-compatible PC as a gaming platform to rival any console or arcade game, (2) what gave the rise of multiplayer over a network, (3) the game that brought the idea of game modification and home-made level design to the masses and of course (4) the game that established the first person shooter as one of the most successful video game genres of all time.

It was easily 23 years since I played DOOM and as soon as my 4K screen began rendering the pixillated environments it was like going back in time, memories of past battles against the forces of evil, the inability to reload, jump or look up or down and the way sprites always faced you. To be honest, the graphics were not as awful as I expected them to be, I had nothing extra installed to enhance them (as I did with my Dark Forces replay earlier in the year) so I'm assuming that there was some enhancements to Ultimate Doom that came out in 1995 that made things less jarring.

I recall may times during the more intense battles that my friends 486DX66 (the pinnacle of tech for the day) would sometimes begin slowing up if there was many enemies on screen - it was this observed event that was always on my mind when designing new systems to prompt me to achieve technical superiority over any game I intended to play. I would have been somewhat shocked if I encountered such slowdown on a contemporary machine today but naturally that didn't happen, in fact I did notice that DOOM was using far less CPU and RAM resources while being played than the idle web browser I had on in the background!

John Carmack's id-Tech 1 engine could not have sloping surfaces, nor could it render space above space (there was no rooms over rooms) so it wasn't a true 3D environment. It is instead considered 2.5D, which employed visual trickery to give the impression of 3D. Because of the limitations, the level design is elementary and block oriented but promoted exploration and considered by video-game historians to be art. Much of it was conceived by designer John Romero and back in the day, and the desire to find all a level's secret areas led to significant replayability. 

DOOM is famously lacking in the narrative department, but from the original game manual - you are a Space Marine who is set to the UAC's hazardous waste facility on Mars (punishment duty after assaulting a superior officer). The military is conducting secret teleportation experiments which naturally open up a gateway to hell and it's inhabitants come through. It's obviously your job to stop them because (1) everyone else has been killed (2) you're armed and (3) it's fun!

Now as much as I love the chainsaw (never begging the question why are there chainsaws on Mars?) my favourite weapon was the Plasma Rifle, shooting balls of blue er.. plasma at demon spawn, and it worked well. The chain-gun was a far better use of all the pistol ammo you picked up as you explored and of course you used the BFG9000 when you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherfucker in the room.

Back in 1993, the use of the arrow keys, and CTRL to fire was the normal way of playing, but Ultimate DOOM had mapped WASD, Mouselook a more modern control set allowing for greater freedom of movement. It became quickly apparent that playing the game with the modern controls as well as superior tactical knowledge of playing FPS games of the intervening decades furnished me with a level of skill far in excess of what would have been the average back in 1993, allowing me to complete the entire game in under 4 hours. Caveat: I did not complete the episode "Thy Flesh Consumed" as that was not part of the original DOOM game and from all accounts it's level design is "too weird" even for DOOM.

All in all, a worthwhile, nostalgia filled experience that I recommend to anyone who enjoys not only FPSs but video gaming in general. It good to acknowledge and remember from where we came from and indeed how far we've evolved.

Ultimate DOOM is available as a stand-alone product from GOG and Steam for about €5 but frequently discounted for about €1.60. 
Alternatively the DOOM 3: BFG Edition bundles DOOM 3, DOOM II and Ultimate DOOM for €19.99 on GOG and Steam, but again, frequently discounted for about €8.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Happy New Year

In memoriam, 2018

Let us remember those we lost in 2018:

Paul Allen, 65, American businessman and co-founder of Microsoft.
Stanley Anderson, 78, American actor who played the President in both "The Rock" and "Armageddon".
Kofi Annan, 80, Ghanaian diplomat, Secretary-General of the United Nations (1997–2006), Nobel Prize laureate (2001).
Captain Alan LaVern Bean, USN Ret., 86, American naval officer, naval aviator, aeronautical engineer, test pilot, and NASA astronaut. The the fourth person to walk on the Moon.
Ken Berry, 85, American actor, "F Troop".
David Bischoff, 66, American novelist and television writer "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episodes "Tin Man" and "First Contact".
Steven Bochco, 74, 10-time Emmy winning American television producer and writer "Hill Street Blues", "L.A. Law", "NYPD Blue".
Anthony Bourdain, 61, Four time Emmy winning American chef, author and television host
Jim Bowen, 80, English television presenter and comedian, "Bullseye".
Peter Brace, 94, British actor and stuntman, "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "Batman", "Highlander" and Peter Mayhew's stunt double in "Star Wars".
Staff Sgt. Russell Brown, USA Ret., 96, 82nd Airborne Division. Made every combat jump during World War II.
Barbara Bush, 92, American political matriarch, First Lady (1989–1993) and Second Lady (1981–1989).
President George H. W. Bush, 94, American politician, President (1989–1993), Vice President (1981–1989), Director of Central Intelligence (1976–1977).
Montserrat Caballé, 85, Spanish opera singer, "Barcelona" w. Freddie Mercury.
Joseph Campanella, 93, American actor "Mannix", "Silent Running", "Meteor".
Frank Carlucci, 87, American politician, Secretary of Defense (1987–1989), National Security Advisor (1986–1987).
Bunny Carr, 91, Irish television presenter (Quicksilver).
Debbie Lee Carrington, 58, American actress and stunt woman "Return of the Jedi", "Total Recall".
Reg E. Cathey, 59, Emmy winning American actor "House of Cards", "Luke Cage".
Colonel Joseph Gordon Clemons, Jr. USA Ret., 90, American soldier, subject of "Pork Chop Hill".
A1C Adrian Cronauer, USAF Ret., 79, American disc jockey, subject of "Good Morning, Vietnam".

L-R: Professor Stephen Hawking, Margot Kidder, John Mahoney

Steve Ditko, 90, American comic book writer and artist "Spider-Man", "Doctor Strange"
Sir Ken Dodd, 90, English comedian.
Rear Admiral Alene Duerk, USN Ret., 98, American Navy admiral, first female admiral in U.S.Navy.
John M. Dwyer, 83, Oscar/Emmy nominated American set decorator, "Star Trek", "Star Trek: The Next Generation" movies "Star Trek IV, V, Generations, First Contact, Insurrection" and "Nemesis".
Ssgt. (Hon GnySgt.) R. Lee Ermey, USMC Ret., 74, American drill  instructor and actor "Full Metal Jacket", "Toy Story"
Carlos Ezquerra, 70, Spanish comics artist,"Judge Dredd", "Strontium Dog"
Michael D. Ford, 90, Oscar winning English art director and set decorator "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "The Empire Strikes Back".
Miloš Forman, 86, Oscar winning Czech-American film director, "Amadeus".
Gary Friedrich, 75, American comic book writer, "Captain Marvel", "Iron Man" #45–46, co-creator of "Ghost Rider".
Aretha Franklin, 76, 18 time Grammy winning American Hall of Fame singer, "Respect"
William Goldman, 87, Oscar winning American author "The Princess Bride" and screenwriter "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid".
Leslie "Dirty Den" Grantham, 71, English actor "EastEnders" and convicted murderer.
Korvettenkapitän Reinhard Hardegen, 105, German U-boat commander (Battle of the Atlantic).
Stephen Hawking, 76, English theoretical physicist, professor (University of Cambridge) and writer "A Brief History of Time".
Brig. Gen. Anna Mae Hays, USA Ret., 97, American military officer and nurse, first female U.S. General.

L-R: Derrick O'Connor, Tim O'Connor, David Ogden Stiers

Tom Jago, 93, British liquor executive and distiller, creator of Baileys Irish Cream.
Jóhann Jóhannsson, 48, Icelandic film composer, "Arrival".
Mickey Jones, 76, American drummer and actor.
Ingvar Kamprad, 91, Swedish retail furniture-home design executive and philanthropist, founder of IKEA.
Gloria Katz, 76, American screenwriter and film producer, "American Graffiti", "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom", "Best Defense".
Margot Kidder, 69, Canadian-American actress, "Superman"
Richard H. Kline, 91, American cinematographer, "Star Trek: The Motion Picture".
Sonny Knowles, 86, Irish singer.
Charles Krauthammer, 68, Pulitzer Prize winning American political commentator (Fox News) and writer (The Washington Post).
Gary Kurtz, 78, American film producer, "American Graffiti", "Star Wars".
Stan Lee, 95, American comic book writer and publisher (Marvel Comics).
Sondra Locke, 74, American actress, "The Outlaw Josey Wales", "Sudden Impact".
John Mahoney, 77, English-American actor, "Frasier".
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, 81, South African anti-apartheid activist and politician, MP.
Al Matthews, 75, American actor, "Sgt. Apone" in "Aliens".
Bill Maynard, 89, English actor
Sen. John McCain, 81, American politician and Navy officer, member of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Chuck McCann, 83, American voice actor, "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero", "Iron Man".
Capt. Ernest Medina, USA Ret., 81, American army officer, commander of unit responsible for the My Lai Massacre.
Donald Moffat, 87, British-born American actor, "The Thing", "Clear and Present Danger", "License to Kill".
Derrick O'Connor, 77, Irish actor, "Lethal Weapon 2", "Daredevil".
Tim O'Connor, 90, American actor, "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century"
William O'Connor, 47, American artist, "Dungeons & Dragons", "Magic: The Gathering".
David Ogden Stiers, 75, American actor "M*A*S*H".

L-R: Soon-Tek Oh, Donnelly Rhodes, John Young

Soon-Tek Oh, 85, South Korean-American actor, "The Man with the Golden Gun", "Missing in Action 2", "Death Wish 4", "The Muta-Do" in "Babylon 5".
Dolores O'Riordan, 46, Irish singer and guitarist, "The Cranberries".
Richard Arvin Overton, 112, American super-centenarian, oldest living World War II veteran in U.S.
Roger Perry, 85, American actor "Star Trek" episode "Tomorrow Is Yesterday" as "Captain John Christopher".
Burt Reynolds, 82, Emmy winning American actor, "Smokey and the Bandit", "Boogie Nights".
Donnelly Rhodes, 80, Canadian actor, ""Doc" Cottle" in "Battlestar Galactica (2004)".
Robert Scheerer, 89, Emmy nominated American director, "Star Trek: The Next Generation", "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and "Star Trek: Voyager".
Frank Serafine, 65, American sound designer and editor, "Star Trek: The Motion Picture", "Tron", "The Hunt for Red October".
Marie Severin, 89, American Hall of Fame comic book artist, "Iron Man"#82–83, 85 (inker), #108 (colorist), G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" #28 (penciller), co-creator of Spider-Woman.
Jon Paul Steuer, 33, American actor "Alexander" in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode "Reunion".
Dudley Sutton, 85, British actor, "Lovejoy".
Verne Troyer, 49, American actor, "Austin Powers".
Dame June Whitfield, 93, English actress, "Terry and June".
Scott Wilson, 76, American actor, "The Walking Dead".
Celeste Yarnall, 74, American actress, "Yeoman Martha Landon" in the "Star Trek" episode "The Apple".
Capt John Young, USN Ret. 87, American astronaut (Apollo 16, STS-1).

May they rest in peace.