Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Ultima V Lazarus was released just before Christmas. I got to try it out last night and my initial impressions are very good. It's a mod for Dungeon Siege, so you need this now-oldish action RPG to play. I never bothered to play DS very far, but I bought it as a budget re-release specifically in order to play Lazarus one day. Granted, I didn't really expect the team to ever finish their massive task. (So it's still buggy, but the first patch is already out.)

I never really played the Ultima series before. I was too young to grasp them initially, and then I lacked a PC to play on for quite some time. I lack the emotional attachment to the game most Lazarus players are likely to bring along. Still, the game's opening really grabbed my attention and I already feel like embarking on a truly epic quest.

Ultima V doesn't dumb down the experience. You really feel that the characters have a history together (which they, of course, do, but I never experienced it) and that they are real people. You're actually given choices right from the start (go to the Abbey? Go straight to Britain?), stuff isn't over-explained and combat is actually risky. The first clues to solving the situation at hand are intriguing (a demon seeking redemption). And you're no barehanded newbie, you're Avatar, who's already saved the realm once!

It's been a long time since I last wished to get home quickly and get back to playing, but Lazarus is doing that. Very much recommended.

I like the game's little touches a lot. You need to gather materials for casting spells (ginseng and garlic to cure poison, for insance), and these are actually harvested from the wilderness. Your party needs to eat, so you have to keep an eye on rations, but you don't have to actually manually make them eat. You can also hunt. Dialogue is largely very good and there seems to be real motivation to do stuff.

Bear in mind that you need to stomach quite a bit of bugs to enjoy the game, though. Even if this is subject to change if the team keeps up its pace.

Monday, December 26, 2005


So I got my wife a set of DK Bongos for the Gamecube. We didn't find the music game (titled Donkey Konga) that much fun at the store, but the action game, titled Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, seemed great fun. It is. It may seem odd to control a traditional 2D platform game with a set of drums, but it plain works. Playing is great fun, even if you can only play for a couple of levels before needing a break.

The bongos recognize the left beat, the right beat, beating them together and a microphone picks up the clap of your hands. So you only have four controls, but that is quite enough, really.

While the game features heavily on not being too demanding on the controls, it leaves plenty of room for skilled play. While you can just run and clap your way through the levels, major points are only scored for long aerial combos. I can't really see how to achieve 1200 bananas required for the platinum awards just yet.

I doubt it's very long-lived fun, but fun it is. Recommended.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Pre-Christmas grievances

While I am generally a happy gamer these days, there are some grievances that bear mentioning lest they be forgotten. These things weigh on the mind from time to time, maybe I can move on once I put them out here.

Grievance I: the HD era. They tell us we'll see PC-level graphics on the telly. I've played some Call Of Duty 2 on the Xbox 360, on a proper HD display, and it just ain't all that. Yes, there are more details apparent and the resolution is higher, but I recall being told we'd get rid of the jagged outlines for good. If anything, I was bothered more by the jaggies on a crisp resolution display than I ever was on a good ol' CRT display.

And it doesn't look like HD sets would be likely to become very common around here anytime soon. (Unlike US citizens, we don't have cheap CRT HD sets available.) There isn't any talk of HD tv broadcasts yet, we're only going from analog to digital in two years.

I trust these issues will be remedied in the year or so to come, but I do expect to see some anti-aliasing, at least on a level even my ancient PC (sub-1G processor) could manage. In any case the next generation doesn't much excite, unlike the current generation did.

Grievance II: PC copy protection. I usually apply a no-CD crack on games I've bought for the PC, simply because I dislike having to dig for the discs when I want to play for a bit. However, I have quite a few games which won't play unless a no-CD crack is applied. This is just wrong, considering that those playing pirated games won't ever see this crap.

Worse yet is the Ubisoft model, where the game snoops around your hard drive, looking for software which in the publisher's discretion is objectionable. They've discriminated against CD copying software, commonly used by pirates but also by perfectly legitimate customers.
This is unacceptable and it makes me wonder who they think they are to even contemplate doing this. My HD is none of your business, mr. publisher. (This is from a person who loves most of what Ubisoft does, by the way.)

Luckily I play so few PC games these days that copy protection doesn't spoil my day as often as it used to. It's still a bad idea to implement half-assed solutions which only bother your own customers.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


The only type of game I'm playing somewhat regularly on the PC is the shoot 'em up - of the sideways or vertically scrolling 2D kind. Most of these games are played on MAME, the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, some on other emulators (SNES, Sega Megadrive/Genesis, mostly) and some are modern freeware, mostly from Japan (see ABA Games for free goodies). I'm by no means a shmup wizard, but I do like my shooters.

So getting Ikaruga (cool fan site here) for the Gamecube was a no-brainer. Indeed, it was my primary reason for getting a Gamecube in the first place. It did take some time tracking down a copy for an agreeable price, though, because the game was never manufactured in large numbers and I only got a Gamecube a few months back.

I've now played it for around four hours - I don't know how long exactly, because I didn't realize the autosave wasn't on by default, so I lost the records of my first few sittings. (Duh.) It is sweet. I can get to halfway of the fourth level (there are five), but the third level's boss really makes it clear that if you're not after a challenge, you need not apply. It's just brutal. But never really unfair, you can always see where you made a mistake.

And boy, I've missed a challenge. I grew up playing games with largely mythical endings: in the 8-bit days, games used to be so hard that completing a game was really an event, something we used to talked about for rather long times. I was very disappointed to see that nobody was making old-school shmups with the power of today, save for the few Japanese amateur artists. There are some quality shmups released on the PS2, but that's about it. It's a shame. The shmup is definitely not for everyone and the kids of today are likely baffled by the difficulty level, but that's just the point. It feels so much better when you've had to work for it.

Make no mistake, I do grow frustrated with difficult games. But this is because today's games tend to be difficult because they're designed badly, not because they're challenging by design.

Now, I can see myself completing Ikaruga on "easy", but the "normal" difficulty (let alone "hard") seems such a challenge that I have my work cut out for me for years to come, knowing that I won't be practicing every day. Considering this, it does feel perfectly fine that the game can be completed in something like 20 minutes, once you're good enough. But can you do it with just one credit? There's actually an endearing shmup term for this, "to 1CC a game". To 1CC means you've mastered it, and that is my goal with Ikaruga. The art of shooting, truly.

Edit: I've now clocked in about three hours plus the initial couple of evenings' worth and can get to the last level, which is insane. The chaining system really does keep things interesting. I've so far managed to chain only 24 in the first chapter. Things get real hairy real fast in the beginning of the second chapter, chaining-wise... I can get to chapter three's boss on one credit and generally don't die before chapter three anymore.

In other gaming news, Tony Hawk's Underground's last objective (beat Eric) is rock hard. And I've been playing on "easy". I really miss a highscore mode in the game. It's still fun on two-player, but there doesn't seem to be anything much to do in single player besides the disposable campaign. It's the only Tony Hawk I've played since the original on Playstation and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2's demo on the PC, which I played way more than this full-blown game on the Gamecube. Shame, really.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

At the movies: King Kong

While there was too much action for too little drama, Jackson's King
Kong is still a resounding success. Kong himself is so great that I
really didn't want the movie to end, knowing how it would go down.
Really intense stuff, the PG rating seems way too low.

Friday, December 16, 2005

A mobile experience

I'm typing this into my N-Gage (QD model, no sidetalking), eager to
find out if I can post on the go. If I can, well, expect to see
pointless, mercifully short posts from time to time. Indeed, I like
reading blogs on the phone, it's a good way to while away the daily
commute to work.

Edit: whee, it works. Sort of, the template still needs tweaking. Bonus information to make the post somewhat worthwhile: So what do I do with my N-Gage, game-wise? First and foremost, I play Dweller to kill off the random 15 minute wait. Here's a link for mobile phone browsers to the free download, it should work on most Java-enabled mobile phones. Dweller is a roguelike (as in, like Rogue, or the rather more famous Nethack), suitably simplified for mobile entertainment, and it kicks ass.

Also, I couldn't send email from my phone if it wasn't for Opera Mini. You can get this great Java application here, if you're using a phone browser. It runs Gmail and even better now that Google launched Gmail mobile, which is superfast, like.


Having downsized my old-school "personal homepage" at in spring 2005, I've sometimes longed for a forum to post random ramblings to. So here I am. I really wanted to go with the easiest possible solution, because I really don't want to lose myself building yet another sprawling website, thereby losing any free time I might otherwise have (been there, done that). Blogger couldn't be much simpler, and it seems to be the way of the world as of today.

The title, then. I wanted to reflect upon my physical location, which is Helsinki, Finland. 71 is the post code I use daily, being shorthand for 00710. And 78 is the year of my birth. 1978 also happens to be the year of Space Invaders, which is wholesomely appropriate: I'm all about videogames, and this blog will likely reflect that.