Retrospective - Robocop (Commodore Amiga)

This blog post was taken from my original article at All About The Games
 
In 1987 Paul Verhoeven gave the world Robocop and it was good. A sci-fi action film now famed for its often imitated biting social and media commentary brought it above and beyond the normal 80’s blockbuster fodder.

Not that Robocop skimped on the violence and gore of course, and for young me aged 8 at the time that was cool. Commentary be damned – Robo was a big-ass cyborg with a big-ass gun who fought a big-ass robot. Due to the 18 certificate placed on the film it would be quite a few years before I even saw a heavy edited version (Once I even called him… Airhead), so the inevitable tie-in game of the movie was all I had.

Initially an arcade game, Robocop was ported to pretty much every platform under the sun. Ocean software probably would have even made a Casio calculator port given the chance. It was the Speccy version I initially owned, but after upgrading to the Amiga I played it on there as well. After all, the huge improvement in hardware would lead to a better game right?

Well…

The problem starts when you consider the Robocop game wasn’t particularly great. The graphics were pretty good for the time, and it felt slick enough to play – but it was just a basic side-scrolling shooter. It blew most of its big tricks on the first level – shooting bad guys, punching men on bikes, jumping over grenades (Robo jumps? Who knew?) and that boss battle with ED209 at the end. Further levels brought in slightly different bad guys but they didn’t add much, and every other boss battle seemed to be an ED209 re-skin.

Things did get mixed up a little bit, with bonus games like shooting galleries and photo-fits adding some variety. It was kind of cool the way they re-created the scenes where Robo rescues the attempted rape victim, and saved the old man in the board room… But in the end it was just another arcade title.

Now Ocean did pretty well with the 8-bit versions of the game (with the music even being licenced for use in an ad for Ariston kitchen appliances), but the 16-bit versions failed to impress. For a start the graphical detail was reduced a lot from the arcade version – the amount of colours has been reduced, walls are often solid colours rather than being patterned, and characters generally look kind of smudged in comparison. Like Robo had got a bit rusty and had been told Vaseline works a charm or something.

The controls are largely the same, with jump being a little more awkward due to there only being one button on Amiga sticks of the day. Either press space or tap down then up. It's awkward but at the same time it doesn’t really affect the game as the controls are nice and responsive, and it seem the difficulty has been set down a notch or two.

Although the extra levels are present and correct, it seems the final level has been cut down in length. Not that it really matters; all you would really be missing out on is some identi-kit normal bad guys. Then you kill Dick Jones and get a screen of text as congratulations.

But then all the speech from the arcade version is still present and correct, with Robo reading out his prime directives at the start, and a “thank you for your co-operation” at level end. There are lots men being shot and punched, and the loading screen looks kind of bad-ass and as an 8 year old that’s pretty much all I could have asked for.

These days though, my tastes are far more refined (I like a good menu screen as well now) so Robocop falls well short of what I would call a good game. Maybe it’s because I played it too much and find it easy enough to complete, but more likely it’s because it’s all a bit arse really.

There are no remakes or legal emulation options for Robocop The Game, so you’re looking to go the legally shaky route of downloading from a ROM site. To WinUAE!
(You have 20 seconds to comply)
 
  
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The World of Minecraft

I originally wrote this for All About The Games. View the original article here

 
A friend sent out a tweet today asking if anyone was playing Minecraft, and what she was missing. Limited to 140 characters I could only think one one response - "Yes. A lot. It's like digital crack on toast. Very moreish."

To be honest that's a bit of an overblown response, especially since I've never tried crack - let alone topping a piece of toast with some, but Minecraft definitely has its hooks in me and I have been left with bloodshot eyes waiting for my next fix.

Immediately I struggle to describe Minecraft. Do I start with the graphics? Because at first glance it's oh so basic. A world made of blocks with blocky landscapes and blocky animals viewed through the eyes of a blocky man. Oh wait, maybe I should describe it as being a bit like a first-person Dwarf-Fortress, without the dwarves. But then that assumes that you have heard of that particular indie hit (and if you haven't - educate yourself!)

Perhaps then the best way to introduce the concept of Minecraft is by saying it's a sandbox game - for a start there's a lot of sand (and dirt, rock, wood and so on). It is the most sandboxy game you'll ever play. In the main single player mode your unnamed character is dumped in to a randomly generated world with nothing but empty pockets and his fists. Your mission is open, it is merely to survive, for night brings the nasties. Zombies, skeleton archers, giant spiders and umm... green exploding monsters that look kind of like angry gangrenous penises. So the first day will consist of you punching trees to get wood. Using the wood to make planks, the planks to make a crafting table, the table to make tools and then digging out some coal to make torches.

Then the first night will be spent in the cave you've dug. Don't forget to put the torches up inside so the monsters can't spawn in there with you. Perhaps you built a door for your hidey hole too. They can't use doors so that will keep you safe. Perhaps while you wait you'll dig. Your axe and pickaxe will break so you'll make some more with the rock you've found. Then perhaps you find some iron, build a furnace and smelt the iron into ingots and upgrade your tools. Dig and dig and dig...

Daybreak. As the bad guys burn in the sun you step outside, armed with a sword for the first time and you actually take note of your surroundings. May I suggest you climb the hill you built your home in to? Not only are you likely to get a good lay of the land but you can build a beacon so you can easily see where your safe haven is as you explore.

Kill a pig for its meat. A cow for its leather. Chickens lay eggs and shed feathers and you can literally punch cloth off sheep. Everything you find can be crafted one way or another and as the day/night cycle repeats you find yourself going out at night more. Your hole becomes a winding labyrinth, you build a house, a fort, a castle...

Minecraft is currently in an Alpha build and as such still has planned features missing and is incredibly buggy. It's still amazingly deep though, a quick search on YouTube will bring up examples where resourceful miners have built entire mine cart systems or canals for transportation. Then to blow your mind a dust mined from redstone blocks can be made into circuits and even logic gates. It really is incredible.

What I've spent most time on is the multiplayer. Recently implemented, it is survival for the social ones amongst us. Currently your characters are invincible as are the animals and mobs (so mobs are off as default). Also it is a lot more buggy so mine carts glitch and make people nearby freeze and disconnect. Redstone circuits are hit and miss as to if they'll even work and crashes are frequent.

Yet through all the bugs Minecraft remains absolutely essential. There's something that appeals to the explorer and adventurer in me as I guide my character over the crest of hill and see this randomly generated valley in front of me. Trees, plants and waterfalls decorating the landscape in an entirely believable fashion (not an easy feat when the world looks like it's made from Duplo blocks). Better yet is the fear as you explore one of the many darkened caves and caverns you find. Torches dotted behind you as you mine for diamond and gold, listening for the growls of monsters in the darkness. Then a lesson learned as you dig the block directly below you and you fall in to a lava pit and all your inventory is melted away.

Playing on the Eurogamer server has been a treat. I've watched as the buildings have gotten larger and more complex. I've built a large water slide through a mountain (with a large amount of assistance from others) and I've stood on the top of said mountain watching the sun go down as the torchlight makes it look like a city shining off in to the distance.

All this is the work of one man, known only as Notch. He's clearly working hard on this as updates are weekly at this point. It's impressive work and according to Notch himself it has already made a lot of money to the point where Paypal suspended his account for suspicious activity.

While Minecraft is in alpha it is €9.95 - 50% of the planned final price. However if you're too tight to spend such a small amount of money there is a free version that is just the equivalent of a building block set. There's no mining, crafting, creatures good or bad. Just you and infinite blocks to create whatever you like. Fun for a while but lacking the depth of the "real" thing, and the lack of a save ability will either put you off or, like me, ensure buying into the alpha is essential.

Because Minecraft is still in alpha, I'm not giving it a mark. It's not the finished product and to pretend so is unfair but as you may of guessed from this article I can whole heartedly recommend to everyone out there with a desire for adventuring, an eye for creation and just more than a little bit of patience. Get mining!

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