Awesome Computer Games – Part 1

As the title might suggest I’ve decided to do a post on some computer games that I consider to be awesome.  This topic might sprawl over a couple of posts as I talk about various games, I’m going to start by talking about ‘Retro’ games that I have enjoyed.  These games will be presented with no regard for the chronological order of release, the order I played them in or how well they were reviewed, this remains (as always) my opinion and your mileage may vary.

This idea was brought on by events of last night.  I was looking for something to play, having completed all the games in my recent stack, so I browsed to the PlayStation Store to see if any new content was available for favourite games of mine (the answer being no).  I did however find the original Deus Ex on download for £7.99 which I immediately downloaded and started to play, so that’s where we’re going to start.

Please note – There may be spoilers in this post for these games, I take no responsibility for this as they are old games and I subscribe to the Penny Arcade idea of spoiler expiration dates, if you’ve not played them then either don’t read or suck it up.

Deus Ex
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deus_Ex)

Published in 2000 on PC , a couple of years later on PS2 and even ported to Mac & Linux (something that remains unusual even today) Deus Ex is a hybrid of both traditional FPS & RPG Gameplay styles and is the game that opened the way this style of gameplay.

You play as agent J.C. Denton a newly commissioned agent for UNATCO (United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition) and second of a new wave of Nanotech enhanced UNATCO agents (the first being your brother), the game starts out with a fairly basic premise of ‘Terrorists’ are doing bad things and you must stop them.  From there it takes turn into crazy conspiracy land with some really awesome betrayals and revelations, predictably the UNATCO group turns out to be a bunch of bad guys but (and I believe this may be a first for the genre) there are numerous conflicting groups trying to take control of the situation and your choices about who you help, who you kill and who you leave alive shapes the story the game follows.

Along the way you earn skill points for completing objectives that can be spent to upgrade various skills (allowing you to customise your skillset for your approach) and Augmentation Canisters which allow you to choose how your nanotech upgrades.  The combination of these two things gives huge flexibility in how you approach the game.

Why this game?
Easy, this was the first game I’d played that really did something new, the setting was (and remains) awesomely detailed, you had a feeling of really interacting with the world and of your choices having a huge effect.  The skill trees and nanotech as well as the huge choice of lethal and non-lethal weapons gives you a variety of approaches.

X-Wing & Tie Fighter
(
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars:_X-Wing_-_Space_Combat_Simulator & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TIE_Fighter_(video_game))

X-Wing was published in 1993 & Tie Fighter the next year in 1994, both of these games were (in my opinion) the start of the golden age of Star Wars games and I played them avidly.  This was back when Joysticks were a must have PC Accessory and space combat simulators were a genre people still produced games for.  The premise is simple in both games, you are a fighter pilot for the Rebel Alliance/Galactic Empire and as such you are tasked with a number of missions from simple ‘Stay here, defend this’ to more involved convoy interdiction, patrol and base assault objectives.  You are provided with a number of different ships and they are assigned to you depending on the mission type, scout/intercept missions tend towards A-Wings and Tie Interceptors, heavy attack Y-Wings and Tie Bombers etc.  Each game also had its ‘secret’ craft, the Rebels had the T-Wing and the Empire the Tie Advanced, TIE Defender & Missile Boat, each of which had distinct advantages.

The games also involved an element of tactics, you had wingmen you could command for example and you had to pay constant attention to the balance of power between your engines, shields, lasers and ion weapons.  Most craft also came equipped with a launcher weapon of some kind that you would use to rain death upon your foes from a great distance but with limited ammo.

Why these games?
I have many excellent memories of playing these games on my 486 PC with friends and on my own, they were atmospheric (helped by the inclusion of MIDI versions of the movie scores), had great plots and attention to detail in the story, you actually felt that you were fighting for something.  Technically these games were excellent examples of a genre that doesn’t really exist anymore, they were immensely playable and for the time the graphics were cutting edge stuff.

I-War
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I-War_(Independence_War))

This is not a conspiracy where Apple attempts to take over the world via global conflict (although I wouldn’t put it past them), the I in I-War refers to Independence.  This is another example of the Space Combat Simulator games of the 90’s (1997 to be exact) that do not seem to exist as a genre anymore, however it is very different to the previously discussed X-Wing & Tie Fighter games, they we fairly simple re-skinned fighter games with some extra space stuff thrown in (like shields), I-War on the other hand was a proper full on Space Combat Sim that implemented Newtonian physics and put you in command of a corvette scale craft rather than the traditional fighter.

You could move your PoV between 4 workstations allowing you to swap between Command, Weapons, Engineering & Navigation, each workstation allowed you to do specific things; for example the Weapons station gave you a 3D wireframe view of the ship with a PoV locked to your current target and allowed you to access the ripple fire fast fire mode.

The story was a fairly basic corporate overlords versus plucky rebels but was well enough executed and fun, the game used full CGI Cut Scenes for a lot of story advancement, which were (for their time) amazing.

Why this game?
I love space combat sim games and lament their loss greatly, I-War was (for me) the greatest example of the genre, the ship felt like a big ass space ship, the different flight modes and full Newtonian physics model added a huge amount of fun to the game.  Plus it was hugely satisfying to blow things up with your array of missile and particle cannon. 🙂

——————————————————–

That brings us to the end of this blog post, next post on this topic will cover off more of the RPG games I loved, expect to hear about Baldurs Gate, Icewind Dale, Planescape Tormet & Final Fantasy VII….

For anyone who may be interested there is a website at http://www.gog.com  who specialise in making old games available for a reasonable fee, they include all patches and if emulation is needed to run them on newer systems they include that as well.

 

Eclipse Phase – Part 1

Eclipse Phase

“An ‘eclipse phase’ is the period between when a cell is infected by a virus and when the virus appears within the cell and transforms it. During this period, the cell does not appear to be infected, but it is.”

That little quote is taken from the website of what is currently one of my favourite RPG Games, Eclipse Phase (http://http://eclipsephase.com/).

Recently I was pondering what my next Blog Entry should be, I don’t want to fill it with uninteresting crap or get preachy at people, so I think I’m going to take a moment to talk about this game, what I love about it and what we as a group are doing with it.

Part 1 – The Basics

Eclipse Phase is a Sci Fi roleplaying game which sits firmly in the transhumanist sci fi genre, human science is massively advanced in many ways, a person’s mind can be copied and moved from one body to another (allowing shifts between biological and synthetic bodies, called ‘Morphs’ in the games terminology), it can also be copied (allowing people to have multiple instances of themselves existing at the same time) and/or stripped down and turned into a ‘Fork’ of that person’s personality (a limited function copy that can carry out specific tasks).

Nanotechnology exists and while not perfect has allowed most of the solar system to move beyond a limited scarcity based economy and into a reputation based one based on an advanced form of barter.

Extremely limited space travel is available, there are in system craft but they tend to be ungainly and very single purpose, in system shuttles and cargo movers for the most part.  Most ‘travel’ though uses a system of farcasting where the person ego (their mind) is transmitted from one location in system to another and then loaded into a body.

Earth has been all but destroyed, a hard take-off singularity event occurred that caused a number of hyper-advanced AI’s called Titans wiped out 90% of humanity in a single short and brutal campaign, it’s the remnants of this conflict that make Earth a wasteland now, radiation, bio & nano weapons and other stranger stuff stalk the graveyard that Earth has become.

Towards the end of this conflict the Titans vanished and no-one knows where they went.

AI still exists, but as AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) rather than the recursively self-improving ‘Seed’ AI that led to the Titans, AGIs grow more slowly and are hardcoded to prevent the kind of hard take-off singularity that caused The Fall.

There are also uplifts, various animals who have been uplifted to a human scale of intelligence; these range from the classic apes and dolphins to giant whales that have been modified to swim the corona of the Sun itself.

There are Pandora Gates that open wormholes and lead to strange places (this is the only known way of travelling beyond the solar system) and sometimes close and open without any reason (they are a bit like weirder and less understood Stargates).

Into all of this expansion and chaos comes a covert group called ‘Firewall’ (which owes a lot to the ideas put forwards in Global Frequency), they are a self-organising group of experts and agents who take responsibility for investigating and counter ‘Existential Threats’.

Part 2 – The System & Character Gen

The game uses a very simple D100 system but is designed to be extremely flexible and accounts for all the various play options, various types of biological and synthetic morphs, uplifts, AGI, etc.

As for the character, there are 7 core stats:

  • Cognition (COG) is your aptitude for problem solving, logical analysis, and understanding. It also includes memory and recall.
  • Coordination (COO) is your skill at integrating the actions of different parts of your morph to produce smooth, successful movements. It includes manual dexterity, fine motor control, nimbleness, and balance.
  • Intuition (INT) is your skill at following your gut instincts and evaluating on the fly. It includes physical awareness, cleverness, and cunning.
  • Reflexes (REF) is your skill at acting quickly. This encompasses your reaction time, your gut-level response, and your ability to think fast.
  • Savvy (SAV) is your mental adaptability, social intuition, and proficiency for interacting with others. It includes social awareness and manipulation.
  • Somatics (SOM) is your skill at pushing your morph to the best of its physical ability, including the fundamental utilization of the morph’s strength, endurance, and sustained positioning and motion.
  • Willpower (WIL) is your skill for self-control, your ability to command your own destiny.

And a number of secondary ones calculated from these.  The basic system is Stat+Skill roll equal to or under on D100, there are two mechanisms used here, in a standard test the further under the total you roll the better you do (similar to the Degrees of success that the Dark Heresy line uses) and then when you are engaged in an opposed test the idea is to get under you total but roll high.

The secondary stats cover things like your lucidity and mental resilience, this is important because mental trauma plays almost as much, if not more, a role than the physical stats.

These systems are really easy to pick up and because you’re dealing with a D100 based system adding modifiers is very simple.

Interestingly enough you get other modifiers from your Morph (the body you inhabit) but they are treated as equipment bonuses.

The actual skills list is fairly predictable with many of the basic scifi skills you’d expect and only a couple of odd naming choices, for example Fray encompasses unarmed attack and defence.  Buying skills is easy, they are 1 character point for 1 skill point up to a skill total of 60 (the aptitude level serves as the skill base) so for example if you have a stat of 10 and want a skill of 30 that will cost you 20 points.  To then go over 60 you have to spend 2 cp for each skill point.  You can however buy specialisations to boost a specific area of a skill.

There are some nice touches in the EP skill system, you are required, for example, to spend a certain minimum amount of skill point of knowledge and interest skills, this ensures that every character has hobbies, random areas of knowledge and/or multiple languages.

All of your character generation is done from a single pool of points, with that pool you buy your skills, aptitudes (stats), starting morph, additional reputation and other gear.  You start with 1000 points, of which 400 must be spent on what are called Active Skills & 300 must be spent on Knowledge Skills, that leaves you with 300 to play with, which doesn’t sound like much but in general is plenty.

Once you’ve got your origin (Human, uplift or AGI), Faction, aptitudes & skills sorted you buy your starting Morph and here you have to make the first of a number of decisions that resonate with the whole EP ethos.

Do you choose Synthetic, Biomorph or Pod (Assembly line bodies created cheaply using a fusion of bio & synth technologies), there are advantages and disadvantages to each.  For example Synths are stronger and more resilient, they are also available in a number of different forms and for a variety of functions but they are not good at interaction skills (they are penalised due to poor body language and lack of other queues), Biomorphs on the don’t suffer those penalties but are squishy, even with mods and gene-fixing they are more likely to suffer damage from environmental sources than synths, finally Pods are a halfway house and offer some of the advantages of both side but they are limited in that they are often produced for specific things (she’s your basic pleasure model).

Then you go nuts on the equipment.  There are drugs, implants, weapons, armour & tech galore, some systems are only available for biomorphs, some for synthmorphs, but they are generally quite balanced.  Same goes for weapons, the various weapons are nicely designed to look good and have different advantages and disadvantages that generally balance them out, so there is no clear ‘Buy this gun or you’re a moron’ situation.

In summation though Eclipse Phase is the single best written and best supported Sci Fi game in existence at the moment, their fan engagement and production schedules are brilliant and the fact that the PDF versions of the books are given away under an open source licence shows that different business models do have the legs to make in the market.

The sheer amount of cool stuff in EP is just beyond belief and the easiest way to demonstrate this is to show you the character generation process.  So keep your eyes peeled for my next update where we will generate an EP character.