Theme Hospital: This Hospital is no Walk in the Park

Despite “Theme Park” being one of the first PC games that I owned, I somehow managed to avoid most of the other big Bullfrog titles. My first PC gaming incarnation was during the mid-90′ which coincided with the golden age of the great amphibian developer so how I managed to steer clear of their work is a mystery …. sure, it’s not one that’s going to sell many novels, but it’s a mystery nonetheless. For anyone who doesn’t remember the gaming world of 20+ years ago, Bullfrog were responsible for a string of PC gaming success stories, many of which were ported to the consoles of the time, but given that most of their catalogue involved a mouse interface to some extent it was pretty obvious which market they were aiming for. They were responsible for the aforementioned “Theme Park”, the mesmerising 3D landscapes of the “Magic Carpet” games, “Dungeon Keeper”, and of course “Theme Hospital”. That final title is one that I only really knew from the odd “go” at a friend’s house, but it came across as a quirky cartoonish, slightly bizarrely toned, hospital management game that at the time I wasn’t remotely interested in because it didn’t involve a fast hedgehog or blasting some kind of demonic aliens; looking back I had pretty terrible taste in games at that age. Continue reading “Theme Hospital: This Hospital is no Walk in the Park”

Men in Black Retrospective: I Put My Hands… On My Head…

The second half of the 90’s was alien territory; it came after dinosaurs ruled the cinema, but before pirates and zombies made a well deserved and ultimately overstayed return. It was a revival for extra terrestrials, who had last been big in the late 60’s and 70’s following the space race, thanks in no small part to the dramatically lit FBI duo Mulder & Scully and their stories of a confusing filing system. Right in the middle of this resurgence of interest fell Barry Sonnenfeld’s movie, Men in Black, which showed moviegoers a lighter side to the alien invasion with this witty and clever insight in to the fictitious agency charged with keeping their presence a secret. It’s quirky, funny, and about as 90’s as things get with Will Smith taking the leading role backed up by Tommy Lee Jones, and has some neat ideas along with special effects which were impressive at the time. If this were a movie blog, I could easily ramble about the film for pages, but I want to focus on that always tricky game tie-in. Continue reading “Men in Black Retrospective: I Put My Hands… On My Head…”

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis – STAAARRRSSSSS

Two things happened recently: I revealed how appealing I find rain in games, and the Later Levels Gameblast stream featured the HD Resident Evil Remake. The former reminded me how much I enjoyed the rainy section of Capcom’s Resident Evil 3 and the latter, whilst maybe not the best choice for sleep deprived brains, made me long for that classic brand of obtuse puzzle solving survival horror. With the gentle swirling of these two ideas in my mind I decided to revisit Resident Evil 3; it had been some years since I guided Jill Valentine’s “Last Escape” and I remember it being a good rounding out of the original trilogy before things went all “Resident Evil 4“.

… veteran readers of the blog will see this next bit coming, but it’s impossible for me to talk about Resident Evil without mentioning the second game, my personal undisputed favourite of the series. For those curiously looking at their calendars trying to work out how it took me so long to get to this point, I can reveal that before I replayed number three I decided to once again complete the second game… you know… for context… Continue reading “Resident Evil 3: Nemesis – STAAARRRSSSSS”

Bully: Bully for You Sir!

Bully is a game that deserves a gentle preamble for anyone not familiar with it, or the controversy that surrounded Rockstar games in the early 2000’s. Two years prior to Bully’s release, Rockstar bestowed upon the world GTA: San Andreas, another link in their lucrative GTA series served with lashings of violence, murder, and crime. Strangely however it wasn’t any of these nuanced facets that attracted the public’s attention, it was the “unintended” inclusion of an erotically charged polygon-ey mini-game in which the player could QTE their way through some awkward sexy-times. Rockstar had removed the mini-game prior to release but the modding community being what it was quickly found out that the code remained on the disc and just needed to be reactivated. Various moral advocacy groups erupted in outrage, politicians had a fresh pinata to beat with their anti-gaming stick, and Rockstar were forced to make some costly gestures to try and fix the damage. The whole thing smooshed together to become what we now know as the Hot Coffee Controversy. 

Having never played any GTA games aside from the original top-down PC release, I can’t comment on how detrimental to the moral fibre of the world this digital intimacy was, although I doubt it did more damage than the player’s illicit activities in the rest of the game.     

Two years later in 2006, Rockstar released “Bully”; a game with a similar sandbox structure to the GTA games set in the fictional boarding school, Bullworth Academy. Already on high alert from the previous controversy, and with Rockstar still squarely in their sights, the same groups immediately branded Bully as GTA set in a school with further objections raised from anti-bullying groups. The complaints rolled in before it was released leading to some UK high-street shops refusing to stock the game, more political debate, and Rockstar changing the game’s name to the less provocative “Canis Canem Edit” (Roughly translated to “Dog Eat Dog”) in the PAL regions. Continue reading “Bully: Bully for You Sir!”

Weird Retro Mumblings: Missed Consoles

Staring out at the vast sprawling gaming metropolis in front of us now there’s so much going on: the overpopulated Steam district buzzing with indie and shovelware; Sony & Microsoft towers, each continually building to be the tallest in the land; and the pleasant Switch district with its artisan shops and quirky antiques. It’s easy, in this metaphorical kingdom, to forget that things weren’t always … Continue reading Weird Retro Mumblings: Missed Consoles

Jurassic Park: Trespasser – Next Time It’ll Be Flawless

… You know that bit where John Hammond spoils the magic of the flea circus by telling Ellie that it was all motorised? Well, I’m not like John. This article contains spoilers about the bizarre & obscure PC title Jurassic Park: Trespasser, you have been warned… 

After the excitement of that first groundbreaking movie, the cinematic adaptation of Michael Crichton’s follow up “Jurassic Park: The Lost world” was a huge deal. I remember all the promotions and merchandise tie-ins alluding to the mysterious “Site B” – I’m pretty sure that even now, if you utter that short word coupled with a solitary letter most people (at least in my age range) would immediately think of dinosaurs. A year later in 1998 DreamWorks Interactive released “Jurassic Park: Trespasser” (actually just called “Trespasser”) to coincide with the home release of  the movie. Sadly, rushing a game tie-in out to meet with some other release schedule is, as I’ve mentioned before, often one of the big problems with such a title and Trespasser was no exception. It was buggy, had sections cut, and largely failed to live up to the ambitious intentions of the designers. Twenty years later I decided to give this notorious game a shot in my ongoing quest to find the best Jurassic Park game out there. Continue reading “Jurassic Park: Trespasser – Next Time It’ll Be Flawless”

There’s a Hole in the Sky, Through Which Things Can Fly – A Portal Retrospective

Shhhh… I have a confession to make and I’m pretty sure that I can trust you all, right? I got kinda starstruck the other day on Twitter, but it’s OK because I played it cool and I don’t think the person involved was any the wiser.

Now I’ve grabbed your attention I can reveal that the mystery person was the most excellent game designer, Kim Swift. Through the magic… or weirdness… of Twitter we shared a short exchange about successfully (or not in my case) driving in snow. Unfortunately, despite being strangely informative, that is not what I would ideally have liked to quiz Kim about. In that ideal world I would have asked her about her time heading up the team that developed Portal; her involvement in the Left4Dead games; why she left Valve; what she thought about Portal 2; and her hopes for the future. The whole incident left me thinking about Portal and its legacy. Even the story of Gabe Newall hiring Kim and her team after seeing their short title, ‘Narbacular Drop’, has a touch of mystery about it. Continue reading “There’s a Hole in the Sky, Through Which Things Can Fly – A Portal Retrospective”