Thursday, June 25, 2009

Polanie aka Victory aka Slavs (TopWare, 1996) Review

Greetings and welcome to another exciting episode of RUN STOP RESTORE!
Get ready to tickle your titties and crackle your teeth, because today, kids, we’re talking about SLAVS!

To begin this story, we have to start from the very beginning… of the… start… of… things. The Slavs are a bunch of people that nobody ever really liked, so they got pushed around, nobody told them about special discounts at the mall and were mostly not invited to birthday parties. So, during this one big drunken party, some wasted bastard got an idea to play hide and seek with everybody else, thus making that the largest hide and seek event in the history of mankind. This would later inspire the creation of the Guinness Book of Records.
Anyway, a big freakin’ hunk of people started searching for this bloody idiot and ended up migrating all around, like Western and Eastern Europe and the Balkans, being bullied by Germanic tribes, the Huns and so on. They got tired of searching after a millennia or so and decided to settle down.
Some of these guys, a part of the Western Slavic settled around present day Poland. Its people called Polanie, one acceptable translation of this word would be “people of the field”.

Which is exactly what this game is called.

Polanie aka Victory aka Slavs, is most probably the first Polish RTS ever made. It’s pretty much a simplified Warcraft clone, but not as good, I’d say. Although, this game is about Slavs, herding cows for milk, sacrificing them to pagan gods and killing each other with swords and magic. So it’s fuckin’ legendary.

It would be important to note that these developers (Reality Pump) made a sequel to Polanie called Polanie II or Once Upon a Knight or KnightShift and even announced a third installment which was cancelled in favor of shifting resources for making the RPG we now know as Two Worlds. But the most important thing here is these developers created the critically acclaimed RTS called Earth 2150. Pretty impressive.

Well, getting back to the game now.

Polanie follows the exploits of young Mirko as he returns to his land, finding his village burned, people slaughtered and cows sexually defiled. Not willing to wait for the justice of the almighty god Svantovit (or Svetovid) to set things right, he sets out on a vengeful mission of war and conquest. By the looks of things and info found on the web, it seems the game’s time frame is around VII century AD, when the Polish tribes were not yet united and before the rule of the Piast dynasty and duke Mieszko I. And this was all before the Slavs invented the technology of evolution, thus cooking up the primordial soup (iliti pasulj prebranac smućkan sa čorbom jajarušom sa puno svinjske masti i rakije prepečenice).

The game starts with a short intro movie showing an old obelisk-like statue forming the letter I in Polanie. This is actually a render of a real statue called the Zbruch Idol (named after the river it was found in). It is widely believed that this pillar idol is a depiction of the Slavic pagan god Svetovid, who is considered by some scholars as maybe the greatest Slavic deity. He is often depicted as having four heads thus looking at the whole world, holding a horn in one, and a sword or bow in the other hand, and riding a white horse. Also, there’s evidence of the existence of a great fortified temple dedicated to Svetovid at Cape Arkona, Rugen Island, present day Germany. There are records of a great statue of Svetovid that was toppled down in 1169. by the Danish invaders following the Christianization of the Slavic populace.
And yes, the idol looks like a wiener. I bet that’s the first thing you noticed, you filthy bastards.

As I’ve said, this game is a clone of Warcraft, although not as complex. There are, however some interesting details that are worth noting.
The gameplay is standard RTS but the resources management greatly limits the strategic and army development so it’s more concentrated on small squad attacks. The only resource in the game is milk… which you get from cows. No, really. The balance and the core mechanics of the game are somewhat broken because there are several cases where you can get stuck in the game, without getting a “game over” screen.

The first major nuisance is that every building you make has to be built by a peasant unit and he can only be created by a special building, not the town hall itself. But, the town hall creates almost all of the buildings (or should I say, lays the foundations) and not the peasant. You see the flaw in this? You almost always get a peasant or two at the start of a level but there’s always a valid chance that an enemy will kill them while you struggle to build your encampment, thus forcing you into a dead end.
The second problem is the milk. There’s a very small resource cap which limits your building speed drastically. The problem is that when the cap is full, you are pretty much wasting your milk (no sexual pun intended). Also, every building has a production cap of its own. There is in fact some invisible population cap but every building can produce only a very limited amount of units, no matter how crowded you are. For example, one Barn can create up to three Cows and then you have to build another Barn if you want more Cows. Alas, this counts for Barracks or any other building.

Thirdly, the AI in the game is as intelligent as a psychotic, suicidal cat. Your units can be extremely retarded and most of the time, they don’t know how to pass a narrow bridge or path. So a couple of them pass through, and the rest bounce back and start searching for another path. It’s like playing Lemmings… without the controls. The Cows are either clinically depressed or just being assholes as they frequently stay frozen while loading off the milk (again, no sexual pun intended) thus halting the resource production. All in all, the game forces you into constant micro-management of everything. And yes, the balance of units is perfected to a state of permanent brain damage. The main swordsmen, archers, spearmen and knights are ok and it can be a bit of fun to watch them all hack each other to death, but when you get your hero or magic units, you can pretty much win a whole level with just a couple of wizards using hit and run tactics. Although, those wizards are pretty fragile.

There are even instances where the enemy will come to your village, burn most of the buildings and kill off 90% of the units. But if you have just one guy hidden somewhere in a corner, even if he’s very near them, they might not notice him at all and will return to their base. Suffice to say, destroying a town hall doesn’t trigger a defeat. And ranged units can be the death of you if you’re not careful, as archers and wizards tend to shoot while pursuing enemies and frequently hit friendly units in front of them, instead of the fleeing bastards.

But, there are some cool details in this game too. At the start of a level, you have a map of early medieval Poland with different territories you can choose to attack, like in Command & Conquer.
Then, there’s the cool, but mostly annoying gimmick of cutting down trees. There is no lumber resource ingame and the forest is mostly used as an impenetrable wall. But there are certain trees that can be cut down although you have to be careful as the trees always fall to the left. So if you have a unit in that spot, it’ll get squished into a bloody puddle. I’ve had more fun with cutting down trees than playing the actual game. But, pretty much all of the trees can still be burnt with the wizard’s fire magic with the accompanying burnt tree sprites and some of them fall down from the fire and can even make a domino effect with the fall. I’d say it’s somewhat random but it’s a very nice detail.
Aaaand you can also kill bears.
Then there’s the whole cow + grass = milk, process. There is no limit to how much milk can be produced because, instead of gold mines and lumber, there’s grass which pretty much covers the whole map. Also, while eating, the Cows slowly barren the land, but you can see the grass growing back quickly enough. The only problem is that the cows tend to
drift away from your base in their conquest for food so this can really slow down your game.

Oh yeah, and the voice acting is just precious. It’s obvious that the developers themselves used their voices for the units, at least for the Polish version. And there are only one or two responses for the units, so it’s perfect for learning a few Polish words while the game eats your brain with “ak kažeš“. Dunno if the German version has different voices.
The later levels are downright broken and impossible to even start because there just isn’t any time to build an army while the enemy attacks with advanced units.

The missions are standard. Eliminate the enemy, escort missions and there are quite a few missions with no buildings and resource management, only a predetermined amount of units.
That’s where the healing shrines come into place. Almost every map has at least one sacred ground which can be recognized by some standing stones, wooden pillars etc. and your units get magically healed when standing in this area. The annoying thing is that the area of effect consists of only a block or two of land and you have to manually order every unit, one by one, to stand there and heal.

While looking at the files of the game, I noticed that the level file contains all of the levels in a very ASCII graphics fashion. Speaking plainly, you can use notepad to “draw” the map with letters and symbols. There’s even a legend at the bottom of the file explaining the various tiles and accompanying letters. It must’ve been a royal pain in the butt cheeks to make about 25 levels in this fashion. Unless they used some GUI which, again, writes the graphics tiles in a text format.

So I gotta admit that Polanie is a crappy game. But we have to take into account the fact that this is a pioneer project of a little team of people. And seeing as I’m a bit of a Slav myself, I find it very amusing and interesting to get to play with Slavic tribes in an RTS game. The game offers a quick, raw RTS fun for a few hours with more of a squad based warfare then building and improving a large army. This reminds me of a more recent Serbian RTS called Genesis Rising. It has a very similar principle of playing with a smaller squad of units and constant micro-management of their actions and powers. You could say it’s kinda like Cannon Fodder or Darwinia, only with a more RTS oriented gameplay.

Getting the game is not that troublesome these days, but it would be nice if some fans would be willing to completely translate the game, or, even better, to see if the developers themselves would like to do that.

Polanie aka Victory aka Slavs, boys and girls. An unpolished gem from Poland that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. Well, I’ll be off to slaughter a few baby cows… the family’s gotta eat, you know.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Havoc - Running the game on today's PCs

I may update this post with pictures or just write it a bit more coherently, but this will have to do for now. There are mainly two versions available on the web, the demo and the CD-rip. They both have pretty much the same directory structure and files, with the obvious exception of the demo being smaller and having a lot less levels.
Also, the CD-rip can be found as an ISO file, and this tutorial is based on using that version.

Disclaimer: As far as I've tried, I haven't been able to save a game while playing in Windows XP, for reasons mentioned in the following text. My best solution for now is VirtualPC with Windows 98 or 95 as a Guest OS and using WinThrottle in your Windows XP to slow down the CPU.

The game itself asks for the game CD in drive to be able to start. There is a Start.bat in the package that tries (and fails) to create a vritual drive A: (subst command) but the important thing is that it also copies the havoc.ini into C:\Windows.
As much as I understand, this copied havoc.ini in C:\Windows is the one that the game actually reads. But even if you change the path in that file to the game files on the HDD, the game still asks for a CD. So the trick is to put the path of the virtual drive where the ISO is mounted.

So the simple thing is this. You mount the ISO, start START.BAT, go to C:\Windows and edit the HAVOC.INI and put the correct path of the virtual drive. Then copy the whole contents of the CD to the HDD, preferably to the root of the HDD, something like C:\Havoc. Then start the game through the EXE file in the C:\HAVOC\EXE\ folder and the game should run.

However, there is another thing. I use this method to start the game in Windows XP. I have also installed Windows 98 in VirtualPC, and the situation there is a bit different. The method is the same, but here, the game creates a HAVOC.INI in C:\Windows and there is NO PATH INFORMATION in that INI file. However, the files you copy on the HDD have the havoc.ini and it seems this is the INI file the game detects. So you have to put the HDD path of the game in this INI file (but you still need the CD mounted anyway). This way the game detects a CD (ISO) in drive and then reads the HAVOC.INI from the game folder.

I find this confusing, don't get it myself (how it reads differently on different OS). But it works. Needless to say, there is no installer in this version (or any version I've encountered).

The main problem with the game is that it's too fast on modern computers. Also, playing it on Windows XP, I've encountered a problem with saving the game because the game reads the havoc.ini from C:\Windows which points to the CD, so the game tries to write the save game on CD and fails.

So, I ultimately played the game with a combination of VirtualPC and WinThrottle (a CPU slowdown program). I am perfectly able to save the game (the saves are in the HAVOC\EXE\ folder) and have managed to complete it.

I apologize for the long and somewhat confusing post but I wanted to make it as informative as possible so other people could play this game.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Havoc (Reality Bytes, 1995) Review

This is the transcript for the video review of the game Havoc by Reality Bytes. Some of the text was taken out of the video review to save time and make it short enough.

So, to start with my first, humble, “review”, I have chosen a rather obscure PC and Macintosh game called Havoc, released in 1995 by Reality Bytes. Cool name huh? By the way, that logo looks like a grue on acid.

Havoc is basically a somewhat upgraded clone of the old classic, Battlezone (and similar later titles). It’s a simple yet challenging first person driving/shooter with tons of weapons, upgrades, enemies, bosses and all things fuzzy. But before I continue with the actual game, I’d like to present another new section of this unbearable blurb, which I so befittingly entitle: BORING TIRESOME FACTS NOBODY CARES ABOUT BUT ME.

The earliest mention of Reality Bytes I’ve managed to dig out is connected to a somewhat unknown game for Mac called Sensory Overload. A Doom clone, with a hint of some sneaking action, set in a medical facility where the player is surrounded by “dead bodies and terrorists”. Alas, I haven’t been able to find more info on this game.
The next game is Havoc, the game I’m talking about right now... And, the last one to come out of this studio is Dark Vengeance, a third person hack & slash, set in a fantasy world where dark magic causes an eclipse and wakes up some grouchy dark elves that seem generally pissed off.

Now, Havoc was made under the guidance of the almighty Microsoft. Bless them. Why Microsoft, you may ask? Well, here be the deal, matey. Havoc was very much pushed alongside the release of the new and groundbreaking OS Microsoft liked to call Chicago (yes, yes, we all know it's Windows 95). MS took Reality Bytes under their wing (or up their ass, all the same really) and gave them new and amazing technological improvements in the form of the Game SDK interfaces of the new and almighty DirectX. It even had support for some VR headsets of the time. Havoc was advertised as one of the games that would really take advantage of Windows 95 and its graphics and networking technology.
That’s why Jason Robar and Alex St. John are also mentioned in the credits.
Mr. Robar worked in M$ since 1994 on relations with game developers, later making a virtual software for DARPA, founding some companies and now making family-oriented online entertainment software.
Alex St. John is pretty well known in the computers and gaming world, being one of the main people responsible for creating the DirectX technology and other stuff. He’s also the CEO and co-founder of WildTangent.

Now, about the people behind this studio:

David Chait is the co-founder of Reality Bytes alongside Jon Chait, which, I assume, is his brother. So, David Chait seems to have moved a bit further in the video games world. He is credited in several later games regarding conversion to MAC, then on two Tourque Engine games, as PRODUCER on Nascar Racing 2003 and an additional programmer for Lords of the Realm III in 2004.
Jason Davis is another name that seems to be closely attached to Reality Bytes and he has sustained a place in the gaming market through beta testing. Namely, working in Absolute Quality Inc, a beta testing and quality assurance company, apparently founded in 1996 by five members of the original MicroProse Software Inc. He’s mentioned in games like Heavy Gear II, Civilization: Call to Power and its sequel and the 2003 Hulk game.
Now this next guy, Bhavin Patel is also credited in some later games. He’s been mostly connected to art and graphics in projects such as the first Command & Conquer, Looking Glass’ Flight Unlimited II and Jane’s Combat Simulations: Attack Squadron and finally mentioned as art director for the Neverwinter Nights expansions.
You see? That’s what the industry does to you. They had their own company and then got scattered around, beta testing for other people and whatnot. C'est la vie, I guess.

So, finally, coming back to the game itself. Not that these unnecessary offtopic detours are boring you or anything. It’s just that I’m mostly out dry right now.

Havoc is set in a wastelandish, cyberpunk future surrounded by post apocalyptic vistas. Corporations wage wars for territorial domination and you are a mercenary, with a task to take over the Tyrakian Global conglomerate. You do this directly by driving one of the three vehicles at your disposal – the heavyweight HyperTank, the speedy yet fragile BattleCycle and the well balanced HoverCraft. I personally like the HoverCraft for its balance between maneuverability and armor but the heavily armored HyperTank might be the best bet for newcomers. So you take your seat in the futuristic pain machine and are presented with the HUD of the vehicle. The loading screen has always been so cool for me, looking at a gradual drawing out of a simplified wireframe model of the terrain. And WHABAM, the action starts.
The first thing you notice are your wastelandish surroundings. Then you immediately notice the very funky fade in filter which is supposed to represent a smooth, fog-like popup. A very very advanced effect, used even today, yeah. Take, for example, GTA4. You see that LOD popup? How about this Alpha-to-Coverage effect on the trees? Or the popup of closer objects? Damn straight. Havoc’s graphics are pretty much up to date, I’d say.

I’m pretty sure there’s a thin, subtle underlying layer of irony in all this… but I’ll let you figure it out by yourself.

The controls are pretty simple. Forward/reverse, turning, shooting and you can look upwards for airborne enemies. The cool thing is the targeting computer which shows a red triangle on screen and actually has a bit of autoaim on it. You can also use two smaller screens in the lower corners of the HUD. The leftmost can be switched to a rear view or target view while the other one shows the overhead map or radar of the level. The very movement speed depends on your choice of vehicle and, seeing as you are mostly driving around wastelands, you have to be careful not to drive too fast all the time. It’s very easy to hit a minor obstacle or higher ground and the worst thing is you loose armor by doing that.

Oh, and there are those spinning 3D points, very arcadeish. Also, I think the game uses the Arial font for all the text. Funny stuff. Me and my brother always used to laugh how the C64 had awesome fonts and cool shaded letters while the PC games mostly used the basic DOS font or other similar, generic fonts.

The game is really packed with tons of weapons and upgrades, as well as enemies. You got two or three upgrades of some of the basic weapons such as lasers, umbrellas, rockets, flame thrower and some more exotic stuff like mines, the mortar and the terrain deformer. That’s another cool feature. The terrain is partially destructible, along with accordingly changing textures. An explosion or a rocket blast bends the polygons a little and there’s the weapon that makes spikes come out of the ground as it rises the terrain. Pretty awesome for the time. There aren’t many games that do that today.
Remember Red Faction? Real holes in walls, wow.

Also, there are tons of buildings to blow up for points and the occasional item they spawn. The thing is, blowing up stuff can also hurt you. Not so much from the explosion than from the debris it creates. Every destroyed enemy or building blows up in chunks of metal which fall to the ground then hurting you on the way down and then you smash your keyboard. The debris tends to take just a small amount of armor, but this can become very tedious in the later levels where everything is packed with enemies and blows up all around you, so you can find yourself with just one precious line of armor. So, just a few hits of that debris can kill you.

So, you got this frantic shooting gameplay which is horrendously stretched to 30 levels. Yeah. Not kidding. That’s about as much levels as that game with a mushroom called TOAD and an elusive piece of fruit with a fetish for royal jewelry. You know, I spent most of my childhood playing the original Mario called The Great Gianna Sisters. Then those Nintendo bastards ripped it off (FACT).
Remember when action games had over 10 levels and 5 hours of gameplay? That was pretty much a standard in those days. Not that I’m voting for quantity over quality (which is probably the case here) but I’m not really hot for weekend brainkillers either, with no replay value whatsoever. Those are 30 levels with different environments like wastelands, ice-scapes, the Tyrakian colorful yet dark and hellish world which reminds me of the old ZX Spectrum games, nocturnal graphics with a lot of the base colors… mostly yellow though. Those also remind me of the later 3Dfx and Nintendo 64 graphics. Using lots of colors and gradients was considered very cool at the time. Just showing what the technology can do with new, exciting and colorful effects. Today’s games are mostly brown. Or blurred. Or both.

Although, in those 30, you got 6 boss battles and also 6 bonus levels where you run around, gathering crystals and Havoc letters for bonus points. I swear, these bonus levels are nerve wrecking and downright impossible to complete.

The enemies are somewhat diverse, even though they’re just a bit different models of the same enemies really. There are some nifty refreshments from the recycled hovercrafts like the metallic beasts in the Tyrak zone which, instead of the drive-by sound, give off that popular howling cheetah scream. Heavy tin cans modeled after snakes, spiders, a hedgehog (I presume) and a butterfly. You’ll also encounter some annoying ground and wall turrets, and even though they’re static, they got a pretty big detection radius.
Speaking of turrets… the objective of every level is to gather three keys guarded by special boss turrets, so the collected keys spawn a gate to the next level, and ultimately the boss of that world.

The bosses are the most interesting guys here. A large tank with EMP bombs that fuck up your targeting and radar systems, a very annoying teleporting flying bastard, or more exotic stuff like the living fire in Tyrak or fighting your doppelganger! It’s also fun that the boss weapons get unlocked after you beat them so there’s a chance they’ll pop up from a killed enemy later on.

Now, for me, the greatest part of this game is the music. The sounds are pretty shitty and can slowly eat your brains with repetition. But, the music is awesome. That’s another thing you don’t see (or hear) these days. We get a shitload of different titles every year, games made by hundreds of people, can buy a small island with the amount of money involved and most of these games have no memorable musical scores at all. It’s just full of the generic orchestral, intense crap that should create some sort of a quick emotion with the player, like feeling intense during a shootout or sad when a space marine teammate dies.
Did you feel sad when a teammate died in some newer game? Didn’t think so.
There are exceptions, but all of these are minor musical gems in a sea of mediocre themes.

You know, as far as I’m concerned, sound and music are key aspects of the gaming experience, and there’s not nearly enough work spent on composing as it is on graphics. I come from a history of Commodore 64 and a bit of NES gaming and these games were packed with really, really awesome songs. This isn’t just out of nostalgia here, I’m talking about musical scores that have defined those games, that time, and they sound amazing even today. Not to mention that these sounds are getting pretty mainstream today, which pisses me off, and I want to massacre those bastards for butchering the 8 bit sound, and feed them to the dogs… Not to mention those things.

The music is made in a kind of module format, with chunks of samples put together. Most of the game files are packed in an old Fast-File format (which I managed to unpack with the help of a very cool guy) so you can really hear the pattern samples one by one and see how the songs are actually put together.

I don’t really give a fuck if you don’t like techno, industrial or electronic music altogether, or if this sounds too repetitive to you. I love it. I’ve read that a lot of people also hate the System Shock 2 music, as it somehow ruins the scary atmosphere. Yeah right. System Shock 2 has one of the greatest game soundtracks to date. Anyway, this music is awesome.
You know, I’ve had a pretty hard time finding Havoc and haven’t played it in years, but the one thing that stuck to me was the music. Reminds me of Terminal Velocity. Hell, the whole games is like Terminal Velocity, only on land. Now THAT’S another cool game. So yeah, phreakin’ great music.

Now, this game was interesting for some other things as well. The game itself came in a pretty big and empty box with two discs inside. The thing is, Havoc used a networking technology that enables up to 16 players online and is cross platform ready as well. This means that Mac and PC players could play against one another in multiplayer deathmatch, which was pretty awesome for the time. The second disk, called the friend disk I think, was put there so you could give it to your friend and play with him online instantly.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Running this game on a modern PC is a major pain in the ass. The main issue is how the game handles the CPU cycles. In other words, it’s too freakin’ fast. The best solution I’ve come up with is running Windows 98 or 95 as a Guest OS in VirtualPC and using a CPU throttle software, like WinThrottle, to significantly slow down your CPU. You can try just using WinThrottle in Windows XP, Vista or whatever but I found that to be much more uncomfortable and skippy.

So there you go. I’d say Havoc is one of the more obscure titles I’ve run into while browsing the web. There are no video clips of the gameplay found anywhere… well, until now, that is. Also, getting a hold of the game is a feat by itself. I guess there are some advantages when living in an undeveloped country. There’s a guy selling an original copy of the game on eBay for a whooping 70$ but I have a feeling you can get a hold of it by some other means… who knows. ;)
Havoc by Reality Bytes, ladies and gentlemen. A cool shooter that deserves a bit more attention, if only for the music. That’s it for now folks. Hopefully, this video won’t be taken down in the first five minutes coz’ of the sheer amount of people and companies mentioned here. Fair use! FAIR USE!

The Memory of Old

Another visitor. Stay a while...

Well, here's a new and not very exciting personal blog about all things retro, nostalgic, as well as new and stuff overall interesting to me. So this place will be mostly here to help out with my rotten memory and share some views and ideas about things that, perhaps, aren't discussed all too often.

I'll also try to make some video reviews about things I'd like to point out the most (there will be a video review posted on a corresponding YouTube channel some time soon). Although, I'm not a native English speaker so I might sound a bit crappy. Try not to flame me for it too much now. I might even post some stuff in other languages if the topic is mostly concentrated on stuff most people of the world wouldn't understand at first but I'll probably translate all that in English anyway.

All in all, this blog won't be updated all that frequently I guess. But still, it's a nice way to write down some ideas and memories and cool news and finds somewhere from time to time.

Now, I'm pretty much interested in all kinds of things so don't get fooled with the name of this "project", it won't be just about oldschool gaming and such. I'm interested in talking about all kinds of things. Music, movies, games, different forms of art, cultural and mass behavioral differences between, say, the 80's and now, all kinds of nifty, boring details about people that worked on old games and movies, comparison of all kinds of trends etc.

So.. Stay a while. Staaaay foreveeer!

Monday, June 8, 2009