Disco Driscoll

Point and click, retro, music, meh...

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Football Manager - Acorn Electron

I make no excuses for indulging shamelessly in nostalgia. So, removing my sepia-tinted Exmortis specs and replacing them with the proverbial rose-tinted ones, I’m going to tell you about Football Manager on the Acorn Electron.

Kevin Toms is the guy who started the whole Football Manager series, which it should be said is nothing to do with the franchise currently on the market, which is basically a spin-off of the Championship Manager series, the name of which has been acquired by another company to produce a series of inferior games. Oh dear, it’s awfully complicated.

Football Manager was available on all the great 8-bit machines in the 80s, and varied from platform to platform, from Spectrum to Commodore. I owned an Acorn Electron, which was kind of like an inferior BBC Micro. It was the ST to the Micro’s Amiga, if you will.

In spite of the fact that the graphics were practically non-existent, the load times tortuous and the games relatively expensive, I loved my little Acorn, with its tiny memory and its tape-player which looked like something NASA would use to check for something or other on the surface of the moon.

I still recall the day I got Football Manager. It was my birthday, I think, and being a little kiddie I was up at the crack of dawn to open my presents. Excitedly loading the game up, I imagined how it would finally feel to put on the manager’s sheepskin coat, to bawl instructions to my lumpen centre back, to muse over whether to introduce catennacio… ok, maybe not. But I was pretty excited.

In essence, FM on the Electron involved choosing a team to manage and starting in Division 4 (which is now League Two) with a team of players with international names, but not international stats. One can only assume that the Shilton who played in goal for Rochdale had fallen on hard times, or else it was his younger, less talented brother. Once a week you’d be offered the chance to bid on a player to improve your team, and conversely you could try to flog one of your journeymen to interested parties once weekly.

Each of the 4 divisions within the game featured just 12 teams, and seasons consisted of home and aways against each, meaning that a season could be taken care of in an hour or so. Nowadays, it takes practically an hour to play 2 games on the new Football Manager.

The matches themselves contained no fancy isometric highlights or detailed text commentary- all you got was a green screen that started off with Rochdale 0 Bristol C 0 (or whatever), and periodically flashed up with GOAL!!!, upon which note another line of text would appear beneath the first: Rochdale 1 Bristol C 0.

There were 7 (I think) difficulty levels, although I rarely ventured far from the easiest level, as I rather liked winning. There were no European competitions of course, although there was an FA Cup tournament, which when won triggered a screen which flashed with green and pink and told you repeatedly, YOU’VE WON THE F.A. CUP!!! Epileptics up and down the land no doubt steered clear of winning too many of these trophies.

Football Manager Acorn Electron style can be relived through an emulator, and I generally find www.stairwaytohell.com covers all of my needs.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007


More horror, although this time on the ground, in Exmortis.

How many times have woken in a strange place, with a sore head and no idea of how you got where you are, wherever that is? Maybe once or twice? Well if you’re an avid point and clicker it probably happens to you more often than this.

So it is in Exmortis then that you find yourself amongst the trees with a thumping headache and nothing but woods in your peripheral vision. Woods and a big, ominous house. So you make your way to the house seeking refuge from the cold. Big mistake.

If you survive the opening credits of Exmortis without jumping and/or tipping the contents of whatever you have in your left-hand over yourself – note than playing one-handed with a cup of coffee in your non-playing hand is not advised unless you want 3rd degree burns – then you have nerves of steel. Congratulations, you’re going to need those.

Exmortis is first-person fare, with a click of the mouse button you interact, bringing up a line or two of text at the bottom of the screen by way of explanation. This simple system works perfectly well, and negotiating the various rooms and looking at objects is straight forward.

The story is told through various diaries and books that our protagonist comes across as he searches the abode, as he discovers that this is no ordinary haunted house. By reading these journals, he begins to get back some of the memory that he left in the woods, and it’s not adding up very pleasantly for him.

The game is quite short, and there’s no save facility, but in any case playing through in one sitting is a must as the terror and desperation builds to a crescendo. There aren't many puzzles to solve, and in fact the game is often more like an interactive story than a traditional point and click adventure.

The graphics are excellent throughout, photo-realistic, gloomy and intended to shock. The sepia-tinted photograph effect works well, as not only is our hero going into a house he is also going back in time, as the memories spring back into his addled brain.

The whispers of ghosts plague your every turn, always unnerving and the occasional scream does nothing for the shredded nerves. The voice acting is not great, and in the final scene this does spoil the effect slightly as a demonic voice rings out sounding like it’s reading off a page.

There are two possible endings, one with the obligatory little twist which works well. This game isn’t for kids or the easily shocked, but for everyone else it should be an unforgettable experience…

Thursday, 16 August 2007

7 Days a Skeptic

7 Days a Skeptic is the sequel to 5 Days a Stranger, insofar as it is the game that was produced directly after 5 Days. However, in the Chzo Mythos timeline, it is actually the final game of the 4-game series. Confused? You certainly will be.

7 Days takes place in the future, when humans have struck out into space to explore and colonise. The spaceship Mephistopheles is where our adventure takes place, as we assume the role of the ship’s shrink Dr Jonathan Somerset. All is well until the captain opts to bring in a container found floating in space. Container on-board, the carnage is duly unleashed, as one by one Dr. Somerset’s colleagues meet their demises in typically grisly sci-fi style.

The cause of the ensuing mayhem is the contents of the pandora’s box sitting in the cargo bay, all of which is linked to the events of 5 Days A Stranger. The storyline which was crafted in that first part is built upon nicely here, without ever overwhelming us with fable and backstory, something that the later episodes of the series would sadly succumb to.

The ship’s sterile atmosphere, the clinical lines of the bays and sleeping quarters, and the claustrophobic terror of being trapped millions of miles from home with a vengeful killer on board are evoked superbly, and one is often almost relishing discovering the next dead body or trail of blood. The music, as ever with Yahztee games, is excellent and genuinely unnerving in places.

I’m struggling to think of too many negatives; some of the violence can be a little gratuitous, with no real purpose to it other than to shock, but to criticise on this basis would be picky. A lot of modern day sci-fi movies contain a great deal of bloodletting (Event Horizon for one) and one cannot say for sure that if one was a murderous wraith that one wouldn’t carry out some of the atrocities contained in the game! After all, it’s what murderous wraiths tend to do…

The end of the game has a nice and unexpected little twist, which is developed upon in later instalments, and as usual with Yahtzee the writing and dialogue is excellent, witty and always suspenseful.

The puzzles are tough in places, but there’s nothing too difficult that a little lateral thinking can’t solve. Yahtzee followed-up 7 Days with Trilby’s Notes, which was pitched to take place between the events of 5 Days and 7 Days, and we’ll take a look at that game a little later. For now, if you have played 5 Days and enjoyed it, you should try your hand at 7 Days.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Noisy Mountain

Having sat through the credits for Noisy Mountain my expectations weren’t high. A slightly oddly-done opening sequence shows us how our protagonist ended up in hospital, from where his adventure begins.

Noisy Mountain was created by a German author, and is available in both German and English. But do not fear- the English translation is practically flawless, and the dialogue is generally more coherent than in most games created by English-speakers.

Our hero wakes up after a car crash to find himself in a deserted hospital. From there, he gradually begins to unravel the mystery of how he came to have the crash in the first place, who the other car belonged to, and where the hell everyone else is. Once you have gathered sufficient evidence from the hospital, you move to the next location and so on throughout the game.

Gameplay is linear, and once a new location appears on your map there is nothing left for you at the current location, and no point returning as no fresh clues will be revealed.

The game has a couple of little flaws, namely that the graphics aren’t great, even by AGS standard, and there are a lot of useless bits of scenery that aren’t used for anything- ok, that is not really a criticism, but it seems that a lot of art was created purely for show, and it would have been nice to have had a few extra puzzles out of all the scenery.

The main problem with the game is that ending comes too quickly, just as it seems that part of the mystery is being revealed. The tie-up at the end is a bit of a cop-out, and the ‘twist’ is somewhat cliched.

In spite of this, Noisy Mountain has a nicely eerie and dream-like ambience, mixed in with some mildly gruesome scenes at the hospital, that lend a sense of the character’s confusion and desperation to the gameplayer. The puzzles can be a little obscure, but they are not too tricksy and you should be able to get through the game without recourse to the walkthrough.

As the game was released in 2005 and there’s nothing on the horizon, one would have to surmise that there will be no follow-up to the game which is a shame, as there seemed to be a story in there worth telling.

Unfortunately, it seems that the author got bored telling it. Such is the way with point and click games that often a game with a decent premise or storyline (or both) will wind-up prematurely and without explaining what the hell all that was about. But more of that another time maybe.

You should try Noisy Mountain out, for it’s a strong game. But be prepared to be underwhelmed by the ending.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Jet Set Willy

Oh sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you! The 80s were a great time for computer games, and I’m not saying that with the rose-tinted specs on. Modern gaming is almost unrecognisable from that which paved the way for it in the early years; if any of you have an old Spectrum that you haven’t played since you were a nipper, then dig and it out and you’ll see what I mean.

On the surface it would appear that the gaming experience has improved: better graphics, more variety, heightened playability, no more tortuous load times, and the sound-effects, well… what can one say?

But no-one ever went broke trading on nostalgia. Witness the raft of Capcom and Midway compilations available for your next-gen console. Now all we’re waiting for is a DS or PSP compilation featuring Hungry Horace, Emlyn Hughes International Soccer and Jet Set Willy.

Ah yes, Jet Set Willy. You see, this is what is missing today to a certain extent: games that a focus group would never come up with; one man’s frankly loopy idea: a game where the main character, Willy, finds himself with a stonking beerheadache after a party, wants to get to bed but his housekeeper Maria won’t let him until he cleans up. Um, who’s the housekeeper? You need to put your foot down, Willy.

So, Willy sets off amongst the myriad rooms in his mansion collecting empty bottles so that Maria will grant him access to his bed. No problemo you might think, excpet that somehow a bunch of monsters have appeared from nowhere (we presume Willy doesn’t live amongst these fiends in his daily life), and they’re posing a problem or two. Are they a figment of his drink-addled brain? Well if they are they have the power to kill him, so that’s a pretty dangerous figment.

Using just three buttons – left, right and jump – you must traverse the gigantic mansion and visit each room (well, except for Entrance to Hades- if you visit that room then it’s game over!) to collect the flashing empties. You get 10 lives, but don’t get complacent, they almost certainly won’t be enough!

In the best traditions of 80s gaming, the collision detection is merciless, and some jumps have to be timed to the millisecond which is nerve-wracking stuff when you’re down to your final life. On my Acorn Electron version (!) there was no sound, which is a small mercy as the Spectrum version featured a dire rendition of If I Were A Rich Man on said machine’s primordial sound chip. Headache duly induced, you had no choice but to turn off sound altogether.

The rooms vary from the standard (Hallway, Swimming Pool) to the plain weird (Nomen Luni requires you to traverse the tail of an aeroplane which has crashed into the roof, and whoever heard of a man with a Chapel in his mansion!?), and Willy can occasionally leave the house altogether and collect the bottles and glasses from the Off License or even The Beach.

I’ve visited every room of this game, but I’ve never completed it. I guess I’ve never really made a concerted effort to do so. When I was younger, the challenge was always to find extra rooms and because there was no such resource as the internet, and because I didn’t buy the requisite computer game magazines, I had no idea how many rooms there were. Now that I know, the task is even more daunting, and frankly I’m too afraid to take it on!

You can relive the game online at http://www.mjwilson.demon.co.uk/jsw.html or you can play a multiplayer online version at http://jsw.ovine.net. Get to it!

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Ben Jordan : Paranormal Investigator

Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator is a series of games produced by Grundislav Games and available for free download. These games are your traditional point and click fare, and are definitely at the top-end of the freeware market in terms of professional style, storylines and presentation.

Our eponymous hero has so far starred in 5 point and click mysteries, with another 3 scheduled. Each game is set in a different location, and each contains all manner of seemingly inexplicable terrors which Ben is tasked with getting to the root of. He meets many sceptics and oddballs along the road, but he also uncovers a lot of things that were intended to remain buried. Each story is based (allegedly) upon a paranormal folk-tale, so for those of you in London I would advise you stay away from 50 Berkeley Square…

I’ve grouped the first 5 stories together as one, because there is an overriding story arc and since the first episode, Search for The Skunk Ape, various characters have been introduced, and some appear in more than one case.

Unquestionably, the series has improved with each episode, as we have grown to know Ben and his life-story piece by piece. The characters who come into the story later on and then in multiple episodes, such as Percival Jones and potential love interest Alice Wilkins, are gradually growing their own personalities and this helps us to connect with the stories and with Ben’s burgeoning career.

The puzzles are tricksy but logical, the graphics are neat without being spectacular (which is usually the mark of a worthwhile game, as it proves it’s not all about the graphics), and the sound affects are perfunctory.

The prospect of the sixth instalment has been tantalising devotees ever since the title, Scourge of The Sea People, was revealed many months ago. Hopefully we will see something this Autumn which will live up to expectations. In the meantime, if you haven't played through the first 5 instalments then now would be an excellent time to start.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007


An established member of the hierarchy, the Mystery Of Time And Space (MOTAS) came first to my attention on FHM’s 100 greatest games page. Surprising, to say the least, as said page is usually populated with games involving football, cricket or Arkanoid-clones where the chief aim is to remove blocks to reveal a picture of a scantily-clad lady. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, by the way.

Anyhoo, I digress. MOTAS is the brainchild of Jan Albartus, and sees us desperately trying to escape all manner of rooms, laboratories and space stations via the usual route of put-key-in-door or put-star-shaped-block-into-star-shaped-hole etc. When I originally played the game a few years ago, there were some 12 or 13 levels, but the game was unfinished. At the time, I was sceptical that any further levels would be written, but in fact a few extra levels sprung up 6 months ago to take the total up to 19.

These later levels begin to take the game away from its indoor environs and into the game’s outside world, wherever it may be. For me, the earlier levels are superior and the later levels seem tacked-on to a certain extent.

The graphics are not bad – think Commodore Amiga, which is ironic as one of the recurring themes in the earlier levels is a Commodore logo – and the intermittent sound adds atmosphere. Some of the puzzles are a little bizarre, but with persistence you should be able to solve them (a knowledge of how a knight moves at chess is handy). The English translation leaves something to be desired and does jar a little at time, but you should generally be able to get the gist.

As the game is played online, and not downloaded, there is a save game facility and also a forum where you can look for hints, tips and walkthroughs. Definitely worth a go, but don’t expect to be whizzing through- this is a game that’s going to test you for a while.