Category Archives: AGFV

10 Forward: DS9 – The Fallen (Video Game)

As a life-long Star Trek fan, there’s a lot to celebrate this year: a new movie, a new TV series, and the franchise’s 50th anniversary. For my own small contribution to the festivities I’ve decided to do a series of posts (one every week or two), detailing little-known corners of the franchise’s licensed (and fan-made) works. This week I’ll be covering the Deep Space Nine PC video game – The Fallen:

FallenTitle

Plot: In the last days of the Cardassian occupation of Bajor, a scientist named Terrel attempted to unlock the secrets of an orb of the Pah-wraiths, only to be forced to abandon the project when the orb became unstable. Six years later her secret lab is discovered aboard DS9 and forces within the Dominion, Cardassia, and the Cult of the Pah-Wraiths all seek to gather the three orbs of the Pah-Wraiths for use as a weapon, or to create a new wormhole. Playing as Sisko, Worf, and Kira, the player must find the missing orbs, and stop the forces trying to control the Pah-Wraiths before it’s too late.

Pros:

  • Well-versed in DS9 lore. The game itself takes place toward the end of the 6th season, but contains many references to episodes throughout the series including the mining operation on Jerrado (“Progress”), Kira assuming a Cardassian appearance (“Second Skin”), secret areas and defenses from the Cardassian control of the station (“Civil Defense”), the telekenetic abilities of the Vorta (“The Jem’Hadar”), and Dominion prison camps (“By Inferno’s Light”). The game also foreshadows the later events of the series including the final confrontation with the Pah-Wraiths, Dukat being possessed, and the Pah-Wraith cult.
  • The game is re-playable through each of the three main characters: Sisko, Worf and Kira. The storylines run in parallel but feature different levels and gameplay for each.
  • One mission involves exploring a crashed Miranda class starship. The level design for this sequence is excellent, climbing through a hostile jungle to see your first glimpse of the ship, fighting Jem’Hadar on the outer hull, then diving inside and having to work your way through submerged sections to a hidden lab.

FallenUlysses

  • Your default weapon is useful throughout the game and is good for almost all light combat encounters. This is good since the heavier weapons may not always have plentiful ammo.
  • Terry Farrell reprises her role as Jadzia Dax for the only time after her character’s death at the end of the 6th season.
  • The game uses a beta build of the Unreal Tournament engine, one of the first game engines to feature truly expansive environments. Both the Ulysses mission and the reveal of a buried Pah-Wraith temple move from tight confined spaces to expansive open levels. This engine was in a sweet spot for games of the era. Next generation engines would feature better graphics, but the level design was much smaller and featured more loading (see Deus Ex vs. Deus Ex: Invisible War). Even with its old and outdated graphics, the level design is on par with the best games of today. You can look out the window of Sisko’s office or the Promenade and see the rest of the station.
  • A mod for the game (titled Convergence) was created by one of the level designers for the original game, and includes another twenty or so levels of gameplay (on top of the 24 base levels). A lot of enjoyment for a shooter.
  • The music is atmospheric and chilling, and in MP3 format easily accessible in the game’s install directory. More than 90 minutes of DS9 game music.

Cons:

  • Avery Brooks and Colm Meaney were unavailable to provide the voices of Sisko and O’Brien. The Sisko performance is okay, but O’Brien is pretty terrible.
  • An early mission features an enemy that you need to scan with your tricorder before being able to shoot them. This can be a bit of a barrier to entry for someone just getting used to the game’s controls.

FallenCombat

  • The default auto-targeting doesn’t always work well. It removes options for destroying explosive containers to kill enemies by always targeting the combatants.
  • The story can feel disjointed and incomplete until you play through all three characters. Some missions, like the Ulysses aren’t explained well initially until you read through tactical briefings, and watch later cut-scenes.
  • Some people criticized the lack of multi-player, which would have been cool in a few places. For me the game doesn’t suffer without it.
  • The game isn’t easy to run on a modern system, though I was able to get it running pretty quickly by installing a program called nGlide. I’m re-playing on my ASUS Windows 8.1 machine with no problems so far.

Bottom-line: The game would be a reasonably good third-person shooter without the Star Trek trappings. Weapon balancing is pretty good, and requires a more considered and tactical approach. The level design is epic in feel, and there are lots of things for the DS9 fan to enjoy, including walking into Quark’s bar, talking conspiracy with Garak, and walking on the hull of a crashed ship (seriously, that is still cool 15 years after the first time I played it). The plot would have fit well as two-part episode of the show (and is partially based on the Millennium series of DS9 novels). Definitely the best DS9 game made for the PC and still fun today.

FallenOps

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AGFV: Starfleet Academy – Chekov’s Lost Missions (GOG)

If you’re an avid Star Trek gamer like me, you were thrilled to learn last Thursday that GOG (Good Old Games) has started releasing classic titles from Interplay’s line of Star Trek games including 25th Anniversary, Judgment Rites and Starfleet Academy. Hopefully this is just the start of many great titles to come.

Fans of Starfleet Academy will notice that the expansion pack, Chekov’s Lost Missions, was not included in the initial GOG release. Hopefully GOG will update this some time in the future, but in the meantime I’ve got a procedure for those of you with a retail copy of the XP to add it to your GOG installation.

Step One: Install Starfleet Academy using the GOG installer (I haven’t tried this with Galaxy, but you may be better off with the stand-alone).

chekov001

Step Two: Rename the game folder. By default the game will install to C:\GOG Games\Star Trek – Starfleet Academy. Rename this to something else like C:\GOG Games\Star Trek – Starfleet Academy GOG. Do this after you’ve installed the game, don’t change the install directory.

chekov002

Step Three: Insert the Chekov CD. Don’t run the installer yet, we’ve got some files to copy.

Step Four: Copy the the “m” video folders from the movies sub-folder on the Chekov disk to the movies sub-folder in your GOG installation.

chekov003

These should be m03, m04, m10, m11, m24, m25 and m27. Don’t copy g00.

Step Five: In your GOG installation rename cdlist.lst to cdlist.lst.old. Rename movies.lst to movie.lst.old. Copy cdlist.lst and movies.lst from the setup folder on the Chekov disk to the movies folder in your GOG installation. You can overwrite these files, but it’s a good idea to back them up by renaming them in case something goes wrong.

chekov003a

Step Six: Copy the contents of the sounds sub-folder on the Chekov disk to your GOG installation’s sounds sub-folder. Again this will be m03, m04, m10, m11, m24, m25 and m27.

chekov004

Step Seven: Right-click on the Chekov install executable (probably setup.exe). Click Properties, then the Compatibility tab. Run in Windows 98 / Windows Me mode, and Run as Administrator.

chekov005

Step Eight: Run the Chekov install. It should detect the original installation folder, and copy the files to that location, not your renamed folder. The big thing we need is the data file.

Step Nine: Rename the Chekov folder (maybe append Chekov to the folder name), and rename the GOG installation back to the original folder name.

Step Ten: Rename data.dat in your GOG installation to data.dat.old. Copy the data.dat from the Chekov install folder into your GOG install folder. No other files should be necessary. Do not overwrite the EXE files.

chekov006

Run Starfleet Academy and you should see the Chekov missions in your missions tab. These don’t intersperse with the narrative as far as I know but you should be able to play them independently. Let me know if this works for you and feel free to send any questions.

UPDATE: Some of you are reporting getting an “Insert CD 1” message when you try to start the main campaign. The reason for this is that the sfa.cfg file has been modified to look for the movies on the CD instead of on your hard drive. For the GOG installation to look for the files on your hard drive your sfa.cfg file needs to look like this:

moviePath=.
voicePath=.

If your file is different, restore these paths, save the .cfg file, and your game should work. (Those are periods if it’s a little hard to tell).

UPDATE 2: GOG Galaxy replaces the data.dat and movie and sound lists back to the original if auto-updates are turned on. To keep Chekov’s missions, disable auto-update in GOG Galaxy by clicking More–>Configure and Disable.

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Star Wars Games Giveaway (FINISHED)

UPDATE 2/8: Thanks to everyone for their interest. I gave away keys to Penelope and Punci. Thanks for writing in! I may do another of these in a couple of weeks so watch this space.

———————————–

Original Post Follows

Good afternoon everyone, hope you are having a pleasant day of unusual warmth. I’m sitting by a window in my local Panera, sipping on hazelnut coffee and working on Chapter 3 of The Sky Below, and hoping to be able to bang out 1250 more words in the next two hours.

In the meantime I’ve got something of a random treat for you guys. As you might have guessed, I’m a bit of a gamer, and with all these Humble Bundles, Steam Sales, GOG sales, and dollar acquisitions at Half Price Books, sometimes I get duplicates.

Rather than let these languish unused in my Humble Bundle account, I thought it’d be nice to give some of them away to someone who might actually play them. So from time to time I might do a special bonus post with a couple of keys for a game you all might like.

So here’s the deal. I’ve got one Steam key for Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic and one for  it’s sequel. If you want one or both of these keys send me an e-mail to bentrubewriter@gmail.com (you can use the contact form on this blog). I’ll give these out on a first come, first served basis. I’m using Humble Bundle’s gifting process so I know which keys I’ve given away, so you may need to create a Humble Bundle account (and if you haven’t you really should since that’s where I’ve been getting all these cool games, books, comic books and the like).

May the force be with you all.

PS. I’ll update this post when I’ve given away any keys.

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Review: A Mind Forever Voyaging

If you been reading this blog for more than few weeks or so, you probably know of my obsession for older computer games of the 80’s and 90’s. I’ve long looked at computer games as the perfect synthesis of my two main passions, writing and programming, and if I was more of an artist I probably would be trying to write my own indie games now.

A_Mind_Forever_Voyaging_Cover_FinalBut in the meantime I love reading about them, and for any of you who’ve been curious about why I love these games so much, you’ll be in for a treat with Dylan Holmes’ A Mind Forever Voyaging. Holmes takes an academic approach to gaming, examining both the ludic (play mechanics) of games and their narrative thrust (be it through text, cut scenes, actions of the player, etc.). But this is not a dry book. Holmes has explored every nook and cranny of these games and at times the book is as much his personal narrative of enjoyment as it is analysis.

While some might quibble with a couple of his choices (I’m not sure why we needed two Metal Gear Solids despite the shifts in tone), most of the games chosen are games I’ve played and loved. Each is an advance both in the way narrative stories are told, and in the way the player interacts with that story.

Holmes obviously loves these old games, and doesn’t automatically dismiss them because of poor graphics. But he does examine the ways in which these games succeed and fail at presenting moral choices (as in Ultima IV) apply cinematic techniques and a variety of game play (Final Fantasy VII and The Secret of Monkey Island) and the ways in which emergent game play goes beyond the expectations of the original programmers (Deus Ex).

Holmes takes a balanced approach toward games and treats them as a distinct medium. Often game analysis has either focused on the narrative elements alone (which can be lacking especially in sprawling epics like Final Fantasy VII or Shenmue) or only on gameplay (ludic) elements. While certain games definitely focus more on one than the other (the recent Unrest is almost entirely narrative driven, and games like the original Super Mario Bros. are largely ludic in their experience), the best games make good use of both techniques.

As with many video game books, Holmes is a bit of evangelist for treating games more seriously as a medium. Even in a society where games are played by people in their thirties or older, and where they make more money than some movies and books, they are still dismissed as something childish. And Holmes also addresses some of the ongoing challenges of technical requirements, and the ephemeral nature of games as compared to other media.

A movie from ten years ago can feel just as fresh (sometimes even more so if the filmmaker was particularly prescient about the future), but video games can age badly. I’d argue that anything made after about 2003 will still look good to a modern audience, though Holmes would contend this was actually a pretty fallow period for video game story telling (something I would tend to agree with given the richness of the previous decade). This makes writing sequels or ongoing series difficult, and why long running series like Final Fantasy will often reboot their narrative with each installment, keeping the same flavor of story, but not requiring experience with the previous game.

Ultimately I think this book has something to offer for both fans of games, and those curious about some of these great games they heard about growing up. While it might not convince those who dismiss games outright, Holmes does make a good case for the medium and its continued growth (and some of his own hope for the future).

You can buy this book (and others) as part of the Video Game Bundle V (on Story Bundle) for the next week or so. For $3 you get this book and three others, or for $12 you can get all eight books. I’m reading the Super Mario Bros. 2 book now and would recommend it as well.

And if you want to play any of the games Holmes writes about, fortunately they are even easier to get ahold of than they were when Holmes wrote the book a few years ago. Planetfall (as part of the Zork Bundle), Deus Ex, Ultima IV are all available on GOG (Ultima IV is free). Half Life, The Secret of Monkey Island (Special Edition) and Final Fantasy VII are available on Steam. The original Dear Esther is available on ModDB and the remake is available on Stream. Facade is available for free download here.

The Metal Gear Solids are a little harder to get a hold of and require original media (but used PS2 are still pretty easy to find to play them on). Heavy Rain is modern and should play on the PS3 or 4 and should be able to be easily found used. The original System Shock is a little more tricky (though I found my untouched copy for $1 at Half Price Books so you never know). The portable version Holmes suggests does work, though personally I find the experience is actually better from the original media. I’m really not sure about Shenmue though that might be one that is better to read about than play.

As for some of the additional gaming he mentions, Myst, Another World, Fallout, Thief, The Longest Journey, Planescape Torment, Baldur’s Gate II and Grim Fandango (next week) are available on GOG (I own all of these and like them all). Final Fantasy VIII and Half-Life 2 are on Steam.

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Why you should spend more time on the Internet’s library

Internet_Archive_logo_and_wordmarkI’ve used the Internet Archive for years. It’s where I discovered Over The Rhine, John Holowach and Tryad, Two Zombies Later and a ridiculous amount of concerts and community artists.

It’s a great resource for old books too, be it public domain works from Project Gutenberg or LibriVox recordings of The Lost World.

It’s also where I discovered a lot of great machinima including an old Star Wars classic “A Great and Majestic Empire”. Do yourself a favor and at least watch episodes 14 and 15 (though sadly this series doesn’t have much of a proper end, but it’s still amusing to have British, Irish and Scottish accents in storm troopers).

And if you’ve never played, or even seen, LucasArt’s classic Grim Fandango, there’s a full playthrough here.

The point is there’s a lot of cool stuff*, for geeks of all sorts.

And it just got even better.

If you’ve been a long time reader of the blog, you probably know one of my hobbies is getting old games to work on modern systems with the help of tools like DosBox and ScummVM. Till now if you heard about a cool old game you’d like to try you either had to download a copy of a game from an abandonware site, or buy a copy from GOG or a used store. But the Internet Archive has struck again, releasing several thousand old DOS games that you can play right in your browser. Remember Doom or Commander Keen? Well now you can indulge your nostalgia. For the moment you can’t save your game, but you can at least get a feel for how we gamed in the 80’s and 90’s (and how some of us still do). You can browse the whole library here, but here are a couple of titles you should check out now.

Note: What’s in the collection may fluctuate. I saw Sierra’s Quest games in the collection earlier this week, but they now appear to have been removed. Probably some of this is going to be subject to copyright.

Lost Interplay Titles, particularly Wasteland (the predecessor to Fallout) and Star Trek 25th Anniversary. Also a video game version of William Gibson’s Neuromancer.

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The aforementioned Commander Keen, particularly episode 5.

A whole treasure trove of Carmen Sandiego games (got you singing the theme right?). I played the deluxe Where in the World on my first computer.

Some old Lucasarts favorites Zac McKracken and Maniac Mansion.

And thousands more.

As it turns out the Internet Archive has been awesome in this department for a while. In my searching for games in the Archive I stumbled upon another collection of IBM PC CD-ROM’s from the 90’s. Not a particularly huge collection but it does include my favorite Star Trek Adventure Game, the third chapter of the Monkey Island series and something that may Shock you.

Note: All of these materials are provided for academic and scholarly purposes, so if you’re going to play System Shock, write a paper (or a book) about it 🙂 I don’t have to write one since I have an original sitting in my personal archive but I might for some of this other stuff 😉

Oh and there’s one other thing you can find on the Internet Archive, me. Turns out they’re a great place to host eBook content that I want to give away for free, but retain some Creative Commons licensing and have the site not cost me anything. Starting this time next week, new chapters of the serial novella will appear on the archive. In the meantime, I put up an old story from the first year of this blog in eBook formats for your enjoyment.

If you haven’t checked out the archive at all, just spend a half an hour browsing. I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll like and would never have heard of otherwise.

*Oooh ooh and I almost forgot to mention old Computer Chronicles videos. Want to know what the 80’s and 90’s thought the future of computing was going to be? Check it out here.

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Trube on Tech: WordPress eBooks and Star Trek Games

This week I got a couple of questions on some older posts asking for a little tech assistance. Rather than reply in the comments, I thought a special post would best serve to answer their questions, or those of anyone else in the future:

ennoundinga asks on Converting Your WordPress Blog to an eBook (Part 2)  : In my Blog export I would like to grab the comments also. Do you think there is a chance to extend the XSL transformation to evaluate the comments?

For my solution I wanted to do two things:

  • Add a “Comments” header if comments existed, and hide it if there are none
  • Format comments with the comment author and comment content

Testing for the existence of comment elements can be accomplished with an xsl:if test:

<xsl:if test="./wp:comment[1]">
  <h2><b>Comments:</b></h2>
</xsl:if>

The xpath statement “./wp:comment[1]” looks for the first comment element that is a child of the current post. If one is found the “Comments” header is printed. If not the parser moves on to the next post.

If comments are present the following code will format them into our working HTML:

<xsl:for-each select="wp:comment">
  <b>
  <xsl:for-each select="wp:comment_author">
    <xsl:call-template name="print-paras"/>
  </xsl:for-each>
  </b>
  <em>
  <xsl:for-each select="wp:comment_content">
    <xsl:call-template name="print-paras"/>
  </xsl:for-each>
  </em>
</xsl:for-each>

Both the comment content and author name are stored in CDATA statements and need to be processed by our print-paras template. This code will format the comment like this:

Name of Commenter

What the commenter said in all its glorious detail.

I’ve uploaded an update to the XSL template here (again note since WordPress has filename restrictions the extension has been renamed .xls).

Next question, I’m on a rampage!

WZ writes on AGFV: 20 years of Star Trek 25th AnniversaryBen: Followed your instructions carefully for Star Trek 25th using DBGL, but I only have the CD not floppies version. DBGL is fine. This game appears to not run because (per dos window) the game is looking for a CD to be in the CD drive. But need this to run from the hard disk instead because of physical disability makes it hard to always be putting cd’s in and out of the drive bay. Is the CD game version hardcoded to only run from CD bay? Please reply to my email… Thanks for your gaming blog, it’s great, I enjoyed all your gaming entries.

As it happens, I was reorganizing some of my DBGL files this week (no joke) and managed to create a solution to this very problem.

The 25th Anniversary Enhanced Edition CD-ROM is a little unusual. It’s an Enhanced CD, meaning it has both CD Audio content and CD data content. This means it can’t be fully ripped to an ISO image, since ISO’s only deal with CD data. But there are programs available that allow you to rip an enhanced CD, one such being CloneCD.

To rip an enhanced CD using CloneCD:

1) Open CloneCD and click Read to Image File:

CloneCD_001

2) CloneCD will analyze the disc in the drive, and ask you to select the type of CD. Many selections will work for our purposes, but for now select Game CD:

CloneCD_002

3) Browse to a folder and choose a name for your file (the program will actually create four different files so maybe store in a blank folder). Check the box next to Create “Cue-Sheet”:

CloneCD_003

4) Click OK to begin ripping the CD:

CloneCD_004

5) When you’re finished your folder will contain four files that will look something like this:

CloneCD_005

6) Create a folder in dbgl\dosroot called TREKCD (full path dbgl\dosroot\TREKCD). Copy the folder containing your ripped CD to this folder.

7) You’ll need to install the game from the CD first, then set DBGL to run it. Add a mount for the C drive to the TREKCD sub-folder. Add another mount for the D drive and select the Mount Image(s) radio button. Click Browse, browse to your CUE file and select it as the mount point.

DBGL_Mount

8) With the imgmount selected, click the Grab button next to the main then Browse to add files from the CD image to run at startup. Select INSTALL.EXE. Your run window should look like this:

DBGL_ReadyToInstall

9) Click OK, and run the file to run the install program. When the installation is finished copy the files it installed into your TREKCD folder. Your final directory should look something like this (you may not have the CFG or savegame files):

DBGL_Folder

10) Edit the Profile again and change the Main to STARTREK.EXE in the TREKCD folder, and Setup to SETUP.EXE (in the same folder). Your final setup should look like this:

DBL_PlaySetup

Note: You probably want to set your machine to 7500 cycles for optimum performance.

GameRunning

And you should be good to go. Let me know if you have any further questions.

 

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AGFV: The End of the Blackwell Legacy

Today’s the launch day for The Blackwell Epiphany, the fifth and final entry in the Blackwell indie adventure series.

In it you play as Rosangela Blackwell a spirit medium or “bestower of eternity” who helps guide lost spirits to the other side. Your partner is Joey Malone, a spook who’s been dead since the 1930s, and who has been tied to the women of your family since your grandmother got stuck with him.

BE-shot1

What this practically means is a lot of detective work. Spirits don’t know who they are or even accept that they are dead in some cases and it’s your job to find out and help them to accept it. In the process you uncover crimes both terrestrial and supernatural.

BE-shot3

Each game is only about 3-5 hours long so it’s better to think of them as episodes in a season long game like the work that Telltale is doing (even though the first entry in the series was released in 2006). This last game is supposed to be the longest yet, taking its creator (who presumably knew the solution to everything) 5 hours to complete.

The Blackwell Games are a bit of a throwback, point and click adventure style games using pixel art that was present in games of the early 90s. Think Sierra’s “Quest” titles or LucasArts later SCUMM games. The developer (a four person team out of New York), Wadjet Eye Games, has produced a long series of games using the Adventure Game Studio engine, all of which are quality titles well worth the playthrough. Particular favorites of mine are Resonance, Primordia and The Shivah (Wadjet Eye’s first real game).

I played through the extended demo available on GOG and Wadjet Eye’s website and can’t wait for the released version later today. Gameplay has definitely improved since some of the earlier entries in the series, Rosangela uses her phone to look up clues and contact people rather than always having to travel back to her apartment and use her computer. One of the first puzzles is how to get inside a locked building (a handy trope of the series which involves sending your ghost envoy Joey in first, even though he can’t touch anything). The solution’s not the most obvious from the clues given, but most of the rest of the puzzles in the demo are solvable with a little thinking, and judicious use of each character’s unique abilities (Joey can’t touch anything but he can blow light objects like paper in your direction).

BE-shot13b

What I love about these games is the engaging mystery, amusing character dynamic, and fun puzzles that aren’t as obtuse as some older adventure games. It’s the best of games I played as a kid with less of the frustrations. The voice acting in the series can be a little over-dramatic at times, but I think that’s part of the indie charm, and what other series let’s you hear bloopers of the voice actors recording their characters after you complete the game?

And let’s not forget the music (the soundtrack for this game is over an hour), a mix of jazzy and electronic tracks that really set the tone of a cold New York night.

I can’t wait to play the rest of this game. Why are souls being ripped in half and will Rosangela be driven to the brink of insanity like her relatives? Why is Joey bonded to their family and is there an achievement for drinking coffee 50 times?

Do yourself a favor and at least check out a demo of the first game on Wadjet Eye’s site if you’ve never played this series. Or alternatively you could watch a let’s play of the entire first game here.

~All images from Wadjet Eye games, trailer from GOG.com

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