Maniac Mansion: Brought to you by Pepsi-Cola

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1987’s Maniac Mansion. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Time looks like it’s running out for… Sally? Sandy? Susie? She hasn’t been on the screen very much, so you’ll forgive me for forgetting she exists and is the whole catalyst of this mansion-crawling adventure. The purple tentacle is making moves on her and the evil scientist is getting ready to do something to her, so I’m feeling pressured to win quickly.

The kids drain out the swimming pool to get at a key, which is not a good thing, as the pool was being used to cool nuclear reactor rods. Oh well, I’m sure this won’t have any conseq–

WHOOPS.

Reload!

In the next life, Bernard makes a break for it and uses the radio in Dr. Fred’s room to call the “Meteor Police.” Still have no idea what this whole story is about, but I guess there are good meteors and bad ones? In any case, the police say they’ll be on their way in five minutes. Awesome.

To help the police out, Razor takes the radioactive key from the bottom of the pool and opens up the “Seckrit Lab” that’s weirdly located in the dungeon.

The Meteor Police show up — huzzah — but instead of  taking care of the purple tentacle or Dr. Fred, he rushes into a back room to grab the previously unseen evil purple meteor and teleport away with it. But the game isn’t won yet!

Razor rushes into the secret lab, where a Pepsi product placement is hanging out, as is… Sully? Sophie? Spiffy? In any case, Dr. Fred tries to blow up the place, but Razor shuts down some machine that was mind-controlling him, making him good again.

And that’s it — the game is won, at least with this character combination. I have to say that while I do appreciate that Maniac Mansion offers different paths to victory and different playable characters, I wouldn’t ever want to play it again. It’s just not that good of a LucasArts game, classic status or no.

I mean, it does have an interesting mansion with all sorts of weirdly funny rooms, but there’s no narrative or even much in the way of character personalities. I still have no idea what the whole plot was about, just a general outline, but I think I’m not missing much.

So that’s Maniac Mansion in three quick sessions!

Great Game Tour Day 3: Magic Arena

Considering that I used to play Magic Online quite a lot and have a soft spot for both digital card games and this franchise, I felt I was pretty prime to at least appreciate the Hearthstone’d version of Magic the Gathering for today’s GGT excursion. It’s certainly been on my list for a while now, so I downloaded the PC edition to give it a go.

And… yeah, it’s Hearthstone. Of course that’s not a BAD thing — Hearthstone had a good presentation and an easy-to-understand design. Arena pretty much copies that, swapping in Magic cards and table design, but it’s still the same type of flashy card combat that is far more interesting than Magic Online ever was. There’s a whole lot of emphasis on special effects and arrows going every which way to explain card interactions and the like.

Other than a slower-than-expected presentation (the whole client feels sluggish to me, that’s the only way I can put it), Magic Arena gets top marks in its presentation. It looks and sounds good and has those same kind of meaty Hearthstone-like sound effects for hits. It’s been a good while since I last played a game of Magic the Gathering, but that all came back to me really quickly here.

I did like the tutorial, which started small and kept adding more cards and mechanics the further you go. MTG has so many keywords at this point that it’s hard to keep track of them all, but here we saw a lot of the staples like flying and haste. I loved seeing the art again — Magic’s art always stirred the imagination — but I have to admit that I think Hearthstone is far more colorful and full of personality.

And that’s what it comes down to, really. If I wanted to play this sort of game, I already have a beefy Hearthstone portfolio. For Magic Arena to pull me into its corner, it has to offer something better — and I don’t think it does. It offers the Magic brand, but the in-game store, the solo progression tracks, the slow way to grind out currency to buy new packs… that’s all the same.

It’s nice. It’s pretty. But my Magic days are more behind than in front of me, I fear, and I’m going to uninstall this after a couple hours with it. You’re fine, Magic Arena — you just weren’t anything special.

Battle Bards Episode 191: Digging up the past

Today’s episode of the Battle Bards was phoned in — phoned in with 2800-baud modems from the 1990s, that is! Steff, Syl, and Syp return to the early era of graphical MMOs to see what video game music existed in that time. From the bleeps to the bombastic, this show digs deep into the past to see what is waiting to be uncovered…

Episode 191 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Toxxulia Forest” from EverQuest, “Main Theme” from Asheron’s Call, and “Idiotic Ghost” from Lineage)
  • “The Streets of Furcadia” from Furcadia
  • “Corloth” from Meridian 59
  • “Main Theme” from AOL’s Neverwinter Nights
  • “The Dark Theme” from The 4th Coming
  • “Whispers” from Dark Eden
  • “Age of Heroes” from Dark Sun Online
  • “Ocllo” from Ultima Online
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes from Dorian
  • Jukebox picks: “Main Theme” from Ecco the Dolphin, “Forest of Secrets” from Ikenfell, and “Main Theme” from Treasure Planet
  • Outro (feat. “Tavern 1” from The Realm Online)

Great Game Tour Day 2: Space Haven

For my next leg on the Great Game Tour, I’m going to dive into the inspiration for this series — Space Haven. Here’s a title I was drooling over while it was in development, but when I finally got it and installed it, I never worked up the energy to launch it and figure it out. But considering that it’s been called “Rimworld in space,” I knew I should. So here we go!

So this is another one of those Rimworld/Dwarf Fortress colony simulators, only this one starts on an abandoned mining platform in space. The initial goal is to transform it into a spaceship and then start cruising around, looking for resources to survive. While I love Rimworld, that game had a steep learning curve, and I’m worried this might be the same.

Fortunately, there is a tutorial here, which I gratefully clung to while I poked around the different menus and tried to get a handle on the ecosystem that you’re supposed to make on this ship. I kind of figure that a YouTube video explanation or two might be in order. But hey, I have oxygen, power, and heat, so they’re not dying right away!

It’s not pretty, but at least basic facilities — like toilets! — are going in. This is kind of giving me an eye twitch with how messy and disorganized everything is. I wish you could start clean and lay out the ship room by room rather than slap stuff down and rearrange it (?) later.

Happily, there’s a very similar design going on here to Rimworld — if it ain’t broke, copy it like crazy! — and it’s more or less intuitive. I think the little crew are going out and mining the asteroids all by themselves, I’m just trying to make sure that their time here isn’t wholly miserable.

Also — and this is neither here nor there — it highly amuses me that they all stand in line to use the potty.

And I’m mining! Cutest mining pods *ever.* Not too keen on the visuals of the asteroid/resources. Kind of feels placeholder.

First impressions? Space Haven is a good-looking game that doesn’t really deviate that much from the Rimworld formula, toilets aside. I like the aesthetic a lot more than Rimworld’s flat design, but I was hoping that Space Haven would inject more personality into its pixelated characters. They sort of talk with symbols, but I never got the sense that they were people so much as automated work machines.

It’s definitely a title to come back to in the future, although not as high a priority as I might have hoped.

Great Game Tour Day 1: Diablo II Resurrected

Welcome to Bio Break’s Great Game Tour ’21! This is a personal challenge of a sort that I’m choosing to do to kick my butt out of a gaming rut that I’ve been in for the past couple of months. Like many of you, I’ve built up an extensive backlog of games in my various libraries that I’ve never touched — but now, they’re gonna get touched with a vengeance.

The idea of the Great Game Tour is that over the span of a month (30 days) I’m going to dip into a new game every day and spend at least an hour that day checking it out. It’s a total tourist approach, sampling various wares and taking notes of what titles I want to go back and play more in earnest later on. I’ll be pulling titles from my GOG, Steam, and Epic libraries that I’ve never played before and offering up my thoughts in a 30-part blog series. Probably also dip into a mobile backlog and some untouched MMOs as well.

However, I’m going to start with a Blizzard title, as I got into the Diablo II technical alpha and had some time to check out this renovated classic. It’s shiny and crisp and all that, and I’m sure it’ll really appeal to some people, but what I found was a return to a game that I hadn’t touched in well over a decade. It was visiting with an old friend once more and finding, as I often do with retro games, that delightful times can still be had.

What I really liked with Resurrected is that you can easily swap back and forth between the updated version and “legacy mode,” which is how Diablo II looked back in the day. I actually ended up liking the legacy mode better — I kid you not — because I felt like the pixel art had more color and personality than the bland-but-functional revamp. And either edition played pretty much identically, with that same fast-and-furious combat style that Diablo II perfected.

I wasn’t that thrilled with the skills or (unrespeccable) talent tree, as it made me miss Diablo III’s more vivacious options all the more. But it certainly would be very interesting to play through D2 from start to finish, as I never actually beat it back when I was in my 20s.

Sunday Serenade: SpaceCamp, Parry Gripp, and more!

Time for another Sunday morning dose of random songs that I’ve been listening to this past week! Welcome to Sunday Serenade — now let’s crank the jams up with… 

“SpaceCamp” from SpaceCamp — One of my favorite John Williams scores.

“Shiva” by Luke Bergs — TechnoSax is an acquired taste, I’ll admit.

“Good on You” by Alex Hobson and Talia Mar — A breezy summer song that sounds like it’s straight from the ’90s.

“No Time to Stress” By Embody — It’s a good chanty-type anthem with a silly core.

“Anxious” by Dennis Lloyd — Freaking out while listening to tropical house. It’s interesting.

“Dump Truck” by Parry Gripp — It should be illegal how catchy Parry Gripp’s songs are.

“Best of Me” by Efraim Leo — Great bouncy beat and a nice uplifting tone.

12 games that deliver the feeling of hiking through a world

As I said earlier this week, I’ve been slightly obsessed with this notion of hiking the Appalachian Trail. It’s always been one of those secret, quiet goals that I know I can’t do — at least not at this point in my life — but I love the idea of it. I like the thought of setting out to simply walk the land for a long way, seeing nature as it is, and achieving a very long-term goal.

So while books and YouTube videos on the subject help to sate this inner desire, I’ve also considered what games might fill that void. Most RPGs operate on hub-and-spoke questing systems where you’re never really that far away from “civilization,” nor do you go on massively long treks from point A to B through the wild. But are there games like this?

The very first that comes to mind is The Trail, a title that came out several years back that is simply a walking simulator that throws in some collection, questing, and crafting along the way. It’s got great music and a serene pace, although I’ve never been that much in love with how the fussy inventory works here.

Survival games are a good field from which to explore, although they don’t tend to emphasize a journey so much as just “roaming around until you get enough stuff not to die so you can go roam around in the next zone.” The Long Dark is probably the closest to an A to B journey through the wild that I’ve encountered. I did like it and would want to go back to it at some point for another shot.

Firewatch definitely gets a lot of the feel of being out in nature and being alone as you scuttle over and around the environment, although its journeys are almost always loops that lead right back to a starting place. But I loved the beginning when you hike into this remote outpost and then explore around it.

There’s a web-based Appalachian Trail game called Thru-Hiker’s Journey, but it’s more Oregon Trail than visuals and personal exploration and experience.

I posed this question to friends on Twitter and got a few additional responses, including Lord of the Rings Online, Valheim, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, Oregon Trail, Eidolon, Outward, Eastshade, and A Short Hike. What would you say?

Fallout 76: A new face, a new identity

Despite the general lack of time on my hands during this very busy month, I felt the urge to dip back into Fallout 76. It’s been on my to do list for a while, to start over and see how the level-scaling works from the ground up. It’s certainly been a while since I’ve been to Appalachia, but I miss it. Yeah, I know this game has problems up the wazoo, but I miss it.

And another part of the reason that I’ve been wanting to get back into it is that I’m jonesing for some nature crawling. Now that spring is in full bloom around here, we’ve been going out for hikes and bike rides and kayak trips, and I yearn for that exploratory feel in a game. Fallout 76 delivers that thanks to its wilder setting. And I’ve gotten a bit addicted to reading and watching stuff on the Appalachian Trail, which also ties in.

Anyway! Here’s my new character. I tried to give her a bit of a different look than the rest, kind of a sassy old school engineer, and I think it looks fine. She handles herself well, especially while punching Chinese bots.

But I’m in no hurry. I need to rebuild my stockpile, start in on questlines, get gear, build a base, and start checking off places on the map. Considering that they brought in a whole bunch of new content over the last half-year, I’ve got more to look forward to than before.

I’m thinking about maybe making her a melee fighter instead of my usual shooty style, just to try something new (and keep ammo weight down). I can always flip between options, of course.

It feels like Fallout 76 is finally filling out as the game it should’ve been in the first place — all except the much-needed social options like guilds and text chat that it still lacks. I might start looking around for a Discord guild or something to stave off the isolation.

Maniac Mansion: Art therapy

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1987’s Maniac Mansion. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

I have vague memories of early adventure games in my youth where the player would be given some strange house to explore. The allure was always in the “what will be behind the next door?” so you wanted to keep going. I get a lot of this feeling with Maniac Mansion’s rooms.

After all, this is a game where you’re given very little in the way of exposition or even — in contrast to most adventure games — descriptions. The characters can’t be told to look at things and give a better explanation, so the best you can hope for is that by bumping against stuff they might utter a short descriptive phrase. Or you can just take in the room and deduce your own explanation.

Such as it is with this bizarre art room… that also has a vat of purple slime in the corner? And some really bad drawings? I don’t know what’s going on here, but it looks like art class for kindergarteners.

Up on the third story, there’s a sentient green tentacle. Of course. And unlike the other inhabitants of this house, he doesn’t seem that hostile. Hungry, yes, but not hostile.

Up on the fourth floor, Dr. Fred’s room has this confusing wanted posted. Apparently a “slimy meteor” has been doing some hardcore violence around the place? Enough to warrant a poster from the authorities? This is so confusing…

Another cutscene, another bewildering interaction between the blue-skinned family. I guess this is what life is like when you live with a mad scientist.

I’ll say this: At least this isn’t your typical haunted house. Every room here is just so strange and funny and begs for an explanation. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mummy pin-up before.

Fifth floor now? This is where green tentacle lives — or should I say, pouts. He’s all depressed because he’s having problems getting his band going, which you would think would be right up Razor’s alley, being a punk rocker and all.

In true adventure game fashion, I’m stealing everything not nailed down and trashing the place. Here, Razor plays a loud cassette tape to break a chandelier (and a window) in order to get a key. Hey, it’s their fault for putting keys up there in the first place!

Man, I’d love to be taking what looks like a jet-propelled car out for a test drive, but alas, it lacks wheels.

Elder Scrolls Online: On to Stonefalls

With Glenumbra 100% completed (at least what I wanted to do with it), I was free to move on and start working on a different zone. There was no clear direction where I had to go, so I just pulled on a dangling quest thread that I had and moved over to Stonefalls. It’s a semi-volcanic zone that is part of the Morrowind province, so it shares a lot with the famous island.

Weirdly enough, as much as I tend to dislike “lava zones” in video games, ESO has always made its very pretty. The glowing, slowly moving magma is hypnotic, and I’ve found that it’s rarely a serious impediment to travel.

It’s certainly a chunky zone with a whole lot to do, so I anticipate being here for a while. That’s OK; I’m starting to fill in my champion points and trying to grab as much level 50 stamina gear for my build. If I log in every night and accomplish a couple somethings — a quest chain, a delve, exploring more of the map — then I feel like I’m making good progress.

And there’s that cheeky ESO humor that pops up every now and then that I love. One of the city quests had a dubious figure challenge me to swipe a bottle of wine away from a bartender. To do that, I had to figure out from the bar’s patrons what really got under this guy’s skin and then select one of those methods to pull him away from the bottle.

(As an aside, I really love it when MMO quests give you multiple paths to the same objective — it’s something that games do far, far too little of, in my opinion.)

I elected to get this one guy really drunk so that he’d start crooning loudly. Which he did, and with the voice acting, it’s pretty funny. I almost didn’t grab the bottle, I was mesmerized by how bad this was.