Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Diary Entry #32: MULE Incompetence and Alien Simulations

             One of the pride and joys of my NES collection is my Four Score. A four player game adapter, it turns your little grey console into an unstoppable party machine. Although there are only 23 games released using the peripheral, some are an absolute blast to play. Swords and Serpents condenses the '80s Interplay  CRPG into a button-mashing dungeon romp, Super Jeopardy allows for a much larger trivia battle, Spot re-writes the classic Othello board game to include two more players, and Nightmare on Elm Street is just crazy four player platforming action. The majority of Four Score games are sports and racing games, with classics like Kings of the Beach, Super Spike V'Ball, and RC Pro Am 2.

             I've always wanted to pick up the NES version of MULE, an Atari 8-bit classic revered as one of the greatest multi-player PC titles of the time. It goes for about 18 dollars on eBay, but I managed to get a copy from a local game store last week for much less. After a band practice on Sunday, my friends and I gave it a whirl.

             You have one year to build up a space colony. Whoever has the most money, land, and goods combined after twelves turns is the winner of the game.

             To start, the game randomly moves a square across the board. Any player can press their button at any time to claim the currently marked space, though the square moves pretty quick, making precision pretty difficult. If multiple players are all vying for the same space, reflexes are your only ally.

             After gaining some land, you need to designate whether you will grow outfit farms, electrical generators, or mining facilities on your spaces. While farms and generators obviously satisfy needs for energy and food across the colony, mining becomes incredibly important as it's the only way to get smithore, an element used to create MULEs. 

             MULEs are the only way you can outfit any of your land to harvest materials, and since you'll be needing food and energy every turn, MULEs quickly become essential. To start, there are only a finite number of MULEs. Once these are all gone, there's no other way to really expand. This is the roadblock my friends and I ran into, as we could not for the life of us determine how to make more MULEs. 

             Evidently, more MULEs are created by selling smithore. At the end of every turn, there's an auction portion, allowing every character to buy and sell one another's materials. It's actually sort of cute. The sellers are at the top of the screen, and the buyers are at the bottom. Players who wish to make a transaction must move towards each other; the higher up you are on the screen, the higher the price. 

             With smithore, you're going to want to sell to the shop, represented by the line at the bottom of the screen. For every two pieces of smithore sold, another MULE is created in the shop. One of the unique features of the games economy is that when there are no mules in the store, prices of smithore skyrocket. Buying MULEs and letting them go free to keep smithore prices up sounds like an okay idea.

             When you've got nothing left to do on you turn, the bar allows you to gamble for small monetary gain. You always seem to win at gambling, one of the stranger features of this foreign world. As my friends and I could not figure out how to make more MULEs, many of our turns ended with quick gambling sessions.

             Speaking of multiplayer games, I've recently grown very interested in the GameStorm catalogue. How awesome would it have been to play all sorts of ridiculous MMOs for only ten dollars a month? Aliens Online, Godzilla Online, Legends of Kesmai, Magestorm, Darkness Falls, and countless other action and RPG titles were all available for a minimal charge. Only in the '90s.

             Aliens Online sounds like one of the great lost classics of MMO history. It's premise is relatively straightforward: aliens versus marines, with some interesting gameplay decisions. Players gather experience in order to increase rank, which allows marines to gain greater endurance and aliens to eventually spawn as the Queen alien. I'm sure it had plenty of balance issues, but it's difficult to say since the game's been discontinued for fourteen years. Unfortunately, we'll probably never get to play this one ever again. This and the Matrix Online are my two biggest woulda-shoulda-couldas in MMO history.

             Reading about this Alien game also inspired me to try out Alien for the ZX Spectrum/C64/Amstrad. I opted to play the Spectrum version as any personal computer that uses more than three colors at a time is probably bad for your eyes and your imagination.

             As in the film, you are aboard the Nostromo, a ship invaded by one pissed off extra terrestrial nightmare. The spaceship is pretty large, with three decks and a smattering of rooms. In the short game, you control three characters who need to eradicate the alien, a task you can allegedly accomplish in a few different ways. The game plays out in real time, with options taking ten seconds to fully register. Occasionally, a cat runs across the screen. No idea what's going on with that. I like to think of it as an Alien simulator: a full ship, a full crew, tons of options, and one pissed off alien that needs to be eradicated.

             Lambert takes matters into his own hands. He boldly rushes out to attack the alien, a strange green creature with matching green pants. The beast makes quick work of Lambert, who actually forgot to grab a weapon before venturing further into the ship. Against insurmountable odds and on the brink of death, Lambert still remains stable.

             Ripley pulls off a grate in the first room and climbs into the ventilation system. It's pretty interesting that the ship's design is so detailed, but it takes a very long time to maneuver about the area. Other "grilles" need to be removed to proceed, which takes even more time. I imagine the alien will take advantage of this situation somehow.

             The duct system is absolutely huge! Although trying to find an exit, every path looks exactly the same, so Ripley winds up taking the scenic route of the air shafts. Ripley is uneasy about her current situation, but she presses on.

             Parker heads into the Cryo Valut, which has a hypersleep chamber. Tired of dealing with that punk ass alien, Parker decides he's tired of fighting. The sooner he goes into a long cryogenic sleep, the sooner he'll be able to go home, watch re-runs of Full House, and eat absurd amounts of ice cream.

             While Parker dreams of being able to laugh with Uncle Jessie and shovel down Superman ice cream once more, Ripley is being wounded by the pants-wearing alien. By the time I actually navigate the menu system to access her character, she's pretty much dead.

             In death, Ripley, Parker, and Lambert are given a 00%. Perhaps they should picked up the weapons in the first room. As it stands, the alien managed to kill almost everyone without even a scraped knee.

             I tried to think outside of the box for my next to plays. Parker, Ripley, and Lambert decide that none of them gave a crap about the alien in the first place. Let him frisk about the ship, all he's going to find are a few scanners, flamethrowers, and a very illusive kitty.

             Of course, sleeping on the job is a very incompetent practice as well. The alien still makes it to Earth, although since the creature doesn't have any eggs of its own, it can still be gunned down pretty easily by security back on terra firma.

             On the third try, Ripley and friends decide the alien threat is so great that they can spare their existence to prevent the xenomorph from reaching civilization. Ripley initiates the Nostromo's self-destruct sequence, which starts a real-time five minute countdown. Accepting the inevitable, Ripley, Lambert, and Parker chill in corridor #1.

             Five minutes later, the entire ship is incinerated. The screen flashes black and white for about fifteen seconds, followed by...

...a screen displaying the body count. Despite killing the entire crew, the alien still died. Suicidal sacrifice is 12% competent. 

             I absolutely have to come back to Alien.  The developers could have made it a stupid action game, but instead we get a very unique strategy/simulation. The plodding, methodical pace totally fits the nature of the film, making the game far more tense than it has any right to be. According to various reviews, playthroughs in long mode can last upwards of two hours, which I plan on setting aside time for this weekend.

             The question now is a complex one: what should I play next? I imported a copy of Siren: New Translation, acquired Ogre Battle 64 for less than two dollars, and intend on checking out that Deadpool PS3 game sometime soon. 

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