« 2. DNA | Main | 4. Orb Weavers »


Experiment succesful, patient dead.

Entry 1713

Lea Nichols PC Jeux is a professional French gaming magazine that gives away a free game every month. Of course the previous sentence contains at least two mistakes. First: French and professional don't go well together, but that we will discuss further on. Second: there isn't such a thing as a free game. In Belgium the magazine costs about 8 and a half Euro and I have always thought I actually bought a game and received the magazine for free. Most of the time I take the DVD (it used to be a CD before) immediately out of its shrink-wrap and the magazine itself lands in a dustbin before I arrive home. There's another computer gaming journalist's dream I've shattered to pieces.

Not that I have bought plenty of PC Jeux magazines. I tried last in 2007 but the game refused to start-up because it was expecting a French PC, with a French keyboard and a French windows version. I don't recall the answer anymore the editors gave me when I complained, something along the lines that they were very sorry I was using a Belgian keyboard and an English windows version and that I could bugger off if I wanted a refund. Tough luck.

I had been playing Penumbra: Black Plague recently combining a fairly decent story with some horror elements and puzzle solving and wanted something more of the same at:
a) a decent price and
b) if possible from a small but innovative software company.

In a Brussels' railroad press shop I saw that PC Jeux 149 had eXpérience 112, the ultimate adventure game if I could believe the blurb, which of course I didn't. I still remember the catchphrase for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989): "Why are they putting seatbelts in theatres this summer?" Soon as I watched the movie, I knew why, simply to prevent people from sneaking out before the end credits.

But reviews for eXpérience 112 weren't that bad at all and as the game was generally praised for its uncommon steering system of the avatar (more about that later) I was willing to halt my 3 years old PC Jeux boycott.

I nearly immediately regretted my purchase.

Slashing away

The game starts on an abandoned freighter that contains a secret military base. This means a lot of corridors and small rooms to investigate. After the introduction and the exploration of the first rooms, basically a tutorial how to control the protagonist and the various devices in the game, the first real assignment starts. In order to enter a laboratory, containing one dead body, you have to find the access code. To get the access code you need to browse through the personal files of the deceased. So far so good. Typical adventure style stuff that you either love or hate. Here is how you have to proceed:

Open a computer session.
Type the dead scientist's name.
Give the password.

(That password is written on a piece of paper, stuck to the wall, also a typical adventure game trick).

Open his personal folder.

Quite some information can be found on the ship's intranet, so most of the time you are mimicking on your computer that you are using a computer.

Read a file that seems to contain some valid information.

An error screen jumped on. These things also happen regularly in adventure games. But the error screen seemed a bit too genuine when I took a closer look at it. It read:

ERROR: UIDocumentTool::import: Can't open file 'interface/documents/interface\documents\part_codes_nichols.xml'!

(For computer geeks: there is a mixture of forward / and backward \ slashes in the code, and perhaps that is where the error comes from. All in all it is sloppy programming.)

It seemed I was not the only one with the problem and the PC Jeux forum received several complaints from other gamers. PC Jeux contacted Lexis Numérique and 39 days later - an eternity in computer land - a patch was offered that took care of most, but not ALL, of the problems (as the programmers are French professionals the patch made other information files illegible that were readable before, but passons).

I still had another huge problem, making it impossible to continue the game, and contacted creators Lexis Numérique en direct but they didn't even acknowledge my demand. I suppose they are of the opinion that a game sold is a game sold, not that it has to be actually played. Thank god for Internet fora and gamer didi75ma for offering me a solution as otherwise it would have meant another PC Jeux freebie in the dustbin. Now I could politely tell these goody-goody, lah-di-dah-di, hoity-toity, know-it-all, prim-and-proper, up-your-arse frog eaters from Lexis Numérique to fuck off and finally start playing. (The attitude of the consumer service of Lexis Numérique stands in shrill contrast with those from Frictional Games, who designed Penumbra. They answer so fast and thoroughly on every, even trivial, question that you feel rather ashamed for taking their time. The obvious result is that they have a loyal fan base.)

the obligatory shower scene Das Boot

In eXpérience 112 (The Experiment in English) you are an operator of a closed circuit TV control room with access to all surveillance cameras on a top secret military ship. The freighter is abandoned, if you don't consider the dead bodies, with exception of a slightly undernourished Lea Nichols who happens to wake up just when you switch on the camera. The question what happened before is ignored and, just like trying to find out who triggered the big bang, it is better not to fry your brains on it.

Here is where the so-called innovative guidance system kicks in. In about 99% of contemporaneous 3D games the player immerses the protagonist and steers him or her through an artificial world. The avatar can be first person (Penumbra: Black Plague) or third person (Mental Repairs Inc) and some games will let you switch between both systems (UFO: Alien Invasion). Usually an avatar will do absolutely nothing when the player doesn't give orders, although a notable exception are The Sims who will carry on with their own business when they are not told to do a certain action. Most of the time you feel like a kindergarten cop correcting The Sims when they are up at their own.

eXpérience 112 is a mixture of all the above. The first person avatar is an anonymous surveillance camera operator who watches third person avatar Lea Nichols strolling through the ship while she is looking for clues. As she has no idea where to go looking for the operator has to guide her by activating lights, switching on electrical devices or opening doors from the control centre. Whenever a trigger has been activated, Lea will walk towards the X-marked spot and starts investigating the area. The operator has got no influence on Lea's direct actions and she decides for herself if she will be looking in cupboards, consulting notes or letters, operating computers and so on…

The result is awkward, alienating and voyeuristic at first but soon becomes strangely familiar, although not that familiar for Lea to change clothes in front of you. She will ask you to guide her to a secluded spot away from the cameras before she ever attempts that.

It's a pity though that Lea doesn't do a thing if you don't give her a clue. As with The Sims, I would have liked it if she would rummage on her own, occasionally even finding something, but she just stand there, like a puppet on a string, awaiting orders from the puppeteer. But perhaps that is what military life does to you.

Remote control

As you may have figured out by now the operator spies on Lea using a closed TV circuit. The operator screen can multitask and open several windows at the same time. Here the programmers missed a few opportunities that would have turned the game into a top-notch experience.

The camera windows can not be seamlessly resized. You only have the choice between small, medium or large windows. A new camera window will either clutter on top or hide behind the other screens. As most of the time you are looking at three camera windows and a map, tile and cascade buttons would have come very handy indeed, but they are absent.

A radar monitors Lea's position on the boat but it fails to scroll automatically when Lea moves outside its borders. It would have been a handy gimmick. Often you are so busy adjusting the map that you don't have time to look at the cameras.

As in real life, the surveillance cameras can be set to follow Lea and to switch on when she enters their radius. Unfortunately this has been so appallingly designed that they do not recognise the walls (or other objects) in between. A long shot camera, at the end of a hall, will be constantly interrupted by others switching on - filming the wall inside the rooms - when Lea passes by. This is not just quite annoying, it is lazy programming. But as this is a military set-up perhaps the awkward functioning is just standard procedure.

Throughout the game you (or better said Lea) will find software upgrades. After a while the cameras will have night-vision, thermo-graphic function and an auto-focus, but some are obviously broken beyond repair and will only transmit garbled images. It adds to the weird voyeuristic realism as well.

By hacking into the accounts of the crew and reading their personal files and correspondence you find out that the members of this top secret military base were acting like Big Brother game show contestants. The avatar browses through pages of gossip, quarrels and amorous frivolity and finds out that even Lea Nichols had a fling with at least one crew member, suggested in the obligatory shower scene. Another flash-back has Lea sunbathing but those hoping for a Jacqueline Bisset's The Deep clothing show will be disappointed.

The crew had one thing in common, they all had the itch to steal passwords from others and pass these on to their friends. This makes it relatively easy for the player to read through everyone's personal files that contain everything from trivial (an invitations for the next card game evening) to top secret. Although these personal files are designed to contain video and audio messages this has only been scarcely used by the programmers, a fine example is a spy camera zooming in on yet another password. (Also in the Penumbra series the information was mostly passed through written files and not through moving images. Small companies don't have the time nor the resources to program these extra features.)

heat detection camera Puzzling

The puzzles are not extraordinary difficult for people who like to play these kinds of games, but they are not always realistic or logical in a real-life situation. I quite enjoyed the decryption puzzle following the Vigenère cipher method, but why would someone encrypt a password if he uses it on a daily basis? These are classic adventure game traps, just like in Black Plague where a scientist still managed to hide a tape after he was murdered.

But despite all the bugs, the inconsistencies and the flimsy story (an amnesic girl on a barren boat, a spy in the camp, a secret society, an extra-terrestrial threat) the game works. One of its cute unexpected details is that Lea will reprimand you and mentions the hours you left her alone after you load a saved game. Typical female: here is this chick who has been vegetating for 34 years in suspended animation on a ghost ship and the first things she does when she wakes up is complaining to her saviour that she doesn't get enough attention. (The fact that she has been sleeping, without ageing, for over 3 decades on an empty ship is one of the biggest inconsistencies in the story and will never be properly explained. Who took care of her (food, hygiene, muscle rehabilitation) during all these comatose years?)

After you have explored the ship, in search for some medicine Lea urgently needs, you honestly wonder what will happen next. It is then when the adventure goes underground, or better said, underwater. Lea changes into the kind of wetsuit that would make the extra-terrestrial lizards of V vibrate their tongues with lust, but to humans it looks rather tacky and nothing like Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in The Abyss (to name just another underwater classic).

After a thrilling submarine sequence Lea discovers a second secret base, the size of London Heathrow Airport, located at the bottom of the sea but there the game drags as if the programmers were out of breath, inspiration, resources or all of the above. The map didn't help either and I was hopelessly lost for a while. But the base is just a temporary transit zone as it opens a gate to the final part of the adventure.

The idea of opening a door to an extra-terrestrial world by means of a holographic key, projected by 5 strong laser beams that all need to be exactly positioned, is sublime. Now if only I could make it work as this is where the game halted a second time on me and this time for good. Exit Lea Nichols. I will never know her secrets.


The above review is based on the PC Jeux (French) version of eXpérience 112. Apparently gamers who have bought the normal retail version do not have all of the above problems, especially after applying the (French) patch that can still be found on the official website. As eXpérience 112 sells at 6.14 Euro on Amazon France one can ask why the (more expensive) magazine version was altered unless it was to keep in line with the tradition to make PC Jeux free games unplayable. I have bought about 10 PC Jeux magazines (and their games) in my life and 7 of these gave up at one point or another.

I suppose I will not buy PC Jeux magazines anymore for the rest of my life.

Some reviews I consulted:
Puzzle vs. Experience.
The Experiment overcomes its clichéd beginnings with original gameplay.
Demo Review.


Penumbra Trilogy: played at last

Entry 1688

A while ago I wrote that I purchased the Penumbra trilogy game pack at the staggering price of 5 dollars. For the non-initiated, Penumbra is a first person horror game, but not - as most games of these type are - based upon hacking, slashing or shooting your way through a maze of dark lit corridors and tunnels festooned with flesh eating monsters or blood sucking vampires. More a combination of adventure and survival the game takes advantage of advanced artificial intelligence to respond realistically to noises and light, creating stealth-based gameplay.

The last line just above is, of course, publicity techno-babble, although the freeware Penumbra Tech Demo that was donated to the public in 2006 created quite a buzz in gamersland. That game demo was, so the legend goes, the thesis work (or better said based upon the thesis work) of a group of Swedish students and when thousands of fans from over the word shouted for more the guys (game creators are - by definition - male) decided to turn professional.

Warning: the following text contains serious spoilers!

Meet Red (or red meat?) Penumbra: Overture

I wasn't completely happy with Penumbra: Overture and I have explained some of the reasons why in a previous post. Basically the stealth-mode play didn't work for me and I ended up killing zombie dogs with a pick-axe, a hammer and in one case, out of sheer annoyance, with a broomstick, instead of avoiding them. Although the physics engine was (and still is) a great invention, some more work could have been done to accurately handle and throw equipment around. When you only have a few seconds before a giant worm will suck your brains out you would like the pick-axe movement to be a little bit more reliable. Luckily there are only two or three run-for-your-life occasions in the game where your survival is depending on quick action. (Of course it all depends on the player's reaction speed, I was a bit annoyed when I read that a player completed the run-and-hack scenario in only three attempts while I was currently at number 35.)

When I re-entered the Penumbra forum a couple of weeks ago (my account was still active after 4 years, another proof that Internet's memory - just like the Tuurngaait - goes on forever) I was a bit surprised that there was a 20 pages long lively discussion about Red.

Obviously Red saves the game. You'll never actually manage to meet him, and probably that is for the best, but he contacts Philip, as the protagonist is called, through a walkie-talkie, instructing him what to do next throughout the quest. Tom Redwood, so Philip learns by reading the reports, memos and hastily scribbled piece of papers that can be find throughout the game on desks, in drawers, filing-cabinets or just lying on the floor, was a 14-year-old miner who went missing in 1970 but managed to survive for 3 decades, mainly on a monotonous lunch of slugs, earthworms, spiders, dogs and even…, but only occasionally though, humans.

There is clearly something wrong with Red: although he is still trapped in the lower mining regions he has the uncanny gift of exactly knowing where Philip is and doesn't hesitate to lead him (you, the player) through various life-threatening situations. Red is not a guardian angel, but neither is he totally bad. When Philip finally finds his hiding spot Red has deliberately imprisoned himself and the only way to end the game is to finish him off.

Red's death, by the hands of Philip, is not really murder because the miner wanted to die, but - for unknown reasons - couldn't take his own life. The Penumbra forum has several theories why he refused to commit suicide, the most believable one is that he was a victim of the Tuurngaait virus and turned into a zombie-like being, although that knowledge will only be revealed to Philip in the second part of the Penumbra series.

Red is one of the most disturbing, and believable, characters I've met in a game so far and like I put before, he is the one who turns Penumbra into a believable quality game horror experience.

I'm not the man I used to be Penumbra: Black Plague

Despite its shortcomings Overture was not unsuccessful and received good ratings from the specialised press. But fighting zombie dogs is one thing, fighting game publishers another. At one point Lexicon Entertainment decided to pull the plug, Frictional wryly commented: "It's a plain good old breach of contract done by one company to wreck havoc on all others involved." (A later comment from Frictional Games read: "Our very first publisher didn't really feel like paying us properly for the first game we did in the Penumbra series.")

Luckily a new publisher was found in Paradox Interactive, but that deal was for one game only. The developers decided to abandon the idea of a Penumbra trilogy and revealed that Black Plague was going to be the second, and last, instalment.

This created new problems as originally the makers had foreseen two extra full length games and they were now obliged to condense that into a single one, and rather quick, as precious time had already been lost due the problems with the previous publisher.

Several plot holes seem to indicate this. At one point you, Philip, the player, is informed that the secret base you are trapped in has been build by a secret society called the Archaic, founded in 1519 and endorsed by Leonardo Da Vinci (with all these secret societies he supposedly was a member of one can ask how on earth he found the time to do some painting). Its purpose is to protect earth from xeno (read: extra-terrestrial) influences. Hardly an original idea, this is about all we get to know about Da Vinci and his archaic ET-hunters. This knowledge is of no further importance to the story so one can indeed ask why it was included in the first place; probably it was one of the many ideas that were never developed. And the idea of a secret society building un underground secret base the size of CERN (without getting noticed, even in Greenland) is a bit incredible.

A second plot hole (more an inconsistency) is the start of the story itself. When Philip leaves the mining area in Penumbra: Overture he is attacked by a humanoid creature. Penumbra: Black Plague starts when Philip awakens in a locked room. Obviously his attacker has dragged him there and imprisoned him. But throughout the rest of the adventure all other humanoids (known as the Infected) will always attempt to kill him, and the many corpses from Archaic personnel he meets during his exploration of the secret base proves that the Infected never take any prisoners. So why did this one make an exception? (The reason is of course simple: otherwise we would never have had the second instalment to begin with.)

A third kind of plot holes are slightly reminiscent of the famous Ronald Reagan's bomber pilot story and due to the puzzle-solving-environment of the game. An example: one room contains a cassette player and after some rummaging in a nearby locker you locate a cassette as well. The cassette contains the last words of an Archaic scientist, just before he is murdered by one of the Infected. The obvious question: who took out the cassette from the player and secured it in the locker knowing those murderous zombies normally just leave the bloody mess lying as it is? Perhaps the Infected who killed the scientist had been a cleaning person before.

But the game makers also did some smart moves. Frictional learned that if you give a player a weapon he or she will be inclined to use it. Black Plague no longer contains weapons and the Infected, who are in fact Turngaait-virus-infected humans, are invincible, so the best thing to do is to avoid them and to crouch in a dark corner when they pass by, praying that you will not get noticed.

The atmosphere is so haunting that I literally had to quit playing quite a couple of times to get my nerves back to normal. The forum has testimonies of people screaming out loud, getting the shakes for at least ten minutes or hiding in a ventilation shaft (not literally, but their virtual alter-ego in the game obviously) for half an hour not daring to come out again. Black Plague is haunting hammer horror and not destined for the weaker of us human souls.

What Red was for Overture Clarence is for Black Plague. The character is a manipulatory malevolent ghost, who invades your body and tries to muck with your brain as much as possible, although there are actually a few situations he might help you. When angry he is able to create hallucinations making the dark labyrinth even darker, scarier and more complex than it was before.

Although he was not always reliable Red was an ally which Clarence clearly is not, although as a parasite he wants you to survive in order to survive himself, but when you get a chat from the only (sane and still uninfected) surviving human in the complex you are in for a treat. Amabel Swanson has quarantined herself in her lab, claims to have found a cure against the virus (that you urgently need) and promises you a big hug if you manage to rescue her.

Rescuing Amabel Swanson (amiable swan song?) is something you will fail to do and it is one of the deeper emotional occurrences in the game. It leaves you baffled, battered, angry, sad and more determined to get on with your next mission which will be to get rid of the Clarence voice in your head once and for all.

Amabel Swanson is a character you seldom see in computer games and she may have set a standard for future games to come. Tom Jubert, who devised her character, has written an excellent essay about her:

Who is Amabel Swanson?
More importantly, why does she exist?
The short answer is she was born to die.

Star Trek TOS fans are familiar with the story how the third series (in 1968) was smothered to death by airing the show on a 'graveyard' slot and by cutting the budget to a ludicrous minimum. When the episode Spectre Of A Gun asked for a cowboy ghost town there wasn't a budget to film on location and all scenes were shot in an 'empty' studio with false building fronts. Kirk and Spock (in character) don't hide that they have been put on a stage that mainly exists of 'bits and pieces', but the lack of a proper décor actually enhances the eerie atmosphere of the episode.

As Tom Jubert notes in another, also excellent series of essays on Penumbra, character modelling is time-consuming and expensive and so are explanatory scenes in between levels. Penumbra circumvents that in an intelligent and quite effective way (an exception is probably the invisible, but lethal, werewolf in the dark who roams the dog kennel):

Writing For Indie Games; or
"How to Characterise When You Can't Afford Characters" - Part 1
"How to Characterise When You Can't Afford Characters" - Part 2


The game contains some dark humour as well. Walking through Science Wing A one sometimes hears announcements coming through the speakers. These messages, spoken by a soft, soothing and reassuring female voice, vary from 'always keep your cyanide capsules ready' to 'do not exchange bodily fluids due to virus contamination danger'. Even pursued by blood-hungry zombies I immediately linked these messages to the announcements in Theme Hospital (Bullfrog, 1997) that ranged from 'patients are asked to be patient' to 'patients are reminded not to die in the corridors'.

More about open Theme Hospital

Black Plague combines the 'real world' with imaginary and hallucinatory events. In the beginning you have to pass through a dream sequence level where the walls have fiery arms sticking out of the wall reminding me of Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête, 1946. The ending reveals an aeons old enemy, arriving from outer space on Earth long before the humans appeared. Douglas Adams's Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (1987), that also contains some body hopping ghosts, had an almost identical enemy.

More about Dirk Gently 

When Philip finally manages to exorcize Clarence from his body by injecting a strong antidote (Substance 65, courtesy of Amabel Swanson) the complete hive of infected zombies seems to be (temporarily) disordered, not unlike the ghostlike alien creatures invading the human species in the adult movie Invasion of the Love Drones, who are chased away when a victim, quoting Hamlet’s soliloquy (Shakespeare), injects herself with a venereal virus. But I seriously doubt if that is where the makers of Black Plague got the inspiration from.

More about Invasion of the Love Drones 

Final test

With the Infected army destroyed (although we are not sure of that) the Tuurngaait alien intelligent being decides not to harm Philip but to ask him a favour (after some pretty weird levels, in one occasion you actually have to die to win). All the Tuurngaait entity ever wanted was to have some eternal peace and it asks to make it sure that its hiding place will never be revealed again.

Philip seems to agree with this, but he mails the coordinates of the Archaic secret base to the outside world with the message: "Kill them. Kill them all." (This could mean that the hive was not destructed and that the Infected survived.)

This game is certainly among the best I have ever played and that is thanks to the atmosphere, the storyteling, the characterisation, rather than to the graphical side.

The flashing knobs! Penumbra: Requiem

Dark Plague may well have been the scariest game ever and fans were asking for more. When Requiem was announced it was described as a short and sweet expansion pack of Black Plague that would further investigate in the nightmarish Turngaait world.

Even a million year old alien being can have a bad day, especially when it finds out that the first human being it trusted sends out a message to the world to come and destroy it. Powerless in the real world, it hurls Philip into a dream world where he has to run for his life as virtual, but nevertheless lethal, zombies threaten to rip his heart out. There must be a way to escape, even if it is from just a dream.


Tuurngaait gives Philip the following choice after his betrayal: either he will be immediately killed by the (remaining) Infected or he must cooperate in the preparations for the final battle. As a non-physical being Tuurngaait needs a liaison officer to give orders to the Infected, who are strong but stupid, and he needs to intervene when they are mentally of physically incapable of finishing a difficult task: repairing the generator, starting the main computer system, arm the defence system… Philip is given a room of his own and finds, one day, a message from a freak Infected who still has some human soul hiding in him (or her)…

In reality Requiem is none of the above.

The expansion pack puts Philip in another unexplored part of the underground base, but there are no enemies around. Level after level he has to jump on moving platforms, run through laser beams, swim under water in search for a lever, avoid flying bolts of fire, use gravity pods to make staircase boxes that float in the air and jump through teleporting portals…, exactly the kind of game that we liked to play in 1994, but then Philip was still a young Quetch listening to the name of Twinsen. (Actually the temple of Bù sequence in that game had a horror theme with skeletons chasing you.)

More about Twinsen and LBA: Twinsen Ma Non Troppo 

Requiem is quite inventive in its puzzles, but it isn't a Penumbra game. We can only be lucky that the series ended after that, or we might have feared to see a Penumbra: Sudoku appearing soon. Probably the makers were already seriously thinking about Amnesia: The Dark Descent by then.

But Penumbra: Black Plague still stand as a rock although the player behind the computer screen would certainly be more safe hiding underneath it.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Machine Shrink


Penumbra Overture Open Source

Entry 1686

Penumbra 2006 TD 2006

In June 2006 a minor incident upset my dreary life. Some people reach for booze, others for drugs, I downloaded the free Penumbra 2006 (tech demo) and started playing like hell.

As usual the story doesn't matter that much, a man takes a boat to Greenland, walks around in a snow blizzard (a rather stupid thing to do if you ask me), gets lost, nearly freezes to death, but luckily finds a deserted underground army bunker where he can - at least temporarily - shelter.

But shit usually comes in twos and the protagonist finds that the door from the secret base can't be opened from the inside. He is now obliged to investigate all the underground rooms and tunnels until he finds a possible exit (this is roughly the same technique Ikea uses to lure its customers in its shops) but apparently some blood sucking creatures roam in the shadows as well (that also applies to Ikea, as a matter of fact)…

More than a first person shooter, you don't even own a gun, Penumbra 2006 TD was an exploring and puzzle solving game and when, at a certain moment a vampire bat flies at your throat, the only solution is to lure it in into a trap or to run away from it, but only after you have stopped screaming out loud. (Theoretically you can also kill the flying critter by throwing a stick of dynamite towards it, but all I ever managed to do was to blow my virtual self up into a million of pieces.)

The horror theme, the makers confessed they tried to imitate a Lovecraftian atmosphere, is omnipresent: creepy noises, dark corridors, long shadows and only two monsters that make you jump into the air when they appear. It is an old trick that unfortunately has been forgotten by game and movie makers: the horror is not present by the abundance of monsters but by the lack of it. (If you know that thirty bloodthirsty zombies will attack you whenever you open a door, there is no element of surprise, and thus no horror, anymore.)

Probably you have realised by now that I was a great fan of the game. I became an active member of the forum. I even published a walkthrough and made a Dutch localisation file (use 'save as' if the link gives a 404 error) that can still be found somewhere on this domain. More a player's guide, than a walkthrough (for instance: I decided not to reveal the different number codes to open the electronic doors but lead the player to the place were they could find the code instead) it rapidly got a few thousands of hits and was the immediate trigger to start with the Unfinished Projects blog (unfortunately I don't have any statistics how many times the Dutch version of Penumbra was downloaded). The first half dozen of posts on this blog were obviously all about Penumbra as I had frankly nothing else to write about…

The Penumbra 2006 Tech Demo was, as its title already declared, a technical demonstration of the Penumbra physics engine. It allowed the player to interact with several object in the game, like opening drawers or stacking crates from different sizes on top of each other to create a rudimentary staircase (I had first seen this kind of game play, but in a less sophisticated way, in William Shatner's absolute stinker Tekwar). This also meant that most puzzles had more than one solution.


Although short (with the proper guide one finishes the game in less than fifteen minutes) Penumbra TD was a huge success and Frictional Games started, thinking big, on a commercial trilogy. You will not find a review of Penumbra: Overture on this blog as I was a bit dissatisfied when the game came out. It suffered from the Blair Witch Project syndrome where the first, cheap and cheerful, instalment suddenly hit the market in such a way that its sequel could only disappoint.

To name one example: the flying bats, I used to call them critters, that suddenly jumped at your throat in the demo had been replaced by zombie dogs, but rather poorly drawn and programmed zombie dogs. Basically it was just a 3D representation of a dog, sliding or tilting towards you, as its legs had not been programmed to move realistically while running, nor did its mouth open or close when biting. Probably the makers, originally a bunch of students who decided to start a game company, didn't have the time, nor the budget to make this more realistic, but graphically it felt a bit as being attacked by a plastic action figure. Rather than frightening the dogs were considered annoying by the game community. (I do understand it is much easier to maintain the horror, the suspense and the surprise effects in a 15 minutes demo than in a 6 hours game.)

The successor, Black Plague (part 2 of the trilogy) was apparently much better, so I read in the specialised press, but I never tried it as I had lost my interest in Penumbra anyway. The third and final part of the trilogy was not to be, although an expansion pack Requiem was made that ties the two previous episodes together (so it is rumoured). So one could really describe the Penumbra trilogy as two games and a half.


I had completely forgotten about Penumbra but The Humble Indie Bundle action from Wolfire that offered 5 games for any price you wanted to pay made my appetite come back. With the bundle I got a Frictional Games reduction coupon offering the complete Penumbra 2 and a half trilogy for the staggering price of 5 American dollars. Even with plastic dogs this is what I call a bargain. So today I am playing Overture again, its atmosphere still is haunting as hell although I am getting pretty seasick by the wobbling effects while running through the many corridors (the game makers have always said the aim of the game is to avoid or sneak past the monsters rather than to confront them, but alas that is something I never managed to achieve).

Open Source

The aforementioned Humble Indie Bundle experiment has been a massive success as nearly one hundred and fourty thousand downloaders donated over a million dollars (1 273 345 $ to be precise) to the game makers and two charity organisations.

If a million dollars was reached Frictional Games had promised to release the source code of Penumbra: Overture and that is what they did last week. So anyone (with the proper knowledge obviously) will now be able to mod the game, create new episodes or even build a brand new game out of scratch.

Frictional Games are currently developing Amnesia, another first person survival horror game.+

The other games that participated in the Humble Indie Bundle were:

World of Goo

and as an extra the quite amazing Samorost 2 was added as well.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Machine Shrink 


Machine Shrink

Entry 1622

so that's how the inside of a computer looks like... History repeats itself just like the chicken at the zoo that perpetually wanted to pick some breadcrumbs lying inside the monkey cage but got hit each time on the head by a vigilant monkey carrying a stick.

Examining the Wintermute Engine for one of my soon-not-to-be Unfinished Projects I fell upon the games section and instead of downloading the editor itself I ended with Mental Repairs Inc. on my harddisk.

Mental Repairs, Inc. is a small 2.5D point'n'click adventure following Henrik Liaw, machine psychiatrist. His job is to repair electronic devices that are depressed or have gone bananas by giving them therapy, counselling, guidance or – in the true tradition of point’n click – by solving some riddles and handing over some goods one has picked up from another place.

Point’n click games go a long way but have been forgotten a bit by all these 3D, real-time, first person shooting extravaganzas that are, in my personal opinion of course, plain boring. My first shooter was the original Wolfenstein 3D (1992) that I played several times from A to Z (I even found the secret Pacman level). The game was obviously forbidden in Germany where the ‘don’t mention the war’-credo has been put into federal law. Wolfenstein is set in a Nazi-castle, the guards are SS-officers, the walls are adorned with swastikas and one of the final bosses is mister Adolf H. himself. (A de-nazified version was made for the American and German markets where they had shaved Hitler’s moustache and the attack dogs had been replaced by mutant rats. It made the programmers quip that apparently, for American censors, it was morally acceptable to shoot people, but not dogs.)

About a year later came of course Doom (1993) but I put it fast aside as it made me feel seasick. At the same time I was also an admirer of William Shatner’s TekWar novels and when a computer game came out I jumped on it as the proverbial chicken in the zoo (see above) but that game was ‘one of the worst licensed games ever seen’. Of course the TekWar novels are also pretty bad, so bad actually, that they have become quite cult.

But back to the Mental Repairs Inc point’n click game. Although made by an ‘amateur’ named Renzo Thönen it is actually better than some commercial games of its kind. Of course it is rather short (only half a dozen of rooms and situations) and you can play all levels in less than 30 minutes. The puzzles are pretty straightforward, quite logical and not too complex, other than in Douglas Adams’s Starship Titanic where some actions to be followed were so weird and arbitrary (and on top of that, incoherently programmed) that you simply had to buy the hint book in order to get any further. Hidden inside Douglas Adams was, next to a gifted writer who seldom came out, also a shrewd entrepreneur almost like an Italian second-hand car dealer, although his Digital Village company didn’t survive the dotcom crash despite the fact that it had devised a rather witty Wikipedia avant-la-lettre (read the funny H2G2 entry for Belgium). But even Wikipedia has got into serious financial troubles nowadays, so we can’t really blame DNA for that.

I haven’t been mentioning Douglas Adams’s name for the sake of mentioning his name alone. The Mental Repairs world is basically a Hitchhiker’s world where machines have their own disturbed mind. The copy machine has lost its coloured view on the world, the coffee dispenser is depressed because everyone kicks it and the elevator has got a split personality, one up, the other down. The idea of elevators only wanting to go up has been explored before in the Hitchhiker’s novels by the way, so we’ll call that a friendly nod from one universe to another.

I quite liked the warped humour in the game and the hero’s somewhat cynical comments, but that is because I am that kind of guy. The adventure takes a twist, like good adventures do, at the end but in order to make it comprehensible there is a rather lengthy explanation needed that takes, with my limited amount of patience, somewhat too long as it just adds extra ballast. Also Starship Titanic lacked in that department, where the main computer kept on babbling for about five minutes once you had activated it, so Mental Repairs is in good company.

All in all a very nice and enjoyable game (with excellent 3 D graphics, objects and persons, BTW) and, like I said, well worth the 30 minutes it takes to play. I saw that Thönen’s Hulub website also offers a second, slightly older, point’n click game, Murder In A Wheel. It mimics deliberately the Day Of The Tentacle style and has won an AGS award in 2007. I think I’ll download and play that as well because I simply can’t resist a game where the main plot is about who murdered the house hamster.

My next Unfinished Project will have to wait a little bit longer, I guess.

Other point'n click games reviewed on this site:
Nomen Est Omen (Starship Titanic)
Tentacle Day (Day of the Tentacle)
East Side Story 
Walking Through The Valley Of Eden Sandbox of God walkthrough, compatible with version 1.52


And Another Thing... or two...

Entry 1620

a letter from the manager I am not very fond of the end of the year, partly because everybody wants you to be happy, which I am, by definition, not. Another recurring nightmare are the end of the year lists that are published everywhere and the New Year’s resolutions for the coming year.

So I had decided not to publish such a list, but then…

OpenTTD 1.00

OpenTTD, probably the best game in the world, has put a first beta for version 1.0.0 on their website. With this version you can run OpenTTD without the original Transport Tycoon Deluxe data files, although you can still use them.

OpenTTD entries on this blog:
Rock around the block 
Horses and heroes 

CorsixTH (Open Theme Hospital) - demo 1

Another gem from the past (1997) is Theme Hospital by Bullfrog Productions. The game has been imitated a couple of times but these attempts were always worse than the original. For a couple of years several projects have attempted to create an Open Source version of the game and (some of) these different projects have been described on this blog before. Most of these projects have died a lonely death for the simple reason that a man (or woman) alone can’t cope with the ten thousands lines of coding such a huge project needs.

For the moment I am aware of three simultaneous Open Theme Hospital projects that share the same blog and forum: OpenTH, Java Hospital and CorsixTH. (Finally people have understood that it is better to bundle forces and start coding instead of making nice and flashy websites that promise things that will never come.)

CorsixTH has now released a playable beta 1, making it the first open source Theme Hospital clone to reach playable status. Representing five months of development since the project launched, CorsixTH Playable Beta 1 implements many of the features of the original game, and runs natively on Windows, Linux, and OS X. The intent of this release is to increase awareness of CorsixTH, and to encourage more developers to assist in the project.

Similar to how OpenTTD started, years ago, CorsixTH requires some of the original game data files to provide graphics and sounds and some tweaking needs to be done in configuration files, just like in the good old TTDpatch days, although in my case it was just enough to add the line C:\Program Files\Bullfrog\Hospital\ in the config.txt file.

Since the project went public on July 24th 2009 the core development team grow from one person to four people. Despite this, the project is looking for more developers to report bugs and submit code. Artists interested in creating a new set of graphics, and hence removing the dependency on the original game data, are also welcomed. (This last phrase is perhaps wishful thinking, it took OpenTTD five (5!) years to accomplish this and, according to Wikipedia, it is the 8th most active Sourceforge project on this planet.)

Open Theme Hospital entries on this blog:
Open Source Theme Hospital Clone Announced (project abandoned, website unavailable)
Theme Hospital Tycoon (project abandoned, website unavailable)
Donuts and doctors (project abandoned, website unavailabel)
open Theme Hospital - 3 different ones (this developed in OpenTH)

Now that I am busy with this silly list, why don’t I go on with it…

Widelands - build 14

Widelands is an open source (GPLed) real-time strategy game. It is built upon the SDL and other open source libraries and is still under heavy development. Basically Widelands is a Settlers II remake rather than a clone carrying its own graphics, sounds and music. It is a project that is very alive and kicking.

Widelands entries on this blog:
2008 Widelands 

UFO: Alien Invasion 2.2.1

Also UFO: AI is not a clone but a remake from the popular X-COM games from the Nineties. The community is very active and new versions appear on a nearly monthly basis.

UFO: AI entries on this blog:
2008 Illegal Aliens  

Open Tower / High Rise Developer alpha 0.0.3

In July I wrote about on Open Sim Tower project and how it suffered from the same disease as a lot of other game clones or remakes. The leader of the project, most of the time a student, is very enthusiast, but fails to produce a downloadable game, because real-life catches up with him: exams, girlfriend, work, a home and a dog. This is no criticism, mainly an observation, but hours after I had blogged about it I received a reply from the Open Tower community with the clear message that I had exaggerated and that the project was still very active.

Last week I checked again and found that the main website of Open Tower had disappeared (it now leads to an OpenTower wiki) and the forum has been closed down due to lack of interest in development. It is not the time of the season to joke about this all, simply an observation.

However, on top of the Open Tower wiki is a banner saying that their project has got nothing to do with High Rise Developer. My attention was grabbed and it appears to be - yet another – attempt to create a Sim Tower style game. They have an 0.03 alpha which means that the project is still in a very early stage, but at least some work has been done.

Open Tower entries on this blog:
2009 Lost Yoot 

Sandbox of Gods: 1.5 & Remastered

Sandbox Of Gods was one of the freeware indie hits from 2004, the game looked absolutely vintage, with tacky graphics and sounds, and that was probably why it went in that well.

Basically you are a god (as in the man with the beard) and you can choose if you will give humans or rabbits the chance to evolve into an intelligent species. You can try to develop both species as well and the final result will either end in a global nuclear war or in a peaceful world where humans (probably all vegetarian) and rabbits are peacefully living next to each other.

The walkthroughs for this game can be found on this blog and in only 5 runs you will have discovered all possibilities of this point’n click sim. Of course playing by these walkthroughs takes most of the fun away, as you should find out yourself, by trial and error, how an early decision will develop thousands year later.

For years there were plans for a sequel, but these were never concrete until this year when, out of the blue, a SOG remaster was promised.

Basically there will be two SOG 1.5 versions:

An updated freeware version containing the following changes
- support for Windows 7 and Windows Vista
- upgraded resolution
-new music and sound effects
-a new save engine which allows for updates and patches
-a new options menu

A Remastered version, containing the freeware game and some extra games, inspired by the original (this version will be given away, as a bonus game, to existing Vertigo Games customers)
-SOG boardgame: a boardgame version of the Sandbox of God simulation using light gels, clay figures, blocks and cards…
-SOG warfare: where rabbits plot to take over the world and attack the humans in a 20 level turnbased strategic extravaganza

If all goes well SOG:R will be released on the last day of this year: the 31st of December… suddenly the future does look bright…

The Sandbox of Gods walkthroughs can be found at:
Walking Through The Valley Of Eden (Sandbox of God Walkthrough Part 1) 
Bad Moon Rising (Sandbox Of God Walkthrough Part 2) 
Under The Vulcano (Sandbox Of God Walkthrough Part 3) 
I Want To Be A Little Fishy (Sandbox Of God Walkthrough Part 4) 
It's the Final Countdown (Sandbox Of God Walkthrough Part 5) 


Gimme Some Golfing

Entry 1591

Some days ago I got a mail from an Internet publicity agency that wanted to use my site to promote a new online golf simulation game. I politely thanked for that, not that I’m rich enough but a cent per click will not pay me for a Ferrari, and I meant the sunglasses. But I promised I would have a look at the game. Promise kept.

I used to be a kind of a golf lunatic in the past, not the real thing of course, as a real computer nerd I hate green open airy spaces, but the digital pixelised version of that. Over the years my favourite golf game became Shot Online that combines sport simulation with MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) elements. I even developed my own little Shot Online Distance Calculator utility that is still downloaded from time to time. I needed this utility, basically an Excel sheet with a lot of formulas inside, because Shot Online uses quite a sophisticated method of calculating the distance of the shot and takes into consideration different weather conditions, such as temperature, wind speed and direction and even air humidity (next to the club and balls you are using, of course, the different levels you have acquired as a player and the shoes you are wearing).

I haven’t played Shot Online for a while, basically because my old PC is getting rather sluggish and creates unnecessary lag between holes, but a second reason is that a 18-hole game in Shot Online with four players takes well over three hours. Games are played in real-time, each player takes his turn and one has to wait for the others to finish the hole before the game proceeds to the next one, just like in the real golf-playing world. So for 75% of the time you are looking at the screen, watching how the others are screwing up before you get a chance to screw up yourself.

Shot Online is free to play, and here is the secret addictive ingredient, with every game you get some virtual in-house money that you can spend to buy some gear. It is logical that an expensive set of golf balls will fly longer distances and land more accurately than the free ones. The makers of the game know that humans are an impatient species and instead of having to play hundred games in order to buy a decent set of professional clubs, which come in dozens of colours and sizes, you can also buy these immediately with real-world money. Like in the real world you have the have-nots who have played every single day of the year in order to get to level 35 and you have the haves who have obtained level 35 in a week thanks to a bucketful of cash.

There are some vanity issues involved as well, the initial characters look all the same, are wearing the same clothes so the game has a shopping mall were you can, à la Sims, change clothes, shoes, hats or gloves. It goes beyond saying that these have to be paid for as well, in virtual or real currency. Some of these attributes will also have an influence on skill, stamina, impact, and power settings so choosing the right set of clothes can improve your gameplay. I wasn’t kidding about these shoes, you know.

Gimme Golf made my appetite for online golf grow again and so I tried it, simple as that. The website promises thousands of players, more than 500 tournaments and hundreds of winners. But whenever I logged in there were never more than a dozen players around. I literally mean a dozen, like in twelve. It made me feel like Judas on the last supper, read further why.

Gimme Golf is free to play but as there is nothing like a free lunch the money must come from somewhere. The cash comes from (optional) tournaments where each player pays an entry fee, using a Paypal account, and can collect the fee of the others, provided he/she finishes on top of the list. As a teaser you get a 1$ account, but when I entered a 1$ tournament I found out that I had to enter a second dollar to play the top nine holes. I should have seen this coming, at the Skill Technology website the developers all have the second hand cars salesmen grin and if there is one certainty about second hand cars salesmen it is that they are always trying to insert a financial butt plug while claiming to be your friend. Scallywags! (Update: a recent post on their forum complains how one can enter the same tournament twice - or more, always against an entry fee - but the price money is only paid once, even if you hold first, second and third place.)

Download is pretty easy and takes only 100 MB, (as a retro-gamer I am a bit ashamed to write only 100 MB, some of my preferred golden oldies can be placed upon a floppy), turning into 130MB on the harddisk. The game is Java-driven and installs in the Application Data folder (if you happen to run XP, like I do), there is no uninstall option, but the FAQ explains that manually deleting all files does the job. The website is simple and easy, perhaps a little too simple, because at the time I write this the game-server is down but that isn’t mentioned anywhere.

Now for the game itself, that I managed to play a couple of times before (and after) their server exploded. The graphical quality is lower than Shot Online, but that last one is at least 5 times bigger (their download now takes over 500MB). There are only a few characters and courts to choose from and these are all relatively easy. Gameplay is simple comme bonjour, you take a club (obviously), choose the direction you want to aim at and hit the ball as hard as possible. There is no state of the art tuning as in Shot Online where you can add back- or sidespin to the ball, neither is it necessary to train on an accurate 3-click movement to get your ball flying where you want it to go, basically one click does the job. Rather than a simulation I would describe Gimme as an arcade game version of the noble game of golf. I’ve got nothing against that, of course.

The main difference with Shot Online is how the multi-player games are handled. In Gimme Golf every player plays his round at his (or her) own pace and he/she doesn’t have to wait for the others to tee off or to finish a hole. A plus point is that you can quit in the middle of the game, reload the course a while later, and continue without penalties (there are some time limits involved though). A Gimme Golf is very fast paced and I could play 18 holes in less than twenty minutes.

The backside of this all is that basically you are on your own. There is no interaction with the other gamers, apart from the ubiquitous chat screen, and all you get to see is the scorecard between each round with the results of the others. In Shot Online you observe your opponent’s moves and if his ball lands in a bunker it gives you the chance to adapt your hit and decide to go for an alternative swing. That kind of in-game tactics is impossible with Gimme.

The ideal online golf simulation lies somewhere in between. I once proposed the idea to Shot Online to have semi-simultaneous games where the 4 participants, each at their own computer screen, would swing at the same time. A par 3 would only be a couple of minutes shorter but a complete match would benefit from 60 minutes or more. (There are some issues to consider: normal gameplay should perhaps be resumed when a ball lands out of bounds, in water, sand or the rough. Personally I like to watch the ball in-flight movies, as this is where the fun is, but others could prefer split screens, etc…)

Shot Online is quite overwhelming for beginners with its abundance of settings and statistics, but Gimme Golf is perhaps a wee bit too simple. That all players are equal and use the same sticks and balls is nice, at least you’re fighting with the same weapons, but sometimes the arcade has really taken over the simulation. Here are some buggy things I found…

There are no height indicators, but the landing point is different when the fairway is lying much higher (or lower) than the tee. Height differences are even more important on the green. The graphics make it difficult to see if the green is going up, going down or if the path to the flag is tilting to the left or the right. (I remarked this myself when I saw, to my amazement, that my ball was rolling back to me instead of disappearing in the hole!)
Update: the developers told me they are working on a grid system.

I’m a bloody European, I confess, but distances are given in yards on the irons and in feet for the putter on the green. This got me totally confused when I tried the AW swing on the green and couldn’t remember how many foot were going in a yard (don’t bother, I looked it up now). I would like an option to use the international standard for measurements, metres and centimetres.
Update: the developers told me they are working on a system to avoid confusion on the green…

Drop Ball
The drop ball isn’t always activated (I came into a situation on the fairway where I could have used it) and when it is it doesn’t let you decide where to drop the ball. At the 13th hole of Lakes of Sogndal the ball was dropped at least 100 yards away from the place it had landed.

The server doesn’t always react adequately. I tried to enter a (free) tournament because the lobby screen read there was an open spot. I got the warning that the game had already started. These things happen from time to time when several people all try to log in at the same time. But more than five minutes later the game was still on the list asking for people to join.

After each hole the scorecard should appear with the overview of the previous shot. But this fails every so often, I have witnessed it in solo and in tournaments games. This could of course be related to the previous point.

What is the verdict then? Gimme Golf is a quick arcade style game without a lot of bells and whistles, perfect for the lunch hour. But if you have patience and a fast machine the real thing still is Shot Online, which is also free but has the advantage that it shows you your evolution from day to day.

These kind of games live by what the players want, as they pay the bill, and if Gimme Golf is still around in 2010 it will probably be quite different from now. For the moment nobody can predict in what direction it will evolve, although I’m pretty sure that there will be a ranking system soon with goodies attached if you attain a certain level.

A final thing about the name. The game is called Gimme Golf but that particular shot can’t be chosen. Perhaps that would be a nice addition as well…

Note: The previous was written before I found out that the game isn’t really so new after all, a beta test was launched in April 2008 and the game was officially released in November of last year. It puts the many promises to do fast upgrades into a different perspective….

PS: A last word on problem gambling. Gimme Golf describes itself as a game of skill, directly matching ones intelligence and ability against that of online competitors. In US states it is completely legal to play these kinds of games for money, in other countries this may not be the case. But legal or not, it still means that you can pay up till 25$ entrance fee for the bigger money tournaments. You are warned.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Fish, nipples and donkeys


Lost Yoot

Entry 1538

I honestly thought that I already wrote an item about SimTower on this place, but as Google can’t find it back who am I to contradict that? Google doesn’t has it, ergo it doesn’t exist. The Matrix is closer than you think.

SimTower was a game devised in 1994 by Yutaka ‘Yoot’ Saito and published by Maxis as a kind of spin-off of their popular SimCity series. As a matter of fact the game didn’t have anything to do with the SimCity brand name and its successors (such as SimHealth, SimCopter and Streets of SimCity). Originally Yutaka designed it as elevator simulation software with additional eye candy and released it in Japan before Maxis acquired the rights for the rest of the world.

Because SimCity 2000 was one of my favourite games (this was before I discovered Transport Tycoon, I guess) I needed to have the tower version as well. The trailer looked very promising, but what a bummer it was when I first opened it. The 2D graphics were poor and cheaply animated and all in all the game only had about half a dozen of different rooms to choose from.

What a difference with SimCity that had nine different power plants alone, elaborate residential, commercial and industrial zones and a quite sophisticated budget control system. SimCity 2000 used fake 3D (some called the axonometric viewpoint 2D and a half) that you could turn around to get a better view of things. It contained train stations, airports, harbours, libraries, schools, prisons, army camps… and so on…and so on…

SimTower had none of that all, you could only watch one side of the tower and control the elevators in order to keep the masses moving up and down as fast as possible. And that is were the fun was. This game proved that graphics don’t really count when the concept behind it is daring and fun (a golden rule modern game makers seem to have forgotten).

Despite its simplicity SimTower was (and still is) very addictive and apparently I am not the only one who has the same opinion. There are still several fansites around (for over a decade now) that still attract visitors. It can be downloaded at several places as it has reached the grey area called abandonware.

Yoot Tower

Just like Chris Sawyer did by upgrading his Transport Tycoon to Transport Tycoon Deluxe Yutaka Saito tried the same and released Yoot Tower a couple of years later, but now distributed by Sega games. Yoot Tower didn’t do a lot in the shops; most reviews found it ‘more of the same’ and the initial concept of releasing expansion packs (containing extra locations, alternative towers and rooms) had to be abandoned, although the Japanese release had some extra Towerkits that could be purchased. One of the never developed ideas were a ‘moonbase’ and a ‘cruise ship’ template that could be stuffed with rooms, and of course, elevators…

Yoot Tower websites (and downloads) are harder to find, although last month a rather detailed (and very funny!) playing guide appeared to celebrate the game’s tenth birthday.


Every vintage game that has a small, but dedicated, group of followers has its 21st millennium open source counterpart. OpenTTD and Alien Invasion are amongst the most popular and active ones, other games, like the different incarnations of Open Theme Hospital, start with a lot of enthusiasm, but fail to deliver a playable beta version of the remake. I am a bit afraid that this is the current situation of the open source SimTower as well. The community has a website, a wiki, a forum and, not one, but two games in development: OpenTower Classic and OpenTower 3D. Needless to say that, apart from a downloadable preliminary preview no coding has been done yet. As a matter of fact the community has been very busy lately fighting some internal forum wars about the most efficient programming language to use.

Yoot Attack

All is not well with Yutaka ‘Yoot’ Saito either. He released a couple of tower remakes for the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS and invented some weird gaming concepts like Seaman (a virtual fish with a human face, and guided by a voice recognition module) and Odama that tried to combine pinball and warfare (you defend your castle with giant flippers that shoot the balls into the enemy troops, as in this YouTube movie). Needless to say that these games seem to be popular in his homeland Japan, the only country in the world where they do like fish flavoured icecream, but are regarded as terrible stinkers in the rest of the world.

Recently Apple rejected his iPhone concept for a ‘virtual caveman on a lost island’ game, called GABO, because they found it ‘unpleasant’. As a demo trailer on YouTube shows, the game is a bit weird, but unpleasant?

SimTower links
Review at City Empires, contains an (old) interview with Yoot Saito.
Uval And Harel's unofficial Simtower Page
Zellgamers, guide, hints, tips and tower downloads
Walkthrough/FAQ for SimTower
Sean's Page for Sim Tower Help
Smoser2's SimTower Headquarter
McLure's Sim Tower Stuff 2
RoadWolf's SimTower: Review, ‘Cheats’ and Guide (2008)
Scott's Addictions (review)

Yoot Tower links
Astoria Theodor Lauppert's Yoot Tower (review)
ATPM review
GiantMike review
A Misacrope's Guide and Commentary for Yoot Tower(2009)


Update 2009.07.05
This post was only a few hours old when I received an answer from Mr. D, a semi-admin, of the OpenTower community:

The "Current Situation" you speak of and refer with a blog post of another blog is not the "Current Situation" today. The reason development has been slow has been for a few reasons:
1. Is at the beginning of the year we had to trash what we had in terms of code because it needed an outdated library to run so a new Dev is in the process of writing a new code (Which has evolved into an alpha as seen here).
2. It is a hobby and is taken as such.
3. The Dev's RL lives have to take then away from the Comp. from time to time so there is periods of inactivity.
Now about this "Active Fighting" about programming language. Is is not as you say, a squabble amongst ourselves, but is more like one person creating an account and being "Fanboy" about Python (Programming language). He has not been around the forums in a while so this issue should not pop up again.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: open Theme Hospital - 3 different ones 


Ancient Warfare

Entry 1349

This page contains some visitor's statistics that will be daily updated for a week seven days period: complete.

A couple of years ago I was interested in Mark OvermarsGame Maker utility because I had this concept that would blow the complete game industry to pieces. I tried several game creators but always reverted to Game Maker, I subscribed to the forum and asked some silly newbie questions, I downloaded the complete tutorial (and the software itself, obviously), started learning its programming language (although Game Maker’s best feature is the drag and drop menu that lets you create games without a single line of code) and started designing, well I almost started…

The back side of this all was that the forum was literally overflowing with game projects in alpha, beta and gamma stage and that I spend more time looking at other people’s games than at my own.

Thus this project became one more on the pile of my unfinished ones although quite recently it came back crawling through a hole in my head, hence this post. Who knows what the future might bring? (But knowing myself, don’t hold your breath.)

Two GM games have intrigued me ever since.

The first was Seiklus and you can read more about it at the following posts: Seiklus & Seiklus (again). If you want to know how this game looks like you can watch some video speed runs, about 35 minutes in total, on Youtube.

Number two: Sandbox of Gods was so inspiring to me that I created some walkthroughs allowing the casual player to reach all the possible goals in the game. As the game is icon-driven the best way to illustrate the different possibilities was, in my opinion, to have a graphical representation rather than a textual approach. Although these walkthroughs were never as popular as the one for the Penumbra Tech Demo, that more or less gave this blog its lift-off, it had its visitors, especially when SoG was still rather hot in the indie freeware game scene. From time to time, once or twice a year, I check the website of Mr. Chubigans to see if the long awaited Sandbox of Gods sequel has been released (or not) and this week, nice springtime weather by the way, I found it the ideal opportunity to have a go. The good news was, well read for yourself…

There have been two attempts at getting a sequel to SOG, even a contest with a major announcement of Sandbox of 2: Ancient Warfare. Since then, nothing much has been churned out, mainly due to the overwhelming amount of work Fred and I had at the time, and the second attempt being at a bit of a bad time (last month, as the holidays were approaching and I was finishing Spirits of Metropolis). Still, there will be a sequel to SOG, and it won’t look like it did before, nor will it have an Ancient Warfare theme (used due to the competition theme we were entering at the time). But it will be done later this year. (Taken from Vertigo Gaming)

That SoG still attracts some player was proven on the Vertigo forum where quick11 wanted to have the answer to the following questions:
How do you get 'Ancient Defences'?
And how do you get 'Bunnies Killed [A.D.]'?

Needless to say that Unfinished Projects contains the answers to these questions. As I was browsing the forum anyway I responded with a link to my graphical walkthroughs, but to my amazement my post was deleted a few hours later. I asked the moderator (who is not the maker of SoG, by the way) for some explanations. Those sounded like this:

I deleted your post because your site contained pornographic material on it, which we strictly do not allow.

Because a previous article that mentioned SoG also contained some links to an ArianeB add-on and to some games on Shark’s Lagoon I am now known, at least on the Vertigo Games forum, as an official pornographer. I have never been so proud in my life!

This assumption however made me wonder if the above is indeed true. As I am quite a geek I decided to monitor the visited pages of my blog at several intervals. The results (in percent) so far are:  

Page 2404 2504 2604 3004 0205 0305 0605 Total
a. ArianeB 86.11 70.84 75.26 58.78 39.96 38.74 60.00 61.38
e. Crystal VD 3.01 4.97 3.35 16.73 36.03 33.26 21.24 16.94
Index page  6.25 11.66 9.22 13.06 10.04 13.05 6.39 9.95
c. The Sandbox Of God 1.16 4.97 - 1.22 2.62 2.95 0.82 1.96
Secret Fantasy Dreams - - 2.94 2.24 2.84 2.32 0.82 1.59
3. Gamebits 1.39 1.51 2.31 0.82 1.75 0.63 0.82 1.32
d. Shot-Online Calculator - - 0.84 1.84 1.53 3.58 - 1.11
5. The Pink Thing 0.23 0.43 0.84 0.61 1.31 1.68 0.82 0.85
Autumn Blues - 1.51 0.63 1.22 1.09 1.26 - 0.82
The Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit  - 0.55 0.84 1.02 - - 2.89 0.76
1. General Mish Mash 0.46 0.65 0.63 - 0.66 1.26 - 0.52
b. Dirk Gently 0.46 - - - - - 1.03 0.21
2. DNA 0.23 1.08 - - - - - 0.19
Archive Index 0.46 - - - - - 0.62 0.15

24th of April: A staggering 86% visits this blog for ArianeB alone and if one adds the other posts that mention adult gaming that number rises above 90%. Other games, including Sandbox of Gods, make out about two and a half percent of the public. My various Pink Floyd and Douglas Adams posts only reach one percent of the hits...

25th of April: ArianeB still rules at more than 70% and, perhaps due to this post, the interest for Sandbox of Gods has risen to slightly over 5% (adding one third of Autumn Blues). A lone believer has found salvation at Iggy's Church.

26th of April: 3 out of 4 visitors surf directly to the ArianeB pages, a very small minority (too small to make the chart) still reads the Dirk Gently, DNA and Star Trek entries. Sandbox of Gods stands at position 14 (and is thus not included in the top-10 overview of today). I am proud that my Shot Online Calculator (no longer supported or updated since a couple of years) still could attract one visitor.

27th, 28th and 29th of April: Ooops. Forgot to download the statistics.

30th of April: Virtually Date Crystal hits the market, strong. Would you like to know that 0.20% of my visitors went to the iPod page. I guess not.

2nd of May: Virtually Date Crystal is a hit and the first walkthrough that has been published gets 36% of all hits (46% if one adds the index page). My Penumbra page still attracts some people after all these years (but too little to be mentioned in the top 10).

3rd of May: Crystal surely has broken the hearts of the adult gaming community and the walkthroughs are getting a lot of attention. I do love it though that the Sandbox of Gods still gets its hits. it's a great game and it involves bunnies as well...

6th of May: Over 80% visits this blog for its adult games walkthroughs and a small, very small, minority wants to read about, what we shall call, regular games (amongst them David Galindo, creator of Sandbox of Gods, thanks fore your mail David!). The final results show that the Sandbox of Gods walkthroughs end up at the fourth place but that they can't compete with ArianeB, nor with newcomer Crystal.

The (recently updated) Sandbox of Gods walkthroughs can be found at:
Walking Through The Valley Of Eden (Sandbox of God Walkthrough Part 1) 
Bad Moon Rising (Sandbox Of God Walkthrough Part 2) 
Under The Vulcano (Sandbox Of God Walkthrough Part 3) 
I Want To Be A Little Fishy (Sandbox Of God Walkthrough Part 4) 
It's the Final Countdown (Sandbox Of God Walkthrough Part 5) 


Horses and heroes

Entry 1331

Time for some game updates. This post can be watched by anyone, if you are looking for some information about adult gaming, please consult Secret Fantasy Dreams or ArianeB UP 16 (game add-on).

OpenTTD, the open source remake of Transport Tycoon, finally has a stable upgrade, version 0.7.0. It brings you, amongst other things:

a reworked order system (with conditional orders and non-stop instructions);
more engines than in previous versions;
path based signals;
an AI framework;
downloads and automatic install of AIs, graphics and scenarios from a central server;
adjustments of previous limits concerning window size, the number of windows, network clients and companies;
… and a bunch of new languages.

Although the internal programming has been upgraded a lot the casual player will be most pleased by the download utility. The original Transport Tycoon was a bit too limited for experienced players and over the years several add-ons have been made to adjust the original framework. These add-ons can be divided into several categories:

eye-candy: replacing original graphics with new ones: vehicles, roads, houses, industries… These downloads don’t change the gameplay, but merely alter how the game looks;
new industries: the original game had only about a dozen of industries and these all evolved more or less independent from each other. Downloading new industries has made it possible to create realistic (and sometimes complicated) industrial chains, meaning that a secondary sector factory will only start producing if it gets raw materials from mines and farms, but also that the production will come to a halt if the finished product doesn’t get to the end consumer (the cities);
new vehicles: new industries mean also that new methods of transport have to be created and a lot of NewGRF files deal with alternative vehicles;
new (fan created) scenarios and maps.

In the past one had to browse through the Open TTD forum in order to look for a certain add-on and there were literally a hundred of places on the web were you could go looking for a particular add-on. If the add-on was changed (or upgraded) you had to find that out by yourself although the wiki more or less tried to centralise the information.

This is all gone with the download utility in version 0.7.0. It gives you a (long) list of the possible downloads and also warns you if the version present on your harddisk has been upgraded. Newbies however should be warned that downloading and activating all add-ons will not enhance the game, on the contrary, because some add-ons are not compatible with others. But the new version of Open TTD has also thought about that and allows you to save individual configurations.

A (quite recent) graphic set I like is called eGVRTS. The original game only started producing vehicles around 1930 (the default start of the game was 1950) but this enhancement offers horse-driven carriages that are available a century earlier (in the early 1800s). The screenshot at the top left side of this topic shows my current game in 1872 with a convoy of coaches transporting citizens from one city to another.

Open Transport Tycoon has been discussed a few times on this blog before and the last time was at Rock around the block. Programmers and would-be programmers can now make their own artificial intelligence module. AIs are added and constantly upgraded at the central server and give the human player some extra things to worry about. Two computer players have been created to do absolutely nothing, except providing some eye-candy. TownCars and StreetTraffic (that second one is an enhanced clone from the first) will randomly create cars to populate the streets in and between cities. Their only purpose is to give the streets a more realistic look and will of course from time to time block the commercial vehicles by creating traffic jams.

If you’ll excuse me now but I have some cows to transport.


Rock around the block

Entry 1125

Open TTD When I look at my latest posts it appears to me that I have become a grumpy old man always at war with the world around him. I blame it on television because I’d really rather chase some nude virgins around, frolicking in a poppy field. But even these virgins aren’t anymore what they used to be, cf. Ahmed The Dead Terrorist.

I can’t shout this loud enough from the roofs of Atagong County, the best game in the world is (Open) Transport Tycoon Deluxe. I know you male chauvinist pig readers come here mostly to nookie ArianeB as fast as is humanly possible but you wouldn’t like your kids to play that game, wouldn’t you, you dirty hypocrites? Transport Tycoon is kids-friendly, non-aggressive, non-violent and it has that certain je ne sais quoi that makes games and girls irresistible. In that order, exceptions notwithstanding.

The big problem with the original TT game and its second millennium derivates is that the AI, to put it blindly, sucks, even at the most difficult level. The computer competitors try to make your life difficult in the beginning, but if you just ignore them and build your own transport empire at your own pace you will overhaul them in a period of three years to three decades. After a while the AI is so confused that it will not do anything anymore, it just sits there, scratching its head, eternally contemplating what move to take next. Transport companies will come and go, as the AI refuses to locate the opportunities to build an empire.

Actually the AI helps the human player to become a transport mogul instead of preventing it. As the AI refuses to update, upgrade (or downgrade) during the game you can use that knowledge for your own advantage. Many times I have witnessed that a competitor spends zillions to build a road system from, for instance, an iron ore mine to the nearest steel factory and then puts only one or two trucks to feed the factory, regardless of the fact that his depot has enough freight to use at least a dozen of cars. The competitor makes some money, but could do a lot better by simply increasing its fleet. Only, this never happens.

Once you (the human player) have spot this situation, all it takes is to build a depot next to that of your competitor, his overstock will leak into your depot and your army of trucks brings in loads of money. All this requires is minimal investment as you use the competitor’s roads and bridges. Capitalism can be fun!

Since last month the nightly builds (experimental versions) of Open TTD include an artificial intelligence module that replaces the original, dodgy, one. Everybody is invited to write his (or her) own AI and several versions can compete with each other during the same game.

A very vicious AI experiment is called Rondje Om De Kerk (Dutch for: round around the church), made by a collective circling around Maninthebox. It uses several unethical ways to make money. It uses the aforementioned trick of borrowing roads build by other players to keep investments as low as possible and instead of sending empty trucks back from the offloading point to the loading hub it simply sells these truck at the destination point and buys new ones at the starting point. Apparently it is much more cost effective that way but some humans consider this cheating, as it is not ‘realistic’.

Probably Rondje will not be integrated into the next stable release from OTTD but other programmers have been dissecting the code to see what bits and pieces they can pinch to insert into the first stable version with the improved AI. The future of Open TTD looks brighter than ever.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Tycooning