20/10/2017

BOGEY MANOR (ARCADE)

Today’s game is called Bogeyman Or, where you’re given a few facts about a monster and have to guess whether it’s the infamous child-scaring Bogeyman or some other nightmarish creature. No, wait, my mistake. It’s actually a 1985 arcade game from Technos called Bogey Manor. Fortunately it has nothing to do with golf.


What it does have is a title screen featuring a wonderful blood-drenched logo and this superb cartoon ghost – a slime-ghost, even, going about its ghostly business and leaving a trail of ectoplasm wherever it wanders. Actually, it’s got kind of an upsetting face for a cartoon ghost, don’t you think? Ghosts have always struck me as the least terrifying Halloween monster, but I’d be more inclined to fear them if they all looked like angry mutant sea-lions made from snot. Oh, hey, is that why this is called Bogey Manor? God, I hope not.


Bogey Manor doesn’t offer you any story or explanation before you insert your coins. All you get is the order to “get ready” and the knowledge that this is only house number one. Presumably there will be a multitude of houses, and those houses will have ghosts in them. Will the ghosts need to be busted? Probably. Hang on, I’m going to revise that to “definitely” because I’ve just seen Bogey Manor’s arcade flyer and it says the game features “a theme reminiscent of GHOSTBUSTERS” and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean the musical theme. Let’s hope that busting in Bogey Manor makes me feel good. It would be nice to feel good for a change.


It’s straight into the action once you hit start, and here’s the first screen of Bogey Manor’s first, erm, manor. You play as the little red-and-blue chap at the bottom-right of the screen. His name is Fritz – no, really – and appropriately enough he seems to be dressed in a bootleg Power Rangers costume. Well, it's the right time of year for it. At the top of the screen is a ghost, and Bogey Manor has once again delivered a really cool-looking ghost: still green, still slimy and with an expression formed from melting facial features that suggest the ghost is being subjected to a lingering afterlife of constant misery.


Bogey Manor is a simple game, mostly – but it’s one of those games that’s surprisingly difficult to summarise succinctly. I’ll begin with the very basics. Every manor has four screens (East, North, West and South) and you can move between them by walking off the left or right off the edge of the screen. The rooms are all connected in a loop, so if you keep walking in the same direction you’ll eventually end up back where you started. Each screen also has four floors, which you can move between by walking up and down these staircases. In most houses, only the floor Fritz is standing on is illuminated, so you’ll have to travel between the floors in order to find your real target: these crystal balls.


The true goal of each house is to find all of the crystal ball pedestals contained within and give them a good whack with the stick Fritz is carrying around. Break all the crystals in a house and you’ve cleared the stage. Well, nearly, but we’ll get to that. So, that’s Bogey Manor in a nutshell. Explore the houses, avoid the ghosts and smash all the crystals. I hope you’re not the kind of player who needs a reason to be doing all these things, because I don’t have one. It’s not like the ghosts ever leave the house – a house that, for all we know, might be the ghosts’ home. They’re minding their own business when Fritz barges in and starts smashing up their glassware with no clear goal in mind, so if you do need a sense of motivation then “Fritz is kind of a dick” is going to have to be it.


I managed to find a magical ring that made all the floor visible at once, which definitely helped in tracking down the last couple of crystal balls. It also made it clear that the wall in the top-right corner is in the shape of a ghost. I did worry that I was suffering from some kind of Halloween-related pareidolia but no, that’s obviously supposed to be a spooky wall.


Once you’ve destroyed all the crystals, there’s one last thing to do before the stage ends: escape from the house as it collapses around you. The exit door is on always on the bottom floor, so here’s a top Bogey Manor tip for you: make sure you always get rid of the crystals on the upper floors first. Fritz might have the brass balls required to enter this ghost-infested mansion, but his bravery far exceeds his athleticism and he’s not exactly light on his feet. He’s a bit slow, even, and because the house collapses from the top down you probably won’t get Fritz to waddle his stumpy little legs down to the exit before he’s buried under the falling masonry. Clear the bottom floor last, though, and you’re already near the door and you’ll have no trouble escaping.


Now we’re on to house number two. The gameplay’s the same, but things are spiced up by a fresh mock-Tudor look to the backgrounds and some new enemies of varying levels of Halloweenosity. There are Frankensteins, and you can’t argue against their Halloween credentials, especially when they’re the classic flat-top and green skin variety. Then there are these furry little hairballs that scurry around, getting Fritz’s way – and, of course, Fritz dies in one hit, so watch out for that. I was going to call them Critters or demonic tribbles or something, but then I realised what they actually remind me of are the McDonalds Fry Guys.


As well as being big lumbering units that can and will block Fritz’s path, the Frankensteins also have the ability to throw an angry strop near these pink sections of the floor. Doing so makes those sections of floor spin around, which will hinder Fritz’s movements. If you’re on the pink floors while they’re spinning, you’ll either be catapulted into the ceiling and hang there for a moment before falling back down (usually into the arms of a patrolling Frankenstein) or you’ll fall through the trap door and onto the floor below. It’s generally not difficult to avoid these traps, and you might not want to avoid them because you can use them to your own advantage. Fritz can hit them with his stick, and they can stun certain monsters while they’re spinning, and that can come in handy in later, busier houses. I even managed to quickly escape to the floor below a couple of times by purposefully spinning the floor while standing on it, although that’s a risky manoeuvre because you’re equally likely to embed yourself in the ceiling as you are to fall to the floor below.


House three introduces another Halloween mainstay with the wicked witch, and what fun-looking witches they are too, with pale faces and curious elongated jaws that look more like the bleached skulls of some abyssal fish than anything else. However, it’s hard to warm to the witches because they attack with projectiles (which look a lot like the delicious potato-based snack Hula Hoops) and I’m sure you realise how frustrating it is to deal with projectile attacks in a game that’s played almost exclusively in long, narrow, horizontal corridors with a player character that can neither duck nor jump. Then, just when you think you’ve gotten over your hatred of the witches, a different version of them turns up later and their projectiles warp you to a different part of the screen if they hit you. I think I preferred it when they just killed you outright.


The hordes of deadly monsters might seem overwhelming, and once you get past house six or so then yes, they are, but Fritz can fight back. He does have a stick, after all, and surprisingly it can be used to batter ghosts into submission for a little while. However, you can’t just run in and start swinging, oh no. First you have to stun the enemies by using the “trick” button. According to the flyer, this “scares” the monsters, and once they’re scared you can get to whacking. Putting aside the seemingly ludicrous prospect of scaring a Frankenstein, what Fritz actually does is make his hand big and kinda... point his finger near the enemy. Thus I have come to the conclusion that Fritz’s plan is to use the old “what’s that behind you!?” technique and then batter the monster when they look away. He’s a crafty one, is Fritz.


House three also has a fantastic “haunted cabin in the woods” look to it, with the dramatic highlight being this big monster face peering in through the wall. In fact, all the different house types have something creepy in the top-right corners of their rooms, and only in the top-right corners, which is a bit odd. I suppose it’s because the top floor is a bit taller than the other three.
Repetitive placement of leering otherworldly horrors aside, Bogey Manor does look good and definitely has plenty of the Halloween spirit about it, with the unfortunate exception of Fritz himself. Like, it’s good that he’s safety-conscious enough to wear a helmet while exploring these dilapidated houses, I’d prefer it if he was, I dunno, a regular trick-or-treater or even if Technos had-gone all-in with the “theme reminiscent of Ghostbusters” and made him Egon Spengler.


The next house has the quirk of being constantly illuminated, so you can see exactly what’s going on at all times and also get the full effect of being under the spooky Mona Lisa’s watchful gaze the entire time. So what can we see? Well, there are some doors in the background and yes, Fritz can enter them by pressing up on the joystick. Going into a door makes you come out of a different door on the same screen, although there’s no indication of which door you’ll exit from and so I tended to avoid using the doors because whenever I did I always seemed to step out right in front of a monster.
Speaking of monsters, the new one here is… another witch? There’s one at the top of the screen. It’s got green skin and a broomstick, so if it’s not a witch then it’s a very unwell janitor. I’m sorry? What’s that? It is a janitor? Well blow me down, so it is. As well as killing you if you touch it, these mop-wielding monsters can clean up the stage around them. Sometimes they’ll scrub the doors in the background and remove them from play, but far more frustrating than that is their ability to fix crystal spheres that Fritz has previously smashed. They must be getting paid by the hour because they’re in no hurry to fix the broken crystals, but they can do it and having to re-locate a crystal I’d already broken definitely got me killed more than once.
Anything else new in this house? Well, one of the doors in the haunted mansion was pulsating with a mysterious light, so naturally I stepped through said door as soon as I could because it’s probably full of cakes and puppies.


Turns out the door contained something even better – the power to transform Fritz in Super Fritz. I guess he really is a Power Ranger, and he’s getting one hell of an upgrade here. I genuinely laughed out loud the first time I saw this, and it’s just so ludicrously over-the-top that I can’t help but love it. Even his shoes get an upgrade. Fritz is Iron Man and Inspector Gadget rolled into one brightly-coloured ghost-avoiding package now, although I never did manage to get him to fire his Fritz Laser Gun. Not pictured: the Mega Fritz Noise-Cancelling Undergarments, Super Fritz’s Totally Sweet Ride, The Hyper-Secret Fritz Pass-Card That Grants Access to the Hidden Archives of the Vatican.


Super Fritz’s main power is that he can jump between the different floors of the house without needing to use the doors or the staircases. Not terribly exciting, but extremely useful. Make the best of it while you can, because the transformation doesn’t last forever and eventually you’ll change back to regular, stick-swingin’ Fritz. In fact, if you’re the kind of person who cares about high scores (and shooting for the Top Players table is probably the biggest motivation for playing Bogey Manor) then you might not want to be Super Fritz, because there’s a points bonus for finishing the stage without using the transformation.


Once you reach house five, you’ve seen just about everything Bogey Manor has to offer. The final new enemy is revealed, and it’s a flying Medusa that drifts across the screens while daintily holding her skirt. Makes sense to me, presumably these haunted houses are filthy and she’s not wearing any shoes. I’m not really sure what Medusa’s gimmick is supposed to be, if she even has one: mostly she just flits around the rooms in a surprisingly easy-to-avoid fashion. Oh well, at least her sprite looks nice.


With just about everything in Bogey Manor having been introduced by this point, now it becomes a matter of survival, clearing as many houses and racking up as big a score as you can. That’s something I spent longer doing than I thought I would have, because it turns out that Bogey Manor is actually pretty good fun. It’s a simple game that feels – very strongly feels – like the very definition of an “arcade game”, you know? Like, if someone tasked me with creating a game that felt like a mid-eighties coin-op there’s a good chance I would have come up with something very similar to Bogey Manor: single-screen, monster-dodging action where the player has to activate certain parts of the game world to clear each stage with only limited offensive capabilities to protect them and a power-up that transforms you into a “super” version of your character. I probably would have also given my game a “spooky monsters” theme, but that’s just coincidence. It’s very easy to draw an evolutionary line from Pac-Man to Bogey Manor, but Bogey Manor also has the benefit of possessing enough interesting gameplay quirks to keep it that bit more interesting. It's especially nice that it finds a good balance between having to strategise your movements to avoid monsters and reach the crystals, while still giving you a chance to escape with quick reactions when things go wrong.


One of the things that kept me playing Bogey Manor was a sense of mystery. The basics of the game are simple to grasp, but I had the constant feeling that there was more to it that I wasn’t quite understanding. For instance, the crystals you need to smash come in three different colours. Are the colours somehow linked to the appearance of Super Fritz’s Magical Quick-Change Wardrobes, or the room-illuminating pieces of jewellery that may or may not pop up in each stage? I’m not sure, but I think they might be. Or there’s the fact that around room twenty, I realised there are a bunch of spots in each stage where you can hold up and attack to smash up the background. You get points for doing this. You can also reveal hidden teleporter doors this way. Are there any other secrets to be found using this method? I haven’t got a bloody clue, but I wouldn’t bet against it and if you’re looking for a mostly-forgotten arcade game to really obsess over and take apart in minute detail, then Bogey Manor might be a good bet.


It helps that it’s a nicely put-together game, too. The graphics are lovely, with a lot of charm in both the backgrounds and the monsters. Highlights include the truly defeated look of the Frankensteins once you managed to hit them with the old scare-and-slap, presumably intended to portray the absolute shame of being mugged off by a child, and the vengeful appearance of the ghosts when they recover from a beating. The music’s good, too. The flyer describes it as “Spookey (sic) Organ Music,” which it isn’t but it sounds as close as you’re likely to get with the audio capabilities of a 1985 arcade game.


Of course, none of that matters much if the game doesn’t play well, but fortunately Bogey Manor does okay on that front, so long as you remember it is, as I say, a 1985 arcade game. By that I mean it’s rock hard once you’ve gotten further than house five or six. Monsters are everywhere, a single mistake means death and I don’t think there’s any way to get extra lives, but that was par for the course at the time. It’s hectic and difficult but rarely feels too unfair, and thankfully it mostly controls well and Fritz does as he’s told aside from the occasional issue with getting him to walk up or down the stairs.


So you might be thinking “does Bogey Manor have an ending, or is going for a 'surprise, Fritz was in Hell all along and his eternal punishment is to smash crystals and swear at teleporting witches for the rest of time'” kind of vibe. Well, here’s the thing: there is an ending, but I couldn’t seem to trigger it. I made it all the way to house forty, which seemed like any other stage at first until I realised there were two glowing doors. So, I became Super Fritz and then went into the other door to emerge as Mega Fritz. He’s purple and invincible and it really felt like there was something I was missing about him, but I finished the stage anyway and moved on to house forty-one.


So far, so familiar. Mega Fritz was gone, so I heaved a heavy sigh – even though I enjoyed Bogey Manor it does get a bit wearing after forty stages – and cleared house forty-one. Then the game sent me to… house forty-one. Again. And again, and again. At this point, as far as I was concerned stage forty-one is where Bogey Manor ends, and I was all set to complain about the lack of an ending, maybe one where Fritz becomes the new Prince of the Underworld after having beaten all its inhabitants into submission. But then I saw a video of someone beating Bogey Manor by clearing stage forty. They finished the stage and an ending played, and I have no idea what I did wrong that prevented me from seeing it. It could be all manner of things, I suppose. Maybe I didn’t smash enough background elements, maybe I took too long, maybe it was an emulation error.


And the ending? It’s a very simple one: just some text on a black background. It reads “The evil is destroy. Peace. And what happened to Fritz. Only the gods know. Thank you.” Now that’s an ending that’s just weird enough for me to be pissed off that I didn’t manage to unlock it myself, because it implies the gods sent a champion to fight the monsters but they created him in the form of a tokusatsu hero.


See what I mean about mysteries? Bogey Manor is full of them, but sadly I don’t have the time – okay, I don’t have the patience – to unravel them all. I’m still glad I played it, though. It’s a slice of arcade action with a very “classic” feel to it, infused with just enough gameplay quirks to keep it interesting and liberally coated in a thick sludge of Halloweenosity. Thank you, Bogey Manor, for giving me the opportunity to make a Frankenstein look like a proper chump during this Halloween season.


And so we turn to the Halloween-O-Meter, where Bogey Manor scores a more-than-respectable eight out of ten. That ghost on the title screen is worth a solid five points all on its own, and the inclusion of Frankensteins, witches and shadowy, fanged faces peering through the splintered wood of a haunted cabin net it the rest of the points. It could have scored more highly if the main character didn’t look like the mascot for a cycling safety cartoon.

17/10/2017

THE CREATURES OF QUAKE

What with it being October and all, I was thinking about what games I’d most like to play to keep the Halloween mood going in between writing articles for this year’s Spooktacular. There were a lot of obvious candidates that sprang to mind: Blood, Night Slashers, Bloodborne, perhaps an attempt to complete Resident Evil 7 on “Madhouse” difficulty… and while I’m sure I will play those games over the next couple of weeks, I also thought of id Software’s all-time classic PC shooter Quake, because why not? It seems more than Halloween-y enough to me. Dark, labyrinthine stages dripping with oppressive atmosphere, a sinister soundtrack, and monsters. Horrible, twisted creatures, plus dogs and fish. Evil fish, mind. So I played a bit of Quake and then thought hey, I want to write about these monsters, so here they are: the hideous creatures of Quake!

Grunt


(images from the Quake wiki)

Okay, so we’re not off to the most hideous of starts with the Grunt, one of Quake's least exciting enemies. It’s… a guy with a gun. He’ll shoot at you with his gun if he sees you. The most interesting things about the Grunts are that they look very similar to the player character (presumably they were your monster-fighting predecessors who were reanimated upon death) and that their leg armour has ventilation holes. Makes sense to me, nobody wants sweaty thighs to strike during the heat of battle.


Closer examination seems to confirm that the Grunts had something done to them post-mortem, and their chests seem to have been opened up and then stapled shut again at some point. It’s a little hard to tell, though. I’m looking at the chest area and I can’t tell what’s supposed to be flesh and what’s body armour. The blood implies that there’s meat under those staples, but there’s definitely some armour on the midriff because that’s not what abdominal muscles look like unless you fall asleep face-down on top of a novelty cookie cutter. Whatever armour the grunt is wearing is a little too small for them, too. It’s riding up over their gut just enough for you to see their belly button. Crop-tops aren’t usually a look you see on undead murder-troops from a hell dimension, so full points to id Software for pioneering new fashion trends.

Enforcer


The Enforcer is also a soldier with a gun. A higher-ranking soldier, and as is befitting their rank the Enforcers carry laser guns that are actually easier to avoid than the Grunt’s non-laser weaponry. On the plus side, they do get a sweet new helmet for full-face protection, and their faces being only partially visible through the darkened glass is an effect that I still think looks really cool to this day. That might be because it reminds me of the Super Naturals toyline. If you didn’t think the young VGJunk would be extremely into action figures with a ghostly hologram gimmick and a main villain called “Skull,” then I can only assume this is your first time reading the site.
As well as having laser guns, the Enforcers are the only enemies in Quake that can talk. Using intelligible English words, I mean. The other monsters might be talking to each other, I suppose, but I don’t understand the guttural tongue of the elder things. The Enforcers have actual digitised speech clips, though, and they say things like “you there!” and “freeze!” What they don’t say is “shoot to kill!” although for a long time I thought they did.  I distinctly remembered playing Quake as a teenager and hearing the bad guys shout “shoot to kill!” but I was wrong. It isn’t in Quake. I began to doubt everything. A deep existential malaise crept into my soul as I pondered the fallibility of memory. Then, a couple of years ago I found out I was thinking of a “total conversion” for Quake called Malice where some enemies do, in fact, say “shoot to kill!” Thank you for reading my anti-climactic anecdote.

Rottweiler


Testing the theory that all dogs are good dogs to the absolute limit are these Rottweilers. Infected with a frenzied bloodlust, these dogs will charge at you and try to bite you to death but they make authentic whimpering noises when you shoot them, so I still feel bad about killing them even though they’re trying to use my windpipe as a squeaky toy. Thanks, id.
You might think that with them just being regular dogs, the Rottweilers aren’t that interesting, but honestly I think they’re one of the most upsetting of Quake’s monsters to fight. Partly that’s because of the aforementioned whimpering, but mostly it’s because they move really quickly but don’t look quite right while they’re running around. They don’t have as many animation frames as it seems like they should have, so they kind of twitch and float towards you in a manner that works surprisingly well with Quake’s semi-Lovecraftian setting. They’ve got a Hounds of Tindalos kinda vibe, and it’s a shame you only see the Rottweilers in a few stages.

Zombie


Now here’s a classic Halloween monster amongst Quake’s menageries of horrors: the good old zombie. It’s about what you’d expect from a zombie, really. A reanimated corpse with a lust for human flesh, its decayed body has rotted away so severely that its external genitalia have fallen off. Thank god for small mercies, no-one needed to see the zombie’s decomposing wang flopping around while it attacks the player. Halloween’s supposed to be spooky, not traumatic.
Being a zombie, these creatures can only be defeated through complete dismemberment. There’s a missed opportunity here, because you can (usually) only achieve that by using explosives to blow them into tiny chunks, but the hero of Quake comes equipped with an axe. There definitely should have been a way to hack the zombie to bits with the axe, even if it’s just to give the axe something to do.
As for attacking, the zombies rip out disgusting lumps of their own rancid flesh and throw it at you. I can only hope this zombie attack method makes its way into the next series of The Walking Dead, turning the show into the undead equivalent of a custard pie fight.

Rotfish


Ah yes, the Rotfish, so named because it is red and it was first discovered by a German naturalist. Of course not, it’s just a manky, rotting fish. Quake has underwater areas and there has to be something down there that’s trying to kill you, no matter how ineffectually. They couldn’t just have an angry fish, of course, so we get the Rotfish instead. It’s definitely the least of Quake’s monsters.

Scrag


Now we’re talking. The Scrag is a truly bizarre looking creature, a flying, acid-spitting monstrosity that’s part snake, part man and a terrible piano player. “Teeth for arms” isn’t a monster design you see very often, but I think it’s one with a lot of potential. The Scrag certainly proves it can be creepy as all get-out.
As well as being a great monster design, the Scrags are also proper bastards. Every time I play Quake, every god-damned time I’m playing through levels I’ve beaten dozens of times, I always manage to get ambushed by these floating arseholes. They hide in the darkened corners at the top of rooms and shoot at you before you can spot them, or they teleport in from whatever the Scrag equivalent of a green room is before puking their acidic bile all over you. Sometimes they’ll be zipping around, dodging your bullets, while at others they’ll fly right into your face, seemingly with the sole purpose of getting right in your bloody way. It’s difficult not to imagine them saying “hey, what are ya doin’, huh? Fighting monsters? Huh? Huh?” while you’re trying to shoot the other monsters that are blasting you with lightning or grenades. To make matters worse, when you do shoot them they make a noise that sounds a hell of a lot like someone saying “nah.” Don’t you “nah” me, you little shit, get back here so I can shoot you with my nail gun.
Also, the Scrags are referred to as “wizards” within the game’s files. I wish I didn’t know this, because it means I want to fight Scrags that wear wizard’s hats and somehow carry a wand in their stubby little horn-arms and such creatures don’t exist.

Ogre


One of Quake’s most iconic and plentiful monsters are the Ogres. Can I just take a moment to say how disappointed I am that the memeification of Shrek means that can no longer see the word “ogre” without thinking of the big green lump? And that as a result every time I play Quake I’m half-expecting one of these things to shout “get out of my swamp!” at me as it tries to eviscerate me with its chainsaw? If there was any justice in the world, these would be the most famous ogres, because they’re pretty great. They’ve got a chainsaw (for chopping) and a grenade launcher (for making you panic when you hear the “ting ting ting” sound of a grenade unexpectedly landing nearby.) Chainsaw and grenade launcher is a truly great videogame weapon combinations, if you ask me.
The Ogres themselves look like bouncers that once turned Pinhead away from Hell’s trendiest club, with teeth like a sack of old pennies and pale, angular head that makes me think “here’s what Kryten would have looked like if Red Dwarf was a horror rather than a comedy.” The Ogre’s appearance does raise one significant question, though: who makes their dungarees? Does each Ogre fashion their clothes from the flayed skin of their victims, or is there an Ogre Dungaree Emporium out there? If there is, I can’t help but imagine it as being very similar to the place that I had to go and get my free school uniforms from when I was a (poor) child. Wherever they come from, these outfits have a cute little Quake symbol on the chest. You know, just to make sure you know the snarling, chainsaw-wielding psychopath works for the bad guys.

Knight


Some of Quake’s stages have a medieval theme, and what could be a more appropriate foe to encounter amongst the ruined castle of these levels than a sword-swinging knight? If you thought Dark Souls was the first game to hide relentless killer knights around corners and behind secret walls, then think again.
Appearance-wise, there’s not much to say about the knight. They’re wearing plate armour, their swords are drenched in blood, their bright red shoulderpads are actually reflective so they can safely  embark on late-night bicycle rides. Their only method of attack is to rush towards the player and try to introduce their sword to your internal organs. While grunting, of course. There’s a lot of grunting in Quake. Sadly for the knights, there’s little a sword can do to protect against a double-barrelled shotgun, despite what your Japanese animes might tell you.

Death Knight


Hang on, Death Knight? Then what was the other knight? Maiming Knight? Over-Exuberant Playtime Knight? Okay, fine, the Death Knight. He’s like the other Knight, except bigger, tougher, and with a ranged attack that must surely cause much envious muttering amongst the lesser Knights. The Death Knight’s ranged attack consists of a spread of small fireballs, complete with trailing particle effects, and when I was a kid seeing this move in action blew my mind. I mean, I was already reeling from my first exposure to Quake, on a friend’s (dad’s) PC that ran it perfectly – the scope, the atmosphere, the three dimensions! I think the Death Knight’s amazing-looking fireball shot was the thing that tipped me over the edge, though, especially because the pattern of the projectiles is reminiscent of a pentagram and I was enough of a closet goth to really appreciate that.
With the ability to attack from any distance and some pulverising sword attacks, the Death Knight is clearly a cut (pun intended) above the regular Knight. It is a shame, then, that the Death Knight’s helmet looks so much like an upturned bucket.

Fiend


Witness, and tremble at the terrifying and very pointy visage of… the Fiend! They’re my favourite enemies in Quake and, come to think of it, one of my favourite enemies in any videogame. Why? I think it might be down to their sheer simplicity. They’re a creature formed from teeth, spikes and the pure concept of rage, and their only purpose is to do you harm with their their arm claws or their face-spikes or their cloven hooves. You might be thinking “running towards the player and trying to kill them” is a common theme amongst many Quake monsters, and you’re right – but the Fiend is different because it’s so good at it. The dogs are weak, the Knights are easy targets, but the Fiend? The fiends jumps, it sprints, it uses its powerful hind legs to launch itself across the goddamn map with the sole aim of furious stabbing. Not only can it survive a good few shotgun blasts to the face and rip you to shreds in moments, but the Fiend is particularly effective as a panic generator. You might be having a perfectly manageable battle with a group of monsters but then a Fiend appears and all your plans go out the window as you struggle to kill the lightning-fast slaughter demon that’s bounding towards you like a rambunctious puppy. Well, a puppy built out of kitchen knives and rusty nails, anyway.
The one saving grace of the Fiend is that they are deeply, irredeemably thick. Just the dumbest monsters out there, and you can use this to your advantage in a couple of ways. You can lure them into jumping down pits or into pools of water too deep for them to leap out of. Then you can stand at the edge of the pit and laugh at them, but it’s the nervous laughter that comes from the niggling fear that the Fiend might jump out of the pit. Or, you can try to get the other enemies to shoot the Fiend, and if that happens the Fiend might turn around and kill your opponents for you. There are few things more satisfying that seeing a furious living buzzsaw change allegiances, albeit temporarily.

Spawn


From my favourite monster to my most hated, in the form of the Spawn. A rare and mysterious monster, the Spawn only shows up a couple of times during Quake. For this we should be grateful, because they’re a right pain in the arse. Like the Fiend, they move at high speeds and attempt to slap the player about, which is annoying by itself because they’re much smaller and harder to see than the Fiends. However, they also detonate in a highly damaging explosion when you kill them. Not cool, Spawn. In a way they feel more like environmental hazards than fully-realised monsters, and dying to a spawn gives the same feeling as falling into a spike-pit you should have avoided. Like I say, they’re not my favourite, but I must give id Software credit for creating a convincingly gooey, blobby monster when the 3D graphics technology of the time mean that gooey, blobby monsters were the hardest kind of creature to create.

Vore


I tell you what, I’m real glad I’m getting all these images from one source because the idea of having to do a Google Image search for “vore” is not one I was looking forward to.
Anyway, this is the Vore. You first encounter it as a boss of sorts, before it becomes more of a regular enemy later in the game. I say “regular,” it’s still a challenge whenever you face it. You might think it’s spider-legged lower body would make it one of the game’s quicker monsters, but it isn’t. It’s one of the slowest, and that’s the only break you get when fighting a Vore because they have tons of health and they fire highly damaging homing projectiles. “Homing” does quite describe just how tenacious these projectiles are, actually. If you can't get them to hit a wall and explode, they will track you wherever you go like the spiky purple orb equivalent of a Liam Neeson action movie. A tricky creature to fight, but one that’s different enough from the other monsters in the game to be fun to fight.
Even though I’ve seen the Vore thousands of times over the years, it’s only now that I’m noticing that it has quite a lot of the Scrag about it. They share the same sickly grey skin tone, and the “inside” of the Vore’s legs looks a lot like the Scrag’s tail. Maybe Vores are the evolved forms of the  Scrags. They have more legs, better magic powers and crucially aren’t horrible sneaky bastards that always manage to get the drop on me.

Shambler


I described the Ogre as Quake’s “iconic” monster, but I suppose that title should by rights belong to the Shambler. The toughest non-boss creature in the game, the Shambler is a hulking brute of a demon with a winning smile and a shaggy white coat of fur. No, really, apparently the Shambler is supposed to be furry. I’m not sure how I feel about that, I think it’s a lot creepier if the Shambler has no fur and the skin texture of a condom filled with wallpaper paste.
With a lot of health and some extremely deadly attack, the Shamblers are the most dangerous monsters that you’re going to regularly encounter while playing Quake. In one of my all-time favourite videogame dick moves, the Shamblers also take reduced damage from explosives. Just when you though you could put that rocket launcher you collected to good use, here comes a Shambler to ignore your explosives and punch you to death. I used to think that the reduced explosive damage was to make the Shambler even harder to beat, but now I think it was a much sneakier design decision – it’s so shooting it from around a corner with the grenade launcher is ineffective. You see, one of the Shambler’s attacks is a lightning beam, which works in a very specific way: if the Shambler can see you when it fires the beam, it always hits you. By making round-the-corner grenades a poor combat option, you’re forced to step in the Shambler’s (lack of) eye line to fight it. Now that’s a vicious bit of design.
If you don’t like the sound of getting electrocuted, there’s a way to stop the Shambler from using that attack. Unfortunately, that method is to get really close to the Shambler, so swings and roundabouts. Once you’re all up in the Shambler’s face, it’ll try to clobber you, but if you’re quick you can move backwards and out of range while also not being zapped. This leads to a method of fighting the Shambler often called the “Shambler dance,” where you duck in and out of the Shambler’s reach and if you don’t think fighting this dark, gory game’s most powerful monster by waltzing with the bloody thing is the greatest thing ever then I think you should re-evaluate your life.

Cthon


Quake also features a couple of “proper” boss monsters, and I’ve got to be honest, they’ve never been as interesting to me as the regular creatures. I think that’s partly because the boss battles are more like puzzles than anything else, and that takes you out of the high-speed, secret-hunting, run-n-gun action that makes Quake so great.
That said, I do like Cthon’s design. It’s so close to being a standard lava monster but its face being a features stone slab bisected by a glowing fissure turns it into something unsettlingly different. Sometimes a small change is all you need to mix up a common monster type, you know? It’s just a shame you fight Cthon by standing on buttons rather than by blasting it with a six-barrelled nail gun.

Shub-Niggurath


The final boss of the game is where Quake’s H. P. Lovecraft influence shines the strongest, with a battle against Lovecraft’s own Elder God Shub-Niggurath. It was a bold decision (although I suspect one born from time and budget constraints) to have Quake’s final boss be an immobile, abstract entity that does little to fight the player besides summoning regular enemies for you to wade through. I’ve said before that I quite like it when a game’s final boss isn’t as powerful as their troops, because leaders are rarely the ones that do the actual fighting, you know? That’s true for Shub-Niggurath, and if you are (understandably) disappointed by Quake’s lack of a “real” climactic fight then just try to think of it as an interactive cutscene, I guess.
Just like Cthon, I think Shub-Niggurath’s design is good. I certainly appreciate the eerieness of it being a fleshy tree stump that’s constantly bleeding, and it’s very much in keeping with descriptions from the original Cthulhu Mythos stories. As an extra flourish, if you take a look at the shape of Shub-Niggurath you’ll realise that it’s the same shape as the Quake logo. I had a little lightbulb moment when I figured that out, let me tell you.

Those are the horrific denizens of the world of Quake, and I love pretty much all of them. If you didn’t also love them, and especially if you’ve never played Quake, then I hope you’ve got at least a little affection for them after reading this. Okay, maybe except the Spawn. Nobody loves the Spawn, except particularly sadistic creators of new Quake levels.

12/10/2017

BLINKY'S SCARY SCHOOL (COMMODORE 64)

For today’s Halloween-themed offering, we’ve got a Commodore 64 platformer / collect-em-up that takes place in a dark and twisted universe – a world where, when you die, you’re not allowed to embrace the sweet respite of the grave but instead you’d better get down to Undead Tesco and buy some pens and ring binders because you have to go back to school. Truly a chilling concept, and it’s one we’re going to explore with Zeppelin Games’ 1990 potion-em-up Blinky’s Scary School!


Here’s Blinky now. He’s the ghost, not the frog. Is “Blinky” the name he was assigned when he died and became a ghost? I hope so, I wouldn’t like to think that “Blinky” was his name while he was alive unless he was a Mr. Magoo type and he died during a comical accident in which his poor eyesight made him mistake a chainsaw for an electric toothbrush. However he met his end, Blinky’s a ghost now, and he might look familiar to you because I mentioned the Amiga version of this title screen when I was looking at spooky Amiga opening screens. You know, I think I prefer the Commodore 64 iteration, despite it being lower resolution: the colours feel a bit nicer, the castle has a flock of bats shooting out of it and that frog looks less like it has a comically large pair of breasts here, which is what I saw on the Amiga version.
Also note that Blinky’s red nose and oversized shoes mean he’s almost certainly the ghost of a clown. That means there’s something out there powerful enough to banish a clown to the afterlife. I pray we never meet it.


Oh, those are eyes. For a moment I thought they were a top-down view of a pair of slippers. Anyway, while it might look scary I don’t think that building in the background is supposed to be the scary school itself. Blinky has to pass a haunting test, but it’s more of a workplace placement situation and he’s off to the ancient castle of the McTavish family, because Blinky’s Scary School has a slightly more involved plot than I was expecting. Apparently the current inhabitant of the castle is one Hamish McTavish – because if you are coming up with a Scottish name, then why not get as stereotypical as possible – and at some point his ancestor created a ghost-expelling machine. Blinky’s ghost exam is to get into the castle, find Hamish’s bedroom and scare the sleeping Scotsman. Unfortunately Blinky exudes all the heart-stopping menace of a damp sponge, so maybe I’ll find something in the castle that’ll help.


The game begins, and we get confirmation that Blinky’s Scary School definitely deserves a place on the Halloween Spooktacular. A status bar containing no less than five skulls, a bubbling cauldron and Blinky himself, who looks a lot more ghost-like than he did on the title screen, with a smug expression that suggests he thinks he’s got this haunting test all sewn up. Don’t get cocky, Blinky. I’m the one who’ll be controlling you, after all.


Blinky’s Scary School is a flip-screen-scrolling platformer at its core, so I spent a little while shuffling Blinky around the first couple of screens and trying to get used to his jumps. All his movements are controlled using the joystick, and I don’t know whether it’s down to the joystick I was using or the game’s programming but jumping diagonally – you know, the jump you’ll be using the most during the game – felt frustratingly difficult to pull off at first. I really had to concentrate on moving the joystick diagonally, that was the problem. It felt like the game wanted a very specific input, otherwise you just ended up jumping straight up or walking sideways. It made for a rocky start, but I did eventually get a handle on it (with the occasional annoying misstep) and my mood never sank too low because I saw that framed picture on the wall and my brain decided it was Lucy Lawless. I don’t know why my brain decided that, but I’m not about to convince it otherwise.


On the next screen along, I found a bit of guidance in the form of a mysterious scroll. If you look at the screenshot with the cauldron in it, you can see that there’s a high ledge on the left that Blinky can’t reach. That’s where we need to go, and to get there we must concoct a potion by following this recipe and collecting various items scattered around the game world. Grab the right ingredients, drop ‘em in the cauldron and Blinky can float up to the ledge and progress. So, what do we need? A bottle of Blinky’s favourite fizzy pop. I wonder what brand he likes? Mountain Boo? Fanta-sm? Spookozade? Because he’s a ghost, you see. You also require a fish, some perfume (presumably to counteract the fish smell) and self-raising flour, because this game likes puns as much as I do. One thing I wasn’t sure about was the way the perfume is referred to as a birthday “grift.” Is that a typo, or is it implying Aunt Edna is a con artist specialising in fragrances?
There’s also the hint that “travelling is quick by loo,” and we’ll get to that.


Off we go on our scavenger hunt, jumping over pits and avoiding monsters while we collect items, of which we can only carry three at a time. On the Commodore 64. While playing as a round-ish white creature with big red feet. Wait a minute, this is a Dizzy game! I thought something felt familiar, and yes, BSS does play a lot like one of Codemasters’ much-loved games starring Dizzy, the tumbling, frolicking egg-thing. This is a shame, because I’ve never really enjoyed any of the Dizzy games. They’re okay, I suppose, but they always felt a bit too difficult, too loose, too meandering for me to really enjoy, plus I never liked not being able to carry every item I find. That last one’s a personal thing, though. Hopefully I’ll enjoy BSS more than the Dizzy games. It does have these thoroughly adorable, wide-eyed spiders on its side, so it’s off to a good start.


Exploring the castle works just as I expected it to, with a maze-like (although mercifully small) layout packed with spike-pits and wandering critters. It’s compact enough that I can easily remember where I’m going and where I’ve been, while still being convoluted enough that I had to pay attention to where I was going lest I wander onto a new screen and directly into the path of a marauding snail.


Right off the bat (an enemy we’ll see later, quelle surprise,) the enemies make it clear that they’re going to be the most annoying thing about BSS. They don’t really do much besides wander back and forth so they’re at least predictable, but they’re also right in the bloody way all the time. They’re surprisingly fast, too – even the snails - and when you consider that their sprites are quite chunky you’ve got fast-moving, space-occupying monsters crammed into every narrow corridor and Blinky has no way to harm them. The saving grace is that Blinky does have a health bar, and quite a generous one at that, but on almost every screen there are enemies that are extremely difficult to fully avoid. BSS quickly becomes a test not of how quickly you can kill the enemies or how best to avoid them, but rather planning your route so you spend as little time in contact with the creatures as possible because you will be touching them. Trying to limit the amount of damage you take is all you can do, and as I’ve said before being unable to avoid taking damage is something that annoys me in videogames so it’s a good job BSS has cute critters roaming through a spooky castle to balance out the frustration of trying to jump past a dangling spider that’s moving as though it’s had all its blood replaced with espresso.


You might have realised that with only three inventory slots and four items needed for the potion, you’re going to have to make multiple trips to the cauldron. Well, fear not, there’s a time-saving trick I can share with you all. If you’ve got a bog roll in your possession, you can flush yourself down these toilets and be teleported back to the cauldron. It’s a method of transport that might wreak havoc with Blinky’s sense of self-esteem, and the hygiene issues that result from the plumbing dumping its contents into the cauldron room – which seems to be the closest thing this castle has to a kitchen – don’t bear thinking about, but it beats walking all the way back from the furthest reaches of the castle.


Having collected all the ingredients for the potion, which wasn’t difficult because it’s not a huge area to search and the items are mostly immediately recognisable as the items from the poem, Blinky gains the power of flight for the three or so seconds it takes to float up to this ledge. It’s a very nicely animated and extremely smooth little scene, and overall I’d say the graphics and especially the animations are BSS’ strongest suit. Blinky himself is particularly slick. In fact, the developers were so proud of his animation that they put another Blinky at the bottom-right of the status bar that mimics all of the main Blinky’s movements, and I can’t think of any other reason for this inclusion other than to show off how nice Blinky looks.


Now we’ve got a whole new section of the castle to explore. It looks a lot like the other part of the castle, but as the rest of the castle looked cool I don’t have a problem with that. The only problem I did have is that there are a few sections where you have to jump up to the screen above and it doesn’t work very well – it feels like you should be jumping diagonally between the platforms lining the pit, but if you do that you’ll fall back down. Instead, you have to get to the top-most platform on the screen and then jump straight up.


A little further in, you find another recipe. This one’ll turn Blinky into an air bubble so he can travel underwater, and once again it involves collecting a bunch of items and chucking them into a cauldron. Does no-one use cauldrons for making rich and hearty stews any more? Anyway, this time we need eye of newt – you can’t beat the classics, can you? - an air canister, some chewing gum and  Aunt Edna’s scones, for ballast. Poor old aunt Edna’s getting a rough ride in this game, huh? Looking at these component it seems clear Blinky is going to make a bubblegum bubble, fill it with air and use the scones to weigh him down. So what’s the eye of newt for? Panache? Maybe it’s the witchcraft equivalent of MSG.


Exploring this part of the castle allows you to get outside and see the moonlit sky, which I personally think looks particularly nice. The purple glow of the clouds is definitely going to get BSS another point on the Halloween-O-Meter. It’s a small detail, sure, but the ways of the Halloween-O-Meter are fickle and unknowable.
I’m not so sure about these bats, mind you. Mostly because they don’t look much like bats, but also because it seems they’re about to fly into each other face-first but you don’t get to see a comedic scene of the two bats mumbling apologies to each other and awkwardly saying “you know what they say, blind as us, ha ha.”


While I was exploring, I also stumbled across this. That’ll be Hamish McTavish, then? He doesn’t look like he’s asleep. He looks like he’s about to launch into a Rick Wakeman-esque keyboard solo. Hamish’s sleeping cap is basically a wizard’s hat, too. He is asleep, though, and no amount of Blinky jumping around on the spot will wake him. Looks like I’ll have to find a special item for that, even though I’ve got an air canister in my inventory and you’d think a quick blast under the bedcovers from that would get Hamish moving.


Locating most of the ingredients was easy enough, but I did have trouble finding the eye of newt. Specifically, my trouble was that I kept walking right past it. Why? Because I thought it was a yo-yo, that’s why. Take a look at it in the screenshot above and tell me it doesn’t look like a yo-yo, I dare you. In my defence, there are “red herring” items scattered through the castle like a cassette tape, so the idea of there being a yo-yo laying around isn’t much of a stretch. Also, I assumed the eye of newt would be in a jar or some other container, not the single colossal eye of some gigantic mega-newt.


With the second potion brewed, Blinky can travel underwater. It’s just a couple of screens spent moving your ghost-bubble through the castle’s sewers (as if being flushed down the bog wasn’t bad enough) while avoiding all these angry fish, but it’s a nice change of pace. I was going to say “avoiding these piranhas,” but I don’t think they are piranhas. They look more like sunfish, if you ask me. More games should include sunfish as evil underwater predators. Maybe it’s just me, but they look way creepier than piranhas and sharks, as though an alien consciousness tried to create a sea creature but the only reference material they had were a nursery class’ drawings of fish.


More outdoor escapades await once you’re out of the water, and sadly this is where Blinky’s Scary School runs out of steam. This area is just a flat run of screens with no exploration to be had, and worst of all is this jump. It’s the only jump in the game that has to be cleared with pixel-perfect accuracy, and I do mean perfect. The first time I reached it I ran out of lives and had to come back with cheats enabled. A big part of the problem is that Blinky’s “base” is so wide that it’s difficult to tell which parts of his feet / sheet are able to support his weight or will prove fatal if they touch the spikes. I’ve mentioned this before – the article about Banishing Racer springs to mind – but when the star of your platformer is wider than they are tall it can be difficult to tell where their point of contact with the floor is. For most of Blinky’s Scary School it wasn’t a problem, which only makes this incredibly frustrating section even more annoying.


Eventually I made it across, only to reach a dead end. Oh god, I’m going to have to jump over that pit again, aren’t I? If only the McTavish family hadn’t embraced indoor plumbing, the might have been an outhouse I could have flushed myself down. Never mind, at least I’ve found the item I need to complete the game: an alarm clock. That’ll wake Hamish up, and Blinky will have passed his haunting test. After all, there’s nothing scarier than having to wake up in the morning.


And so I dashed back through the castle, over the Pit of Bullshit, through the sunfish-infested sewers and around the cobwebbed halls of McTavish Castle. I arrived at the bedchamber, my mind filled with images of Blinky’s graduation ceremony, of how he’d look painfully cute wearing a little mortarboard and then less cute when he gets his first letter from the student loan people. All I had to do was leap up and place the alarm clock on the shelf above the bed…


...at which point the game told me to go screw myself. Game over, you fail, Blinky is condemned to an eternity of ceaseless suffering in the foulest depths of Hell. Once more, I have managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Turns out that I ran out of time – I was supposed to wake Hamish up before the break of dawn, because waking him up a few minutes early with an alarm clock is sufficiently scary but apparently letting him wake up on his own and seeing a ghost at the end of his bed isn’t.
I’m definitely not going through all that again just to bring you BSS’ “good” ending, because I already know it’s not worth the effort. Instead of this message, placing the alarm clock in time gives you the same black screen with the message “Congratulations Blinky. You have completed your training, and are now a fully fledged ghost. Happy haunting...” See? Not worth trying to jump over that bloody pit again just for that, I’m sure you’ll agree.


“Happy haunting,” the ending says, but is that what I got from Blinky’s Scary School? You know, I think I did. A few issues aside - the pit and the unavoidable monsters, mostly – it’s a pleasant enough romp that does little new with the formula but wraps it all up in an irresistible (to me, anyway) spooky coating, with some really nice graphics and poetic potion recipes that are definitely charming in their wretchedness, something the game itself acknowledges. I certainly enjoyed it more than most Dizzy games, and I think that’s because Blinky’s Scary School is a lot smaller. I felt like I could get more of a grip on it than I could with the Dizzy games or any number of other sprawling home computer collectathons with limited inventory space, so yeah, I had a fun time with Blinky’s Scary School. Plus, you can travel around by flushing yourself down the toilet and I’m dumb enough to find this entertaining.


As for the Halloween-O-Meter, I think Blinky’s Scary School deserves a commendable eight out of ten. You’re playing as a ghost, for starters, and while it doesn’t contain the werewolves, Draculas and Frankensteins it’d take to reach a nine or a ten there’s plenty of Halloween-y ambience in the spooky castle and scuttling spiders. Also, I believe I mentioned this but sunfish are creepy as hell.

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