Tag Archives: amiga

After over 20 years and 25 games, is the original Worms still fun?

Yes, it is.

After a much needed quiet week following the release of that hour-long Duke Nukem Forever documentary, the Kim Justice channel is once again on the move today with a little video that’s all about Worms — specifically the very first Worms game, made at the request of a patron who most certainly adores the series. Worms is undoubtedly very successful as far as British video game series — indeed, it’s one of the last from the Amiga that’s still standing today, despite coming so late in the computer’s life (development on the game was started on the Amiga, although strangely this version came out last — not arriving until December 1995). It is also undoubtedly a big contributor to Team 17’s continued existence as one of the longest lived independent studios in the game.

One of the difficulties of covering Worms as a series isn’t the sheer amount of games, it’s that most of the games are pretty damn similar. They’re all very casual games based off of an artillery game formula that’s as old as the creation of computer games itself, although really came to prominence with Wendell Hicken’s DOS game Scorched Earth in 1991. Talking of which, one of the highlights of this video was playing Scorched Tanks — a great Amiga version of the classic that came out on an Amiga Power coverdisk back in the day, featuring all of the original’s customisation and what feels like 100 different weapons…definitely worth checking out. And so is the original Worms, if you haven’t played it in a while — one of the good things about the similarity of Worms games is that you can go to almost any of the “good” games in the series and have fun because they all follow the same formula of bazookas, grenades, high-pitched voices and exploding sheep.

Ah, Worms. The only game where the Royal Family can call up an airstrike on their rivals in a world made of spaghetti.

The video also touches a few more bases such as The Director’s Cut, a rare Amiga-only update of the original that actually introduces a lot of the most famous weapons and mechanics from later games — everything from Holy Hand Grenades to backflipping actually come from this obscure 1997 game, which makes it feel something like an Amiga version of Worms 2. This video also reminded me of the “multiplayer wars”, which happened at around the same time as the more famous bit wars —  at a time when games loved to lay claim to as big a multiplayer number as possible, Worms claimed 16 through hotseating. A team could consist of four players, each assigned to a single worm! But hey, why stop there — why not assign 2 players to 1 worm? Or 4? I think they undersold it somewhat. Of course, you’ve got to fit all of these people in the room so it might get a tad uncomfortable in there…just having 1 player to a team’s usually fine.  There’s more in the video but obviously that shouldn’t be spoiled — hopefully you enjoy it on this fine Monday morning! Do feel free to leave your memories of the time your brother gave you a dead arm after a jammy bazooka shot took out half of his team in the comments.

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Kim recommends…Lionheart (Amiga, 1993)

The Amiga was, during its time, particularly well known for its demoscene — one side of this was, of course, the hacking of lots of Amiga games and all of that good old piracy stuff, but plenty of talent went into the “cracktros” that usually accompanied said games, not to mention the graphical demos that these teams would create on their own, using the Miggy’s graphical hardware to create some definite magic. There are lots of different stories from the demoscene world of software whizkids doing their thing, and occasionally taking their talent and applying it to games — one group of demoscene kids known as The Silents went on to become Digital Illusions CE, made their name with the likes of Pinball Illusions on the Amiga, and gradually became one of the world’s biggest video game developers as EA DICE. Another ex-demoscene group, Thalion, weren’t quite as fortunate — but before their demise, they left us with several classic games, chief among which is the frankly staggering Lionheart.

There’s not a whole lot to say here other than my god, it’s beautiful.

When I talk about Amiga graphics, “parallax scrolling” is likely to be the first thing that comes to your mind — the art of differently-scrolling planes is something that the system was pretty good at, as evidenced in the main by Psygnosis’s Shadow of the Beast. Naturally parallax scrolling could get overused — it soon stopped being impressive after a while, and there were plenty of egregious examples where parallax frankly just got in the way of the actual game. Lionheart, however, even after years of parallax-based fun before it, is the definitive example of how well it works on the Amiga — it manages to do the whole “every screen is a Roger Dean prog rock album cover” schtick even better than Beast does, and I’d struggle to find a game on the Amiga that, on the whole, is prettier than Lionheart. For the game’s artist, Henk Nieborg, this would be the title that made his name — you can also find his work on the likes of Flink, The Adventures of Lomax and the Shantae series.

Even better than the art, however, is the fact that Thalion matched it up with excellent gameplay. Lionheart is a very playable hack ‘n’ slash title — it’s fun to deal with the various creepy-crawlies and otherworldly behemoths the game throws at you. There’s enough variation to keep things moving, and as opposed to a more straightforward game like Shadow of the Beast you’re allowed to explore somewhat without things going wrong. One of the big problems with a lot of parallax-heavy games was the significant lack of gameplay that ended up being associated with them, but Lionheart showed that you didn’t need to sacrifice good gameplay for pretty pictures, and that they could co-exist comfortably.

Someone should re-release Lionheart, only with songs by Yes being the entire soundtrack. It’d definitely work.

Lionheart’s developers, Thalion, were all about creating games that, technically, were right on the bleeding edge for both the Amiga and the Atari ST — the majority of their games were all graphically excellent, and that was often married with very good gameplay. Alas, good sales often seemed to elude them — as one of the smaller games studios around, they often found their sales damaged greatly by the sheer prevalence of piracy in the Amiga scene. Lionheart was their attempt to see if making such graphically strong action games on the Amiga was still commercially viable — and despite excellent reviews, the sales showed that it weren’t. Thalion ultimately closed their doors in 1994, preserving their work on the UK computers for all time — Lionheart is perhaps the most accessible and greatest example of the legacy that they left behind, and one of the strongest Amiga exclusive titles out there to boot.

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Amiga classic “It Came From The Desert” comes full circle as trailer released for film version

Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Cinemaware were one of the more visible game developers out there, and often one of the first ports of call for anyone who wanted to show off just what you could do on the Amiga. They made games that wore a heavy cinematic influence on their sleeve and were usually pretty high on plot and cutscenes. The games didn’t always work out — the less said about their attempt at making a cinematic basketball game, the better — but games such as The Three Stooges, The King of Chicago, Defender of the Crown and their final WWI-based title Wings all certainly have their place and are loved by many. Perhaps no Cinemaware game is as loved as It Came From The Desert is, mind you — and thanks to the efforts of Finnish director Marko Mäkilaakso, a film adaptation of the game is going to be coming out soon, with a trailer released a couple of days back.

The original game sure loved to put you in a tight spot. Both ants and shadows are confirmed to be in the film.

The original It Came From The Desert is loved for being a heartfelt tribute to classic ’50s/’60s B-movies where you play as Dr. Greg Bradley and attempt to contain an infestation of giant ants — in particular, it takes a big dollop of inspiration from the 1954 film Them. All the while, you try and find evidence for the sudden appearance of these monstrous insects by way of scanning the town for evidence and conversing with the local yokels — some of whom aren’t exactly kindly predisposed towards your investigation. There’s certainly plenty of material there for a good film, although you’d expect that from Cinemaware.

Work started on the film adaptation of the game in 2015 courtesy of Finnish studio Roger! Pictures and producer Teemu Virta, with principal photography taking place in Almeria, Spain around the Autumn of 2016. It has been clear from the outset that the film takes a rather loose approach to the source material — if you’re looking for a faithful adaptation of the game’s plot and setting, forget it. This has been pitched more as a horror comedy based around hordes of ants attacking groups of younger people that presumably will have more than the odd callback to the source, but is quite in line with modern B-movies — the likes of Sharknado, Sharktopus, Dino Shark and about 1,000 other movies that also involve sharks. This movie is different from those ones because it doesn’t feature sharks, it features ants.

While it’s not fair to judge the piece from a minute-long trailer, it doesn’t look particularly hot – and if you’re looking for a film that’s faithful to the game, you’re probably not going to find it here. It appears to be rather action-oriented and set in the present day, with motocross bikers running from ants that, considering the quality of the CGI on display, should probably not have been shown in the trailer. The acting is in keeping with typical B-movie standards in that it’s stilted, wooden and generally very bad indeed, and I don’t know about you but I had a really strong urge to buy Nissan after the trailer was done. Fans of the original game, needless to say, are not best pleased by what they’ve seen in this trailer.

It is worth keeping in mind though that this film is in itself a B-movie. It Came From the Desert is unlikely to see the inside of a theatre — that sort of quality just isn’t there, and it’s more likely going to be found on an on-demand service near you sometime later this year, or perhaps even on the SyFy channel at some point. If cheesily acted, comedy tinged modern horror B-movies are your bag, then perhaps this will be suited for you — especially if you don’t have any ties to the original game, as this film appears to be connected to that by virtue of name and setting only. Of course, the worst case scenario is that we end up with an Uwe Boll-style disasterpiece on our hands, in which case those who are tasked with covering the thing will probably be hoping that the director of this film doesn’t share Uwe’s penchant for punching up critics in the ring.

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Kim recommends…D/Generation (Amiga, 1991)

D/Generation always seems to be a game that slips through the cracks somewhat, despite being a thoroughly cyberpunk game that combines a lot of different elements together pretty well — there’s isometric shooting, a decent amount of puzzling, and a lot of good plot and mood setting. It’s also one of the legitimately really good games that came out for the CD32, not to mention one of the few CD32 re-releases that actually took advantage of the new platform — although it’s still probably best on the A500 simply for controlling reasons.

Anyway…D/Generation. What is it? You play as a thoroughly oblivious courier who has to deliver a package to the offices of a company called Genoq. Specifically, you must deliver it to a researcher named Jean-Paul Derrida, perhaps the most awesome compound name made up of two famous people in the history of games. In the beginning, you don’t really know anything at all — you’re just a lowly courier, until the office doors lock behind you and you’re suddenly greeted with lots of dead folk, security systems that have gone haywire, and a ton of biomonsters lurking on the ten floors between you and your delivery point…hey-ho, may as well deliver the package! We don’t want our wages docked or anything now, do we?

An iconic computer game quote. That’ll teach you not to peer down into weird alien egg-shaped things.

In D/Generation, just about every room offers something of a different challenge, or some neat little way to use the laser gun which you fortunately find along the way — more than just blasting enemies, it can bounce off of walls or travel through teleportation devices. You’ll need to use these for the puzzle-based rooms, although there’s plenty of other rooms where progress is merely a case of turning a bunch of abominations into anti-matter and saving one of the survivors of the attack from a somewhat grisly end. You do also have a quite limited supply of bombs, which can be useful — simply because you can use them to blast through a door if you need to, thus getting yourself out of a puzzle you can’t solve. They don’t grow on trees, mind you.

The game was very well received at the time — it earnt little but 90’s and high 80’s from most of the big magazines around, and Amiga Power actually rated it as the 40th best game in the whole history of the computer, which is no mean feat. And yet,D/Generation is largely forgotten these days…sometimes the isometrics can cause a few annoyances and it’s quite the touch cookie, but it never managed to get too far past the Amiga’s boundaries — there is a PC version, but that’s it. It’s a surprise that no attempt was ever made to port it to a console, either by Mindscape or someone else — it’d probably be better than some of the other Amiga ports we did see on the 16-bits, like Onslaught or Sword of Sodan. There is an HD remake of the game available on Steam, although reviews for this version are somewhat middling and thin on the ground. And so, D/Generation remains obscure, which is unfortunate — as just like the courier in the game itself, most folks have no idea what’s actually lurking within. Highly recommended.

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By way of introduction

So the short version of this is pretty simple:  Hi!  My name is Kim Justice, and I’m now writing for Retronauts!  Some of you may be familiar with my work on YouTube, or in Retro Gamer – if you are, keep schtum, no sniggering at the back.  If you’re not, pleased to meet you!  I’m mostly here to cover things of interest from the UK/European side of things, including computers like the ZX Spectrum!  The Amiga!  And the Mega Drive! (insert cheers and boos where necessary) Here’s hoping that you enjoy all, or at least some of the articles that I’m going to be putting on the site.  Bye for now!

That is indeed pretty simple, but it also kind of reads like the cover letter I sent in for my first serious job application.  I didn’t get that – probably because I also started that letter with a modifier like “so” – but I did get this, and therefore I should probably try to make my introduction stand out a little bit more while also trying to avoid being judged too much by you, the reader.  It’s not easy!  But I guess I should start with who I actually am.  For convenience’s sake, I’ve split this into a couple of easy to digest bullet points:

  • I’m from England.  This is undeniably a fact, and that’s obviously played a factor in how I got interested in playing games.  I started with the ZX Spectrum at a very young age, playing computer games that often weren’t much more complex than the sort of thing you’d have seen on a 2600 nearly a decade previously, but often had a unique touch and style of their own.  Until Sonic and the Mega Drive (the Sega Genesis to most of you) came around, computers pretty much ruled the UK, and I’m still a passionate user of the “Speccy” and other computers like the C64 and the Amiga today – that’s something I hope to communicate to you, as there’s still a lot going on in those scenes, not to mention hundreds of interesting games and stories from the past…why, there’s 24,000 games on the ZX Spectrum alone!  I’m not saying that I’m going to cover them all, but a big chunk of them are quite unlike the games that people in America were enjoying at the same time.
  • I’m from YouTube.  Or rather, YouTube’s where I’ve made my name.  Bringing this up could be somewhat troublesome these days, when YouTubers often get in the news for things like being racist, or exploiting their children – truthfully, it’s not an honourable profession.  But I’ve been carving out a half acre there for a few years now – mostly with documentary-type videos covering the subjects previously mentioned above, as well as other interests such as the Sony PlayStation, or licensed video games…anything that can be put into a cool historical context.  And I do it pretty calmly:  I’m not the kind of person who loves to shout at games by LJN and invent compound swearwords to describe them and the like – although I actually do swear a lot, and I’m sure that’ll probably bleed out into my work here before too long.
  • I love strange licensed games, generic tie-ins and old sports games, and place as much importance in them as classic games like Final Fantasy VII.  Not a joke – as fun as it is to play nothing but the greats, to me it’s often more interesting to look at, say, a game based on an advert starring now-retired footballers beating up a team of Ninjas in order to sell sportswear and contemplate how such a thing came into existence.  To use a high-faluting wine tasting analogy, you can’t truly appreciate what the high 90’s taste like unless you’re intimately familiar with the low 70’s.  Y’know, the one that got you drunk when you were 16 and made you ruin the rug that tied the room together.

The Mission. The Blotto Bros. jug wine of video games.

  • Speaking of Final Fantasy VII, that’s my favourite game of all-time.  Always has been, most likely always will be.  I may not end up adding to the millions of words written about the game here on Retronauts, although I have already done my fair share elsewhere.
  • I’m a big hip-hop fan.  Seriously, it’s all I listen to.  It motivates me to do my best when doing anything, whether it’s editing videos, working my perpetually stiff body out in the morning, or writing this introductory article right now.
  • Fish is my favourite dish*.  But without no money, it’s still a wish.
  • I don’t think I’ll be using this bullet point style for an article again.  I’m growing ever more aware of this piece sounding like a rambling manifesto, and the lil’ black dots aren’t helping with that.  So I’ll stop now and just try and write conservationally.

Anyway, you now know more about me than you would have if I’d written something more like that shorter sample at the top.  I would like to conclude however by saying that it’s an honour to be invited to write for a site like Retronauts, and I’d like to thank Bob and Jeremy for putting their trust in me and offering me the opportunity – even if there’s a fairly decent chance that they’re going to deeply regret it before too long.  You’ll be seeing me here most every day, commenting on the latest Euro-centric retro news, hammering out some old reviews and the odd retrospective or two.  Hopefully we can have some fun here!  Or at the very least, I can – and in the eyes of an egocentric self-employed YouTube-head like me, that’s much the same thing.  See you sometime in the next 24!

* Fish is not actually Kim’s favourite dish, although it would probably be somewhere in the top 10.  This bullet-point purely exists for the purpose of a belaboured Eric B. & Rakim reference, which is only going to make people think that she is kind of a smart-arse. If you wish to shout at the author, then Kim can be found on her YouTube channel, or on her Twitter @KimXXXJustice.

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Episode 95: Face it, you’ve got Batmania bad!

For this week’s Retronauts — Retronauts East — I invited the internet’s greatest Batman expert onto this show to discuss, well, Batman. Or rather, Batman games. Chris Sims of War Rocket Ajax and The ISB (and the upcoming SwordQuest comic) stopped by for this episode to help shed some light on a corner of video games that Retronauts has touched on in passing, but never with quite this much depth.

The original plan for this episode was to cover the entire span of Batman-based classic games from 1986-2005, but we ended up going into so much detail on the context surrounding the games — especially the character’s pop culture resurgence and rehabilitation throughout the ’80s — that we barely made it past Batman Returns. And that is OK! I do wish I had known we’d only be covering half the games I assembled notes for; I’d have gone for depth rather than breadth and really drilled down into the titles we did end up discussing. But there’s a lot of great and informative conversation about the Batman franchise (thanks to Chris) that helps to better define the games. It’s a good mix.

The games we tackle in particular this time around are: Batman (ZX Spectrum), The Caped Crusader, Batman (the movie games), Return of the Joker, Batman Returns (move games, again), and Batman: The Animated Series.

Episode description: Renowned Batmanologist and comics scribe Chris Sims joins Jeremy and Benj to explore the lore of early Batman games and how they fit into the evolution of the character’s franchise.

MP3, 48.8 MB | 1:45:28
Direct download
Retronauts on iTunes
Retronauts at PodcastOne

This episode’s music comes from a variety of Batman games: SunSoft’s NES and Game Boy movie adaptations, Return of the Joker for NES, and the SEGA CD game — whose soundtrack, I fear, I unfairly maligned. After giving the SEGA CD soundtrack a closer listen, I owe Spencer Nilsen an apology. There’s some corny butt-rock at work there for sure, yeah, but also some pretty great composition (if decidedly of a ’90s vintage, soundwise).

Finally, a big thanks to this episode’s sponsors: BarkBox, Audible, Dell, and Casper Mattresses.

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