Support Digitiser Level 2

When I began my first steps into adult life, I found Digitiser on Teletext. Each morning, before I would head out to work, as a youthful 17-year-old, I would turn on my TV and read some Digitiser first. Catch up on the latest gaming news, reviews and laugh at the irrelevant and nonsensical humour.

Digitiser had a massive effect on me and was partly why I started this very blog. Anyway, a few years back now, way back in 2018, the founders of that great Teletext gaming magazine (Sires, Mr Biffo and Mr Hairs) decided to bring it to life with Digitiser The Show, shown for free on the YouTubes. Seven episodes of gaming hilarity that you can watch right now for nothing! It was just as madcap and irrelevant as its Teletext origins, this real life version was crammed with gaming features, interviews, games and yes, classic Digitiser nonsense and humour.

DIGI SHOW

Digitiser The Show was/is bloody fantastic and well worth watching. Anyway, it is coming back for a second round of gaming gobbledygook goodness. Bigger and better than before. Paul ‘Mr Biffo’ Rose has launched a Kickstarter to help raise funds for the new show. The Kickstarter has been a huge success too, smashing its £25,000 goal and currently sitting on just over £60,000! Bloody brilliant. Still, Mr Biffo could make the show ‘effing amazing with more cash.

Offering some great stretch goals such as Mr Biffo marrying an Amiga computer, A musical for the great Sir Clive Sinclair. Street Fighter II moves… in real life. Even a visit from a monkey or an even bigger, second monkey!

Basically, Digitiser The Show Level 2 is going to be awesome, especially if you like monkeys (of varying sizes) and gaming. Check out the Kickstarter and perhaps you may even be tempted to back the project so the stretch goals can be beaten and we can see just what Mr Biffo can come up with next… after he marries an Amiga.

How And Why I Became An Indie Gamer

I’ve been playing games, or video games as we used to call them… or game programs if you really want to go way, way back. Anyway, I’ve been playing games for as long as I can remember. From when we as a family had an Atari 2600 in the late seventies, right up to today with modern gaming. It was a hobby that turned into a passion that turned into a semi-career with me not only writing this blog but also gaming books. 

Over the years I have seen the best and worst of gaming. I have been right there and witnessed the evolution of gaming from those early days of Space Invaders to the likes of Red Dead Redemption II today. When I look back on just how far gaming has come over the last forty-odd years, I can’t help but be massively impressed. Single screen games turned into multi-flick-screen ones. Those gave way to full-on side and multi-scrolling games and eventually, 3D maps. Gameplay has evolved from shooting slowing descending aliens or running around mazes eating little dots to massive, gargantuan open-worlds that give us gamers huge amounts of freedom and Hollywood-like production values. In a great many ways, modern gaming has actually gotten too big.

ORIGINS MAP

I’m not a youngster anymore, I don’t have endless free time to play games like I used to. I can no longer sit in front of my TV, controller in hand, putting in fifty-plus hours into a game these days. I now have bigger and more important responsibilities that take precedence over gaming. My two kids for starters, this blog, my book writing and more. These massive games of today don’t hold my interest like they used to. As an example, as a fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, I bought both AC Origins and Odyssey as I got them in a great deal. I played Origins for around twenty hours or so, looked at the in-game map and realised just how big the map is and that I was not even halfway through the main story. Twenty hours and not even halfway through the game… twenty hours! 

I think it’s great if you have the time to invest in a game like that, but I don’t. These games are still getting bigger and bigger too. I didn’t even bother with AC Odyssey, even though I paid for it. As for the new game, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla… I can’t even think about it.

Just looking at the new Saints Row coming early next year. One of the first things the devs are boasting about is that the map is bigger than any of the previous SR games. Not the gameplay or storytelling, the size of the game’s map. Where does this end? Games are just getting bigger and bigger and bigger year after year. Not necessarily better, just  bigger. Why are AAA game developers so obsessed with making ‘the biggest game ever’ instead of the ‘best game ever’?

SAINTS ROW

See this, all this ‘bigger is better’ (it’s not) mentality is exactly why I have been getting more and more into indie games over the last few years. I have always loved the indie game scene, but the last few years have just proven to me that smaller, low budget games are far superior to bigger AAA titles. But before I get into modern-day indies, I need to look at just how I got into smaller games ‘back in the day’.

Truth be told, we didn’t have much choice but to play smaller games back then, all games were small relatively speaking. Being from England, I was there at the heart of the British gaming revolution of the early-mid eighties. While the infamous video game crash of 1983 was doing its thing in North America, here in the UK, we just didn’t care. We didn’t care because we already had our own gaming industry slowly bubbling away. Most of those games came from the bedroom programmers of the day. The indie devs before the term ‘indie gaming’ existed. These bedroom programmers were often one-man (or woman) teams, if one person could be considered a ‘team’ that is.

The likes of Matt Smith, Jonathan ‘Joffa’ Smith (no relation) and Jeff Minter. Real pioneers of the early UK gaming boom creating games, quite literally, alone in their bedrooms. This, this was the era of gaming where I grew up. Not the massive, worldwide gaming corporations and studios of today, but with the indie game developers of the early eighties. I have always been into indie/smaller games, they were my lifeblood as a gamer back then.

MANIC MINER

Obviously, as the industry grew, so did the teams. The bedroom programmer was a very rare breed by the time the late eighties kicked in as the gaming studio began to rise. One developer/coder became two or six or several dozen. Games got bigger, more expansive and hugely popular. To meet demands, developer teams had to grow and grow. Sega and Nintendo began to rule the roost and the modern gaming industry was born. The bedroom programmer was long dead as no one wanted smaller games, they wanted huge worlds to explore and play around in. Bigger and more open games like The Legend of Zelda paved the way for a bigger and more immersive gameplay experience. That’s not to say we Brits still couldn’t amaze, it was a couple of Brits (David Braben and Ian Bell) who created the mighty Elite and pretty much birthed the entire open-world genre.

Still, those simpler, smaller indie games were long gone as eighties ingenuity gave way to nineties excess and decadence. The simple 2D gaming eventually made way for 3D worlds. Games just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Even though I very much enjoyed playing the likes of Grand Theft Auto III and so on… I still missed those early days of the bedroom programmer and smaller more creative titles. Still, those days were long gone by then and the industry was all about the ‘bigger is better’ mantra.

GTA III

It was when I got myself an Xbox 360 and Microsoft began the whole Xbox Live Arcade thing when the indie game began to rise once more. Okay yes, XBLA launched before the 360 on the original Xbox, but it was the service’s relaunch on the 360 when it really took off big time. Before the 360 days, XBLA was really a service where gamers could play old arcade games. On the 360 though, Microsoft began to push for smaller/indie developers to make games for the service. It was the summer of 2008 when XBLA Summer of Arcade launched and a little platform game called Braid caught my eye. Just watching the trailer for Braid, I was taken back to those early days of the bedroom programmer.

It was such a massive change from the endless open-world games that were everywhere back then. Braid was small, simple but very unique too. On the surface, it was a simple puzzle-platformer but it threw in time manipulation and gameplay mechanics that nobody else was doing at the time. While the big studios were trying to one-up each other, trying to make ‘bigger’ games with even bigger teams, here was a small team (one man actually) making a highly original game that harked back to the good old days of gaming. I bought Braid, played it, loved it and I was suddenly into indie gaming once more, just like back in the early eighties. 

It was buying and playing Braid, thanks to Microsoft’s XBLA service, that really got me back into smaller games once more. I still enjoyed the bigger AAA games sure. But every now and then, I would dip into XBLA and download a cheeky little game. My game’s library began to fill up with smaller/indie games. ‘Splosion Man, Shadow Complex, Limbo, Trials HD, Fez and more. Smaller games with some very interesting and unique gameplay features began to take over my gaming. My love for Indie gaming was reborn. Microsoft discontinued their XBLA service, but the indie game scene had already exploded by then and instead of having indie games be in their own, separate service, they just became games.

FEZ

If you look at my reviews from this year, pretty much all of them have been indie games… I think all of them have, in fact. I do get AAA titles up for review now and then, but more often than not, I’m just not interested in them. I really don’t think I could ever review the latest Call of Duty title or the next GTA (not that there will ever be one) because they are all too ‘samey’ now. Yet, with indie games, you often find something rather unique about them, even if they are using some old school gameplay, they give it a new twist. The likes of the absolutely awesome HyperParasite (my favourite game of 2020 buy it!) is a very simple top-down, twin-stick shooter. At first, it all looks very ‘meh’, but it is the use of the brilliant rogue-lite gameplay mechanic that comes from 1980’s Rogue that really makes the game pop and stand out. 

HYPERPARASITE

I’m currently reviewing an indie game called Lake (coming soon) where you deliver post… and that’s about it. It’s devilishly simple and very twee… but it also feels very different and refreshing compared to other big AAA games on the market right now. I firmly believe that indie gaming is the future of gaming. Indie games have the freedom to push new and exciting ideas, they don’t have the pressure of publishers forcing ideas onto the developers. Indie games can be far more creative than the next Assassin’s Creed will ever be.

It is almost as if there is a big video gaming reset on the horizon, a video game crash on 1983 part II if you will. The ever-increasing cost of AAA games can not be sustained in the industry without pushing that cost onto the consumer. When a game is costing over $200 million to make and increasing… how much further can developers go, how much would you be willing to pay for a game that’s nothing more than a slight update from the previous title?

The big-name studios are becoming stagnant and oversaturating the market with the same old content over and over. Never really improving the game itself outside of the visuals, never experimenting with new and exciting gameplay features because they can’t risk messing it up when the budget is so high. So we get ‘safe’ games with the same old mechanics and gameplay. The bubble has to burst sometime, just as it did back in 1983. But the indie game scene is where the fresh and unique ideas are coming from.

Indie games are cheaper to make and cheaper to buy in comparison to AAA titles. Yes, there is an awful lot of crap out there in terms of indie games… but let’s not be coy here… there’s an awful lot of crap AAA titles too. Indie games can be played through in a few hours and be massively entertaining (some even offer months of inventive gameplay), instead of boring the player with fifty+ hour campaigns and endless grinding. You can buy and play several good quality indie games for the price of one AAA title these days. Even more so, indie devs are FAR more grateful for your support over AAA studios that only care about money.

Let me put it this way, I’d rather spend £10-£20 on a 7 hour indie game that I’ve really enjoyed, than £60 on a AAA game that bored me long before I saw the end credits. 

INDIE GAMES

Indie games are a serious business right now and for me, a far superior alternative to the bigger AAA games released today. I’ll continue to champion the indie game scene and review indie games on my blog because they actually deserve the support and give me so much entertainment. Keep them indie games coming guys and gals, cos I’m lapping them up.

OutRun, The Teenager And The Commodore 64 Port

Sega’s classic OutRun is easily one of my all-time favourite games and it turns 35-years-old this very day. Its sense of speed and thrills as you tear around Europe in a blood-red Ferrari Testarossa, sunglasses-wearing dude with his blonde girlfriend by his side. That awesome soundtrack that you can still hear in your head thirty-five years later… even without playing the game itself. OutRun was the eighties encapsulated in an arcade game. As I said, it is one of my all-time favourite games. I couldn’t tell you how much pocket money I spent on the arcade cabinet while on family holidays, where I would always make a beeline for the nearest arcade.

OUTRUN ARCADE

When it was revealed that OutRun would be coming to the home computers of the day, I was beyond excited. It was going to be released for the Commodore 64, we had a C64… I had to have OutRun on it. I would’ve been about 10-years-old at the time when OutRun came to the microcomputers of the day. I never really understood how gaming and ports worked back then, I was expecting OutRun from the arcade on our Commodore 64. Of course, the C64 was way too underpowered to handle an arcade-perfect conversion (which I never grasped as a kid) and when I did finally play Sega’s mighty racer on our computer… I was mildly disappointed. It didn’t really look like the arcade version, it wasn’t as fast (depending on the version) and it most definitely didn’t play as well either. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the home ports of OutRun were bad… okay, some were yes. Just more of a case that 10-year-old me didn’t understand why my C64 version didn’t look like the arcade game that I loved so much. If you look at reviews for the home ports back then, you’ll find a lot of average to slightly above average scores. I’ve been playing the C64 version of OutRun recently now as an adult, it’s really not that bad at all. Pretty damn good in fact. Of course, it is limited given the hardware but it is a fairly competent racer all told.

It was while I was researching my book MicroBrtis and the Ocean/U.S. Gold chapters in particular when I began to uncover the story behind just how that Commodore 64 port of OutRun came about. Pretty much the work of one man… well one boy actually. The-then 17-year-old Martin Webb. A story that I feel could do with being covered as it is a wonderful insight into those early days of British gaming. Oh yeah, Martin Webb was a Brit.

Anyway, Martin had already programmed a few titles before he got the OutRun gig. These games were made for the Texas Instruments TI-99 home computer and they were sold mail-order via Martin’s home in Shropshire. It was his father, Dennis Webb who managed the home-based business as well as managing Martin too. While Martin would take care of the programming of the games, it was Dennis who’d handle the graphics. The father and son team really worked out well, they called their company, Intrigue Software and sold quite a few units. However, game sales on the TI-99 began to dry up when home computers such as the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 hit the market.

C64 BOX

Martin Webb favoured the C64 and taught himself how to code on it. As the market grew, it soon became clear that father and son could no longer fund the publication of their own games, they needed a big player in the industry to sell their games. It was an idea that Dennis Webb was not too keen on, he had always handled the business up to this point and he really didn’t relish the idea of a big-name company taking over. The relationship between father and son soon became taut and arguments between the two would often break out. Dennis, more than often, would push his teenage son much further than he ever really should have. It all really came to a head when Martin ran away from home. His father went driving around to find him and eventually brought Martin back.

Still, Dennis finally began to see Martin’s point. They were running out of money fast and perhaps getting a more experienced company to sell their games would be a good idea. Martin created a game called Snap Dragon (AKA Karate Chop) for the C64. It was a beat ’em up thing… and it wasn’t very good, very average. Still, it did show that Martin could program on the C64. Ocean Software were a pretty big publisher in the C64 days and Martin set his sights on selling his game to them. A meeting was set up and Martin showed off his new game. Ocean turned it down because they were working on the C64 port of the arcade hit, Yie Ar Kung-Fu (released under the Imagine label that Ocean owned at that point… read my book!). Ocean didn’t feel like putting money behind another beat ’em up, so they turned Martin away. However, the publisher, Bubble Bus Software, bought the game from Martin for £5,000. Not a bad payday in 1987.

SNAP DRAGON

Martin developed another game for Bubble Bus Software, Max Torque. This was a blatant rip-off of Sega’s classic bike game, Hang-On. After that, he started work on a clone of Sega’s OutRun. using assets from his Max Torque game and basically swapping out the bikes for cars. To try and avoid any legal issues, Martin used a Porsche for the star of his car game over the famed Ferrari used in OutRun. When his OutRun clone was finished, he needed to find a publisher. Bubble Bus Software wasn’t exactly one of the big names and while they were paying, they weren’t paying all that much. The money began to dry up again and Dennis once more became abusive towards his son. Arguments often evolved into physical fights as Dennis continually pushed his teenage son to code more games. Their relationship was hanging by a thread.

The Webbs sought out a bigger, better and more established publisher for future games. They went to U.S. Gold. Martin showed off his OutRun clone to U.S. Gold boss, Geoff Brown and a handful of programmers. Martin had added a dashboard and steering wheel HUD to his rip-off as he wanted it to look the like OutRun arcade cabinet. As his hand-drawn Porsche sprite raced over the roads on the game, Geoff Brown and the programmers were very impressed that a 17-year-old kid had programmed a rather speedy looking racing game all on his own. Still, as impressed as U.S. Gold were, they couldn’t buy Martin’s racing game from him to publish.

Geoff took Martin into a separate room to talk to him alone, away from his overbearing father. In that room was a sit-down OutRun arcade cabinet and that was when Geoff Brown hit Martin with the big news. U.S. Gold had very recently signed a deal with Sega to produce the homeports of the arcade version of OutRun and here was this teenager with a prototype of a game that had pretty much exactly what U.S. Gold needed. Effectively, the OutRun port that U.S. Gold had signed up to do partly existed. An hour later and Dennis Webb was signing a contract for Martin to convert OutRun to the Commodore 64. The Webbs were given a £20,000 advance and Martin returned back home and set about turning his OutRun rip-off into an actual, fully licensed OutRun conversion.

OUTRUN ARCADE CAB

The first things Martin programmed were the high-score table and the radio where you select the music. These had to be in the game as U.S. Gold requested them. Also, once he had those in place, Martin knew how much memory he had left to squeeze the massive OutRun arcade game onto a C64 tape. Martin’s clone didn’t have and hills in it, but OutRun did. That was a bit of an issue and programming in hills would take up much-needed memory. Martin got around this by simply moving the horizon in the background up and down. The next big issue was the roadside graphics. The arcade version of OutRun was famed for its very impressive sprite/texture scaling capabilities. This made the game buttery smooth, fast and highly detailed. There was no way that the C64 could replicate what the arcade could do with ease.

Martin had to decide to go for either detailed graphics that looked like the arcade version (or at least as close as he could get them on a C64) or speed. Speed was what made OutRun such a popular game in the first place. Yeah, it looked nice and all, but if the arcade game had been a sluggish racer, it wouldn’t have been as impressive as it was. Martin knew he had to compromise on the graphics to make the game as fast as possible. A lot of the smaller details were dropped and the roadside objects were big, chunky graphics that, truth be told, were not all that pleasing to the eye. Still, Martin’s OutRun conversion may not have been a graphical powerhouse, but it was fast for a racing game on the C64.

OUTRUN 64 SCREEN 1

Martin didn’t have OutRun’s source code, no design documents to work from either. He was given access to one of the arcade cabinets (U.S. Gold sent him one which he had in his garage at home) and played it for hours on end. He’d record footage of the game on a camcorder and made copious amounts of notes. He strived to make the roads/tracks in his game look and feel just like the arcade version. Put the turns in the right place, hills where they were, etc. But due to the limitations of the hardware, Martin did have to use a few ‘cheats’ as some stages are the same as others, just with different colours, etc. But there was one feature from the arcade that was missing, the forking road/choice of route. Martin did try to implement it into the game, but it was just too problematic. The Commodore 64 just could not handle a multi-loading/branching system that could be played on the fly as in the arcade. He could’ve made the game stop and then have to load each selectable route. But as most games were on cassette tapes at the time (there were disk versions), that would’ve broken up the flow and speed of the game. Plus, being on a tape would mean having to fast forward and rewind the tape to the correct loading spot each time… and that would just be a pain in the arse.

So, as there was no branching system, you just loaded which of the routes you wanted to play (load route A or route B as an example) and then it played out like a single race. Wanted to try a different route? You’ve had to restart and load up one of the other pre-set routes. Still, all stages from the arcade version were included in the C64 port (with some limitations), which was pretty damn impressive for the time. However, having to program every possible stage really was difficult for Martin, who had turned 18-years-old by the time the game had been finished, and was still very much a youngster under immense pressure, mainly from his father.

Speaking of which, Dennis Webb handled the graphics for OutRun and added little Easter eggs onto the licence plates of the cars by including the initials of himself, Martin and friends. The Porsche from Martin’s OutRun clone/prototype even makes an appearance too.

OUTRUN 64 SCREEN 3

The awesome arcade music was pretty well re-created for the C64 byJason Brooke. Though the game only had two of the three tunes from the arcade. However, the game came with an audiotape of the original arcade music, so you could just pop that bad boy into your hi-fi (look them up kids) and enjoy arcade-perfect music. The Commodore 64 version of OutRun got fair to middling reviews when released. A lot of mid to high-60% scores. Still, the above-average reviews didn’t really matter as, despite the game being released on the 10th of December 1987, it actually became the biggest selling game of the year. That’s pretty impressive for a game that was only on the shelves for a few weeks of that year. Around 250,000 copies were shifted across all formats over Christmas (one was mine). Martin and his dad made plenty of money too. Their first royalty payment was for £17,000 and it had been said that they made about £80,000 total, that’s in 1980 money too. It was the most amount of money the father and son had made from a game.

U.S. Gold were so happy with Martin’s conversion that he was flown out to Chicago to work on the NTSC version of the port, to be published by Mindscape. The US version is arguably better, the graphics are more refined, it runs faster and it has an actual route selector, so no more having to reload a new game if you wanted to play a different route. Quite amazingly, the US version only took around two weeks to program too. The Euro version took closer to six months. While in the US, Martin was headhunted by Nintendo, but his father was too protective of his ‘asset’ and soon put a stop to Martin working for anyone else. When he got back to the UK, U.S. Gold gave Martin another arcade conversion to do, Atari’s RoadBlasters. As this was another arcade racer, Martin just reused and tweaked assets from his OutRun conversion and did the job with relative ease.

ROADBALSTERS 64

Though they were doing well and being offered more jobs, the relationship between father and son was breaking down. While in public, Dennis would always praise and show respect to his son. But behind closed doors, it was a very different story. More arguments, more fights as Dennis pushed his son further and harder to keep programming games. Martin was old enough to move out by then, so he did. He packed his bags, left the family home and the games industry allogether.

Martin now lives in Brazil and has his own cloud software company. He still likes to talk about the ‘good old days’ as he did right here in 2020. He also comments on some of the YouTube videos covering the home ports of OutRun too (he replied to me and gave info for this very article). Still, as upsetting as his past may have been for him in regards to his relationship with his father (that he doesn’t like to talk about these days), Martin did bring one of the biggest arcade games home for so many gamers back in 1987, me being one of them. I still remember that cold Friday Christmas morning, opening my presents. Mom had got me (and my bothers) a copy of OutRun on the Commodore 64, bliss. A game that brought me so many hours of enjoyment and for that, I deeply thank Martin Webb.

OUTRUN 64 SCREEN 2

The Saints Row Fallout

I love the Saints Row franchise, so much so that I did a retrospective on the whole thing a while back. I know it’s stupid, but sometimes you just need a bit of stupid in your life. The last full game was Saints Row IV from 2013. A spin-off or two aside, there hasn’t been a ‘proper Saints Row game for almost a decade.

Rumours of a new SR game have been circulating for a while now. A couple of years ago and the developer, Deep Silver Volition, confirmed that a new game was already in development. We SR fans rejoiced… and then it went rather quiet. No news, no updates and some even suggested that the game had been canned. Of course, after the announcement of the game, the world turned to shit with the whole covid pandemic shutting everything down for a while. It affected everything from toilet roll purchasing to game development.

Things began to get back to ‘normal’ and Volition assured fans that Saints Row V was still on the way. We rejoiced once more. Then, just a few days ago and after a few teasers about a reboot, the first trailer for the game was released… and feedback has not been kind.

It just looks very generic, very safe, very… not very Saints Row at all. I’ve watched the trailer several times over the last few days and to say I’m disappointed is a vast understatement. Honestly, I was hoping that, at the end of that trailer, the real Saints would show up and kill the fake Saints. Look, I know it’s just a trailer and there’s still a ways to go until the new game is released next year. Even so, I just can’t get excited about this game at all. Just as a quick comparison, here’s the reveal trailer for Saints Row III.

You can really see a major difference between those two trailers. One is crammed full of fun, character and personality. The other is the trailer for the reboot. I still remember the first time I saw that trailer for SR III, it excited me, it made me want to play the game without seeing any gameplay. I’ve watched the trailer for the new game several times now and all I have is a question… why? I’ve been trying to put into words why I’m feeling disappointed with how the new Saints Row looks and that’s exactly what this article is all about. My complaints aren’t going the ‘woke’ route. I’m not going to blame the devs for selling out and pandering to a more ‘sensitive’ world. But I am going to blame them for being too safe and uncreative.

Let’s just take a quick look at the reason why Saints Row existed, to begin with. Grand Theft Auto was hardly realistic… ever, I feel that perhaps ‘grounded’ is a better word to use. GTA could still be a little OTT at times and definitely had some audacious characters… but you never felt that any of them would become the POTUS after trying to disarm a nuclear missile, to then get kidnapped by attacking aliens and trapped in a 1950s sit-com/simulation of the world… and so on, did you? SR may have started out as a ‘GTA clone’, but it fast evolved into its own thing. That wackiness of Saints Row is what made Saints Row what it was and helped it stand out from all the other GTA clones that were sprouting up at the time. Even going back to the first game where (SPOILERS) my character was dressed in a bright purple pimp suit, armed with a pimp-cane/shotgun was blown up on a yacht owned by the mayor played by The Kurgan from Highlander. These games stood out.

SAINTS ROW CANE

Saints Row has always been… different. The franchise always strived and pushed just what you could do with the open-world genre, they were always creative. Yes, as the games continued, they got more and more… ‘different’. Let’s be honest, they got downright ‘effing insane. Saints Row II has always been my favourite of the franchise. But Saints Row III’s pushing of the crazy made it immense fun to play.

I’ll happily admit that the lunacy of Saints Row IV needed to be dialled back a tad and of all the main games, it was my least favourite. In fact, I’ve always seen the game as a double-edged sword. I think Saints Row IV had some of the best and most clever writing of not just any SR game, but any game ever. It became not just a parody of Saint Row but the open-world genre as a whole. The game was chock-full of really clever in-jokes and references. Shit that a gaming and film nerd could really get excited about. I mean, having Roddy Piper and Keith David in the game as themselves and heavily referencing a certain film was genius.

SAINTS ROW IV RODDY KEITH

However, the ending of SR IV really blew open the doors to creativity. For those that don’t remember the short version is that the world had been destroyed and you became ruler of the universe…. oh and also discovered time travel. Seriously, time travel and Saints Row was one of the best pairings since Cheech Marin met Tommy Chong. Time travel man, that’s a door that could give the Saints pretty much unlimited stories and scope. I mean, a friend said how the Saints could be riding dinosaurs while trying to kill Hitler. They could go even crazier than in Saints Row IV and turn up the dial from eleven to twelve.

Still, even if they wanted to reboot, they could’ve done so using the time travel angle. I mean, why not have the Saints go back to the ending of Saints Row II and create an alternate timeline? It could’ve avoided just how insane the game became but still kept its style and tone (and the characters) that the fans love so much. Now, there will be those that will point out a plot hole with changing the course of events, as the Saints don’t become world-famous, Zinyak doesn’t invade and the Saints can’t discover time travel to go back in the first place. Yeah, that is if you use the grandfather paradox theory of time travel. Time travel doesn’t exist, so you can make up your own rules.

Going back in time could (as I suggested) create an alternate timeline. The original timeline still happens in that reality, but now there’s a new timeline where the Saints have changed the past. See time travel, it has endless possibilities. Instead, it looks like we’re getting generic open-world shooter number 478 with insipid, bland characters instead of a new Saints Row game.

SAINTS ROW CHARACTERS

Saints Row added a layer of silliness to gaming that few developers dare to push… and we need that because AAA gaming is just becoming way too serious and straight-laced. This new Saints Row game just looks like every other open-world game on the market now, it doesn’t have its own distinct personality. You could’ve given that new trailer a few edits and told me it was the new map/season for Fortnite and I would’ve believed you.

Game Review: The Skylia Prophecy

Some side-scrolling, action-platforming now as I take a look at The Skylia Prophecy. From developer ERMedia and publisher 7 Raven Studios comes this very old school looking game. Seriously, just from looking at a single screenshot, I got a SNES, Super Castlevania IV vibe. And perhaps the Castlevania games are the best comparison to make here too.

SKYLIA SCREEN

Skeleton enemies, dark and foreboding graphics, energy bar and item HUD. Yup, definitely some deep Castlevania vibes here. The influence behind The Skylia Prophecy is pretty clear to see. But the big question is, is it on par with Konami’s classic action-platformer franchise? Well, let’s check it out.

Playing as Mirenia, armed with a shield-sword. You have to kill demonic enemies that you accidentally let out, or something. There is a story, but I have no idea what it is. See, the game starts with a heavy text-scroll at the start… And then there’s nothing about a story after that. It seems that the game sets up a plot, but very quickly ignores it once the action begins. So if the plot isn’t up to much, then the gameplay really needs to be tip-top to keep you entertained. Sadly, it’s not.

The gameplay of The Skylia Prophecy is ‘strange’ to say the least. It’s not terrible, but strange. Yes, it is yer basic hit enemies with your weapon and jump on platforms malarkey, but everything just feels ‘off’. Take the combat, for instance, you can hit directly in front of you… And that’s it. You can’t duck and attack, which is really ‘effing annoying as there are plenty of snakes, spiders and the like that are low on the ground that you need to duck and hit. Instead, you have this shield thing that you just hold out in front of you and have to wait for the enemies to walk into it, cos you can’t move while you use it. Yeah, there’s a jump attack, but you can’t block while jumping, which is a real pain when an enemy shoots a projectile at you mid-jump and there’s nothing you can do other than take a hit. There are no other moves, no upgrades for your weapon, no different weapons either.

SKYLIA SCREEN 2

Now, there are magic attacks and you will unlock other ones as you play. But they eat away at your mana reserves so much that you will only get two or three uses before you have no mana left. Yes, you can refill the mana bar, but you have to buy potions from a shop to do that… And then, you can only carry one potion at a time. That also goes for health potions, one at a time. You also buy keys from the shops in the game… Again, you can only carry one at a time (seriously, give Mirenia some pockets). This is partially annoying as you’ll come across many locked doors, so you’ll have to keep going back to the shop to buy a key (singular) every time you want to open a door. However, there is a character that appears next to lock doors if you don’t have a key and offers to give you one for a ‘favour’. No idea what that is as you just know it can’t be a good thing, it’s better to just backtrack to the shop and buy a key… One at a time. Oh, and the enemies don’t drop anything, no potions, no keys, etc. The only place you can get them is the shop, and remember, you can only carry one at a time too.

Platforming wise, you can’t jump through or down from a platform. So (for instance) if you need to get to a higher point, you can’t just jump up though to the higher level, you have to navigate to the end of the platform, then jump up. As for not being able to jump down, that just gets really infuriating as you can actually get stuck in places and have to traverse a very long way around just to go back down. Yeah, I get that The Skylia Prophecy is trying to emulate that ‘old school’ gameplay, but there are times when that’s a good idea and times when it’s not. And when you have some awkward level design, not being allowed to jump up or down through platforms is just annoying.

In terms of the level design, things get very ‘messy; with infuriating maze-like shenanigans and often long treks between the action. r the bane of lazy level design, doors that take you back to the start with no warning. You’ll stop off at villages between the dungeons, but it’s all very samey after the first two. You talk to the same people who will tell you largely the same things. Even the graphics of the villages look pretty much identical, just that the buildings get moved about a bit. It never feels like you are going anywhere in the game even when you are. 

SKYLIA VILLAGE

You only have one life, once your health reaches zero, you’re brown bread. Thankfully, you don’t start the game from the beginning as there are checkpoints. But pretty much all of the checkpoints are put in such maddening palaces that you may as well start from the beginning most of the time. In fact, as the game doesn’t have enemies that drop goodies, you can get stuck if you don’t have any mana left. Honestly, it happened to me a few times where I needed to use a magic attack to progress, but I had no mana. No potions to top up my mana either as you can only carry one, and I already used it. So I had to restart and load up my game to try again.

In terms of price, The Skylia Prophecy will only set you back £5.79 and there’s no denying that’s a decent price point. But that low cost does reflect the quality of the game. Now, The Skylia Prophecy isn’t a terrible game at all, but it certainly won’t leave you claiming it to be ‘game of the year’ either. As far as I can tell, this is the work of one person working alone and you really have to respect that. But, that doesn’t mean the game gets a free pass for being so ‘awkward’. It’s a very clunky title that seems to be lacking in any real depth or truly rewarding gameplay. It feels more like an unfinished demo than a complete title. It really is a shame too, as you can definitely feel the love for the Castlevania franchise and other games of its ilk… But it just never quite comes together as it should.

SKYLIA SCREEN 3

I really, really wanted to love this game, as I am a big fan of the genre. But some rather poor and lacking combat ideas, very questionable level design and a really annoying/limiting inventory system really lets this one down. The Skylia Prophecy could’ve done with some feedback/QA and another few weeks of development. Overall, it’s a very average game that is too restrictive to be any real fun and it just does not seem to get anything right. It’s just ‘okay’.