Thursday, March 27, 2014

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I Will Follow You To Poundsaver's Bargain Bin

I haven't usually got much time for the really pedantic movie nitpickers, and can readily suspend my disbelief to incorporate into celluloid fiction the credibility of zombies, aliens, the supernatural and even talking fish, but this is where I draw the line.

'I Will Follow You Into the Dark' is one of those movies peddled as a horror, though that in practice would be more likely to bore you into an early grave rather than curdle your blood. It stars Mischa Barton as Sophia who has recently lost her parents within the space of six months of one another, and as a result has become jaded and cynical, particularly where love and the existence of a greater purpose or afterlife are concerned.

One day she meets Adam (or his name could be Atom I suppose; you never can tell with these American movies) who helps her change all this and re-engage with the world. To cut a dull story short, she spends the night in his apartment, which just so happens to be haunted, and in the middle of the night Adam vanishes, presumably abducted by ghoulies of some sort.

Distraught, Sophia, to bolster the search party, drafts in Astrid (Adam's flat mate) and Sam (Sophia's flat mate), and he brings his girlfriend, Penny, along for the ride. Whilst fleeing from shadows and things that go thud in the night in Curtainland on the 21st floor (which has been cordoned off because it's a tad too infested with spooks waiting to move between worlds), Penny falls through rotten floorboards and is knocked unconscious.

Fear not wide-eyed viewers, Sam has a plan. He jumps through the gaping hole to gauge the damage, and quickly ascertains that the best course of action is to hoist his comatose girlfriend - who has likely endured spinal injuries - onto his shoulder and schlep her back through the splintered floorboards above. Clearly he was pulling a sickie when St. John Ambulance visited to offer first aid at work training.

He shouts up to Sophia and Astrid to throw down some drapes Rapunzel style and haul the two of them to safety. Sam grabs one end of it in one hand and clutches Penny with the other while the two beauty queen feather-weights heave on the other end. Don't worry, it'll all work out because Sam "has a good foot-hold". On what exactly, thin air? In the next scene, Sam - complete with probable-corpse - emerges from the cavity as casually as a traveller standing on an airport escalator twiddling his thumbs and humming, "Is This the Way to Amarillo?".

Before I had chance to pick up the shattered fragments of Make-Believe-Land, our ever-dependable hero, Sam, decides that after risking permanently paralysing his girlfriend he should leave her alone in a corridor while he gets help!

You'd imagine this train wreck couldn't get any clunkier. You'd be wrong.

Sophia has a brainwave; to save Adam she must temporarily kill herself. This she reasoned would allow her to connect with his spirit (he is assumed to be separated from his corporeal embodiment at this point), locate and revive him and then shake off the whole being dead thing herself with a spot of CPR. Luckily Sophia has watched Flatliners so knows that her brain can safely be starved of oxygen for three minutes, but if she's not resuscitated before precisely six minutes are up, she's a goner.

As trite as it sounds, sometimes there's just no better way of saying, "that's two hours of my life I'll never get back" than "that's two hours of my life I'll never get back".

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

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Kid Gloves as the progenitor of Angry Video Game Nerds

Wouldn't that make a compelling thesis title? Far more than my actual one at least, guaranteed.

Back when I shared the family home with my brother, I'd become accustomed to hearing some pretty strange utterances emerge from his loft-conversion cesspit of a bedroom. Topping the charts would be the vented wails, "it never touched me!", "I was nowhere near it!" or "I killed you!", intermittently punctuated with disgruntled tuts and incredulous sighs and groans. Have a guess how I knew whenever he was playing Amiga games, and not making much progress with them at that.

When verbally assaulting the TV screen failed to elicit the desired change in providence, thuds and thumps would often reverberate through the floorboards. I assume this was my delightful sibling taking his frustration out on whatever inanimate object was closest to fist or boot.

I was both fascinated and disturbed by this ritual and often wondered how tortuous a game would have to be to elicit such an extreme response. One day I concocted some excuse or other to go upstairs to look over his shoulder and finally solve the mystery.

More often than not he'd be bashing away on the seemingly innocuous, ultra-cute, screen-flipping platformer, Kid Gloves from Millennium Interactive. It features 'Kid', who wears gloves, perhaps not surprisingly. Only these are magic, time travelling gloves that have unexpectedly transported our protagonist into yonder past from which he has to escape by battling through five diversely themed levels slaying all manner of wacky foes in the process.

I'd thought little about these spontaneous outbursts of rage until recently - approximately 23 years later - when I was tinkering with the Amiga emulator, FS-UAE, wondering what nostalgic button-masher to fire up next. I reasoned that if someone could hate a game to that degree, yet still kept going back for more, it must have something going for it. With that I booted up Kid Gloves and my descent into madness began.

It turns out that all the teeth-gnashing, vehement physical violence and vitriolic abuse levelled at it were entirely warranted! It's the most excruciatingly, infuriatingly, demoralisingly, vexatiously irksome pile of pixels ever to grace the gaming catalogue of any computing or console platform, ever. No, it's worse than that!

A spot of musical foreshadowing in a game often comes in handy because it alerts the player of the necessity to guard against the danger lurking just around the next corner. But what happens when danger lurks around every corner and you could die at any moment and for no logically discernible or copacetic reason?

Millennium have that base covered; repeat the same two second, sense-of-foreboding-laden ditty over and over and over again. It's played when an enemy spawns, it's played when the hurry-up-eyeballs-of-damnation put in an appearance all too quickly after entering a scene, it's played when you return to the screen after losing a life, and also when nothing at all instigates it, but it's been more than three milliseconds since it was last trotted out to mercilessly assault your lug-holes.

I have to concede that the first time I met my maker I couldn't help grinning at the imaginatively quirky death animation. "Oh noooo", 'Kid' shrieks as he spontaneously combusts, his hat - all that remains of your character - falling to the ground accompanied by Wile E. Coyote style "weeeeeee... splat" sound effects. The seven-hundredth time you see it, it's not quite so endearing.

Trust me, if you're going to embrace the sadomasochistic lunacy and give Kid Gloves a go, you will become acutely familiar with this routine. The problem is the collision detection is abysmal. My brother was right; he/she/whatever really didn't touch him, but somehow Kid is incinerated anyway. One minute you can jump through an enemy and not perish, the next you could bite the dust just by looking at a bouncing troll. OK, sometimes it's a fair cop, but is it imperative for the enemies to re-spawn right on top of you? One could argue you were warned; did you not hear the ditty-of-doom?

One pixel out either side of the centre point of a ladder and you've got as much chance of ascending it as you have of not wanting to assassinate the developers of this game. Given that this will often be your only means of escape from an impending threat, feeling as though your feet have been welded to the ground is far from ideal... and you get no bonus points for performing the Smooth Criminal lean.

The jumping mechanism is equally fiddly and unfair; if you don't leap those gaps with pixel-perfect precision, you fall short and it's goodnight Vienna... "oh nooo", weeee... splat", insert sense-of-foreboding-ditty here... lather, rinse, repeat.

Is it really any wonder Amiga Power gave the game away free on a cover disk back in 1991?

Personally I would have buried all the surplus copies right next to Atari's 'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial' in that New Mexico landfill site, concreted over the surface and arranged for the area to be patrolled around the clock for all of eternity by a crack team of mercenaries with rabid guard dogs.

Just imagine if Millennium had failed to learn their lesson and released an equally abominable sequel, sans the gloves - or Kid himself for that matter - though retaining the eponymous title, Kid Gloves II? That could never happen, surely? They wouldn't dare!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

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Copy that floppy; it's armless

Imagine taking the guts of the hulking Amiga 500 and smushing them into something the size of an external floppy drive case, and it would look a lot like this retro revival prototype set to hit a crowd-funding portal near you soon.

The Armiga is a cunning fusion of old and new technology which aims to recreate the misty-eyed experience of playing classic Amiga games on real hardware via original floppy disks.

It's no coincidence that the design is reminiscent of the Amiga 500 case with its parallel heat vents and convex, bold, upper-case typeface appellation. Beneath the elegant surface lies a 'new-old stock' floppy drive, custom controller and ARM CPU mounted on a Raspberry Pi sisterboard featuring contemporary USB and HDMI connections.

Complimenting this impressive array of hardware is the software-based Amiga emulator solution, UAE4All. United these will allow you to boot games from your gloriously antiquated, grungy, chewed-up old floppy disks, store the ADF dumps onto an SD card, or run downloaded floppy images from a pen drive or memory card. With no capacity restraints you can swap disks to your heart's content... without swapping disks, unless, of course, rekindling that particular torture pushes your nostalgia buttons!