Monthly Archives: May 2018

Sierra LandDesigner 3D Software category

Title screen from Sierra LandDesigner 3D

Could a CD-ROM be as good as hiring an expert? Or in other words, why hire a landscaper to design your yard when you could get Sierra LandDesigner 3D? (Yes, that Sierra!)

Sierra LandDesigner 3D brings together the information you need to design a garden – and it lets you build the garden yourself using 3D graphics. This is a vision where software could help you plan a complicated, logistically challenging project, something you’d normally need a professional’s skills to create. Imagine you’re a middle-class homeowner in the late 90s who’s gotten comfortable with the computer they’ve now owned for a few years. Could you really go to the electronics store and buy a program that could do the work of a professional planner?

Well, nearly. Although LandDesigner 3D doesn’t take enough advantage of all its gardening knowledge to replace an expert, it does successfully turn 3D design software into a welcoming product. » Read more about Sierra LandDesigner 3D

Star Wars: Demolition PlayStation categoryRacing categoryShooter category

Title screen from Star Wars: Demolition

When The Phantom Menace came out in 1999, it was the first Star Wars movie in 16 years. The franchise had been through a dormant period, and in the years leading up with a real new Star Wars film on the horizon, Lucasfilm launched a bombardment of merchandise, tie-ins, and spinoffs to support the brand. There had always been Star Wars games, and now there would be many more, encompassing a broad assortment of formats and genres like a fighting gameseveral strategy games, a CD-ROM encyclopedia, and a whole bunch of software for children under the new Lucas Learning label. After The Phantom Menace, the engine kept roaring.

At the same time, multiplayer car combat games were having a brief heyday. While the peak lasted only a few years, titles like Activision’s Vigilante 8, halfway between driving and shooting, acted like a edgy, destructive companion to the era’s kart racing games. Inevitably, the aggressive blockbuster merchandise campaign laid its sights on the hot new violent game genre, and so became Star Wars: Demolition.

Cars shooting each other, as you could imagine, is not a practical fit for Star Wars. The game goes through contortions to justify its existence, and it tries very hard to assemble a serviceable roster of characters and explain why they’re fighting on Dagobah or the Death Star. It just isn’t organic. It was never going to be. The pretense does at least give Demolition an opportunity to play with some Star Wars-ier ideas. » Read more about Star Wars: Demolition

Aaargh! Condor Arcade category

Title screen from Aaargh! Condor

In Aaargh! Condor, you play as a man who really hates a large bird.

There’s a condor flying around, and in about 10 seconds, it’s gonna steal a dude. According to one of the only contemporary reviews of Aaargh! Condor – a name that I will repeat as many times as possible in this short post – the dude is actually a damsel in distress, but it’s irrelevant. You’ve gotta kill that condor.

At the top of a hill, there is a spear. Hazards litter the road to the top. You’ve got snakes, porcupines, fires, falling condor eggs, a strange man who shoot arrows at you, and something that looks like a pair of eyeballs sticking out of the ground. Once you dodge all of them and climb to the top, you hurl the spear off the hill at the condor. If you kill it, another condor appears, and you do it again. Aaargh, condor!

Screenshot from Aaargh! Condor

Aaargh, condor!

Aaargh! Condor goes extremely quickly. You only get a fraction of a second to react to the hazards, especially the arrow man, who comes out of nowhere. The challenge depends half on reaction time and half on memorizing when something will jump out. You get points for dodging attacks too, so you can run up a decent score even if you let the damsel get eaten.

This has to be one of the most inane premises for a game like this, and god help me, I wanted to keep trying to get that condor. It was almost a compulsive reaction. Aaargh! Condor wastes absolutely no time between the start of the game and fighting a huge bird. And then fighting another huge bird. Aaargh! Condor!

Biosys Adventure categorySimulation category

Title screen from Biosys

On its face, Biosys hits all the clichés of a mystery first-person adventure game. You wake up with no memory. Something has gone disastrously wrong. The last survivors left clues and diaries that explain what happened. We’ve heard this story many times before in many similar games. But it’s a template, and Biosys takes the clichés in an unexpected, genre-twisting direction with one hell of a setting.

The entire game takes place in a self-contained biosphere experiment. Instead of using that solely as a backdrop, Biosys simulates the artificial environment – temperature, humidity, water level, plant growth, the systems powering the biosphere – and makes it an integral part of the game. It creates a simulation in the form of a mystery adventure game, attempting an unusual, ungainly cross between adventure and earth science. Parts of the experience even seem like a precursor to the survival game genre. The game has some trouble balancing those elements, but it shows how elastic the adventure format can be. » Read more about Biosys

Factory: The Industrial Devolution Macintosh categoryPuzzle categorySimulation category

Screenshot from Factory: The Industrial Devolution

When factory automation was ramping up, the 1993 game Factory: The Industrial Devolution imagined what could go wrong. When all work has been automated and nobody needs a job anymore, what happens when the machines that build everything break down?

The answer, according to Factory, is the most stressful job on earth. You’re a specialist called in to operate broken factories, manually routing products around so kids will get their boxes of cereal on time. The last time the cereal plant shut down, the kids went on a riot.

There are some creepy implications in that premise about the distant future of consumerism. Mostly, that stays in the manual. In its heart, Factory is a hectic multitasking challenge that always goes wrong, and it drags you along for fun. » Read more about Factory: The Industrial Devolution