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.

10/10/2017

RESIDENT EVIL MAGAZINE COVERS

A couple of years ago I wrote about a bunch of videogame magazines with Silent Hill games on the cover. A recurring theme with those covers was that they kept comparing the Silent Hill games to the Resident Evil series, which I sort of understand – they both started out as PS1 survival horror games about people getting in way over their heads, after all. So, in the spirit of synchronicity I thought now would be a good time to look at magazines with Resident Evil games on the cover. I promise I won’t spend the whole article comparing them to Silent Hill, except to say both series are precious and wonderful and I love them. Well, as long as I keep pretending that the Silent Hill games after number three don’t exist.

Maximum, Resident Evil


Let’s begin with a cover that celebrates one of the most iconic moments in the entire Resident Evil series. It’s from the cutscene that plays when you encounter your very first zombie. The hideous creature is distracted from its meal of human flesh, and slowly turns to show the camera its rotting features. You probably remember it well if you’ve played the original Resident Evil. I know I do. I remember it well enough to realise that the image on this cover isn’t taken directly from that cutscene. It’s the same scene, the same zombie in a pose that screams “hey, buddy, keep it down, I’m tryna eat here,” but it’s a completely different CG model. Unless Capcom were handing out unseen concept art to magazine for promotional reasons, that means that someone at Maximum went to the trouble of recreating this famous zombie just for this cover. That’s a level of dedication to the Resident Evil games that I can definitely appreciate, and it’s a good enough model to pass undetected at a glance. When you compare the two zombies side by side, however, the differences become apparent. The one on this cover has no ears, for starters. The big difference is the eye, though. In the game, the zombie has a beady yet inquisitive eye sunk deep into its mouldering eye socket. This zombie’s eye appears to have been accidentally connected to a bicycle pump.

Game Informer, Resident Evil


The first zombie returns on this cover, expect this time he’s a drawing rather than a CG model. I really like the milky white eyes it has here, I reckon they’re even creepier than on the original. As for the rest of the cover, it’s mostly taken up by official art of the STARS members you’ll encounter in the game. I’d like to take this opportunity to say how much I like the STARS acronym, because “Special Tactics and Rescue Service” really does sound like the name of a police branch that might conceivably exist. The only problem with it is that it’s usually the members of STARS who need rescuing.

Gamers, Resident Evil


Blimey, that zombie doesn’t half get around. However, this time he’s fuzzily shoved into the background so we can focus on the real stars: these trace jobs of Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield. I say “trace” but that’s not quite right. The drawing of Chris is definitely a copy of the game’s US cover art, but I’m not sure where that Jill is from originally. They’re not bad drawings, though. Certainly better than I could manage, and I know that for a fact because when the first Resident Evil came out I did little else but draw pictures of Jill and Chris.And Wesker. Okay, mostly Wesker. The most notable thing about this drawing is Chris’ especially veiny forearms, especially when you consider this is from long before the musclebound, boulder-clobbering version of Chris we got from Resident Evil 5 onwards. My theory is that his arms look like that due the sheer amount of elbow grease he must have used to polish his gun so much it glows.

Game-X, Resident Evil


Now we’re talking. Chris drops into an extremely uncomfortable-looking combat squat as he shoots near – but not at - a zombie, while Jill is so shocked by the attacking mutant dog that she reflexively throws a karate chop at it. Of course, the real star of this cover is the zombie, who has become overwhelmed with ennui. It is “so done” with this allegedly elite police unit’s antics, as the youth might say. You know how sometimes you look at a character and you can hear the voice they should have in your head? Yeah, there’s no way that zombie doesn’t have a slightly camp British accent. I’m imagining a cross between Kenneth Williams and Boni from The Trap Door saying “oh,  the humanity!”

Official UK Playstation Magazine, Resident Evil


Hang on, that’s not Resident Evil. That’s a Deadite from the first Evil Dead movie! See?


Okay, glad we got that settled. Now I’ll look forward to the inevitable Resident Evil Dead crossover event. You might think Ash wouldn’t make for a good fit with the well-trained special forces police unit that is STARS, and you’d probably be right. However, I guarantee Ash would have figured out that Wesker was evil as soon as he saw him mysteriously disappear while wearing an all-black outfit and indoor sunglasses.

Computer and Video Games, Resident Evil 2


Maybe I should have included some kind of gore warning before starting this article. Mind you, it’s about Resident Evil so I imagine anyone reading this would have been expecting gore. Not so in 1998, when this issue of CVG was released – as I recall, the magazine received some complaints from people who didn’t want to see a rotting corpse with exposed brain matter hanging out of a body bag while they were browsing in WH Smiths. Personally, I think it pairs up rather nicely with the festive sprig of holly adorning the CVG logo.
I actually had this issue as a kid, and even if I hadn’t already been incredibly excited for Resident Evil 2 after playing the first game, this artwork would have definitely drawn me in because I was kind of a morbid kid and I’ve always thought this image finds that perfect balance between revulsion and fascination. If you’ve ever seen people talking about how they used to see horror movies at the video rental place and their covers were so horrifying yet fascinating that the actual movie could never live up to the promise of the artwork, then for me this is the videogaming equivalent. Except that Resident Evil 2 did live up to my expectations, much to my teenage relief.

Hyper, Resident Evil 2


Another cover that’s little more than a truly disgusting zombie, and what an excellent drawing it is too. There’s just a hint of sadness in its eyes to offset the sloughing flesh and necrotic skin, although I think the worst part about it is the nose-hole. I don’t know why that should seem more unsettling to me than the rest of the zombie, but the gaping sinus is definitely making this cover quite hard to look at… until you look a little further down and there’s Yoshi, offering an oasis of cuteness at which you can take a mental rest and compose yourself. Then you look back up and see Gex 3D being referred to as “the king of the PSX platforms” and suddenly you’re cast back down into a mire of disgust and misery.

EGM, Resident Evil 2


Is it just me or do the heroes of Resident Evil 2 look like porcelain figurines on this cover? I think it’s a combination of the skinny arms and their smooth, pale faces. In a different, better universe, this is the kind of thing you see advertised on the back of a newspaper’s Sunday supplement. “For the low price of £99.99, you can be the owner of the exquisite, limited edition “Raccoon City Nightmare” porcelain diorama. Once this finely-detailed creation is “resident” in your home, you’ll be the envy of your friends and neighbours! £35 p&p, payments in monthly instalments available, no refunds.”
It’s that licker I feel sorry for, though. It's clearly trying to give Claire a hug, but her look of disgust has stopped it in its slime-drenched tracks. We’ve all been there, buddy.

Total Play, Resident Evil 2


You know, I bet there were a lot of Resident Evil 2 fans out there who really did want more of a focus on Leon’s backside. Well, this magazine cover is the one for you, then. I feel like it’d also work as the cover for the lo-fi dreampop album that Leon and Claire have been working on as a duo that plays up the "are-they-aren't-they" nature of their relationship.

Official Australian Playstation Magazine, Resident Evil 2


“Don’t miss,” says the cover. I have some other suggestions for “don’ts.” Don’t close your eyes while you’re firing your gun, Leon. Don’t tie your holster to your left leg so tightly that it cuts off circulation to your foot. Don’t ask Claire why she thought red denim cut-offs and cycling shorts were a good look because she’s got a knife in her hand and her facial expression suggests she’s not afraid to use it.

Official US Playstation Magazine, Resident Evil 2


Bloody typical, one of the covers I was most interested in taking a close look at and it’s the one I can’t find at a decent resolution. That might be for the best, however, because these zombies look deeply unpleasant. The one at the back especially. Don’t let his jaunty hat fool you, he has the look of a zombie that’s gone beyond “undead” and into “physical manifestation of the concept of disease” territory. It took me a while to figure out what memory was tickling my brain while I looked at this zombie, but eventually I realised it reminds me of the Hellraiser comic books, and even for the Resident Evil series that feels a bit much in terms of raw horror. In fact, these magazine covers being more grisly and disturbing than the RE games themselves has been something of a theme here, huh? If you’re worried it’s all going to get a bit much for you, just take a look at the face of that zombie between Leon’s legs. He’s got absolutely no idea what’s going on, does he?

Great Dragon, Resident Evil 2


You know earlier when I said I spend a lot of my youth drawing Resident Evil characters? What I didn’t know is that one of my drawings had been picked up and used on the cover of a Russian games magazine! I’m kidding, of course. My drawings were both substantially worse than this one and also contained more gore. I mean, what’s the point of drawing fanart of a series where someone gets pecked to death by crows if there aren’t crows ripping out eyeballs in every subsequent picture?
I’m not sure about Claire’s face, though. You might expect her to look scared or intense, but instead she just seems really, really sad, like she’s just remembered that scene from Up.

PSM, Resident Evil 3


“The monster’s behind me, isn’t it?”
You know, I never realised just how many belts the Nemesis has on its arm. Angling for a role in an upcoming Final Fantasy game, are we? As for the artwork itself, yeah, I think it’s pretty good. It’s not the artist’s fault that I don’t like the makeover Capcom gave Jill for Resident Evil 3. If you want to imagine I’m using the most stereotypical, extreme nerd voice possible while I say this then go ahead, but are we meant to believe that Jill, a highly trained combatant with both police and military experience, would wear a leather miniskirt during her attempt to escape a city full of zombies? Ahem, ahem, I think not. The very concept is laughable! She doesn’t even have her combat beret!

Computer and Video Games, Resident Evil 3


There’s not much to say about the artwork here, what with it just being a couple of renders from the game, so instead I’ll draw your attention to that headline. “The only reason to fill your pants,” huh? I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree with you there. I know the intention was to communicate that Resident Evil 3 is so terrifying it’ll make you lose control of your bowels, but that’s not how it comes across. It might just be me, but it sounds like your saying the only way to play Resident Evil 3 is is to intentionally soil yourself. Once you’ve done that, a Capcom representative arrives, presumably performs some kind of underwear check and then gives you a copy of the game.

Playstation Power, Resident Evil 3


Looking at this cover, I can only think of this scene from Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

Super Gamepower, Resident Evil 3


Much like that RE2 cover with Yoshi, this one has the rather entertaining contrast between the dark, menacing (and really well drawn, in my opinion) Resident Evil parts and a cuddly Pikachu toy exploding out of a starburst. Clearly, they represent the angel and devil of Jill’s conscience. Pikachu says “pika pika, you should burn down this orphanage, Jill!” and the Nemesis says, well, it says “STAAARRRSS,” but you can tell it also wants you to burn down the orphanage.

N64 Magazine, Resident Evil 0


“’Cause this is thriller, thriller night, and no-one’s going to save you from a zombie on a train.”
Hang on, how are those zombie even standing up atop a moving train? Have they got magnetic boots? Is that it? Do Umbrella make magnetic boots for zombies now? It might sound like a stupid idea but let’s not forget Umbrella once tried to make a great white shark into a remorseless killing machine, having a) sorely misunderstood what a great white shark is and b) grossly overestimated the usefulness of an undead shark. Magnetic zombie boots don’t seem so ridiculous in that context.

Official Sega Dreamcast Magazine, Resident Evil: Code Veronica


Again, there’s not much say about this one other than I really like the picture of Claire in Power Stone’s art style and I thought you might like to see it too.

Fun Generation, Resident Evil


This one is just weird. It’s one of Resident Evil’s part-human part-fly Chimera monsters posing with some of Tekken 2’s female characters for a swimsuit photoshoot? I think? Whoever put this cover together went to the effort of making it look like the Chimera has its arms (well, appendages) draped around the bikini-clad ladies so obviously your first thought is going to be that the person responsible has some weird sexual hang-ups. Look, I’ve been on the internet for a long time, and these kinds of image are almost always about someone’s weird sexual hang-ups. However, I’m going to save you all from thinking about this by pointing out that hey, there’s nothing in Resident Evil that says the Chimeras are male. With that in mind, let’s assume that this monster is actually one of the girls, and they’re all hanging out together and having a great time during their beach holiday.

ToyFare, Resident Evil toys


Finally for today, an image that invokes nothing but jealousy in me because it means someone once got paid for posing their Resident Evil toys to look like they’re having a battle. If only I’d known that was a viable career option as a kid. I could have made a fortune by now.

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