Thursday, 27 October 2011

Don't know where, don't know when...

...but I know we'll meet again some sunny day.

Yes, I'm bowing to the inevitable and putting up the shutters. I won't delete this blog, and I don't rule out coming back sometime, but there are now so few GP2X fans about that it doesn't really seem worth it any more. Thank you to everyone who read my wafflings!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Gone all quiet again

Not me this time, but the GP2X scene in general. We're having another new stuff drought, and rapidly approaching two months since the last games were uploaded to OHH. Let's hope that changes soon!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Game review: Bunny Traps


Bunny Traps
Genre: Puzzle
Author: Guyfawkes and Rik Nicol
OHH download: v1.1 (28/12/05)
Size: 3.9 MB
Licence: Freeware

Description
Bunny Traps is essentially a version of the age-old Hangman pencil and paper game. You must guess letters that make up a hidden word, and for each you get wrong your bunny moves closer to his untimely demise. There are two game modes: Challenge, which is a ten-stage progression, and Arcade, in which you play until you die (well, until the bunny does). Only dangers which have been unlocked in Challenge mode are available in Arcade mode. Arcade has three difficulty levels, and even the ability to use a custom word list by editing a text file, though each of these must be between six and 14 characters inclusive. You score in a slightly convoluted fashion: you gain points for correct guesses, lose them for incorrect guesses, and can win bonus points for "chains", in other words multiple correct guesses with no incorrect letters intervening.

Bunny Traps has an odd clause in its licensing, as follows: "This game may not be distributed as a means of making profit, for example advertising or selling a GP2X with Bunny Traps being mentioned or being included on a compilation CD/DVD which is sold for profit. Bunny Traps is a freely available game and it should stay that way!" Taken literally, this would mean that selling your GP2X on eBay with the phrase "You can play a great word game called Bunny Traps on this console!" would not be allowed. Very strange...

Addictiveness: 5
I really like Hangman, and was expecting Bunny Traps to be just as addictive. Unfortunately, it isn't. The reason for this is its difficulty. On Challenge mode, you are allowed only five incorrect guesses before your bunny is doomed, and when on the very first level you are confronted with words like "piazza", this really is too little. I could see many people giving up on the game quite quickly because of this.

Depth: 6
I have a bit of a prejudice against games where you have to unlock levels, going right back to Lemmings days. Maybe this stems from my background in the Grand Prix Legends racing sim, which gave you all the tracks and all the cars straight away. Still, the Challenge mode is okay for what it is, and the three difficulty levels in Arcade are useful enough as a means of holding the player's interest.

Controls: 4
Odd. In the main menu, you're told to press Start to choose an option. This is strange in itself given that B is more usual, but actually it's not Start you need! The instructions are incorrect: in fact, X takes you to a submenu, while B is the cancel button. Once you manage to display the actual on-screen help this is given correctly, but still... in the game itself, yo use the stick to choose letters, L and R (not left and right on the stick, for some reason) to skip five letters back and forth, X to select a letter and Start to pause, and potentially quit.

Graphics: 7
The presentation in Bunny Traps is generally very well done. There's a distinctly cartoonish feel, starting with the opening screen with the bunny yelling, "_ELP/_E" (HELP ME) in true Hangman style. This mark would probably have been an 8 had it not been for the rather squint-inducing high score entry screen -- larger text here would have made a considerable difference.

Sound: 6
Much too loud for headphones as usual... a rather odd, speeded-up, bouncy tune to start with. You can choose in the game menu whether to have the music and/or the sound effects switched on. I suspect the music will drive most people mad after a while. The crowd cheers when you get a word correct are cute, though, it has to be said.

Documentation: 8
I was impressed to see a "How To Play" option in the menu, and this seems to explain the game in plenty of detail. I can't imagine there are too many people out there who don't know Hangman, but even if there are they should know what they're doing after reading this. There's also a readme file with the package, which you'll need to read if you want to know how to set up a custom words file.

Completeness: 9
The game is basically done: the core works, there are a decent number of levels, there's a good help screen and nothing seems to crash.

Overall: 6
Bunny Traps is an early GP2X game, from late 2005, and in truth sometimes it shows. The somewhat bizarre choices for the controls, the overly difficult Challenge level (eg on level one, "filial" -- five wrong guesses is simply not enough) and the eventually maddening music are examples. On the other hand, the cartoonish visuals are very well and amusingly done, and the ability to add your own word list in Arcade mode is most welcome. It's another game that would probably have been wonderful with another few weeks' work, but which as it stands has a few too many rough edges.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Yep, still here

This time my absence is not because of boredom or annoyance, but just because life is very hectic at the moment. I have a game I very much want to try, and so with luck that will be reviewed in the next few days.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Game review: Escapa!


Escapa!
Genre: Arcade
Author: Guyfawkes
OHH download: vGBAX2007 (12/07/07)
Size: 3.6 MB
Licence: Freeware

Description
Based on a Java game of the same name, Escapa is a reflex/concentration-centric arcade game. The mechanics are very simple: you control a red block (with the stick) and four blue blocks of differing rectangular shapes move around the board. If your block touches any of them, or the edge of the playing area, then it's game over. Every ten seconds, the game speed increases. The time you've stayed alive is shown (in seconds) and there is only one object: keep going as long as possible!

Addictiveness: 5
Frustratingly hard to start with, and then just very hard. That stops you wanting to go back more than a few times -- but for those few times you will get a feeling of achievement if you happen to beat your previous high score. (These are ordered simply by the time you lasted, in seconds.) I doubt you'll keep this game around for all that long, as there's no real reason to return after a while.

Depth: 2
Given that you're doing well if you last more than 20 seconds, there isn't a lot of this! Only the one level, and no options to change anything.

Controls: 7
The basic controls are simple enough: you just use the stick to move your red block around. Selecting from the main menu is also easy (see Graphics, below). The high score entry is a little unnecessarily complicated, though, and does make Escapa! feel slightly less wieldy than it might. If you have the appropriate hardware you can also play with a USB mouse, but as I don't I can't test that.

Graphics: 5
Very simple indeed: a white playfield, the red and blue blocks, and score and "Game Over" messages in a virulent light green (that last one wasn't a great choice, in my view). Excellent, smooth animation. The high score entry page is white on black, but unfortunately uses a "show-off font", by which I mean one that looks all fancy and in theory sounds impressive, but in practice is too hard to read. I do like, though, the menu screen, which apes the game mechanics: you move a red block to one of four blue blocks representing Play, Highscores, Credits or Quit.

Sound: 7
This is reasonably impressive. The background music is (again) a repetitive techno-style piece, but it has a vaguely eerie feel that somehow fits quite well. Mind you, it's likely to drive you mad if you play for more than a few minutes at a time! There is also some decent speech, which makes up for the absence of any other sound effects. (The tune plays continuously.)

Documentation: 6
Surprisingly for a three-hour contest entry, there's an adequate readme, containing the basic controls and aims (of what is admittedly a simple game) and contact details for the author. It's not exactly "The Dark Wheel" (the novella that came with the original Elite) but it does a job.

Completeness: 6
The credits state that Guyfawkes (and musician Donskeeto) finished the game in two hours and 45 minutes, so it's a little churlish to complain too much. There certainly are things that could be added, such as sound effects (and the option to turn off that damn music) and an easier difficulty level. Perhaps also there could be custom levelsets with different types of block design and/or movement. But the core game is there, and it works.

Overall: 5
An average rating for an average game. Escapa! is an interesting challenge for a little while, but most people will find that interest palls after that. It's well presented (with particular points for the smoothness of the animation) but few people will go "wow!" upon seeing it. One of those "play for a bit then delete" games.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Gah

I thought this would happen sooner or later: I've lost the little bit of rubber that covers the power socket. Not a big deal, but mildly annoying as it was so obviously flimsy.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Game review: Vektar


Vektar
Genre: Shooter
Author: GBAX
OHH download: v? (09/04/09)
Size: 69.1 MB
Licence: Freeware (ex-commercial)

Description
Vektar is a shoot-em-up game based loosely on that old classic, Asteroids. You fly a ship around a screen populated by rocks, ships and so on and blast them to bits. There's a time limit in certain levels, and you have a limited amount of shields to give you brief protection against damage. When you beat a set of waves (there are bosses, of course) another and more extensive level set will be unlocked.

Addictiveness: 8
Pretty good. It is a little bit frustrating at first if (like me) you're not particularly adept at games like this. (Memories of the original Defender, and its BBC Micro clone Planetoid, still haunt me.) However, Vektar is so well made that once you do get into it, the game grows on you greatly. It's not particularly difficult to make it onto at least the lower reaches of the high score table, which helps here.

Depth: 6
The game isn't astoundingly deep, but a reasonable amount of thought seems to have gone into the level design, and it doesn't suffer from having level after level that's nothing more than a simple rectangle. There's also an element of depth in learning how to use the power-ups, some of which are more obvious than others. You also need to judge your shooting, since (in what I think is a very nice touch) these too can be destroyed by your zapping!

Controls: 7
As with Asteroids itself, it can take a little time to get used to controlling your ship in Vektar. Stick left and right rotates you, up and down control thrust and braking, while holding down Y raises your shields. Pressing Select and Start together brings up a pause menu that allows you to continue, quit entirely or begin a new game. In the menus, you can use X to bring up the quit menu, though here you get slightly insulting messages if you leave. (Remember Quake doing that?) I wasn't entirely thrilled with the high-score entry, which worked in the usual "three initials" way but seemed a little imprecise.

Graphics: 9
These really are excellent. If you've ever played a Vectrex console (or at least an emulated one) then imagine the graphics from that, brought into the 21st century and given a beautiful colour-filled makeover. There are explosions everywhere, but even with heaps of things happening at once the animation remains decently -- if not quite perfectly -- fluid, something so important in a fast-moving arcade game. Little touches such as the angular font used for the high score list, and the "fuzzy" look in what you might call "attract mode" are welcome too.

Sound: 7
As usual, the default volume perforates your eardrums if you're using the official GP2X earphones, so you'll want to turn it right down. The music is provided by means of .ogg files, and if you do a bit of fiddling about (which will require a little internet research) you can replace the rather predictable techno-y tunes with whatever you prefer. Still, there's nothing wrong with the default ones.

Documentation: 3
Surprisingly little; really, a game that takes up almost 60 MB of your SD card ought to do a bit better than this. You have to work out a number of things, not least what the power-ups actually do, by trial and error, and while I'm all for a bit of mystery and surprise in a game I think this goes too far. Possibly the boxed commercial version had a manual, but even if it did, that's no use here!

Completeness: 9
Loses a point for not having proper documentation, but otherwise it's all here, and as it's the "registered" copy you're not going to find yourself booted out halfway with a demand to buy the full game -- since this is it!

Overall: 8
Vektar is a very good game. I might have rated it 9 had it had in-game help, and I could imagine some people marking it as a perfect 10. For me, it's a little too difficult to score quite that highly, and it does take up an awful lot of card space (though over a quarter of this comes from two thinly-disguised and mildly annoying videos). Still, it ends as a very creditable 8, and those who like their old-school arcade shooters will lap this up.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Chess2X updated

ParkyDR has released v0.5 of Chess2X. This is a useful update, which contains the following improvements and fixes, as described by the author.

1) Tighten up promote check
2) Auto repeat for joystick, L/R and volume
3) Get rid of 2 pixel gap on right of screen
4) Combine move and in game menus
5) Provide feedback on volume change

I originally rated Chess2X as 6/10 because of something of a lack of polish. This update makes enough of a difference that I am now bumping its score up to 7/10.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Game review: BubbleX


BubbleX
Genre: Puzzle
Author: PotA
OHH download: v1 (18/11/05)
Size: 0.1 MB
Licence: Freeware

Description
BubbleX is a tiny little game: the archive contains nothing but a .gpe file, under 140 KB in size. It will be immediately familiar to anyone who's played "SameGame" or the like. You are given a screen full of randomly-coloured bubbles on a 2D grid. When there are two or more of the same colour touching orthogonally, you can select those and "pop" the group. Bubbles will fall if left hanging in mid-air, and gaps of full columns will be closed up. The object is to remove all the bubbles from the screen; if no legal move remains, you lose.

Addictiveness: 5
Not bad as far as it goes, and its quick gameplay helps here. The trouble is, as I'll mention in a moment, it just doesn't have much of a lifespan. The lack of any sort of scoring really hampers your ability to challenge yourself to have just one more go at beating your best.

Depth: 2
Virtually none: what you see is what you get. There's no level progression, no tightening timer (or indeed any timer), no larger grid options, nothing. This is a game you can play in two minutes at the bus stop.

Controls: 7
Very simple indeed: move around the grid with the stick and press B once to select a colour group, then again to pop the relevant bubbles. Start brings up a simple menu -- New game, Option and Quit game -- and B selects from there, although Option doesn't seem to do anything. Otherwise, nothing special, but they do a good job.

Graphics: 7
Simple and colourful, just as they should be for a simple puzzler of this sort. The grid is very clear, and the background squares don't clash with the bubbles. I'm not so taken with the menu design, which has an irritating Comic Sans-type font that seems a bit too "wacky" for BubbleX.

Sound: 4
There are precisely two sound effects: a sort of "boylp" when you select a colour group, and a "pop!" when you, er, pop it. They're quite nicely chosen, though, and for once not stupidly loud through headphones, so I'm not awarding a terrible mark here.

Documentation: 2
"Remove the marbles with the same color", on the OHH page, is the extent of it. No readme or in-game instructions whatsoever. Luckily it's a very well-known game and simple enough to pick up that you don't really need documentation, but one sentence can hardly be worthy of a good mark!

Completeness: 4
This shouldn't really have been given a v1 version number, as it's clearly still in the v0.x stage. The basic gameplay all works, but there is no score, high score or timer function, and the "Option" menu item does precisely nothing.

Overall: 5
BubbleX is a pleasant little puzzle game that can be quite fun to play for a few minutes. It has no pretensions to being anything more, though it could have rated a little higher had it not been so obviously unfinished. The file is so small that you might as well bung it on your SD card anyway, though: everyone likes bursting bubbles, surely?

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Right; make or break week

If I don't find the enthusiasm to post one or two game reviews this week, I probably won't. I still very much like my 2X, and still play on it a good deal. Newer consoles (Cannoo etc) notwithstanding, the fact that GP2X units still sell easily on eBay surely indicates that some interest remains. Just not here, maybe. :P

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

And still here, just about

I intend to put up another review this week. It's probably fairly obvious that my enthusiasm isn't quite what it was, since (with one or two honourable exceptions: big thanks to them) nobody seems to be interested in what I'm writing. I'll plod on, but the old three-times-a-week update frequency seems a bit of a waste of time now. :/

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Still here

Sorry for the pause; there's been, er, rather a lot going on in the UK over the last few days, and somehow writing about games has seemed a bit unimportant. But yes, I am still here and yes, I have got another review in mind!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

New GP2X content :P

It's really nice to see that the software drought we suffered a couple of months ago has been broken. In July alone there were five new titles uploaded to OHH, which is the most in a single month since... er... March. Okay, not that long, but still. And yes, five: I'm not counting the skin for SnesGp2x as a piece of software. I really hope the full version of the Pure demo arrives soon, since at the moment I can't use it as it's not only TV-out-only but NTSC-only too; no use at all here in the UK!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Yes, I'm still here

I've been on holiday, that's all. The site stats are looking rather depressing now -- only 124 views in the whole of last month -- but I'll keep plodding on for the moment. So yes, more actual GP2X content coming in the near future.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Game review: Hamster's Escape


Hamster's Escape
Genre: Arcade
Author: GECA soft
OHH download: v1.0 (11/07/11)
Size: 2.2 MB
Licence: Freeware

Description
This is one of the newest games available for the GP2X, and is a very simple arcade affair. You play a little blue stick man, who is being menaced by waves of approaching hamsters. At various speeds they move down the screen, going from side to side while they do so. The game continues until you come into contact with a hamster, at which point it's game over.

Addictiveness: 4
It provides some ultra-retro fun for a little while, but the lack of a high score feature means that even the usual "can I beat my previous best?" option is missing unless you have a sensationally good memory!

Depth: 2
Don't be silly. Moving around and avoiding hamsters is the entire game.

Controls:5
"FIRE" (the A button) starts the game, but then doesn't actually do anything! All you can do is to move around the screen with the stick. That's all, folks. Start quits the game (without warning) whether you're in the middle of a game or not.

Graphics: 5
There's a fairly long pause before the game starts, so don't think that the black screen means it's crashed. You then get a splash for the Crap Games Combo contest (which is awful, as it should be) and then a title screen that looks like it's escaped from 1983. A message advises you to "Press FIRE to play" and then you're into the main game. Ever played a mediocre Atari 2600 game? If so, you'll be right at home: I'd be amazed if the look weren't deliberate, as it really is very close, and though everything's very basic it's not actually too crap. (Sorry!)

Sound: 3
We're in the days of dodgy old consoles, and it sounds like it too. Only one thing is authentic GP2X, which is that the default volume blows your eardrums when using the official headphones. Thankfully the standard volume control works, though you'll need to press it plenty of times. The actual sound... well, it's bleeps and bloops, and very basic ones at that. They fit the graphics, but they'll probably drive you mad fairly quickly.

Documentation: 3
Virtually nothing: the readme doesn't tell you much beyond that Hamster's Escape was "made in one afternoon for the Crap Game Combo 2011 Contest" -- and I thought that was just a Spectrum thing! The text on OHH isn't much better, simply advising you to run from evil hamsters to stay alive...

Completeness: 5
Given that this game is supposed to be crap, I suppose a low score here may actually be a good thing! It's not exactly deep, and the documentation is awful, but then it's so simple that it doesn't need much explanation. The core game may be utterly simple, but it's there! A high score feature really would help a great deal, though.

Overall: 4
I am bearing in mind what this game was written for, but there's no getting away from the fact that Hamster's Escape is not a very good game. Even disregarding the dodgy apostrophe in its name, I really can't see anybody playing this for more than a few minutes without getting bored. It's like Centipede without the depth!

Friday, 22 July 2011

And here's that low-level library!

Game review still on the way by Sunday, but this takes priority: I mentioned a few weeks ago that f-cycles had announced the release of a new low-level library for the GP2X. Well, I'm pleased to say that he's lived up to his words, and here is the release announcement. It's mostly a bit over my head, but I'm sure the serious programmers amongst you will enjoy playing with it. It's been licensed as GPL v3, so the source can be played about with, too.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Sorry for any delay

I'm going to be taking a very short break from 2XGB. And when I say very short, I mean it! There will definitely be another post here by the end of the weekend, if not sooner. Nothing terrible has happened; I'm just a bit snowed under with other things for a few days. I hope to make my next post a review of a new GP2X game, so I hope it will be worth waiting for. For the three and a half people who read this blog, thank you for your support!

Friday, 15 July 2011

Racing games, or the lack of

It surprises me a bit that there are so few racing/driving games available for the GP2X. The OHH archive lists only about half a dozen (for some reason a completely unrelated PocketSNES adaptation is also in that category...) which is pretty disappointing for such a popular genre. I'm sure the hardware would be easily capable of running a port of the top-down racer GeneRally, for example, which is a very nice game indeed -- albeit with one idiotic bit of licensing.1

Yes, there are plenty of console and computer racing games if you want to go the emulation route, but it surprises me that so little has been written for the console natively. Of course I'm not a good enough programmer to be able to tell whether there's a particular reason for this, but it seems very odd that even 2D racers are so notable by their absence. It's probably too late for this to change now, but it seems worth a quick mention just in case someone's got something special up their sleeve!

1When you go to download GeneRally from the official site, you're told that by downloading it you agree to the terms in the readme file... which you obviously can't have seen yet!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Second-hand prices falling?

I've generally felt that £50 is a fair price for a used GP2X in good condition and with the odd accessory such as headphones or a big SD card. However, I've noticed recently that £40 is now often enough to snag an F100 (the F200 is still rarer and more expensive). It's true that the prices of most electronics have fallen on eBay over the last few months, but it'll be interesting to see whether GP2X prices recover or whether they're stuck at this new lower level.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Game review: NetHack (CaduHack)


Nethack (CaduHack R01)
Genre: Adventure and RPG
Author: Cadu / Dzzz (GP2X port)
OHH download: vR01 (03/06/07)
Size: 5.8 MB
Licence: Nethack General Public License

Description
CaduHack is a version of NetHack, the best-known of the "roguelike" sub-genre of role-playing adventure games. These, named after an early title actually called "Rogue", are at their simplest dungeon-based quests: you descend into the catacombs, acquiring treasure and weapons as you go, and try to get hold of a great treasure. In NetHack's case, this fabled item is the Amulet of Yendor. Winning the game is accomplished not simply by escaping the dungeon (you can aim to do that, but it isn't really a win) but by "ascending": fulfilling all the requirements of your god and thus being raised to the status of demigod(dess) yourself.

This is a turn-based game, something not very common nowadays but which it's important to remember. In the middle of a desperate melee, you can find yourself making decisions in a snap, when in fact you have time to stop and think. The basic graphics actually help enhance the role imagination plays in NetHack, and the pressure is certainly very real. One major decision enhances that: if you die, you die. You have just the one life, and though you can save your game and carry on later, you cannot return to a previous save point. On top of all that, you can choose your starting role (eg Barbarian, Knight, Tourist, Valkyrie), race (eg dwarf), alignment (eg lawful) and gender, all of which can have major implications.

Addictiveness: 9
NetHack itself gets a 10 here, easily. The only reason CaduHack doesn't is that the (inevitably) slightly fiddly control system can become a pain if playing for long periods of time. Either way, this is one of the most extraordinarily involving games ever made. The basic graphics and lack of sound don't matter one jot, and the vast variety of monsters, friendly creatures, other humans (shopkeepers, for example!) and magical beings which populate the huge playing area means that you're never going to find yourself playing exactly the same game twice. (There's a random element to the maze generation anyway.)

Depth: 10
NetHack is an absolutely massive game. Many people play quite regularly for years before winning through, and some don't ever manage to do so. You can have quite a good time just sticking to the upper levels (the Dungeons of Doom) and doing a straight dungeon-crawl, but if you do that you'll be missing out on the quests, alternative planes of existence and much else besides that give this game its enormous longevity. Even if you do manage to ascend, you can try again with another type of character, set yourself challenges (eg never eating meat) and much else besides.

Controls: 7
NetHack was written for computers with a full keyboard available, and there are an awful lot of commands, so inevitably things aren't perfect here. CaduHack does about as well as could be expected, though: all the buttons are made use of, and there are several commands which require two buttons to be pressed simultaneously: for example L+B will zap a wand, while L+Y equates to "kick". Start will bring up a menu offering a choice of the many other commands: from here (and sometimes a submenu or two) you can adjust armour, engrave "Elbereth" (there's a hint for you...) and dip things in water. I couldn't find anything that wasn't there somewhere.

Graphics: 6
Roguelike games don't generally go in for flashy graphics, and NetHack certainly follows that tradition. There are two main options for display: you can either use a set of "tiled" graphics, in which you get a teeny tiny picture of whatever's on a square (eg an open sack of gold), or you can go the old-school route and use ASCII graphics. With this second option, everything is shown with an ordinary ASCII character: you appear as an @ sign, canines as various colours of d, and so on. Many players -- including me -- prefer the simplicity of the ASCII look. None of the three text sizes is ideal, but they're all useful at times.

Sound: N/A
There isn't any.

Documentation: 7
Reasonable. There's a pretty good help option in the in-game menu, as well as two readme files: one from Dzzz's original GP2X port, and one explaining Cadu's enhancements. You don't get the very detailed in-game guides available on "computer NetHack", however, so I probably wouldn't recommend this version to absolute newcomers. The internet is absolutely stuffed with guides, spoilers and the like for NetHack, so if you want to learn then that's the place to look.

Completeness: 9
One or two bugs have been reported by users: for example, an OHH reviewer mentioned that the game hung when they tried to drop 30 items on an altar. However, that seems to be about it; I think the level of documentation included is acceptable for this port so won't knock anything off for that.

Overall: 9
CaduHack really is about as good a port of NetHack as anybody could reasonably expect on the GP2X. I thought quite seriously about awarding it 10 for that reason, but there's no doubt that the fiddly controls do have a small impact on its playability. Nevertheless, this is a wonderful game to be able to take with you, and I would urge everyone who values atmosphere and imagination over big explosions and blinding eye-candy to keep it on their SD card. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

GP2X music!

LittleGPTracker (colloquially known as "Little Piggy Tracker") by Marc Nostromo is, as the name rather implies, a music tracker written especially for portable consoles such as the GP2X. About a month ago, Patric Catani / Toytone released a full 12-track digital album, entitled Pad Sounds. It costs €5.99 and is available from Patric's Bandcamp page, where you can listen to the first track free. Very electronicy stuff, and not really my sort of thing, but it does sound very well done and is definitely worth a listen!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

A new low-level library on its way?

A Canadian developer by the name of f-cycles has announced the forthcoming release ("before [the] end of July 2011") of his low-level library for the GP2X. The list of features (see the link) is pretty impressive, and if it does indeed appear then maybe it will kick-start a little more development for our console. Caution has to be in order, of course, as there are an awful lot of examples of people promising exciting-looking releases that we're still waiting for several years on. Still, let's be optimistic for once: this really does promise a lot!

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Game review: Fy.WoD!




Fy.WoD!
Genre: Arcade
Author: Schnatterplatsch(Wiz) / port by Farox
OHH download: v1.1 (21/08/10)
Size: 2.9 MB
Licence: GPL v3 (says v1 on OHH, but actual archive has v3)

Description
Fy.WoD! was originally a Wiz game. It's officially described as "some kind of racing game", though you're in a race against time and the level itself rather than against other racers. You progress through a series of maps, the next one being unlocked when you have reached a set medal status in four categories: time, coins, "wall hits" and total number of points. You can then move around a "galactic map" to choose the route to your next map. If you don't get all your targets, you don't get to go on. It sounds difficult, doesn't it? Well, it is!

On each level you are shown a basic plan of the map and have to select how many units of fuel you want, from 0 to 100 -- it soon becomes reasonably clear why you shouldn't simply choose 100 every time (because your ship is heavier, and therefore slower) but as with rather too many other things about Fy.WoD!, it's very well explained either in-game or in the readme. Anyway, you then navigate your little ship around the map, collecting coins and trying to avoid bumping into the walls, while also perhaps making use of other phenomena such as speed-ups.

Addictiveness: 6
There's no doubt that Fy.WoD! has the potential to be a hugely addictive game, and its nostalgic 8-bit feel doesn't do this any harm at all. It's engaging and challenging to play -- but perhaps a bit too challenging. There are no difficulty levels, and you do rather feel that you're forced into playing it on "hard" at all times. For example, as soon as the second-level maps you can be faced with passageways barely wider than the ship. With a tweaked learning curve, so that the first few levels eased you into the game rather than becoming rock-hard after the first map, the game would certainly have scored higher.

Depth: 8
This really depends on how much time you're willing to spend on the game. As you progress, more complex maps appear, with extra features (such as the deadly skulls) and that always holds the interest. However, the game is so hard that you may well end up giving up in frustration long before you get to the (apparently) interesting thing that happens if you reach a million points. So, a high score here -- but in this case I'm not sure that's entirely a good thing!

Controls: 7
Stick left/right rotates your ship, and the B button accelerates. L acts as a sort of brake, putting the ship into slow motion. It's fairly easy to get used to, especially if you've played something like Asteroids. "Menu" (a Wiz-ism; it's Start for us, or Home if you have an F200) pauses the game -- this only works at certain points -- and brings up a menu. My main problem initially was that X, given as "Back", didn't seem to work at all; in fact it's actually used to back out of menus, whereas I'd been expecting it to give the actual ship a reverse thrust. Another bit of poor documentation.

Graphics: 8
These have a nice retro feel about them, being highly reminiscent of the better class of 1980s 8-bit computers. Actually, I could imagine a game very like this working well on my BBC Micro! The animation is somewhat like that as well: it's not absolutely silky-smooth, but it's close enough to make controlling your ship quite easy. I think the general look of the game suits it nicely, and that this is one of the most successful aspects of Fy.WoD!

Sound: 6
There's no music, and sound effects are fairly sparse but generally effective -- and they're not eardrum-perforating by default through headphones, hurrah! Your ship's engine sounds a little bit anaemic, but the explosion when you die is a pretty good one. Inoffensive is probably the best word to use here.

Documentation: 3
I was irritated by this from the (very basic) readme: "The rest is explained in the game or so easy to see, that I would waste my words on it." Sorry, but that's just lazy: it's simply annoying to assume that everyone will be able to see how to play a game as easily as you (the programmer!) can. For example, it is not entirely obvious at first how the galactic map is navigated. On the plus side, the little scrolling hints that appear at the start of each game are just right.

Completeness: 6
There are still a few translation errors to be ironed out: "uncompleten", "You hitted the death", etc, but that's minor. There needs to be better help (especially in the readme), too, and of course a more sensible learning curve and/or the choice to select an easier standard to start with, perhaps with lower scores as a penalty. The core game, however, doesn't really seem to need anything much doing to it; it's the difficulty that's the problem, not the gameplay per se.

Overall: 6
As you'll have gathered by now, inadequate documentation is easily the biggest flaw in what is otherwise an interesting, if perhaps too difficult, arcade game. Fy.WoD! has a truly ridiculous name, but then so did Sabre Wulf, and that did okay for itself. A potentially super game, but in its current form it's just too unforgiving for all but the most accomplished players and so is rated as only quite good.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Game review: Super Pixel Jumper


A while back, I reviewed Dont Get Crushed, and Super Pixel Jumper is by the same author. It's another fairly recent game, dating back just to this spring, and of course it's always pleasing to see continued GP2X development.

Super Pixel Jumper
Genre: Jump and Run
Author: ThatOtherPerson
OHH download: v1.1 (08/03/11)
Size: 2.6 MB
Licence: Freeware

Description
This is a pretty simple game in terms of rules: you play the part of a little pink square, and must jump along a side-scrolling landscape of platforms made up of blue squares. As you continue, the scrolling gets faster. You must avoid touching the white squares which are scattered randomly around (and on the left and bottom sides of the screen) because doing so means game over. Your running score and the high score are always shown as you play.

Addictiveness: 7
There are some games which look as if they ought to be addictive but turn out not to be. Super Pixel Jumper goes the other way: it doesn't look that exciting in a screenshot, but the compulsion to better your score is high. I certainly found it holding the interest for longer than Dont Get Crushed did, perhaps because it's rather similar to "Rapid Roll", a favourite game of mine from an old Nokia mobile phone.

Depth: 3
Let's face it, there's not a lot of this. You run along, jump, and avoid enemies. You need quick reactions, but not much in the way of strategy. The only real development as you play is in learning how to judge the size of your jumps.

Controls: 6
Nothing much to remark upon here. Stick for left and right, and B to jump. Holding down B for longer gives you a bigger jump, which works well. There's no pause, but Select will exit:The animation is decent, too instantly, with no confirmation screen, which is a bit irritating. Between games, Start is used to... er... start.

Graphics: 7
We start with a splash for the "Pandora Angst Coding Competition", but after that everything's simply done; again, it's reminiscent of a mobile phone game. The addition of colour, even simple colour, puts it one up on Dont Get Crushed and makes the thing look significantly more attractive. The basic square-based design (hence the game's name) actually works very nicely. The animation is decent, too. One small criticism is that it's not that easy to see your score, as it's in black on a purple backround.

Sound: 5
Do I need to tell you that it's initially too loud through headphones? No, thought not. Still, you can turn it down. The background music is a looped techno sample, surprise surprise, and frankly I wasn't keen on it at all. Personal preference, of course, but then that's what reviews are for. (Mind you, it's just a .wav file, so presumably it could be changed easily enough.) Actual sound effects are limited to a few whooshy noises: two for take-off and successful landing, and one (which is disconcertingly cheer-like) when you are obliterated by a white square.

Documentation: 2
Pretty much non-existent: even knowing to press B to jump is something you have to discover for yourself! No readme and nothing in-game other than a mention of the Start and Select buttons.

Completeness: 7
Most of the way there, I think; I'd like to see something approaching a readme, at least, but the basic game doesn't show any serious weaknesses in this department.

Overall: 6
Super Pixel Jumper is another ThatOtherPerson game which makes a virtue out of simplicity: you can pick it up in seconds and yet keep playing for a while before you get bored. It nearly scored a 7, actually, but I really don't like the music at all. If you do, adjust my rating accordingly!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Coming up on 2XGB...

Yes, I know, this is an obvious space-filler of a post. I've got a lot going on this weekend, but I don't want to just let things slide for days and days. But I have a couple more game reviews lined up for next week, including one that was (gasp!) released in the spring of this very year. (If you think you're the author of that game... then you're probably correct!)

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The end of the drought, but...

The GP2X section of OHH has seen its first upload since 16 April. It's a music game called Txishos... but I can't review it, as it's a touchscreen-only game! Argh! Ah well, those of you with F200s can snigger behind your hands at we stuck-in-the-muds as you download it. I've no idea whether the game's any good, but hopefully it'll give enjoyment to some.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A look inside the GP2X


Photo from this Flickr page, copyright © Nick Ames. Licence: cc-by-sa 2.0

While surfing* around semi-randomly last night, I came across the interesting sight (above) of a GP2X with its top off. Oo-er missus, etc. Nick Ames, who took the picture, adds some detail on Flickr about the reason for the opening-up: to do a little soldering in order to make the USB networking facilities compatible with a new kernel on his computer. Good stuff!

* Look, I like sounding as though I'm still living in 1995, okay?

Monday, 20 June 2011

C++ for Logans

Hmm. I had a look in my local library to see if they had any C++ books, and they did. One. C++ for Dummies, which doesn't get the greatest reviews on Amazon. On the plus side, most people seem to like chapter 1, and at least some of the complaints are from people who were confused by the unexplained use of conventions such as "int" for integers. That sort of thing won't worry me, at least. I suspect I'll stick with SdlBasic for any remotely serious GP2X programming, but a little C++ might even be fun. It can't be worse than the little C I tried about 20 years ago, anyway... can it?

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Game review: REWORD


REWORD
Genre: Puzzle
Author: Al McLuckie (purplepup)
OHH download: v0.5 (19/06/08)
Size: 3.9 MB
Licence: GPL v2

Description
REWORD (yes, unfortunately the ugly ALL CAPS appearance is official) is a word game based on a Flash game called TextTwist. It has vague similarities to the Countdown Conundrum: you are shown a six-letter word whose letters have been jumbled up, and must work out what the original was. However, you also need to find as many three-, four- and five-letter words as you can before the time limit expires. When the level finishes, you're shown any words you didn't get, and can also see their definitions.

The game offers three levels of difficulty: as you go up, the time limits decrease, and more difficult words from the wordlist are used. You score according to how many words you find and how much time you have left when completing a level. There are two additional game modes: Speed6, in which only finding the six-letter word matters (you can ignore the shorter ones) and TimeTrial, in which you have an overall time limit to find as many six-letter words as you can.

You do need to remember that the word list is a British English one: "colour" is a valid choice, but "color" is not! On a rather cruder note, that also means that "piss" is there, but not the Americanism "pissy" (meaning irritable). You'll also come across the occasional irritation, such as the fact that "yip" is accepted but "yips" (the golfing term) is not; you can either edit the wordlist to suit or just put up with it.

Addictiveness: 8
Given that this is by no means an easy game, even on the Medium setting, I think it will appeal mostly to those who are already into wordplay, and who have what might be called "the right sort of brains" -- ones which are good at picking out patterns against the clock. If you do fall into that category, though, then REWORD is a treat: the compulsion to do better than last time is strong, and you'll frequently kick yourself when at the end of a level you discover that you've missed some supremely obvious word.

Depth: 8
The wordlist contains about 7,400 words (including 2,800 six-letter words) which is enough to ensure that you don't come across the same puzzle too often. By no means all the words are obvious ones, and even those who enjoy word games or play Scrabble are likely to find their brains heating up somewhat, especially when playing at the harder difficulties. Even at Medium, I've had words like "arnica" showing up in the six-letter spot. REWORD also allows you to expand the wordlist yourself, so the game should have plenty of replay value.

Controls: 7
These take a little learning, as almost every button is used: B selects a letter, X deselects it, Y submits your chosen word for checking against the wordlist, and A shuffles your "tiles" (which can help you see things you didn't before). Either L or R will bring up the last word you submitted (handy for quick plurals if there's an S in the tile set). Space is a pause button -- but this works on Easy mode only! Select brings up the quit dialog -- but the clock keeps ticking, so if you want to resume, do it quickly...

Graphics: 7
The main game screen is simply but effectively done, and the pink-and-yellow colour-scheme works better than you mgiht think. The menus are well presented, and pretty easy on the eye. The high-score tables are perhaps slightly cluttered, but not overwhelmingly so. Overall, REWORD scores fairly well in the graphical department.

Sound: 6
The theme tune to the game is a bouncy little thing, and for once the default volume isn't horrible through headphones. The in-game effects are basically a little collection of beeps (including the dreaded ten-second countdown) but they serve their purpose.

Documentation: 8
REWORD does better in this department than many GP2X games: there's both a solid and decently clear readme and a good in-game instruction section. I'd personally have put the control quick-reference screen after the overall "How to Play", rather than before as is in fact the case.

Completeness: 8
For a v0.5 game, this seems pretty much finished. There is the odd six-letter word which you're told "has no definition", which is a pain, though if it bothers you that much you can edit the wordlist to add it yourself. The high-score entry is also slightly clunky compared to some.

Overall: 8
The only thing I really dislike about REWORD is its shouty name. The GP2X is not well supplied with word games (it's actually a genre I'd like to write something in if I ever get back to learning to program) so it's pleasing that this one is very nicely done -- though not easy! If you're a fan of word games and want something that will give the linguistic part of your mind a good workout, then this might well be what you're looking for. It's staying on my card, anyway.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Well, I suppose someone must be watching, then!

I noticed today that this blog has reached 500 pageviews, not including my own. A tiny number compared with many blogs, obviously, but I'm actually fairly pleased: given the size of the GP2X community these days, I wondered at first whether anybody was going to look in! I certainly intend to keep going, not least because I have several hundred original games I still haven't reviewed!

(The occasional comment would be nice, though. Anyone?)

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Game review: River Crossing


River Crossing
Genre: Misc
Author: Dr_Ian
OHH download: v1 (08/03/07)
Size: 0.8 MB
Licence: Freeware

Description
This is a simple game reminiscent of those old Game & Watch handheld machines. You control a man who has to get across a river while avoiding obstacles -- shades of Frogger there. All you can do is to jump forward, but the key to the game is in the timing, as rocks may be slippy (requiring you to pause until you gain your balance) or sink (requiring speed) and you may be knocked over by swans and debris floating down the stream!

You start off with five lives, but you lose one every time you fall into the river. If you succeed in your crossing, you gain a life, though you can't go above the original five. There is a basic cheat mode -- pressing Start while on the first level will skip forward ten levels. However, if you activate this mode, your score display will note that you have been cheating!

Addictiveness: 7
I could see some people rating this higher than that, actually, as there's a definite "one more go..." factor at play here. Once you get past about the first dozen levels, there's a lot of frustration to be had as you get swept into the stream just short of your goal.

Depth: 5
For the first few levels you're discovering new obstacles, but after that it's really just a case of things getting more and more difficult. Game & Watch games weren't designed to be deep and complex, and neither is River Crossing.

Controls: 6
Extremely simple: you press Start to begin, B to jump and L to quit. That last option is unusual, and I don't personally like it that much as the way I hold my GP2X means that I can occasionally press it by mistake. As there's no confirmation dialog, it can cause problems. B is certainly the best choice for movement, though.

Graphics: 8
I rather like these, and they give a nice sense of the old machines. I particularly like the way in which non-active symbols are still faintly visible (as on the original LCD) and the attention to detail shown by the startup, when (again, as with the old games) every symbol lights up at once as a brief test mode, with your score showing as "888" in seven-segment display numerals.

Sound: 4
This scores poorly, despite having a suitably nostalgic bleepy feel, because not only is it far too loud through headphones, there doesn't seem to be any way to turn it down; even the standard volume buttons don't work. That's really very disappointing, and makes the game slightly but significantly less enjoyable.

Documentation: 6
Nothing in the game itself; a readme which is fairly brief but covers all the necessary details.

Completeness: 7
The core game is largely complete. It badly needs a volume control, and a level select other than cheat mode (maybe via a password system) would be good for experienced players, but otherwise anything to be added would be window-dressing.

Overall: 6
River Crossing is a likeable game, and one which I mostly enjoyed playing. There are rather too many niggles for a game given a v1 version number, that sound problem especially, but it's nevertheless worth a look if you're a Game & Watch fan.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The recent past -- stats and thoughts

On the left of the OHH page you can see a list of the most recent 50 files uploaded. At the time of writing the latest was the PocketSNES update (to v7.2.0) from 16 April -- which, incidentally, makes a substantial difference to speed on my GP2X, although it does always crash on exit, requiring a reboot. The 50th most recent was the FX00 Battery Meter from 30 June last year -- so the software drought since mid-April means that we're almost up to the year mark.

Let's break those figures down a bit. For each complete month in that time (ie July 2010 to March 2011 inclusive) the number of uploads is as follows: 4, 7, 4, 11, 2, 6, 4, 6. I'm not sure you can really infer too much from that sequence, other than that there's never been huge activity during the period. So, how about comparing with the other consoles covered by OHH? The last 50 uploads have taken the following time:

GP32: 1,115 days
GP2X: 347 days
Wiz: 237 days
Caanoo: 90 days
Zodiac: 226 days
Dingoo: 209 days
Pandora: 76 days


Let's be honest, it's not going to surprise any of us that GP2X development has slowed a great deal recently. It's just rather brought home seeing it in stark numerical terms like that. I'm sure there will be more GP2X releases, but there probably won't be very many of them: it'll only be the real enthusiasts who stay interested in the system with so much else available now. So, for the most part we'll have to make do with what we have, and accept that an awful lot of the niggles and bugs that have been advertised as "will be fixed in next release!" won't in fact ever be. That's a major part of the reason I have a "Completeness" score in my game reviews.

Talking of which... thanks for wading through these turgid ramblings. By way of reward, I promise that the next post here will indeed be a game review! I haven't decided what it will be yet, but I have a few candidates in mind. (Incidentally, I will consider requests to review specific games.)

PS: I don't know who you are, but hello to the person who came here via the Wall Street Journal! As it's behind a paywall, I can't see the article you arrived from, but it certainly adds a bit of tone to this place. *grins*

Friday, 10 June 2011

A little tweak

I've changed things so that if you click on the thumbnail above a game review, it'll now appear double size, ie 640x480 pixels. The original size of 320x240 looks pretty titchy on a modern monitor, so hopefully this will help to make things a bit clearer.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Game review: Castle of Dr. Malvado


Castle of Dr. Malvado
Genre: Jump and Run
Author: Eclipse
OHH download: v?.?? (12/01/08)
Size: 4.1 MB
Licence: "None" (?)

Description
First, note that I'm going by the title used on the OHH page, but the title in-game is The Castle of Dr. Malvado. In this review I'll just call it Malvado for simplicity's sake. Anyway, this is a port of an old DOS side-scrolling game, via the GP32. It has much the same object as most of these games: collect coins (or whatever they're supposed to be) and either avoid or squish monsters as you make your way through the levels.

Addictiveness: 7
My main problem with Malvado is its toughness; this one seems to be aimed at old-skool gamers who have the superb reactions and skills needed to get very far. It took me a long time before I even managed to get beyond the first couple of minutes without dying, something it's extremely easy to do: falling in the water will do it, for example, as will being stung by a wasp. It's a nice enough game to keep me coming back, but the first level is a lot harder, even early on, than the equivalent in any Super Mario game.

Depth: 6
It's pretty rare for any side-scrolling platformer to be astounding in this category; Super Mario World has a claim to be, but then that's among the greatest of all console games, in whatever genre, and Malvado doesn't quite measure up to that mighty opposition. There are bits and pieces to discover as you move along the levels (not least which bits of scenery you can stand on!) but the running and jumping come first.

Controls: 7
You start the game with Start (something which seems surprisingly rare!) and the stick moves you around. The only other control is jump, for which you can use either A or Select; I'd personally find B more comfortable, but you can't redefine the layout. Pressing L+R together will quit, without a conformation screen. There doesn't seem to be a pause control, which is unusual and irritating.

Graphics: 8
The first thing you notice, apart from the cheerful (and Spanish!) credits pages, is that the game doesn't fill the screen: this is because the original DOS graphics were 320x200, and that resolution is used here too. It's mildly irritating, but nothing you can't get used to. A shame it wasn't centrally "letterboxed" rather than being shoved up the top, though I don't know how easy that would have been to program.

The actual graphic design is very good. Malvado is a really attractive, bright and colourful game, quite reminiscent of the look of some 16-bit console titles. Scrolling and animation generally is excellent and smooth, and it's easy to distinguish between different items. The only real problem (though it may be deliberate design) is that you often lose your character behind grass, signs etc, thus increasing the risk of losing a life.

Sound: 7
Not bad at all. Although (as usual) it's a bit too loud for headphones users straight off, you can easily turn that down with the normal volume controls. The main music is a jaunty little number which is clearly based on some nursery rhyme, TV theme or similar that I simply can't bring to mind right now. The tune used for the actual gameplay is different, but similarly bouncy and vaguely forgettable. Sound effects are okay without being stunning: bloops when you collect coins, screams when you die, etc.

Documentation: 3
Malvado falls down rather badly here: the readme tells you a fair bit about the port, but nothing at all about the game, other than how to quit -- and even that isn't quite right: it states that L+R+stick will quit, but actually L+R alone will do it, at least on my F100. There's no documentation whatever in-game, though to be fair it's not really needed.

Completeness: 7
The core game is fine, and my only complaints with it are that it's too hard; that's partly down to my lack of skill at games like this, though, and isn't a completeness issue as such. The documentation could do with considerable improvement (like actually having any to speak of...) and localisation of the credits, level screens and so on into English would have been nice.

Overall: 7
Malvado is a good example of a game that looks really nice, has obviously had plenty of work put into it and does most of the basics right, but which doesn't quite have that something extra to lift it above the "pretty good" and into the realms of the truly great. I'd prefer a less unforgiving difficulty level early on, a bit more clarity about where to stand and much better documentation. I could see a tweaked version of this game scoring 8 or 9 without too much trouble, but this is merely a solid 7.

Monday, 6 June 2011

So much still to do...

I've had my GP2X for a couple of months now, and I'm still barely scratching the surface. For example, there are a number of emulators I haven't even downloaded (Atari 7800, Wonderswan, Neo Geo) and quite a few more I've barely tried beyond checking that they work -- even the C64 comes into this category. And, the focus of this blog being native GP2X games, there are hundreds and hundreds of those still to be tested. For all it has its flaws (and you'd have to be in extreme denial to claim otherwise) the GP2X is an extraordinarily lovable little machine.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Game review: Chess2X


Chess2X
Genre: Board
Author: ParkyDR
OHH download: v0.4 (28/12/07)
Size: 8.7 MB
Licence: GPL (see below)

Description
This is a chess program (surprised?) using the popular GNU Chess engine and XBoard. I wasn't entirely certain about the licensing, as there wass no specific mention of which licence the program has in its documentation, but ParkyDR has confirmed that it's GPL; this is mentioned explicitly in the source listing. At any rate, this is very much aimed at people who simply want a game of chess without too much extra paraphernalia.

You can choose to play against the CPU (as either white or black) or to use the program simply as an electronic board to record the movements of two players. While playing, a graphical display shows the location of the last piece moved by your opponent, and a side display gives a summary of the game so far in standard algebraic notation. It's possible to take back your last move, and the CPU can be told to give you a hint.

Addictiveness: 7
This really depends on how interested you are in chess. As there aren't that many bells and whistles, it's a case of "if you like the game, you'll like this". Since I do like chess, I'm rating Chess2X fairly highly here!

Depth: 9
There are 10 difficulty levels, which seems a fair number. On the lowest setting the game is a bit of a pushover for all but the very weakest players, but if you push the level to the top it's likely to make even a good club player sweat. Chess, of course, has plenty of depth of its own, and so this is a game which is not likely to pall.

Controls: 6
In the menus there's a useful strip at the bottom of the screen telling you what different buttons do. In the game itself, it's as simple as can be: the stick moves the highlight square around, while B selects and moves your chosen piece. Start quits (after an "Are you sure?") but this is not stated on the board screen itself. X will force the GP2X to move; useful, as in the higher levels it can otherwise take ages to do so! The controls do feel slightly "sticky" at times, though; that's why this category scores only 6.

Graphics: 6
Quite a nice "crazy paving" background in the menus. The game board is, by default, a very plain black-and-white affair with simple symbols. I like it that way, but if you don't you can customise it to some extent: there are three other skins to choose from in the main menu. The symbols stay as they are, but the board colours change; the "wood" option is probably the nicest. Red, green and yellow highlights on squares show the plain cursor, a selected piece and the last piece moved respectively; simple but it works. The board doesn't quite fit the screen; there's an irritating messy line down the right-hand side.

Sound: 2
A rather nasty "blip" every time you move, and a nearly as nasty "bloop" when a piece is taken. I'd much prefer to play in silence, but the volume controls don't work.

Documentation: 5
Very little in the game. The provided readme is little more than a list of button commands, but that should get you going. It won't teach you to play chess, but I wouldn't expect it to.

Completeness: 6
This is v0.4, and in truth it sometimes feels like it. The program itself works, and you can play a decent game against the console. What's missing is polish: the default move/take sounds are horrible, the "sticky controls" thing is a pain and it doesn't seem possible to quit merely to the menu instead of completely. Another problem is poor "common sense" -- if you try to move an opponent's pawn to the top of its column, Chess2X will ask you what piece you want to promote it to and only then tell you you've made an illegal move!

Overall: 6
This is the first chess program I've tried on the GP2X, and to be honest I wasn't blown away by it. That's not to say it's terrible, because it isn't -- its solid score is testament to that -- but it could have been a good deal better. It's a shame that development ceased at this point, because I suspect v1.0 of Chess2X might have been a very good game indeed.

Update 18 Jun 2011: As well as confirming Chess2X's GPL status, Parky2X has mentioned a couple of other points, for which many thanks. First, during a game "Select" will allow you to quit or save a game. Second, pressing A will launch an audio player, but there's not enough CPU free for anything beyond low bit-rate files. Finally, the move_sound and take_sound files can be edited (or deleted) to change (or remove) those beeps.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Battery life

Some good news on GP2X battery life, something that's caused a bit of grief over the years. Some people have reported that it runs out almost at once with alkalines, but the other day I stuck in a pair of Energizers and they kept going strong all through a 40-minute bus journey. Okay, so I was playing games rather than watching videos, but even so it was slightly better than I'd expected.

Maybe I should try a selection of battery brands, but in all honesty I don't think I can be bothered. Rechargeables are still the best bet, except that they run out so suddenly. The red battery light comes on, and you then have at best 10 seconds before everything stops. (The F200 doesn't even have a battery light, probably because it is so useless here!)

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Game review: Blazar (demo)


Blazar
Genre: Shooter
Author: Elements Interactive
OHH download: v1.30 (08/10/06)
Size: 1.8 MB
Licence: Time-limited demo

Description
Blazar is a side-scrolling space shoot-em-up of the type very familiar to most console gamers. It has a simple "stay as live as long as you can" object of the old school: there are no levels, no missions and indeed no way to win outright; all you can do is to beat the high score. You can see enemies on a small radar in the corner of your screen. This is a demo version, which has a (pretty mean) two-minute time limit. I've no idea what the full version cost, as the relevant page to buy it is no longer working.

Addictiveness: 5
This is very hard to rate, because two minutes simply isn't long enough properly to assess the game's qualities. After a few plays I did still find myself frustrated that I couldn't give it a longer go, which does suggest that if I owned the full version I might well enjoy it, but I can't give such a restricted version a very high mark. There doesn't seem to be a high score table (in the demo only?) which doesn't help.

Depth: 4
Games of this type don't really tend to have a great deal of depth, and Blazar is no exception. You just blast away, avoiding enemies and grabbing power-ups. There are at least a few different ones to find, though generally of the "weapons upgrade" type. The lack of a mission structure makes it a bit more of a mindless blaster, though.

Controls: 9
Pretty good, all in all. The stick moves your ship around, B shoots, Select toggles autofire and Start brings up a pause/quit dialog. You can redefine the buttons (or "keys" as Blazar rather strangely calls them) in-game, which is nice and something not seen often enough. Few complaints here.

Graphics: 7
First impressions are good, with the very impressive "E" Edge 3D logo looking great (though the "Powered by Edge" voiceover always drives me mad), and the menu appearance a little generic but certainly not objectionable. Once you're into the game, things perhaps drop a notch, with not quite as much polish (especially in your own ship's design) as you might have a right to expect from a commercial game, but they're still not at all bad. Pleasingly, animation is very smooth and doesn't drop noticeably when there's lots going on.

Sound: 7
Bleepy, futuristic, mildly techno-ish tunes. Nothing that's going to make you scream in disgust, but nothing you're likely to remember for more than 30 seconds after you quit either. Missiles, explosions etc sound pretty much as they would on a 16-bit console game, and that's fine by me. On the plus side, volume can be controlled to be entirely acceptable through headphones, somewhere too many games fail.

Documentation: 7
In-game, there's a simple text-file style set of instructions, which is pretty clear and covers all you need to know to get going -- though there's no mention of the two-minute time limit in the demo! The so-called readme in the downloaded archive, though, consists of nothing but a standard (ie ludicrous if you actually read it) boilerplate EULA; there's no useful information in it at all; not really good enough.

Completeness: 8
The game mostly seems to be present and correct, though it's hard to tell with such a tight time limit. (Yes, I know I keep mentioning it -- but it's so annoying that it's hard not to.) "Assign Keys" is an odd choice of wording, but I'm awarding the game a good score here as I didn't see anything major that was missing other than in the lack of a proper readme file.

Overall: 5
Blazar seems to be a pretty decent shooter. Whether or not it was really good enough to be a commercial title is another matter; personally it feels to me more like a rather superior freeware release. It's hard to tell, though, with -- here I go again -- that two-minute time limit; that's simply too restrictive to make your mind up about something you're being asked to pay for. In an "endless" game like this, going down the usual route of giving you one or two free levels isn't possible, but I'd have thought five minutes would have been a fairer time limit. This is the reason why the overall score is so much lower than most of the subscores.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Amiga emulation with UAE4All: first thoughts

I'm quite impressed with the most recent GP2X version available of UAE4All, which is 0.8.0 beta. It seems to have substantial increases in speed over 0.6.4 (which I also tried), has a better interface, and music in particular is fairly smooth: Turrican's, for example, plays very nicely even at 240 MHz. The one really disappointing thing is the lack of any sort of save-state facility. I don't know how hard it would have been to have included, but it's one of only two things about UAE4All that truly irritates me -- the other being the very poor quality of some of the keytop graphics on the virtual keyboard.

I haven't had time to test UAE4All with more than a small handful of games so far. Turrican, as mentioned, runs fine, and so does Rainbow Island. Lemmings I can't get to go past the intro sequence; not sure why. Finally, The Secret of Monkey Island runs perfectly, music and all... but that really is a game where the lack of a save-state facility ruins it as a serious GP2X experience. If only it had passwords, like... er... Lemmings!

Update: Hmmm... for some reason Head Over Heels won't work with 0.8.0 beta, but will work with the older 0.6.4 version. It's not the greatest conversion around (being rather basic for an Amiga game in sonic terms, for example) but it's a game I enjoy so much that I'm relieved it works under at least one version of UAE4All!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

200 up

I note that this blog has now had 200 pageviews, not including mine. A tiny number by many people's standards, obviously, but it's nice to know that the odd person is actually reading my ramblings. Here's a little breakdown for you of some of the stats:

Countries
United Kingdom: 120
United States: 50
Canada: 12
Germany: 7
Russia: 4
Singapore: 3
Belarus: 2
Argentina: 1

Browsers
Firefox: 142
Internet Explorer: 56
Safari: 2

Operating Systems
Windows: 174
Macintosh: 18
Linux: 7
Android: 1

Most viewed posts
Logan = Bunny: 16
Game review: Animatch: 14
A program, egad!: 9
Game review: ztunnel: 7

Monday, 23 May 2011

Game review: Knight Lore


Knight Lore
Genre: Arcade Adventure
Author: Digitaljez
OHH download: v1.05 (15/01/08)
Size: 1.8 MB
Licence: Freeware

Description
Knight Lore is a remake of the classic 8-bit (most famously, Spectrum) game of the same name, published in 1984 by the renowned Ultimate Play the Game software house. In it, you take the part of Sabreman (also the hero of the previous -- but not GP2X-remade -- Sabre Wulf) and must explore an isometric-3D labyrinth full of traps and puzzles in order to retrieve the items you need to bring to the local wizard in order to cure you of becoming a werewolf each night!

It's not as easy as that, of course. There's a time limit of 40 days, and if you don't complete the game by then you've had it. You start with a mere three lives (although a few 1-ups are dotted around the place) and they really are easy to lose. The isometric perspective adds a new dimension (ho ho) but it also brings danger, as it makes it easier for monsters and the like to hide! If you die, you'll be shown a brief, and often rather depressing, summary of how well you've done.

Addictiveness: 8
This is certainly a game you'll want to come back to after you've failed (as you will) on your first attempt. It looks great (more on that later) and has an excellent, immersive atmosphere, with a wide range of fiendish puzzles to work out. So, why "only" an 8? Simply, it's just too difficult for all but the most committed players. It's a good example of why 8-bit games are commonly considered harder than today's equivalents: the Spectrum's "infinite lives" cheat was heavily used... but it's not available here!

Depth: 8
The day/night split leading to human/werewulf switching (which is vital to appreciate if you want to win the game!) is an interesting touch. The 40-day time limit, on the other hand, stops this from being a game you can really stop and think about as you go through, in the way that you can with another 8-bit classic, Head Over Heels.* Another plus, though, is that you don't always start in the same room, and neither do the items you're seeking. Finally, you can choose in the menu whether to require 14, 21 or 28 charms to win. This gives Knight Lore replay value beyond just "finishing faster" even if you've already beaten it.

* For what it's worth, Head Over Heels would rate a 10 here -- as it would in most other categories -- if only a GP2X version had been made. We'll just have to make do with the emulated Spectrum version, which isn't a bad substitute.

Controls: 8
The stick moves you around, then there are buttons: B for jump, X for pick/drop and A for jump+pick/drop. The trigger buttons rotate you. Start pauses the game and offers you the chance to return or quit; sensibly, the first is the default. Y and Select are unused, though I can't see what's missing that they could be used for. Anyway, it all works okay, though remembering the jump/pick/drop combinations can be a bit of a pain, especially at first.

Graphics: 9
Hard to fault here. You get the initial loading screen (albeit with "Mutilate Kill and Maim" instead of the original "Ultimate Play the Game" logo; I'm not too keen on that, personally) and the font used in the main menu is just right. The in-game graphics haven't strayed too far from the original's, and anyone who's ever played Knight Lore would recognise it in a second, with the enhancements in terms of colour and resolution (for example, in the sun/moon display at bottom right) not being distracting.

Sound: 7
Pretty decent, all in all, and nothing that feels too overblown for what is, after all, at heart a Spectrum game. The plinky-plonk background tune, though the same as in the original, gets annoying after a little while, and I tend to turn it off. The effects are much better, and the "whoo-ooo" of the ghost is particularly fun. The one exception is Sabreman's footsteps, which drive me mad -- they're somehow much more irritating than the Spectrum's beepier version. As usual, even the lowest volume setting is a little too loud for headphones and the default is deafening.

Documentation: 8
You can access the original "The Mist Tunes" (a pleasantly semi-cryptic verse giving an idea of the object) from the game menu; and there's a reasonably clear, if rather short, summary on the OHH page as well. The score here would have been higher if there'd also been a readme including "The Werewulf" background text (the one that begins "My journey's end is near").

Completeness: 9
As with some other accomplished GP2X games, Knight Lore would have scored a full 10 here if only there'd been just a tad more documentation. Everything else seems to be present and correct, though as I haven't actually finished the blasted thing I can't be absolutely sure about the ending!

Overall: 8
This is a satisfying and well-crafted remake of a game fondly remembered by a generation of Spectrum (etc) owners. Its rock-hard difficulty level makes it rather inaccessible for the casual gamer, however, and newcomers will need to persevere to get anywhere. The graphics are wonderful, the attention to detail is great and the sound... well, it's not perfect, but it's at least good. Fans of the original will lap this up.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Bletchley Park and the start of the road to the GP2X!


This is an Acorn A500 from 1986, the first prototype computer with an ARM 1 CPU -- and therefore in a way it can be seen as the start of the journey that led to the ARM chips that power the GP2X. Only 100 were made, and this one is at The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. Limited resources mean that the museum is only open on Thursday and Saturday afternoons, but if you get a chance to go, take it; it's fantastic. Actually, Bletchley Park as a whole is great, and the rest of the site is open much more often.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Kirby Kirby eep eep

It's just typical, isn't it? I get a nice, modern(ish) console with a bright colour screen and what do I do? Get completely hooked on a monochrome Game Boy game. To be precise, Kirby's Pinball Land, which I remember from days of old. It's not stunningly original or deviously complex, but it is incredibly addictive. I'm not that good at pinball (I've only just managed to reach the 500,000-point mark) but I still enjoy it hugely. It's a shame nobody wrote a native GP2X pinball game, actually.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

One of the GP2X's more annoying features...

...is the way that the mains lead sticks out of the right-hand side of the console around halfway up. This means that you have to fit your right hand around it when using the thing. I've found that in the position that's most comfortable for me, it's quite easy to press the side of the jack plug against my little finger, making that go to sleep. Not a major problem, but something a little more attention to detail in the GP2X's initial design could probably have avoided.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Game review: Animatch


Animatch
Genre: Puzzle
Author: Ruckage
OHH download: v1.2 (26/01/09)
Size: 7.2 MB
Licence: Freeware

Description
Animatch is a puzzle game similar to the Nintendo DS title Zoo Keeper. You are confronted with a board full of different animals (well, the heads thereof) and must make rows (or columns) of three or more of the same species. This is accomplished by swapping one tile with the one next to it horizontally or vertically. In the Normal game, you must make a certain number of rows of each animal, which increases as the levels progress -- and all the while a timer is ticking downwards; if it reaches zero, it's game over. To help you, it's green when there is plenty of time left, then yellow, orange and finally red: in the final period the animals themselves will shake! Making rows, however, does give you a few seconds extra time.

As well as your quotas, you make a conventional score by completing rows: a row of three gets you 90 points, one of four gets 160 and one of five gets 250. On each level there is a "lucky" animal; rows of this species score double! You can boost your score even further by completing "chains": animals you match disappear from the board and those above them slide down (with more being added from the top to keep a full board); if the new setup makes another row, that will score double its normal points, a third will score triple, and so on. In each game you can ask for three hints: requesting one will make potential rows flash. Occasionally a wildcard will appear: when selected, this stops on a certain animal and all tiles of that type will be removed from the board. If at any time there are no possible moves, the program will detect this and give you a new board -- pausing the timer while it does so.

There are two other modes: Time Attack, in which you must score as many points as possible in five minutes; and Score Attack, in which your task is to score 20,000 points in the shortest time you can. In each of these there is a Normal mode (with seven different animals) and a Hard mode (with eight). Adding those to the Normal game described earlier -- in which there are eight animals, though another one is added if you get as far as level 10 -- gives a total of five different challenges, all of which maintain a top-ten high-score table complete with name display.

Addictiveness: 10
When getting the screenshot for this review, I meant to just take the shots and then quit. Some hope. Animatch is a hugely addictive game, and although it seems like a diversion to fill an idle five minutes you could easily find yourself, after a few goes, wondering where the last hour went. The selection of game modes stops it from getting samey, and getting on the initial high score tables is attainable without being insultingly easy.

Depth: 8
For what on the face of it is a simple puzzler, there's a surprising amount of thought needed to do well at Animatch. You need to think quickly to assess which move is best -- it's not always the obvious one -- and as you progress in the Attack modes especially you'll come to appreciate the importance of chains.

Controls: 10
Simple but effective: the stick moves the cursor around the board, and the B (or Y) button followed by a stick direction swaps tiles. You press A for a hint, and Start to pause. While paused, L+R will quit; this guards well against accidental pressing. Being able to adjust cursor speed in the main menu is a really nice (and unusual) touch. It's all extremely easy to pick up, and there isn't a single place where it gets in the way. In the high-score table you enter your name via a very clear virtual keyboard; one up on the usual three-letter initials selected with the stick!

Graphics: 10
Absolutely gorgeous: the intro screens promise much, and Animatch delivers. The main board is bright and colourful, and the animals are all easy to tell apart. The menu screens look really nice, too, and the high-score entry screen has its own feel (vaguely reminiscent of that for Out Run, actually!) which speaks of a game that was obviously a labour of love. The little animations, with the animals going all wide-eyed or waving tentacles when you make a row, are bound to raise a smile, too.

Sound: 10
Truly superb. The music tracks are by Pat Ferguson, who clearly knows what he's doing. They have a cheerful, bouncy feel but don't get in the way of your concentration at all. The sound effects when you complete a row, level up and suchlike are all fairly simple, but again they're very easy on the ear. I often get irritated by puzzle-game sound; not on this occasion. You can even adjust music and sound-effect volume (independently!) in the menu.

Documentation: 8
There's a brief one-line summary of each game type (and other menu option) as you select its icon, but full instructions are in a readme file. This is a model of its type: clear and comprehensive, but without including unnecessary waffle. A full in-game help screen would have been nice, but this game is so good that I almost feel churlish saying so!

Completeness: 9
Is there anything, apart from that in-game help screen, missing? If so, I couldn't find it. This is a really polished game that has no obvious rough edges whatsoever. You get the impression that a great deal of commitment was put into its creation, and it shows.

Overall: 10
Animatch is a hugely likeable game, and one which every GP2X owner should possess. It says something that the only "bug" I could find was a footling one: the mis-spelling of "amount" as "ammount" on the credit screen that shows when you quit. This is a game you could happily show off to anyone who doubts what can be done on our little console, and it could quite easily have been a commercial title. An absolute must-have.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Emulation: on not being American

It's interesting sometimes to contrast how American and British (and to some extent European) retrocomputing enthusiasts look at the area of emulation. These days gaming is pretty much global -- PC, PS3 and so on -- but that wasn't nearly so much the case in the old days. We in Britain had a very substantial home computer industry in the early-mid 1980s, after all, and given that and the fact that it was feasible back then for bedroom coders to produce commercial software alone we had much less need to bow to what America or Japan did.

And that word "computer" is important. The Atari 2600 and the NES, for example, weren't nearly the phenomena over here that they were in the US, and a major reason for that is that we had Sinclair, Acorn and Amstrad producing enormous numbers of computers rather than consoles, and those are what the average 12-year-old had at school (in Acorn's case) or at home (in the case of the others). Of the American manufacturers, Commodore did well and Atari (with the 400/800) to an extent, but you rarely saw UK homes with an Apple II, TRS-80 or TI99/4A.

So when you have a console like our very own GP2X, with a strong coding base in Europe, you're likely to get emulators for more of the British machines than you might otherwise do with such a (relatively) small installation base. And that is in fact the case: the relevant section of the OHH archive has good emulators for half a dozen major British micros: the Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro, Dragon, Sam Coupé, Spectrum and ZX80/81. (Okay, the Sam Coupé isn't really major, but still...) I'm not counting the Archimedes emulator as (like so much GP2X stuff) it has never been finished.

I wonder sometimes whether this gives European coders a slight advantage. If you had a NES, all you were likely to do was shove in a cartridge and go. But those of us who had computers expected to do at least a little programming from time to time, even if we mostly had our machines for leisure purposes. Sometimes that hacking was needed just to get a game to run, after all! The 1980s generation of kids was the only one, ever, who learned to program on a mass scale from before they even reached their teens. That's something that's largely missing today, and I think it's a real shame.

Friday, 13 May 2011

And... we're back

Phew... following a pretty serious outage at Blogger, during which I have to say we weren't kept all that well informed, things seem to be back to normal. My most recent game review (of Shippy 1984) has disappeared, but I have that saved so will post it up again if the promised retrieval of such things doesn't happen in the near future. If you have any trouble reading or commenting, then it's their fault, all right? *grins*

Edit: Aha, it's back to normal, review and all. Excellent!

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Game review: Shippy 1984


Shippy 1984
Genre: Shooter
Author: seb
OHH download: v?.?? (31/08/07)
Size: 2.0 MB
Licence: GPL v2

Description
Shippy 1984 is a space-based shooter with strong echoes of the arcade machines of the early 1980s. If you've ever played something like Galaga (and if you're a GP2X owner, surely you have) then you'll feel at home pretty quickly. There's no complex underlying plot: Galaxian starts with a simple MISSION: DESTROY ALIENS and the same applies here: just blast away, avoiding alien bombs and helping yourself to the odd power-up. There is a countdown timer, but if it reaches zero you don't die; you just don't get a level bonus. That doesn't mean you can relax, though, as those aliens are coming down the screen towards you...

The game's retro atmosphere is very much an integral part of the experience: in a fun touch, you even get that infamous "Winners Don't Use Drugs" FBI splash screen at the very beginning. (Yes, I know that was American, but most of us over here know about it too these days.) The game was originally written for the PC by Ryan Broomfield; its name varies a bit across platforms, and even here it's written "Shippy84" in the readme. I've put "seb" as the author of this version since that's what the readme is signed and it was the only name I could find!

Addictiveness: 7
It's not often I say this about this type of game, but Shippy 1984 may be a little bit too easy, early on at least, to be truly captivating. The first time I played I got through several levels without losing a life without trying hard at all. It is a bit more of a challenge later, as more and more aliens appear, so if you stick with it for a couple of levels you should find yourself having more fun.

Depth: 5
It's an old-school endless space blaster; what did you expect? In all honesty, Shippy 1984 is probably better for not trying to be too clever. It does offer a little variety as the levels go by, and the presence of the few power-ups helps, but it's no Elite.

Controls: 7
The stick moves you around, A shoots and Start pauses; most people should be able to remember that! The ship is responsive enough, and (if you're better at the game than me) you should be able to dodge bombs pretty nimbly. Select quits the game: as it's instant and non-recoverable, I'm not wild about the lack of any confirmation screen there.

Graphics: 7
I'm not that sold on the odd design of your ship, which looks like a green moth with a small yellow smiley stuck to its top, and occasionally text superimposed on aliens is a little hard to see, but most of the rest is better. The font used for the score display is reminiscent of that used in the likes of Galaga, while the aliens themselves, their bombs and your missiles also feel right; they all move nice and smoothly, too. I enjoyed the messages like GO UNLIMITED BULLETS when you pick up a power-up.

Sound: 7
Right at the start there's a mid-80s style (ie rather laboured) speech synth of the game's title. I can't really see the point, to be honest. The in-game sounds and music are really pretty good, though: they certainly have the feel of that era's arcade machines about them. And, for once, through headphones the default volume is merely "too loud" and not "eardrum-shattering".

Documentation: 4
There's very little in-game, and what does exist is confusing: for example, when the game is paused you're told it's "belated". Why, I have no idea; perhaps it's (deliberately?) odd English from the original Shippy game. There is a very basic readme, which will get you started, but through no fault of seb's own the site it refers to is no more.

Completeness: 6
seb himself says that this is a "quick and dirty port", and that's obvious in the way that the instructions still refer to the CTRL key and "button 1". The game itself isn't lacking too much, though; offer selectable difficulty and put in an instruction page and there'd be little to complain about. Even a high-score table doesn't seem necessary for an old-school game like this one.

Overall: 7
It's perhaps too easy to say, "If you like Galaxian, you'll probably like Shippy 1984", but it's not any the less true for all that. I had some trouble deciding whether this was a 6 or a 7, but in the end its nicely executed retro feel just helped it to the higher rating.