Archive for February, 2011

SimHealth – Investigating Varying Versions

Monday, February 28th, 2011

I’ve been doing a bit of research on SimHealth recently. Mainly because I can’t find much info on it at all! Wikipedia cites nothing, Mobygames is the same, the rest is plain old-fashioned hearsay. The main reason for this is because of my “Silver Box” edition of SimHealth, shown above. Here is what I’ve found out:

According to people I’ve been in touch with online – so take this with a grain of salt – some kind of “retail” version was released in 1994 through Maxis exclusively for MS-DOS PCs (developed with help from the non-profit Markle Foundation of New York). It was released under the moniker “Maxis Business Simulations”. Might this be the same subset of Maxis that created other simulation games like SimRefinery (which never saw release)?

Whatever the case, Maxis published the game around the same time as the US health care reform stuff that was going on in the Summer of 1994. I know of one person who says the game was sold at a local Babbage’s. I’ve read of others seeing it at college campus bookstores and such. So it doesn’t seem like you’d find it just anywhere, like SimAnt or SimCity which I recall was even found in freaking magazine shops and toy stores. This is the “blue logo” box, seen on the left in my above photo. This is also the version that is always shown in every Maxis Software Toys catalog I own, where you can order the game directly from Maxis.

Then there’s the question of the “Silver box” I found on eBay a year or two ago. It is still sealed so I haven’t checked its contents, but I did notice recently that it has a copyright of 1993 on the box, whereas the “main” release has 1994. Bizarre! I then started checking the seedier places of the interwebz to see if I could find any alternate versions of the game for download so I wouldn’t have to open my boxed copy. Sure enough, I found a version of the game labeled “preview version”. It had slightly differing graphics, incomplete features and missing tutorials. Hmm…

Google Books to the rescue? It’s answered many an odd question before so I gave “Sim Health” a search and sure enough, I found some intriguing information. According to this article from a November 1993 issue of InfoWorld magazine, congressional staff members involved in health care were sent an early edition of the game in order to give it a once-over and then provide feedback to the developers on the game before it the final version was released. It also mentions that it was available for $29.95 by ordering over the phone, directly from The Markle Foundation.

There is also this snippet from the 2000 book “Big Bird and Beyond”, stating that SimHealth was “launched” at a Capitol Hill press conference in November of 1993, the same time as the previous InfoWorld article. Makes sense. Also, Cathy Clark from Markle stated that it sold “a few thousand copies” and “it was not entertaining enough to be on the game shelf”. Interesting indeed! So this basically backs up all the information I’ve seen saying this never actually saw a store shelf officially. It is certainly possible certain individual retailers ordered batches of the game for their stores, but I still have seen nothing that states it saw a wide release and in fact have seen only information regarding its scarcity and very low sales.

So what does it mean? Well, I was wondering what possible reason there would be for a preview version of the game to have such fancy packaging. Having it sent to members of congress would certainly be a good reason for a nice flashy box! It would also explain the “preview version” that I’ve seen for download. Perhaps that’s the silver box that I have in my possession. Perhaps not. Perhaps I’ll never know… but daggone do I love this stuff!

UPDATE! I was able to get in touch with the guy who sold me the silver boxed SimHealth! He said he actually found it at a recycling center in Massachusetts, but didn’t know anything for sure about its origins. His best guess was that it had been a specially-made version for some kind of conference. Hmm, perhaps a press conference on Capitol Hill? 😀 Who knows! I do know that Massachusetts is known for its hand in various health care reform, so it actually makes a good bit of sense. Either way, this seems to be a pre-release version of the game.

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The Maxis Collection Video Is Online!

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYKnjgQA%5D

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYKnnlYA%5D

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYKnyjAA%5D

The three part Maxis Collection video series has been uploaded and is ready for your viewing pleasure!

This series of videos covers nearly every Maxis computer game ever released in America (and some from elsewhere) and is about an hour long in total! Complete with showing of the box art and packaging, catalogs, media, history, trivia and random other fun stuff. At least, fun if you’re into collecting or classic computer software. I am, in case you weren’t aware, so personally I think this is pretty rad.

Thanks to alanw3000 for the intro!

Challenge of the Gobots Review Video is Online!

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYKmwHEA%5D

Yes, Challenge of the Gobots on the Moebius Strip. Lovely tie-in with a failed toy and TV show. So much potential. So many cool extras. So much motion sickness.

This makes two games that I have reviewed CPC ports of. And I do not own an Amstrad of any kind! Yet.

Congrats to those of you who guessed correctly! Hopefully you enjoy the video that you so… guessed.

This Week’s Review… Ugh

Monday, February 21st, 2011

I just got motion sickness playing the game that is this week’s review. Well, one version of it. See, the game was developed for three different systems with three very different results. The ZX Spectrum version is nauseating, the Amstrad CPC version isn’t too shabby, and the C64 version is possibly the best of the bunch. I dunno, anything but the Speccy port, I’m sorry. Blegh. Even after messing with the in-game settings extensively to slow things down I couldn’t help but feel queasy. It’s just awful. The other ports are fine. Spectrum’s a mess.

So what game am I talking about? I mentioned somewhere online not long ago that all the reviews recorded this month have so far been shooters/shmups, and this is one of those. Also, Hanna-Barbera is involved in its existence. It’s from 1987. Oh, and the Spectrum port is just jacked up.

Here’s one final hint:

First guess wins… my short-lived admiration!

Silpheed on an IBM 5150 PC

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

This is sort of an addendum to my recent Silpheed review. Just a quick video I made while working on my review, showing my testing of Silpheed on my 4.77MHz IBM PC upgraded with 640K RAM.

I mentioned in the video that while you can play it on any PC with 512K RAM and a CGA card, you really need an 8MHz 286 AT-class machine or better to run the game at full speed. While it’s certainly playable on an IBM PC/XT range machine, I’d really recommend the AT (or even a low-end 386) machine to get the best results and a constant frame rate.

Still, for the amount of action on-screen and the filled polygonal graphics being used, it’s impressive to see this run a 4.77MHz PC. The introduction “attract sequence” is what suffers the most, taking craptons longer than it should to display the whole thing. Still, it’s all possible on the IBM PC with no hard drive and a simple upgrade in RAM and that’s quite awesome to me.

Silpheed DOS Game Review Is Up!

Friday, February 18th, 2011

The next Lazy Game Reviews video is lazily online! And yes, several of you guessed correctly: it is Silpheed, the classic home computer shmup from 1986 for the NEC PC88 and 1988 for the IBM PC.

I really have developed a liking to the Game Arts catalog of games in recent years. Really solidly-made stuff and this one’s no exception!

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYKk_T4A%5D

As always, you can see the YouTube version here.

The Maxis Collection

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

I’ve had more people than I can count tell me “Dude, you think you have enough ‘Sim’ games?” after seeing my collection. My answer is always “Like, no, Dude”. Or something like that.

I love Maxis games. Most are pure gold, although a few are puréed crap. But whatever, anything from Orinda, Walnut Creek, Will Wright, Jeff Braun etc is sought out and owned by me. From Raid on Bungeling Bay and SkyChase to SimCity 2000 and The Sims, it’s all here. After many requests (and a final ‘nudge’ by SimPrograms) I’ve decided to post some photos of the majority of my Maxis games collection.

Click the images below to see the full gallery on Flickr (or just directly download some JPEGS by clicking this):

Phreakindee Maxis CollectionPhreakindee Maxis Collection

There a few obvious omissions. I don’t have the boxes to games like Marble Drop, Zaark and The Night Team and Full Tilt! Pinball 2 for example. I also didn’t show 3rd-party stuff like MegaMetro, S!Zone, SC2k Pocket PC, the SimCity card game, console ports. But in some form or another, I own a version of every game Maxis had its hands on released in the USA up until EA took over (and most after that as well, though most of those aren’t shown). My focus is games that were released through Maxis up until the Electronic Arts takeover in 1997-98. I’ll get the rest eventually, like SimSafari and the SimClassic sets for instance, but I wanted the earlier games first.

A Few Notable Games


Raid on Bungeling Bay
This is where it all started. Will Wright made this game after he got a Commodore 64 and got the idea to make SimCity by creating this. Don’t have the box, as I’ve only seen it once on eBay and I got outbid: it went for about $80. Read more about it here, it’s really a neat story how this went from an overhead helicopter shooter to SimCity. It was also released on the NES, which I have but didn’t take a photo of. Didn’t take photos of any of my console Maxis games, actually.


Sky Chase
This was actually Maxis’s first released game, to my knowledge. SimCity may have been developed years prior on the C64, but this was the first game of Jeff Braun/Maxis to see release. And through Broderbund no less, who soon released the “first” version of SimCity (which was actually a remake, more on that soon). A nifty multiplayer combat flight sim game, a bit ahead of its time I’d say. This is the Amiga version, but there were Atari ST and DOS versions as well.


SimCity Original 1988/89 Releases
In 1988, Broderbund and Maxis released Will Wright’s SimCity for the PC and Mac. But what many don’t know is that the version released then was actually a remake of sorts. Will Wright’s original game was developed on the C64 and it was quite different (had a water pipe system, for instance). That version was created several years before but didn’t see release due to a number of reasons. The C64 SimCity was then later released in either late 88 or 89, which is the version on the bottom-right. Also, you’ll note two differing box art types: the tornado and “Godzilla”. The so-called Godzilla box is the very first release of the game, which soon was forced to have the art changed due to complaints from Toho. As such, it’s tough to find. The C64 version never had this box, even though it was technically the first version of the game. Since it was released after the second release (which was actually “first” released) it had the new box art. Confused? Awesome. Also, the Mac versions were often subtitled “Supreme”. Perhaps because they came with all sorts of extras, like mushrooms, peppers, sausage, the works.


SimCity Graphics Sets 1 and 2
These were the only two expansions to the original SimCity, and they were simply graphical addons that changed the look of the game to things like the moon and medieval times. Yeah, The Sims Medieval anyone? This was where that stuff started.


SimCity Terrain Editor
Sorry for the crappy shot, but I didn’t have my actual disks handy when taking these photos (although I do own this exact set shown in the photo). SimCity Terrain Editor was a utility for use with any version of SimCity that allowed you to edit CTY files (your saved cities) and edit things like the land, water and the year you play in. A must-have. Also, this is one of those releases that never saw a retail shelf in its lifetime and was only available through Maxis directly. It was later packed-in with SimCity classic, so you’ll see those disks and manuals all the time. But those later versions have the newer “crescent logo” of Maxis and a bunch of other defining differences, see my post here for more info than is arguably necessary.


SimCity European Editions
Europe got totally different packaging and exclusive versions, go figure. Here are a few of mine. Shown here left-to-right: SimCity Classic (Amiga), SimCity+Populous Pack (IBM), SimCity Infogrames release (Amiga), SimCity (Sinclair ZX Spectrum).


SimCity Classic Graphics
When SimCity Classic came out (a sort of re-release of the original game for newer computers and OS’s) the old graphics sets didn’t work with them. These do. Not the easiest to find, either.


Unnatural Selection
Besides being a weird, campy sci-fi game where you have to use genetic modification to breed mutant animals to fight each other, this version of US is a “Review Copy”. You see these from time to time on eBay, mostly never opened. Odd, not sure why or how but there you go.


SimCity 2000 URK and Great Disasters
SimCity 2000 got one official expansion and utility. The Urban Renewal Kit let you customize all the graphics in the game and also lets you edit your city maps, editing terrain as well as placing building tiles. It was later included in the Network Edition and Streets of SimCity. Scenarios Volume 1: Great Disasters was the first of several planned expansions to the game, although this was the only one ever released for some reason. It is VERY hard to find as it came with the CD-ROM Collection and SE released shortly after, so pretty much nobody bought it. Guess that may be why there’s only one volume…


SimCity 2000 Collections
There were two “game of the year”-like editions of SimCity 2000. The first, the CD Collection (sometimes simply known as “The Collection”), contained the base game, SCURK, and Great Disasters plus a few extra cities and stuff. The Special Edition was a gem, with all the CD collection plus a shiny silver/gold box with the creators’ signatures embossed on the box, interviews with Will Wright, and more graphic sets.


SimCity 2000 Network Edition
Yes, a LAN and Internet multiplayer version of SimCity 2000. Very weird, pretty fun, quite hard to find. Here’s my video review of the game.


SimHealth+Silver
Another uncommon release. Partly because nobody bought it because it was friggin’ boring. Also, to my knowledge, it was originally never sold in retail stores but only through Maxis directly and a few select college campuses and book shops. Then there’s this “silver” release. No freaking clue, I just found it on eBay. I’ve never seen it mentioned anywhere else and I have looked through every Maxis product “Toy” catalog I have and I’ve got nothing. Maybe it was a later retail release. Any info would be grand.


Zaark and The Night Team: Quest For Patterns & Search For Symbols
This is one of the four edutainment games Maxis released at the start of their Maxis Kids lineup, along with SimTown, Widget Workshop and Marty and the Trouble With Cheese. It is a trippy-as-balls kids game. Seriously, LSD stuff. For some reason it is extremely hard to find, and I have never once seen a box for it. Then there’s the question of the game packed-in with one of my copies: The Search for Patterns. Not sure if it ever got a full standalone release.


Full Tilt! Pinball – Thrustmaster Wizzard Edition
This is just a pack-in version of the game that came with the Thrustmaster Wizzard PC pinball controller. I don’t have the controller. I wish I did because it looks rad.


Widget Workshop
For some reason there was a “bigger box” version of Widget Workshop. No idea why. Pretty awesome game, mostly a ripoff of The Incredible Machine with a few twists.


SimCopter
This was around the time Maxis was really starting to cut costs by using cheaper inserts and packaging. Why then SimCopter originally came with a pair of collector SimCopter aviator sunglasses, I don’t know, but they’re totally awesome. They are crappily-made though, so that makes sense at least. Later versions didn’t come with these in the box, and had an even cheaper package without the window. Most people got the game in a shovelware set after that. This is also known as the “gay” version, as I’ve been told later releases fixed a “bug” in the game that had dudes in speedos making out on top of buildings. Ha.


Marty and the Trouble With Cheese
Very cool idea for a young children’s game. You don’t use the mouse or keyboard at all, you simply speak into the supplied microphone to control this simple kids’ adventure game. Marty even asks you questions you can answer by speaking to him. It’s rudimentary but it works. And yes, it’s totally possible to beat the game by swearing at him, no joke. There was another game supposedly, called Marty in Where’s Morgan? but I have never seen it or even seen if it was released. This one is extremely hard to find, especially in a box.

So yeah, that’s that. Hope you enjoyed and found some useful info! It’s an ongoing process, this collection, so there will undoubtedly be more in the future.

Modern CPUs & Gaming Performance

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

I recently upgraded my main PC with part of last year’s tax return, mainly because I was finally starting to notice its age. I’ve had the machine in its base form since the end of 2006 I think, only upgrading the video card since then. It had an 8800GT 512MB video card, 2GB DDR2 800 RAM, and an AMD Athlon 64 X2 4600+ 2.4GHz CPU (AM2) running Windows 7 Ultimate 32-bit. A totally competent system back in 2006, but a few years later and it’s growing a white beard, calling me “Suzanne” while eating porridge.

I had no real problems with it running anything (other than Crysis, heh) until about a year or so ago when I played Cryostasis. That was the first time I saw the thing start to chug on something that wasn’t Crysis. I then got GTA IV and man, the slide shows were rampant. Especially once I modded the game with custom cars with higher poly counts. Then Call of Duty Black Ops and holy crap, the thing didn’t even run it! I surpassed the specs on that game, but it turns out the game is just poorly optimized on lower-end CPUs even with the latest patches. Then NFS: Hot Pursuit and Test Drive Unlimited 2 came out and dang it, a racing cannot be played with a low or unsteady frame rate. I’m talking anywhere from 10-25 fps at 1680×1050 with medium graphical settings and no AA or AF.

Between the games and the slow rendering and editing times since I switched to making HD videos, I figured “it is time” and dropped the cash on a new AMD build: a GTX 580 Ti 1GB overclocked video card, 8GB DDR3 1333 RAM, and an AMD Phenom II X6 1090T 3.2GHz CPU (AM3) running Windows 7 Ultimate x64 (along with upgrades to the motherboard and PSU, of course, but they’re not really the focus of this entry). Quite easy on the wallet and quite a hefty upgrade from my last machine.

But I got to wondering… how much of a bottleneck was my old CPU (and RAM)? I knew it was the problem with Black Ops, but what about GTA IV and TDU2? So I decided to install the new mobo/RAM/CPU but leave everything else the same to test my theories: GPU, Windows 32-bit install, etc. The results were quite impressive.

Using the same old video card each game was like night and day. TDU2 and NFS:HP ran well over 80fps on medium settings, and at around 40fps on highest settings (very high textures/effects, 8xAA, 16xAF). Call of Duty Black Ops ran smooth as butter, no lag, highest settings, all good (as it should have anyway, but whatever that’s a port for ya). And GTA IV? Even with all my mods installed and the graphics cranked up, it runs at 35-60fps depending on the action. Dropping down to that mid-thirties area when I’ve got like 40 cars on screen and am plowing into them with a bus… that used to be about 5 fps, no joke. And that’s using the old 512MB 8800GT so I can imagine the results when I get the new GTX 560 Ti installed, which is a multi-generation leap from the 8800GT.

So the moral of the story is: don’t underestimate the power of a decent CPU when you’re wanting to get the most out of your GPU. You hear so much emphasis put onto the GPU and while that’s very important to gaming, the CPU can be a huge bottleneck for these high-bandwidth GPUs nowadays. I’m sure the new RAM helped a bit as well, but it’s only seeing 3.5GB until I install 64-bit Windows. Not quite to that “magic” 60fps yet, but that’s expected. The new GPU should get me there soon.

I know this is kind of obvious stuff, but you know, whatever, I’m bored at work. Just found it very amusing and a much bigger leap than I expected.

Moon Patrol Apple II Game Unboxing Video

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Just got seven boxed and sealed Atarisoft games for the Apple II. After getting several requests to do another unboxing video sometime, I figured I may as well unbox Moon Patrol since I now have a duplicate sealed copy. Or rather, I had a dupe sealed copy, now it’s opened, free to be inserted into my IIgs and have its contents ogled by the internet. Plus, I want to review it at some point and what’s the fun in reviewing a game that’s still sealed?

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYKknzIA%5D

The YouTube version will be online whenever I can get it uploaded, having issues right now. And of course, this week’s review will be up Friday at midnightish and there’s a hint at the end of this video as to the subject!

That Intangible Game Feeling

Monday, February 14th, 2011

I’ve been watching some of the excellent review/walkthrough videos of Ancient DOS Games the past several days. There are a couple of reasons they’re awesome. For one, they’re quite nicely polished videos and extremely detailed, almost to a fault. For, uh, two, they’re DOS games, which is an automatic win. Further, many of them happen to be DOS games I grew up playing and remember fondly.

I’ve been watching them in sporadic order, and just watched the video on the first MechWarrior. I certainly remember the game. Even more so I remember the massive hype of 1995’s second game and the consequent bit of attention the original game then received. While watching the video, listening to the commentary and recalling me own experiences with it, I didn’t feel particularly nostalgic or fond of MechWarrior Uno. It was kind of a cool game, it’s got some neat features, nifty graphics and as a DOS game it’s interesting to me. But there wasn’t any real desire to try it again.

Earthsiege Box Art

But the next video on the playlist, Earthsiege, was like a mental lightning strike occurred. *BOOM* I was overwhelmed by nostalgia and had the massive urge to search deep into my collection to locate my floppies and CDs of the game, whip out the ol’ Pentium 90 and play it again.

Funny thing is, I don’t really know why.

Admittedly, MechWarrior and Earthsiege are extremely similar games. Frick, they’re even made by much of the same team of designers. They’re both DOS games by Dynamix, both mecha games, both sci-fi military sims, both make use of 3D graphics, etc. But what makes Earthsiege so much better, in my mind? Can’t really say. I often refer to this phenomenon as “that intangible game feeling”. It’s when a game has a certain feel or atmosphere that really sets the game apart to you personally. Totally subjective. It’s not going to be the same for everyone and it’s also really hard to describe, so this kind of thing rarely makes it into my reviews. I’ve tried with review vids like Epic Pinball and Jill of the Jungle, but I do not feel I was very successful. It’s just that rush of near-adrenaline or rose-tinted thoughts you get when you see the box art or even a screenshot of the game, where you long to experience that universe again, that moment in time you played the game.

Admittedly, Earthsiege isn’t the best game of its genre. Its successor is easily a better game on many levels, and even the later Mechwarrior games could make the claim of being the better mech game. But why have I played ES1 craptons, but the sequels far less? What in the world is it about that game?

Maybe it’s my history with the game. I first got the game in 1996, I think. It was after playing a demo of Earthsiege 2 that came on the disc for Silent Thunder: A10 Tank Killer II. I went to one of the local stores that sold lots of PC games, Office Depot if I recall, and saw that Earthsiege 2 was like 50 bucks. Too darned much for my rather young self. It wasn’t long after this that me and my dad went to a local computer and software show at the LJVM Coliseum Annex. It was freaking awesome. I clearly remember seeing Need For Speed II (so maybe this was 1997) and 3D Ultra Pinball in the boxes there, for some reason, along with like a billion cool computers and loads of software vendors. But it was at this bargain reseller table that I ran across the CD-ROM special version of the first Earthsiege for five bucks. Now that was more in my range! It had the speech pack and expansion pre-installed, so I got the Apocalypse herc and lots of extra-cool cutscenes and missions. I was psyched. I remember the freaking PAIN getting it to work though. Sound card issues, mainly. But also the game would freeze the entire system every hour or so. I didn’t care. It had a very gloomy atmosphere, a sense of foreboding, and when you completed a mission there was a real sense of accomplishment where you couldn’t wait to get debriefed, head back to the hanger and check out the loot you may be able to upgrade your herc with.

I played the balls out of that game and I barely got any better at it, haha I don’t think I ever beat it but I got close. It wasn’t nearly as good as Earthsiege 2, but whatever. Whenever I finally got Earthsiege 2 a few years later, I barely played through the first six or seven missions. Why? It had better… everything, really. Except for that intangible feeling, that atmosphere, that whatever.

Sure, ES1 was my “first” Earthsiege game, and it was a during a time period where I had very few games and the ones I had were cherished. But there are very few games that provided that “feel”. Out of this World, Jazz Jackrabbit, Earthsiege, SimCity 2000, Duke Nukem 3D, Crystal Caves. Games like this are some of the very closest to me in terms of personal whateverness. Modern games also occasionally have this certain intangible feeling, like Fallout 3 as the most recent example I can think of. And Minecraft, perhaps. Portal before that. I don’t know what “it” is, I don’t care, I just know it exists and it’s hard to explain. Any thoughts on this? Any particular games that come to mind for you?