Archive for March, 2011

GTA4 Taxi Intruder, New Video WIP

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

GTA IV Taxi Intruder

It’s climbing in your windows, snatching your kitchens up…

Seriously, I have no idea what kind of glitch this was. Started up GTA IV for a quick romp through Liberty City today and this happened. No mods, cheats or anything, just plain taxi spawning randomness.

I’m pretty much just chilling before I get to work on this week’s review. It’s going to be a bit different, as there will be more than one game being looked at in the video. In fact, I’ve decided on sort of a “theme” to this month, on purpose this time. February ended up being all shoot-em-ups, March all Maxis stuff, this month will be all… um, edutainment. Or something like that. Basically, games that you’d find in schools, libraries, and places you’d likely find kids (no, not there). Some you’ll no doubt know, some I’d be surprised if you did – this week’s being one of the latter!

Hint for this week’s game(s) – they’re from the late 80’s. One is PC-only, the other also came on the NES. Both are geared toward pre-schoolers. Both have characters that look like toys. One you could say is related to Dalmatians, the other has to do with navigating routes daily.

The Sims Medieval – Video Review

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

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

After approximately too much time, I’ve finished the review of The Sims Medieval and it is now available for your consumption.

Battling sickness and a slightly uncomfortable chair, this review was an unusually “unlazy” one. Lots of time playing the game, taking notes, writing, recording, re-recording, grabbing footage and editing. Although the rendering took no time at all this time, thanks to my new CPU. Only 16 minutes to render the 15 minute 720p H.264 video in Adobe Encoder, so that’s awesome.

Anyways, hopefully you all enjoy. This was a fun little refresher in between “real” Sims games and I know craptons of people have requested a medieval-period Sims game for years. It’s pretty much Life/Pet/Castaway Stories set in the middle ages, but hey, what did you expect? Lots of tasty Maxis-style humor and references to all sorts of pop culture medieval stuff with enjoyable graphics and gameplay made it a fun distraction. But I think I’ve had enough Maxis gaming for a while.

Maxis “Educational Version” Software

Friday, March 18th, 2011

...educational versions are available...

I remember seeing the above notice at the beginning of Maxis Software Toys catalogs starting around 1993. I always wondered what it meant by “educational versions” since the product entry in the catalog only showed the regular retail box and the ordering section only gave a phone number to call for more info. But as you can see from the catalog scan below, there’s that little sign signifying the availability of a special version of SimCity Classic for education.

Summer 1994 Maxis Catalog - SimCity Classic

I later found out that it was basically a teaching curriculum that was available at an appropriately-increased cost to either individuals or teaching institutions around the world. Basically, it was SimCity (or SimAnt, SimFarm, SimEarth whatever) but with a bulk install license and a bunch of extra teaching aids included. Sounds pretty cool to a Maxis collector but also quite tough to find, being that it wasn’t sold in stores, cost more, and was likely owned by schools.

However, I found someone selling these online recently:

SimAnt Educational Version
SimCity Classic Educational Version

Yeah, upon further inquiry, these are the educational versions of both SimAnt and SimCity Classic! They come in somewhat unassuming binders, which is typical of many curricula. They’re labeled “Maxis Software Toys – that teach!” Someone else got to SimAnt before me (dang it) but I’m in the process of acquiring SimCity Classic. I also have some other photos which show a bit of the contents, and it looks totally rad. Lots of extra paperwork, worksheets, and various teaching aids consisting of background on the game and its subject matter. Can’t wait to get my hands on one of these and solve one more Maxis mystery…

…what exactly is contained in these “educational versions”? Follow-up is to be expected in the coming weeks. Now that I know exactly what I’m looking for I’ll be keeping any eye out for any other titles in this genre. Hooray for unexplored territory!

St. Patty’s Retro Ramblings – SimCity, Monster Bash, Shatner

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

First things first, Happy Drunken Irish-Wannabe Day! I don’t partake in this “holiday” but whatever, if you do more power to ya.

Seconds things second, I’ve found another Maxis rarity on eBay – from the same guy who sold me the original version of the SimCity Terrain Editor! This time, it’s the MCGA Special Edition of SimCity for MS-DOS.

SimCity MS-DOS MCGA Special Edition 5.25''

What makes this special is that fact that it’s bloody awesome. Well, that and the fact that the original SimCity for DOS only went up through EGA as far as graphical capability. MCGA/VGA didn’t come until later, and even then only through a special disk. A rare disk, nowadays. As far as I know, this version of MCGA is the high-res monochrome mode. SimCity Classic for DOS came with MCGA graphics (possibly also color) and I think certain later editions of the vanilla SimCity for DOS did as well, but finding this original disk is quite special as it was a mail-order-online disk. At least, to a Maxis geek such as this guy. That would be me, in case you were confused.

Next up is my recent purchase of Apogee’s Monster Bash, which I made through Amazon. It arrived today. Take a look at the disks here and ponder their labels.

It was described as being three 3.5″ floppies containing all three episodes. The price was too good to pass up so I bought them, as the game is really hard to come by (stupidly inflated prices) especially in original floppy form. I thought it was strange that it came on three disks since the registered came on two to my knowledge, but whatever. So it arrived and I was shocked to see what appeared to be a shareware distributor label on the disks – “Software Labs” out of Culver City, California. Perhaps it was registered though, even if the labels seemed fishy. After all, it lists Episode 1 – 3 on the disks, precisely the number of episodes in the full, registered game. But then I noticed the disks… they had no hole to specify high density. Uh-oh. Monster Bash is a big game, too small to fit on 720K floppies.

Popped ’em in, installed and of course! Shareware version, episode 1 only.
What. The. Crap.

The disks say episodes one through three! What the frick does that mean to anyone with half a brain? That it contains three episodes. But no, what they really mean is DISKS one through three for episode one only. The disks are actually not even 720K disks, but daggone 360K 3.5″ disks! I’ve seen very few of these and I have no idea what the purpose was. 720K disks were practically where 3.5″ floppies started, and yet, many years later, you saw these 360K 3.5″ disks show up – the same capacity as double-density 5.25″ floppies. Were they really that much cheaper? I mean, I just don’t get it. You’d think THREE disks instead of just one high-density would be more costly, not to mention a higher rate to mail out to your customers. Such a rip-off, such deception. Software Labs, I hope you died a cruel death as a company.

Bill Shatner 1976 AT&T Video

Lastly, we have a totally AWESOME video here that I stumbled across. It’s a video from AT&T from 1976 with none other than William Freakin’ Shatner. Yes, Freakin’ is his middle name (to me). It’s 15 minutes of him going on about the coming micro revolution and the friggin’ future. Yes, it is amazing. Did you really have to ask? Just click the Shat’s sexy mug above and bask in the retro wonder.

SimHealth review video is online!

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

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

This week’s review is now online: Sim freaking Health. Really, what did you expect? As much time as I’ve put into researching and playing this thing recently it was only natural that a review would result. Such an odd and near-awful, yet intriguing and awesome title from Maxis. If only it could have been tweaked to be fun! Oh well, there’s always the excellent (and not at all similar) Theme Hospital.

A couple of you all guessed it correctly, a couple were quite close, several were way off the mark. But whatever, thanks for “playing” and there’s always next time!

SimCity on BBC Micro First Impressions video online

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYKrqk0C%5D

As anyone who reads this blog with any kind of regularity will already know, I’m not dead. As a result, there is a new video online!

This one is just a simple “let me show you what this game looks like” video, à la Steve Benway. The specific subject of this one is the port of SimCity for the BBC Micro computer system, played on my Model B.

This is quite an impressive achievement, seeing as the Beeb only has 32K of RAM and a 2MHz CPU. It lacks things like scenarios and several disasters, but it’s impressively full-featured otherwise. Another example of superior software from Superior Software for Acorn computers!

In other news, I’ve also started grabbing some Maxis console ports when I find a good price. Got the SNES port of SimCity and SimCity 2000, the latter of which I had no idea existed until a couple weeks ago. It’s another surprisingly good port and even has a few extras like passing clouds and weather. I don’t think it has support for the SNES mouse, which is a shame. Also got the PS1 port of SC2K and it is awesome. Very cool music and some new, exclusive tracks. Also has a freaking sweet mode where you take a first-person 3D tour of your city! Even has an automobile’s “interior view” which makes it seem a lot like an alpha version of Streets of SimCity. Heh, considering Streets of SimCity felt like a beta of a real game anyways that’s rather humorous.

SimWorld: Too Bad It Might’ve Been Awesome!

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

SimCity 2000 Saturn Art

Recently, I’ve been on a bit of a Maxis binge. Ever since making the videos about my Maxis collection and not having a PC able to edit videos (soon to be resolved!) I’ve devoted a good chunk of free time to solving some “Maxis mysteries” I’ve long wondered about. Things like SimHealth and the correlation between SimCity variations.

Another mystery popped up today via the comments section of Part 2 of my Maxis Collection video. It’s a question I had wondered about myself, back when I first read SimCity 2000 Strategies and Secrets by Sybex. The forward of the book consists of a talk by the designers of SC2K – Fred Haslam and Will Wright. Very interesting reading regarding some of the history of SimCity 2000, stuff like the fact that it went through a graphical overhaul after they got hold of A-Train, which then got Will Wright involved so they could use the graphics engine from his project Dollhouse (much later to become The Sims).

Anyways, the question was brought up by Gmanster64. In the forward, Will Wright mentions his next project, SimWorld, which he seemed incredibly excited about. Well, I suppose you could say Wright tends to get excited about a lot of subjects, but this one seemed to be particularly interesting to him, so much so that they seemed to cut off his rant about it to keep the forward shorter. There was no mention of what it really was (just that it was NOT to be confused with SimEarth) and there is very little information to be found about SimWorld online, at least that I can find. Strange indeed, especially considering the jubilant remarks in the book.

So, I decided to Tweet Will Wright and ask him if anything ever came of SimWorld. Not long after, Master Wright responded to my question:

@lazygamereviews Not really, we were thinking of connecting all our Sim games at some point (like we later did with SimCity&Simcopter)

I also found this excerpt from an interview with CNN asking whether or not Wright has considered an all-in-one Sim game:

Will Wright: Actually, yes we have. We did about a one-year study of the possibility that we called “SimWorld.” And the idea was to have kind of an open standard through which our simulators could be plugged into each other. And in fact, the last game I did before “The Sims” was a helicopter game called “SimCopter,” and it was basically an experiment in that direction. “SimCopter” was an action helicopter game that you could play in a city that you had previously built with “SimCity.” The biggest problem really with that idea is the time scales are really different depending on what level you are playing at.

Certainly sounds like it was something to get excited about! An interconnected world of “Sim-” games is quite an ambitious idea, and really makes sense considering what they ended up doing with SimCity 2000/SimCopter/Streets of SimCity (and even The Sims and SimCity 4). I can just imagine somehow connecting SimCity 2000 and SimTower, maybe zooming into micromanagement level on a specific tower in your city, and then seeing its success affect the surrounding neighborhood (though I can certainly see the problem with time scaling here). Or perhaps more integration of game data between game systems, again like what happened with SimCopter and Streets, where you could edit the city and then drive/fly through it. You could really keep taking it further, I’d imagine, eventually having a highly complex model of everything from the macro to the micro level of detail. Kind of sounds a bit like what went on with Spore’s ideas as well.

Ah well, I’m just rambling and dreaming now. It does sound ridiculously ambitious, perhaps too much and I assume that was part of the reason it never happened completely.

Too bad it might’ve been AWESOME.

You’ll never guess what I found for $1…

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Yes, that is Super Noah’s Ark 3D, the unlicensed SNES game by Wisdom Tree. Me and my friend Vinny went out “Goodwilling” today (hopping to all the thrift stores in the area) looking for whatever awesome happened to be out there. I found several boxed DOS games and some newer PC games, but then I ran across this. For one dollar. Not to mention a dozen NES games, many of them unlicensed as well (like “Pyramid”, a unique Tetris clone).

Needless to say, I am psyched. It plays very nicely too, just popped in a Donkey Kong Country cart into the top and the madness that is Noah’s Ark 3D ensued. Very much worth the buck, I’d say! Considering the only one on eBay right now is listed at $99 and many “collector sites” seem to value it at around 60 bucks for a loose cart.

PC Upgrading Nightmare Over?

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Good news! It appears my PC upgrade aggravations are over. I’d like to share a bit just in case anyone Googles this, because I wish I had been able to find something like what I’m about to write.

It’s tax season in the US and that means federal refunds for many. I got mine and promptly got to ordering my planned PC upgrade. I’ve had my old Athlon 64 X2 4600-based machine since the start of 2007 and it’s served me well, but it was really showing its age. Especially in video editing and the occasional game. So I decided to upgrade to the new Phenom II 1090T hex-core CPU, a GIGABYTE GA-770T-USB3 motherboard (rev 1.3), Thermaltake TR-700P 700W PSU, Mushkin 996770 DDR3-1333 8GB RAM, with a GTX 560 Ti video card to follow soon.

I got everything, installed it, and then there was a loud *CRACK*-blik-blik-blik-blik sound. Balls.

The PSU had a slightly misshapen fan assembly which was smashing up against the grill. I adjusted it somewhat, but the noise continued. Not nearly as loud, but an slight intermittent “clipping” noise. Lovely. Never had any problems with Thermaltake before this! PSU itself was just fine, power was reaching components at proper voltags, just a screwed fan assembly. So I arranged an RMA replacement and decided to take a look at the other parts until then.

Got a fresh install of Windows 7 Ultimate x64 going and then… instant BSOD on first start. Wot. Hmm, maybe driver issues? Removed unneeded components, updated all drives, BSOD after about 25 minutes. This time with gusto, didn’t even wait around to see the memory dump screen. Hmm.

Checked everything I knew to check: cooling, adjusted some voltages (for some reason they were set HIGHER than stock in the BIOS, namely CPU Vcore was set at like 1.45V instead of ~1.325V!), RAM, PSU again, all seemed fine. Started back up and it was good. Tried installing programs, GTA IV first to test the new CPU. It ran wonderfully! Ridiculously better than my old setup, and I had only changed the CPU. Then, crash. System just shut off. Cooling issue, was my first instinct. Strange though, as it had plenty of ventilation and airflow.

Tried installing some other things and they seemed fine, but then I tried using the internet and installing my Adobe products. Um, nothing worked. Gave me corruption errors every time. Couldn’t install Adobe Anything, also couldn’t install newest nVidia drivers because the download was corrupt. WTF? Tried another LAN adapter, still corrupt. Tried another batch of RAM, still corrupt. Tried a freaking torrent download, but even after hash checking the file at 100% it would be corrupt when I opened it! Then the torrent would go corrupt after opening. Wow. Oh yeah, throw in a few more random BSODs, system crashes and lock-ups every so often and you’ve got a grand ol’ time.

I noticed the fans weren’t exactly spinning too quickly, mainly the CPU fan. I looked at all the settings again and all was just dandy. Even enabled manually-controlled fan speed and it still crashed (using the stock cooler for now, BTW). Temps seemed fine, but still crashing all over. Looking through the feedback for this board on Newegg, it’s plagued with all-too-similar horror stories. I decided it was time to RMA the motherboard. Man, I’d always heard great things about Gigabyte! I’ve used their mainboards in other builds, though not my own and nothing on the AM3 platform. Thankfully Newegg was awesome as usual, taking everything back and replacing/refunding as necessary in a timely manner without any lame questions asked.

MSI Awesomeboard

I went with an MSI 870A-G54. And guess what? No problems whatsoever. Gave it all the same stress tests (GTA IV, Crysis, video encoding) and it was solid after many hours. And I like the board’s features better. The fans seem to be working properly now, too: varying in speed in regards to how hard it’s working, just how it should. The stock CPU fan is a bit noisy, but I planned on replacing that soon anyways with something awesome. I’m just glad my system works and I can get to making videos again! And even surfing the internet without freaking stupid corruption issues on files of any size whatsoever, frick. It’s also worth noting that I’m still waiting on a new PSU, so in the meantime I’m using my old 550W Thermaltake. I was concerned that its 4-pin CPU connector wouldn’t be adequate since these new motherboards have an 8-pin CPU power connector. But after doing some research I gave it a shot, and it’s fine. Seems that the extra pins are just for added stability, since it divides the load over more wires and stuff like that. So yeah, I’ll just chill until my new PSU arrives in a couple days. I’m still well within the load limits of my 550W for now.

Someone will no doubt say “you should have just bought a Mac and you wouldn’t have these issues!” Perhaps. In fact, I wouldn’t mind a good Mac Pro to do my editing and main computing on. But I also really love tinkering and playing high-end PC games. And I enjoy being able to eat. To attain similar specs/performance to my PC I’d have to pay several thousand dollars for a similar Mac, at least. This build was about $700. Worth the trouble to save the cash? For me at this time, yes.