You Found a Secret Area!

Mods and Maps: Duke Nukem: Alien Armageddon – Alien asskicking goes nuclear.

The Build Engine is a fascinating piece of tech. Made by a young Ken Silverman, the engine was made as one of those engines that could rival Doom in features, and was used to great effect with its design, features and most importantly, interactivity. Build brought us some of the coolest mid-90s FPS games: Shadow Warrior, Blood, and of course, the granddaddy himself, Duke Nukem 3D.

Still looks cool as hell as it did in 1996.

With news breaking of someone leaking a work-in-progress build of Duke Nukem Forever from around 2001, I’d be kinda getting an itch to go back to the ‘roided up wisecracker. Problem was finding good Duke-related content.

While Doom’s mod community is well documented and reported upon, I feel the Duke Nukem 3D mod community is talked about a lot less. Granted, there isn’t a whole lot of outstanding mods, and some of the more notable ones like Plunder & Pillage have an unfortunate history behind it. But somehow, I found a modification for Duke Nukem 3D that for a good while was my go-to if I wanted to play a game that wasn’t a Call of Duty title.

Quite the content warning you got there.

Duke Nukem: Alien Armageddon is a modification for Duke Nukem 3D using the eDuke32 source port of Build. At first glance, you’d think this is just a few new levels and maybe a few monsters. Oh, it’s much, much more than that.

Made by a team called “Dukeboss,” the team mostly consists of sebabdukeboss20, a modder known for the AMC Squad for Duke Nukem 3D, and DeeperThought, whose Duke Nukem Attrition mod for Duke Nukem 3D was something I played constantly for years. There’s a myriad of other developers involved, including mappers, artists, even voice actors; but those are the most notable members of team Dukeboss.

New content, same old Doomed Space Marine.

Alien Armageddon is a combination of Duke Nukem 3D with a myriad of new items and features. The original episodes from Duke Nukem 3D: Atomic Edition alongside two of the official expansion packs – Duke It Out in D.C. and Duke Caribbean: Life’s a Beach – which add new cutscenes, animated features and even abilities like an RPG system and an AI partner. I’ll get into that more in a bit.

Okay, I’m genuinely impressed about how they made this episode selection thing.
Continue reading…

Magrunner: Dark Pulse – Now you’re thinking with polarity!

It really cannot be overstated how much Portal made an impact to video games when released in 2007. Valve snatched up a few Digipen students with an ambitious project, gave it that high quality Valve polish and released it as part of The Orange Box. The game was considered tertiary to the rest of The Orange Box – the more hyped games being the long-awaited Team Fortress 2, and Half-Life 2: Episode Two, the continuation of the Half-Life 2 saga – but Portal somehow became that surprise smash hit that started making small waves in the puzzle platforming genre.

In the years following, a fair share of games would copy Portal’s first-person perspective but try it with different ideas. Antichamber did puzzle-solving in impossible spaces. Quantum Conundrum involved shifting between dimensions to affect objects in the world. Even something like The Ball had the titular ball be used to solve tricky puzzles. But I couldn’t think of a puzzle game that involved gravity and polarity. Until now.

He looks like Cole MacGrath from inFAMOUS‘s dorky half-brother. (Cover courtesy of Mobygames.)

Enter Magrunner: Dark Pulse. A first-person puzzle platformer that involves polarity and gravity to solve puzzles. Released in 2013 for the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it’s another one of those puzzle platformers that involve shooting objects to solve puzzles.

This was developed by 3AM Games, a small development studio based in Kyiv, Ukraine. They had done contract work with Frogwares, the developers of the myriad of Sherlock Holmes games. Funded on the crowdfunding site Ulele, they received €110,000 in funding, just barely hitting their €100,000 goal. With some help from Frogwares and distributor Focus Home Interactive, they were able to make this game a reality. As far as I know, this would end up being 3AM’s last known project, as most of the team joined Frogwares proper not long after. 

I had gotten this for free on GOG not long after its release, and had mostly thrown it into The Pile that is my neverending backlog. Struggling to figure out a game to play, I let The Backloggery’s Fortune Cookie feature do its magic, and it picked this. Though I opted to use my Steam copy, of which I don’t remember when I got it. Maybe around the same time as I snagged the GOG edition. So if you’re wondering why this game might be in your game library, that might be it.

2 Unlimited not included. You gotta go to BioMetal if you want that.

You play as Dax Ward, an orphaned child whose parents died rather unexpectedly. Being mentored by a mutant scientist named Gamaji, Ward enters a contest to be one of the first people to use MagTech’s space training program, sponsored by LifeNet, a major social media conglomerate. The whole Magrunner event is broadcast and shown, featuring Magrunners from all walks of life.

Everything starts out smoothly, where Magrunners are solving the puzzles within. Parts of Magrunner start out feeling very Portal-esque at first. Dax moves from test chamber to test chamber through elevators, the test chambers are very clean and scientific like Portal’s Aperture Science test chambers, stuff like that. So far you’d expect that it’s gonna be similar to that, right?

Then the power starts malfunctioning and people slowly are dying. Dax must survive and get to the bottom of this mess by solving puzzles involving polarity. Which sounds silly, but hey, it’s a puzzle game, those things don’t need that strong of a plot.

The polarity in action, with a fancy cube. Yes, it does look like Christmas by default.

If you’ve played Portal, most of Magrunner’s mechanics will make sense pretty quickly. Dax has two polarity colors – Red and Green by default, though they can be changed to any color – of which he can put onto objects highlighted in yellow. Much like magnets and polarity in real life, two objects of the same polarity color will often stick together, while two objects with different polarity colors will repel them away from each other.

Throughout Dax’s journey through the catastrophe, he’ll solve a multitude of polarity puzzles, flinging boxes, using platforms, trying to avoid turrets that’ll shoot him on contact – sorry, these ones don’t talk with a cutesy voice – all the typical puzzle platformer stuff.

This section required me to bring three platforms to an ideal height so I could jump off the box at the top. This… took a while to complete.
Continue reading…

I Bought Some Stuff: Winter 2021-2022 Edition.

Wow, it’s been… about two and a half years since I’ve done a blog post on the things I’ve bought. For the most part, motivation was the main reason I didn’t make any, but then there was this thing called the COVID-19 pandemic which made me pretty afraid to really go shop and risk getting a life-threatening illness in the process. Thankfully masking up, vaccinations and a general change in my perspective made me a bit more confident to head out again starting in 2021.

I kinda like doing these posts – previously under the boring, uninspired “Game finds” and the unfortunate initialism of “I Bought Stuff!” – and in spite still of buying things here and there during the pandemic times, I never really compiled enough to make a new post during that time. But I figured with such a hiatus that it would get me the inspiration to write, as well as document some of my hobbies and interests.

For this article, I chronicled all the times I bought something physical throughout last Winter: December 2021 to March 2022. Of which I’ll talk about my reasons for the purchase and any sort of information I could gleam off the internet or remember from the recesses of my mind.

While there is some video game talk in this article, they are definitely not the forefront of this article. So if you decide to tune out of me nerding out about old bands and board games from 50+ years ago, I understand, but I do plead for you to stick around regardless.

But before we get to the nitty-gritty, there’s a handful of things I skipped upon that in hindsight I should’ve grabbed instead:

  • A box copy of The 7th Guest (DOS). The CDs were missing, floppy disks for a bootleg copy of SimCity 2000 were in there instead. Tried to see if the CDs were in the CD section, to no avail. I probably could’ve just bought the box and found a loose CD copy to replace it, which is what I might do from now on if something like this comes up again.
  • Vietcong (PC), a clunky budget shooter made to cash in on the Vietnam War in the early-to-mid 2000s. I was considering this, but then I put it aside and someone else had snagged it not long after me. A shame, I probably would’ve added it to the pile here otherwise.
  • A copy of a VideoNow XP disc featuring The Batman. Youtuber Techmoan had recently covered the VideoNow, a defunct video disc format made by Tiger Electronics, and the XP was the last model Hasbro released before killing the entire product line around 2007. In addition to having viewable TV episodes, XP discs also had interactive Q&A elements. I passed this up because I don’t have any of those players, and finding one in the wild without having to resort to eBay seemed unlikely, so I passed it up for now. (I may buy it again in the near future if it’s still there, so I’m not ruling it out.)
Continue reading…

Juggernaut: The New Story for Quake II – A janky expansion.

After writing about Doom Eternal last month, I felt like I was kinda losing my touch when it came to offbeat, weird stuff. Struggling to think of something to write about, I thought of something. And it’s time to head back to the unofficial expansion mines once again.

I’ve been down this road countless times at this point, but this is one I had to come back to, since I mentioned it briefly before late last year. Since I covered one of the unofficial expansions — Zaero for Quake II — back in November 2021, I had to go back and look at another expansion for Quake II. And y’all, it’s a doozy.

“Headgames is in no way affiliated with id Software.” Gee, I never would’ve guessed. (Cover courtesy of Mobygames.)

Juggernaut: The New Story for Quake II – quite a mouthful – is an unofficial add-on for id Software’s space marine Strogg-killing shooter Quake II. The second of two unofficial add-ons, this came out around 1998 as a way to add more to your Quake II experience.

I became familiar of this thanks to Something Awful, back when they used to “review” video games of dubious quality. Much like a lot of internet writing of that era, it’s really hard to go back to reading, especially since its creator Richard “Lowtax” Kyanka was an absolute piece of shit. But I had been curious about this add-on, so I started looking for a copy. Turns out it was a bit tougher finding a complete copy than I thought it would be, thus I put it aside and wrote about Zaero instead. It wasn’t until after I published that did a friend come and help me find a copy.

Much like previous add-ons – official and unofficial – the game offers you to shoot and gib monsters, grab keys and have a fun time, right? I wish this was true, as this is not the case with Juggernaut. Problem number one is who published it.

Sadly not sponsored by Foreigner.

Head Games was a fairly infamous budget publisher through the late ‘90s, alongside some of the more infamous ones like Valu-Soft. While they dabbled in publishing unofficial expansions like the previously talked about Aftershock for Quake, their bread and butter was the “Extreme” line they published from 1999-2000, like Extreme Rock Climbing, Extreme Boards & Blades, and yes, the infamous Extreme Paintbrawl games. They’re not known for a high pedigree of quality, so buying a Head Games product meant you had to put your expectations real low. And this was before Activision acquired them.

That looks more like a dome than a canopy.

Though we can’t just blame the publisher: Developer Canopy Games has their own tale of making clunky games as well. For the most part, they were known mostly for budget-label driving games based on Harley Davidson, Hot Rod Magazine and oddly Initial D of all franchises; as well as Midnight Outlaw: Illegal Street Drag, a racing game clearly made to cash in on the Fast and the Furious franchise that Something Awful also covered back in the day. (This will be the last time I mention that site in this article, promise.)

They occasionally dabbled in other genres, including the then-lucrative market of hidden object games in the late-2000s, but from the research I did shooters were not really their thing. Juggernaut would end up being their only add-on for a commercially released game. So I don’t have high hopes for this.

These cutscenes are… interesting, to say the least.

According to what I gleamed through the cutscenes and the readme files, the story goes like this: In the far-flung future, a Juggernaut ship exported people from Earth to the two moons on Jupiter – Europa and Callisto, respectively. You’re a soldier named “The Defender” who lives on Europa, doing your usual mining business until you find out that settlers of Callisto are doing science experiments on people that turns them into mutated beings. The Defender must fly to Callisto and eliminate those mutated freaks before their demon stuff… spreads throughout the universe? It’s not really clear, the story is likely explained more in the manual or the intro cutscene than it is in-game.

Fun fact: In this intro demo, the player has god mode on. Already a bad sign.
Continue reading…

Doom Eternal: Time to Rip and Tear once again.

Something I’ve constantly talked about on this blog is how eternally behind I am in games. Procuring a massive backlog, buying games thanks to Humble Bundles, cheap Steam sales, and gifts of spare keys from friends has been the primary causes of my never ending back catalog.

Yet, I try to keep myself in arms’ reach of the current video game landscape, even if I’m not a fan of the direction the industry is going sometimes. This results in me playing the newest games usually years after their release. Anyone who’s been a reader of this site has seen me write about big popular games after their popularity, such as BioShock Infinite last year. But this time around I kept myself a bit closer to the zeitgeist this time, by playing a game a year or so after its initial release. And it’s from one of my favorite game developers.

Still fun as heck to this day.

Let’s talk a bit about id software. They’re the absolute pioneers of the first-person shooter realm: Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake. Important games that really made an impact on the industry as a whole. However, there was a sea change by the late 1990s. When John Romero left id on less-than-pleasant terms to form his own studio, there was a very clear change on how id Software worked as a company: Pushing technology at the cost of making games that while good on a technical level, were kinda boring to play.

Any excuse to use this screenshot again.

I’ve talked about Quake II a few times on here, and while my opinion has softened a bit in recent years, I still think that while a technical marvel was just boring to play.This was id’s MO during the age of John Carmack. Stuff like Quake III Arena, and Doom 3, while solid games, didn’t have the massive highs that their early works did. Indeed, their competition – Epic’s Unreal Tournament and Valve’s Half-Life 2 respectively – were making more of an impact on the industry in a way people could easily see.

Rage was sort of the lowest point of this era, the unremarkable first-person exploration game of which the only good things about it were John Goodman voicing a character and its reload canceling mechanics, of which I wrote about way back in 2016, and that was around the point id was no longer the amazing developer it once was. Hell, I even had doubts id Software were ever gonna release an awesome game ever again.

Then John Carmack left, a bunch of people got shuffled around, canned a version of Doom that was more like a big-budget shooter like Call of Duty, and gave us the 2016 Doom reboot. While the multiplayer beta was enjoyable but boring, the rest of the game turned out to be the return of id Software as an awesome company that could make good games. With an amazing game like Doom 2016, it’d be pretty hard to follow up. But in 2020 they decided to give it another try, with Doom Eternal.

Not to be confused with Eternal Doom, a pretty alright megawad for Doom II released in 1996.

The story of Eternal is a bit more pronounced than in the previous game: The Doom Slayer has noticed that there’s been Hell on Earth with demons destroying what’s left of the planet. In typical Doom fashion, the Doom Slayer must travel around Earth and Mars to eventually stop the Khan Maykr’s hell demons from invading everywhere once again. Pretty simple stuff.

It doesn’t help that you can customize the look of the Doom Slayer, thus making them look like an absolute goofass in serious, emotional cutscenes.

It’s kinda weird to see Doom Eternal go all in on story. While Doom (2016) had a story, it was just about enough of it to give motives on why the Doom Slayer must rip and tear and it worked. In Doom Eternal, they go all-in, with cutscenes that take place in third person, giving diatribes that would seem in line with many contemporary games. It’s not bad per se, but compared to the previous game where there was basically one motive — Stop the demons by any means necessary — it just feels a bit ridiculous here.

Continue reading…