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StoneLoops! of Jurassica: An interesting GameStop freebie.

So I’m sitting here, browsing the internet and looking at goofy forum posts, when I get an email from GameStop. Usually they’re for dumb deals where you can save $5 off a copy of some used game from six months ago or something. But this one caught my eye.

Free game?! Sign me up!

I’m a complete sucker for free games, so I couldn’t resist the temptation to snag a free game, despite it being somewhat of a clunky way to do this.

Normally I don’t frequent GameStop because of their nasty business practices of pushing pre-orders, plus I often find games on sale elsewhere, so often times my GameStop visits are usually that: visits. This was back before they branched out to “geek culture” alongside games.

So I buy a few games at a store just to use up another coupon I had: Batman: Arkham Asylum Game of the Year Edition for PS3, since I had heard it was a pretty cool game; and Die Hard: Vendetta for the Gamecube, since they were gonna stop selling Gamecube games soon. (Note from me in 2019: I played Arkham Asylum and thought it was great, but I still haven’t played Die Hard: Vendetta to this day.)

I get home and go through the less-than-interesting set of events, including having to register for GameStop’s Impulse service, and then installed StoneLoops! of Jurassica. In my excitement and fervor for something free, I didn’t realize what the free game really was.

This looks like something I’ve seen before…

Look familiar? Yeah, it’s similar to the Magnetica series of games (or Ballistic/Puzz Loop, if you prefer). A color matching ball shooter game created by Mitchell Corporation, duplicated by many others, notably PopCap’s Zuma and MumboJumbo’s Luxor.

For those who haven’t played these kind of games, the goal is to shoot balls of a color into a matching color to stack combos for points. Luxor changed it up a bit where instead of shooting randomly colored balls like Zuma or Magnetica, you’d pull a ball over and shoot it back onto a stack to make combos, clearing groups of balls being pushed by special monsters (Beetles in StoneLoops!). Luxor added to this by giving the player powerups like spears and time stoppers, almost like the powerups in games like Arkanoid.

StoneLoops! is based on Luxor‘s gameplay style, yet has a theme/style more reminiscent of Zuma, so in a sense it’s a weird mashup of the whole ball shooter genre. The similarities to Luxor were so blatant that MumboJumbo actually muscled Apple to remove an iOS version of StoneLoops! from the App Store. Not a big deal for developer CodeMinion, as they still have the game available on other platforms, including the PC.

Though I doubt Luxor has an excited announcer yelling words like “ASTONISHING!” and “AVALANCHE!” when you’ve done great combos. Guy could give the Unreal Tournament announcer a run for his money. StoneLoops! has the same kind of gameplay loop these ball shooters have, including upgrading your hut (which doesn’t do much of anything), and a long story progression of multiple levels of challenge.

There really isn’t much else to this game, the game is fairly innocuous and no different than the other color-matching ball shooters out there. Despite that, it’s a decent time-waster.

You can try StoneLoops! of Jurassica for yourself on CodeMinion’s official website, free of charge. Sadly it’s a trial version and not the full game, but an hour is probably enough to see the StoneLoops! experience for yourself. I recommend it just to hear that overexcited announcer.

2019 update:

This would be the first out of two games I’d get from GameStop’s Impulse service, the other being a free copy of Darksiders that I didn’t use. (It came with a Steam key, so I gave the key to a friend.) It was clear GameStop was using this to attract people to the Impulse service, which wasn’t a big success as it would shut down in 2014. Which means this whole adventure was kind of a waste, in retrospect.

However, I downloaded the trial again recently and found it just as goofy as I remember it. I’m not even super-big on casual games like these and I had a fun time for about 10 minutes. I can see the appeal and the addictive nature of these games, for sure.

This post has been completely overhauled, making it drastically different from when I originally wrote it, where it was more like a blog post. I tried to update it more how I usually write things these days. My apologies for it being so short, these kind of games are fairly simple and don’t require a lot of words.

My demo disc collection.

I think demo discs are pretty cool. As I mentioned in a previous entry, they gave us an opportunity to play a game before it was released, as well as give us other useful tidbits and secrets. While high speed internet has pretty much made the demo disc obsolete, I still hold a fondness for them.

Here are most of the demo discs I own:

Almost all the demo discs I have. This was taken before I had acquired more demo discs, including the aforementioned Rainbow Six 3 Companion Demo Disc.

To me, demo discs are a great snapshot of the video games of old to me. They give people a chance to gleam into what gaming was like in that time period. For instance, look at this menu of a PC Gamer demo disc circa late 1999:

Look at this menu! It’s so late ’90s it hurts!

The main menu, as well as some of the pages, have those remnants of late ’90s web design. Completely animated, with varied fonts, a somewhat confusing web interface, even animations everywhere.

On this specific disc, there’s even a gallery of really bad photoshops of former PC Gamer mascot Coconut Monkey in there just to drive it home that this is a byproduct of late 1990s PC gaming culture.

It’s more prevalent in older demo discs than in newer ones, but sometimes you would find modifications or additional levels to add on to your games. For example, the PC Gamer disc above featured above has USS Darkstar, a Half-Life mod made by future They Hunger mod designer Neil Manke; A custom level for Duke Nukem 3D, which I didn’t know people were still making by 1999; and an Unreal map called “DM-TittyTwister.” Hey, I didn’t say all of these were gems.

In some cases, demo discs had demos to games that didn’t get released, or got heavily modified from their eventual release. Early PlayStation Jampack discs would sometimes highlight an import game straight from Japan, which was pretty cool at the time for that was a peek into gaming outside western territories. Sometimes they even made special demos of games, like a Christmas-themed edition of Toy Commander that was bundled in an issue of Official Dreamcast Magazine.

The absolute highlights of my collection are those PS2-exclusive demo discs. Sony seemed to do this a lot during the PS2 era, giving out these demo discs like they were candy. I got each of those demo discs by different means. For instance, I got Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain by being part of a minor viral ad campaign involving several different websites where you’d input codes and unlock goodies, including wallpapers and the aforementioned demo. Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror and Hot Shots Tennis were discs I got back when I was in the Gamer Advisory Panel, before Sony realized that a PlayStation Blog was a more reliable way to get your praise from diehard Sony fans.

Someday, I may cover some more of these demo discs. This would be more for historical reasons than anything practical, especially since about 90% of the demos you can freely access on the internet.

I like demo discs because you never know what you might find on them. For example, one of my finds on a different PC Gamer disc was a video of editor Norman Chan, now a host and personality at Adam Savage’s Tested, promoting Comcast high-speed internet, at a whopping 8mbps download speed! EIGHT! That was pretty impressive back then.

Dammit Norm, stop shilling Comcast and get back to making experimental toys with Adam Savage!

(UPDATE 4/10/2019: Adjusted the post in several spots. One of these days I’ll give a better compilation.)

The Rainbow Six 3 Companion Demo Disc: DLC and Demos abound!

Before online gaming, back in the days when dial-up was the only means of internet access for many, there was the demo disc. The demo disc was a means to try out games and see if they were worth buying. From demo discs inside magazines like PC Gamer and Official Xbox Magazine, to purchasable discs such as the PlayStation Jampack, there were many ways to try out the hot new games.

Then high speed internet started becoming a thing in the mid-2000s. Nowadays, almost everyone downloads demos through their consoles over the internet, thus negating the need for physical discs to be pressed. The demo disc died a sad, quick death.

Thankfully, the old demo discs never gone away, and can still be found at a thrift store or local game shop near you. Most of them are useless unless the demo is slightly different than the final game, but in some cases it’s just a vertical slice of the final game to try out. But who knew a simple demo disc for one of the biggest tactical shooters would be one of the only ways to get exclusive downloadable content for another game?

A $10 Rebate?! Man, that would’ve been useful years ago…

This is Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six 3: Exclusive Companion Demo Disc. This mouthful of a title was something I had found at a Goodwill, and was curious about the contents of it.

As far as I know, this was likely given as a pre-order for Rainbow Six 3 on the original Xbox, or might’ve been available for purchase separately. There’s sparse info about this online, so I’m gonna hazard a guess it was the former.

Normally I skip demo discs as I see no need to own them unless you want a good time capsule of what games were like in that period. Until I found out something interesting about this particular disc.

I should give a little backstory to all this. Back in the early to mid 2000s, online gaming was not as prevalent as it is today. While people did game online with their PS2, Xbox, or in rare cases the GameCube — mostly for Phantasy Star Online and little else — it wasn’t anywhere near as big as it is today. Most online gaming was more on the PC, with lots of people playing Quake III Arena, Unreal Tournament 2004, Counter-Strike and many others.

Instead of millions of people fragging online in stuff like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, it was only several thousand playing Halo 2 on the original Xbox. Even the concept of “downloadable content” was still pretty unknown back then.

That doesn’t mean that downloadable content for games and digital downloads didn’t exist. In some cases, developers bundled online content into special retail discs, such as the Halo 2 Multiplayer Map Pack; or re-releasing the game in a “Game of the Year edition” on bargain price with all the content already on the disc. Presumably, this was for those who were still rockin’ dial-up connections, or had no convenient means of downloading the content digitally.

Seeing “download new content on Xbox Live” on a single player game was pretty mind-blowing for console gamers back then.

In 2002, Ubisoft released Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, the first in a long-running series of stealth-action games. The Xbox version took advantage of the then-new Xbox Live service by releasing three exclusive levels — Vselka Submarine, Vselka Infiltration, and Kola Cell — freely downloadable via Xbox Live. For a while, these levels were exclusive to this version of the game.

The only other version of the first Splinter Cell that got these extra levels was the PC version. The downside is these levels were only available in a special patch that came bundled with the collector’s edition of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, the third game in the series. As far as I know, this special patch has never been made publicly available for download.

Now, these bonus downloadable levels sounded like a great idea, to give online-enabled gamers incentive to use the service. Ubisoft used this to full effect in every major Tom Clancy game that appeared on the Xbox, from Rainbow Six 3 to Ghost Recon 2, even releasing exclusive disc-based expansions for those games only on the Xbox.

Things can’t last forever, though. Microsoft, for reasons not fully explained to this day, announced that they were shutting down the network services to the original Xbox’s Live service in early April 2010, less than eight years after it launched. This lead to people pulling out their original Xbox systems to shoot dudes in Halo 2 or Counter-Strike one last time before its inevitable demise. Not only did this mean the end of online play for that system, but also for any downloadable content available on that system. This meant that if you didn’t download the bonus Splinter Cell levels before Microsoft shut down original Xbox Live, then there was no way of downloading or playing them again. Until now.

My apologies for the “shot from a phone” images, I don’t have a capture device.

Continue reading…

Mods and maps: Chronic, a Quake III Arena map featuring… Eminem?

So about a few months back, I was watching Giant Bomb do their then-frequent Thursday Night Throwdown, where they were playing the 1999 shooter classic Quake III Arena.

One of the hosts said “Remember when Interscope Records put out a Quake III map and models?” I was thinking such a thing did not exist and they were merely joking.

They weren’t.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHN7EGj2Pf8?rel=0&w=640&h=480]

The map is called Chronic, and it’s a deathmatch map. Resembling a city block straight from the streets, it has cars, a few buildings, and loads of Eminem ads.

Putting “Explicit Content” on a game that’s rated M seems redundant to me.

According to the readme (see below), this particular map was made for Interscope Records as promotion for the then-unreleased Marshall Mathers LP. All around the map, there’s ads for the album, ads for a forthcoming tour of the duo, and even snippets of music from the then-upcoming album are strewn about.

It’s not a flawless map, though. The bots can often get stuck in the phone booth “teleporters,” constantly walking back and forth between them until they’re killed, which seems like bad pathfinding. That doesn’t happen too often anyhow, and more likely you’d want to play this with friends, not bots.

Didn’t Forget About Dre this time.

Speaking of bots, the map comes with Eminem and Dr. Dre bots. Complete with unique text smack talk and player sound effects. The text responses are a little strange, as there’s a fair share of unnecessary underscores in a lot of the text. Presumably this was done to get around certain chat restrictions, but I’m not sure.

With the exception of the powerups on tall billboards that require rocket jumping, Chronic is a fairly flat plane with four buildings around it, with not many tall areas to take advantage of. It’s fairly easy for beginners, but for veterans it’s little more than a gimmick map to mess around in for a few minutes before going back to q3dm17.

Fair warning: the video is not a perfect indicator of the map itself. The sound glitched where the music track would play over itself and have this nasty-sounding overlap, which shouldn’t happen if you’re playing vanilla Quake III and not ioQuake3 like I was.

Other than that, it’s just a simple-ass Quake III multiplayer map. There’s not much else to say about this one. If you want to try the map out yourself, you can download it here. Quake III Arena is required to run it, and you can get it on Steam if you’re one of the few who never played this classic multiplayer shooter.

Though, I can’t blame you if you haven’t played it, Unreal Tournament was the better one of the two arena shooters anyway.

(UPDATE 4/8/2019: Rewrote for clarity and added images.)

Elite Forces WWII Iwo Jima: Budget Warfare.

Man, remember when World War II games were really popular? It just seems like there was a time when everybody was clamoring for shooters that involved shooting them Nazis. Then Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare happened and suddenly Nazis were so passe, replaced by middle eastern militia, Russian ultranationalists or Korean dictators.

Let’s go back a few years. Even before Call of Duty was a thing and Medal of Honor was the only WWII shooter in town, there were a handful of people getting in on the WWII train.

Enter ValuSoft. With the help of developer 3LV Games, they graced us with this wonderful game: Elite Forces: WWII Iwo Jima. A sequel to Elite Forces: WWII Normandy, this is a first-person shooter that takes us through the Pacific theater in WWII. At least, I assume, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Lithtech… that’s usually a bad sign.

I should back up a bit and give you a brief history of the developer. 3LV Games only made three games in their lifetime: The two Elite Forces: WWII games and Arthur’s Quest: Battle for the Kingdom, a game that GameSpot gave a 1.9 out of 10 to. So already that’s a bad sign.

While there isn’t much to say about 3LV, there is a lot to talk about ValuSoft. These guys were the absolute kings of bargain bin games. Most of these games were also very bad, made in a slap-dash quality to make a quick buck. In the early-to-mid 2000s, if you were perusing the bargain rack at a Wal-Mart, it’s likely it was published by ValuSoft.

ValuSoft was snatched up by THQ in 2002 and folded into a bargain label. When THQ folded originally in 2012, it was acquired by Cosmi, a studio that had been releasing games for decades prior. It’s now under a generic “Play Hard Games” brand where you can get stuff like Mutant Football League and The Original Strife: Veteran Edition if you want to get your games from even lesser-known digital storefronts.

It’s an unfortunate loss in the budget gaming world, leaving PC budget racks everywhere with cheap copies of Ubisoft titles or loads of slot machine games instead. It’s an improvement in which you’re less likely to gamble on garbage, but that takes all the fun out of it.

This guy must be strong if he can handle an M1 Garand singlehandedly.

So Elite Forces WWII Iwo Jima uses Monolith’s “Lithtech” engine, although not very well. There’s a fair share of games around this era that used this engine, presumably because it was the cheapest to license. Nowadays, the equivalent would likely be Unity. But it’s not the engine that dictates the game, it’s the game itself, so let’s drop in.

Continue reading…

The horrors of MTV2’s Video Mods.

Video games and pop music are two unlikely things that somehow go great together if they’re done properly. Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, Rock Band… Then there’s the weird video game homages in music, like Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Californication.” Which was more of a crazy animation experiment by some college kid than an actual video game homage, but it was cool all the same.

 

Complete with appropriate graphics at the time! Still looks better than an Xbox!

Around 2004, some guys must have saw that “Californication” video while on a 2AM drinking binge and thought that these ideas should be combined into a TV show. The result is one of the most bizarre combinations of music and video games that I’ve seen since Queen was involved in some mid-’90s adventure game: MTV2’s Video Mods.

Imagine a bunch of video game and music things shoved into a blender, which exploded into this nice and simple logo.

One of the lesser-known shows of MTV2’s library, which consisted mostly of Beavis & Butt-head reruns and The Adventures of Chico and Guapo, that one show that Seanbaby worked on; and maybe some actual music videos.

But enough jabs at MTV: Video Mods was an unusual and previously unheard of concept. A production company would take characters from a recent video game and make a music video of a popular song, putting it in relation to said game. It sounds weird on paper, so the best way to explain it would be to show one of these “video mods”:

Who knew these guys were in a rock band when not fighting Jedi?

You’re not going insane. That is Darth Maul, Darth Vader, Boba Fett and some random droid jamming out to the Foo Fighters’ “D.O.A.” while footage of Star Wars Battlefront II plays sporadically over really bad CG footage. Go ahead and laugh, I’ll still be here.

(By the way, clicking the image should take you to the YouTube video, which should apply to all the images on this post.)

Continue reading…

Mods and maps: Mission Impossible: New Dawn

Before I started the Secret Area in 2012, I had been casually writing about mods and other assorted stuff on a more personal blog. This was originally written around 2010, and I had put this here to give the site some “content” before I had published something new.

Outside of dates and grammatical changes, this is left mostly untouched.

 

I’ve always considered myself a fan of PC gaming. The best thing I’ve loved about PC gaming can be summarized in one word: Mods. Ever since the days of hex-editing levels in Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, mods have been prevalent in PC gaming society. While gaming has shifted more towards a console focus from 2005, mods are still present today. Back in 2008, I did a dedication to Half-Life‘s tenth anniversary by covering a bunch of Half-Life mods. While I never got to cover every single one due to time constraints, I always wanted to go back and record some new videos for some of the mods I didn’t cover. Maybe later this year.

So on a Friday afternoon, bored with little to do, I decided to rewatch Mathew “Film Brain” Buck’s review of Mission Impossible II. Remember that action flick that got parodied a lot in the media around 2002? Yeah, I never saw it and don’t intend to any time soon. But that film reminded me of this mod for Max Payne 2. It was called Mission Impossible: New Dawn.

Unlike other games like Half-Life or even Quake, Max Payne modding wasn’t as prevalent. Most of the mods I saw just added music tracks and Matrix-like action movie moves to the core game. Or, in the first game’s case, the famous Kung-Fu mod. I remember Mission Impossible: New Dawn being a big freakin’ deal back then, it was going to be a complete Total Conversion of Max Payne 2 to resemble the Mission: Impossible movie series. This was made around 2004 or so, before even the third movie was in planning stages.

Now that I reinstalled Max Payne 2 recently, I decided to downloaded the mod, to see if it held up after all these years. And… it didn’t, really. Although, I expected that to be the case. Since games evolve at such a rapid pace, games tend to age faster than other mediums like TV shows or movies. But in the case of this mod, it’s about average quality when it came out, and still average today.

The cutscenes look really stiff. Even by 2004 standards, they look stiff. Models standing around, barely moving their mouths, awkward camera angles, and models not even animating properly. I know something’s wrong when the first Max Payne did animation better than this. I do have to give the mod team some credit, there’s a lot of homages to MI2. There’s some decent voice work in here as well, despite the voice over for Ethan Hunt does a crappy job at sounding like Tom Cruise. It even has music from the films, and oddly enough, music from Crimson Tide, Paycheck, and Metal Gear Solid 2 of all places. Now if only I could make sense of the plot, which is more action movie than it is Mission Impossible. Just like the movie!

So I decided to record some footage of me playing it to give you an idea on what this mod looked like. This is from about halfway through the game, and is on the easiest difficulty (Medium). As you can tell, I suck at Max Payne. But oh well, I just wanted to show you the quality of the mod, not my masterful shooting skills. Look as it even takes the Gunkata concept from Equilibrium, but it doesn’t work well at all in the game and is absolutely dumb.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HKS6y1n188&hl=en_US&fs=1]
Unfortunately I cannot tell if the mod team worked on anything before or since this project. But it’d be funny to know some guys who worked on a dinky Max Payne 2 mod now work in a development studio working on some recent Xbox Live Arcade title or something.

You can give the mod a shot here. It requires Max Payne 2 to run, which is available on digital storefronts like Steam or GOG. There’s probably a bunch of gamers who want to find new ways to enjoy the Max Payne games, and this mod is worth a try just to see a bunch of amateur modders make a movie game that would’ve been better than an actual movie game.

Man, this makes me want to find some other mods and write more about those. I used to play PC game mods like a madman, it was my way to extend the replay value out of these games. Hell, my early blog posts back in the days of Livejournal mention me covering some Wolfenstein 3D mods back in 2001. That should tell you how old I am, and how long I’ve been on the internet.

Sure enough, I’d eventually write more mods, which you can find in the Mods and Maps category on this site.

(Edited on January 2, 2019 with more up-to-date links.)