Blood II: The Chosen: Oft maligned, but is it that bad?

Critical opinion of games can vary wildly. Some games are universally praised, such as the major AAA entries, while others are universally slammed for their absolute badness. Though in all honesty, the games that are merely okay are the most interesting.

As time goes on, some games have stood the test of time and are still praised to this very day. Others have not aged as well and thus have a more negative reception now than they did back then. Despite that, there’s some games that are old enough that while the game is universally disliked now, there’s some people that have fondness for the game because of the time they played it. For me, that’s Blood II: The Chosen.

Caleb lives… again.

Taking place in the far-flung future of 2028, the protagonist Caleb from the original Blood is brought back from the dead to stop Gideon from unleashing the Cabal and causing hell on earth. While Caleb goes through darkened alleys, desolate hotels and the obligatory sewer level, he bumps into a few supporting characters who spout goofy tidbits of advice. All this culminates in Caleb having to destroy “The Chosen One” in a dark parallel world. It’s typical late 1990s first-person shooter fare: Little story, strange levels to roam around in, baddies to shoot, and the occasional jumping puzzle. Because hey, people LOVED jumping puzzles back in the day! (/sarcasm)

Blood II was one of the first games to use Monolith’s new Lithtech engine. When it was released in late 1998, the game had very mixed opinions. GameSpot gave it a respectable 7.8 in its heyday, IGN gave it a slightly weaker 6.8, and GamePro was the most critical of the game, giving it a 2/5. The general opinion seems to be that Blood II wasn’t as good, giving Blood considerably more praise. This opinion is agreed upon with most of my friends, regardless of playing it when it was new back in 1998, or when replaying it today.

From early on in the game. These guys have the funniest voice, including saying goofy gibberish which sounded like “Strongalellie,” which I still don’t get what that means.

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 the heck 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.

Wait a second, I’ve seen this 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 (as of 2012). 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.

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.

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.

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, 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.

The level was made by one Pete “MeatPak” Parisi, who made a series of maps for Quake III Arena that involved a meat theme. Outside of this project, Parisi would later go on to make games for Mondo Media, then later Ensemble Studios until it shut down not long after Halo Wars came out. Now he’s working on tech design in other places. His website proudly promoted this level, which you can see from this archive.org mirror here.

MeatPak alongside the design agency Fullerene Productions, which did a lot of web and flash-based content in the early days of the World Wide Web (Homepage no longer active, so here’s an archive.org mirror from 2002), they collaborated with Interscope Records to make this collaboration come to life. Which is pretty cool!

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 (or this mirror). Quake III Arena is required to run it, and you can get it on Steam if you’re one of the few who never owned 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 more images. 1/19/2022: Added more info about the designer of the map!)