Gamestyle Offline Magazine Issue 1

Gamestyle Archive intro:A great discovery in the archives are the first 7 issues of the Gamestyle Offline magazine often referred to as GSO. A huge amount of work went into each issue to ensure exclusive content but also a design ethic that still holds strong today. This has been uploaded as a PDF and click on the Issue 01 link below to head back to the debut issue.

What is it like today? Well, the issue remains a great read and of particular interest was the ‘from the forums piece’ that takes us back to the friendly environment of the Gamestyle forums; some great characters and memories of that section. One of those forum characters was the Marquis De Sade; a right cad who provided his one and only review in the form of Rocky complete in his unique style. Also included in the issue are:

  • Reviews: Music director gold, Blinx, Burnout 2, Sega GT, Rocky, Eternal Darkness.
  • Features: Top 20 games of 2002, Halo 2- where next?, Guns and games.
  • Retro review: Strider.
  • DVD review: Panic Room
  • News, previews and release dates. 

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Issue 01

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Oni

Gamestyle Auction intro: Before Halo there was Oni and before that, well Bungie were pretty busy with Marathon. We did cover the classic Apple Macintosh series with articles from Ollie at Gamestyle but currently these are not within the archive. 

Writer: JJ

Published: March 2001

VERSION: PS2

DEVELOPER: Rockstar/Bungie

PUBLISHER:  Take 2

GENRE: 3D Beat ‘em up

ACCESSORIES: Memory Card

PLAYERS: 1

RELEASE: Out Now

LINK: http://www.oni-game.com

oni

Oni, or Konoko to be more precise is the latest in a long line of attempts to create a gaming icon, surely you’ve seen her image recently?   Will she be the next Miss Croft or consigned to the murky depths of long forgotten characters?

Konoko is an orphan raised and trained by the World Coalition Government in fighting and counter terrorism methods.   The game is set in 2032 where the rich live in cities with clean air and no pollution.   The poor however are forced in live in the dangerous forbidden zones known as the Wilderness Preserves.   As a member of the Technology Crimes Task Force (TCTF) it is your mission to infiltrate the underworld organisation called the Syndicate.   The Syndicate supply weapons, drugs and illegal technology to anyone who is willing to pay enough.

Oni kicks off with a brash, colourful but evidently empty anime introduction that does nothing to set the plot and unfortunately is a sign of things to come.   For a game that has been so long in development I would have expected the cut scenes during the game to feature moving characters or facial expressions but alas this is not the case.   The training mode although brief does its job well and in no time you will be pulling off those combos and using both analogue sticks.   The combat system is very enjoyable however due to the short comings of your opponents and the poor AI you won’t need to perform more than a couple of combos which is good as you can only carry one weapon at a time.

The control system, which utilises both analogue sticks, is very distinctive however anyone who struggled to come to terms with the Timesplitters system may struggle once again.   Such problems are not helped by the sensitive controls, as you will often find yourself compensating and correcting wrong movements.   The camera for most of the game is good except in combat situations where you may be looking in the wrong direction, allowing your opponent a free hit.   The on screen icons are well designed and contain most of the information that you require but the inclusion of a compass makes the straightforward levels even easier and you will grow to avoid the poorly designed diary.

Light effects are well handled and the colour changes depending on your victim’s health – a good simple idea that keeps you focused on the actual fight rather than a health bar.   The levels themselves however are very bland, predictable and frankly by level 5 you will be bored.   I do hope that in the future they don’t have room after room with nothing in it.   Adding to the blandness is the consistent colour palette of greys and blacks that reinforce the view that everything is the same.   At times I found myself asking if I was playing an early Beta version of the game rather than the full release, as everything was so sparse.   No doubt the PS2 has power but when you consider that the whole look is similar to the Facility level on Goldeneye yet the N64 level is better designed, more interaction and items, you have to wonder where all the power has gone.

Oni has a unique saving system in console games however you soon realise why.   Each level has four save points and when you reach a point the game will freeze for a few seconds to make the save.   Not only does this break the flow but will become more annoying as you progress through the game.   If you reach a save point (you don’t know till it freezes) and are low on health or ammo it will save that status.   Therefore if you are facing a boss and the previous save was poor you will have to move to a prior save or start the level again.   Not an inspired piece of design.

The main problem with Oni is the tired gameplay that is on offer.   The game is a 3D roaming beat ‘em up with some nice visuals and an underdeveloped plot.   Each level is the same, find the console, open the door, kill a few baddies and repeat till boss.   At least the Bouncer recognised the limited gameplay and offers multiple routes, stories, characters, hidden extras and a multiplayer mode – Oni has none of this.   Other problems include the poor collision detection, clipping, limited draw distance and the bodies of enemies sticking through walls.   Interaction with other characters is limited to the pre-determined questioning while you have no control over what your fellow TCTF colleagues do on the levels.   I can name several missed opportunities throughout the game but one example appears at the end of the first level.   After battling through the level you are faced with the challenge of stopping the armoured lorry from leaving the building.   However once you have found the necessary console a cut scene shows you stopping the truck by using the crane thereby ruining the drama.   It would have been far better if you controlled the crane, not only more of a challenge but more interaction with the story rather than becoming a spectator.

I do think as a character Konoko has promise but the storyline and execution are such that you won’t be waiting on Oni 2.

Presentation: 5

Graphics: 5

Sound: 6

Gameplay: 2

Lastability: 2

Overall: 4/10

GS Mutation

Gamestyle Archive intro: not a clue about this mock-shot that possibly is a different version of the existing Gamestyle edition as it was. This dates from October 2003. At least it gives you a sense of what the layout was like originally.

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Halo Soundtrack Feature

Gamestyle Archive intro: a great game helped along the way by a perfectly matched soundtrack. Gamestyle took a moment to look more closely at the soundtrack itself. Currently in the archive we do have a Halo preview but not the review itself which was written by Garnett originally.

Writer: JJ

Published: July 2002

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What used to be true of films now seems to be the done thing in games as well.  You’ve played the game, so why not now buy the official merchandise or join the online fan club?   Soundtracks are a product of this development and are growing in popularity and appeal with every release.   More emphasis is being put on sound accompaniment than ever before, lavish soundtracks and film composers are frequenting games with ever-increasing regularity.   Take a soundtrack out of the game and the majority will struggle to maintain the listeners’ interest.   Phantasy Star Online, Grandia II and Metal Gear Solid 2 on their own, suffer, but Sonic Adventure and Silent Hill 1 & 2 thrive, and manage to transmit the feelings of the game.   Another game soundtrack has been overlooked by many, but now Bungie have seen fit to release the Halo soundtrack, which we can now look at more closely.

The first memory of Halo, which I have, and no doubt many others share as well, is the haunting opening chords.   It immediately set the tone – adding to the mystery and religious nature of the planet that you were about to visit.   Luckily enough, the twenty-six songs on the CD are arranged in game order, with the first track being the Opening Suite complete with monk chants.   It’s worth mentioning that the composer, Martin O’Donnell with help from Michael Salvatori, has taken the liberty to remix the soundtrack because the original was designed to use the game’s dynamic audio playback engine.   The composer has gone back and rearranged and remixed his work, to make the CD release more enjoyable for the listener.   Because of the game engine, which matched the player’s experiences with themes and moods from soundtrack, not everything you heard on Halo will be here.  Not only that, but also the song compositions will alter as well, so a song you heard may not appear on the CD simply because as O’Donnell explained “you played Halo in a way I never anticipated.”

The overriding sense of listening to the soundtrack, even in this new form, is the sense of dread, anxiety and mystery that it manages to convey.   There are no uplifting songs in Halo, just like there are no happy moments in the game.   O’Donnell did compose a track entitled “Halo Love Theme” but this did not make the final version of the game, yet has finally been released elsewhere.   One of the main reasons to go back and complete Halo once again, is to take in the environments and sounds that you overlooked previously.   When you are fighting for the very survival of mankind, you have little opportunity to judge the soundtrack or those little touches, of which Bungie are so proud of.

The second track “Truth and reconciliation suite” apart from being the longest (clocking in at over eight minutes) is one you will have heard on countless occasions.   This epic conveys the feeling of a hero about to go into battle, unafraid, but this version suffers because of its length. As it was prepared for Microsoft’s Gamestock exhibition in 2001, using material from E3 2000, the piece is bloated and lacks focus in comparison to the rest of the soundtrack. The last song is fittingly titled “Halo” and is the original composition from one of the earliest showings of Halo, back in 1999 at the Mac World exhibition.  The track is a more focused version of “Truth and reconciliation” and far better because of this.   It is a fitting end to an excellent soundtrack and just shows how much work went into, not only creating the game, but the music to accompany it.

“Brothers in Arms” isn’t a Dire Straits song, but both names are quite apt, as this military march pumps the blood in preparation for battle.   One of most enjoying aspects of the Halo soundtrack is that O’Donnell hasn’t gone for a full orchestral or futuristic new wave jazz approach, as many would have.   Instead he’s combined various sounds, ethnic chants, influences and the power of silence to create something unique.   The closest companion to Halo in places, would be the Dust Brothers Fight Club soundtrack, praise indeed, but listen to “The Gun Pointed at the Head of the Universe” sit back, and think of Tyler Durden.   Many of the tracks such as “Dust and Echoes” feel empty, deliberately so, with gaps of silence proving far more effective than any scary monster.

Few of the tracks deserve to be skipped and one of my favourites is “Library suite” which brought back memories of the dreaded library level where you are faced with the Flood.  “Alien Corridors” and “Devils…Monsters…” are also from the Library and the churning and pulsing sounds contained within would not be out of place in Silent Hill; just what are you facing and do they ever stop coming?

It has to be said that many tracks are just variations on another, undoubtedly O’Donnell was experimenting and trying to push tracks in new directions.   Some do manage to pull it off; others fail badly.   “Rock Anthem for Saving the World” is a variation of the “Opening Suite” but with its cheesy guitar sound and accompanying solo; its badly conceived and without the game, sounds awful.   This nasty guitar sound crops up on a few other tracks such as “Shadows” and overall, tarnishes Halo.          Yet I would recommend the Halo soundtrack to anyone who enjoyed the game and has an interest in music.   To view more details about the soundtrack at the Bungie Store

Earlier I mentioned the “Halo Love Theme” and this is one of ten tracks, which have been made available on the Bungie site for your listening pleasure.   Each one didn’t make the game for a variety of reasons, but you can judge for yourself by clicking one of links below.   O’Donnell lists his reasons for cutting out the songs, and you can decide if he was correct.  I would argue that tracks such as “Tron” would have fitted nicely into the game, but I’m more than pleased with the final product.

Gamestyle version 5.1 thank you

Gamestyle Archive intro: Gamestyle has been hacked more times than we’d care to remember. This document dates from 13th September 2003 when the latest version launched after an attack. Memories are hazy on this particular event but the site was kept offline for several months to build a new version rather than patching together what went before.

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Everyone involved with Gamestyle is pleased to welcome you to the latest version of the site.

Firstly, our apologies for being offline for so such a long period of time.  After the hacking saga the decision was taken to build a new version, rather than rebuild.  Being offline since 12th July until now was not planned, but hopefully you’ll agree that its been worth the wait.  The whole unfortunate event drove home how much readers appreciate our existence and desire to continue; no matter what odds.

Rather than explain the new features we have built into 5.1 its best that you go out and discover them for yourself!

Building Version 5.1 has been a bigger task than anyone could have envisaged.  Thanks go to Mike Holmquist for showing (yet again) how fearsome he is in front of a computer, and to Matt Cox for his support with the graphics and overall design.  Our appreciation also goes out to all the publishers, developers and public relation types who demanded the return of Gamestyle.

Internally Dean and myself would like to thank the rest of the administrative team and our staff writers – together we represent the best team Gamestyle has ever had.  Thank you for waiting patiently and working away to provide us with more content than a counter could clock.  Thank you, as well to our partners and families who have had to put up with endless ours in front of PC’s and the constant clicking of buttons.

Christmas has arrived early and with a DVD and GSO just around the next bend, we hope you will spread the word; Gamestyle is back!

Gamestyle Speechbubbles

Gamestyle Archive intro: one of the most surprising finds on the 2 discs discovered in my garage is a back up zip file from 19th December 2003. Being unfamiliar with this type of backup it is a struggle to see whether any articles are contained within. However it does offer the complete visual shell of the site from this era including the backstage team photograph taken at ECTS. 

A fun discovery are the speechbubbles below. These would have been randomly populated on certain pages across Gamestyle. A by-product is that it captures the staff as it was in this era with Raith not partaking in the fun. Lets go back to 2003 and hear these wise words!

usmangba chrisplaystation2 garethplaystation2 usmanplaystation2 garethgba deanxbox chrisgamecube deangba chrisgba deanplaystation2 anonplaystation2 anongamecube chrisxbox usmanxbox deangamecube usmangamecube anonxbox anongba garethgamecube garethxbox  

Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter Interview

 

 Gamestyle Archive intro: anyone remember Mace Griffin or the development team at Warthog? Gamestyle was often offered interviews and the questions were composed by the team before being sent off. The game itself was enjoyable and was a modest success – hopefully it’ll turn up as we continue the archive.

Published: September 2003 

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Development

1. How was the Mace Griffin conceived and when did development commence?

Mace is an original title that was conceived entirely by a small core team here at Warthog. A couple of us had worked on space combat games before, but wanted to venture out into the world of FPSs as we enjoyed the genre so much. We first started talking about the title in April 2000, but development didn’t start properly until around 2.5 years ago

2. Did the change in publisher from Crave to Vivendi Universal Games affect development?

Not particularly. Crave gave us creative freedom and thankfully so have Vivendi. The only thing they insisted on was to lose the hat and cape on Mace, which was a good call anyway.

3. Having been originally intended for release last year – has the game provided more challenging than originally anticipated?

The game was originally planned using existing technology, but this proved impossible if we were to achieve the seamless transition, and writing a lot of new code cost us time. However we now have a powerful system with which to write future titles.

4. Mace Griffin is being released on Gamecube, Xbox, Playstation 2 and PC – will each be tailored to suit each machine, and if so is there a personal preference?
The gameplay is the same across all the platforms; the only differences are graphical and control inputs. The game looks great on all platforms, but my personal favourite is the Xbox as that what we started on and it makes good use of the pixel shaders.
5. Has it been difficult matching the control system to several different controllers?

No, because we have always had a limited amount of functions and controls so as not to get in the way of the action. The control layouts on the ground and in space are also very similar, which made the job even easier. I think we have a button to spare on all the different controllers.

6. What is the TUSK engine and did its implementation provide different challenges on the various hardware?

The TUSK engine is 3D rendering technology that can handle huge interior and exterior environments, and manage seamless transitions between the two. It was developed entirely here at Warthog. The biggest challenge was that we set out to do the game only on Xbox and PC to start with, then halfway through were asked to fit it onto PS2 and Gamecube as well. This has been done very well, but did involve extra work. Apart from having a lot less memory to play with, many of the graphical effects had to be done quite differently on Ps2 and Cube.

7. The Gamecube has Metroid Prime and the Xbox has Halo, both wonderful titles and the Playstation 2 has Headhunter.  How will Mace Griffin stand out from such competition?

The obvious answer is that you can also jump into spaceships in Mace and fly them, which adds a huge extra dimension. Aside from that, the overall scale of our game is much bigger with less repetitive use of level geometry than the games you mentioned, it has a greater variety of characters and the story is far more detailed and intriguing.

8. Console exclusives are becoming a thing of the past with the multi-format approach proving more widespread.  Do you think this division of labour increases workload and dilutes the actual game?

Not if it’s managed correctly. The extra revenue should pay for additional staff, and I think a lot of developers are now building in-house technology that works under the hood of multiple platforms. It makes economic sense. In my humble opinion, the Xbox is a great platform to write big games on like ours, and the PS2 is a little bit weak on memory and hardware rendering. I’m just hoping that the next generations of these platforms have plenty of processing and memory muscle so that developers feel less bound by these constraints.

9. Will you be taking advantage of the online capabilities of Xbox or Playstation 2?  If not, is that a consideration for a sequel?

No, and absolutely Yes!

10. Warthog has given us Starlancer and Star Trek – both futuristic titles set in space and Mace Griffin continues this tradition.  Is there a fascination with space or the future within the studio?

There’s a small core of us here who worked on Privateer 2 years ago at EA. When Warthog was starting up we decided to make the first title something we were strong at, so Starlancer was born. I think it’s an interesting genre, but for me it has to be ‘arcadey’, rather than a full space combat simulation. We have certainly made the space sections in Mace very accessible and easy to pick up.

11. As internal producer what is your role with Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter?

Planning and managing the project. Game design, script writing, level building and interface design. And at the end, talking to the press and fan community, which is probably the fun part.

12. What other names for Mace Griffin did you consider?

Butch Slaughter, Jake Chance, Ned Dundee and Hugh Jarsole. I’m glad we settled for Mace.

Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter

1. How did the involvement of Henry Rollins come about?  Are the team fans of the influential Black Flag?

Henry was chosen by Vivendi’s marketing team and luckily he was willing and available to do it. A couple of the team are big Rollins fans, and were delighted to hear he was doing Mace’s voice.

2. Did Henry come into the studio to record the dialogue and he offer any suggestions to developing the Mace character?

I wasn’t at the recording as my first child was being born at the time, so I’m really not sure if he offered suggestions as such. What I do know is that he delivered the lines in a style all of his own which I think greatly added to Mace’s character.

3. How pleased are you with the results?

Very pleased. Obviously Henry is an interesting and highly credible celebrity to be linked with our game, but most importantly his voice and delivery suit the lead character perfectly. What is strange is that the artist who built the Mace model was actually influenced by a picture of Henry’s face, months before we found out he would be doing the voice. Spooky. 

4. One ambitious feature is the smooth transition from FPS to flight combat.  How important is this to the game and was it difficult to achieve?

It’s intrinsic to the gameplay, in all the missions you will find yourself switching between the ground and space to complete objectives. I can’t really comment on how difficult it was to write the code, you’d have to ask our lead programmer, but let’s say it was more than a couple of weeks work. What it did throw up was a bunch of logistical problems, like having to make tunnels down to hangars very wide so that you weren’t bouncing your ship around like a nickel in a can.

5. With Warthog having experience in developed space combat games, how does the combat system differ from previous releases?

There is no ship management in Mace, there is less chasing an enemies tail, the hostiles do more formation flying, they take less hits to kill; basically much more ‘arcadey’ and accessible to the first time space combat player.

6. Can you leave the flight controls at any time and wander around the ship?

Anytime you like. At some points you will be carrying passengers and you can go to the back of the ship and talk to them.

7. The main problem with games set in space that involve flying is a sense of position and direction.  How have you attempted to overcome such problems?

We were aware of this right from the start, and designed around it. Our space environments are cluttered with asteroids, space junk, stations, lot’s of ships, and there is a constant array of space dust and nebula gas to fly through, which gives a constant sensation of movement and direction. Our space missions are also confined to relatively small action spheres, so if you wander too far from the action you will be automatically flipped around back at it, in a similar way to Rogue Squadron.

8. How many planets are involved in Mace Griffin, and how much freedom is there to travel to various locations?

There are 13 main locations in the game, spread across planetoids, space stations, nebulas and large carrier ships. You travel to each one in turn, as dictated by your nav map. On a couple of occasions you will return to a location more than once.

9. An impressive aspect is the variety of missions and locations within the game.  How important was it to deliver varied and challenging environments?  Do you have a particular favourite mission?

Something that I feel is weak in many other games is the lack of variety when it comes to environments and mission objectives. I’m not sure if this is because people lack imagination, or are just playing ‘safe’. With Mace we threw away the rulebook, and if someone had a good idea for a level or mission then it would be in. Thus we have missions set on alien cattle ranches, in a futuristic temple, on a luxury nebula liner, and of course in a strip club. I think people are going to be staggered by the scale and diversity of the game.

10. What form of save feature will the game utilise – automatic save points like Halo for instance?

There are a number of automatic save points positioned throughout each mission. You will also have one autosave at the last checkpoint you crossed.

11. Instead of just including corporations, with the Order of Virtual Light you’ve created a futuristic church, which embraces technology in the 27th century.  What role does the church play in proceedings and is it based on scientology?

It is not based on scientology in anyway. Within the game the Order of Virtual Light plays quite a central role, but this does not become obvious until much later. This religion is based upon people’s gullibility, and eagerness to be brainwashed (which is stupid) and their need for faith, or some explanation of why we are here (which is natural, and in many cases healthy). I personally sit on the fence when it comes to religion – I’ve seen good things come from it, but also a lot of ugly stuff. In the case of the Order of Virtual Light, it’s actually not what it seems, and is not set up in the best interests of it’s followers.

12. The proliferation of story-led games has led to a situation where gamers often play to see out the story, rather than because the game play is particularly enjoyable itself.  How have you overcome this hurdle with Mace Griffin?

By keeping the gameplay solid and challenging right to the end and introducing some new and surprising levels, characters, ships and objectives throughout the game.
13. What level of interaction is there with environments and residents within the game?

The environments contain a lot of machinery and equipment to manipulate; you can blow up bridges, shoot down stalactites, use floor-mounted guns, and use security cameras, to name but a few things. The characters will interact with you depending upon whether they are friendly, neutral or hostile, and obviously what you do to them. The permutations are vast, but for every action there is a reaction, with no NPCs standing around likes statues.

14. Will Mace Griffin follow a predetermined route of bounty hunting, or will the player have the freedom to pick and choose targets out with the main story?

The player is presented with a number of missions in a preset order, some of which will help to move the story along and others that will be more incidental.

15. Do you have the choice to bring in wanted felons dead or alive?

Yes, and you will also have the choice to make mercy killings.

16. Is the reward purely one of satisfaction and revenge, or will Mace be rewarded in credits that can be spent on upgrades?

The primary motivation will be to find your persecutors and exact revenge on them, but you will also be rewarded with both ground and ship weapons and upgrades as well.

17. Although set in the future several of the weapons in Mace are very familiar familar (shotgun, assault rifle etc), how many weapons are there in total?  Will any offer a dual purpose?

There are 11 ground weapons, all with a secondary function. There will be 7 ship weapons, but these are single function. Along with the traditional weapons you will also find some more unusual ones like the sonic shock cannon and the plasma machine gun.

18. How many weapons can Mace carry at any one time?  How easy it is to scroll through options during combat?

If you manage to get them, you can carry all 11 at once. It is very easy and quick to scroll through the weapons with a couple of button presses.

19. Enemies react realistically (like Goldeneye) to being hit on various parts of the body with some smooth animation. Is this intended to promote more tactical thought from the player, rather than just running in, all guns blazing?

The smart thing is to hit the head or chest for maximum damage. Alternatively you may want to hit the arm holding a weapon to stop the NPC firing at you.

20. AI is becoming more realistic and challenging with each release, what steps have you taken to ensure Mace Griffin can offer a demanding experience?
Our AI will use different tactics depending upon species, bravery, weapon carried, ammo carried, health, if in a group and environment, which obviously creates a lot of possibilities. The major strengths of our AI are the variety, the realism and the ability to use cover.
21. How long do you envisage Mace Griffin will take to complete?

The XBox and Ps2 should hit the shelves in late June in the US, then July or August in Europe. All the versions have either passed or are in submission now, so for us it’s pretty much finished.

22. Are there any in-built features to increase replay value?

There are some cheats which will be announced after release, and as the levels are so big, you could play the game several times taking different routes through the levels.

Completion

1. Now that Warthog have reached the end of the development cycle have you achieved everything you set out to accomplish? Is there one feature you wish you could have included?

Yes, we have generally fulfilled all our initial objectives and stuck to the original game plan. There isn’t anything major that we didn’t realise.

2. When a project is completed what are the general feelings of the team?

Relief at seeing our loved ones again! I can’t wait to see the title out in the shops and see what kind of response we get. We have worked on the title for a long time and you can’t help but become emotionally attached to it. We are also doing post mortems so that we do things even better and more efficiently next time.

3. What games would you like to play now that Mace Griffin is finished?

Half Life 2 and Red Alert 3

4. Have you decided on your next project?

There are a few possibilities, which are confidential at this point, but a sequel to Mace would be my preferred option.

5. What do you think will be the biggest development in video games over the next five years?

Photo-realistic rendering and industry standard game development software. One of the most expensive (time, money and sanity) parts of game development is writing technology, which does the same thing again and again with an incremental improvement in performance or features. We need to get to where the film industry is, with standard tools readily available and relatively accessible, so that more time can be spent on the gameplay and content, and less time re-inventing the wheel. The process has already been going a while with world building tools for the mod community – it’s only a matter of time before stuff like physics engines and AI scripting will be as user friendly and modular. If that hasn’t happened in five years I’ll eat my hat.

European Super League

Gamestyle Archive intro: the Dreamcast needed a football title to tackle the giants of the genre and this was their great hope. Unfortunately it came up short.

Writer: JJ

Format: Dreamcast

Published: March 2001

VERSION: UK DC

DEVELOPER: Coyote/Crimson

PUBLISHER: Virgin Interactive

GENRE: Football

ACCESSORIES: Rumble, VMU.

PLAYERS: 1-4

RELEASE: Out Now

LINK: www.vie.co.uk/public/page_fast.pl/null/frame_CON/07160839346

_-European-Super-League-Dreamcast-_

We all know that the Dreamcast has lacked quality in certain genres but with the release of RPG’s such as Grandia II, Phantasy Star Online recently and the forthcoming Skies of Arcadia the only remaining genre is football.   No doubt you’ve all played the awkward UEFA Soccer, the on-the-rails Virtua Striker 2 or the continually disappointing Sega World-wide Soccer series.   Is European Super League (ESL) the ISS that all Dreamcast owners have been waiting for?

European Super League is original in the fact that it deals with a mystical league that has been discussed for the last decade.   The game contains 16 fully licensed teams and stadiums of the cream of Europe and promises to offer a high standard of competition.   There are some glaring omissions amongst the teams such as Manchester United but at least Glasgow Rangers & Celtic have not been included such are their pathetic European adventures of late.   When the promotion material for a game mentions accurate stadium advertising hoardings instead of more important game aspects you know you’ve made a bad signing.   Perhaps a bit more money spent on development instead of licenses would have been appropriate.

The options are limited with only the choice of Quick Start, Friendly, European Super League, Custom Tournament or League and training.   Although not original perhaps a challenge mode similar to ISS should have been included – there are certainly enough great games in the past to choose from.   The stadiums themselves are a disappointment with the crowds being probably the worst that I have seen in many a year.  The lack of camera options prevents anyone from actually enjoying playing in the San Siro or Anfield, if you could distinguish one stadium from another.   When the game is in progress you are unable to alter the camera – instead you need to quit the match and then select the camera in the options menu.   This trial and error method is annoying and is symptomatic of the sloppy half-hearted effort that is ESL, not to mention that you only have five camera angles to select from.   The players and graphics are very reminiscent of the Sega World-wide Series and could be mistaken as a missing instalment.

The players are bland with jerky animation, flat backgrounds and poor AI.   As the in-match screen does not have radar showing where your team-mates are on the pitch, the match often degenerates into a kick and rush affair with possession being lost frequently.   Just like watching Scottish football.   If you do not know where your team-mates are on the pitch off screen – the passing build-up play suffers as a result.   Tactical options are limited to formation only and there is no control over individual roles or style your players will adopt.   This is a shame because at times ESL can be enjoyable, although you are unable to customise the control options the range of tricks and moves available to you is excellent.

Graphically the game is below average and you will notice during the match the drop in frame rate at times.   I must mention the actual football, which moves and bounces like a lead weight – in fact it reminded me of when I used to play Match Day on the spectrum.   Other flaws include no commentary, only sixteen teams, poor crowd noises, FIFA style sweet spots, harsh referees and long loading times.  These problems overshadow some of the good elements on offer, wasting what could have been a unique opportunity but instead providing a lack of involvement.   Will the Dreamcast ever have a decent football game?

Presentation: 5

Graphics: 4

Sound: 4

Gameplay: 4

Lastability: 4

Overall: 4/10

Phantasy Star Online

Gamestyle Archive intro: very fond memories of PSO not only did it herald the online era for consoles it was so engaging with its unique experience. Being able to play the game alongside others from across the world and communicate using the in-game tools = stunning and on a 33.3k modem! Of course the game was virtual crack and took up weekends with the Gamestyle team at the time. Almost a ten.

Writer: JJ

Format: Dreamcast

Published: March 2001

VERSION: PAL DC

DEVELOPER: Sonic Team

PUBLISHER:  Sega

GENRE: Online RPG

ACCESSORIES: Rumble, VMU, Keyboard, VGA

PLAYERS: 1-6 Billion

RELEASE: Out Now

LINK: www.sonicteam.com

Phantasy Star Online PAL DC-front

You may recall the 6 Billion-player advertisement that Sega ran upon the Dreamcast launch, which met with such uproar and ridicule from the press and rivals.   Time to dig it out and run it again because finally (18 months too late) Sega have achieved the goal.  Phantasy Star Online is an online adventure where you will meet other players from around the world and together solve the mystery of Ragol.

The story is set on the planet of Ragol that has been colonised by the crew of Pioneer 1 in preparation of refuges arriving from the dying Earth.   30,000 refuges are onboard Pioneer 2 including you, which arrives in orbit at the planet only to witness a large explosion on the surface.   All contact with the crew of Pioneer 1 is lost and in the explosion the local wildlife has become rather unfriendly.   The main mission either in single or online mode is to find out what happened while facing strange creatures against ever-increasing odds.   Subplots with sinister organisations and individuals feature throughout the game and of course there are other quests but more of that later.

Before you start the game you will have to create your own character and choose from three distinct traits (Force, Hunter, Ranger) that each have their own abilities i.e. Hunter close fighting.   The beauty of this is that each type then has three subgroups and therefore the more variety on a team the better it will be.   The character design mode will provide limitless possibilities and fun.   Once you go online you will be amazed at the variety of designs and very rarely will two ever be the same.   Again this adds depth and if you have a unique character you will identify with it more and hence the game itself.

Keeping with its RPG predecessors your character is measured by the level that he or she is on and the health/magic points that they possess.   Experience can be gained through battles, which with time will increase your level, at times it can be mundane and tiring but such is the gameplay that you rarely pay attention to how many experience points you have collected.   The creatures you will encounter are unique to each level and the variety is excellent although the AI is pretty poor.   Whether you play online or off – at times the screen is full of creatures coming from all directions with no slow down.   The battles themselves are fairly routine with the run shoot, run shoot, method being most effective.

The levels are split into various areas i.e. Caves, Forest etc and within themselves they are the same layout and style but the creatures and goals change depending on your quest.   The reasoning behind this is probably to keep loading and memory to a minimum thereby improving the online experience.   Apart from the main game you also can visit the Hunters Guild on Pioneer 2 which is a bounty hunter club of sorts with various jobs on offer.   The quests can range from collecting data on creatures to escorting and protecting the press.   Sonic Team are also constantly working on new quests and these can be downloaded and vary between online and single player missions.   This provides a welcome break from the main player game and adds to the whole Phantasy Star experience especially if you cannot defeat a particular boss.   Pioneer 2 has a variety of shops (weapons, magic, armour, techniques etc) and other establishments that you can visit in either mode.

Online this game reaches another level, you don’t even need to take part in the quests, instead you can shop, trade items or talk to other players around the world.  There are three different methods of communication; symbol, shortcuts or typing which is 80 characters per message.   The latter is pretty straightforward although you do rely on others understanding English while the previous options do take practice but you can communicate with non-English speakers.   From Pioneer 2 you can either join European, American or Japanese servers and from there select which ship and block you wish to visit.  The sheer scale is impressive, as is the lack of lag with it only being occasionally noticeable on quests when you open crates.   If you make friends with others you can exchange Guild Cards that allow you to send messages directly even though you may not be online or in the same game – the next time they go online the message will be waiting for them.   Another advantage of the Guild Cards is that they allow you to search for a player amongst the thousands that may be onboard at that time.   If you prefer you can create your own team and if you wish certain players to join protect it with a password.   Apart from the phone bill the biggest single problem with the online mode is that you could easily be part of a team fighting the final boss and thus complete the game missing out on the story.   If you die online you leave your money (Meseta) and the weapon that was equipped behind.   This can lead to some unsavoury behaviour from team-mates who may take both before reviving you – yet for all the time I’ve been online this has only happened once.   Most players give advice and items freely adding to the enjoyment of the game and bad behaviour is not encouraged.

Graphically the game is very impressive especially when the action gets going and little touches such as the lighting and water effects are wonderful.   Sonic Team have their own unique visual style and Phantasy Star Online has no doubt been influenced by Burning Rangers, NiGHTS and Sonic himself.   The audio is again very Sonic Team and effective.   However not all is fine in Phantasy Star Online as I mentioned previously AI, similar levels and battles will no doubt annoy some but not the majority.  If I was to be very critical, if you look very hard you will notice the occasional pop-up in the distance but with an RPG this is not a serious flaw unlike some levels in Sonic Adventure.

The control system is good with the ability to select and use items or weapons while still controlling your character.   It does take a bit of getting used to as its very unique but worth it.   You have such a wide range of weaponry, attacks and items (plus the mag) that the Dreamcast pad struggles to cope.   Remember that you cannot pause the game while on a quest and more often than not you will find yourself running into another area, selecting the item and then returning.   The control system could have been much worse but as the chat supports the keyboard I do find it odd that you cannot make use of the keys to select items and suchlike whilst playing the game.

Overall these are minor issues and have not stopped me from returning to the game consistent basis.   The sheer thrill of the online mode and being part of something worldwide is very special and whether you’re onboard Pioneer 2 or down on the planet you feel it.   It is really two games in one and I have not covered some aspects that you will enjoy, such is the multitude of options and depth on offer.   It remains to be seen how long you can actually play the game online with the future of the machine now in doubt but I suggest that you pick up this game immediately and experience it for yourself before its too late.

Presentation: 9

Graphics: 9

Sound: 8

Gameplay: 9

Lastability: 10

Superb. 9/10   

Charge’N Blast

Gamestyle Archive intro: another long forgotten straightforward arcade port to the Dreamcast. Just fodder to fill a thinning release schedule and it showed.

Writer: JJ

Format: Dreamcast

Published: February 2001

VERSION: US DC

DEVELOPER: Sega

PUBLISHER:  Sims/Xicat

GENRE: Arcade shooter

ACCESSORIES: Rumble, VMU.

PLAYERS: 1-2

RELEASE: Out Now USA, Europe TBA

LINK: www.xicat.com

 Charge N Blast jap - front

This title is an oddity to say the least.   Initially developed by Sega (the team who did Sega Bass Fishing) with a view to an arcade release that never materialised and instead arriving on the Dreamcast.   Although developed by Sega, they have chosen not to publish it themselves and instead sold the rights to a third party.   I wonder why?

You play the role of a member in an elite squad who check meteor crash sites when they appear.   The meteors play host to a range of aliens mostly of the insect and reptile variety (think Starship Troopers) with the occasional Godzilla look-alike.   The squad consists of three members, which you can choose from but they fulfil every cliché known to man.   Johnny Rock is the young blonde dashing hero, Pamela Hewitt is the token female and Nicholas Woods is the big strong male.   All the characters have the same 3 weapons with different characteristics however it is possible to complete the game using the same weapon.

The levels are fairly brief affairs consisting of several minor aliens before tackling the Queen or King alien and then repeat till the end.   As the crash sites are spread all over the world you will find yourself in different environments however the design of the game does not advantage of this – a shame as shooting underwater must surely have some effect?   The bosses themselves always have a shield generator that you must destroy before being able to defeat them.   Once you have mastered the control system it won’t take much effort to cruise through the levels.

The control system is one that you are either going to love or hate but everyone will struggle with it at first.   The analogue stick controls your aim, Y+B+X all relate to one weapon and A is the fire button.   The incoming bugs can be avoided by using the left and right triggers to side step them.   As the title of the game suggests you need to charge your weapon (by holding down the appropriate button) before pressing the fire button.   In a way it is refreshing, as you have to consider how charged your weapon must be to defeat a foe (bosses need a full blast) and how close they are to you.   Yet the system is very frustrating to learn and is the biggest challenge in the game.   I would have preferred an option to use the mouse and keyboard or even the underused lightgun as with the in-built D-pad and buttons it would have worked well.   You can select a first person view that raises the difficulty stakes but without the light gun it is pointless.

I enjoy retro arcade shooting games but this is very poorly implemented and will only take you 30 minutes to complete.   Once the main mode has been finished all you will have left to occupy your time is the ranking and time attack modes and nothing else.   There are no alternate routes, bonus items or skills to acquire – which added depth to House of the Dead 2.   The game graphically is very reminiscent of the infamous Sega shooter and perhaps uses the same engine.   I can’t remember HOD2 displaying slow down, yet the frame rate in Charge N Blast drops dramatically when the action picks up and you have only 3 or 4 targets to blast.

If the action was fast and furious it would have kept me interested for a while yet within two levels of this game I became bored; such is the limited game play on offer.  Do yourself a favour and avoid this.

Presentation: 4

Graphics: 5

Sound: 4

Gameplay: 3

Lastability: 1

Overall: 3/10