Tag Archives: Full Motion Video

Realms of the Haunting, PC

I have to admit that, in spite of the slightly wonky graphics/cut scenes, I have a real soft spot for Gremlin Interactive‘s 1997 PC MS-DOS release, Realms of the Haunting. Mostly because I was lucky and got to visit Gremlin‘s offices in Sheffield to see the game in production, and to talk to the people who were making it. I drove all the way from Bournemouth – where I worked as a video games magazine editor – and spent an entire day there to preview the game for PC Power magazine.

Back then, Realms of the Haunting looked good. It was a Doom-type 3D engine-based survival horror game, co-programmed by Tony Crowther, and written and produced by Paul Green. It had specially-filmed cut sequences using professional actors and came on four CD-ROMs. The thing it had over Doom, though, was being able to interact with objects on-screen, by clicking a mouse cursor on them.

Now time has passed and we can use hindsight to inform us, I have to say that I still quite like Realms of the Haunting, even though it’s dated badly and the graphics look weird (especially when looking up and down – the game doesn’t have any real perspective correction, just like the original Doom). Also: I always thought the cut scenes were hokey – even back in 1997 – so watching them now doesn’t appal me. It’s not the acting in them that’s bad (it’s actually pretty good), it’s the way the cut scenes have been produced. The film “special effects” are awful; the compositing is basic at best; and the video encoding is worse than standard definition. And I’m being charitable…

Thankfully the story is quite good. You play an investigator called Adam Randall who goes into a dark house looking for clues about the mysterious death of his father. And of course he finds more than he bargained for… Again, thankfully: there are weapons to be found and used against whatever it is that is out to get him. Eventually Adam discovers that the house is in fact a portal to different universes and that he must prevent an impending apocalypse by visiting each universe and unlocking its secrets. So nothing major…

Realms of the Haunting is involving and atmospheric – even gripping in places. It’s been designed to be scary, and succeeds in places. Some of the monsters look a bit dodgy but are tough opponents to beat, and the environments are relatively simple, but overall RotH is well worth a play if you like old school survival horror games. It’s still available to buy on GOG.com and Steam, which is heartening.

More: Realms of the Haunting on Wikipedia
Steam: Realms of the Haunting on Steam
GOG.com: Realms of the Haunting on GOG.com

Final Fantasy VIII, PlayStation

Considered something of a curveball to the hugely successful episode seven, Final Fantasy VIII (eight) is more great level-grinding goodness from Japanese dev Gods, Square. This one released in 1999.

A completely different setting and characters to previous instalments, Final Fantasy VIII features six playable protagonists and five temporarily-playable characters, each of whom make their entrance at key points in the story. The main character – who you begin the game with – is called Squall Leonhart – and Squall is a SeeD cadet. “SeeDs” by the way are elite mercenaries who can “junction” Guardian Forces to create a wide range of special offensive and defensive abilities, and these kind of act as a substitute for armour and accessories. In combat, SeeDs can use weapons and cast magic, and create all manner of colourful lightshows with their spells, and can even activate special power moves with “Limit Breaks” – using a meter that builds up and can be unleashed when full. They must also use “Draw Points” to keep their magic points topped-up for battle.

The aim of the game is to use all the powers and resources at your disposal to defeat the sorceress, Ultimecia, who is attempting to destroy the universe by compressing time. This is spectacular, high brow science fiction fantasy… gobbledegook… Gobbledegook of the highest order, nonetheless…

In terms of presentation, Final Fantasy VIII really pushed the original PlayStation to its limits, with amazing animated cut scenes, beautiful 2D backgrounds, lots of special effects during combat, and much more 3D than the previous game. The menu system in this was a big leap forward too. People often forget how good Final Fantasy VIII was for the time, because it was eclipsed by the gigantic presence of its predecessor.

A long-awaited re-mastered edition of Final Fantasy VIII goes on sale on Steam this week. The 3rd of September to be precise. Will it be worth the £15.99 they’re asking for it? Having very much enjoyed the original, my response is: quite possibly.

Note: These screenshots are from the original PlayStation version.

More: Final Fantasy VIII on Wikipedia
Steam: Final Fantasy VIII Remastered on Steam

Stonekeep, PC

Stonekeep is a strange first-person Role-Playing Game, developed and published by Interplay Productions in 1995.

I say “strange” because Stonekeep comes from a time when developers were looking for any excuse to inject some full-motion video into their games, and Stonekeep uses digitised video quite a lot, and it now looks very dated. Actually, Stonekeep uses two very dated graphical techniques to create the world you’re exploring – the second technique being Silicon Graphics-rendered graphics (the first being the aforementioned digitised video technique, a la Mortal Kombat). It’s the clash of the bad graphics techniques…

The way the digitised video has been used in the game means that a lot of the characters and monsters in it look kinda like pantomime villains… Well I felt like I was playing a pantomime fantasy game with Stonekeep… The visual style of this game reminds me of that TV show, Knightmare – the one that superimposed live actors over painted fantasy backdrops… That’s what they tried to do with this game – film people in costumes and incorporate them into a Role-Playing Game… And the end result is a bit of a weird mess!

In spite of the outdated presentation Stonekeep plays excellently. Movement is quick and simple, and is tile-based. A journal keeps track of quests, items, maps, stats and available spells (which are cast using runes inscribed on wands). Combat is real-time; similar to that seen in the mighty Dungeon Master. Quests and puzzles are fairly simple – mostly unblock a route or kill a bad guy – although there are a few surprises along the way that take Stonekeep beyond the merely ‘generic’.

I wouldn’t say that Stonekeep is a ‘solid gold classic’, but I would recommend that RPG fans give it a try. Or even better: play it to the later stages at least, because that’s where it gets more interesting. That said: if you have a low tolerance for goblins, faeries, and ice queens then maybe this game isn’t for you…

Stonekeep is a game that doesn’t deserve to be forgotten and does have its moments, even though the story and setting are a little trite. Don’t let me put you off though – Stonekeep plays nicely in DOSBox and is cheap on GOG.com and is well worth adding to the collection.

More: Stonekeep on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Stonekeep on GOG.com

Final Fantasy VII, PlayStation

Final Fantasy VII is a legendary level-grinding Role-Playing Game, developed by Square and released for the Sony PlayStation in 1997.

While the Final Fantasy series had grown in stature throughout the 1990s, it was this seventh instalment that broke Japanese CRPGs into the mainstream, with its outstanding mix of 3D, polygonal graphics, Full Motion Video, and pre-rendered backgrounds. But it wasn’t just the graphics that propelled Final Fantasy VII to stratospheric heights – it was both the story, and also the gameplay, that made games-players really sit up and take notice.

The story of a small gang of rebel kids – taking on a sinister fantasy government of the future – Final Fantasy VII is played from the perspective of ‘Cloud’, a young boy with a growing identity crisis and a crush on a young girl he meets called Aerith. Without going into detail about the plot (which is complicated, to say the least), Cloud suddenly finds his friends dying off as he runs from the dark forces that are pursuing him. This fact – that key characters are killed-off at certain points in the story – gives Final Fantasy VII a real emotional edge that other games do not have. Certainly not many games managed to shock you in the way that Final Fantasy VII did back in 1997, and that is testament to the writers, and the dev team, creating likeable characters and a plot that delivers twists and turns at every juncture.

The basis of the game follows the well-established JRPG formula: the ‘world map’, the ‘field’, and the ‘battle screen’. Different areas are linked by the ‘world map’, which is shown from a distance. Exploration and dialogue mostly takes place in the ‘field’ – screens in which you control the main characters and where, in some areas, just walking around will initiate random, turn-based combat. Combat in Final Fantasy VII uses 3D graphics for the action, and 2D panels for the menus and party information. The range of attacks, defences, spells, and graphical special effects, is just mind-blowing. Boss battles are extraordinary too.

The scope of Final Fantasy VII is also one of the reasons it was such a big hit. The game’s designers not only came up with a myriad of huge and visually impressive locations, but they also interwove them into the story very cleverly.

Graphically the game looks a little ragged, by today’s Hi Def standards, but a remake is apparently on the cards. It would be incredible if Square managed to re-render those Standard Def backgrounds into High Def… We can but hope…

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Final_Fantasy_VII

100 Best Level-Grinders Of All-Time
100 Best Level-Grinders Of All-Time

Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri, PC

Looking Glass Technologies are probably best known for their Ultima Underworld series of games, but this 1996 tactical shooter from them is also a retro-gaming classic.

Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri is a first-person, futuristic ‘combat suit’ type action game with an interesting mix of styles. It reminds me on some levels of a Wing Commander game, or X-Wing, with you playing a soldier with a central briefing room, from where you accept missions and communicate with your team. And – like X-Wing and Wing Commander – the action sequences are played-out in a first-person shooter environment.

What makes Terra Nova so good are the challenging levels, which are kinda sandbox-y in a way. Meaning: you can tackle the same mission in different ways (if you want to). The missions also grow in difficulty quite rapidly. By level four you might be scratching your head and thinking: “tactics?”. It’s worth fighting on, though, because by level six things get really interesting, with combat taking place on a hillside inside in a big lightning storm with atmospheric lighting.

The game even has a Random Scenario Builder, for after you’ve exhausted the single-player campaign (no mean feat). The ‘mission generator’ is actually a lot of fun by itself, mainly because you can activate certain ‘cheats’, which are funny. It’s basically a quick blast against bots, but is great for practise.

Special mention must go to the Full Motion Video (FMV) scenes in-between missions, which are performed by real actors. They are not bad, but they’re not Ingmar Bergman either, so are kind of extraneous to me. Looking Glass certainly used a professional film crew and actors to shoot them though, which is why so many people seem to have worked on this game…

Terra Nova is impeccably presented. The Heads Up Display (HUD) during combat is one of the best I’ve seen. All the different windows and configurations and various details are well thought-out and actually useful. The in-game 3D graphics are a little raggeddy (because they’re pre-3D acceleration), but that doesn’t detract too much from the game. Terra Nova is still quite exciting and engrossing to play now, so is well worth a visit.

More: Terra Nova on Wikipedia
Steam: Terra Nova on Steam
GOG.com: Terra Nova on GOG.com