Game Central The gaming world of K. Fields
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Game Central's 15th Anniversary

Today marks the 15th anniversary of my Game Central web site. I launched it on May 25, 2006. Over the last 15 years, I have added a lot of content. Updates have slowed a bit in recent years, I must admit. However, I always post something new on the anniversary date. For the past four weeks, I have been playing Dragon Age: Origins. I will give that game a dedicated post in the future. It features a lot of content and won't be a quick one to finish. Thus far, it has been extremely satisfying. It may end up as my favorite computer game played this year.

Anniversaries are good times to reflect on the past. 2021 is not only Game Central's 15th anniversary. It also happens to be the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the IBM Personal Computer. Released on August 12, 1981, the IBM PC was a transformative piece of technology. It elevated a fledgling industry and took personal computing to another level. Although targeted at businesses, it also found success in home computing. In fact, the IBM PC "5150" was my family's first computer. Years before PCs reached ubiquity in the "Wintel" era, early IBM PC users were chugging along with 4.77 MHz 8088 CPUs running DOS. There wasn't much of a commercial PC game market at first, at least not compared to what was available for Apple and Atari computers. It grew rapidly, however, and became a dominant platform.

I wanted to pay homage to those great early years of IBM PC gaming. Back then, I used to subscribe to a lot of computer magazines. I read Byte and PC World and had a multi-year run of PC Magazine starting at issue #1. Unfortunately, my collection of those magazines was lost in the 2011 flood. The magazines that survived were my copies of Softalk for the IBM Personal Computer and Softline. I recently read through all of my issues, which dated 1982 to 1984. Softline was a gaming magazine but even Softalk featured game ads. I decided to scan ads for any PC games I used to own or at least had played. In addition to software, I even found ads for the TG Products Joystick. That was the joystick I used on my IBM PC in the 1980s.

All of these gaming advertisement scans can be found on the new Magazine Ads page. It is a nice little time capsule preserving an earlier era of computer gaming.

Tropico 3: Gold Edition

In 2006, I played the original Tropico. It has been far too long. It was time for the return of El Presidente! Consequently, I installed Tropico 3: Gold Edition, which includes the base game and the Absolute Power expansion. I don't remember all the details of the first game but I'm pretty sure version 3 is superior. As expected, the 3D graphics were more advanced. Overall, I think the gameplay is pretty similar. The focus is on city building, resource management, and political maneuvering. I skipped Tropico 2: Pirate Cove and instead rejoined the series when it returned to its familiar settings of running banana republic islands. There are 15 separate missions in the base game and some additional ones in Absolute Power. I haven't tried any of the expansion missions yet. However, I have taken advantage of the additional Absolute Power features, including new edicts and buildings. All of the main campaign missions begin in 1950. The cold war between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. is a factor as you try to maintain decent foreign relations with the two superpowers. In addition to that balancing act, you have to constantly appease the various factions on the island.

I enjoyed Tropico 3 more than the first Tropico. I also own Tropico 4 and Tropico 5 and there is even a Tropico 6. When I get around to those versions, it will be interesting to see how the series matured through the years.

Tropico 3 - Pilgrim Haven Balloon Ride
Here is a balloon ride I built on the beach for tourists

LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga

Squeezing it in before the end of the month, I completed the story mode of LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga. This was my first LEGO video game. Fittingly, Lego Star Wars: The Video Game was the first release of this LEGO video game series. The Complete Saga included that first game as well as Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy. Therefore, it covered the first six movies from Episode I: The Phantom Menace to Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi. Each movie (episode) was divided into six chapters for a total of thirty-six. It was fun to relive the movies again, even in LEGO form. I assume the game was largely targeted toward kids but the cute approach appealed to plenty of adults as well. I thought the designers did a good job involving the various characters. A single character (even a Jedi) cannot do everything on his own. You need others such as Han or Leia for their ability to grapple. You need droids to access restricted ares. Some of the chapters have puzzle elements to them and getting through them is usually a team effort. There are also chapters with vehicle combat. Most of them weren't my favorites. I preferred the character based chapters.

There is a lot of content in the game. In addition to completing the story, there are studs, minikits, red bricks, and gold bricks to collect. You can use your studs as currency to buy additional items it the Mos Eilsley Cantina. I purchased quite a few characters but there were plenty more to buy. There is also a Free Play mode and various bonus missions. If I wanted to be a completist, I could probably spend at least another two weeks with this game.

LEGO Star Wars The Complete Saga - Aboard the Falcon
Aboard the Millenium Falcon

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Over the last month or so, I've played several excellent computer games. That streak continues with Batman: Arkham Asylum. With my huge backlog of games, I'm a little late to the party. Batman: Arkham Asylum was originally released in 2009 and received many accolades. Better late than never, however. As a fan of super-hero comics and Batman in particular, I had high expectations. I wasn't disappointed. This was a game with high production values. As a third-person action-adventure game, it felt very cinematic. Some of the creative talent of Batman: The Animated Series worked on this game. The story was written by Paul Dini and voice actors Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Arlene Sorkin portrayed Batman, Joker, and Harley Quinn, respectively. All of this helped to make a very polished product.

The Joker is the main antagonist but many other villains make appearances: Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, Victor Zsasz, Scarecrow, Bane, Riddler, and Poison Ivy. The plot involves the Joker taking over Arkham Asylum and threatening Gotham City. He has gotten access to Titan, a more powerful and dangerous variant of the Venom drug. With Titan, Joker has the potential to raise a formidable army. Of course, Batman is prepared to stop him. Using stealth, hand to hand combat, and a variety of gadgets, Batman makes his way through multiple buildings and foes to an eventual showdown with the Joker.

Because of the game's console roots, I decided to forgo using keyboard and mouse controls. I hooked up my Logitech RumblePad 2 game controller and it worked beautifully. Once I got the hang of the dual joysticks and learned the functions of all ten buttons and triggers, it felt like the best way to play the game. This was a great game and it easily earns a place on my list of all-time favorites.

Batman Arkham Asylum - Joker
The Joker

Trine: Enchanted Edition

I finished Trine today. It only took me a few days because I enjoyed it so much. I played the Enchanted Edition, which is an updated version of the original game using the Trine 2 engine. Trine is a side-scrolling puzzle platform game. There is combat but a lot of the action involves running, jumping, and figuring out mild puzzles to progress. Trine uses NVIDIA's PhysX physics engine and it definitely comes into play with the ways you can traverse a level. Instead of a single character, you are given three to play: a wizard, a thief, and a knight. The nice thing is that you don't have to choose a single character in the beginning. You can change between them freely, even in the middle of a level. There are 15 levels in the main story plus a bonus level after the main story is completed. With a fair number of checkpoints, Trine was challenging but not too frustrating. I liked the game mechanic of switchable characters. It was fun to use all of them and their unique skills to finish each level. The wizard can summon and levitate objects, the thief has a bow and grappling hook, and the knight is the best melee fighter. As you gain experience, you can add and increase the characters' skills. There are also special items that you discover and add to each character's inventory.

As a platform video games go, this one was one of my favorites.