Deer in the Headlights – Card and Dice Game Review

Deer in the Headlights Game Box.
Deer in the Headlights Game Box.

Deer in the Headlights is a combination card game and dice game published and released in 2014 by University Games Corporation under the Front Porch Classics brand.

Deer in the Headlights includes three proprietary dice seemingly exclusive to the game as well as two full 54-card standard playing card decks. The standard playing card decks are branded on one side with the Deer in the Headlights logo, but have the same card designs on the play side you would expect to see with any deck of playing cards purchased at the local drug store. The decks even come with two jokers even though jokers are never mentioned anywhere in the rules. It is important to discard the jokers prior to beginning play.

The Deer in the Headlights cards are standard playing cards.
The Deer in the Headlights cards are standard playing cards.

Once the jokers are removed, the first round’s dealer combines and shuffles both decks and then deals out all of the cards to everyone playing. The Deer in the Headlights instruction booklet states that the game may be played by two or more players. I would imagine the only limit to the number of players is the number of cards that may be dealt. The included score pad for the game contains a slot for six players, but keeping track of player scores in a notebook or using two sheets from the score pad should be trivial.

The player who manages to discard all of their cards first wins the round. At the end of the round, all other players count up their points which are then tabulated on the score sheet. Number cards are worth their number values. Jacks, queens, and kings are worth ten points, while aces are worth one point. At the end of ten rounds, the player with the lowest score wins the game.

Play begins with the dealer. They roll the dice and play their turn based on what they roll. There is zero strategy involved. Deer in the Headlights is less a game and more an exercise in probability.

There are three six-sided dice, one beige, one blue, and one red. The dice are the only part of the game that cannot be easily interchanged with another game or other rules. Even though this is the case, the one on the red die is meant to indicate an ace. The red die has the lowest point numbers: A, 2, 3, 4, 5, and a Deer with Antlers. The blue die has the middle point numbers: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and a Deer with Antlers. And finally the beige die has the highest point cards represented: J, Q, K, Car, Running Deer, and Deer with Antlers.

The most common rolls are for three card values such as 2, 6, and Q. When this happens and no symbols are rolled (e.g. Running Deer, Car, or Deer with Antlers) the player who rolled may discard all of the cards that match the values rolled to the center discard pile from their hand. If they are unable to play any cards from their hand from this roll, any and all opponents around the table may discard from their own hand those cards and give them to the rolling player. The second most common roll is two middle or lower point numbers and a deer with antlers such as 4, 7, and a deer with antlers. When this happens, the player may discard to the center pile all of the 4’s or 7’s in their hand.

Deer in the Headlights contains three dice, one blue, one beige, and one red.
Deer in the Headlights contains three dice, one blue, one beige, and one red.

A more uncommon roll is to get two numbers and a car. The car essentially indicates that any cards discarded will not go to the center pile but will instead by distributed by the current player to the other opponents around the table as they see fit. When two numbers and a running deer are rolled, the player may discard to the center pile all of the cards in their hand for the numbers shown, plus an additional wild card of their choosing. So if a 3, 8, and running deer are rolled, the player could discard all the 3’s, 8’s, and Kings they have in their hand if they were to so choose.

When a number, a deer with antlers, and a car are rolled, the player may discard any card that matches the number rolled, as well as any number of cards that add up to that number. So if the player rolled a six, she could discard all of her sixes and any other combination within her hand that adds up to six. Three twos, one four and two ones, and one five and one one would all count. Because the car was rolled, all of these cards discarded are distributed to any of the opposing players the current player chooses.

When a number, a deer with antlers, and a running deer are rolled, the player may discard any odd or even cards based on whether the number rolled was odd or even. So, if the player rolled a 10, she would be able to discard all of the even cards in her hand to the center pile. Face cards are not included in the odd/even count, so jacks, queens, and kings may not be discarded in this way.

If two deer with antlers are rolled with one number, the player loses a turn. If however, two deer with antlers and a car are rolled, the player who rolled may select an opponent to lose the turn for them. If two deer with antlers and a running deer are rolled, the player may discard all of any two kinds of cards they choose from their hand to the center pile.

The most tragic move of all is to roll three deer with antlers. This “freezes” the player. They must pick up all cards from the center pile and they are unable to play a full turn again until they successfully roll a set of dice with at least one deer with antlers. This can be a real rotten game changer and has the potential to make a sore loser in a hurry. It is surprising how rare it actually ever happens, however.

Dice Rolls and Corresponding 'Card Plays' sheet from Instruction Manual.
Dice Rolls and Corresponding ‘Card Plays’ sheet from Instruction Manual.

Deer in the Headlights is a good game for teaching young children how to play basic card and dice games. Its sophistication is greater than that of Go Fish and Candy Land so parents won’t be as bored out of their minds playing it. It’s still quite a tedious game for me to play with my six-year-old son where I have my algorithm all worked out for each and every turn while he takes forever trying to figure out how many nines he has in all of the cards strewn about his hand. Given there is no strategy involved, I really can’t wait until he’s graduated from this one.

Deer in the Headlights might also serve as a decent social game for people who don’t like to play games. In most rounds I have played, most players were about to run out of cards at the same time which tends to provide the illusion that a player is playing “well.” This also increases the possibility that a player will have a “good” round regardless of their level of gaming skill. For those who are new to and scared of more sophisticated games, this could be used as a gateway game to get them interested in something more complex as time goes on.

Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game – Card Game Review

Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game Box
Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game Box

Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game is a card game released in 2017 by USAopoly, and licensed by Nintendo. It is designed to be played with three to eight players. Playing with two players is possible, but reduces the complexity of how the game is played making it less fun. This becomes evident as the game progresses since the objective is to be the last player standing.

Each player begins with four extra life tokens. In each round of play one or more losers are declared. These losers must discard an extra life token. When a player runs out of extra life tokens they are eliminated from the game.

The four suits of the level card deck.
The four suits of the level card deck.

There are two card decks. The level card deck is essentially a standard 52 playing card deck you would use for poker or bridge. There are four suits: land level, underground level, water level, and Bowser castle level. The suits are not actually used in the game, it’s just interesting that they still decided to include them. Numbers go from one through twelve, replacing ace through queen. Kings are replaced with castle cards.

The other deck is the question block card deck. This deck consists of special items that can change the outcome of a particular round. All players begin with one question block card. In each round a dealer deals one level card to each player face down. The oldest player is first to be the dealer and the role of dealer passes clockwise around the table with each round.

Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game plays like a gambling game. It feels like blackjack when you look at your level card and decide what course of action you plan to take for your turn. Once the dealer has dealt a level card to each player, the player to the dealer’s left examines her level card and determines whether she will hold on to her level card or trade it with the player on her left. Once this decision has been made and any trade completed, play passes around the table in a clockwise fashion until reaching the dealer. If a player receives a castle card as their level card in a round, they must reveal their card and receive an extra question block card from the top of the question block card deck. When a player has a castle card, no other players may trade with them and they automatically are free from losing an extra life token for the duration of the round.

On the dealer’s turn, the dealer turns over her level card to reveal it to the other players. The dealer may then decide to either hold on to her level card or trade her level card with the top card on the level card deck. After this has been completed, everyone reveals their level cards by turning them over.

Any players with the same number on their level cards each receive a question block card. The player or players with the lowest level card values stand to lose at the end of the round. Beginning with the player to the left of the dealer, players may in turn decide whether they wish to play a question block card in their hand if they have one. Question block cards may be used to boost a player’s own level card value or decrease the level card values of an opponent along with other special abilities. When a question block card is played on a player’s level card where a previous question block card has already been played, the most recently played question block card replaces any previously played question block cards before it.

A typical Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game setup.
A typical Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game setup.

Once everyone has decided whether they wish to effect the level card values on the table with their question block cards, the player or players with the lowest level card value must remove one of their extra life tokens from the game. Play then continues into the next round until only one player is left standing.

With a little tweaking, Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game could be turned into a fun poker night gambling game. Given the card decks’ clear similarity to standard playing card decks, I wondered if this game were a recreation of an older card game that already existed prior to repackaging it as a Nintendo licensed product. To recreate the question block cards using a standard playing card deck would be challenging, but not impossible.

The full question block card deck.
The frequency of the cards in the top row are one, middle two, and bottom three.
The full question block card deck.
The frequency of the cards in the top row are one, middle two, and bottom three.

One thing I noticed while playing is that it is easy for players to feel stuck once level cards have been revealed when they no longer have any question block card to play. The question block card deck only contains 30 cards. If the number of cards in the question block card deck could be expanded while retaining a good probability ratio between the common cards that players expect to see and those more powerful cards that heavily influence a round, maybe the game could be tweaked to not only use two standard 52/54 card decks, but would also be more fun to play. Extra life tokens could be replaced with poker chips and a betting component could probably be added.

Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game is a good game for teaching young children the basic rule mechanics of typical card games. There is more skill involved in this game than most games for young children, but the ultimate outcome of playing this game is largely based on chance. While designed for young players, there may be something deeper here that could be refined and improved for those who enjoy coming up with their own house rules.

Qwirkle – Tile-Based Game Review

Quirkle Game Box

Qwirkle Game Box

Qwirkle is a tile-based game for two to four players. It was released in 2006 by publisher MindWare and was designed by Susan McKinley Ross. It is one of those wonderful games that is approachable to young children while simultaneously rich in complex strategy such that there is a great deal to enjoy for advanced players as well. I was introduced to Qwirkle by my five year old son who learned how to play it with his friends at a board game night we attended. He nearly taught me how to play all on his own, though the more advanced strategies seem to be difficult for him to implement and it will take him some practice to ramp up. It is also one of the rare games that doesn’t vary in gameplay based on the number of players playing. The game plays pretty much the same with two players as it does with four players, and no one will feel like a third wheel when playing it with three players.

The Qwirkle set I purchased at Target on sale for 15 dollars has high quality wooden tiles that fit nicely into the supplied cloth bag. Much like Scrabble, players draw their hand from the bag without looking to see what they will get. Each player’s hand is six tiles to start with. After each player plays, they draw the correct number of tiles to replenish their hand.

Quirkle Game Pieces

Qwirkle Game Pieces

There are six different shapes: a square, an x, a diamond, a circle, a star, and a clover. The six different colors are red, blue, purple, green, yellow, and orange. There are 108 tiles in all which divided out means there are three of every shape and color combination that may be played in any game. Having this knowledge comes in handy in the later stage of the game when you are running out of moves for maximum points and want to know if a move can potentially allow an opponent to qwirkle.

In each turn a player plays a single line of tiles that are alike in one of two ways. They are either the same shape but different colors, or they are the same color with different shapes. After the first turn, these lines of tiles must be played on other lines of tiles in the play area. When a tile or line of tiles is added to the play area, points are given for each tile in each line affected by the play. A line of two tiles is worth two points, while a line of four tiles is worth four points. A line of six tiles is called a qwirkle and is worth 6 points for the number of tiles with a bonus of 6 points totaling 12 points.

Linear Gameplay (Before We Knew What We Were Doing)

Linear Gameplay (Before We Knew What We Were Doing)

It is possible to play Qwirkle quite linearly, that is to make plays in straight, solitary lines for 2 to 12 points, hoping when you get your five pieces in a row that your opponent doesn’t have that sixth piece to qwirkle. However, scoring does not just occur on a single line unless only a single line is touched by the play. If a player plays beside an existing line, they are scored for the line they played as well as each line they added that intersects the played line. So, if a player plays a line of two tiles directly beside another line of two tiles, they receive two points for the line they created, plus two points for each of the new lines that were generated by the two lines sitting side by side for a total of six points. When playing in these successively larger squares, this can lead to significant point increases.

Outside of the linear style of play there are two main strategies. A player can play to block others from getting qwirkles. This keeps the opponents’ scores lower but can also impede the scoring potential of the one who played the blocking move. A player can also play to build out the play area so qwirkles are more easily accomplished for everyone.

The order in which tiles are played is extremely important and will affect how successive plays may be made on those tiles later in the game. I have found the best strategy for me is to only play moves where I can get more than five points in the turn. I do this by splitting out my hand. Wherever I have three or more tiles that could be used toward a qwirkle, I keep them saved so I can qwirkle in one move when the time is right. The remaining pieces I attempt to use to play around the board to maximize my points per turn and impede others from achieving their own qwirkles.

Things Got More Interesting When We Learned How to Score More Points

Things Got More Interesting When We Learned How to Score More Points

There is a legal move in which a player may choose to pass on their turn. The player may set aside all tiles from their hand they don’t want to be discarded. Then they may draw that number of tiles from the bag to replenish their hand. The tiles they discarded are then placed back into the bag and the bag is shuffled. Then that player’s turn ends and they are awarded no points. I have not been able to determine a situation in which this would overwhelmingly help a person, outside of perhaps within the first few turns of play. I have thus far not had a hand poor enough that I was willing to purge it at the expense of a turn’s worth of points.

When played with a worthy opponent, Qwirkle tends to be a very cutthroat game. The scores will often be so close that winning or losing comes down to some elegant play in the end game. The player who successfully plays through their entire hand of tiles once the tile bag is empty is awarded an additional six points to their final turn’s score and the game ends. Therefore there is great scoring power in being the last person to play.

I have had a surprising amount of fun playing Qwirkle. It is easy to teach newcomers how to play and it affords a challenge that keeps it fresh. I’ve been taking it to family gatherings. The younger children can still play with the adults, while the adults keep getting better and more difficult to beat. This is a fantastic game that I would recommend be in any board game or strategy game fanatic’s collection.

Xenonauts – Compatibility

Xenonauts Title Screen

Xenonauts Title Screen

System Requirements

Linux

Operating System: Ubuntu 14.04 or greater, Linux Mint 17 or greater
Processor: 2 GHz x86 or greater
Memory: 1 GB RAM
Video: SDL Compatible Video Card, 1280×720 resolution or greater required.
Hard Disk: 3 GB

These packages are required:
libc6:i386
libasound2:i386
libasound2-data:i386
libasound2-plugins:i386
libsdl2-2.0-0:i386 and dependencies.

Mac OS X

Operating System: Mac OS X 10.7 or greater
Processor: 2 GHz x86 or greater
Memory: 1 GB RAM
Video: 1280×720 resolution or greater required.
Hard Disk: 3 GB

Windows

Operating System: Windows Vista or greater
Processor: 2 GHz x86 or greater
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Video: 512 MB DirectX 9.0c Compatible Video Card, 1280×720 resolution or greater required.
Hard Disk: 3 GB

Ubuntu 16.04

The GOG version of Xenonauts appears to run natively with no issues in Ubuntu 16.04.

Xenonauts – Linux, Mac OS X 10.10, and Windows 10 Game First Impressions

Xenonauts Title Screen

Xenonauts Title Screen

It was in the summer time, likely 1996. My best friend was an only child and seemed to have a great knack for talking his mother into buying him computer games from the bargain bin section of whatever store they happened to be shopping in. During this particular week, he and his mom were shopping at Tuesday Morning and he was able to purchase a game neither one of us had ever heard of, but the box cover sure looked interesting. It was a game for MS-DOS and because of its outrageous memory allocation requirements, he couldn’t figure out how to get it to work with his family’s computer system. Since both of his parents worked full-time, he came over a lot during the summer, and one day he brought the game with him to my house to see if I could get it to work on my system. After building a special custom boot disk to boot into a favorable DOS environment to run the game, we both experienced our first contact with the game called X-COM: UFO Defense.

Select Your Main Base

Select Your Main Base

X-COM: UFO Defense is a strategy game, developed by Mythos Games and released in 1994 by MicroProse, that combines real-time strategy with turn-based tactics. The player is tasked with creating and managing the global defense force protecting Earth from hostile invasion by extra-terrestrials. The player must spend their budget wisely purchasing aircraft to intercept and shoot down UFOs. They must hire soldiers to go on missions to eliminate the threat of downed alien spacecraft and to retrieve valuable alien technology. And they are also responsible for hiring and managing scientists to research new technologies to create weapons comparable to the ones the aliens carry.

Intercepting UFOs

Intercepting UFOs

Xenonauts, a game developed and published by Goldhawk Interactive in 2014, seems to have been created to recapture the same vein of nostalgia I had from when I used to play X-COM: UFO Defense with my best friend in the mid-1990s. The game developers state that the game is not meant to be a clone of X-COM, and it is not, but the spirit of that original game is certainly alive and present here. Gamers who played X-COM: UFO Defense will feel at home when selecting their beginning base site, managing their initial base, sending planes out to intercept UFOs and sending out a team of soldiers to investigate a UFO crash landing site.

Close Encounter Shot to the Face

A Close Encounter Shot to the Face

When playing through Xenonauts for the first time, I noticed it seemed to appear very spartan for the year it was released. No cutscenes or rich animations were employed, and I have been unable to find an actual tutorial on how to play the game as far as I can tell. With X-COM: UFO Defense a player had to rely on the manual. Without the manual it was easy to lose very quickly. Maybe Xenonauts was designed to cater to the more mature PC gamer who is used to reading a thick manual to get the most of their strategy game’s mechanics. There are tool-tips that pop up the first time a player accesses any new screen, however, so the player doesn’t have to fly completely blind. I realize having had played X-COM: UFO Defense as a child, I am not much of a newcomer to the genre, but without reading a manual or following a tutorial, I was able to intercept two UFOs and successfully complete my first mission to retrieve alien artifacts from my first downed UFO. There is also a Xenopedia that serves as an in game online help resource while playing.

UFO Secured

UFO Secured

Upon further research, it appears Xenonauts was actually the product of a Kickstarter campaign that was able to raise the sum of $154,715 from 4,668 backers according to Wikipedia. This is an impressive amount, but far from the budget of a AAA studio. With this information to place things in perspective, what the developers of Xenonauts were able to accomplish with this game is impressive. The musical score is complex, easy to listen to, and fits the atmosphere of the game. The sound effects are rich and fit within their contexts as well. While the animations and graphics are simple, no extra imagination is required on the part of the player to discern what they are looking at on the screen at any given moment.

Research Alien Technology

Research Alien Technology

Goldhawk Interactive allowed partial access to the Xenonauts source code which resulted in the creation of Xenonauts: Community Edition, a mod for the Xenonauts game. Those with a retail copy of Xenonauts can apply the community edition mod to expand and enhance their Xenonauts game experience. I’ll try to add another article covering the community edition mod at some later point.

I had a lot of fun briefly playing Xenonauts today, moseying down memory lane. The GOG summer sale just started today. Those that visit GOG.com before June 6th can download a free copy of Xenonauts to play themselves. This is a good game. I’d recommend getting a free copy before the promotion runs out.

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders, FM Towns version – Compatibility

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders Title Screen

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders Title Screen

GOG.com Download System Requirements

Linux

Operating System: Ubuntu 14.04 or greater, Linux Mint 17 or greater
Processor: 2.0 GHz or greater
Memory: 1 GB RAM
Video: 256 MB VRAM, OpenGL compatible video card

Mac OS X

Operating System: Mac OS X 10.7.0 or greater
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 2GHz or greater
Memory: 1GB of RAM
Video: 64MB VRAM

Two-button mouse, or Apple mouse with Secondary Button / Secondary Click enabled recommended.

Windows

Operating System: Windows XP or greater
Processor: 1.4 GHz or greater
Memory: 512MB RAM
Video: DirectX 7 compatible 3D graphics card or greater

Ubuntu 16.04

The FM Towns version of Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders offered by GOG.com works flawlessly from within ScummVM on my Ubuntu 16.04 machine.

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders – FM Towns Game First Impressions

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders Title Screen

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders Title Screen

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders is a graphical adventure game initially released in 1988 for MS-DOS and later released to the FM Towns system in 1990. Developed and published by Lucasfilm Games, it is the second game after Maniac Mansion to use the SCUMM engine developed by Lucasfilm for use in most of their adventure games during the late 1980s and throughout the end of the 1990s. This makes Zak McKracken an interesting adventure title. While it has many of the elements and style of future adventure game classics such as Full Throttle and the Monkey Island series, it’s also a little rough around the edges and lends itself to brute force trial and error gameplay on the part of the player, a feature of most adventure games of its time.

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders was one of those games that fans of LucasArts adventures had in their collection generally solely because it was a LucasArts adventure game. The LucasArts catalog would be provided in any retail boxed copy of LucasArts games such as The Dig or Maniac Mansion II: Day of the Tentacle. Flipping through the catalog, knowing how much fun it was to play the other titles, gamers would see an ad for Zak McKracken and couldn’t resist given that it was, “From the makers of The Secret to Monkey Island!”. That’s how I wound up playing this game as a child.

While the word that sums up my memories of The Secret of Monkey Island was, “Amazing,” the word that sums up my recollections of Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders was, “Fun.” I remembered it wasn’t as colorful, having been developed in EGA 16 color mode, but it had that Lucasfilm/LucasArts feel to it that made it charming and the aliens were funny. I saw the game on sale on GOG.com a while ago. I had to get it to complete my collection of these graphical adventure games from this era.

I don't want to work here, please fire me already and get this game over with.

I don’t want to work here, please fire me already and get this game over with.

I have been on a Linux kick recently given that my Windows computer has been occupied with running my business software that hogs all of its system resources. Closing all of my business applications to run a game and then opening them back up again when I’m done playing is cumbersome. Plus, I have always been a fan of the underdog operating system since I first used Caldera OpenLinux in 2001 when I installed it on one of the first computers I built. I’d like to spread the word of which games work and how well they work so other would be Linux gamers can be informed.

The SCUMM engine lent itself to being easily ported across multiple system architectures back when Lucasfilm was releasing their games on Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari ST, IBM PC, FM Towns, and other systems. Today an application called ScummVM, which can be found at www.scummvm.org, offers a virtual machine environment to play these games across multiple modern platforms: Windows 10, macOS, Linux, and many others. ScrummVM is used by GOG.com as the basis for running Lucasfilm/LucasArts adventure games downloaded from their site.

The ScummVM Menu for Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders

The ScummVM Menu for Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders

Running the installation script from GOG.com for Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders was as easy as running a game setup program on Windows. Make sure you run the installation script without root permissions though or it will lock you out of being able to access your game once installed. A convenient link was added to my games menu that I was able to click on to run the game. ScummVM popped up and offered me two versions of Zak McKracken to play.

I blindly chose the first option and started the game. This was not the Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders I remembered. The colors were way richer. Zak looked much different, and the title theme music was incredible! It was like discovering a whole new game I had never played before. Were my memories of the past so faded? How did this happen?

It's the Two-Headed Squirrel!

It’s the Two-Headed Squirrel!

In Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders, the player assumes the role of Zak, a tabloid news reporter who hates his job and would rather be writing novels. The game begins with Zak whining to his boss that he’ll never get a Pulitzer prize writing “sleazy” tabloid articles when he is assigned to go to Seattle to investigate rumors of a two-headed squirrel attacking park goers in Washington State. Meanwhile, the aliens in a secret room are using a machine sending pulses through the global telephone network that are slowly making the population of Earth stupider so they can take over the world. Gameplay begins after the initial cutscene with Zak McKracken complaining to his boss. The player is then in control of Zak McKracken in his apartment preparing for his plane trip from San Francisco to Seattle.

Once again, the game looked far different from what I remembered. Not only were the graphics crisper and more vivid in color, but the expressions on Zak’s face and that of his boss were different from what I recalled. When I played the MS-DOS version I remembered it playing out like more of a sitcom, whereas this new Zak seemed way too serious and incredibly obnoxious to me. I seriously wanted to see him get fired by his boss, “Oh, you don’t want to write my ‘stupid’ tabloid articles? Fine, get out!” It was at this point that I noted something was certainly not right.

The aliens and their stupid machine. It has an effect on them too.

The aliens and their stupid machine. It has an effect on them too.

The two options of Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders offered via the ScrummVM from the GOG.com download are for two different ports of the game. The second option was the MS-DOS version that came out in 1988 that I fondly remembered, while the first option was the FM Towns remake with 256-color redrawn graphics along with new and improved sound. It is amazing how a change in the graphics and sound of a game will influence my opinion of a game.

One would generally expect that better graphics and sound would lead to better gameplay. While the intro theme is indeed better and objects are easier to see and interact with in the FM Towns version, there are so many aesthetic design mistakes that make Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders fall from being a classic to simply bearable retro graphic adventure. After playing it for ten minutes, the first thing you will want to do is kill the sound. Anywhere you go while in San Francisco, which is where you will be for the first 30 minutes of the game if you haven’t played it before, you’ll hear obnoxious white-noise traffic sounds with a random police siren mixed in constantly at the same volume whether you are out on the street or in your own apartment. Be careful if you pick up the phone in your apartment. Make sure you have any phone number you wish to call ready to dial, and don’t dial it incorrectly. Leaving the phone off of the receiver makes the most irritating beeping noise until you figure out how to pick up the receiver and get it hung up again. Getting to the airport to fly out to Seattle is a welcome, quiet change until you hear the airplane noises from being in the airplane.

I wonder how much clean water this plane has.

I wonder how much clean water this plane has.

While spending time in the airplane was actually the most fun I had while playing in preparation for this first impressions article, it takes way too long to fly from place to place. To pass the time I would go to the plane’s lavatory and turn on the sink, press the flight attendant’s call button, and open the overhead carry-on compartments while in flight. I never noticed the little annoying details when I played Zak McKracken as a kid. Maybe games today do a better job of quickly getting to the important gameplay.

Playing through the first portion of Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders is like reading through the beginning of a novel that is slow to ramp up. People tell you its a good story if you stick with it. There are a few humorous spots that keep you somewhat engaged, the aliens seem like they would be plucky adversaries, and there is the potential love interest named Melissa that haunts Zak’s dreams. All of these things lead up to a potentially good adventure if the player can keep the desire to see it through. With so many other graphical adventure games to play, and with this one’s sounds and artwork being so abrasive, it might be awhile before I come back and complete this one.

Upgrading to the Latest Development Version of Wine in Lubuntu Linux to Play Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas Title Screen

Fallout: New Vegas Title Screen

A couple days ago, Bethesda Softworks released a teaser trailer for the new game Fallout 76. I have heard speculation that it might be a Fallout MMO, which would be awesome. I have been unable to find any details on release date yet. The news of a new Fallout game made me want to go back and play an older Fallout game.

It was while browsing through my Fallout game collection that I noticed Fallout: New Vegas is available on Steam download for Windows users only. I was surprised by this. I thought surely there would be a Mac version released at some point if not a Linux version. I went on the wine website and checked their AppDB to see how compatible Fallout: New Vegas is for running in wine. For those unfamiliar, wine is a program that runs in Linux that can be used to run windows compatible software with varied success. They have an AppDB that keeps track of what programs work for what versions of wine across various flavors of Linux. The wine program’s website may be found at www.winehq.org. The AppDB can be found at appdb.winehq.org.

Cutscenes Work Flawlessly in Wine 3.9

Cutscenes Work Flawlessly in Wine 3.9

According to the AppDB on the wine website, Fallout: New Vegas should work flawlessly in any version of wine since version 3.3. Excited by this, I downloaded the game to one of my Linux machines and got ready to play. The flavor of Linux I prefer to use is Lubuntu, a Ubuntu variant. The game downloaded successfully and I launched it with wine. The game bombed right at the title screen.

Depressed and annoyed by this, I checked my wine version I had install on my machine. You do this by opening a terminal and typing in the command, “wine –version”. I saw my machine had wine version 1.9 running on it. Users of Ubuntu and its variants who want to get a stable, system compatible version of wine up and running very quickly can use the the Synaptic Package Manager, search for wine, and install the most recent wine version offered within the “Universe” package repository provided by default upon installation of the operating system. This version of wine, while tested to work well with the operating system, is not the latest and best version of wine to achieve high compatibility with more recent Windows programs. To do that, you must go to wiki.winehq.org/Ubuntu and download the latest version using the instructions provided there.

We've Got Some Geckos to Clear Out.

We’ve Got Some Geckos to Clear Out.

There are three branches of wine versions that can be installed via the apt-get command on Ubuntu flavored Linux systems directly from winehq: stable, development, and staging. Stable is less error prone, obviously. Staging is what will hopefully be released with the kinks worked out in the next version. Meanwhile the development branch, despite its name, has turned out iteratively better versions of wine that can be used with relative stability until the next stable branch version comes out. The longer I get away from a stable wine version, the more I feel a need to use the latest development branch version.

To install the latest development branch version of wine onto my Lubuntu system, I first had to open a terminal and type in commands to add the wine specific repository to download the latest wine development branch packages. The first command I ran was to enable my system to download and install 32-bit binaries and code libraries necessary for wine to run any 32-bit applications. Interestingly, 64-bit Ubuntu systems are more apt to run fully 64-bit code as opposed to Windows systems where it seems many libraries still have a 32-bit variant, sometimes the 32-bit one is used by default.

sudo dpkg --add-architecture i386

To add the wine specific repository for the latest branches, run the following commands in the terminal. I ran these commands from my home directory.

wget -nc https://dl.winehq.org/wine-builds/Release.key
sudo apt-key add Release.key
sudo apt-add-repository https://dl.winehq.org/wine-builds/ubuntu/

Then run an update to pull down the latest package information.

sudo apt-get update

Finally, install the latest wine version from the development branch.

sudo apt-get install --install-recommends winehq-devel

Everything completed successfully, so I was finally able to run Fallout: New Vegas using the latest development version of wine on my machine. I reloaded the game and watched it crash again in roughly the same place. Hmmm, that’s not good. I checked my wine version again. Still 1.9! What happened!?!

The Ubuntu default wine installation from the universe repository installs its wine binaries into the /usr/local/bin directory and has all sorts of system links that call the wine commands located there. This directory is also part of the system path ($PATH), so any wine command contained there will be favored even over a wine command located in the /usr/bin directory. Meanwhile, the wine binaries for the latest development branch are installed to the /opt/wine-devel/bin directory.

It was at this point that I wrote a bash script to replace the old wine binaries in the /usr/local/bin directory with links to the new binaries in the /opt/wine-devel/bin directory. I opened a new file in a text editor and saved it as RefreshWineCommandsToDevel.sh. Once the script was run, all of my Ubuntu specific links were now pointing to the more recent version of wine. The contents of the script follow.

if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wine ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wine
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wine /usr/local/bin/wine
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wine64 ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wine64
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wine64 /usr/local/bin/wine64
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wine64-preloader ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wine64-preloader
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wine64-preloader /usr/local/bin/wine64-preloader
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wineboot ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wineboot
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wineboot /usr/local/bin/wineboot
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winebuild ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winebuild
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winebuild /usr/local/bin/winebuild
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winecfg ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winecfg
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winecfg /usr/local/bin/winecfg
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wineconsole ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wineconsole
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wineconsole /usr/local/bin/wineconsole
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winecpp ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winecpp
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winecpp /usr/local/bin/winecpp
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winedbg ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winedbg
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winedbg /usr/local/bin/winedbg
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winedump ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winedump
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winedump /usr/local/bin/winedump
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winefile ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winefile
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winefile /usr/local/bin/winefile
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wineg++ ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wineg++
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wineg++ /usr/local/bin/wineg++
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winemaker ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winemaker
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winemaker /usr/local/bin/winemaker
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winemine ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winemine
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winemine /usr/local/bin/winemine
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winepath ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winepath
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winepath /usr/local/bin/winepath
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wine-preloader ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wine-preloader
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wine-preloader /usr/local/bin/wine-preloader
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wineserver ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wineserver
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wineserver /usr/local/bin/wineserver

Once the script was created and saved with the above contents, I was able to run the script using the following command from the directory that the script was located in.

sudo bash RefreshWineCommandsToDevel.sh

After that, when I ran “wine –version” I received output indicating the current version of 3.9. Time to test out Fallout: New Vegas again.

Well, VATS!

Well, VATS!

It worked! Perhaps flawlessly? There were moments where it would briefly slow down a little or acted funky, but I remember having had a few problems with it when I used to run it natively on Windows. Looks like this was a success. All of the screenshots included in this article were taken from within Linux while running Fallout: New Vegas in Wine 3.9. Many thanks to all of the wine developers that make it possible to play these mainstream Windows only titles on the Linux platform. Wine helps me get closer to having a truly integrated universal gaming platform that will play all of my games.

Owlboy – Compatibility

Owlboy Title Screen

Owlboy Title Screen

System Requirements

Linux

Operating System: Any Linux variant with glibc 2.15 or greater.
Processor: Any dual core processor 32-bit or 64-bit
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Video: OpenGL 3.0 or greater supported
Hard Disk: 600 MB required

SDL_GameController devices fully supported

macOS

Operating System: Mac OS X 10.7.5 or greater.
Processor: Any dual core processor 32-bit or 64-bit
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Video: OpenGL 3.0 or greater supported
Hard Disk: 600 MB required

SDL_GameController devices fully supported

Windows

Operating System: Windows 7 or greater
Processor: Any dual core processor 32-bit or 64-bit
Memory: 1 GB RAM
Video: DirectX 10 capable graphics card required. DirectX must be version 9.0c or greater.
Hard Disk: 600 MB required

Windows 10

This game was designed for and seems to work flawlessly in Windows 10.

Owlboy – Linux, Mac OS X 10.13, Windows 10 Game First Impressions

Owlboy Title Screen

Owlboy Title Screen

Owlboy is a puzzle, platformer, two-dimensional free movement shooter released in 2016 for the Steam platform. It was developed and published by D-Pad Studio. With a rich though linear storyline like you might find in a JRPG, Owlboy blends many genres and integrates game mechanics from many types of games.

Owlboy follows the adventures of a mute owl by the name of Otis. Given Otis’ disability, he is bullied by his peers and has a hard time living up to the standards of the town leaders. Overcoming disability and standing up to bullying may turn out to be a theme throughout the game.

The game begins with the player flying around the village of Vellie getting to know the villagers and serving as a look out for pirates. The villagers inform Otis of a troublemaker who has been plaguing the town. Eventually the player explores to the point where the bully owls frighten and intimidate Otis. The local tinkerer named Geddy comes to Otis’ defense and they team up to explore together. At that point Geddy becomes part of the player’s party and Otis can pick up Geddy to fly him around.

Pew Pew, Take that Troublemaker!

Pew Pew, Take that Troublemaker!

Otis flies around using the W, A, S, D keys. Geddy has a pea shooter than can be used to shoot at enemies and objects. It is particularly effective when shooting anything that is wooden. The player uses the mouse to aim and the left mouse button to fire. Most of the game controls are well labeled on screen whenever they may be used to interact with the environment.

After all of the villagers have been greeted and another owl has been saved from bullying, Otis and Geddy encounter the town troublemaker and chase him down to a cave where the real game begins. The first area is fairly simple to navigate and serves as a tutorial to help the player learn all of the game mechanics and get used to the style of puzzle solving that will be expected later.

Spin to Break Rock, Not Wood

Spin to Break Rock, Not Wood

Geddy can be picked up and flown around and is useful for firing on enemies. His pea shooter kills most enemies I have encountered thus far and annihilates dry old tree trunks. When not carrying Geddy, Otis can use a spin attack that can only stun enemies, but can also be used to break rocks which are impervious to the Geddy’s pea shooter. It is in this area that the player learns the strengths and weaknesses of each character’s abilities. Similar to Super Mario Bros. 2, health is boosted and restored in Owlboy by pulling produce out of the ground and eating it. Whenever I have encountered something growing out of the ground, I have found it best to go ahead and eat it to get a larger health bar.

The First Boss

The First Boss

The first boss wasn’t as easy as I tend to expect a boss to be immediately following a tutorial. There was a good deal of trial and error as I worked to determine which character needed to fire in what way in order to cause the boss damage. I don’t recall seeing any health bar for the boss to indicate how much damage was being dealt, nor was there any particular difference that I could detect in the flashes that came from shooting the boss with Geddy’s pea shooter and using Otis’ spin attack.

It eventually became clear however that the first boss had armor in the front that could not be penetrated. It that had to be kicked off using Otis’ spin attack from behind. Then once the armor was off, Otis’ had to be carrying Geddy in order to shoot the boss with the pea shooter. Once I figured out the pattern, defeating the boss wasn’t at all hard, but definitely provided evidence for an interesting game going forward.

Throwing Geddy into a stone wall. This is fun.

Throwing Geddy into a stone wall. This is fun.

Upon defeating the boss, the player gains an artifact that allows them to press a button to transport Geddy to Otis’ location from wherever he happens to be. This is an extremely helpful mechanic as I was worried about losing him throughout most of the game leading up to the first boss. In many games any companion received must usually be handled with care. In Owlboy it appears you can slam Geddy against any wall or throw him off cliffs with great comedic slapstick relief and he will come back with no issue. Geddy looks fragile, but he can take a real beating.

Once Otis and Geddy get back to town after chasing the troublemaker and defeating the boss, they find the village riddled with pirates. The pirates seize an artifact that will help them attack the capital of Advent and they leave to do so. Otis’ mentor Asio leaves with the village professor to warn those at the capital while Otis and Geddy are tasked with going to the ancient Owl Temple to discover if there is a way to defeat the pirate fleet with the old owl technology.

Sky Pirates!

Sky Pirates!

Owlboy’s graphic style is reminiscent of 32-bit platformers released in the mid to late 1990s. The parallax looks phenomenal. The sound is what I would expect and suites the story. In many ways Owlboy is a typical puzzle platformer that delivers everything I would expect in a predictable manner. But just when I guess where I think it is going, it has so far surprised me with a little twist here or extra unexpected depth there. This also seems to be a good title for adolescents. The content so far seems safe while the challenge provided is worthy and not too easy. The game is rated E10+ by the ESRB, so I’ll leave that to parents to decide. I certainly have enjoyed playing Owlboy thus far, and look forward to continuing the adventures of Otis and Geddy again soon.