Ground Control II: Operation Exodus – Compatibility

Ground Control II Title Screen

Ground Control II Title Screen

System Requirements

Operating System: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP
Processor: 1.5GHz Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon
Memory: 256MB RAM
Video: 128MB AGP video card
Hard Drive: 1.5GB
Optical Drive: 24x CD-ROM
Windows 10

  • Installs – Yes
  • Runs – Yes
  • Uninstalls – Yes

Everything with Ground Control II appears to work flawlessly in Windows 10.

Ground Control II: Operation Exodus – Windows XP Game First Impressions

Ground Control II Title Screen

Ground Control II Title Screen

I must preface this article by stating that the majority of my current real-time strategy game knowledge comes from games that came out prior to the year 2000. Starcraft was a LAN party favorite, though we were known to crack out Warcraft II, Command & Conquer, Total Annihilation, and Age of Empires II. I briefly played Supreme Commander with friends when it came out. When the first Ground Control came out, I had a friend who continually badgered me to play it. He talked like it would change my paradigm with regard to strategy games. It’s possible it may have, had I played it. My friend and I were both in high school at the time with limited money. He wanted me to play his game and I wanted him to play Starcraft instead.

Years later I purchased Ground Control II: Operation Exodus at a used bookstore. I’m not really sure what kept me from playing it until now. Perhaps life just got in the way. I know I picked it up and played it a couple of times but couldn’t really get into it for some reason. Seeing that it works in Windows 10, it’s time to give it another chance.

Ground Control II: Operation Exodus is a real-time strategy game developed by Massive Entertainment and released by Sierra in 2004. As I stated earlier, it is the sequel to Ground Control that was released in 2000. The thing I noticed at first glance when playing that makes this game unique is its emphasis on tactics and the elimination of base building.

Ground Control II Pro Tip

Ground Control II Pro Tip

In Starcraft, Command & Conquer, etc., a certain quantity of a needed resource is provided on the game’s playfield. When that resource is extracted, it can be used to build buildings in the player’s base and from those buildings construct various unit types to be used in combat. Ground Control II gets rid of this by giving you a starting number of units and then giving the player what are called acquisition points. Acquisition points are granted whenever a player overtakes another player’s capture point or drop ship base. When enough acquisition points are accumulated, the player may use them to purchase units that are delivered via drop ship to their own drop ship base. If a player has no drop ship base, there is no way for them to spend acquisition points. This makes Ground Control II more of a hybrid between games like Starcraft which is truly a real-time strategy title and something like Myth where starting number of units in battle is finite, which falls squarely into the real-time tactics genre.

Drop Ship Location

Drop Ship Location

There are some interesting concepts introduced in Ground Control II that I have not seen in other real-time strategy games. Infantry units, while weak like in many real-time strategy titles, can be sandwiched in all sorts of places you wouldn’t expect on the map. They can be hidden inside buildings, or hide out in forests. Directing a tank can be unwieldy. Blindly right-clicking in a direction may or may not work, depending on what the unit thinks your direct orders to it were. Whenever I tell an infantry unit to move, however, it always seems to move. Infantry can just go anywhere and squeeze into any place. They are easily underestimated, and a delight to use to come up with improvised strategies. The player may also use acquisition points to call in air strikes on enemy base locations. The air strike takes a certain amount of time to occur after it has been ordered. Be careful you don’t blow up your own units when you use it.

The tutorial is fairly boring to play through – it actually put me to sleep the first time I played through it – but it is quite informative. I would recommend starting there if you are new to the Ground Control series. Some of the things discussed apply across all real-time strategy games, but others do not. I recall jumping in without the tutorial one of the times I tried to pick Ground Control II up and being a little confused.

Capturing Their Drop Ship Location

Capturing Their Drop Ship Location

Of course, if you like playing games with the sound turned on, you may be confused anyway. The units under the player’s command will talk like they are completely out-numbered, surrounded and about to be slaughtered when they first witness an enemy unit a hundred yards away. It gets frustrating microing units on one side of the map, feeling like you are doing pretty good as the enemy is on the run, and then hearing chatter like you are losing the entire game due to one little unit from the enemy making its way across enemy lines on the other side of the map. At least I learned to ignore those sounds once I had played the tutorial.

And Their Main Base

And Their Main Base

In my gameplay thus far, the Empire has come back from Earth to reestablish control on their former fringe colonies that have since flourished in their freedom from the Empire’s oppressive rule. In the first campaign, the player plays as the resistance forces of the Northern Star Alliance working to remove the Empire from their worlds. In the second level of this campaign, a UFO crashes into the capital city of the Northern Star Alliance, Morningstar Prime. As the game progresses it appears the player may also play a campaign as an alien race. I’ll need to play through Ground Control II, and Ground Control for that matter, and then review further to know more about what happens.

Ground Control II game disc

Ground Control II game disc

Ground Control II: Operation Exodus has mostly been a forgettable and largely uninspiring experience for me thus far. Its plot and gameplay mechanics are interesting. Its cutscenes are well made. The graphics and sound are alright. As far as science fiction real-time strategy games released by Sierra go, this one blows Outpost 2: Divided Destiny out of the water. But Ground Control II is missing that spark for me. When the infantrymen die in the unmoving cutscenes, I feel like I am watching clay figures or toy soldiers; I don’t have any emotional feelings for these polygonal people. The character’s chatter feels canned. I have yet to receive satisfaction from the game telling me I did a job well done. The only satisfaction received from this game is beating the level and flanking the enemy. It could be for this reason that playing the multiplayer mode would be far better than the single-player campaigns. If I can find someone to play with me, I’ll give that a try. Until then I would only recommend Ground Control II to collector’s who must have every game, and strategy buffs who feel they must beat every real-time strategy title.

Arcanum – Windows 98 Game First Impressions

Arcanum Cover Art

Arcanum Cover Art

Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magic Obscura is a role-playing game developed by Troika Games and published by Sierra in 2001. The game is played from an isometric perspective and combat occurs in real-time. I would say Arcanum feels most like a cross between Diablo and Fallout.

Upon starting the game the player first creates a new character or selects a pre-built character. The pre-built characters have compelling back stories regarding who they are, where they are from, and why they are boarding the IFS Zephyr air ship on their way to Tarant. The entire world of Arcanum has this steampunk feel to it. Some players are best with magic, while others with technology, and a few walk the line between both. There seems to be a great tension in the Arcanum story as to which type of power is stronger and will ultimately win out over the other. After selecting or creating a character, the opening cutscene plays and the player sees the air ship shot down by some unsavory fellows.

Many character background stories are fascinating

Many character background stories are fascinating.

After the crash, while fumbling in the wreckage, the player hears someone crying for help and moves debris in order to get to the person pinned down. Upon inspection, it appears the person is an elderly gnome. He gives the player possession of a ring and tasks her with bringing the ring to a boy while talking of unspeakable evil saying that the boy will know what to do. After breathing his last, a shadowy figure is seen approaching through the smoke of the wreckage and the game enters its first load screen.

Arcanum summed up in two words: Steampunk

Arcanum summed up in two words: Steampunk

Arcanum is incredibly rich in story but chock full of technical difficulty. The game lagged constantly while I played it. You can make your character walk smoothly or you can scroll to see more of the surrounding area in a given direction smoothly, but if you try to do both at the same time you will have problems. Entering new areas causes the game to seemingly lock up, though it really just seems to be an extension of the really long load times.

After the first obnoxiously long load time the player meets the shadowy figure from the cutscene, a man by the name of Virgil. He informs her that he is a recent follower of the Panarii religion, that she is the chosen one, and that she must fight the evil one while babbling about her like a half-wit. He suggests they go into the nearby town of Shrouded Hills to meet one Elder Joachim to get some answers. Once she agrees, he joins the player’s party.

Arcanum Gameplay

Arcanum gameplay

I decided to take this time to scavenge among the wreckage and hunt wolves and other hostile creatures I found. From just killing all the unsavory creatures around the downed air ship I was able to reach level 2 and I picked up a sword that was twice as good as my starting dagger. Combat is achieved by clicking on an enemy using the left mouse button. Once a player has successfully slain all nearby enemies, combat mode does not always go away. Clicking the right mouse button will exit combat mode in those cases.

Notes are kept of vital in-game info you can refer to later.

Notes are kept on vital in-game info you can refer to later.

Satisfied I had explored everything and received as much experience in the area as possible, I traversed the clearing that seemed to be part of a road. On the way the party of Virgil and I was greeted by a strange cloaked figure that wanted to know if I had survived the crash. It doesn’t matter what dialog options you use with this guy, he will attempt to kill you. He was apparently there to ensure no one survived.

Arcanum Overworld Map

Arcanum Overworld Map

Once the party is done killing the assassin, it is possible to bring up the overworld map and travel to Shrouded Hills. Alternatively it appears it is possible to just continue to walk through the entire world map without any fast travel, much like in more recent role-playing games such as those in The Elder Scrolls series. Upon fast traveling to Shrouded Hills, after fumbling about in town looking for it we entered the Shrouded Hills Inn. There we found dead assassins in Elder Joachim’s room. He had left a note and bid us to travel to the place where he was safe. It was at this point that I began looking for a way out of town. While looking we ran into an incredibly lucky wolf that got a fatally critical hit on yours truly.

The graphics are superb for when Arcanum was released. The cutscenes are emotionally stimulating and truly make you feel a part of the story. The in-game graphics are a step above Fallout and Fallout 2 though obviously similar in design. Arcanum was developed by Jason D. Anderson, Leonard Boyarsky, and Timothy Cain, all former designers of the game Fallout. The sound and background music is also superb and really places the player in the mood and environment of the story the designers intended to tell.

Arcanum contains great cutscenes

Arcanum contains great cutscenes.

It’s obvious I am going to have to spend much more time playing Arcanum. There is so much story here, all of which appears to be incredibly deep with well crafted lore. The question will be whether my patience will hold out with the technical difficulties presented by the game’s issues. This would seem to be the perfect title for a remastered version, one where all the bugs are fixed. Troika Games closed their doors in 2005, but given that Arcanum can still be purchased on Valve’s Steam platform, I would imagine that someone would have the rights to make such a remastered version possible.

Arcanum Game Disc

Arcanum Game Disc

I would say Arcanum is worth owning for serious computer role-playing game fans who have already played through all of the other more approachable classics such as those from The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Diablo, and Dungeons & Dragons series. Even without the technical difficulties present in this game, it seems to be geared more toward the experienced role-playing gamer. The setup application even suggests the player get familiar with certain chapters of the manual while waiting for the game to install on their hard disk. At the moment I am writing this article, Arcanum is selling on Steam for $5.99. I feel that is a worthy price to have this one in my collection, but be advised this game does not hold your hand at any point. I look forward to exploring this game further as time goes on; perhaps as an angry Twitch stream, that could be interesting.

Arcanum – Compatibility

Arcanum Cover Art

Arcanum Cover Art

System Requirements

Operating System: Windows 95, 98, ME, or 2000
Processor: Pentium II 450MHz
Memory: 128MB RAM
Hard Disk: 1.2GB Required
Video: DirectX certified for version 7a. 16MB video RAM.
Sound: 16-bit DirectX compatible sound card.
Format: 2 CD-ROM Discs

Windows 10

  • Installs – Yes.
  • Runs – Yes.
  • Uninstalls – Yes.

3D Ultra Pinball: ThrillRide – Compatibility

3D Ultra Pinball Thrill Ride Title Screen

3D Ultra Pinball: ThrillRide Compatibility

System Requirements

Operating System: Windows 95/98
Processor: Pentium Compatible 200MHz
Memory: 64MB RAM
Hard Disk: 95 MB Install Space plus 30 MB free space for swap.
Optical Drive: 4x CD-ROM
Video: 800×600 Resolution with 256 colors.
Mouse is required.

Windows 10

  • Installs – Yes.
  • Runs – Yes.
  • Uninstalls – Yes.
  • CD-ROM is required to play the game.

3D Ultra Pinball: ThrillRide – Windows 98 Game First Impressions

3D Ultra Pinball Thrill Ride Title Screen

3D Ultra Pinball: ThrillRide Title Screen

The other week I published a first impressions review of 3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent released by Sierra in 1997. I felt a little bad about that review because it felt like I really roasted Sierra for publishing what I felt was a miserably bad game. I found another game in the 3D Ultra Pinball series that came out three years later in the year 2000, 3D Ultra Pinball: ThrillRide, and decided to give it a try.

It almost seems as if Sierra read my first impressions review from the future when they created 3D Ultra Pinball: ThrillRide. Every complaint I had regarding the previous game has been corrected in this game. The graphics are sharp and crisp. The audio is pleasing. The physics of the balls are more reliable and actually make sense. The game seems fair to play. And, perhaps most importantly, this pinball game is actually a lot of fun!

The bumpers are bumper cars

The bumpers are actually bumper cars.

3D Ultra Pinball: ThrillRide is themed off of an amusement park. The main table contains an intersection of entrances to multiple amusement park rides and attractions. Hitting a ball into a ride entrance will start a ride. Some rides like the Flying Falcon and Bumper Cars change the layout configuration of the main pinball table when played. Other rides will take the player to a totally new table for a bonus game.

The Flying Falcon

The Flying Falcon

When the Flying Falcon is activated, multiball of four balls occurs all with a different color: blue, red, yellow, and green. Successfully striking all of the colored balls into the ride at the correct time will cause the player to win and complete that ride. It is my suspicion that the player either wins the game or something dramatically impressive occurs when all of the rides have been won or completed.

Lots of pinball options

Lots of pinball options.

Another nice feature of 3D Ultra Pinball: ThrillRide is the ability to customize the play experience. Selecting an easy, medium, or hard game will reset the custom settings to a default state based on that level of difficulty, but each setting can be specifically customized by the user to create a preferred pinball experience. I am not sure I have played a pinball game with more options than this one has.

In my review of 3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent, I complained about Sticky Keys getting activated on my Windows 10 machine. Once again in 3D Ultra Pinball: ThrillRide, the default flipper controls are set to the left and right shift keys. This makes sense as these are the most logical and natural keys for this purpose on a standard computer keyboard. Getting truly frustrated by my Windows configuration, I looked up how to disable Sticky Keys on my machine. I have posted a tutorial for other gamers to help keep others from being as frustrated as I have been.

3D Ultra Pinball: ThrillRide Game Disc

3D Ultra Pinball: ThrillRide Game Disc

Compared to its predecessor 3D Ultra Pinball: ThrillRide is absolute gold. It brought a smile to my face within the first several seconds of playing; a smile that stayed with me throughout the duration of the game. I wouldn’t say playing ThrillRide has been my best computer pinball experience, but Sierra really redeemed themselves with this one. If you discover a copy of this game in a bargain bin or at a thrift store, do yourself a favor and grab it; this one’s worth it.

3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent – Compatibility

3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent

3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent

Windows 10

  • Installs – Yes
  • Runs – Yes
  • Uninstalls – No, not automatically.
  • Requires CD-ROM to play.

Surprisingly, this game from 1997 installs and runs nearly flawlessly for me in Windows 10. There is some flicker or transparent artifact that can be seen surrounding the border of the video cut scenes, but the cut scene itself is unaffected and so is game play. This game requires the CD-ROM to play, even when installing the full game to the hard disk. Its consistent polling of the CD-ROM drive can cause the game to lag slightly. You will want to reconfigure the controls prior to playing this game since the default controls will trigger a “Sticky Keys” dialog to appear in Windows 10. The Sierra provided uninstaller program does not seem to work correctly in Windows 10.

3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent – Computer Game First Impressions

3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent Title Screen

Title Screen

It has probably been years since I last played a pinball game, let alone one on a computer. The last time was probably when I played Space Cadet Pinball as a pack-in game for Windows XP. Its 2D visuals were nice and crisp. Its sounds were sharp and futuristic. And it was fun. Computer pinball games in general have always been fun for me. The first computer pinball game I recall playing was Crystal Caliburn by Little Wing for Windows 3.x. Even though it came out in 1993, its sharp higher resolution bitmap artwork kept me enthralled with its medieval theme. I would play for hours as a grade school student when I should have been doing my homework.

For those who don’t know what pinball is, I’ll have to write a later article to do the subject justice. It should suffice currently to just imagine that there is a ball, falling down at an incline, and that the player can push it back up using one of two paddles on either side of a hole in the middle. If the ball falls into the hole too many times, the game ends. The object is to keep the ball up in the air and score points by knocking the ball into objects within the inclined playing field.

Jewel Case Art

Jewel Case Art

While working my way through my game collection, looking for games that will run natively in Windows 10, I found 3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent. It is the second in a series of pinball games created by Dynamix and published by Sierra in 1997. While I was impressed with how well the game runs on Windows 10, what is most impressive about this game is how cheezy it is.

CD-ROM Art

CD-ROM Art

The game’s plot appears to be that a passenger plane is damaged in a lightning storm and crash-lands on a deserted island filled with dinosaurs and a mad scientist. In the beginning cut scene, as the plane is going down, you can see the pinball playing field on the island. It looks like the plane actually crash-landed into a pinball table. The intro cut scene looks like something designed by my high school buddies using Microsoft Movie Maker. It was 1997 and Movie Maker did not come out until 2000. You can decide if I should cut them more slack. It looks like they had fun making this game what it is, and honestly its most redeeming quality is that it does not seem to take itself too seriously.

Pinball Table Lower Right

Pinball Table Lower Right

I can only imagine begging for my parents to buy me this game in the store when it was retailing upwards of 20 dollars and then getting it home and being incredibly disappointed. I got my copy for 3 dollars at Goodwill. That price was probably worth it just for the laughs I have gotten from watching the intro cut scene and listening to its terrible one-liners. I’m actually somewhat surprised that Sierra released this game at all.

While Sierra released some duds over the years, they generally kept the bar for their releases relatively high. A potentially little known fact about Sierra is that they provided a one hundred percent money-back satisfaction guarantee on all of their games, one that they stood behind. If for any reason you didn’t like the game, you could send it back within 30 days for a full refund. I wonder what percentage of these they received back after people complained demanding their money back.

T-Rex with Some Happy Little Trees

T-Rex with Some Happy Little Trees

The game play in my initial play-through was mediocre. Balls seemingly sometimes unfairly fall out of the play field immediately after being released. When this happens, the game would often toss me a free ball as if it knew it gave me a cheap shot. The free ball seems to come in at random though and blends in too much with all the dinosaurs moving across the screen. It’s hard to tell what the ball is doing when it’s doing it, or why I received certain points and bonuses. I read in another review that 3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent has 16 pinball table levels. When I hit a game over, it allowed me to continue. Hypothetically, if the player were to have unlimited continues, there is nothing stopping them from playing all the way through the game provided they had the patience to do so. 3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent can also be played by up to four players, so play with people you hope to bore that you don’t want coming to see you very often.

Multiball!!!

Multiball!!!

Apparently Windows 10 retained another pinball buzzkill I remembered from my Windows XP days. Whenever you press the shift key too many times in a row, a dialog box pops up asking if you would like to turn on Sticky Keys in Windows. Of course the shift key is a standard paddle key for most computer pinball games. It sure would have been nice if Microsoft had provided a checkbox on their dialog that said something on the order of, “Don’t display this dialog again.” Control keys can be configured in 3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent and game pads can also be enabled, but when all you have is a keyboard, using the shift key just feels natural.

Reconfigure Controls to Avoid this in Windows 10

Reconfigure Controls to Avoid this in Windows 10

Another frustration I have with 3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent is the way it continuously checks the CD-ROM drive for the disc during play. This is a game from 1997, and yet it is lagging on my computer from 2017 because it’s continuously polling the CD-ROM drive even after I chose the option to install the entire game to the hard disk. I figure this is some form of late nineties DRM. Someone at Sierra had a lot of pride in believing anyone would want to make pirated copies of this game.

T-Rex says, "Hi Guys!".

T-Rex says, “Hi Guys!”

3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent really does have a lot of charm. It’s worth installing and loading just to see the cut scenes if obtained at a reasonable price. As far as pinball games though, this just isn’t as fun as a lot of pinball titles that I recall playing prior to its release and pinball games that came after it hit the bargain bin and was largely forgotten.