Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Blake Stone Review

Game: Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold
Year (s): 1993
Company: dev. JAM Productions
pub. Apogee Software
Engine: Wolfenstein Engine
Type: Shooter, Maze Runner
Viewpoint: First-Person
Metacritic Score: This predates Metacritic.
My Score: An alternative game for fans of Wolfenstein 3D

Price (as of April 20, 2014)

Regular list price on Steam: $9.99 for the Apogee Throwback Bundle
Lowest Buy-It-Now on eBay (new, with shipping): Come on now. You don't have a floppy drive.

The evil geneticist Pyrus Goldfire, with his numerous installations, has amassed a mutant army and intends to conquer the galaxy. Only you, British special agent Blake Stone, can stop him. Pursue him through each installation, but be careful! On the 9th floor, there is a boss.

JAM and Apogee
If you haven't heard of JAM, don't feel bad. They made Blake Stone, and the Blake Stone expansion game, and that was it. They are no longer around, though one of their three programmers went on to work with other game companies including TKO, Ion Storm, and id Software.

Apogee published Wolfenstein 3D, and was both a developer and a publisher of games. In the mid-nineties, Apogee decided to create separate brands for the different types of games it created. 3D Realms was used for all 3D games, such as Duke Nukem 3D. Another brand was created for pinball games, of which they made only one. Two-dimensional side-scrollers dropped in popularity during the nineties, so while Apogee was legally still Apogee, fans of their games knew them as 3D Realms.

Apogee/3D Realms was influential in the nineties, but then spent over a decade failing to deliver a sequel for Duke Nukem 3D. The company eventually went bankrupt.

Save System

Manual Save? Yes
Quick Save? No
Area Load Save? No
Checkpoint Save? No

Engine and Gameplay
Blake Stone runs on the Wolfenstein engine, and gameplay is nearly identical. You run around, shoot guys, collects keycards, shove the wall to find secrets, and move to the next level. There's a point system and high scores. Levels can be tediously maze-like.

There are a few small improvements. If you were in a room and didn't notice a key, it'll show up on your map. The initial weapon is silent, leading to a possible stealth approach that, while not a focus of the game, was ahead of its time. Friendly NPCs were also ahead of the game, as many scientists were, “informants,” and would not attack you. Allowing them to live only affected the score.

Expansions / DLC / Sequels
Blake Stone: Planetary Strike had another 20 levels, as well as a few secret levels. This added some re-skinned enemies (some were invisible-ish), a new weapon, and a slightly different aim to end a level. I got about halfway through this, but after the 54 standard levels of the original game, plus two or three secret levels I'd found, I had lost my interest in the maze-run, “where's the stupid key?” gameplay.

Final Thoughts
Blake Stone was meant to compete with Wolfenstein 3D, an immensely popular game at the time. In that regard, it succeeded. It used the same engine in a different setting, changing a few minor things, and offered a ton of levels for gamers growing bored.
Unfortunately, Doom was released one week after the debut of Blake Stone. It had stairs, elevators, light sources... Blake could not compete. I played the shareware of Blake Stone, so I got a tickle of nostalgia from it. I've never heard anyone else mention the game, shareware or otherwise.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Confusion in the Ranks Deck

Confusion in the Ranks: 5 mana red enchantment that reads, "Whenever an artifact, creature, or enchantment enters the battlefield, its controller chooses target permanent another player controls that shares a card type with it. Exchange control of those permanents."  

Six or eight years ago, I learned of this card and got four of them, and slapped together the rest of a 40 card deck from whatever I had.  40 card decks were legal at the time, or, if they weren't, we didn't know.  

I've remade this to be a legal 60-card deck.  This meant that I needed to either have tutors or lots of card drawing (in order to ensure Confusion in the Ranks gets out), and I chose to go with black for tutors (white has enchantment tutors, but offered nothing otherwise interesting). 

This hasn't been played yet, so it might get mixed up.  Measure of Wickedness seems perfect, but I feared it would lead to instant, vicious retaliation.  Cards with huge drawbacks, like Cosmic Horror, are tempting but have a high mana cost that did not justify replacing existing cards.  

So, here's the remake:

4 Confusion in the Ranks
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
2 Diabolic Tutor

4 Glitterfang
3 Viashino Sandscout
1 Norin the Wary
4 Sleeper Agent

4 Dark Ritual
4 Wild Cantor

3 Lurking Jackals
3 Nyxborn Rollicker

3 Steel Golem
3 Bronze Bombshell

1 Kher Keep
Multicolor Lands