Reflection: Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

I finally sat down and finished Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (2002) yesterday. It was fun, but I would have enjoyed it more when I was younger and had more time for simple diversions like this.

Quick summary: You play a raccoon cat-burglar in a cartoon animal world, recovering your family heirlooms from evil crime lords while outrunning the law yourself. The game is split into five parts like an old serial; “Sly Cooper in Tide of Terror,” or “Sly Cooper in Vicious Voodoo.” The core of the game is a kind of acrobatic stealth platforming: Avoid the guards, spotlights and trip lasers while jumping, climbing and swinging your way to the end of the level.

My thoughts and mild spoilers follow:
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Running RollerCoaster Tycoon (and Expansions) under Windows XP

RollerCoaster Tycoon Box

One of my favorite games of all time is Chris Sawyer’s RollerCoaster Tycoon. I love carefully crafting a park layout, building coasters that work with the landscape and are fun to watch, and sitting back as thousands of digital denizens enjoy my creations (and hand over thousands of digital dollars). Piles of new games come out every year, but I periodically pop this one back into my computer anyway; its replay value is pretty much infinite. (It helps that I’ve never gotten more than maybe ten scenarios in. I just have too much fun with each park!) And the expansions are totally worth it, if only for the DO NOT ENTER signs that will keep guests out of your ride exit paths.

I haven’t played the sequel, but I imagine I would like it very much – more of the same, with larger parks and maybe support for higher screen resolution. I do own RCT3, but it just isn’t the same… the game is clunky and runs slowly on every system I’ve tried it on. So back to the original I go.

Unfortunately, every time I install the game to a new computer, I’m reminded that it’s aging rapidly and must be installed carefully to be compatible with Windows XP. For anyone who missed out on this incredible game, here’s the trick to get it running on a modern PC:

  1. Install RollerCoaster Tycoon
  2. Install the latest RCT patch
  3. Install your expansion pack of choice
  4. Install the latest patch for the expansion

Those patches are getting harder to find. You can get them at TycoonPlanet. They also host a more detailed Compatibility Guide if you’re having trouble getting it up and running.

IFComp 2009

Judging for the 2009 Interactive Fiction Competition is underway. There are twenty-four entries this year, and twelve prizes. I think I’ll have to submit something next year.

Anyway, everyone’s a critic, and I’m judging games. You can too – anyone who plays at least five of the games can vote. My analysis is not deep – I’m just trying to expose myself to as much IF as I can, and let my natural like or dislike of each dictate my ratings. I’ll be posting impressions here, and updating this post as I play more.

EDIT: I have now played all 24 games in this year’s comp. I’ve given them relative grades past the break.

Ratings and spoilers follow…
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My First Real MMO Experience

A friend of mine invited me to join his group on Dungeons & Dragons Online, so the other night I logged on and gave it a shot.

My MMO background is a two-week trial of Star Wars Galaxies, and a brief stint with Puzzle Pirates. The former was a terrible bore. I really did give it my best shot – making enough to buy a speeder bike, going on a large hunt with 20-some players, even getting off-world and seeing what other planets had to offer. Unfortunately, the missions all seemed to be of the ‘kill ten rats’ or ‘harvest ten seeds’ variety; I’ll take KOTOR any day. The latter is actually brilliant, if you are into Tetris-like games. I made a little progress, and even got to crew ‘The Moose of Doom!’ But I didn’t really know anybody, and I was disappointed in how much content was for paying players only.

I figured it was worth giving DDO a shot, because now I would get to play with at least one person I’d met in real life. Prior to the group session, I’d taken a character through a few quests and pored over the FAQ so I wouldn’t be completely lost. I think I kept up okay when I got into a group. All in all, it was a lot of fun! The quests are ‘dungeon-based’ in that they take place in nicely-crafted environments and involve a sequence of different tasks. Instead of “go kill ten rats in the desert,” you get “enter the sewers, hunt down the kobolds, find the secret door, solve this basic puzzle, and escort the hostages to the exit.” And even a little plot to go with it. I’m sure it’s a ton of work for the developers, but it’s much more enjoyable (for me) than basic grinding.

Unfortunately for players like me, it seems like most DDO users are a more typical MMO breed, and are anxious to milk each quest for all its XP and loot. Being in a party seems to destroy the story-driven pace of the game, and turns it into a race to each objective that we’ve already memorized because we just played through this quest three times on hard. It’s to the game’s credit that it’s still fun like this, but for someone like me who appreciates a good story, it’s a bit shocking to see people rush through the narratives the DDO team has put so much time into.

The obvious solution, then, is to have a character I play with my friends, and another I can solo at my own pace through the game. Clearly this will take ages (as I don’t intend to spend that much time on this game) but that’s okay… even at level one, it’s an enjoyable game.

In closing, here’s a few things that weren’t well-covered by the FAQ or forum. I suppose they might be intuitive to an MMO player, but I had to figure these out:

  • Taverns and Pubs are little red jugs on your map. They’re important! Find them quickly.
  • Voice chat by holding the ‘F’ key, and toggle mouse-look (which I much preferred) by pressing ‘T’.
  • I still don’t know how to leave a party. Is there a party window somewhere?
  • The random junk you find everywhere can actually be valuable – take them to ‘collectors’ in the group areas.

Guncho

I recently heard about Gunchocomp through a blog post by Emily Short. Guncho is an extension of the Inform 7 interactive fiction platform that allows the user to create multiplayer/MUD experiences. Not much has been done with multi-user interactive fiction yet, so this competition sounds like a great opportunity to try something new.

I’ve never entered something into an interactive fiction competition before. I fiddled around with Inform 7 for a while and thoroughly enjoyed other people’s work, but I’ve never made anything substantial, myself. The more time I spend with the language, though, the more I admire it – natural language programming is an amazing experience.

So I think I’ll try and create an entry for GunchoComp this year. The deadline is August 6, 2009.