Review: “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” (Computer Game)

2015 Artwork Serious Sam The First Encounter review sketch

“Serious Sam: The First Encounter” is one of those classic games that I’m surprised that I didn’t discover properly until fairly recently (I played the shareware version of it in 2013, although it took me until this year to finally get the full version).

In fact, at the time of writing this review, I’m just over two-thirds of the way through this game – so this review will only reflect my experiences of the game so far..

Anyway, due to a combination of playing a fiendishly difficult “slaughtermap” WAD for “Doom II” recently and randomly browsing on GoG, I found myself the proud owner of a digital copy of “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” for the sum of about four pounds.

[Before I go any further, I should probably point out that – despite being advertised as “DRM- FREE. No activation or online connection required to play “, the digital download of this game available for sale on GoG at the time of writing this review still comes with the original game’s copy protection – which requires that the game disc be in the drive before you can play the game.

Since GoG only sells the game as a digital download, you can probably see the problem here.

Although there’s a very easy workaround for this (hell, even the warning message when the game won’t load contains a subtle clue), players should not be required to scour the internet to find workarounds in order to play a game that they have legally bought.]

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Serious Sam: The First Encounter”:

serious sam 1 title

“Serious Sam: The First Encounter” is a FPS game from 2001 and it is a resolutely old-school FPS game, with a few innovative touches. Like with many classic FPS games, the story of the game doesn’t really matter that much.

Basically, you play as a burly action hero called Serious Sam who has to travel back in time to ancient Egypt to single-handedly prevent a supervillain from taking over the world with an army of mutant creatures. I’m not exaggerating about the “army” part either, for reasons I’ll explain later.

Well, I suppose there's got to be SOME reason why Sam is gunning down hordes of monsters

Well, I suppose there’s got to be SOME reason why Sam is gunning down hordes of monsters

Like in “Duke Nukem 3D”, Sam will occasionally make sarcastic comments during combat. This is something that I really miss about old-school FPS games, and it was great to see it in this game.

Although Sam doesn’t make as many comments as Duke Nukem does and, although his comments are a lot more “PG rated” than Duke Nukem’s, it was still fun to see this in a FPS game.

The gameplay in “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” mainly revolves around travelling through (relatively) linear levels and battling hordes of monsters. Usually, each level will channel you into at least one or two arena-like areas, where you will have to fight your way through large groups of monsters before you can progress to the next part of the level.

 As any retro FPS gamer will tell you, suddenly finding a large cache of health and ammo is usually something of a bad omen. Expect to find a LOT of these caches in "Serious Sam: The First Encounter".

As any retro FPS gamer will tell you, suddenly finding a large cache of health and ammo is usually something of a bad omen. Expect to find a LOT of these caches in “Serious Sam: The First Encounter”.

So, although this game doesn’t contain the focus on exploration that made classic FPS games like “Doom” and “Duke Nukem 3D” so great, it makes up for this by turning the linear nature of the game into a feature rather than a bug. What do I mean by this? Well, the main focus of the game is on fast, frenetic and brutally challenging combat.

If you try to play “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” like a modern FPS game, this will happen to you on a very regular basis:

Once again, that monster is laughing at you because you thought that this game was a "Call Of Duty" game.

Once again, that monster is laughing at you because you thought that this game was a “Call Of Duty” game.

Because you will be attacked from all sides by literal hordes of enemies on a regular basis, this means that you will have to actually think strategically if you want to even stand a chance of getting to the next level. And, in many ways, this is what makes “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” such a great game.

Like in a particularly challenging “Doom” WAD, “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” actually requires you to have a good understanding of the mechanics of the game.

You have to know which types of monster you need to fight first, you have to circle-strafe a lot, you have to dodge projectile attacks, you have to choose your weapons carefully and you have to know how to trick the monsters into fighting each other.

As a general rule, you should shoot THESE guys as soon as you see them - regardless of what other monsters are nearby

As a general rule, you should shoot THESE guys as soon as you see them – regardless of what other monsters are nearby

Although the monster infighting system in this game is nowhere near as good as the one in “Doom”, there are still at least a few ways that you can trick some types of monsters into attacking each other rather than you. But, regardless of whether you do this or not, most of the battles in “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” will require you to think strategically and to think fast.

So, if you’re new to classic FPS games, then I’d recommend playing the classic “Doom” games (“Final Doom” in particular) before you even attempt to play “Serious Sam: The First Encounter”. Even so, this game has a fairly good difficulty curve and the first few levels – as well as the tutorial level – will gradually teach you all you need to know in order to play this game.

The game also comes with a built in guide called “Netrisca”, that will provide you with strategic information about any monsters you will encounter and any weapons that you might find:

Because, let's face it, you probably didn't bother reading the manual.

Because, let’s face it, you probably didn’t bother reading the manual.

Another great thing about this game is the sheer variety of different monsters you will encounter. One of the great things about old FPS games is that they often put a lot of imagination into the foes that you encounter throughout the game.

Unlike in modern militaristic FPS games, where you just gun down generic hordes of [insert America’s current enemies here] – all of the monsters in “Serious Sam” have different attacks and imaginative designs.

Yeah, I can't see the "Call of Duty" games doing anything THIS cool

Yeah, I can’t see the “Call of Duty” games doing anything THIS cool

There are monsters that are only dangerous when they’re standing right next to you. There are monsters that are only dangerous when they’re far away from you. There are giant bull-like creatures that will charge at you.

There are monsters who shoot homing missiles that you’ll have to shoot down (unless you want to lose a lot of health). There are monsters that are only dangerous when they’re in large groups. I’m sure you get the idea.

In short, despite the slightly linear levels, the combat in this game is surprisingly exciting and interesting because you actually have to learn the monsters’ tactics and work out ways to use them to your advantage.

As for the weapons in this game, you’ll find quite a few of them. Unlike in modern “realistic” console-designed FPS games, you can carry a ludicrous number of different weapons in “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” and you will need all of them.

Although many of these weapons are fairly standard classic FPS weapons (including a “Doom II”-style double-barrelled shotgun) – there are at least a few imaginative guns on offer:

Don't ask me why, but I absolutely LOVE tommyguns in FPS games

Don’t ask me why, but I absolutely LOVE tommyguns in FPS games

Yay! It's a laser gun!

Yay! It’s a laser gun!

And a cannon! A cannon!!

And a cannon! A cannon!!

Graphically, this game looks absolutely stunning for something that was released in 2001.

Although I’m not really a fan of early 3D graphics (and I vastly prefer 1990s sprite-based graphics in my classic FPS games), the graphics in this game really stand out when compared to other games from the time:

Just look at that floor! How the hell did they do THAT in 2001!!!

Just look at that floor! How the hell did they do THAT in 2001!!!

All in all, if you loved “Doom”, “Duke Nukem 3D”, “Blood”, “Quake” or any of the other great FPS games from the 1990s, then you will also love “Serious Sam: The First Encounter”.

This is a game by FPS players, for FPS players and it sums up everything that once made the FPS genre so great.

But, if your only experience of playing FPS games is playing “Call Of Duty” (or any of the other simplistic, regenerating health, two-weapon FPS games that are so popular these days), then “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” will probably be too difficult for you. But, at the very least, it will provide you with a good history lesson about how great the genre used to be.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.

The Joy Of… Fictional Politicians

2015 Artwork Joy Of Fictional Politicians sketch

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times before on this site, I sometimes like to watch an American news/politics discussion show on Youtube called “The Young Turks“. I wish we had shows like this in the UK, but ATVOD probably wouldn’t approve.

Anyway, there was a really interesting segment on the show a couple of months ago about a survey which showed that fictional presidents in US TV shows were actually more popular than President Obama is. Two notable fictional presidents who were more popular than Obama were Laura Roslin from “Battlestar Galactica” and David Palmer from “24”.

And, having actually watched those two shows, it’s hard to argue with that. They’re great characters. But, as Cenk Uygur (the presenter in this segment of “The Young Turks”) points out – it’s obviously a lot easier to come up with good, likeable fictional politicians than it is for real politicians to be good or likeable.

This is probably more of an American thing though. I’m writing this article before the UK elections in May, so I have no idea who is currently prime minister at the time this article will be posted.

No doubt, it’ll be someone who will be seen as a refreshing change from the last prime minister for a few months, before actually turning out to be as bad (or worse) than the last one. Or, somehow, David Cameron will manage to cling to office like a gold-plated barnacle on the bottom of an old galleon. Who knows? Well, you probably do.

But, given the low quality of prime ministers throughout most of British history, many of our fictional politicians tend to be either slightly generic characters, slightly evil characters or – more commonly – extremely satirical characters like Alan B’Stard (from a classic 1980s/90s TV show called “The New Statesman”).

Even so, fictional politicians (In US TV shows at least) can be a lot more likeable for the simple reason that they allow writers to experiment with ideas, events and characters who would be unlikely in the real world.

For example, in the first season of “24”, David Palmer is shown to be a genuinely honest politician – even behind closed doors. In the real world, this unwavering honesty would mean that he probably wouldn’t have even become a senator – let alone president.

Likewise, without giving away too many spoilers for later seasons of the show – one episode of “24” even actually shows a corrupt president being brought to justice. Which, of course, would be almost unthinkable in the real world.

In other words, politics in fiction allows writers to ask “what if?” and see what happens. What if a politician was genuinely honest? What if a politician was good at their job? What if a politician had to react to an unusual situation? What if a politician was totally unprepared for leading a country? Etc…

So, writing fictional politicians can be a great way to safely experiment with politics and to satisfy your audience’s curiosity about how politicians would react to a variety of different situations.

Another reason why fictional politicians are so fascinating is because we usually get to see the human side of these characters. We get to see them as human beings with complex motivations, emotions and thoughts – rather than just as symbols of a particular government or political party.

We get to see fictional politicians “behind the scenes”, whereas we usually only get to see the carefully airbrushed personas that real politicians present to the media.

Finally, the most obvious reason why fictional politicians are such interesting characters is because they can be easily used for political satire. This should be fairly self-explanatory, but you can get away with being even more cynical about poltics if you use fictional politicians than you can if you write about or draw a real politician.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting :)

Today’s Art (1st July 2015)

Today’s painting was something of an experiment to see if I could paint realistic reflections. Unfortunately, I failed at this slightly – even so, I still quite like how this painting turned out, even if it’s less detailed than some of my other recent paintings.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Platforms" By C. A. Brown

“Platforms” By C. A. Brown

Three Basic Ways To Create A Mythos In Your Stories And/Or Comics

2015 Artwork Creating A Mythos Article sketch

Surprisingly, I didn’t even really hear the word “mythos” until I was about seventeen. When I was seventeen, I read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories and quite a few of H.P.Lovecraft’s horror stories.

Both of these collections of stories tend to have something of a mythos to them – an underlying “mythology” that connects many seemingly different stories. For example, in many of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories, Sherlock Holmes will mention other cases that he and Watson have solved.

Likewise, although a certain famous creature only really appears in one of H.P.Lovecraft’s stories, he’s mentioned in other stories. Not only that, there are lots of other things that Lovecraft’s seemingly stand-alone short stories have in common (eg: Miskatonic university, the old ones, the Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred etc…).

There are many good reasons for adding a mythos to your stories – not only does it prove something extra for fans of your work, but it can also mean that your work can turn into something greater than you could possibly create on your own. This is for the simple reason that, if you come up with an interesting enough mythos, other writers will find ways to reference it in their own work.

So, how do you create a mythos? Here are a few tips:

1) Common locations: One of the simplest ways to come up with a mythos is to come up with an interesting enough location in one of your stories and then to either feature it in your later stories or to mention it briefly in stories that are set somewhere else.

A good example of this can be found in the novels “Lost Souls” and “Drawing Blood” by Poppy Z. Brite/ Billy Martin. These are two of the best novels that I’ve ever read, but they’re completely different stories and feature (mostly) different characters.

“Lost Souls” is a gloriously gothic story about vampires and musicians. “Drawing Blood” is an absolutely unique story that somehow fits into many different genres (horror, 1990s cyberpunk, erotica, thriller fiction and 1960s beat literature spring to mind for starters…). So, what do they have in common?

Simple – both novels feature scenes set in the fictional American town of Missing Mile, North Carolina. Although only about one character from “Lost Souls” appears in “Drawing Blood” – if you’ve read both books, then you’ll certainly see the connection between the two stories.

So, adding a mythos to your story can be as simple as just re-visiting (or even mentioning) a familiar location from one of your previous stories.

2) Common Items: When I wrote a lot of fiction in my very early 20s, I’d always try to make sure that at least one or two items turned up in many of my stories.

There are probably too many to list here, but the most notable ones were a frosted drink called “Tangerine Frost”, the number “1367” and a book called “The Forgotten Art Of Oneiromancy”.

Even though I haven’t written much prose fiction over the past few years, these items still turn up in my work every now and again. Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted references to “The Forgotten Art Of Oneiromancy” and “1367” in my ‘Conspiracy 1983′ comic from a couple of months ago:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Conspiracy 1983 - Page 2" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Conspiracy 1983 – Page 2″ By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Conspiracy 1983 - Page 3" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Conspiracy 1983 – Page 3″ By C. A. Brown

Although this is more of an obscure in-joke than a way of creating a mythos – it can still be used to create a mythos ( eg: H.P.Lovecraft did this by mentioning a book called “The Necronomicon” in a few of his stories). One of the advantages of using common items to create a mythos is that it’s easier to add them to seemingly disconnected stories without confusing your audience.

3) Recurring background characters: This is probably the most obvious way of creating a mythos, but having a couple of background characters who appear in many of your stories can be a good way to show a connection between your stories.

If you want a perfect example of this, then read some of Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics. Not only are the seven central characters (a group of mythical beings called “The Endless”) in these comics essentially just recurring characters in each others’ stories, but Neil Gaiman also does a lot of other cool mythos-like things with the background characters too.

For example, the main character in the second comic (“The Dolls’ House”) lives in a shared house with several random people. They include a seemingly “perfect” couple who are called Barbie and Ken – and look like how your would imagine them to look. Barbie and Ken are slightly humourous and creepy (but fairly two-dimensional) background characters in “The Dolls’ House”.

However, when you read the fifth comic (“A Game Of You”) not only is Barbie the main character, but she also turns out to be a far more interesting and complex character than she appeared to be in the second comic. Not only that, Barbie is also living in the same block of flats as the ex-girlfriend of one of the characters from the first comic (“Preludes and Nocturnes”).

These are just a few examples out of many, but if you want a good example of how to use recurring background characters in a cool way, then check out some of Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics.

Of course, if it isn’t possible to actually show a recurring character in one of your stories – then you can get around this in a number of ways. You could show other characters talking about that particular character or – if your story is set in the past or future – you could show one of the recurring character’s relatives or ancestors.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful :)