Review: “The Last Night” (Free Cyberpunk Computer Game)

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As regular readers of this site probably know, I’m a massive fan of the cyberpunk genre. To be more specific, I’m a massive fan of gloomy, rainy, neon-lit, film noir-inspired “Blade Runner“-style cyberpunk. This is, perhaps, the coolest genre ever invented and, yet, things in it can often be surprisingly difficult to find. Then again, we live in a strange world where radio stations play pop music instead of heavy metal music, so this probably shouldn’t surprise me.

So, whilst waiting for an interesting-looking indie cyberpunk game called “Technobabylon” to go on special offer, I decided to do yet another Google search for games in this genre. And, to my absolute delight, I stumbled across a free flash game called “The Last Night(note: the site will start playing music automatically once it’s loaded).

So, let’s take a look at “The Last Night”:

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“The Last Night” is a game created by Tim & Adrien Soret for an event called “Cyberpunkjam” in 2014. This was one of those “game jam” events where people make games in a ridiculously short amount of time. In fact, this entire game was created in just six days! And, wow, it looks amazing!

Yes! This is the very beginning of the game and it looks AMAZING!!

Yes! This is the beginning of the game and it looks AMAZING!!

Seriously, why don't MORE games look like THIS?

Seriously, why don’t MORE games look like THIS?

Even though the pixel art graphics look fairly minimalist, they still seem impressively detailed and atmospheric (seriously, if you’ve ever even done research into how to make pixel art, you’ll understand how challenging making all of this detailed art must have been).

But, whilst I could probably spend several paragraphs talking about how astonishingly good this game looks and how it’s graphics put most large-budget games to shame, I should probably actually – you know – review the game.

Since it was only made in six days, this game is very short. It can be finished in three minutes or less. As befitting a game of this length, the story is fairly simple- you play as a nameless assassin who has been tasked with shooting someone.

Although this might sound like a ludicrously simplistic plot, it actually works really well since it sums up a lot of the gritty moral ambiguity that makes the cyberpunk genre so interesting. After all, one of the things that makes “Blade Runner” such a compelling film is the fact that Deckard probably isn’t the “hero” of the film. Likewise, the fact that we are told very little about both the assassin and his victim leave a lot of room for us to “fill in the gaps” with our imaginations.

Yes, in just a few seconds, this game manages to create a mysteriously compelling story. Now, THIS is good storytelling!

Yes, in just a few seconds, this game manages to create a mysteriously compelling story. Now, THIS is good storytelling!

In terms of the actual gameplay, it’s nothing spectacular. You walk around slightly slowly, you have to shoot flying robots before their searchlights touch you, you have to scare or kill (the graphics leave this fairly ambiguous) some guards by firing your gun near them and you have to carry out an assassination.

But, given the game’s tiny length, it doesn’t really have time for complex, detailed gameplay mechanics. So, the simple “walk around and shoot” gameplay actually works really well. In fact, it’s far more well-implemented than the clunky combat system in another cyberpunk game called “Gemini Rue” which is an actual commercial game!

 The gun fires surprisingly quickly and has suitably dramatic sound effects too.

The gun fires surprisingly quickly and has suitably dramatic sound effects too.

However, one interesting (albeit chilling) thing about the gameplay is probably the final scene of the game. Once you’ve shot the character that you’re supposed to shoot, he staggers off to a nearby balcony, where you have to shoot him again. This is in stark contrast to the “clean” violence found in most action games and – in this one little scene – the game is almost more “Blade Runner” than “Blade Runner”.

After all, one of the things that makes “Blade Runner” such a unique film is the fact that it isn’t an action movie. Whenever violence is shown, it is subtly shown to be an ugly, horrific, immoral thing rather than the kind of “heroic” violence that is common in Hollywood movies. This game is able to re-create this complex portrayal of violence in less than thirty seconds, using 1980s-style graphics. Now THAT is an achievement!

 Yes, I cannot praise the storytelling in this game highly enough!

Yes, I cannot praise the storytelling in this game highly enough!

As for the music and sound design, most of it is really good. All of the sound effects (eg: rain, gunfire etc..) are all suitably thunderous and dramatic.

Likewise, the game’s background music is the kind of ominously relaxing 1980s-style synth music that is pretty much synonymous with the cyberpunk genre. The only criticism I have of the music is the fact that the song that plays in the nightclub sounds a little bit too much like 1970s disco music.

Disco? In the cyberpunk genre?!?! Still, for something made in six days, the fact that they actually managed to get an actual song - with vocals - into the game is really cool.

Disco? In the cyberpunk genre?!?! Still, for something made in six days, the fact that they actually managed to get an actual song – with vocals – into the game is really cool.

All in all, despite a couple of really tiny flaws, this game is AMAZING! Seriously, in just three minutes of gameplay, it contains better graphics, more atmosphere and a more compelling storyline than many large-budget games probably have. It’s like “Blade Runner”, “Cowboy Bebop” and the Hong Kong level of “Deus Ex” all rolled into one game. And it was made in just six days! Seriously, play it! Right now!

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get six!

Review: “Doctor Who – The Pyramid At The End Of The World” (TV Show Episode)

Well, it’s time to review the seventh episode in the new series of “Doctor Who”. Again, although I’m not sure how many of the new episodes I’ll end up reviewing or how long it will take me to review them. But, I’ll try to review as many as I can.

So, that said, let’s take a look at “The Pyramid At The End Of The World”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

The episode begins with a recap of the previous episode, intercut with new scenes of Bill and Penny spending the evening together and talking about The Doctor.

Plus, these new scenes help to keep the recap interesting if you’ve already seen the previous episode.

However, after Bill tells Penny about the Pope interrupting them during the simulation, there is a sudden noise and the room is swiftly filled with soldiers!

It seems like disappointing dates are some kind of universal constant for Bill.

The soldiers are guarding the Secretary General of the UN, who wants to talk to Bill because she knows how to find The Doctor. As is standard in all world-threatening emergencies, the Doctor has been appointed temporary president of Earth and the UN need to find him.

When Bill asks why, the Secretary General shows her a map of a disputed area, with the US, Russian and Chinese armies nearby. There is a pyramid in the middle. A 5000 year old pyramid. A 5000 year old pyramid that wasn’t there yesterday…..

Either that, or Google Earth really hasn’t been updated for this part of the world for quite a while…

One of the first things that I will say about this episode is that it seems to be another two-part episode. However, unlike the previous episode, this episode is much more of a thriller-style episode.

In the classic sci-fi thriller sense of the term. Seriously, don’t expect this episode to be an action movie or anything like that.

The zombie-like aliens inside the pyramid want to force humanity to ask for their leadership (with the rationale that love is a better form of control than fear, despite using all sorts of scare tactics to obtain said love) and The Doctor has to come up with some stratagem to stop them manipulating humanity into agreeing to their proposals.

There is some interesting political stuff here, such as the UN and military characters eventually deciding to informally take back political control of Earth, despite appointing The Doctor president a while earlier. In some ways, the entire episode is possibly a musing on the nature of democracy – especially since the antagonists in the episode constantly ask for the “consent” of humanity (I’m guessing that this could possibly be a reference to Herman & Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent“, but I haven’t actually read this book)

Another interesting thing about this episode is the sub-plot, which takes place inside a GM food laboratory in Yorkshire that handles dangerous chemicals. In many ways, this part of the episode reminded me a bit of something from a brilliantly cheesy old TV show called “Bugs“, which was kind of cool.

Yay! Boring, but vaguely futuristic, laboratories! I’ve missed you!

However, the events of these segments of the episode are somewhat predictable (eg: a hungover scientist working with dangerous chemicals etc..) and they undercut the mystery of some earlier parts of the episode.

Yes, the makers of the show need to get the audience up to speed with what is happening. But, given that a central part of the episode is The Doctor trying to work out how the aliens are going to force humanity to ask for their help, actually showing this to the audience before The Doctor knows about it robs the episode of some of it’s suspense. Even so, it is still a good set up for the episode’s shocking cliffhanger ending.

Although this episode is a thriller episode, it is an old-school thriller with the focus placed firmly on strategy, thought and experimentation rather than on mindless action. This is all backed up with lots of really well-written dialogue that is filled with the kind of witty lines and pithy observations that define the show. The relative lack of action in the episode also helps to give the episode’s fantastical events a slightly more “realistic” tone.

Yes, a fair amount of the episode consists of discussions in this briefing room

Plus, the suspense is also increased by the enormity of the threat that the Earth faces. At one point the Doctor actually orders the three armies to launch a strike on the pyramid as a show of strength. Yet, even this uncharacteristic moment of belligerence doesn’t exactly end as planned:

Hey! Teleportation is cheating!

And they can also do THIS too. Earth is doomed!

The set design and special effects in this episode are also fairly good and are on par with a mid-budget movie of some kind or another. The coolest location in the episode is probably the centre of the pyramid, where the aliens view various possible timelines via a cool-looking glowing thing.

Because a computer or a machine of some kind would just look boring. Seriously though, I love the mood lighting here 🙂

All in all, this episode is a surprisingly compelling thriller episode. Yes, it seems to be the set up for the much cooler next episode (which, from the preview, seems to be proper old-school dystopian sci-fi 🙂 ), but it does this really well. Yes, the cliffhanger ending is a little annoying and the scenes set in the lab should have been saved until later in the episode, but even so it’s a proper old-school sci-fi thriller episode.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a four.

Today’s Art (27th May 2017)

Well, I was feeling at least slightly more inspired when I made today’s digitally-edited painting than I was when I made the one that was posted yesterday. Even so, this 1990s-style painting ended up being kind of random. And, yes, you know you grew up in the 1990s if you actually remember using DOS (the real one, not the simulated versions that have appeared since the end of the 90s).

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

"Absinthe And DOS" By C. A. Brown

“Absinthe And DOS” By C. A. Brown

Letting A Colour Palette Evolve – A Ramble

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As regular readers of this blog probably know, I’ve been experimenting with slightly limited palettes for at least the past year or two.

For quite a while, I used to challenge myself to only (or mostly) use 2-4 watercolour pencils per digitally-edited painting in order to get used to using complimentary colour combinations, to learn more about colour mixing and because I really liked the effect that it created. Many of my slightly older paintings looked a bit like this:

"Do You Think It Saurus?" By C. A. Brown

“Do You Think It Saurus?” By C. A. Brown

"La Chanteuse" By C. A. Brown

“La Chanteuse” By C. A. Brown

As an educational experience, you really can’t beat it. However, I eventually got slightly bored of this and gradually returned to just using slightly more realistic colours more often. But, I soon remembered one of the main advantages of using a limited palette – it’s quicker and more practical. And, after finding a set of “Doom II” levels that taught me a lot about colour palettes, I now take a slightly different approach to colour palettes.

I still use a limited palette, but it tends to be slightly larger. For example, the palette for quite a bit of the art that I’ll be posting here in July consists of red, yellow, blue, light green, purple and black watercolour pencils. Sometimes, I’ll also use a grey pencil for shading and/or a peach pencil (since, depending on the amount of pressure you use, it can be used to create a variety of skin tones) too.

I’ve found that that limiting my palette to about 6-8 watercolour pencils means that I can use a greater range of colours and colour schemes, whilst still giving my art a slightly distinctive look and having the kind of quick practicality that comes from only using a small number of pencils.

After all, you can lay six or seven pencils down on the desk in front of you, rather than having to scrabble through several tins of watercolour pencils in order to find a new colour.

Expanding my colour palette slightly also makes it easier to use orange/purple colour combinations (again, something these “Doom II” levels introduced me to) too. This is mostly because dark purple is one of the hardest colours to mix in the traditional fashion – if there’s slightly too much blue or red, or if the pencils are the wrong shades of these colours, then it often ends up looking more like black or brown than purple. The same is true when it comes to trying to mix light green using yellow and blue (it often just looks too faded or “muddy” when mixed traditionally).

But, despite the fact that I use a larger palette than I used to, my past experiences with smaller colour palettes still have a large effect on the “look” of my art. Although I’ve learnt how to use three-colour colour schemes (eg: blue/orange/purple) and how to include multiple complimentary colour schemes in a single painting, I’ll sometimes try to include a “dominant” colour scheme in my paintings because of the fact that it looks visually striking.

Here’s a reduced-size preview of a painting that will appear here in July:

The full-size painting will appear here on the 6th July.

The full-size painting will appear here on the 6th July.

The main colour scheme in this painting is a blue/orange one (albeit one that includes two shades of blue). It’s probably the first thing that you noticed when you saw this painting. However, thanks to everything I’ve learnt about colour palettes, I was also able to give the painting a little bit more depth by including a small green/purple/pink colour scheme too.

This colour scheme also compliments each part of the other colour scheme too, which helps to make the painting’s colours look even more harmonious.

The thing to remember about colour palettes is that they aren’t static things. If you find a colour palette that you like, it doesn’t mean that you can’t ever alter it or add to it. In fact, if you make art regularly, then your colour palette will probably evolve over time for the simple reasons that you’ll occasionally want to try new things and because you’ll find it easier to notice other interesting colour palettes too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Mini Review: “Hell’s Revenge” (Demo Version) (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

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Well, I was in the mood for playing another “Doom II” WAD and, this time, I was a bit luckier. After a quick look on ModDB, I found a rather entertaining little WAD called “Hell’s Revenge“. However, I think that it’s a demo version of the WAD, so there may or may not be a larger version by the time this review goes out – since I write these mini reviews/reviews ridiculously far in advance.

As usual, I used the ZDoom source port whilst playing this WAD (although it took longer to load, due to a texture error message that seemed to have little or no effect on the actual game itself). However, this WAD will probably work on any modern source port that allows jumping.

Anyway, let’s take a look at it:

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The demo version of “Hell’s Revenge” is a two-level WAD for “Doom II”/”Final Doom”, which is meant to take place after the events of “The Plutonia Experiment”. Despite the screenshots on the ModDB page at the time of writing (late September 2016), the demo seems to be a ‘vanilla’ WAD (with no new textures, monsters, weapons etc..). However, this may well change in later versions of the WAD.

One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is that although it claims to follow on from “The Plutonia Experiment”, the gameplay style is at least slightly different to that of “Final Doom”. In many ways, this WAD is slightly closer to modern ‘slaughtermap’-style WADs than to “Final Doom”. I’m not complaining though 🙂

Yes, this is a WAD for experienced players and, as always, it is a joy to behold. Whilst it may not contain the gigantic armies of monsters that are common in the slaughtermap genre, it uses medium-large groups of monsters to great effect. Most of the time, the monsters are spread out slightly more.

 This is probably the largest "army" of monsters you'll encounter and this is only near the end of the second level.

This is probably the largest “army” of monsters you’ll encounter and this is only near the end of the second level.

Most of the time, something like this is a bit more typical.

Most of the time, something like this is a bit more typical.

This isn’t to say that this WAD is “easy” though. Like in any slaughtermap-style WAD, the emphasis is firmly on fast-paced strategy, having a good knowledge of the “rules” of “Doom” and on trial-and-error. You’ll find at least a few situations where the best course of action isn’t to fight all of the monsters, but to find a clever way to either bypass some of them or trick some of them into fighting each other.

Of course, sometimes, the best strategy is just to RUN!!!!!

Of course, sometimes, the best strategy is just to RUN!!!!!

Personally, I absolutely love this type of gameplay. As well as being thrillingly fast-paced, the fact that you are frequently outnumbered and outgunned also means that you actually have to think about what you’re going to do. You have to use cunning, strategy and daring – rather than just mindless shooting – in order to get through each of the WAD’s many battles. Seriously, more FPS games should be like this!

As for the level design, it’s really good. Both levels start off in a well-designed “hub” area, with lots of extra rooms, locked doors and passages leading off in different directions. Like any good FPS game level, these levels are the kind of non-linear things that will require a fair amount of exploration and memorisation in order to work out where you’re supposed to go next.

My favourite of the two levels is probably the first one – since it takes place outdoors and it seems a bit more “open” than the cavern-like setting of the second level.

I especially like how this giant square corridor is used as an arena of sorts too.

I especially like how this giant square corridor is used as an arena of sorts too.

However, in terms of pure design, the second level is probably slightly better. This is mostly because of a couple of tiny design flaws in the first level.

Not only is there a small “hall of mirrors” glitch in one area (this might explain the error message I mentioned at the beginning of this mini review), but there is also a very unforgiving first-person platforming segment just before this part of the level. Yes, it’s fairly small and you only have to traverse it twice – but it still breaks up the flow of the gameplay slightly. Not to mention that it’s, well, first-person platforming!

And, for extra "fun", the platform damages you when you stand on it for too long. Then again, you need to be running and jumping fairly quickly to get the momentum needed to clear this chasm. So, I guess that I can begrudgingly understand this design decision.

And, for extra “fun”, the platform damages you when you stand on it for too long. Then again, you need to be running and jumping fairly quickly to get the momentum needed to clear this chasm. So, I guess that I can begrudgingly understand this design decision.

Although the second level is fairly well-designed, one strange thing that I noticed was the fact that you only get the plasma rifle in the very final room (after defeating the arch-vile at the end). Then again, since this is meant to be a demo of a much larger WAD, this strange weapon placement is slightly more understandable.

All in all, despite a couple of tiny flaws, this is an extremely entertaining WAD. It’s challenging, fast-paced and thrilling. Although there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly new in the demo, there doesn’t need to be. You’ll be too busy running away from monsters, working out what to do next and enjoying yourself to care.

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