Saturday, 2 July 2022

The GameCube Anthology from Geeks-Line - Book Review

Another one of the batch from Geeks-Line Books received at the beginning of the year, the GameCube Anthology was originally published in 2018 and, as you can tell from the title, focuses on all things GameCube. Dismissed by many at the time as a children's machine, Nintendo's follow up to the N64 struggled against the might of Sony and from Microsoft's first gaming behemoth (and that was a beast of a console!), but the GameCube managed to carve out a relatively small niche for Nintendo as its first disc-based console and, more importantly, paved the way for the Wii. But what about this Anthology?

Holding this volume in your hand, you can tell straight away that this is up to Geeks-Line's usual standards. Hefty, with quality stock that makes screenshots and artwork jump off the the pages, this is a stylish and well-designed book. 

Contents-wise, the first fifty pages tell the story of the console's creation and time on the market. I know I was quite scathing about the translation work on the PC Engine volume but here it's pretty much spot on. Detouring slightly I need to reiterate that the information and the effort put into the PC Engine volume was immense and it is still an essential purchase for fans of NEC's 8-bit machine. 

The hardware section details the different models of the GameCube, the retail packages that made it to the shops, the Triforce arcade board, the optical discs, game cases, controllers and other accessories. From page 84 though, this is where we get to the core of the book: the games.

Nearly 240-pages are set aside to cover each title released for the GameCube. These are arranged alphabetically and vary from a sixth of a page up to two pages for the big titles. Each entry gets at least one gameplay screenshot, box art and release details, alongside a rating out of five stars and a write up. I can't fault the presentation or the content, except for one title. Die Hard: Vendetta gets two stars? No, just no. One star and that's being generous. You are welcome to disagree, but you'd still be wrong :-)

Once the games directory is out of the way, ten pages are given over the cancelled titles that never saw the light of day, before ending with collector's editions, bundles and a tick-box guide to the games featured in the main section in case you feel like marking off each game as you add it to your collection. 

This is another classy release from Geeks-Line and an essential buy if you're a fan of the GameCube. As with the other titles from the publisher, a ton of work has gone into this volume and all concerned should be congratulated on bringing the story of the machine to modern day readers, as well as providing a great resource for collectors and fans alike. The publisher's site is here, where you can check out the full range of their Anthologies. At the time of this post, the GameCube Anthology is not in stock but sign up for notifications if you can. You might be able to find it at other online retailers though.

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

SAM Revival Issue 26 - Review

Well, that was quick! Just as I had posted abut the four back issues of SAM Revival that were picked up at the Wakefield RISC OS show (and struggled mightily with the name of a certain product),  issue 26 landed through the letterbox! A 72-page (including covers) full colour, professionally printed A5 magazine, this had been something I had ordered last year and had been highly anticipated. 

First off, I love the cover, supplied by Warren Lee from his latest title, Invasion III, that also appears in the Developer Diary section. The editorial stretches to four pages and it's understandable to see why, it has been a few years since the last issue.  

The news section is a whopping fifteen pages, and covers everything from new products available for the Coupe to new games, as well as a selection of YouTubers you might want to visit if your a fan of the machine. It was really nice to see further details on the Symbiote eZ80 (I can type and proof this name right at least once - I really struggled with this in the last post!) co-processor and how that will tie in with the plans for the Pandemonium, a "new" machine. 

Six pages are given over to a mega-preview of The Lower Caverns, a follow up to Manic Miner, whilst the next eight are take up by a piece on the demo scene, featuring guest reviews by the late Dennis Van Berkel, who sadly passed earlier this year. As with many other formats, it's always interesting to see what demo coders can achieve on their chosen hardware.  

Ten pages are taken up by details of what is on the supplied cover disk (five full games and a pair of utilities). A nice touch are the mini-reviews for a couple of the games, as well as a lovely reminder that reviews are opinion based and can vary, especially if you're thinking of trying out Mega Blast. 

There is a further mega-preview, this time for Treasure Island Dizzy, that occupies six pages and, in a neat touch, this game will be featured on the cover disk for issue 27 (with an advertised release date of Autumn 2022). Nine pages are given over to the Developer Diary section, which focuses on three titles, Cybernaut and Pang from Andrew Collier, and Invasion III from cover art supplier Warren Lee. There's a SAM Snippet for Invasion II's cheat mode, as well as a couple of developer tips pages from Mr Lee. 

SAM Comment is a section of musings from Colin about SAM related topics, in particular looking at isometric titles on the machine as well as the funkiness that is the PICO-8 board, and the technical similarities (in relation to potential software development) it shares with the Symbiote eZ80 (hot dang, got it right again!).

Strange New Worlds is the final section of the magazine and hosts news/information on the hardware Colin produces for machines other than the SAM. He also mentions Archive Magazine (I may have mentioned it a couple of times on this blog...), and the possibility of emulating the Acorn Atom on the SAM.

I really enjoyed this issue of SAM Revival and it was well worth the wait. The print quality is brilliant and there wasn't a page wasted. For me, learning more about the Symbiote eZ80 (on a roll here, people) and the Developers Diaries were the highlight but, honestly, everything in here was worth reading. The amount of effort Colin has put into this issue is plain to see and he, along with the other contributors, should be proud in what they have produced. 

Colin is eager for any contributions for future issues, be it articles, software or letters, so please do get in touch with him via the email address. If you head over to his website here, you can pick up your own copy of issue 26, as well as pre-order issues 27 and 28. And yes, by the time this post is live, I will have done just that. You can also pick up back issues and browse through the range of hardware Colin also produces. 

Saturday, 25 June 2022

Harrier (How to be a fighter pilot) by Commander Paul Tremelling - Book Review

I have been quite the fan of the "... Boys" series of books from Grub Street Publishing. From Harriers to Meteors, Shackletons to Jaguars, this is a range of rather interesting tomes covering the escapades of those that flew and supported these aircraft when they were in service. There is, however, a lack of more modern coverage. Naturally when it comes to aircraft still in service, you don't want too much being said about them, but as time passes and, in the case of the British armed forces, they homogenise into a fleet of just two fast combat jet types, there are opportunities for pilots of write about their experiences in aircraft that left service not even a decade ago. And this is where Commander Paul Tremelling comes in.

Like most books on the subject, this begins with a potted autobiography about where the author came from, what lit the fires that led to him becoming a pilot and how he achieved that goal. In some recollections, this can be quite dry, though a few can be funny. However this is the first one that I have read that can genuinely be described as hilarious. The author's voice is there from the get go and his humour is spot on. I draw attention to his use of footnotes (especially page 18) and the opportunities they permit to reinforce points as well as make the reader laugh. Whilst becoming a fast jet pilot in the Royal Navy is a serious undertaking, it doesn't have to mean it's boring one and, as demonstrated here, it wasn't for Cmdr Tremelling. 

The structure is pretty much chronological and neatly details the process that the author went through to reach the pinnacle of Royal Navy flying before moving to the RAF and then spending some time with the US Navy on exchange. What you'll notice with each chapter is the sub-heading, giving the reader an update as to where the author was at the time and the level of alcohol consumption undertaken. It's certainly different and adds even more character to the telling of the author's career. It's not all fun and games though, and there is a streak of seriousness that extends to the author's recollections of flying combat missions.

I do like the in-cover artwork.

As the author was a Sea Harrier FA2 pilot, air to air combat gets covered a lot and this book will give you a much greater understanding of what that is like, especially with trips to Red Flag and dealing with the RAF's Tornado F3's. There's some gentle (and not so gentle) ribbing of others, although there is always respect where warranted. I did love the footnote on page 152 where the author comments on the Russian AA-10 Alamo C air to air missile variants as being "fruity little tinkers."

Those with an interest in combat flying will throughly enjoy this book, as will those who want to know what it was like to be a pilot in both the RN and RAF around the turn of the century - and yes, still getting used to saying that and it not referring to the beginning of the 20th century! Wargamers might get something out of this, depending on how realistic you want to make your games (and if the rules will let you do that - hint: if they don't, then change the rules to make them fit), but on the whole, this is a funny yet informative look at a period of British military aviation that begins with the improvements of the 1990's and ends with the promise (since mostly fulfilled), of a renaissance in British aircraft carrier aviation. You can buy this book at the usual places.

Monday, 20 June 2022

A Quartet of Quazars - SAM Revival issues 11 and 21-23

Back in May, I had the good fortune to visit the Wakefield RISC OS show with my good lady and a fine time was had. One of the exhibitors was Archive Magazine. Sadly, Gavin (the editor) couldn't make it to the show so Archive contributor Colin Piggot covered for him. Colin also produces SAM Revival magazine, and was doing a sterling business of under the counter SAM-ing (well, certainly to me). With the latest issue of SAM Revival (number 26) just being released at the weekend (which I am looking forward to receiving - I pre-ordered it last year) I thought it timely to have a look at the four issues I walked away with from the RISC OS show and show you how the magazine has changed over the years.

Before I do that, however, I should point out that SAM Revival is published on an ad-hoc basis and you can see from the cover dates that there is a gap between each issue. This is very much a labour of love for Colin and about his passion for the SAM Coupe. Certainly, having spent a good amount of time talking to him at the Wakefield Show, that passion is in no way diminishing and there are plenty of plans for the future. As you'll see below, I also picked up a neat little news leaflet that provided updates to all that Colin has planned. 

Issue 11

To begin with, we have issue 11, cover dated November/December 2004. It's 44 pages long, stapled and mono. This issue came with a cover CD containing 18 audio tracks that show off what the SAM is capable of (ok, 17 tracks, number 18 is a funky little time capsule). There's a report on the ORSAM 2004 show (held in Norwich), an in-depth guide to the various audio interfaces available for the SAM, as well as a trio of SAM snippets, little asides to the main audio piece.

Issue 21

Issue 21 is dated from March/April 2008, and has 40 pages with some added colour, although the magazine is still stapled. As you can see from the contents page, this is a much more varied issue and I particularly enjoyed the interview with demo coders The Lords and the Developer Diary article. The cover disk contains four games (Bats 'N Balls, Tetris, Soul Magician and Pac-Man) as well as four demos from The Lords.

Issue 22

The September/October 2008 dated issue 22 has 32 pages although there is even more colour now. There is the usual news section, the developer diary covers further work on 3D graphics for the SAM, whilst the primary article asks the very important question about what happened to the Manic Miner sequel. As for the cover disk, you get platformer Burglar Bob and a 3D Demo from Developer Diary contributor Thomas Harte.

Issue 23

Just over a year later, issue 23 dropped for November/December 2009. Still at 32 pages but now in full colour, the news section focused on the latest VIC-20 emulator news. The cover disk contains said VIC-20 emulator, Survive the Night (originally written in 1995) and 3D Demo 2 from Thomas Harte. The developer diary has three entires this issue, and a three page SAM snippet covers the first mass storage interface for the SAM. The Trinity Boot ROM gets a multi-page article at the request of users.

As you can see, over the period between 2004 to 2009, SAM Revival developed into a full colour presentation with regular cover disks and news of developments in the hardware. When I looked at issue 25, it had turned into a professionally bound full colour booklet, and issue 26 looks to be following in those footsteps, whilst increasing the page count from 56 to 72 pages. 

Show leaflet

As for future developments, the leaflet I picked up at Wakefield mentioned Colin's on-going work with Symbiote, an eZ80 co-processor/sound board and, of particular interest to me, the Pandemonium, a new SAM system using the last of the custom chips originally manufactured for the Coupe back in 1989. The idea of a modern day SAM Coupe computer really does appeal and I look forward to the day Colin announces the new hardware.

More show leaflet

Check out Colin's website here, where you can order the various hardware add-ons he already sells for the Coupe (and for other platforms too). You can also order the latest issue, buy back issues and pre-order the next two (27 and 28). I know once payday rolls around, I'll be putting my order in for the these two. You can follow Colin on Twitter here and keep up with the latest news on all things SAM. If you can, pick up a copy or two and check out one of the funkiest 8-bit systems ever to see a UK release. You can expect a review of issue 26 on this blog within the next couple of weeks.

Friday, 17 June 2022

Defending Rodinu - Volume 1 by Krzysztof Dabrowski - Book Review

A new week, a new Helion & Co release (or so it seems when you're on their mailing list) and it didn't take long for me to decide to pick up a copy of one of their most recent titles, especially as it had the usual discount applied for the release weekend.

Defending Rodinu by Krzysztof Dąbrowski is the first volume of a pair to look at the air defences of the Soviet Union in the post World War 2 period. Covering the years 1945 to 1960, this is a favourite period of mine in both Cold War history and military aviation in general. The move from piston engines to jets (and rockets for some), plus the almost never-ending technological changes that ran through the period covered here is one that has fascinated me for years. Off topic, but look at the development of combat aircraft for the RAF in the 1950's. There were so many changes and new theoretical processes that a project started in 1950 was extremely unlikely to be anywhere near cutting edge (if it saw service at all) by the end of the decade. 

Back to the Soviet Union though, and the author begins this 72-page tome with a walkthrough of how the air defences of the Soviet Union developed from 1945 onwards, detailing the aircraft types, surface to air missiles, anti-aircraft guns, radars and the organisation of the entity entrusted with stopping foreign bombers from laying waste to the Motherland. 

Once past the introduction, we get accounts of the various overflights undertaken by the US and its allies, the Soviet responses and the human cost as aircraft were shot down even though it was, ostensibly, peacetime. There is coverage of the political background to each event and, touchingly, the names of each of the crews that sometimes, but not always, survived their encounter with the PVO. The sheer challenge that the PVO faced is presented plainly and without condescension. The geographical nature of the Soviet Union's border and the immature technology of the time combined to make it an immensely difficult task but the defenders of Soviet airspace grew in ability and confidence as the years progressed. It must be remembered that this wasn't just cutting edge technology, it was bleeding, and many paid the price of their political master's orders.

This is a well illustrated book with a large number of contemporary photographs, and I am sure some of the modellers out there will find something useful here. There are also a good number of maps and diagrams that you'd expect from a Helion & Co. release, as well as the always excellent quality colour plates in the centre pages. 

Mr Dabrowski should be congratulated on an excellently written first volume on a topic that never seems to get much of an airing. Most of the sources I have on reconnaissance flights in the Cold War are written from the US/NATO perspective (although it could very well be that I just need to expand my library), so this is a worthy addition to the topic and I shall be perusing the excellent bibliography for future purchases. I can honestly say that I am very much looking forward to the second volume.

You can buy Defending Rodinu directly from the Helion & Co website here. You can pre-register your interest in volume 2, covering the period 1960 to 1989 which is due out in the Autumn, here.

Friday, 10 June 2022

A Pair of Threes - From Gamers Magazine Issue 3 and [Lock-on] Volume 003 - Review

May was a good month for publication deliveries, what with the (slightly) delayed third issue of From Gamers Magazine and the third volume of the increasingly successful [Lock-on] journals from the team at Lost in Cult. Let's start with the former, shall we?

From Gamers Magazine has developed quite nicely since its first issue back in June 2021. Issue three expands the content from the initial issue's 52 pages to a whopping 92, excluding the covers. Print and stock quality remains as superb as ever and the editorial and content team has now expanded to thirty people - you can see why when read through the magazine.

We begin with a guide to the best Indie titles of 2021, 19 of which get write ups and 6 more get honourable mentions. I've only played three of the nineteen (Genesis Noir, Overboard and The Forgotten City), but based on the mini-reviews here, I'll be checking out some of the others as and when time permits. This is followed by an interesting piece on the use of 3D audio in Returnal, a game that has interested me but I don't have a PS5 yet. The Sonic the Hedgehog movie gets four pages, with a cracking opinion piece on Sony's attitude to the console market and its competition. It's definitely not fanboy clickbait and should provoke some thoughtful discussion, especially as all three major players have different approaches to the current console generation. And, just so you know, I am platform neutral and have always tried to own each format in the different generations. I'll get round to a PS5 at some point but there are more pressing needs than video gaming for my hard earned cash at the moment.

Horizon Dawn: Forbidden West gets fourteen pages split between three articles. The first covers the open world nature of the title, the second looks at the way environmental concerns in the game mirror the real world, whilst the third questions the nature of photography in the title. 

The Art Corner takes up sixteen pages and provides some lovely two page spreads of art from titles such as Saints Row, Elden Ring and Oxenfree II. The topic of multiplayer stealth games gets a good airing, followed by a character guide to the main characters from Saints Row. 

The subject of sensitive topics in videogames is covered with extreme care with a six page piece that will definitely get you thinking about the questions and viewpoints raised here. Then come the reviews.

These are always subjective but, having played the likes of Halo Infinite, The Artful Escape (brilliant, by the way, you have to give it a go!) and CrossfireX, I have to say that the reviews here are well put together and will be useful to the reader if you haven't already played the titles covered in this section. And no, I did not pay for the second campaign in CrossfireX - dodged that bullet! The issue ends with a section on the best pixel art in games, highlighting just how good that particular art form in gaming can look. 

On to [Lock-on] and this was a bit of a change for me. I'd purchased the hardcover editions of the first two volumes, but this time decided to see what the softcover one was like. 

As with my review of Volume 002, I've included a picture of the contents page as there truly is a huge amount of content here. There is very much a Dreamcast and Sega theme to this edition, covering everything from the hardware to accessories, online connectivity to some of the more unique titles, and a good focus on the NAOMI arcade hardware that really should get a bit more love - which it does here.

It's not all Dreamcast though, as Genesis Noir, Broken Sword and Project Zero (as well as many others) get articles that take a different view on such well-received titles. Each piece gets unique artwork as well, perfect in tone and style to the writing. The volume ends with eight pieces written by Kickstarter backers, and I know I am going to have to replay Catherine: Full Body again following that write up. 

You might think I am short changing [Lock-on] here, with it a handful of paragraphs compared to From Gamers Mag, but what I really want to avoid is spoiling your experience with this volume. You need to read it, from cover to cover, to truly understand what this publication is all about. The combination of new and established writers and artists, the unique perspectives they bring to their respective topics, and the care and attention lavished on the presentation make [Lock-on] truly something you have to enjoy yourself to understand, and I heartily recommend you do. 

So there you have two of the latest editions of two worthwhile publications. From Gamers is planning a fourth issue, which is already listed as pre-launch on Kickstarter, and I know I shall definitely be supporting that when it goes live. As for [Lock-on], well, their fourth volume is also approaching and it shouldn't be long before they too hit the start button on funding for that, and yes, I'll be picking up a copy. Check out From Gamers website here, as well as follow them on Twitter here. [Lock-on] can be found on the Lost in Cult website, along with their other projects and products. They are also on Twitter here

Sunday, 5 June 2022

Seven Days to the River Rhine... à la française

A small number of members from the TWATS (Tantobie Warfare And Tactical Society) managed to get a Saturday game organised last week and it was my turn in the chair. As it had been a good two and a half years since their last airing, it would be Seven Days to the River Rhine, but in Africa because... why not? Well, it actually gave us a chance to get Shaun's excellent collection of toys out again, with a ton of technicals, some rather spiffing AMX-30B2's and who doesn't like a shiny AMX-10RC? 

Sneaky beggars, hiding behind the tree line

The scenario was a basic one - a bunch of ne'er do wells (led by Andy) were extorting money from the general populous at a nearby crossroads, and the French (captained by Shaun) were going to sort them out. However, our impromptu tax collectors had decided to put some friends on a nearby ridge line and remonstrate vigorously against the armed forces of France. Thusly, an ambush was set up and all that had to be done was get the game started.

La bête noire des français - l'T-12.

Now, I had previously commented that these rules were decent but, given the passage of time, would that remain the case after this play through? Spoilers - not quite. Still, there was soon a column of 10RC's and VAB's motoring towards the technical stoppage. Shaun couldn't see the massed infantry, T55's and a singular T-12 (described as a T55 without the good bits - you might call those good bits the actual tank and the rifling!). It was the latter that opened up first and smartly dispatched a 10RC with a flank shot. The sole Technical with a 106mm recoilless rifle also had a go and scratched the paintwork of another 10RC. At this point, Shaun dismounted his infantry from the VAB's and set up a base of fire. He also called in for reinforcements.

A technical of Technicals?

At the front of the column, there was quite a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, as the three surviving 10RC's started their revenge against the Technicals. This, gentle reader, lasted all of one dice throw, as out of three shots, Shaun fluffed two. Still, one dead Toyota (other vehicle manufacturers are available). Andy replied with some mortar fire from behind the ridge line (a miss), and another shot from that T-12, this time killing a VAB, though to be fair, a sharp stick could probably have done the same job. 

Rouler, rouler, rouler... apologies to Limp Bizkit fans...

Andy decided that he needed to bring his tanks to the ridge to engage the newly arriving French reinforcements - three AMX-10P's supported by a trio of AMX-30B2's. It was at this point he was gently reminded of the T55 main gun depression limits so he couldn't get the mechanised infantry heading his way. The tanks, however, would be fair game.

L'AMX-10RC, c'est mort.

The Technicals were still causing bother, as they tried to use their heavy MG's against the 10RC's. Of the three that fired, two caused paint scratches, the other missed. In response, Shaun demonstrated a superb level of consistency by firing three times and hitting only once again. Le sigh. Meanwhile, Andy had motored up a couple of Technicals to engage the left flank of the advancing French infantry, neatly adding two morale points to the gentlemen of the Legion. They shrugged this off with Gallic flair and continued their advance. 

Right, lads! Let's have 'em! (In French, obviously).

This was getting a tad exciting (maybe you had to be there...) so we decided to break for victuals. As this was at our new venue, Stanley Masonic Hall, this entailed decamping to the nearby Cooplands (Gregg's pastry is just too greasy) and a suitable lining for the stomach was purchased. All the better to soak up the Moretti that was hitting the spot possibly too well...

Un kilometre a pied ca use, ca use; un kilometre a pied ca use les souliers.

Back to the game and we had yet more shooting. The impressively capable bete noire of the French, the T-12, took out another VAB, the mortar finally scored a hit on the infantry, adding another morale point to their tally, and the three T55's on the left engaged the French armour. Once again, the dice rolling was terrible, with both players scoring one out of three and that was in no way good enough, not even for Mr Meatloaf! The effect, however, was akin to eggshells hitting eggshells. With nothing decisive and yet more French forces on the way, Andy was done and planned to withdraw from the field (well, covered pool table top), using the six T55's he had as a covering force. 

In this game, pretty is as pretty does... which is not much.

This was a Technical (see what I did there) militia win, what with the destruction of four French vehicles and scoring worthwhile hits on the de-bussed infantry. The French would, if the game had a) continued longer and b) we were happy just to have a dice rolling contest - no, we were not, have reached the crossroads and seen off the militia but at quite a heavy price, and only because of the flood of armour and mechanised infantry. 

As for revisiting the rules, the activation/reaction process - sounds good. It plays alright (damning with faint praise maybe), but on this particular play through, it slowed things down a lot. May be it was the way we were playing, in which case as umpire, that's on me, but it didn't seem to suit the flow of the game.

Andy had good right to feel down about his tank's lack of depression.

I did need to add a few things here and there since we were, admittedly, playing outside of the expected theme of the rules. It was quickly noticed that infantry very much play second fiddle in the rules, and HMG's on vehicles are practically non-existent - the VAB's had MG's but not according to the rules. Same with the 106mm, so I played with the stats of the Kanonenjagdpanzer. Yes, they're not the same, but that's the benefit of having an umpire-led game. It also helps when, if there is some disagreement with the players, you remind them of the selection of single malts behind the bar that might aid the memory of said umpire. 

The Charge of the Technicals. Great elan, utterly pointless.

Noted, too, was the morale system, in that it doesn't really fit any real world doctrine, so the idea of taking a few hits, pulling back, re-organising and then having another go isn't in the rules at all. You get your morale limit and that's it. 

Having said all of that, it was still a good game and kind of played out how I thought it would. It may well be that in a couple of years, these will come out to play again - the rules that is, Shaun's toys are most certainly to see daylight much sooner. As for the venue, it's good to play in a bar because there is beer and the odd single malt (after the game unfortunately, both Shaun and Andy ignored the hints about helping an ageing umpire remember things!), and there was much conversation had as well - remember, just because it's a wargame doesn't mean to say it can't be a social event too. Finally, apologies for the French used in the post - a near thirty year old GCSE gave way to Google Translate. 

Epilogue (or post credits sequence to the younger readers more familiar with Marvel movies).

Andy has pondered for weeks, trying to figure out the logistics of putting a game with his Shinyloo collection at the current venue, and questions were asked about a larger playing surface. After all, a covered pool table isn't that big. Gimlet eyes were cast over the other tables in the bar, then a short perambulation to the main hall by Andy and I revealed a scene to which Andy's eyes lit up! Nine decently sized tables that could be combined to offer a much larger canvas. The plans for a Shinyloo game were back on!