Videogame Memories: Exhumed part II: PC

We are back for another look at Exhumed (Playstation, PC, Saturn). In the previous post I explored mainly the Playstation version. This time it’s the PC version’s turn. As I previously explained, the two versions have enough differences to be consideredy different games, though they share the plot and most of the assets. Both remain some of my favourite games ever.

One major difference was the game engine. The PC version used Build engine, made most famous by Duke Nukem 3d, though number of other games also utilized it (here’s a nice look at some of them on RPS). This imbued the dev team with some restrictions they didn’t have with the 3d engine for the console version, and so the levels are completely different. The pc version lacks the vertical climbing and platforming elements, but despite this the levels never feel quite flat. The devs were extremely good at using the tools in their disposal, something that both of these games suggests is a defining trait for the whole Lobotomy Software.

The levels were also long and pretty complex – or at least they were to young me. Looking at recent youtube playthroughs I see people completing them much quicker, but I have memories of being pleasantly lost for hours and feeling relief and satisfaction upon finally finding the exit.

The PC version also lacked the metroidvania-quality of it’s console counterpart; instead you travelled linearly from one level to the next. Where the console version felt sometimes like a treasure hunt, the PC version had a feeling of long trek through the enemy lines with no rest in sight.

This sort of ”alone against massive odds” thing is a staple in FPS games, and also something I never really got tired of. Even in games where the devs were not interested in telling a story, this kind of dynamic created the story for me, story of one unfortunate individual who alone must beat terrifying enemy. I know, it’s cheesy! But I like it. I like being that lone badass. I like the game granting me the illusion of great challenges and my own superhuman abilities not through sheer difficulty, but through the general atmosphere and story bits. Exhumed, like several other older FPS games, gave me just that.

art435

I need to return to this subject in some later article! For now, let’s press onwards. Remember the beautifully detailed overworld map in the console version? PC version has it’s own map, and I’ve for years tried to find it somewhere online so I could peer at it with a magnifying glass. For writing this article I then dove into the game’s files in search for those map files. When I gave up in frustration, my beloved Sina picked up the work and in very short time conjured me up the fully paletted map and tons of other 90’s graphical treasures. So there you have it:

Click for larger image.

Click for larger image.

Isn’t it just beautiful. I wish I knew who of Lobotomy Software’s graphics team did the maps. I would buy them a beer or a coffee or something. Actually I would do that for the whole dev team for enriching my childhood so much.

Anyway, the level names aren’t listed on that but they are mostly derived from actual places in Egypt and their positions also somewhat correlate with the map (according to my super quick and haphazard research), which is a very nice detail. You start from the very south of the map in Abu Simbel where Ramses’ body was looted from, and follow the tracks way up to the north, where you can see some sort of alien corruption thing has taken over buildings. I love that trope, by the way – Doom had similar thing going on in the Shores of Hell -episode, and in Exhumed’s playstation version something similar was evident on the map, if not so much during the levels. In thePC map the last few levels see mixture of alien and Egyptian architecture, similar to how in Doom you saw Hell architecture creeping over the UAC buildings. I just love that kind of thing.

exwater1

The story progresses similarly to the console version. You meet the same bosses at about the same intervals. The main difference is the lack of artifact gathering; instead you are just pushing onwards against increasingly concerned Kilmaat. Also you won’t be travelling back to Ramses’ tomb whenever he wants to chat; his spirit will now be doing the legwork and intercept you along the way to gargle divine messages. These usually happen before and after bosses and the latter briefings are accompanied by nicely illustrated story screens.

ex-story-1

Speaking of bosses, Set was the most terrifying bastard in the console version and keeps that up here, too. His arena is one of the highlights of the game and where they make full use of the better light engine and increased amount of props. Light and shadow are used impressively and there are gory remains of Seth’s victims everywhere. Non-hostile Anubis soldiers are beating on drums, as if eagerly awaiting to witness the fight. When you do kill Set, endless stream of screaming ghosts pour out of his corpse and rise up to the sky.

The rest of the game, too, benefits greatly from the lighting and details. Where the console version had dying enemies shatter into bloodless pieces, the PC one has two sets of dying animations for most of them. You, the lucky player, get to have three of them. There is burning to death, poisoned to death and just a general violenced to death. Lots of death to go around.

laava

The atmoshphere gets increasingly oppressive as the game progresses. One of the most chilling moments comes during one of Ramses’ briefing, a few levels before you meet Selkis, who, as I described in the previous article, was a human turned into monster by Kilmaat gene experiments. Link to that particular speech.

”They are actively robbing a slave girl of her life…”

Holy Nut, those screams are scary. It gives the impression that the torture and experiments are happening somewhere nearby, maybe just outside of these very halls. Or maybe Ramses is somehow relaying the sound via some kind of spiritual wifi access; in any case it makes the situation feel really terrifying and dire. It was also depressing that there wasn’t anything the player could do to help the would-be-Selkis. When we meet her, she has been turned and must be killed. And Ramses comes off as the most uncaring asshole of a pharaoh for reporting her suffering so emotionlessly. Remind me to punch your mummy in the dick when I find it, Ram.

ex-story-3

I didn’t cover endings in the previous article due to laziness, so I will talk about them here. The endings as well as the opening and Ramses-rambles are all narrated by Don LaFontaine which makes them automatically very impressive.

Console version endings
PC version good ending
PC version bad ending

The console version’s endings take the cake, though. There you had to collect pieces to your radio transmitter/laptop that were inexplicably spread around the map. If you found them all, you called for a ride home after defeating Kilmaatikhan, and Ramses makes you immortal. The whole world is so impressed with you that you are crowned king of the world.

That is some reward for an FPS hero who usually go pretty unsung. Horrifying implications of immortality notwithstanding, but I like to assume Ramses’ gift came with some sort of escape clause for the case of inevitable heat death of the universe or just being bored of living.

Now, if you fail to assemble your gizmo, you are doomed for some reason. I never understood why it was super important you got to call home after defeating the aliens, but it was. Sympathetic Ramses then invites you to climb into his coffin which he says will then be sealed forever (though as the whole premise taught us, he is pretty bad at sealing his corpse-box) after which you will die and join him in the afterlife where you will be treated like a king. So if we assume the old garglethroat was telling the truth, even the bad ending is pretty great for our protagonist. Oh and after a few hundred years the Kilmaat return to wipe out all humans, and your corpse is displayed in a museum, but presumably your spirit is happily wining and dining with pharaohs and not guiding some other poor bastard across temples and ruins.

It really sucks to be the PC-version’s protagonist, though. The final mission’s got a timer and beating that determines which ending you get. If you screw it up, you will destroy all of Earth and ruin things for everyone. Good job, hero. Now if you are succesful, Earth is saved and the Kilmaat escape in their ship – while you still on board. Maybe this leads up to jolly adventures in the alien world, I don’t know. Compared to becoming king of the world or having cozy time in Egyptian afterlife it still sucks dusty mummy butt.

This concludes my look on Exhumed. For those wanting to know more, let me guide you to this blog which has tons of interesting bits about the game and Lobotomy Software in general, and also links to interviews, some of them scanned and translated from non-English magazines.
http://lobotomysoftware.wordpress.com/


Videogame Memories: Exhumed part I: Playstation

During the time of the Pharaohs, the city of Karnak was a shining example of a civilization that all others nations could only hope to emulate. Today Karnak lives on, surrounded by the spirits of the past. However, something has gone terribly wrong…

Thus narrates the godly-voiced Don LaFontaine during the opening of Exhumed, developed by Lobotomy Software, released for Sega Saturn, Sony Playstation and PC between 1996-1997. Released as PowerSlave in North America, European publishers wanted to change the name to Exhumed. In Japan it was called Seireki 1999 Pharaoh no Fukkatsu (The Resurrection of the Pharaoh, I’m told). Since I played the European version I will use the name Exhumed in this article.

The console and PC versions of Exhumed are different enough to be treated as separate games (there are also several differences between Saturn and Playstation versions but they are still mostly the same game). So I have decided to make two separate posts, starting with the console version. And by that I mean the Playstation version since I never had access to Saturn.

I was probably 10 or something when I was introduced to this game on my Uncle’s newfangled Playstation. Uncle often had new interesting games when we visited. Unfortunately he also often traded them away to considerably less interesting racing games. Fortunately for me and my brother he had treated his Exhumed disc so badly it couldn’t be traded back anymore, so we got to play it a lot, and eventually inherited it when he gave us the Playstation and all of his games. (including the racing ones…) We still have the disc. Once every few years one of us has played it a bit and it still works mostly fine!

Even with the underside of it resembling a gravel road.

Even with the underside of it resembling a gravel road.

So! Alien species known as the Kilmaat have invaded Karnak and totally obliterated the armies sent in by governments of the world. And when massive armies fail, a rag-tag team of action heroes must be sent in. Unfortunately their chopper gets shot down and only the beefiest sleeveless-shirt wearing badass survives. You are that beefy badass.

beef

Very early you meet the ghost of King Ramses – also voiced by Don LaFontaine! – who will brief you on the situation – the Kilmaat have stolen his mummified corpse and are trying to extract powers from it somehow. It is implied that their whole plan hinges on this majestic mummy. It also becomes apparent, from what Ramses is saying, that the Egyptian gods are very real and with one exception on your side, but their influence on the mortal realm is limited to allowing you to use artifacts they have left behind.

Gameplay-wise Exhumed is a first-person shooter with plenty of platforming elements. This combination may sound dubious but in Exhumed it works splendidly. Well-designed controls and unfortunately named but brilliant SlaveDriver engine – one of the early 3d engines – made for a fast-paced and smooth gameplay. The engine was a real marvel of engineering at the time, especially considering that they first made it for Sega Saturn, which, according to programmer Ezra Dreisbach was very annoying to work with, especially in regards to 3d graphics.

To this day it is nice and comfortable to play, and I much prefer the feel to the clumsiness of Halos and Gears and what have we. If you are interested, there is an unofficial PC port that works splendidly. (Download link on the original site has been removed possibly for legal reasons, but Dosgamers still has it. If it disappears, let me know and I will host it somewhere.) I’ve been playing it a lot while writing this article. Support for mouse and keyboard works like a dream and the ancient 640×480 resolution scales up to any resolution and aspect ratio without problems.

So we have our shooting and jumping and a LaFontaine-powered Ramses on our side. Rumbling like he’s trying to clear thousands of years of dust from his throat he informs you on the location of the artifacts the gods have left lying around. These are spread across the map, where you advance by finding an exit to the direction of the adjacent level. Each artifact allows you to reach new exits in previous levels, so Ramses will have you running all over the place. Now, let’s have a look at that map!

I'm madly in love with overworld maps.

I’m madly in love with overworld maps.

There’s a lot going on in here. I love how the levels flow into each other and how everything – with the intentional exception of the Kilmaat structures to the west – looks like it belongs in there, how the levels seem to naturally flow into each other. I also really, really like that the exits in levels bear some resemblance to how they look like in the map. Those steps up to the mountain shrine in the middle of the map, that tiny gorge leading to the swamp to the east. Small details like that give immense satisfaction to me.

Of course the map also tickled my imagination greatly when I was a kid. Still does! The swampy area, Heket Marsh, looks like it contains a village. Did people live there prior to the events of the game? And north from there, the Sunken Palace Khun – how long has it been sunken? And what was the arena for, originally? In the game you face Set in there, who seems to have abandoned the other gods to side with Kilmaat. Was the arena always his home?

Speaking of enemies – several of them are distinctly Egyptian-themed. You have Anubis-like mooks who function similarly to Doom’s imps; teleporting catwomen resembling Bast and mummies who spank you with homing magical missiles. Two of the bosses are likewise Egyptian themed; Set and Selkis. So, as a kid I was always a bit confused if I was actually battling Egyptian gods or aliens who just look like them. It didn’t help that I knew very little English. Now for the purpose of this article I went through Ramses’ ramblings and all game manuals and got a little clearer picture.

Exhumed PS screenshot 1

So like I mentioned above, Set is a real god who has sided with the Kilmaat aliens. Selkis, a super scary scorpion-woman, however, is artificial mutant created by the Kilmaat and just named after the actual scorpion goddess. Likewise, the Anubis mooks are mutants made out of the soldiers who came before you. The Kilmaat seem to have fascination with the local mythology.

The mummies are likely captured Karnak villagers. The opening cinematic mentions them being injected with strange substances and mummified alive.

The catwomen I am not sure about. The manual calls them ”Guardians of Bast” and makes no mention to the Kilmaat, which to me seems to suggest that they are some sort of ancient security system set up by Bast, and they happen to think the player is an invader. That, or the developers just wanted to include them and did not think about it very much, but there is no room for that possibility in my headcanon. I need everything to have some meaning, even if I have to invent it myself.

Sprites courtesy of the Spriters Resource.

Some of the enemies. Sprites courtesy of the Spriters Resource.

The game also features two different endings, the happier one being dependent on you collecting all pieces of your radio transmitter spread around the map. The map screen beeps when you are at a level with a piece in there, and during the gameplay you also hear beeping on its proximity, so finding them becomes a pleasant treasure hunt instead of annoying guesswork. Sometimes you really need to work to find them, though. I will talk about endings of both versions in Part II, but here’s a video if you are interested.

Another, more difficult but completely optional treasure-hunty aspect is the Lobotomy Software team dolls. I don’t think I ever found more than two or three when I was a kid, but there are 23 in all. After finding 10 you gain the ability to leap from water, and after 14 you get to fly. Damn, had I known this, I would have put more effort into finding them! I am not big for hunting achievements for achievements’ sake – I only get interested of there is some sort of concrete reward.

The Saturn version also included hidden minigame, Death Tank, which was unlocked after collecting all of the dolls. This wasn’t included in the Playstation version, though they were working on it.

Finally let’s talk the music. Exhumed featured beautiful orchestral score composed by Scott Branston. Drawing influence from Middle Eastern music, the tracks ranged from calm and serene to dramatic and intense. The final boss music was mostly electronic sounding, and a track used in other boss fights and one otherwise though level had nice combination of the orchestral instruments and rock elements. I really love it. My mind mainly associates it with the Set Arena level and it makes me think of how I imagined the heat of lava rising from down below and the relative coolness of the air higher above. Good video game music takes me to places.

Wrap your earflaps around the whole soundtrack here:

That is all for Part I. I will return in Part II to explore the PC version, it’s differences to the console ones and with a lengthy blabber about the mood.


Ramble: French toast and Fallout

I think I will try to get into habit of posting just something at least weekly, even if I don’t have a specific subject in mind. So here’s my first of my ramble posts. Don’t worry, I will tag and categorize the potentially more interesting themed ones so you can skip these. I just need to get into the habit of writing more again.

Today’s been the laziest of days, but a good one. I saw my brother first time in many weeks and we visited parents, who were so happy to see us they made French toast. I have troubled relationship with that dessert. On the other hand it’s super tasty, but on the other hand it’s nutritionally almost totally useless except as quick calorie fuel.

I have some body image issues so I feel stupidly guilty of eating calorie rich food on non-workout days. And that is very stupid indeed. No one should ever feel guilty about something like that. The thought makes me so angry I want to go eat some more just to slap my own guilt in the face, but might be a bit pointless. I’m working on this.

The day has been too hot do anything but be lazy anyway so I’ve been playing tons of Fallout 4. I played some 100+ hours shortly after it was released, then forgot about it for a while. Now that there’s been tons of DLC and I realised I had too many mods and that there were better alternatives to some of them, I started a new save.

If you haven’t played Fallout 4, there is one thing I want you to know about it: You can loot just about everything. Guns, armor, coffee mugs, toastes, dirty plates, ashtrays, pots, screwdrivers, mops, buckets, fire extinguishers… almost everything that is not nailed down you can put into your pockets and carry away to be used as raw material for settlement building.

My precious treasures.

Pictured: My precious treasures.

For an obsessive looter like me that is like a constant high. There are many other things I enjoy in Fallout 4 but looting is what I spent most of my playing time on. Much of the rest of the time used to go to travelling back to safehouses to empty my overfull pockets, which quickly grew tiring. So this time around I allowed myself a cheat that gives me bottomless carrying capacity. I’m a strong proponent of cheating in single player games, as I see it as just another way to customize the experience to one’s liking. I will need to write at more length on that in the future.

I also found this very simple and yet very useful screenshot tool that allowed me to get some nice shots from the game. (the image quality is still a bit choppy due to limitations posed by my hardware; I need to turn quite a lot of graphics options down to have the game run smoothly)

A settler defending me from some radroaches. Why step on them when you can kill with maximum overkill?

Dogmeat is forever unafraid. I really like this shot, even with my low graphics settings.

After much deliberating on what embarrassing thing I’d like Codsworth to call me, I decided I didn’t want to be named Humongous Erectus for the 300 hours it will probably take me to finish the game. So I settled on Helen Ögelbaum, a name I also use for a character in one of my story worlds, who in turn is inspired by a friend from long time ago who had great and positive impact on my life.

Also, did I say 300 hours? That was a very optimistic estimation. There are just so many coffee cups and ashtrays out there…


Videogame memories: MediEvil

I am bad at writing introductions so I figure I’ll just get straight to business. I will be blabbering about fiction a lot in this blog, and much of that will be about games. My Videogame Memories series will be similar to the Have you played? -series they have at Rock, Paper, Shotgun which I avidly read. I love those pieces. The authors are often reminiscing on a game they played when they were young, and when it’s been a game they super much loved, it is especially nice to read about it. I will maybe curate some of those articles later at some point.

But I digress. Let’s kick off this copycat series with a beloved game from my past: MediEvil (Sony Playstation, 1998-1999)

First of all, MediEvil was a really good game at the time, a solid action-platformer with lots of hidden secrets to find and slightly metroidvania-like structure that erased feeling of linearity. But the gameplay could have been absolute crap and I still would have loved it because of the mood, the suggested stories in the background, the sounds and sights.

Set in medieval kingdom of Gallowmere, the backstory goes on about a (presumably) evil wizard, Zarok, who was defeated in battle but returns 100 years later to enslave the people with a magical spell as well as wake up all the dead in the graveyard. Happily the zombie spell also disturbs the sleep of Sir Daniel Fortesque, a hailed hero of the war against the wizard, despite the fact that his supposed heroic deeds are just embellishment of his own and the King who liked him. Ashamed by his lack of heroics, Sir Dan welcomes the chance to actually get to save the day.

Now, the world in MediEvil is insanely detailed and well-imagined, especially for a game this old. Nothing was done lazily on this game; from programming to sound and art department everyone seemed to have been doing their best to juice out everything from the Playstation. Everywhere you go the environments seem to hint at more things going on, things older and bigger than Daniel’s feud with Zarok. As often happens when I play games, the main story took the back seat as I immersed myself in these details and imagined what life was like in Gallowmere outside of zombie invasions.

MapOfGallowmere

Look at the overworld map: Isn’t it just amazing? I am a massive sucker for overworld maps and MediEvil’s is just one of the best ever. So lovingly detailed, and the map visuals actually corresponding to structures of the levels was nice, too. Seeing the game world imagined in such splendid detail and being able to track my adventures through it made Gallowmere so much more real and enjoyable to me.

Take Hilltop Mausoleum for an example. One of the notes you find will tell you, You are entering a house of pain! Rumors abound of evil doings in the secret catacombs below this very Hall.
Holy nuttery! What sort of evil doings? For how long? And this is a relatively public space, too, just north of the graveyard. Which, on the other hand is a bit far away from the city and the farmlands where people mostly seem to live, so I suppose that makes it possible for shady people do conduct shady things in this house of the dead.

But house for who actually? For what purpose has this grand mausoleum been built? And what is the origin of the Stained Glass Demon, the purported master of this place? He seems to be imprisoned in a glass heart before Dan wakes him up and defeats him. It tickled my imagination to no end to wonder about this demon’s relationship with the mausoleum and the peoples of Gallowmere. A manual from the remake of the game suggests he is good pals with Zarok the wizard, but still there is a lot of hinted background of his own.

And what of the phantom? This skeletally ghostly fellow is found desperately mashing an organ, trying to come up with a new song but for some reason is doomed to repeat the same old notes over and over again. You can help him, and he will help you back, but of course I was left wondering of his story as well.

Later on you will meet ghost of the king who appointed Daniel a knight when they were both alive. You will wander in a hedge maze governed by some sort of weird demon. Death himself will ferry you to a sunken town in the bottom of a lake. So many small stories, so much history! Now, I know much of the lore probably doesn’t run as deep as I make it in my mind, but it’s still pretty impressive amount of details. The developers already had a pretty great action-platformer in their hands, yet they still poured all this extra love and work into the game to make it even more detailed and spooky and interesting. That is amazing.

I didn’t even properly touch the music; I think I will blabber more about that in a future post about game musics in general. But for now stretch your ear-skin around this jolly-spooky soundtrack:

To this day MediEvil keeps inspiring me. I haven’t played it in years but whenever I go back by the way of exploring the amazing overworld map or watching let’s plays, it fills my brain with inspiration and ideas. MediEvil will always have a big place in my heart.

There is a remake, MediEvil: Resurrection for the PSP. I haven’t played it but I’ve understood it is mostly faithful to the original, changing just some small details. So if you are a fan of action platformers and Tim Burtonesque aesthetics, maybe give it a go. Or if you can find the original, all the better.

There was also a sequel, Medievil 2, for the Playstation. Set in 19th century London, it had similar gameplay and was pretty okay game on its own, but for me it could not match the charm of the first one.