Category Archives: PC games

Best of 2014 #1: South Park: The Stick of Truth

South Park: The Stick of TruthThe South Park games are an eclectic mix, from an FPS in the days before everything had to be an FPS, through kart racinggame shows and tower defence. An RPG must have been the obvious choice, then, thankfully after they had the revelation that South Park games work better when they look like the TV show.

But even despite the turmoil that accompanied the development, from THQ’s bankruptcy to the frankly shameful censorship – I imported the unsullied version, naturally – it turned out amazingly well. It’s fun, funny, authentic, and unlike many turn-based RPGs, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. With my reduced gaming time coming into frequent conflict with my love of a genre that thrives on lengthy narratives, words cannot express how much I appreciated a traditional RPG that I could finish in 15 hours.

It’s the fact that it was funny that stood out most, though. From the ludicrous summons to the creative trophies (‘Are We Cool?’ and ‘Heisenberg’ are favourites), through the obsession with anal probing, dodging swinging ball sacks and the way the Nazi zombies speak in incomprehensible snippets of Hitler speeches, it’s often hilarious when most games can’t raise a chuckle. Even if the game had sucked, which it absolutely doesn’t, I’d have happily endured through the running time to soak in all the humour.

Happy new year, everyone. May it be better for gaming than the last one.

Best of 2014 #3: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Middle-earth: Shadow of MordorHere’s another late addition, which I admitted to missing out on barely a month ago but have since fallen for in a big way. I wish I could say it wasn’t the Assassin’s Creed ripoff that I called it back when it was unveiled because, gameplay-wise, that’s essentially what it is. But it’s polished nonetheless – that’s something you can’t say about this year’s Assassin’s Creed – and has enough tricks to stand out.

The Nemesis system was the cleverest for me, in that it’s a somewhat procedurally generated system that doesn’t stand out as being so – you might not realise that Goroth Plague-Bringer, against whom you had a long-running feud, was a creation of the game itself. The way it would cause some uruks to run away and others to return from the dead, hell-bent on revenge, allowed the game to create something approaching the personal, unique stories that typify the best open-world sandbox games.

Monolith seems to have a way of coming out of nowhere with impressive games – think the Condemned, F.E.A.R. and No One Lives Forever series – without picking up the following of some of the better-known studios. After this, and following my frequent complaints that so few studios are making games that aren’t safe, ridiculously budgeted annual sequels, I’ll keep an eye on what it does next.

Best of 2014 #4: Dark Souls II

Dark Souls IIThe consensus on Dark Souls II seems to be that it’s the weakest of the three games in the tenuously linked Souls series, so perhaps I’m unusual in finding it more immediately engaging than its direct predecessor. I admittedly lack the patience to go all that far and sample their full depth, so the “immediately” part may be where a connoisseur could tell me I’m wrong.

Honestly, I feel like a bit of a dilettante discussing it when there are so many writers who can be far more authoritative on these games, so I’ll just say that I had a blast with it. I’m safe with my complaint that it’s another of those games that suffered from pushing ageing hardware too far, this time to a controversial extent that makes the inevitable PS4/XB1 upgrade seem more cynical than usual. But beyond that I enjoyed the bleak world, the minimalist storytelling, and the creative bosses.

If this is Souls without its soul, the series director Hidetaka Miyazaki having been reduced to a mere supervisor by his role on the upcoming Bloodborne, I can’t wait to see how that game turns out. I’ll reserve a spot in next year’s list, shall I?

Did you hear that the Souls games are quite hard, by the way? I think I’ve seen it mentioned.

Best of 2014

Last year I complained about what a disappointment 2012 had been and in the last few weeks I bemoaned 2014 too, thus proving that video games are the opposite of Star Trek movies in that you should only bother with the odd-numbered ones. Except Into Darkness. That was shite.

I filled a couple of gaps in this year’s experiences since I wrote that post, with at least one of them certain to make the list as I write this, ahead of finalising my top five – alas, I couldn’t come up with ten without severely scraping the barrel. That made the line-up mildly less tragic than it was looking a few weeks ago, but it doesn’t change the fact that early 2015 looks like handily thrashing the entirety of this time round the sun.

Would a disappointment like Destiny have a chance in a year that will bring us Persona 5, The Witcher III, Batman: Arkham Knight, Bloodborne, Uncharted 4, Metal Gear Solid V, No Man’s Sky, Street Fighter V, Majora’s Mask 3D and a new Ace Attorney? No chance. But it’s still 2014, so let’s give it a send-off and pretend it never happened.

As usual, for your reference…

Running classic PC games on a Mac with Wineskin

I’m in love with Good Old Games. They distribute classic PC titles, getting them running on modern operating systems, bundled with extras, and all without DRM.

What I like most about it, though, is that GOG is up there with Valve in its efforts to make Mac gaming less of a wasteland. When it comes to retro computer games, DOS isn’t too much of a hurdle because the hardware requirements are trivial and apps like Boxer make emulation simple, but the Windows ultra-dominance of the late 90s through late 2000s are a dark spot. If you have fond memories of a PC game of that era and it’s not from Blizzard or id, odds are it didn’t get a Mac release.

I recently noticed that GOG was offering Mac versions of PC-only Black Isle RPGs like Planescape: Torment. My curiosity over what witchcraft was enabling this led me to Wineskin, which now has me running stuff like RollerCoaster Tycoon natively in OS X. And it works with basically anything short of the latest and greatest. Here’s how it’s done.

You will need…
  • Your PC game
  • Wineskin Winery (download)
  • Enough hard drive space for the install plus about 150MB
A little background

I’m going to be doing this with the GOG version of RollerCoaster Tycoon. GOG makes it easier because the games are mostly a single installer and have no DRM to worry about, but disc-based games can be done too by copying the contents of the disc to a folder on your computer, so do that first. As long as the game doesn’t require anything newer than DirectX 9.0 or host particularly invasive DRM (e.g. StarForce), chances are it’ll work.

This all works using Wine, with Wineskin bundling the installed game and a Wine compatibility layer in one Mac app. It’s not emulation, strictly speaking, so what you’re getting is a Windows game running at native speed on OS X.

Wineskin WineryGetting started

Fire up Wineskin Winery. You’ll first need to download an appropriate engine for the game you’re running, but thankfully people will have done the legwork for you. The Wine Application Database is where users document their experiences of running software with different Wine engines, and its entry on Rollercoaster Tycoon notes that the GOG version runs with platinum compatibility (“flawlessly”) on 1.6.2. Therefore that’s the version I’m going to download.

With that downloaded and the latest wrapper downloaded, hit the ‘Create New Blank Wrapper’ button and give your new app a name. In this case, I creatively opt for ‘Rollercoaster Tycoon’.

Let the process run. It may ask you to download a version of Mono and/or the Gecko engine. Old games will almost certainly not need Mono but may use Gecko; use your own judgement, or just go ahead and install them since it’ll ensure a trouble-free conversion.

When it’s finished, click ‘Show Wrapper in Finder’ and you’ll be presented with a generic Wineskin app, ready to be turned into your chosen game.

Installation

Run this new app to be presented with the following window.

Wineskin

Click ‘Install Software’, then ‘Choose Setup Executable’, and point it at the installer from GOG. This is where things start to look interesting.

Wineskin installation

That looks suspiciously like a Windows installer on a Mac, doesn’t it?

Once the installation process is complete, resist the temptation to play the game for now and click ‘Exit’. You’ll see the following window, which lets you tell your Wineskin which executable it should run on launch. In this case it’s correct and I’ve never seen it need changing, so go ahead and click OK.

Wineskin executable

Wineskin iconThe Advanced menu that you can see mentioned can be accessed by right-clicking the newly created app in the Finder, clicking ‘Show Package Contents’, and then double-clicking the Wineskin icon in the resulting folder. Among other things, this allows you to change the app icon; find an appropriate ICNS file from a site like VeryIcon and select it in there to get things looking more official (see right).

Rollercoaster Tycoon on a Mac

Isn’t that a beautiful sight? You end up with a self-contained OS X app (by default located at ~/Applications/Wineskin), created through a process that works on basically any game. No fiddling with Boot Camp or Parallels to run an old favourite that hasn’t been ported, and none of the performance penalty that comes from emulation. Lovely.

Best of 2013 #4: Tomb Raider

Tomb RaiderPossibly my surprise of the year. What a hopeless PR campaign led me to suspect would be a QTE-laden Uncharted knock-off instead was a thoroughly enjoyable open-world adventure that I felt, in its platforming and exploration, actually outdid its inspiration. But I was right about it being QTE-laden.

It’s funny because the talk before launch was about its narrative ambitions, and that part of the game turned out to be complete guff. Bland stereotypes posing as characters and a big helping of that good old ludonarrative dissonance weren’t enough to overcome some cool enemies and interesting setting. The mix of angry pirates, supernatural Japanese cults and World War II infrastructure had great potential but ultimately was little more than a fun place to climb around.

But I’m always inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to disappointing storytelling when it’s supporting solid gameplay – otherwise you might as well just watch a movie – and I loved the time spent with this new Lara Croft. Exploration, hunting, combat and the Metroidvania-style push to return to past areas with new abilities were superbly designed, and that was enough for me.