Crap Shoot

Saturday Crapshoot: Future Wars

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, the most boring window washing game ever made. At least, unless you're a crazy person with a knack for stumbling into alien trouble...

Over the years, storytelling has improved beyond all recognition, from simple words like "It is dark. You may be eaten by a grue." to epic tales of love and heroism capable of putting Hollywood to shame. But it wasn't an easy road, and the games that took us down it often... uh... let's just say, stumbled. Meet Future Wars, a sci-fi epic where heroism is just another way of saying 'a sociopath saved the day'.

Saturday Crapshoot: Readers Choice Special

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, a handful of much requested games get their turn in the spotlight. Or firing line. One of the two. Whichever.

Yes, as part of our dives into the obscure, we've looked at over 200 games that people have probably never heard of, and a few that it's a surprise so many people have. (Goodness, was I not expecting so many people to be aware of Tongue Of The Fatman...) Some games however are, while not the kind of thing you're likely to see on GOG or anywhere any time soon, so famous or well-explored in their relative obscurity that devoting a whole week's column to them seemed a little excessive. But every dog has its day. And so too does every dog's dinner. Today, by popular request, is that day.

Saturday Crapshoot: Titanic: Adventure Out Of Time

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, a lost adventure about a lost adventure where ship happened and the world was never the same.

Frank Carlson is the unluckiest man in the history of gaming. A spy in 1912, assigned to the Titanic, he survived the sinking only to be fired from the OSS and end up alone in the Second World War, in a room he can't even afford. On his desk, just a tarot card - Death - representing, as ever, cliche. In his desk drawer, a ticket... for the Hindenberg. And just when everything seems at its worst, a bomb goes off outside his window. Do not stand anywhere near Frank Carlson. I mean it. Nowhere.

But wait. A game about the Titanic? That starts in the Second World War? I smell time travel! Not to mention the far, far more obscure, yet beloved by people who played it, spiritual cousin of The Last Express. Some years, it's best to just stay home. Frank doesn't even get to draw a naked lady...

Saturday Crapshoot: Supreme Warrior

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, the classic controversy magnet Night Trap went to Kickstarter for a reboot, and hey, speaking of rubbish FMV games that should stay in the past... .

Yes, I'm not really sure what it is about Night Trap that's so far persuaded a few hundred donors to stump up over $20,000 for a remake of a game that wasn't even that interesting when it came out, but I guess there's no accounting for nostalgia. It's certainly the most talked about of the Digital Pictures games, which also included Double Switch, which was similar to Night Trap, Corpse Killer, an existential journey into pointlessness, Kids On Site, in which FMV games met heavy machinery without any of the CDs ending up in an industrial woodchopper for some reason, and a previous Crap Shoot subject, Game Over, which took FMV sequences from most of them and stitched them into a, cough, actual movie.

Most of them didn't end up on PC. But this martial arts one did. Gosh. Weren't we lucky?

Saturday Crapshoot: Haunted Casino

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, when the crypt goes creak, and the tombstones quake, spooks come out for a swinging wake. Happy haunts materialise, and begin to... play video poker?

So, here's an interesting little curiosity for you. Since pretty much the dawn of the PC, there's been a game called Last Half Of Darkness - an early horror adventure that, much like Last of the Summer Wine, has an interesting concept of 'Last'. The first one came out in 1989, and while there haven't been that many sequels, they kept coming until 2011 - Last Half of Darkness II and II, Last Half of Darkness: Shadows of the Servants, Last Half Of Darkness: Tomb of Zojir and Last Half Of Darkness: Seriously, Someone Turn The Lights On. In the middle of all that darkness though, another lesser known game was released - a freebie at the time. But can ghosts and ghouls gamble with the best of them?

Saturday Crapshoot: Hell Cab

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, prepare to go on the ride of your life... or rather, death.

There are a few basic rules for safe tourism. If anyone offers you food claiming that it's a 'local delicacy', it's a trap. Don't drink the water; you're on holiday, be more adventurous. If the sign saying "Keep Off The Grass" also includes the words "By Order Of El Presidente" then for god's sake, stay off the grass, and should you find that your taxi cab is literally labelled "Hell Cab"... well, does it really need to be said? Apparently yes, it does. Because, it seems, there's always one idiot not paying attention.

Saturday Crapshoot: Gold Rush!

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, can an enterprising soul make a fortune... specifically, by charging $10 for a 1988 adventure game with a remake already on the way?

Gold Rush! doesn't sound like it's going to be one of the odder games from the Sierra On-Line catalogue; the company that after all gave us games like Manhunter and Leisure Suit Larry 2. It actually just sounds like, well, a pretty good idea. What better historical adventure could there be than leaving one's life behind in an all-or-nothing gamble in the California Gold Rush at a time of great change and great fortune? The Oregon Trail was a staple at schools for a reason - the call of the frontier still loud and booming, even in an era of planes, trains and automobiles, and many other memorable comedy movies as well.

But then you play it. And in a word... whooooooooooooooooooooo!

Saturday Crapshoot: Corporation

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, as a few lucky people get a glimpse of the new Doom, a look back to one of the forgotten games that preceded it.

Very few genres start with their most famous game. In the case of shooters, Doom set the template that everyone would first wisely try to build on as far as style, design, deathmatching and feel, but it wasn't even close to being the first FPS. Nor was its predecessor, Wolfenstein 3D. Even without looking at other companies, id Software had two before either of them - fantasy-themed Wolf 3D predecessor Catacomb 3D (not the "Catacomb Abyss" series that used the same engine but was made elsewhere, as well as featuring the most eye-gouging wall textures ever inflicted on an unsuspecting world), and the super-miminalistic Hovertank 3D back in 1991, which had simple coloured boxes for levels and turned heads less for its complexity as its speed - something that Wolfenstein 3D would later weaponise.

But before that? Let's check in with Core Design, years before striking gold with Lara Croft...

Saturday Crapshoot: The Palace Of Deceit

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, as Cliff Bleszinski unveils his latest game plans, it's time for a quick round of Before They Were Famous. What happened before the 'overnight' success?

Of course, there's almost never any such thing - almost all success coming from much hard work, effort, a little bit of luck, and often less celebrated success. I for instance have been working on death rays for years, yet still write a weekly column on obscure games rather than composing lists of demands to world leaders. Game developers meanwhile often start with, unsurprisingly, games. They may not be great to begin with, they may have the spark of genius right from the very start, or be somewhere in the middle. All that matters is that when you dare to dream, you never know what might come next. Unless you're talking about the game Dare To Dream, in which case it's probably something really, really goofy.

But we'll get to that one soon enough. First, there's a much more obscure adventure to check out.

Saturday Crapshoot: Liberty Or Death

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, give me Liberty or... wait, hang on. Being British, that would be most unpatriotic. Dispense Oppression AND Death, and give me a nice cup of tea and a biscuit!

The Glorious Campaign Against The Traitor Colonies. Day 1. So far, I don't think anyone has noticed that I have no idea what I'm doing. Splendid. How does one win a war against an entrenched force like this, anyway? I'm assuming that simply building a lot of tanks and rushing them will not work, partly because of the scale of the battlefield and difficulty of establishing the necessary supply chains, but mostly because they haven't been invented yet. I hope that expedition I sent to the Tiber River pans out. An ion cannon would be extremely useful, as well as really setting the appropriate tone for future Independence Days. But I digress. And should probably give some orders beyond "Try to win this."

Saturday Crapshoot: Rocket Ranger

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, there's no case too big, no case too small - when you need help, just call... Chip, Chip, Chip and Dale, Resc- Oh. Wait. Sorry. Totally different guy.

It's the future, and we still don't have our flying cars. Boo. We don't even have our own rocket packs, though thinking about it, that's probably for the best. Nobody wants to be one butt-scratch away from losing a hand, and that's if they're lucky. That's not a hole you want cauterised if the straps slip a little, to put it mildly. But I think we can all agree that, maybe with the exception of hoverboards and grappling hooks, there's no cooler completely ridiculous way to get around. And in an alternate World War II, no other weapon capable of saving the world from Nazi... whatever it is they're up to this time.

Saturday Crapshoot: Dune

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, the most important planet in the universe is up for grabs. Time to call Muad'dibs, because Usul, we have word-sign the likes of which even God has never seen!

Even now, it's hard not to feel sorry for Dune, and indeed, for its creators Cryo. Those aren't words you'll hear very often, because Cryo's output over the years was... how to put this politely? It was not good. It was not good at all. (How to put it rudely? Its output was about the same as a sewage plant's intake). Mostly it produced for the time impressive visuals on tedious games, specialising in truly boring adventures, but occasionally branching out to inflict the likes of Hellboy on the world.

But just as everyone has a good book in them, so can any developer hope to create one genuinely great game - and for Cryo, that game was Dune. Dune (based on the movie rather than the book directly) was genuinely good, written from the heart, and arguably one of the best film licenses ever to make the jump from silver screen to monitor. And it had a whole five and a half minutes to bask in that glory before Westwood's Dune II came along to both single-handedly create the RTS genre, and bury its predecessor under a billion tons of sand. In retrospect, it's hard to blame Cryo for giving up on 'good' games...

Saturday Crapshoot: Hacker

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week... look at you, Hacker, a pa-pa-pathetic creature of meat and bone. No, wait, sorry. Different hacker. Didn't mean to be rude there.

Hacker begins with nothing but a login screen, and no password. It's a strong start for a game that wants you to, on at least some level, think that just maybe you're actually hacking into an evil worldwide conspiracy that threatens the future of the world, and never mind that you almost certainly had neither modem nor the belief that 'skills' is spelled better with a z back in 1985. Ah, 1985, when DOS ruled the world, computer speeds could be measured in single digit megahertz, and PC users were used to having to type the word 'park' to prevent the hard drive spinning out like a disc from Tron after an accidental or careless power-down. Or at least, that's how it felt back then, when computers were magical.

And Hacker gets that, and the appeal. Until it wheels out a magic robot. Then things get weird...

Saturday Crapshoot Live VI: Synnergist

Richard Cobbett at

Update: It's over! Video embedded below. Hammy acting! Primitive greenscreen! Hopefully some laughs! But can we save the future with the power of lazy journalism and also write a restaurant review in time for dinner? There's only one way to find out! Join Richard for a trip through this obscure techno-thriller, whose fiendishly subtle villain you will never, ever see coming...

Saturday Crapshoot: Neuromancer

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, as Watch Dogs tries to make hacking cool again, a jump back to a time when a 56k modem would have made you a true god amongst geeks.

The future's always been a tough thing to predict, but does generally go one of three basic routes - dystopia, utopia, everything turned into sentient cheese by deep space super-bacteria. Oh, that tiresome old cliche. When it comes to anything with the word 'cyber' in it, you pretty much know what you're going to get. It's going to be dark. It's going to be cynical. Chances are it's going to be heavily 'inspired' by Blade Runner. Surprisingly few people will have worked out that carrying umbrellas around 24/7 is a really, really smart idea. And it's almost certainly going to owe a serious debt to William Gibson's Neuromancer, which was published in 1984 and is one of those books so influential that is almost doesn't need to be read any more to know more or less what goes down and the kind of elements it plays with.

1988 was clearly too early for something so forward looking to be made into a game. But Interplay decided to give it a crack anyway. And it is... ah... well, you'll see.

Saturday Crapshoot: Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? (The Game Show)

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, she sneaks around the world from Kiev to Carolina, but it's her TV appearances we'll be taking a comically oversized magnifying glass to.

The problem with the word 'obscure' is that it's very subjective. If you know of a thing, chances are you won't consider it such. When I do games from the 80s for instance, other people who were around at the time will merely consider them 'retro', while to people who weren't born yet, the idea that people could actually play games whose only colours were cyan and magenta can seem like insanity. Today, if you grew up or took holidays to the US, you may well think "Well, yes, obviously that existed." To that I can only point to your people's reactions when they saw Knightmare for the first time. Smugly, because we had Knightmare and you did not. But you know what we didn't have? The cheapest ever attempt to turn a computer game into a TV show. With the possible exception of Maniac Mansion, of course.

Saturday Crapshoot: Darkseed

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, Alien creator HR Giger passed away, and while most of the games based on that series are too well known for Crap Shoot, there is... another.

Darkseed was an odd little game, and not what most people expected. Not quite. Definitely not what it seemed to be at first glance - a dark horror game that would give the world endless nightmares, which the publisher claimed at the time had caused the art team to have to seek counselling due to so much exposure to Giger's freaky biomechanics horror show. (A claim that, while possible, does rather seem to lie somewhere between 'hyperbole' and 'complete balls'). Was it a good game? Not really. But it did at least turn heads, some of them covered with veins harvested from long dead science gods, so let's pay a visit to the house that Hell made, and only an idiot named Mike Dawson would actually buy.

Saturday Crapshoot: Choose An Enemy

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, an offer it sounds like nobody should refuse! It's on! MORE DULL KOMBAT 2! STREET FIGHTER II: ACTUALLY ON THE STREET EDITION! Round 1! Fight!

I think I'd probably go for 90s Rick Moranis. The early-ish one, before the millions and millions of dollars that would allow for the hiring of bodyguards and lawyers to sweep any 'unpleasantness' under the carpet. Nothing against the guy himself, I just think that if you're picking an enemy, go for someone you can probably take on, unless he turns out to be Stay Puft Marshmallow Size, in which case... hmm. Never mind, I wouldn't want to leave any wiggle room for whatever celestial entity is making this offer. Maybe then, Gilbert Gottfried. I'm sure his acidic put-downs would be devastating, but the satisfaction of repeatedly thumping that face has to make up for any tragic twist in the tale, right?

You know, this is a harder decision than I thought. Oh, but Russian thugs? Not on my list.

Saturday Crapshoot: Star Warped

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, in space, nobody can hear you laugh. Though in this case, being in a nice echo chamber with a megaphone wouldn't help much.

It is said that, in the long distant past, dark gods working on a forge crafted from a dead star did curse their ability to craft the Anti Comedy; a sucking ball of awfulness from which no light, no sound, no hope could escape. Its jokes drank of their souls, ripping away all sense of meaning and all justification of existence from their quivering eye-balls to the very electrons in their tiniest parts; its punchlines so painful and yet so uninspired that their echoes are still with us today. Whenever a joke fails, all hear them in their hearts. Whenever a stand-up comedian demands of an audience "Is this thing on?", the absence of a laugh rings through their silent night. For every successful joke that lands, scientists reason, there must be an equal and opposite reaction somewhere. Here is where they nest. Where they bide their time. This is their eternal jail; where no toe goes uncurled, but no rib ever gets tickled.

And Star Warped is pretty bloody awful too.

Saturday Crapshoot: Vangers

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, an ancient slice of madness returns to the commercial world to wreak havoc once again, but this time, those who would oppose its chaotic rule are ready...

I knew immediately why I'd been summoned. The poor man's face was slick with saliva, except for the bubbled areas no nurse wanted to approach and his bound hands were unable to wipe. But he didn't even seem to have notice. His bloodshot eyes just stared up at the fluorescent light, flickering only when each spasm ran through him. Occasionally, he made a sound that was less a word, less a cry, than a cruel joke played on vowels and consonants by a dark eldritch force that lorded over futile ambition. In all my years as a professional insanologist, I had never seen anything so tragic or so unnecessary.

"What happened to the poor bastard?" I asked, fearing the answer.
"I'm afraid..." The nurse bit back a tear. "I'm afraid he tried to play... Vangers."

I froze, praying I'd misheard. "My god," I whispered. "Why was I not called at once?"