Old and New Games: DethKarzPosted: February 12, 2012
As most of my readers know, I am a long-time videogamer. I’m also a gamer with a (low) budget; I have to make my gaming work within the same budget I use for my professional development equipment. That means I have the same ten-year old yellowing case for my workstation, rather than a cool gamers’ case. I do have a decent monitor and the X-Box controller I talked about before. And I have Steam, GOG and a multitude of independent developers to keep me in games in exchange for relatively little cash.
PC gaming, left for dead by the console industry, has settled into a decent niche that is still very much alive. Independent developers have created a lot of good, and successful games. Steam, the online game store/environment/host/social network, has made box and disc purchases all but obsolete, just as GOG has done for the bargain oldies bin at CompUSA.
As I promised before, I’ve gone through my back collection of games and I’m going to write about some of them.
Video games have been around long enough for us to see the same tropes and themes, in old games and in new. I can’t help but compare my older games to my newer games and see how games have changed and how they haven’t. What old games do I still love to play? What new games haven’t I played once I took them out of the box (or the zip or the download)? What themes do I see over and over? What interesting tropes are there in old games that I have never seen in new games?
I’m going to cover one game at a time, one old, and one new. I’ll provide compatibility information—all games I cover have been tested on Windows 7 (and soon Windows 8)—and availability, if the game is still on the market. (Acquiring “abandonware” is beyond the scope of my series.)
All games I write about are installed or downloaded “full” client software installations; I won’t get into browser-hosted games. I seldom play multiplayer, so my perspective is that of the single player environment.
(“Old games” and “new games” terms need clarification. Most gamers define “old games” to be “last month’s releases.” Technologically, I consider the dividing line to be the mid-2000’s when most games stopped targeting Windows 9x, when Windows XP and its runtime environment predominated, and when GPU technology became inexpensive and mainstream, making PC gaming technology more homologized than it ever had been. I’m going to be very fluid and arbitrary in my distinctions between new and old.)
Screenshots are generated by FRAPS unless stated otherwise.
Today’s old game is Dethkarz, published in 1998 by Melbourne House. Dethkarz is a futuristic cyberpunk racing game. You choose a racing team, and compete on urban, coastal, futuristic and off-world tracks with a car that races on an elevated course.
And your car has lasers and missiles. Dethkarz falls into the combat racing game genre.
I’ve fired on the guy in front. As you may see, I’m about to gain a position! Too bad about that DNF.
You get missiles and other abilities through convenient power-ups located on the track:
You get powerups for extra offense, shields and free energy to repair your car. You recharge your car by driving through an energy field about where pit road would be on a conventional race track, on the left hand turn in this screenshot.
The signs and billboards are striking. They are right out of the cyberpunk culture we first saw in Blade Runner. A few years ago, the Wachowski brothers dipped into this same well to make a movie version of a popular 1960’s Japanese animated series that was also about a futuristic race car and its driver. Look familiar?
If Speed Racer were made into a game (and it will be or already has been or will be again, that’s a certainty), it might look like the movie. Melbourne House may have had Speed Racer in mind anyway, from this screenshot:
When I saw this sign, I could not help but think of Racer X, that enigmatic, mysterious, driver that figured so much into the career and life of Speed Racer in the series.
Dethkarz was a good game for its time. The 3D models are “blocky”, which was common in 1998, as GPU hardware was expensive and texture mapping not as well developed as it is today. The track and scene design is relatively simple and doesn’t exhibit the “pop-up” syndrome we see in many games (modern games, even) where textures just suddenly pop in as you’re racing through the environment changing your viewpoint.
(If you play old games, particularly old racing games, note how many environments seem to be foggy places, whether weather conditions are simulated or not. You don’t have to render distant objects in a fogbank, Carmageddon being the best example. No wonder you can’t see jaywalkers before you run into them! There’s nothing like being pushed into a fog bank by another car only to realize you’re going off a cliff that has just been revealed beyond your control.)
The game works fine with my XBox controller with the default control bindings. Steering is overly sensitive, so you need to be very light with control or else you’ll be dumped off the course over and over again; this was a fault of the game even in its time when I used a traditional controller.
I ran the game at 1280×960 with no performance problems. (I am not obsessed with FPS figures, unless the game is running at 0 FPS and it’s crashed.) The game installed right from the CD with no compatibility shims applied.
Dethkarz will run in Windows as a standard user with UAC enabled, though it will need to be elevated to install.
Dethkarz is not currently available for purchase or download.