2 pointsI thought it may be interesting to share what happens when my pager goes off for a fire call. Thankfully, I've only had false alarms to respond to, aside from two minor car accidents. (Since October 2017). We average one call per week. Thankfully, most of them are during the day, but there have been the occasional middle of the night calls. (The pager also goes off for any ambulance calls, which I only assist if the EMTs need help lifting the stretcher onto the ambulance boat.) Technically, I only need to respond to every call while officially on call (we're split into teams that are on call for two weeks at a time, eliminating the need for 20 people to show up for a false alarm), but because I live so close to the fire house and that I want the practice of putting my gear on & driving the truck, I make it a point to go to every call. (Again, there's not that many calls, so it's no big deal.) The pager tones don't sound like Station 51's tones but it's still pretty startling when it goes off. Anyway, here's the video. Let me know if you have any questions!
2 pointsWorld Tour Racing Published: 1997 by Telegames Developed: Teque London Polygonal racers were all the rage in the mid-90s. At the time of the Jaguar’s release, Sega’s Virtua Racing ruled the arcades. Atari’s answer was the lackluster Checkered Flag; a game notorious for its low frame rate and horrible controls. The innovative but visually bland Club Drive also failed to impress gamers. By 1994, the Sega 32X had an excellent port of Virtua Racing. The release of the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation brought home amazing versions of Daytona USA and Ridge Racer, respectively. Atari needed a response. Something that would make up for the sin of Checkered Flag and provide Jaguar enthusiasts with a modern polygonal racer worthy of their 64-bit machine. Atari turned to developer Teque London to produce a Formula One licensed racer, complete with real tracks: F1 Racer. Unfortunately, by the time the game was ready in early 1996, Atari was on life support. The ruinous 1995 holiday season brought Atari to the brink and many complete or near complete Jaguar projects were cancelled. F1 Racer was shelved until Atari’s merger with JTS, at which point the title was purchased by Telegames along with Towers II, Worms, Zero 5, Iron Soldier 2 and Breakout 2000. The official F1 license was dropped and the final game, now called World Tour Racing, was released in 1997 on the Jaguar CD add-on. Is World Tour Racing the polygonal racer that the Jaguar always deserved? Let's take the game to the track and see if it qualifies! Gameplay: “Imagine that, a Jaguar polygon racer with decent controls!” Gameplay is straightforward in WTR. Under the default setting, use the controller’s d-pad to steer, B-button to brake and A-button to accelerate. Control is responsive and steering is tight. The brakes and acceleration work as they should. Options for a track map are available in single player mode. This helps tremendously. The C-button is used to toggle through the game’s three standard views: In-car, Chase 1 and Chase 2. The game views can really affect gameplay and your mileage may vary depending on which view you select. I prefer Chase 2 which is behind the car and above. The car looks smaller in this view but it was easier for me to control. Chase 1 probably looks the most contemporary with other polygon racers of the time. The In-car view puts you in the driver’s seat. This looked cool but I found it difficult to take corners in this mode. Other views are available on the controller’s keypad, as are options for track maps, music and road textures. WTR’s three main gameplay modes are Single Race, Championship and Arcade. Both Single Race and Arcade modes have a two-player, split screen option. In Single Race mode, players can elect to race any of the 16 available race tracks. In Championship mode, players race the entire calendar, taking on each track in turn. Both Single Race and Championship mode offer qualifying and free race options. Qualifying will establish your car’s grid-position in the actual race. If you choose to skip the qualifying option, you will automatically get the last grid-position. In Arcade mode, players race each track in turn, scoring points based on finishing place. Among the modes, my favorites are Single Race and Arcade. I enjoy Single Race because you have the option to select any of the 16 available tracks. There is a good deal of variety in the track layouts and its nice that all of them are unlocked from the start. Arcade mode is just easy to hop into. No qualifying, no problem! WTR offers a great deal of customization. In all modes, players can access the “Workshop” which allows tire selection, gearbox ratios, brake balancing and wing angle. I played around with these but they didn’t really enhance my race performance. One thing missing: Color selection! I hope you like a red car because that’s what you’re getting! Note: The action noticeably slows down during two-player split screen. Also, the track map feature is not available. This makes taking tight corners a bit trickier than in single-player mode. I consider the split screen option a novelty. Graphics: Graphically, WTR is a bit of a grab bag. In-game, WTR uses a combination of gouraud-shaded polygons, bitmaps and minimal textures. In still shots and on straightaways where you are the only car, this looks great. Atari-themed signs (“Atari”, “Jaguar”, “DOOM”), buildings, crowds and trees fly by and give you a real sense of speed. However, when there is too much on the scree the slow-down is noticeable. This doesn’t ruin the gameplay but it can be distracting. As mentioned above, the slow-down is even more prevalent in two-player mode. There is an option to turn on a texture on the race track. This option looks really strange and I found that performance improved slightly if I left it off. The information graphics (speed, place and lap) look very clean and are in line with the style of the day. Fonts are modern (for the 90s) and have a slight gradient shading which looks really good. In single player mode, there are three options for a track map. The first shows just a portion of the map in a translucent box. The second is a map of the full track, which rotates with you. The last map option is to have no map at all. I found the rotating full track map to be the easiest to use. The tracks themselves are different from one another but none of the environments really stand out. Is it Britain? Is it Brazil? Is it Hungary? Without the menu, who would know? It would have been cool if the artists incorporated something unique in each track to distinguish one nation’s track from the next. One of the tell-tale signs of a 90s CD-ROM title are the weird CG cutscenes and movies. WTR is chock full of them. These range from the bizarre Teque title-card, to the game intro, to an arcade machine bursting through the wall when selecting Arcade mode. The models here are much smoother than what was capable in-game and was at least on par with what other systems were doing at the time. None of these have aged well but its part of that era and always makes me laugh. Its clear someone was having fun with all of the extra storage the Jaguar CD provided! Sound/Music: WTR really shines in the audio department. Engine sounds and screeching tires sound just as you would expect. In true mid-90s fashion, in-game music consists of high-quality techno that is really fun to drive to. It truly shows off the Jaguar CDs audio capabilities and is some of the best music on the platform. My only complaint is that there are only 3 tunes over the course of 16 race tracks. It would have been great if more in-game music was included. Other Notes: There is no Memory Track support in WTR. Instead, you use an over long pass code. This is CRAZY for a Jaguar CD game. Maybe Teque didn't have time to implement Memory Track support but its a real bummer. Final Thoughts: World Tour Racing is a competent polygonal open-wheel racer. It controls reasonably well, is full of options, has a variety of tracks, and features some of the best music on the Jaguar. The graphics definitely tax the system and there is noticeable slow down during gameplay, particularly in two-player mode. Does it hold up to contemporaries on the Saturn and Playstation? Not by a long shot. That said, it is a fun game and its the best polygonal racer on the platform. If you have a Jaguar CD or are an F1 fan, its definitely worth a look. Thanks for reading and please share your memories and thoughts on World Tour Racing in the comments below! Do you think that it takes the pole position among Jaguar’s racers? The next game is: Primal Rage!
1 pointUltra Vortek Published: 1995 by Atari Developed: Beyond Games 2D arcade fighting games were incredibly popular in the mid-90s and console gamers wanted that experience at home. Unfortunately, with the notable exception of Primal Rage for the Jaguar CD, Atari's 64-bit console lacked conversions of well known arcade titles like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter 2. Instead, Jaguar 2D fighter fans were treated to questionable ports of 16-bit console titles like Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and Double Dragon V and two Jaguar exclusives: Kasumi Ninja and Ultra Vortek. Developed by Beyond Games of Lynx Battlewheels fame and released for the Jaguar by Atari in 1995, Ultra Vortek is a 2D fighter firmly in the mold of the Mortal Kombat series. The game is crammed with 90s fighter tropes, complete with all of the special moves, fatalities and attitude of the era. Ultra Vortek is considered by many Jaguar enthusiasts to be the system's best fighter. Is Ultra Vortek the killer 2D fighter that the Jagauar sorely needed? Let's plug this totally extreme game in the big cat to find out. It's Annihilation Time! Gameplay: Ultra Vortek offers two main game modes: Vs. and Tournament. There are four difficulty levels that range from "Training" to "Killer". This write-up will focus on the single-player game. At its core, the single-player mode of Ultra Vortek is a rather generic tournament fighter with a standard best of 3 set-up. The player selects one of 7 playable characters, each representing one of three factions. Once selected, the player sets out to fight the others in a life or death contest to challenge "the Guardian" and take control of "the Ultra Vortek" - "the wellspring from which mankind draws its eternal energy." If you lose, the life force of your faction will be subsumed by the Ultra Vortek. Heavy stakes, indeed. The tournament itself is called "the Time of Testing" and there is a bit about a Vortek Tablet that is frankly lost on me. Backstory aside, Ultra Vortek offers control using the standard Jaguar gamepad's three action buttons and d-pad. Special moves and fatalities - here called Annihilations - are pulled off through various combinations of the directional and action buttons. While the special moves are easier to pull than in other Jaguar fighters, I still found it difficult. It's strange that there is not a Pro Controller option for Ultra Vortek, as it was a relatively late release. While the 3 button control scheme is adequate, the game would have clearly benefited from the 6 button design of the Pro Controller. In-game action is mostly fluid. The button response and hit detection are decent and the characters are fairly well balanced. That said, it is far too easy to beat the game in Normal mode by simply using a leg swipe. The difficulty ramps up tremendously in Hard mode, making for a much more enjoyable single-player game. Importantly, the game lacks a combo system which may put off some fighter fans. Graphics: Graphically, Ultra Vortek shows off the Jaguar's 2D capabilities quite nicely. The stage levels are rather detailed, featuring a blend of post-apocalyptic and hellscape imagery that suits the theme of the game. From digitized onlookers, to subway trains, to roving eyeballs, to mirrored floor surfaces, it's clear that a lot of thought went into the presentation of each stage. That being said, the stages feel disconnected from the characters themselves. By that, I mean that the stages do not necessarily reflect the attributes or biography of the selected opponent. Instead, you'll find yourself fighting on any of the stages, regardless of the opponent/player character selected. This isn't a deal breaker by any means. It's just a bit odd considering all of the time the developers spent on the game's lore. Character sprites are decent sized, though not as large or detailed as in Kasumi Ninja. The characters themselves are derived from a mix of digitized photos for the human faction and Buzzsaw, and stop motion and hand animation for the more fantastical characters. Character design is pretty generic cyberpunk/post-apocalyptic fare. They fit the game but are not terribly memorable. My favorite characters to play were the human Lucius and the robot Buzzsaw. The standard hits, special moves and fatalities are well animated and many are humorous in their over-the-top nature. For example, the shape-shifting Mercury has a fatality where he turns into a meat grinder and subsequently grinds the body of his foe. Other moves send severed heads hurtling toward the screen. There is also a "poopality" which is everything you would imagine it to be. Oh and there are buckets of blood, acid and ... "mercury"...to be had on screen depending on the characters in play. Ah, the 90s - so extreme! Other notes on graphics: 1) I really like the spiked swipe screen. It looks fantastic and is a nice added touch. 2) The player select screen is really cool with one small quibble: character names do not show onscreen until you're in the level. This is a really strange design choice. 3) I really love the eye in the center of the health meter. It follows the action and is so otherworldly. Sound/Music: I generally like the near CD quality rock and metal tunes that serve as the soundtrack to the game. It's cheesy but it fits the tone of the game. The hit sounds, digitized voices and other sound effects are all admirably accomplished. I really enjoy some of the character specific sounds, like the short circuiting of defeated robot characters and the squishy noises made by Mercury. Final Thoughts: Ultra Vortek is a competent 2D fighter that gets more right than it does wrong. The story is interesting, the gameplay works and the music is jamming. While it isn't quite up to the standards of contemporaries like MK3, it is a solid entry in the Jaguar's lackluster fighter line-up. Is it the best fighter on the Jaguar? For me, that honor goes to Primal Rage. That said, if you're a fan of this style of fighter, give it a try. If not, pass. Thanks for reading and please share your memories and thoughts on Ultra Vortek in the comments below! Do you think it is the best fighter on the Jaguar? Also, a special thank you to The Professor who recommended this game in the Readers' Choice post! I'll do another readers choice selection for Post 020. The next game comes courtesy of the randomizer. That game is: World Tour Racing!
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