Monday, 16 December 2013

Chapter V: Escape From Colditz

Having a short allowance meant that we had to be very savvy to get the most of games with the few money we had. This seems almost hard to believe since we only dealt with pirated copies, but it was true, as I recall that a box of ten blank disks was almost 10€. There was no way to get every game that we wanted, so many started employing tactics to maximize their own games collection. One method was to convince your friends to buy the games that you wanted without him realizing it. My cousin Walter The Baptist was probably the biggest master when it came to these manipulation tactics. He favourite victim was a friend of his called “Ricky Cap”.


Ricky Cap was the archetypal 80s/early 90s kid. Loved skateboarding, bodyboarding, surf, the Ninja Turtles and anything associated with the words “cool”, “attitude”, “radical!” and “cowabunga”. I’m sure that for a while we was expecting Surf Ninjas with great anticipation. Unfortunately his tastes in gaming were the exact opposite of Walter’s which favoured strategy games.

Walter used his wits to convince Ricky to buy the games he wanted. One of those games was Railroad Tycoon, as he told Ricky that the real name of the game was Railroad Turtles Ninja. After Ricky Cap played the game he was frustrated as there were no ninjas or turtles to be seen. Walter said he should be patient because the turtles were the investors of the railroad company and he had to persevere for them to appear.

These Nazis have a great sense of humour
After some of these deceivings, I remember the breaking point for Ricky Cap was when Walter told him to buy Great Napoleonic Battles, a very ugly hexagon-based wargame. I honestly can’t remember how could he convince Ricky that there was any surfing or bodyboarding in it, but he did. But Ricky couldn’t take it, he demanded Walter to give him the money for the game. I don’t remember if Walter The Baptist ever gave him the money, but I’ll ask him next Christmas.

One of the games that were associated with these Walter shenanigans was Escape From Colditz. He convinced Ricky that the game was called Skate From Colditz, and you had to escape the prison on a skateboard. In the context of the game, it was kind of easy to make excuses why the skateboard didn’t appeared at all, as it was a damn difficult game and the skateboard was probably after all the sections that we were failing.


The game in question made a great impression on everyone except Ricky Cap. Walter started calling his dad saying that he got a game which was very much like the Spectrum classic The Great Escape, but even better. I also remember it to be a very fine game. It sold perfectly the idea of a prison getaway in WWII with all the perils associated. Great atmosphere, functional isometric graphics and excellent, even if sparse, music. Nonetheless, it was a damn hard game. If one was seen by a German soldier on a restricted area it almost meant a one shot kill. There wasn’t also any way to save the game, so each failure was incredibly had a very significant meaning as we shared the pain with these poor POW.

Sometimes I still remember this game, and wonder how cool it would to play it with save states and try to get to the end of it. On the other hand, doing so would remove all the mystery and mystique of castle Colditz. Well, I’m going to play the game as it is meant to be played, no saving and lots and frustration and yelling at the screen.

As if the Führer portrait wasn't enough
Well...that didn’t go as planned, but first things first. The game intro is quite well made in a very understated way; a nice image of many WWII related documents with Castle Colditz as background while a very evocative music sets the mood perfectly. Seriously, how many Amiga games had bad music? I did stop paying attention to soundtracks in videogames when they all started to use the same sort of bland string orchestra music. People say games like Icewind Dale had excellent music, but I honestly don’t remember. It probably sounded like every other game.

This prison doesn't seem too bad...
After the tasty intro, the game visuals also didn’t disappoint. The graphics are not flashy or anything, but they do their job fine in a very utilitarian way. Fits the setting I suppose. Besides, I just love games with isometric graphics. I wish there was a resurgence of this style of visuals in the indie scene.

Remember when I told I wasn’t going to cheat? Well, I lied. I started the game with honest intentions, but there was a clash between the in-game usage of the F10 key and Whdload which made me restart the game with an ADF version. This is the kind of game that requires a methodical and iterative approach, by drawing maps and making annotations. Every time I was shot by a nazi guard or wasted a valuable key on a worthless room, I saw the save state functionality of the emulator gleaming with golden letters. I was weak, I admit, but I was working towards a higher goal: to know if the secrets of Colditz Castle included a skateboard.

I take back what I said earlier
I have the utmost admiration for anyone who managed to finish this game without any sort of cheats or save states. That really takes serious dedication. Hell! Even getting anywhere while resorting to save scumming is something worthy of respect. Forget about Wolfenstein 3D or the zombies from Call of Duty, as these are the meanest Nazi’s you will ever face in a video game. Not only each guard patrol route is very short, but the castle is filled with them. Exploring restricted areas of the prison is a suicidal run that’ll make you feel your heart pumping on your throat. Each successful run is accompanied by a sigh of relief for a short time until you realize that many more of these runs must be made to be able to complete the game.

There are also many design flaws, which while not making any sense, only serve to make the game even more difficult. For example, while disguised as a nazi, any other guard can ask you for your identification. Showing it to the guard only means losing the documents, which in turn makes every escape attempt a juggle between not getting shot and not losing too many ID cards. Of course it makes sense! Every Saturday night before going out I also take a case full of ID’s in case any policeman asks me for one to keep it to himself.

Litter all over the church ground. Damn heretics!
After lots of shameless cheating, I managed to escape the prison with the Polish POW. His mates can just wait for the war to be over and practice lots of volleyball meanwhile, because who knows if that could be viable career option during the post-war. In hindsight I know that many of the guards are going to jail and if the POW’s behave well enough, they’ll survive through and return to their homes and families, so why bother? During my explorations I never got to find any skateboard, but some of the secrets of Colditz Castle are best left undiscovered. 


3 comments:

  1. Enjoyed this, I played this game a bit 'back in the day' but it was a bit too taxing for my young mind back then. It probably would be now too!

    Anyway, you mentioned the art style and the 'utilitarian' nature of the graphics and thought you might like to hear about a game called 'Papers Please' which is a new game where you work in passport control for a fictional country which features a similar utilitarian feel, it reminds me off Colditz. You can read more at http://dukope.com/

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    Replies
    1. Hi!

      Yes, i heard about Papers Please, and the concept sounds really intriguing. I also dig its visual style and i agree with the Colditz comparison.

      But! Too much games, not enough time. 2013 was really an amazing year for pc gaming. Papers Please is definitely on my wishlist.

      Cheers

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  2. I also bought this game for the Amiga. I never completed it but I always loaded this game to listen to the fantastic music of it.

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