Welcome to Pages of Fun!

This is the personal Web site of Robert Wm. Gomez. I am an artist, musician and nerd living in Chicago, Illinois who has been maintaining this site (in one form or another) since 1996. Enjoy your visit!

Thief 2: The Metal Age on PC (6/10)

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Thief 2 has not aged terribly well. I’m usually not one to complain about dated graphics, but in this case they affect the game. A core mechanic is hiding in the shadows, so when the game engine can barely render a shadow you’ve got a problem. I would plan my movements based on scurrying between dark areas only to discover that I would be running through a brightly lit hallway. There is probably a mod out there somewhere that fixes all this.

The guard AI is pretty janky too. Sometimes you could just clop around in your tap shoes and the enemies would be none the wiser, but then other times you’d turn your head and trigger their alerted state. Eventually I got used to just walking in a slow crouch all the time to avoid them.

There is a bit of a story here which is told as inter-level cutscenes. It’s not bad for what it is (sloppy amateurish art and all) but for some reason the main baddie is voiced in that Howie Mandel baby voice. So goofy.

The Editor (6/10)

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A horror-comedy that takes aim at lampooning Italian giallo and horror films. It never quite nails the comedy part and is more concerned with simply recreating elements from the films of Fulci, Argento, and Martino. For example, it parodies the spider attack scene from The Beyond but there’s no joke other than, “Look spiders!” The sharpness of the digital filming kinda kills the vibe too. I’ll admit I chuckled two or three times but it mostly misses the mark and could have used a joke writer’s sensibility in the writing rather than a film buff’s.

Swamp Dweller - Pen and Ink Drawing

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This is another drawing I created for the Nox Archaist manual as part of their Kickstarter’s call for artwork. We were given a list of creatures from the game but I didn’t really have a specific one in mind when I drew this. I had labeled as a nightmare. They decided this worked better as a swamp dweller and worked some of my design choices in to the creature’s description:

Swamp Dweller manual page
The final page in the Nox Archaist manual featuring my Swamp Dweller illustration.

The Kid Detective (8/10)

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What happens when a child prodigy detective like Encyclopedia Brown graduates out of schoolyard mysteries into solving real crimes? He becomes a washed-up alcoholic who can’t seem to do anything right. The Kid Detective plays mostly as a dark comedy but it is elevated my its tight plotting and smart screenplay. It skates the line between humor and a real mystery thriller perfectly.

Ravilious: Wood Engravings by James Russell (8/10)

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A nice collection of works by Eric Ravilious. This isn’t too text heavy, but each print gets a few sentences of copy. Much of Ravilious’s work leans towards the decorative side, especially his later prints. There’s a bit of the stench of Eric Gill in those simpler images. I much prefer his earlier, more illustrative works. For what it’s worth, there are not many books about wood engraving out there so this one is a fine addition to any collection of books on the topic.

Murder in an Etruscan Cemetery (4/10)

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In keeping with animal themed giallos, this is also known as The Scorpion with Two Tails. I don’t know what the deal is with Etruscans and Italian screenwriters, but that particular lost civilization is not at all scary or threatening. All their sculptures are grinning men with permed hair. The acting in this one is simply appalling. I thought John Saxon would elevate it, but he is dead within the first five minutes. The rest of the film is supposedly carried by Elvire Audray who is embarrassingly bad as an archeologist who is also the reincarnation of an Etruscan priestess or something. The unique hook here is that the killer twists his victim’s heads 180 degrees. Sans-CGI this is accomplished by, wait for it, the actors wearing their clothes backwards. It’s the Kris Kross Killer!

The Iliad by Homer (8/10)

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This is the sort of book that I feel like I have read already but that is mostly because we devoted a class or two of high school English to this and The Odyssey. I was inspired to read this after having watched season two of Great Greek Myths which helped me keep all the characters straight. I can say that for a book that was written two thousand years ago, it’s pretty darn exciting. It is also quite graphic in its descriptions of violence. Homer knows all the places that a spear can penetrate a body. Some of the best moments in the story are when the gods are scheming against each other. On the negative side, there was way too much text is wasted on describing the complete lineage of just about every minor character who is killed. Also, no Trojan Horse! That’s like the one thing everyone knows from this story and it turns out it is not in this book. I feel a little ripped-off.

Crusader: No Regret on MS-DOS (7/10)

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The fake red Boba Fett is at it again in this sequel to Crusader: No Remorse and he just can’t stop murdering office workers! This is pretty much a straight up continuation of the first game with only a few improvements in controls and game play. Again, don’t bother with mouse controls and just force yourself to learn to use the keyboard with a heavy reliance on the shift and control keys to run and roll respectively. The best path to success is to shoot everything and take your time looking out for traps. Stealth, unfortunately, is not really an option.

There are still a bunch of bad FMV cutscenes but the story is irrelevant. One of the big improvements over the first game is the minimizing of the between mission base scenes. There still is a base to refresh your supplies, but you aren’t force to shop for items and talk to everybody.

The game looks great and plays pretty well once you get the controls, but this series is still begging for a modern remake.

Freezer Burn by Joe R. Lansdale (7/10)

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Well, this is why I write these reviews. I got about a quarter the way into this book and realized I had already read it years ago—back when I was reading e-books on my Palm Pilot. I didn’t really remember much about it besides that it took place in a freak show carnival and the main character was bitten up by mosquitos. It’s mostly an exercise in sleaze and over-the-top situations as the main character is seduced into a series of murder attempts against his new circus comrades. The writing is quick and funny at times and does not hold back.

Ultima IX: Ascension on PC (5/10)

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With the completion of this playthrough, I have now completed all the Ultima games (technically I never finished Ultima I, but that one’s a bit too retro for me). Now, everyone says Ascension is the worst of the series, and I think I agree, but it is not as horrible a game as its reputation would suggest. Taken on its own, it is a playable and fun adventure RPG game that hints at what would eventually become possible in games like Skyrim, Fallout 3 and The Witcher. But let’s be clear here, this game is still a hot mess.

Lord British stands on his throne
Lord British stands on his throne, because, yeah, that’s normal.

So, let’s quickly go over the major problems with the game. First, the graphics are buggy and you often find characters standing in odd places, items floating in mid air, and camera clipping all over the place. The controls are wonky with the right mouse button used to walk forward and a weird switching between mouse pointer inventory management and movement. Your character runs so slow that I would recommend anyone that wants to play the game to enable the fast walk cheat. The game crashes a lot. I couldn’t get it to play in-game cinematics on my Windows 10 PC. The story bears little relation to what has happened in the first eight games and is an unsatisfying ending to the Guardian cycle. Mainly, it just feels incomplete.

Dupre is the real hero here

What the game has going for it is its ambitious, persistent open-world. You kill a bandit, he drops a sword. If you return to that spot days later, the sword is still there! This is both awesome and potentially game breaking. If you drop an important item in an obscure place, good luck ever being able to retrieve it again. The world is just begging to be explored, but unfortunately, like I mentioned above, the game is incomplete. There are only a few surprises to be found.

I never figured out what this ghost ship was all about
I never figured out what this ghost ship was all about.

And, if you don’t know exactly what spell to cast at the exact time, you may never find that hidden weapon. I appreciated the lack of hand holding but felt no shame in relying heavily on walkthroughs to complete the game. Unlike most modern RPGs, the Ultima series leans heavily on puzzle solving. This can be quite enjoyable as you are forced to think your way through the various dungeons. Admittedly, by around dungeon #6 it starts to get a little old and I just wanted to bash monsters and get to the prize at the end.

The main complaint about the game is the lackluster story that just abandons the cliffhanger that was set up in Pagan. I did enjoy meeting all the old characters from the past, but there wasn’t even a slight attempt to flesh them out (perhaps except for Dupre). This should have been the cumulation of 20 years of world building and it just lands with a thud. There’s a cringey attempt at romance and plenty of interactions that lead nowhere.

However, if you are a fan of the series or even just a fan of mid-90s 3-D games, this might be worth trying out despite its many flaws. Just be patient and don’t expect too much from it.