Too Much Free Time

Discussion and reviews of games for NES, Intellivision, DOS, and others.

Archive for the ‘Windows’ Category

Hanami no Yopparai wo Osaeru

Posted by Tracy Poff on October 6, 2015

It’s October, and that means IFComp! Naturally, therefore, I’m reviewing… not interactive fiction. I’ll get to that Real Soon Now. Instead, I’m continuing my (announced and immediately ignored) series on independent (doujin) games.

The game we’re looking at today is Hanami no Yopparai wo Osaeru (花見の酔っ払いを抑える), meaning (very roughly) Stop the flower-viewing1 drunkard.

Hanami no Yopparai wo Osaeru title

The developer was attempting to make a game in the style of old handheld games, and in my judgment had absolute success.

Hanami no Yopparai wo Osaeru 01

The player character, on the left, must reach the drunk, on the right, while avoiding the thrown bottles.

Hanami no Yopparai wo Osaeru 02

Reaching the drunk successfully adds points to the player’s score.

Hanami no Yopparai wo Osaeru 03

Failing to avoid the bottles costs the player time.

It’s hard to tell from the screenshots, but the bottles are moving from position to position like they would on a Game & Watch or other LCD game. A video will show it better:

I only played the trial version of the game (available on DLsite). I’m not sure what might be different in the full version. This isn’t a great game, even for 108 yen. For a similar, and rather better, game, you can play Dave Baskin’s Bouncing Babies for DOS, itself a clone of the Game & Watch title Fire.


  1. For the cultural significance of hanami, see Wikipedia

Posted in 2015, Action, Arcade, Bad, Full Review, Windows | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

TIS-100

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 19, 2015

370360_2015-06-17_00004

Recently, I saw a new game from Zachtronics Industries, TIS-100, which was released on Steam as an early access title on the first of June. In some ways, calling it a game is overstating it: it’s little more than a collection of programming problems, with a little story to give it some structure. The catch is that you’re programming in an assembly language on a virtual machine with unusual architecture; problems beyond the simplest will generally require you to take advantage of parallelism (which is the primary distinguishing feature of the VM), resulting in novel solutions for ordinary problems.

370360_2015-06-17_00005

Obviously, a game like that has a rather limited target audience. Case in point: I have myself previously created a little VM with a fake assembly language to play with. The game is clearly made just for me, but how many others are likely to be similarly interested? About 11,000,1 so far. It’s a minor hit.2

The concept of programming as gameplay isn’t new. Indeed, Zachtronics’s earlier game, SpaceChem, is also an exercise in parallel programming, though dressed up in fancier clothes. Way back in the mists of time,3 Robot Odyssey challenged players to program the titular robots to solve puzzles. And on the more-programming-than-game end of the spectrum, we have Core War4 and a multitude of web sites in the vein of Project Euler or CodinGame.

I’ve been enjoying TIS-100, but more than that, I think it’s singularly impressive to release a game of this kind. Certainly, there are games that trade on their difficulty (Super HexagonI Wanna Be the Guy, etc.) and some that take pride in their difficulty of interaction (Surgeon SimulatorAmpu-Tea, QWOP, etc.), and simple ‘retro-style’ graphics are de rigueur for indie games, but the very minimalistic functionalism of TIS-100 is astounding.

TIS-100 is difficult because the thinking required to solve the puzzles is difficult. It is perhaps inaccessible, because it consists of nothing else but the tools to solve the puzzle. Its graphics are simple because everything you need to solve the puzzles is a text-mode interactive debugger, and that’s what you get. Like a sudoku puzzle or a crossword, TIS-100 is a completely pure puzzle game: the game takes place in your head, and the software keeps score.

It is not by chance that TIS-100 so distinguishes itself from other games. During the production of Infinifactory, Zach Barth, the founder of Zachtronics, wanted to make a game with a smaller team–something more-indie-than-indie–to get back to his roots as an indie developer. The project turned out to be too great in scope, but from its wreckage was salvaged a programming minigame which became TIS-100.5 Viewed as an indie developer’s attempt to make something even more indie, with the understanding that it was a small part of something larger, the design makes sense.6

The game’s manual, too, reflects the niche targeted by the game. Who reads a manual, you ask? When it is positioned as a technical document describing the instruction set of a virtual machine, the answer to that question is: programmers. The manual is presented as the in-universe manual for the TIS-100 computer, previously the property of the player character’s Uncle Randy, including handwritten notes and highlighting. This was part of Zachtronics’s attempt to make a game with “an irresistible value proposition. For us, that’s a game with a 14-page technical manual that we designed, printed out, marked up and scanned back in again.”7 The manual is reminiscent of the feelies accompanying Infocom games, among others, in years past.8

370360_2015-06-18_00001

Like its predecessor, SpaceChemTIS-100 encourages players to perfect their solutions, optimizing for either execution speed, least number of nodes used, or least instructions–goals which are often contradictory, requiring multiple solutions.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that it is a game about programming, the players of TIS-100 have created some auxiliary tools, including TIS-100 PAD,9 which allows users to more easily share solutions, and a variety of TIS-100 (the virtual machine, not the game) emulators.10

In addition to this unsolicited community participation, with the release of the specification editor, which allows players to make their own puzzles, a puzzle design contest was announced. Twenty-five puzzles will be selected from the submissions for an official bonus campaign.

The feel of TIS-100 is both nostalgic and quite modern. It’s an intriguing combination, and I recommend it to anyone still interested after hearing me call it “a collection of programming problems.” Coders, no prior experience with assembly is needed. Others, if you like this game–try coding. You’ll probably like that, too.

Bibliography

[Barth2012]
Zach Barth, Postmortem: Zachtronics Industries’ SpaceChem, Gamasutra (2012-06-13).
[Dewdney1984]
Alexander K. Dewdney, In the game called Core War hostile programs engage in a battle of bits, Scientific American 250, 5 (1984), 15–19.
[McIlroy1971]
M. Douglas McIlroy & Robert Morris & Victor Vyssotsky, Letter to Aleph-Null (1971-06-29).
[Wawro2015]
Alex Wawro, ‘Things we create tell people who we are’: Designing Zachtronics’ TIS-100, Gamasutra (2015-06-09).

  1. According to SteamSpy
  2. As of this writing, it has 270 positive reviews and 2 negative reviews on Steam
  3. 1984, actually. It was released a year later for DOS, according to MobyGames
  4. Also from 1984, described in a Scientific American article, [Dewdney1984]. It’s based on a still earlier programming game, Darwin, which was played in 1961 and described publicly in 1972. See [McIlroy1971] for more. 
  5. The details of TIS-100‘s inception, and more, are discussed in an interview published by Gamasutra, [Wawro2015]. 
  6. However, Barth wrote in a post mortem of SpaceChem, [Barth2012], that SpaceChem was too difficult and inaccessible. New titles were forthcoming: “New titles, I might add, that are hopefully more accessible than SpaceChem!” 
  7. From [Wawro2015]. 
  8. Back when you got something for your money! Even application software used to have much more bulk to it
  9. Source available on GitHub
  10. Just have a look at the results of this search. But watch out, if you’d like to avoid spoilers! The puzzle solutions are code, after all, so a number of people have posted those, as well. 

Posted in 2015, Full Review, Good, Puzzle, Windows | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Microsoft Word 5.0 (DOS) & Microsoft Word 1.1 (Windows)

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 19, 2014

Like the last post, this one is a double feature. Sadly, unlike WordPerfect 5.1, which was released for both DOS and Windows with the same version number, MS Word used different numbers for is DOS and Windows version. So I’ve arbitrarily picked a DOS and Windows version each released at around the same time as WordPerfect 5.1 to look at.

word_001

On first glance, MS Word 5.0 for DOS, released in 1989, looks fairly similar to WordPerfect 5.1. It’s a big blue screen with some status info at the bottom. But that’s not quite all. In Word, the toolbar is constantly visible at the bottom, taking up several lines, and the text entry area is surrounded by a box. This box isn’t just for show, though: you can choose to split the view into many different windows, which each may contain different documents. In practice, splitting the screen into more than two windows is probably not very useful, since the available space will be tiny, but it’s still a nice feature.

As for the toolbar at the bottom, though, that’s a waste of space. They should have just devoted a bit of space on the bottom line to say “Menu: Esc”, or something, instead. I give them half credit for the interface.

krnl386_004

MS Word 1.1 for Windows, released in 1990, looks more like what we’re familiar with from Word. With the standard menu-and-toolbar interface, it’s a fairly usable word processor, even if it has some quirks in the display.

Word 1.1 does have a big flaw, though: when I tried to open in Word 1.1 the document I made in Word for DOS, it actually crashed DOSBox! It did successfully open the document I made in WordPerfect 5.1, though… I think I’m going to have to give this point to WordPerfect.

2014-09-18_22-17-59

Furthermore, opening the documents I made in either the DOS or Windows version of Word in Libreoffice yields a bunch of garbage. I know that technically it’s not Word’s fault if a piece of software written a quarter century later doesn’t properly import its documents, but it’s still a sad lack of longevity.

In short, 1989’s version of MS Word had some neat tricks with the multi-window interface, but I prefer the minimalist (and less-space-wasting) WordPerfect interface. WordPerfect 5.1 for Windows looks better than Word 1.1 for Windows, too, though both were apparently rather buggy, so they’ll be winning no awards: above all, software must work, after all.

WordPerfect was still king of word processors at this point, but over the course of the 90s, its crown would be stolen by Word, leaving the once-mighty application little more than an also-ran, relegated to filling out the OEM software stack of budget PCs.

Posted in 1989, 1990, DOS, Windows, Word Processor | Leave a Comment »

First Impressions: Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 8, 2012

I played an hour or so of the demo for Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013. I think it’s a fairly good conversion of the game, but severely lacking in customizability.

Without the ability to build unique decks from the available cards, mixing and matching as desired, it’s just not the same–half the game, at least, is building a deck, but DotP 2013 just lets you swap cards between a deck and its sideboard, AFAICT, which is very limiting.

There’s also a fairly small number of cards available–a sixty card deck and a 30 card sideboard, but a third of the deck is land and there are many cards that appear three or four times in the decks. I guess each of the ten decks has perhaps 30 distinct cards, counting the sideboard, so there are only about 300 cards total, assuming each deck has entirely unique cards, and since you can’t swap cards between decks (I think), you can’t be too creative.

Other than that, it was pretty good–it took a little getting used to the game before I was sure when I needed to stop the timer to play instants–the game shows which phase you’re on, but not which step, so I missed playing an instant after blockers were declared once. It’s not too confusing, though. The animations are a little slow, and I think that I may have toggled an option which made the game stop during damage resolution during combat, which was a pain, but probably my fault.

One thing I didn’t care for was the Planechase mode. It’s a multiplayer (up to four players) mode, which is fine, but the use of the plane cards just made the game confusing–I saw a card that made players mill seven cards at the end of each turn, then draw one of them randomly back out of the graveyard, and another that made non-werewolf creatures deal no damage, plus some ability that sometimes made creatures into werewolves, and yet another that had some other odd combat ability which benefited one player dramatically more than the others. Honestly, I’m not totally sure how the plane cards work–they seem to act like global enchantments, and there’s some die rolling mechanic that goes with them. They just seemed to complicate and slow down the game. I gave up after many minutes and only three turns of play in that mode. I’ll stick to the more traditional game, thanks.

Well, DotP 2013 won’t replace the real game, but I think it’s not a bad buy at $10, and if I can get it for half off some time, I might pick it up.

Posted in 2012, Card Game, Decent, First Impressions, Strategy, Windows | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Lab 14

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 7, 2010

Lab 14 by SuperCasey4 is a platform puzzler, though a very nontraditional one.

Lab 14 title screen

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in 2008, Freeware, Full Review, Good, Platformer, Puzzle, Windows | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Don’t Look Back

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 31, 2009

Don’t Look Back is a flash platform game, released 5 March 2009 by Terry Cavanagh. Mac and PC versions are also available.

Before I begin this review, I urge you to play the game. There are links there to the online and downloadable versions of the game. It only takes a few minutes, and much of the enjoyment will come from learning the story as it’s revealed. That warning given, I’ll not refrain from spoilers below.

The game opens with the player character standing at a grave. We are instructed that we may use the arrow keys to move, and, being the seasoned gamers that we are, we take that as an invitation to proceed to the right.

After a bit more instruction on the controls, we come to a cliff. There is no other option than to leap from the cliff, whatever the consequences may be. Fortunately, in typical platformer fashion, falling from a great height is no hindrance, and the game proceeds like any other platformer.

We eventually pick up a gun, and we have the usual jumps to make, spiders to kill, and falling spikes and other moving obstacles to dodge. Failure means that the screen is restarted, with no other consequence.

After a bit, though, we enter an area  that is dark–though the enemies can be seen, the walls and floors are hidden. This doesn’t make the puzzles that much harder, but it certainly adds to the atmosphere: walking through a dark, seemingly empty room, when sudden spiders start to drop from the sky just ahead of you; you try to run past only to be stopped by a hidden wall; now there’s no hope of dodging–they have you! And the screen restarts and you must try again.

The darkness doesn’t last forever, though, and the game continues. There are two bosses to face before we reach the deepest part of the cave, and they may be defeated in the usual way–dodge the attacks, exploit the weakness. Finally, after all this, we can see what was our goal in entering this place.

Here floats the ghost of a girl–undoubtedly, the ghost of the girl whose grave we stood before at the beginning of our quest. But the game does not end here; we must now escape the cave with the spirit following.

There remains one caveat, though: you must not look back. Should you turn to face the spirit of the girl, she will fade away like so much mist. And here it becomes clear what the title means, and just what story is being told. This is a close retelling of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and our hero has journeyed into the underworld to retrieve the spirit of his beloved.

So, we make our way back out. The puzzles are different (since we take a different route), and are tailored to our new weakness (the inability to turn back). I found the above screen particularly heart-breaking, since I missed the jump for the ropes more than once, and had no choice but to turn back, consigning the spirit to her fate. Granted, the screen restarts, but being forced by my ineptitude to deliberately entrap the spirit in the underworld was a cruel punishment indeed for my failure.

Now, having faced all the trials both on the way into the cave and back out, and having resisted the temptation to look back on the face of our beloved, we reach familiar territory. For better or worse, the endgame is near, and we will see what reward we shall reap for our efforts.

Finally, we return to find… our hero, still standing before the grave. Moments later, both the spirit and the player character vanish, carried away by the winds, and the title screen returns. All this effort, everything was only imagined by the mourning hero–wishing that he could indeed journey to the underworld to save his beloved, though ultimately no more able than Orpheus to carry this out.

The revelation, without words, of this story–the hero’s motivation and intent, and the eventual resolution of the story–is very well done. As a platform game, Don’t Look Back is only average, but as a piece of storytelling it is really excellent. Everyone should absolutely spend the few minutes necessary to complete this game. The post on the author’s blog has links to each (identical) version of the game, so go there now and play it.

Gameplay: 6/10
The puzzles aren’t hard, but they’re well designed, and the controls are pretty good.
Graphics: 8/10
The simplicity of the pixellated graphics is all part of the charm, and the monochrome red color scheme sets the mood nicely. The only complaint I have is that it wasn’t clear until after I retrieved the spirit and realized this was the tale of Orpheus that the dog was Cerberus, or that the final boss was Hades–the sprites weren’t identifiable. Of course, there’s only so much you can do with that resolution, and it was all made clear eventually, so only two point off.
Sound: 9/10
The music fits the game very well, and the sound effects are similarly well done. Cerberus’s growling was really frightening, and the sort of gasp/sigh when you look back and the spirit is swept away is very nice, too.
Story: 9/10
The story is very simple, and a classic. The revelation of the plot is very well done, and the ending, too, is good.
Personal Slant: 9/10
Total: 8.2/10
The platforming aspect could have done with better and more challenging puzzles, but the storytelling was right on. I had fun with the puzzles and the desire to see how it would all end kept me going, full of anticipation. Don’t Look Back is short, and well worth the time it takes to play.

Posted in 2009, Flash, Freeware, Full Review, Good, Mac, Platformer, Windows | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Bastet

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 7, 2009

Bastet, written in 2004 by Federico Poloni, is a Tetris clone with a twist.

It seems like an ordinary game of Tetris at first, allowing you to choose the level you start at to determine the game speed, and with the usual controls–left and right to move the piece, up to rotate it, down to drop it. That “Won’t give you this one!” thing seems a little odd, though…

After a few pieces have dropped, you might begin to suspect that something is wrong, or at least that you’re having a very unlucky game.

As the game progresses, you’ll see that Bastet does live up to its name: “Bastard Tetris”. The AI in Bastet calculates how useful each piece would be to you if it were dropped next, and then refuses to give you the few most useful pieces. In fact, it has a high chance of giving you the piece it computed would be least useful. As a result, getting even a single line can be quite a challenge, and getting more than a few lines is very hard indeed: the author noted on his page when he released it that his friends hadn’t even managed to pass twelve lines.

When the game ends, your score will be saved to the high score list. As you can see above, my first attempt yielded a high score of zero points. Challenging indeed.

Bastet was originally written for Linux, but a Windows port (by Salvatore Meschini) is available, which is essentially the same, though the colors are a little different, which I’d attribute to the change to PDCurses for the Windows port. You can download either or both from the author’s web page.

AI: 9/10
Bastet absolutely lives up to its name. The AI will consistently give you the worst, most annoying pieces, just as it should. If you want to compile it yourself, you can modify the difficulty, too. Minus a point for requiring recompiling to do that.
Gameplay: 8/10
The game behaves as it ought to, though the high difficulty makes it probably a little less fun that it would be if it were somewhat easier. That’s the goal of the game, though, so I can’t penalize it much.
Graphics: 4/5
The game looks nice. I’d prefer it in a graphical game so I could see the edges of the pieces I’ve already placed, but for a text-mode game it looks fine. I’m counting this one half since it is a text-mode game.
Personal Slant: 6/10
I like Tetris, and this is a competent implementation of it, but the difficulty stops me wanting to play it very much. Perhaps some people looking for a real challenge will like a little more.
Total: 7.7/10
Though you probably won’t want to play Bastet for long, owing to its difficulty, it’s worth a download just to see how hard Tetris could be if the game were really intentionally giving you bad pieces.

Posted in 2004, Decent, Falling Blocks, Freeware, Full Review, Linux, Windows | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »