Too Much Free Time

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

Archive for the ‘Good’ Category

Fast Eddie

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 26, 2016

Fast Eddie (2600) - cover

Fast Eddie is a platformer for the Atari 2600, published in 1982 by Sirius Software. It was programmed by Mark Turmell.

Fast Eddie (2600) - 01

The premise is simple: on each level, guide Eddie to collect prizes (the type of prize changes on each level–on the first level, you collect hearts) while avoiding the enemies (called “Sneakers”).

Fast Eddie (2600) - 02

Once you’ve collected enough prizes, the tall Sneaker (called “High-Top”) on the top floor shrinks down, and Eddie can grab the key and proceed to the next level. You earn one extra life each time you complete a level, and may hold a maximum of three in reserve.

Fast Eddie (2600) - 03

On early levels, some of the Sneakers will be stationary, but on later levels all Sneakers will move, and there may be more of them, in more difficult arrangements.

Though simple in concept, completing each level can be quite challenging. You’ve got to be very cautious if you want to make it through later levels, but you have to think on the move, because the Sneakers move quickly and give you no time to rest. The only reprieve you get is that you’re invulnerable while climbing a ladder. Just be careful not to drop off in front of a Sneaker!

This is a very playable early platformer. Though graphically unimpressive, due to the limitations of the Atari 2600, it has great, responsive controls and quick action, giving the feeling of arcade platformers on a home console. It’s definitely worth a look!

Fast Eddie was also ported to VIC-20, Commodore 64, and Atari 8-bit platforms.

Further reading

Posted in 1982, Atari 2600, First Impressions, Good, Platformer | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Miner 2049er

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 14, 2016

In the eighties, if any arcade game achieved success, there were sure to be dozens of home computer games ‘inspired by’ it released in short order1. Beginning in 1980, the California-based Big Five Software released nine games for the TRS-80, mostly very straightforward clones of arcade games (including three games based on Space Invaders). These achieved some success, but nothing compared to founder Bill Hogue’s first game for Atari home computers, Miner 2049er, released in 19822.

Miner 2049er (Atari 8-bit) - cover

The game’s manual lays out the gripping story: you play the role of Bounty Bob, “the most loyal, heroic, and charismatic mounty … ever known”, who has been sent to capture Yukon Yohan, a fur trapper wanted for murder. Bob chased Yohan all the way to a uranium mine once owned by Nuclear Ned, and an explosion has trapped both Bob and Yohan within. The radiation in the mine has turned the creatures within into deadly mutants. Helpfully, however: “Scattered throughout the mine are various articles that have been lost by previous miners. Capture them by touching them and you will be awarded points. Additionally, the mutants will turn into green happy creatures that are now edible.”

Miner 2049er (Atari 8-bit) - 01

The goal of the game is to walk over every section of the platforms. Doing so fills the section in, and once every section is filled in, you’re awarded points depending on how much time remains on the timer, and the next station begins.

Miner 2049er (Atari 8-bit) - 02

There are ten stations in total, and a number of difficulty settings which increase the speed at which the enemies move.

Miner 2049er (Atari 8-bit) - 03

Later stations feature a variety of extra obstacles: beginning with station 2, there are slides which you slide down when you walk over them; station 3 has transporters you may operate to move between sections; station 5 has moving platforms; station 8 has a lift you can use to reach high places; station 9 features that staple of platformers, the ‘pulverizers’ which descend to crush you; finally, stage 10 has a cannon which you must load up with TNT to blast yourself to higher platforms.

Miner was ported to more or less every game platform and released in many countries. Reviews praise its originality, though it clearly shows the influence of both Donkey Kong, with its platforms and ladders, and Pac-Man, with its powerups that allow the player to eat otherwise-fatal enemies. In its turn, Miner influenced later games, such as City Connection, which lifts the painting-every-square mechanic directly from Miner. Originality aside, it’s obvious why Miner was such a success; it’s fun, challenging, and has good, smooth controls.

A sequel to the game, Bounty Bob Strikes Back!, was released in 1984. A free Windows emulated version of both games is available from Big Five Software’s website3.

Bibliography and further reading

[Anderson1983]
John J. Anderson, Mastering Miner 2049er, Creative Computer Video & Arcade Games 1, 2 (1983-12), 103–108.
A detailed strategy guide with routes for each of the game’s ten stages.
[ConsumerGuide1983]
The Editors of Consumer Guide, Personal Computers & Games. (Beekman House, 1983).
A general overview of the computer systems available, short guides to a few games, and brief reviews of several more.
Miner 2049er is featured as ‘The Best Theme Game’ and a guide to the first five stages is given on pages 55-57.
[ElectronicGames1983]
The Editors of Electronic Games, The Miner 2049er Story, Electronic Games 2, 6 (1983-08), 26–42.
[MarentesFriedman2001]
Nickolas Marentes & Barry Friedman, Interview with Barry Friedman, The Miner 2049er Information Page (2001-06).
[MarentesKunkel2001]
Nickolas Marentes & Bill Kunkel, Interview with Bill Kunkel, The Miner 2049er Information Page (2001-04).
[MarentesLivesay2001]
Nickolas Marentes & Mike Livesay, Interview with Mike Livesay, The Miner 2049er Information Page (2001-04).
[MarentesRoss2001]
Nickolas Marentes & Scott Ross, Interview with Scott Ross, The Miner 2049er Information Page (2001-05).
[ReedHogue2008]
Matthew Reed & Bill Hogue, An Interview with Bill Hogue, TRS-80.org (2008-10-29).
Miner 2049er is mentioned briefly.
[SavetzHogue2015]
Kevin Savetz & Bill Hogue, ANTIC Interview 94 – Bill Hogue, Miner 2049er, (2015-10-29).
A somewhat directionless interview reminiscing about Hogue’s work on games, and particularly Miner 2049er and its sequel, Bounty Bob Strikes Back.

  1. As [ElectronicGames1983] says, Miner 2049er “is as important for what it isn’t as for what it is”. In particular, it’s not an arcade conversion nor based on an existing license. Noteworthy, as “until the recent crack-down on infringers by the coin-op manufacturers, all too many computer games were little more than knock-offs of pay-for-play machines. No one will ever know how many computer games came into being as a result of ‘fact-finding’ trips by designers to their local family amusement centers. More than one programmer has returned from the arcade after pumping a few tokens into a promising game, with the outlines of something awfully similar already percolating in his head.” 
  2. But you don’t have to take my word for it. According to [ElectronicGames1983]: “The phenomenon — and make no mistake about it, Miner’s publication is perhaps the most significant software event of this year…” 
  3. Hogue recalled in [SavetzHogue2015] that when producing the emulated version, he had to spend some hours or days cracking his own anti-piracy measures–he never imagined that the person he’d be protecting his game from would be himself! 

Posted in 1982, Atari 8-bit, Full Review, Good, Platformer | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Pitfall!

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 9, 2016

Since we’re done with Space Panic and Donkey Kong (for now, though it has many, many ports, clones, and variants), we’ve come to the earliest platformer that I really enjoy: Pitfall! for Atari 2600, released by Activision in 19821.

Pitfall! cover

Of course, one cannot talk of an Activision game without mentioning the game’s designer. Pitfall! was created by David Crane, co-founder of Activision and creator of numerous other worthy games, including Little Computer People and A Boy and His Blob.

The creation of Pitfall! is what you might term a deliberate accident. Crane did not set out to create a platform game about a man in a jungle. He had been planning a sports game (later released as The Activision Decathlon) which he shelved because he felt he couldn’t do it justice. He had, however created a subroutine to animate a running man, which he wanted to use somehow. So he started to build a game around it2:

OK, there he is, running across the screen. What now? So I might as well put him on a path. Jungles have paths — better throw in a few trees — always bearing in mind that I’d want to be able to do this for other machines. Basically, if you can do it on the VCS, you can do at least a shadow of it on other systems.

So anyway, what use is a jungle path unless it leads somewhere? So I pencilled in a few objects. How about some places to fall? A few holes. He’s got to land somewhere — I had to put in an underground level. Then I spent the next two months defining the game, saying where do I put the treasure, what kind of monsters lurk? Scorpions look pretty good. I thought I might have ghosts and skeletons in the tunnel — none of them looked good, so they didn’t get in. We drew a lot of these beforehand on squared paper, colouring them in and so on. But it never looks the same on the screen as it does on paper — never.

That game, called Jungle Runner during development, became Pitfall!, went on to sell over 4 million copies on the 26003 (spending 64 weeks as the #1 best selling game), and was the progenitor of the smooth running and jumping that would be seen in the Super Mario Bros. series and many other, later platformers.

Pitfall! 01

When the game begins, you have 2000 points and two extra lives (which the manual calls ‘replacement Harrys’). The first screen is a gentle introduction: a single pit with a ladder and a stationary log are the only obstacles present. Falling into one of these pits (rather than climbing down a ladder) will cost you 100 points, while hitting a log will cost you some points over time as you remain in contact with it.

From the beginning, and at any point during the game, you can go either to the right or the left (unless there’s a wall in the way).

Pitfall! 02

The screen immediately to the right is more challenging: it contains three pits, only one ladder, and two logs rolling toward you. We can see immediately why (as the manual suggests) it is easier to go to the left–the logs always roll from right to left, so by moving in the same direction as the logs, you never have to worry about jumping over them. But where’s the fun in that? Onward to the right!

Pitfall! 03

More obstacles. This time, the rolling logs are joined by a wide pit–falling in this kind of pit means losing a life. Fortunately, there’s a vine above the pit you can use to swing across, so it’s merely a matter of timing the jump correctly to grab onto the vine, and then dropping off on the other side. In later screens, these pits will sometimes open and close, so you’ve got to be careful–a screen that seems safe may turn out to have a pit that opens under your feet, if you just run across incautiously.

Pitfall! 04

In this image we can see the remaining (major) obstacles in the game: crocodiles4 and scorpions. The crocodiles periodically open and close their mouths. When the mouths are closed, you can jump on them to get across the pool of water. When the mouths are open, you can only stand on th far right side of the crocodiles’ heads, behind the jaw, or you’ll be eaten. The scorpions merely move from left to right in the underground section, but they’re very wide, so precise jumps are necessary to make it over them.

So, if those are the main obstacles… what’s the point of this game?

Pitfall! 05

Collecting treasure for points, of course! The gold bar you see above is worth 4000 points. Silver bars are worth 3000, money bags are worth 2000, and diamond rings are worth a whopping 5000 points each. There are eight of each type of treasure, for a total of 32 treasures worth 112,000 points. A perfect game would end with 114,000 points (all the points for the treasures, plus the 2000 you started with, and no points lost to mistakes).

The game would be difficult, but manageable if you could just take your time with each screen. You might lose a few points to logs and other hazards, but with enough care around the deadly obstacles, collecting all 32 treasures would just be a matter of time. But time isn’t something you have to spare: there are 20 minutes on the clock when you start, and that’s all you get. It might sound like a pretty long time, but there are 255 screens in Pitfall!, leaving you with less than five seconds per screen, if you must visit them all.

How ever could you succeed with such a tight time limit? That’s where a clever mechanic comes into play. You’ve seen that each screen has an aboveground and underground part, the latter reach by either falling down a pit or climbing down a ladder. Every screen that you cross in the underground section is equivalent to three screens crossed in the aboveground section. Of course, you could skip right over a screen with a treasure on it, if you take the underground shortcuts through the whole game. So what are you to do? The manual suggests making a map5.

Pitfall! 06

You don’t have to get every treasure, of course. I was pretty happy getting just under 32,000 points, after a few tries. Back when the game was released, Activision offered to send an Explorers’ Club patch to anyone who got at least 20,000 points and sent in a picture of the TV screen to prove it.

Pitfall! is a great early platform game, and its sequel Pitfall II: Lost Caverns was if anything even more impressive and ahead of its time. Anyone curious about where platformers came from should absolutely give it a try. And even if you’re not a game historian, it’s a fun game well worth playing.

Edited 2016-02-23 to replace links referring to my internal database. Whoops.

Further reading


  1. The date of April 20 is given by allgame, though I know not on strength of what evidence. In an interview I see the release dated to September. The year, at least, is correct. 
  2. This excerpt is from an interview in Big K #1 (April 1984). 
  3. This sales figure is given by IGN
  4. The crocodiles were inspired by the introduction to The Heckle and Jeckle Cartoon Show
  5. Of course, if you don’t want to make your own, you can use someone else’s. This map by Ben Valdes not only shows the contents of the rooms, but also suggests the best route to take. 

Posted in 1982, Action, Atari 2600, Full Review, Good, Platformer | 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 »

Bleed Out Sakuretsu

Posted by Tracy Poff on April 5, 2015

I don’t believe I’ve written about any remotely popular games for at least two years… and I’m not about to change that. But I am writing about a good game, at least: Bleed Out Sakuretsu, a vertically scrolling shooter for the Sharp X68000, by Gold Cats Project.

Bleed Out Sakuretsu - title

First: yes, the title screen says ‘sakuretu’. But the common romanization of this game’s title seems to be ‘sakuretsu’, and as goes TOSEC, so goes my nation.

Bleed Out Sakuretsu - ingame

Bleed Out Sakuretsu has a powerup system reminiscent of Gradius. As you continue scoring points, you can purchase a shot upgrade, a barrier, or other, even more powerful powerups. The opposition is a variety of ships, small shots, and guided missiles.

Bleed Out Sakuretsu - boss

The boss sprays out bullets danmaku-style, and periodically fires a pair of front-facing lasers. You’ve got to deal with this while avoiding guided missiles, and since you are destroyed in one shot (unless you buy a barrier), this, like the rest of the level, provides a good challenge.

Here, an unfortunate revelation: the boss is, as far as I can tell, invulnerable, because the available version of Bleed Out Sakuretsu is a trial edition, and I can find no evidence that any full version was ever created. I would love to hear otherwise, if anyone has better information on old doujin games than I do, because it’s a very fun game.

It’s hard to do a shooter justice with just words and screenshots. The video above shows (I believe) the entire game, which should give a much better picture of it.

If you like shooters, I’d say Bleed Out Sakuretsu is worth a try. It’s only about two minutes long, but it’s fun, and I believe there’s a place for brief games, too.

The Touhou series looms largest on the doujin shooter landscape, of course, but there’s a huge and fascinating variety of games (of all genres) stretching back decades, which I think could use some more attention from the English-speaking web. I’ll probably be looking at a few more doujin games in coming weeks, so I’ll try to shine a light on whichever titles catch my eye. Maybe there will be some hidden gems, or maybe just hidden failures. We’ll see what comes.

Posted in 1996, Full Review, Good, Vertical Scrolling Shooter, X68000 | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

History Mystery

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 12, 2015

In the early eighties, the sudden popularity (and, indeed, the recent existence) of home computers gave rise to a new kind of publication: the disk magazine. These periodicals were published not on paper but on computer disks (and sometimes cassettes), and although the content varied, they generally featured computer programs (including games) in addition to, or even in place of, articles. The most famous of these are perhaps Softdisk for the Apple II (launched in 1981) and Loadstar for the Commodore 64 (launched in 1984). The medium flourished1 alongside more traditional magazines which might offer (inconvenient!) type-in programs. There was a price to be paid for this convenience: a single ‘issue’ of Softdisk cost about the same as an annual subscription to a paper magazine.

Among the many disk mags was Scholastic’s Microzine for Apple II. Featuring (as you might expect) primarily educational content, Microzine began publication in 1983,2 continuing for about a decade. It also inspired a spin-off series, Microzine Jr., which was launched in 1988. Each issue of Microzine included four programs, one of which was a game.

Microzine18.Sid_000000004

Which all brings me to the subject of this article: History Mystery by David A. Bowman and Mark A. Malamud, which was included in Microzine #18 in November 1986. According to the ‘Letter from the Editor‘ in that issue:

You’ll have fun reading The History Mystery Twistaplot™ adventure. A priceless hourglass has been stolen from the Microville History Museum. Some of the ghosts in the museum will help you find it. (Yes, the museum is haunted!)

You play the part of “the ace reporter of your school newspaper, The Chronicle” (incidentally, of selectable gender), out to get a story about a stolen Babylonian hourglass. After chatting with the ghost of Mark Twain about the situation, you find yourself in the lobby of the museum.

Microzine18.Sid_000000014

The museum consists of 29 rooms3 which you must navigate, gathering items and clues to solve the mystery of the stolen hourglass, which the museum’s ghosts believe is actually located within the museum. Each room has a description, seen on entering the room, and an entry in the self-guided tape-recorded tour, accessed by pressing T. The tour often contained educational information4 which might be used to solve the game’s puzzles.

Microzine18.Sid_000000019

Some rooms have items to be collected, while others have ghosts to talk to or other objects to interact with. The game is in two parts (purely for practical reasons, I presume). Selecting the second part from the menu requires the player to input the password given at the end of the first part (“The Sands of Time”) and begins the second part, in which the player must collect the hourglass and escape the museum while being chased by Winsome Slugg, the criminal who had stolen it.

Tracy's Gift Shop

Upon completing the game, the player gets a rather neat reward: the museum’s gift shop, called “Amy Minkley’s Gift Shop”,5 will be renamed after the player. Not only in the ending text, either: in future playthroughs, the in-game name is changed. Which, I suppose, might make this the first game with a New Game+ feature.

History Mystery took me about an hour to complete, though I suppose it took me quite a bit longer when I was a child. I remember having a lot of fun with it, back then, and it’s still neat as a bit of nostalgia, today.

My copy of the game is this 1987 compilation, Tales of Suspense.

My copy of the game is this 1987 compilation, Tales of Suspense.

I’ll try to look at some more games from Microzine and other disk mags in the future. There’s a lot to be said about them, and the resources on the internet are scarce at best. This post has been several years in the making, during which time I’ve been contacted a number of times by people who, like me, had fond memories of a game which might have been History Mystery, but who couldn’t be sure. My thanks to them for providing me the impetus to do my civic duty and get this out there. Fans of old educational games, you are appreciated!


  1. Wikipedia has a substantial list
  2. According to this article: “The first issue of Microzine was first displayed at the January 1983 Consumer Electronics Show, and was available in stores by March 1983.”) 
  3. I mapped them out here 
  4. “…Welcome to the Telephone Exhibit. The first telephone call was made by Alexander Graham Bell. As he was calling, he accidently spilled acid on himself and yelled for his assistant: ‘Mr. Watson, come here. I want you!’….” 
  5. According to the game, “named after one of the great school reporters” (probably the editor of your school newspaper, Amy Minkly), but likely actually named after Amy E. McKinley, the editor of Microzine–though perhaps she was a school reporter, once. 

Posted in 1986, Adventure, Apple II, Educational, Full Review, Good | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Presentation Manager Robots

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 27, 2014

Another OS/2 game: Presentation Manager Robots, a port of BSD Robots to the OS/2 Presentation Manager. Incidentally, I’ve taken the screenshots in OS/2 2.1, this time, so enjoy the increased authenticity over my previous posts.

pmrobots-about

Quoting my pending MobyGames description:

Presentation Manager Robots is an implementation of BSD Robots. The player controls Smiley, who must avoid being destroyed by the Evil Killer Robots. On each turn, Smiley can either stand still or move into any of the eight adjacent positions, and the robots will move directly toward Smiley. If a robot catches Smiley by moving onto his position, the game is over. If two robots crash into each other, they are destroyed, leaving behind a heap of broken robots. If a robot crashes into a heap, it’s also destroyed.

The player has two options, if the robots surround Smiley. First, the player may choose, once per level, to use the Sonic Screwdriver, which will destroy all the robots adjacent to Smiley. Second, the player may choose to teleport to a random location in the level. This is not without risk, though, since Smiley may teleport beside a robot and lose.

The level is won when no robots remain. Later levels begin with more robots.

pmrobots-level1

Presentation Manager Robots is a pretty standard port. It starts out easy, with just five robots on the first level, but rapidly increases in difficulty.

pmrobots-level6

I made it to level 6 on my second try, which I suppose isn’t too bad.

There’s one annoyance to this port: no keyboard support. In order to move, you’ve got to click in the direction you want to go, and you click on Smiley to stand still for a turn. Robots is much better controlled with the keyboard, and I can’t imagine why this version doesn’t support that.

Other than the input issue, the game as much fun as Robots usually is. Worth a play, for sure! The game is actually still being distributed by its author, Kent Lundberg, from his homepage. It’s up to version 1.3 now (pictured above is 1.1), which he released under the GPL in May 2002, about nine years after its initial release in July 1993.

Posted in 1993, Freeware, Full Review, Good, OS/2, Strategy | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Dungeon Chess

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 25, 2014

I promised to write about some more interesting OS/2 games, so here’s one I thought was really neat: Dungeon Chess by Craig M. Seavey, Computer Scientist.

Yes, he credits himself as "Craig M. Seavey, Computer Scientist".

Yes, he credits himself as “Craig M. Seavey, Computer Scientist”.

This one’s a quite interesting variation on chess. I’ll just quote the description I used on MobyGames here:

Dungeon Chess is a board game similar to chess, played on an 8×8 board, called the dungeon. The player has access to sixteen weapons of five different types: eight Circs and two each of Arcs, Trigs, Rects, and Stars. Each weapon moves differently: Circs can move one room in any direction; Arcs move like knights in chess; Trigs, like chess bishops, move along diagonals; Rects, like chess rooks, move along the rows and columns; and Stars, like chess queens, can move any number of rooms either diagonally or along the rows and columns.

Circs and Trigs also have special abilities. Circs, like pawns in chess, can be morphed into any other type of weapon upon reaching the opponent’s home row. If a Trig is the last weapon available, it gains the ability to move like a Circ, so that it can access the whole dungeon.

When starting a new game, the player has the option of starting with an empty dungeon and placing his weapons manually when and where he chooses, or starting with the weapons already placed on the first two rows in a similar manner to the initial configuration of chess pieces.

Dungeon Chess keeps score, but only as an indicator for how the game is going. The game is won when all the opponent’s weapons have been captured–there is no checkmate in Dungeon Chess.

One major difference from chess is that the player can only see those rooms of the dungeon which one of his weapons can access. If, for example, the player has only a Rect left, then only the row and column the Rect occupies will be visible–and the view will be blocked by any weapons that are in the way of movement.

Two game modes are offered: Master and GrandMaster. In Master mode, the grid of the dungeon is clearly marked and visible rooms are colored differently. In GrandMaster mode, the dungeon is solid black, and the rooms that are visible aren’t marked, so the player must carefully inspect the positioning of the weapons to determine which rooms are definitely empty and which are simply out of view.

OS2 4.52-2014-06-24-13-21-08You can see in the above screenshot that there are three enemy Circs visible and a number of dark blue squares which may or may not contain enemy weapons, but which aren’t visible to me. This makes the game quite difficult! I’m reminded of Stratego, where you don’t know the rank of the enemy pieces until you attack them. The game of chess is quite different without perfect information.

Dungeon Chess is still sort of a parlour game, but it’s much more interesting than the bland conversions of Connect Four and such that I’ve been seeing. It’s a game that can only really work on a computer, since it wouldn’t be practical to play it on physical boards. You could do it with two boards and a moderator, but it’d be a pain.

This is something I really like to see: doing things in computer games that wouldn’t be possible for a physical game. For example, if you’re playing a computer pinball game, why not have effects that couldn’t be done on an electromechanical table? It can be done badly, of course, and there’s something to be said for accurate simulation of real-world games and toys, but I like to see people exploring the possibilities.

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GrandMaster mode is substantially harder, since the game doesn’t indicate which rooms are visible. Frankly, I prefer Master mode–it’s just too much trouble to work out which rooms are empty and which are just invisible, at least for me. Maybe some people who are more into strategy games would feel differently.

Dungeon Chess is single player, but it seems that it’s based on a multiplayer (network) game called ChessNet. There’s a chess game for Windows with that title from the right time period, but I think it’s not the same one. I’d like to see the multiplayer version of this game–it ought to be great fun.

There is actually still a version of this game around. Behold the modern homepage of Dungeon Chess. From the description, I suspect the modern version is really a different (if similar) game from this old one. I’m not shelling out $15 to find out, though.

Posted in 1993, Chess, Freeware, Full Review, Good, OS/2 | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Shufflecomp: Sparkle

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 19, 2014

Sparkle by Karly Di Caprio is an entry in Shufflecomp 2014. If you’re planning on playing and voting for games in this competition, you should probably stop reading now. And I should say that I intend to mention some serious spoilers, even more than usual, so be warned.

Compared to Nova Heart, the last game I played, Sparkle is a much more traditional piece of interactive fiction. Not merely because it’s parser-based and written in Inform–it has very much the traditional feel of interactive fiction. The introduction ends with “The road ends here at an abandoned cable car platform. The cableway leads directly to my destination. I must get it running, somehow.”, and inspecting the cable car reveals that it is locked to the platform with an iron bar, which is attached to the platform with bolts. I will need a wrench!

With this as motivation, I explored the surroundings, coming to a gate guarded by a dog. Then the game instructed me to “Find a quiet place to MEDITATE.” I’d just seen such a place, so I did as instructed, and the game revealed a piece of information–“dog equals flute”–and a new mechanic: “With this information I can CHANGE things INTO their counterpart identities. I can also THINK to recall previously learned information.”

I was fairly excited by the possibilities, at this point, but I’m afraid that Sparkle didn’t quite live up to my expectations. The rest of the game involves solving some pretty standard puzzles with the aid of the new mechanic. That’s all pretty solid, but the only way to learn which objects can be changed into which others is to inspect some objects, and then meditate. Some of the objects you’ve examined may work with the new command. Or maybe not.

My biggest disappointment with this game is that the changing-things-into-things mechanic turns out not to actually be a puzzle. The game tells you, of this mechanic, that “the key to true enlightenment is to observe the Pattern and to understand it,” but that’s a red herring. The pattern is that there is no pattern–according to the game, anything can be changed into anything. That’s not actually true, though: objects can only actually be turned into the counterparts the game specifies, and only after the game tells you that you can, too–nothing clever happens on repeated playthroughs.

Despite my disappointment with the game’s unique mechanic, Sparkle does have a few things to recommend it. There are a number of optional puzzles, listed by the game as achievements. I didn’t get all of them, but they seem to be well-integrated into the game. For example, during one event, you’re told that your clothes get wet, and later you discover an umbrella–the obvious thing is to (on a subsequent playthrough) get the umbrella first, and protect your clothes. And, indeed, this yields an achievement–nice. The achievement system does seem to be a little buggy, though–I got some achievements that I didn’t actually complete, and I think it didn’t always notify me when I got one.

Also, Sparkle is written in first person, but can optionally be put into second person, which is a neat gimmick.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with this game. If it gets a post-comp release fixing the trouble with the achievements system, I might like to go back and try to complete some of the optional puzzles.

Play time: about 45 minutes.

Posted in 2014, Freeware, Full Review, Good, Interactive Fiction, Platform Independent | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Donkey Kong

Posted by Tracy Poff on January 1, 2013

Donkey Kong is a platformer, released by Nintendo on 9 July 1981.

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With the proto-platformer Space Panic and its clone Apple Panic out of the way, we can look at something a little more familiar. Though Donkey Kong clearly owes certain design elements to Space Panic, it adds the ability to jump. Without this ability, Space Panic plays more like a maze game than a modern platformer. Donkey Kong‘s kinship to modern platformers is clear.

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Donkey Kong consists of four stages, which are presented differently depending on the port. To quote from Arcade-History:

The original Japanese version had all four stages displayed in their original, logical order 1-2-3-4.
For this US version, they changed it to match the ‘How High Can You Try/Get?’ theme, with the stage order as follows :
L-01 : 1-4
L-02 : 1-3-4
L-03 : 1-2-3-4 (as in all levels of the Japanese version)
L-04 : 1-2-1-3-4
L-05 : 1-2-1-3-1-4
L-06 through L-21 all remain the same as L-05
L-22 : 1 (Kill screen).

There are further differences on console and home computer ports of the game–and Donkey Kong has been ported many, many times.

Each stage has its own goal. In the first, it is necessary only to reach the top of the screen, where Pauline stands, dodging barrels and fireballs along the way. Other stages are more complicated.

Donkey Kong is quite good, for its age. The visuals and sound are simple, but attractive, and Jumpman’s movements are smooth and responsive.

It’s a fine game in its own right, but its influence on later games cannot be overstated. Donkey Kong certainly had some direct influence on later platformers, generally, but it also gave us two characters–Donkey Kong himself and Mario, initially called Jumpman–who would go on to greater glory. There were two more arcade games in the Donkey Kong series, Donkey Kong Junior and Donkey Kong 3, and Donkey Kong would go on to star in the Donkey Kong Country series of platformers, and make appearances in many other Nintendo games. Mario, of course, is the star of a massive and ever-growing series of his own, beginning with an arcade game, Mario Bros., and continuing in scores of games on every Nintendo console and handheld since.

Personally, I don’t care for this style of platformer much, but I feel indebted to Donkey Kong for the great games that came after. I’m planning to work my way through as many platformers as possible, so there’ll be plenty of both kinds, coming up.

Posted in 1981, Arcade, Full Review, Good, Platformer | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »