Tao of the Machine

Programming, Python, my projects, card games, books, music, Zoids, bettas, manga, cool stuff, and whatever comes to mind.

Adventures in writing adventures

AMK writes about interactive fiction with Python. " In text adventures, usually every single object is unique, so it's a minor irritation that you have to write classes and then instantiate the class. It would be better if you could automatically instantiate each class."

Yes, I noticed this too. A while ago, I came to the conclusion that straight OO may not be right for writing adventure games. Sure, it *seems* like a great match. You have objects for things, people/creatures, rooms, and maybe other stuff like mechanisms. An object's properties can easily be stored in attributes: lamp.on, player.inventory, etc. And mailbox.open() is the method that is called when we open the mailbox, of course. Sounds wonderful.

Except that it doesn't work all that well in practice. The problem mentioned by Andrew is just one out of many. It seems kind of redundant to have a class and an instance. Also, if you go for the mailbox.open method and friends, then there are some interesting decisions to make. How do these methods map to commands? What method is called when doing give X to Y and on what object? What about use X with Y (a Lucasarts favorite :-) ? More in this old article.

Of course, it's not *impossible* to write an adventure in Python using OO, far from it; it's just less convenient than it could be. A few ideas for ways around it:

Idea #1: Use classes, and classes only. Make all methods classmethods, all attributes class attributes. Would this work in real life? No clue. One obvious drawback is that you'll have to define the methods the usual way, *then* make them classmethods.

Idea #2: Self-style objects. This would work (assuming my code is correct, it was just something to play around with), but has an obvious drawback as well: you'll need to add methods on the fly. Something like this:

def window_open(self):
    if self.open:
        print "The window is already open, you dork."
        self.open = 1
        print "You open the window."

# 'window' is a Self-like object
window.open = window_open

Both ways seem kind of unpythonic.

Lately I have been tinkering with a system that uses a mixture of OO and procedural/functional style. Some ideas:

  • There are only a few classes: Room, Object, Person, Player, World (the game engine)... that's about it.
  • Objects, rooms and characters in the game do not derive from these classes. Rather, to make a new Room, you create an instance of it, and stick stuff in it.
  • To add code for actions, you don't add custom methods to these instances. Rather, you write a function (e.g. get_default), associate it with a command ("get"), and register it with the game engine.
  • Within such functions, you can check which object (room, character, etc) you have (if obj is apple, etc), and take appropriate action, possibly by calling other functions.
  • You can set an object's attributes on the fly, which is useful for setting status etc.
  • A special kind of attributes are those whose name ends in _response. This is a string that represents the default answer when a certain action is done or attempted to the object. For example:

painting.get_response = "Who would want an ugly painting like that?!"
# when doing "get painting" in the game, this will be the
# response

(Although normally you'll set this attribute when creating the painting instance.)

More about this in this older post. Someday I might actually try to write an adventure with this... So much time, so little energy. :-(

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-03-18 12:56:38   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: Python, games

5K Chess

(via Keith Devens) 5K Chess. Amazing indeed.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-03-17 13:55:56   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: games, internet

Amiga emulation, revisited, revisited

More and more games seem to work. It took a while to get WinUAE to this point, though. For example, in the configuration that I first tried, I could not set mouse or keyboard layout, which complicated things greatly. Amiga-In-A-Box to the rescue... it creates a number of configuration files for different purposes, e.g. play floppy games fullscreen with sound, etc. This also "unlocked" the mouse/keyboard options screen.

It's interesting to see how some games are different from their C64/PC counterparts. I don't mean obvious differences like graphics, but things like playability, or how a game is set up.

  • Fire & Ice is a great little platform game. The Amiga version I'm using has a trainer (as opposed to the PC version I played in the days of wayback on my 486), which makes the game a lot more agreeable. A benefit of using an emulator is that you can save & load game states at will, so even if the game doesn't allow you to save at a given position, the emulator will. This especially comes in handy with action games.

  • Revenge of the Mutant Camels: Also available for PC and C64 (and probably a bunch of other platforms), this is a simple-minded yet fun game... but most of all it's weird. You walk with your mutant camel through zones, where you are assaulted by birds dropping weights on your head, clouds raining cats and dogs, Manic Minter, and much more. There are also lots of strange powerups to collect... what to think of a joint 1) that makes your movement really slow, or an effect that reverses your moves.

  • Llamatron: By the same author (Jeff Minter), this is a game in the same spirit as ROTMC, shooting lots of strange baddies (telephones, brains, cherries, you name it). As expected, there are some interesting twists and effects... for example, the brains turn the (otherwise harmless) llamas into zombie beasts.

  • Blues Brothers: Another platformer that I played on the PC. Kinda fun, but difficult.

  • California Games: Unlike other Epyx games that I tried (Winter Games, World Games) this one works well. Compete in 6 events (skateboarding, surfing, etc). [What happened to Epyx?]

  • Buggy Boy: Racing game. IMHO, not as good as the C64 version. On the C64, this game was special because the buggy stays in its lane, as opposed to other racing games where you have to break your joystick to keep the car on the road, especially at high speeds. This allows you to concentrate on avoiding obstacles and grabbing points and powerups. In the Amiga version, however, the buggy does move; not as much as in other racing games, but it moves nonetheless, making the game less fun. (At least to me...)

  • Katakis: Cool shooter, like R-Type. If I recall correctly, the C64 version of this game was somehow illegal in the UK... don't know why, and don't know if the game was true for the Amiga version.

  • Shufflepuck Cafe: Silly but fun game. Basically it's air hockey, with opponents of varying strength. I played this on the PC, ages ago, and defeated most (all?) of my opponents... I'm not sure I can achieve the same feat on the Amiga, where most of them seem terribly strong and fast.

1) It looks like a cigaret, but the effects suggest otherwise.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-03-01 01:08:45   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: games, nostalgia

Amiga emulation, revisited

After a few tips from concerned readers, I got some more games to work on WinUAE. emoticon:smile I'm not sure if this makes me lean more towards buying a real Amiga, or less...

A few ultra-short reviews:

  • Arkanoid: Works, but difficult to play with mouse. I should try the "B" keyboard layout.
  • BattleChess: Cute but *very* slow, for some reason. Not just the thinking, but also the moving of pieces.
  • Dungeon Master: Works fine, but maybe not as great as it seemed back in 1989. :-)
  • Gauntlet 2: Again, I should try a different keyboard layout. Clumsy to play.
  • PacMania: Has everything a good game needs. Easy to play. Nice and colorful. Based on a well-known concept with a new twist. Addictive.
  • Paperboy: Not quite as good as the C64 version, if only because it doesn't have the great C64 music. Also seems less playable somehow.
  • Pengo: Cute, good music too, but not much lastability.
  • Prince of Persia: Good game; I played the PC version (using EGA) in 1991. This version plays exactly the same.
  • Ultima 4: Has some graphics problems. Can maybe be fixed by using a different Kickstart ROM.
  • Winter Games: Has some serious graphics problems also. Solution: ditto?
  • World Games: Haven't gotten it to work yet.

If nothing else, you should get the emulator for PacMania... it's really very good. Simple, but good.

Posted by Hans "aciiiiid" Nowak on 2004-02-28 23:03:51   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: games, nostalgia

Amiga emulation

I am considering to buy an old Amiga. (Yes, another computer... where I will keep all of them is something else.) I don't know much about Amigas, so I decided to try an emulator first (WinUAE) and play some games.

Well, that was not a great success. There are lots of problems with the controls. In WinUAE, you can select mouse, keyboard and/or joystick. I don't have a joystick, so I'm seriously impaired when it comes to playing most games. The mouse doesn't work very well. It seems fine in AmigaDOS or the Workbench, but in games, the character moves all over the place, even if I don't touch the mouse... and the keyboard layout uses the numerical keypad, which I find very awkward. The normal cursor keys have no effect, nor do "obvious" fire button replacements like Space, Enter or Ctrl. Oh, and sometimes nothing works at all... no mouse, no keys, nothing.

Point-and-click games do seem to work, however. These are games that use the mouse to begin with, so emulation isn't as much of a problem as it would be for the joystick. Defender of the Crown, for example, and Dungeon Master. I am looking forward to trying out some adventure games on WinUAE, like Loom, Monkey Island, Lure of the Temptress, etc. Maybe some RPGs will work too. But I can forget about action-oriented games like Zool, World Games, or Arkanoid.

Of course, the emulation problems are unrelated to how these games perform on the real Amiga. I am not sure if I should get one; if I do, I'll need access to a cache of games as well. I won't use it for hacking, design or development... just games.

(In /links/emulation there are some links to sites with emulators and ROMs.)

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-02-24 22:16:57   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: games, nostalgia

Currently reading...

Rules of Play is about game design. Not development, but design. I just started reading it, so I cannot say much about it yet, but I figure it would be of help for my own game designs... CCG, computer or otherwise. Reviews (not all of them positive, by the way) can be found on the Amazon page.

A related article on game design, mentioned in the book, can be found here: I have no words & I must design, by Greg Costikyan.

Dungeons and Dreamers is mostly the story of Richard Garriott, creator of the Ultima series. To a lesser extent, it also talks about id software, online gaming, games and violence, and early hallmark games like Spacewar, Adventure and Zork. Not a bad book; it's not very informative, technically, but it talks about how games were designed, what inspired their creators, etc. It reads a bit like Hackers, being about the *history* of computer gaming.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-02-22 18:39:54   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: books, games

Underrated games

(via Dutch Guy Speaking English) The 25 most underrated games.

I played some of these games. #23, Blood, is very good (although also very gory). It's DOS, so it doesn't play well on Win2K; I should give it a try with DosBox. As the review points out, it has ludicrous weapons, and well-designed levels. A bit like Rise of the Triad, although that wasn't as funny, and the opponents were less interesting (although I remember flying monks? :-).

#1, Ico, is excellent indeed. I like it; so does Jessi. :-) There are rumors about a sequel, we hope that it will be out soon.

#14, Zork Zero, seems interesting. Let's see if I can pick it up somewhere, someday.

#10, Wheel of Time, sounds fun when you read the review (using ter'angreal and all that), but I don't recall it being very good. One of my pet peeves is that I *hate* dark games. Dark in the literal sense, meaning, without very much light. :-) I can't see a damn thing, and cranking up the gamma rate doesn't help much if the world simply doesn't have much light to begin with. But maybe I should give it another try. I can be flexible, e.g. playing in the dark... emoticon:cool

One underrated game that isn't on the list is Touche, aka the Adventures of the Fourth Musketeer (I think its full title was). It's a point-and-click adventure in the spirit of Monkey Island. Hmm, and Broken Sword for the GBA was good too... and Ultima Underworld... maybe I should do another week of game reviews.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-10-13 14:58:08   {link}
Categories: games

PC games just suck

PC games just suck. It's no wonder consoles are so popular. You buy or rent a game, pop it into your gaming system, and it just works.

Compare this to the sorry state of PC games. If I try a game that's too new, chances are my 3D card isn't up to snuff ("sorry, you need at least a Doodoo AGP 2004 to run this game"). Or I need more memory, otherwise the game is dog slow. On the other hand, if the game is too old, problems are likely to occur as well. "Sorry, needs Windows 95/98." (I have Windows 2000.) "Sorry, needs DirectX 6 or later." (I have DirectX 8, but apparently the "old" game doesn't recognize that.) You can forget about games that are even older... from the DOS era. Strangely, your chances are better when the game is from around 1991 or so... you might need something like MoSlo or VDMSound, but you're less likely have problems with EMS, XMS, protected mode, obscure Sound Blaster configurations or video card, etc.

If you think I'm exaggerating, here are a few games I've tried. Age of Wonders/Shadow Magic? Requires 3D card. Alice? Requires 3D card. Civ 3? Needs more memory. Requiem? Needs Windows 95/98. Microprose Magic? Needs Windows 95/98. Serious Sam 2? Very unstable. Doom, Quake and Duke 3D didn't work well until special Win32 versions were created.

With lack of stability like this, I'm really not buying PC games anymore... you spend $40 or more, then find out the game doesn't work, and you usually cannot go back for a refund.

I would love to insert a remark here about the good old days and how everything used to be better, but I really can't... Ever since I used PCs (1991) I recall having problems with games... incompatible video cards, configuring sound card, not enough memory, not the right kind of memory, processor too fast or too slow, etc.

One area that does seem to be flourishing is emulators. If you can find a decent emulator for a given system, and ROMs, then you're all set... tons of good games await you, and they all work! (Assuming the emulator deals with them correctly... that's why I said a *decent* emulator. :-)

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-10-01 13:02:50   {link}
Categories: games


After Doom and Quake, there's now a (seemingly stable) Windows 2000/XP version of Duke Nukem 3D: duke3d_w32. The binaries work, but you need to provide your own duke3d.grp file. This page might come in handy too...

Posted by Hans "who wants some" Nowak on 2003-09-19 22:16:13   {link}
Categories: games

Destroy him, my robots

I don't have anything interesting to write, so here's a short list of essential C64 games you should download. :-)

  • Movie Monster: Play a monster that destroys a city. Choose from a huge dinosaur, insect, blob, robot and more.
  • Impossible Mission 2: Somersault through various rooms filled with robots, to collect information.
  • Defender of the Crown: Do the knightly thing in old England, besieging cities, competing in tournaments, rescuing damsels in distress, and conquering some counties while you're at it.
  • Katakis: R-Type-like shoot-em-up, with (for that time) excellent graphics.
  • Ricochet: Wacky, WACKY breakout clone. Gravy on everything.
  • California Games: Compete in 6 Californian events, including surfing, BMX racing, rollerskating, and hacky-sack.
  • Paperboy: Deliver newspapers in a street crowded with joggers, dogs, skaters, trash cans in strategic positions, cars, and more.
  • Alter Ego: A game that simulates your life, how it could/should have been (or maybe not).
  • Kung-Fu Master: Good for at least a few minutes of fun as you kick down big enemies and jump over midgets. :)
  • Law of the West: Sheriff in a wild-west town deals with desperados, a cattle rustling woman, the always drunken doctor, a backstabbing deputy, and more.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-08-19 23:33:53   {link}
Categories: nostalgia, games


Quite an interesting game. It's yet another RPG, but with an innovative twist: it pretends its an online multiplayer game. Pretends, because the PS2 isn't really going online (although it's apparently capable of it), yet it plays like a MMORPG.

How does that work? First of all, you have a "desktop". Here you can read mail, work with "data" (load/save games), read news, and start the pseudo-online RPG called "The World". There are a lot of NPCs in this game, and you can talk to them or trade with them like in a real MMORPG (or so I assume -- I've never really played one :-). To make things more realistic, whenever you log on you see (mostly) new players. Some of them can become your friends, and you get their "member code" to join a party with them, and start a quest.

.hack does a good job of faking the online aspect. When you leave The World, you might have new mail from people you met; or maybe somebody posted to the bulletin board, answering your questions, or providing a new quest.

Still, it's an RPG, so you do the usual... create parties, fight monsters, pick up objects, explore dungeons, go on quests, etc. The game uses an unusual world creation system... there are "keywords", that can be combined to form a key to enter a world. Gluing random keywords together works, but can be a dangerous business, since the choice of words affects the terrain, monsters, and difficulty of the world being created.

I will only be able to play this game until Saturday (then it goes back to Video City), so I won't be able to finish it or even see most of it. That will prevent me from getting bored with it, and my daughter from humiliating me by beating the game in a couple of days. emoticon:wink2

The offcial site is here. By the way, there's also a manga of .hack. Not sure how close it sticks to the game's plot.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-08-14 22:37:25   {link}
Categories: games

Day 7: Microprose Magic

The real title is Magic the Gathering, but I'm calling it Microprose Magic here to avoid confusion with the Magic the Gathering CCG.

In the middle 90s, I knew nothing about Magic. In spite of that, I bought some old Inquests at a bookstore and attempted to fathom this mysterious game, with its spells, summonings, enchantments, and countless mythological and fantastical creatures.

Some ads in the magazines talked about an upcoming PC game, made by Microprose, that would enable you to play Magic against the computer. That would be good, since I didn't anybody who played the game (back then). Sure enough... after a long wait, in early 1997 I found a copy of the game in a computer store. Cost me ƒ 100, and I didn't have a job at that time. Also, the game required 16 Mb of memory, while my computer only had 8 Mb. In spite of all this, I decided to buy it anyway.

Well, I didn't regret it. The game ran slow, but it did run. It allowed me to dip in a pool of hundreds of cards. Not just the cookie-cutter cards they crank out today, but the real stuff from the first sets (Alpha/Beta/Unlimited, Arabian Nights) and 4th Edition. Imagine building your deck with Black Lotuses, Moxen, Ancestral Recalls, and lots of other powerful cards. 1)

Microprose Magic was *the* way for me to learn the game. It let me sharpen my skills in several ways. First of all, there was some kind of "adventure" setting where you got to travel from town to town, solving quests, battling opponents and collecting cards to strengthen your deck. This world (called Shandalar) was interesting. You got to battle all kinds of opponents using any of the 5 colors. Ante, currently considered "not done" by WotC, was used a lot, and made sense; if you lose your battle, you lose you ante card, otherwise you win your opponent's ante.

You could also duel the computer. Just select a deck for you and your opponent, and you're ready to go. Since a deck builder is included, this was a great way to test decks, or just to play a casual game. The computer doesn't mind if you feel like playing in the middle of the night, nor does it care if you come with a twisted and illegal Channel/Fireball deck.

One of the best games I ever played, with great replay value. However... fast forward to 2003. Shandalar cannot really be played anymore on modern computers, because everything moves too fast. In addition to that, the game is difficult to get to work on Windows 2000 and XP. I did get it to work eventually, but the expansion set (Spells of the Ancients) cannot be used. Too bad, because some good cards are in there. So now all that's left for me is the Duel. Too bad it didn't scale up to modern operating systems. emoticon:sadley

Some people were disappointed about this game. It didn't do what Microprose had promised earlier, viz. allowing two people to play over the Internet. Also, the AI had some serious flaws. And the experience just wasn't the same as playing against a human opponents. However, to me, it was the greatest game in years.

(Note: Microprose's version is not to be confused with Magic the Gathering: Battlemage, nor with Magic Online.)

Some reviews: Games Domain, Gamespot, Adrenaline Vault.

GameFAQs: Magic the Gathering, Spells of the Ancients.

Update. Some people wanted to know how to make this game work on Windows 2000/XP. Here's what you do:

  1. Make sure you have the patch. Version 1.25 I believe. Google for downloads.
  2. Set the executables to "Windows 95 compatible". If your system doesn't support this in an obvious way (not sure if Win2K does), Google for SETWIN95.CMD. Use this to set the compatibility mode.

Shandalar will be too fast, but at least the Duel and Deck Builder should work.

1) For those not familiar with the game: certain early cards are considered to be very powerful, so much in fact that they have been banned from tournaments (or restricted), and haven't been reprinted in recent sets.

Posted by Hans "although greatly prized by falconers, the Zephyr Falcon is capricious and not easily tamed" Nowak on 2003-07-29 19:32:26   {link}
Categories: games

Day 6: Age of Wonders

Now this game isn't so old. I played it first in 2000 (I think), and still do. (OK, so that's only three years ago, not very impressive... but to some people, a game from 2002 is old. emoticon:sm_eerie)

A quick description: It's a turn-based RPG/strategy game, a bit like Heroes of Might and Magic. You start alone (or with a small party), and gain followers, conquer cities (or enter an alliance with them), fight battles, etc. You can choose from a plethora of spells to aid you, although you'll have to learn most of them first.

So far, it sounds pretty much run-of-the-mill. These days, many games have all these features and more. What makes AoW special is that (IMHO) everything's done exceptionally well. Great soundtrack, good graphics 1), impressive special effects, and addicting gameplay.

I like the interesting beasties that are at your disposal. Not just the ubiquitous orcs and dwarves and such, but also dragons, eagles, lizard people, frost beasts, nymphs, scorpions, and much more. I also like the spells. Destroy cities with huge blasts of fire. Freeze whole areas. Conjure elementals. Or do more subtle things, like increasing a town's income.

There's a bunch of features that are pretty common in this kind of game... you can choose to do seperate scenarios or to follow a storyline; there's automatic battle versus "manual"; you can micro-manage cities and tell them what to build (a bit like Civilization); etc. I'm just mentioning these so you know these features exist, not because they make the game special. :-)

All in all, a good game. (And it has cheats, so it doesn't frustrate me no end. :-)

1) Some reviews described the graphics as "dated" because it didn't support the really high resolutions, and it didn't use a 3D engine. If that is the case, then I love dated graphics. I like my dragons to look like dragons, not like a bunch of polygons with awkward movement and unrealistic lighting, thank you very much. (Their latest product, AoW: Shadow Magic, seems to stay true to this format, fortunately.)

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-07-28 13:49:37   {link}
Categories: games

Day 5: World Games

Another C64 game that I remember fondly. The games are not getting newer; this one must have been released in late 1986 or maybe early 1987, if I'm not mistaken.

In the middle/late 80s, there was a software company called Epyx, known for their high-quality games. Their list of successes includes Summer Games, Summer Games II and Winter Games, where multiple players could compete in a number of Olympic events. I guess this idea got old after a while (there's only so many sports you can do), so they came up with disciplines that were a bit more unusual. This resulted in World Games (and later California Games, which is the #1 download at c64.com).

The first discipline in World Games is weight lifting, which is also an Olympic event, but most of the other ones are pretty much uncommon. You get to jump over barrels (on ice), dive from a cliff, toss cabers, and ride a bull in a rodeo. Other events include slalom skiing, log rolling, and sumo wrestling. The games take place in various parts of the world, hence the name.

For those who are unfamiliar with Summer Games and its sequels, it is played like this. You set the number of players (1-8), name them, and choose what country they represent (there's a number of flags to choose from, and the national anthem is played when you pick one). You can then compete in all or any of the games. After each game, points and medals are awarded to the winners, and a scoreboard is updated. In other words, you get to play your own Olympics. emoticon:loveit

The games are not for the heavy-handed. An infamous game like Decathlon required waggling the joystick as fast as possible. Not so in World Games. To get a decent score, you need timing, a sense of rhythm, sometimes quick reactions. For example, getting up to speed to get over the barrels doesn't require that you move your joystick extremely fast. That "strategy" will not get you anywhere; rather, you have to move the stick in a certain rhythm, to have your skater gain speed. That's not all; there are also timing issues: don't jump too early or too late; same goes for landing.

Similary, Slalom Skiing is a Decathlon player's nightmare, and considered by many to be the most difficult of the 8 events. The skier isn't easy to control, and with all the obstacles in the way, it's hard enough to make it to the finish line safely, without the additional requirement of passing through the flag ports.

On the other hand, other games require other techniques. To win Bull Riding, you have to a keep a close eye on what the bull's doing, and move your joystick accordingly. For Cliff Diving, it's most important to keep an eye on the wind direction and speed before you jump.

While the games are essentially serious (and not slapstick-like like Alternative World Games (which I never played, BTW)), there's a lot of humor, although it's not immediately obvious. For example, if your weight lifter doesn't put down the weights when he's done, there's a chance that he will crash through the floor. When your bull throws you off, he laughs at you. Ditto for the pelican that watches when you unceremoniously fall on your face after diving from the cliff. (And he hides his face with his wing when you hit the rocks at the side of the cliff!) And when you put too many barrels up, the skater looks at you and scratches his head. (There's more, but I won't give away everything here.)

Graphics and sound were very good for that time, by the way. It's a bit pointless to discuss them, because these days everybody has much better equipment...

Get World Games at c64.com. There's also a (silly) FAQ, but it's really for the NES, and apparently the games weren't exactly the same as on the C64.

Some reviews: Zzap! 64 issue 19, and an article in German. (The Zzap! 64 site has some scans back online, so you can also check the original review as it appeared in the magazine. See issue 19.)

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-07-27 14:53:44   {link}
Categories: games, nostalgia

Day 4: Hat Trick

This is a fairly unknown game even in C64 circles. Indeed, the version I played (and still play) was for the Commodore 64, but it's possible that there were releases for other systems as well.

Hat Trick is a one-on-one (or two-on-two, if you count the keepers) ice hockey game. At first glance, it has significant things going *against* it: unspectacular graphics, boring sound effects, and difficult controls. One might wonder why it is on my games list. Simple: because it's extremely playable.

You might not think so at first. Your player is difficult to control. But this is where the realism comes in. Do you really expect an ice hockey player to be able to stand still immediately when he wants to? Of course not; inertia plays a very important role when on the ice. Therefore, your player moves slowly from a standstill position, takes a while to slow down when moving at top speed, and doesn't change direction immediately when you want to. It takes some time to move your player around skillfully.

The same goes for shooting at the goal. Back in the day, with a joystick, it was a bit easier than it is now, using the cursor keys on a PC keyboard. The computer controlled keeper is generally good, at least until you discover ways to trick him. On the other hand, you control both your player and your keeper, simultaneously. If you move your player up, your keeper will go up as well, etc. This takes some time to master too, since you need to keep an eye on both; failure to do so will leave great openings for the opponent.

There are three levels (easy, medium, hard); they're really not all that hard anymore once you figure out how to move your player effectively, and how to score. Once you reach that point, the first (easy) level may actually be a bit more difficult than the others, because the opponent is less predictable than on the higher level. Challenges that keep the game interesting are: trying to make as many goals as possible (my old record on the C64 was 24-1, but I think I've beaten that last year or so), and, trying to play "the other side". If you've mastered red (plays from right to left), and beat your opponent with 20 goals, that doesn't mean you can do the same playing blue. In fact, chances are that you will lose when playing it for the first time... ^_^

Download it here (at c64.com; warning: if you're into C64 games, you might not come back anytime soon). A good C64 emulator for Windows is VICE.

Posted by Hans "bully for you" Nowak on 2003-07-26 12:11:10   {link}
Categories: games, nostalgia

Day 3: Civilization

Another great game from the days of wayback. Its latest incarnation, Civilization 3, doesn't run very well on my computer (which admittely isn't state of the art). Fortunately, the first two versions are (still) just as playable.

This game is so well-known that I can expect most people to know what it's about, but for those who don't, here's the concept. You pick an ancient civilization... Egyptian, Roman, Aztec, Indian, Chinese, etc; or maybe not so old... German, American, English, French; or you create your own. The goal is to make your civilization a world power, or at least survive. That isn't as easy as it sounds, considering you start with only settlers and a very rudimentary grasp of technology. You have to build cities, invent technologies, multiply, explore, keep your people happy, and keep neighboring civs at bay.

This is a great game if you like world-building. Starting from scratch, you expand your empire by building more and more cities. You create armies to defend yourself or attack opponents (if your civ is the last one standing, you win the game). You can create ships to explore the world and settle new continents. You can create diplomats to negotiate with other civs (and do less noble things, like stealing their technologies). You can create caravans to trade with other civs.

Of course, your resources are not infinite. The location of your cities affects whether they are rich or poor, have little or plenty of food. This in return affects what cities can do, how long it takes them to build certain improvements (granaries, barracks, temples, warriors, settlers, wonders of the world, and much more) and how happy their inhabitants are. (Unhappy cities tend to revolt.)

You can win the game in several ways. As said, one way is to get rid of all competing civs. Another is to advance all the way to the "future" and launch a spaceship that reaches Alpha Centauri. Personally, I strongly prefer the latter.

No game is without flaws, and Civilization is no expection. The micro-management tends to get very tedious once you have a lot of cities. Every turn a handful of cities have completed a project, and you have to assign a new one. You'll spend a lot of time zooming to cities later in the game. (Civ 2 Gold has an "auto" feature to alleviate some of this pain, but this usually doesn't do what I want. :-)

The game is much richer than the concise description I just gave, and is definitely worth playing. Even the very first (DOS) version.

Reviews (of both Civ 1 and 2): at Gamesdomain, Adrenaline Vault, ATPM.

GameFAQs for Civilization, Civ 2, and Civ 2 Gold.

DLH cheats, trainers, etc, for Civ, Civ 2 and Civ 2 Gold.

UHS hints for Civ 2.

Finding a place where it can be downloaded or bought is left as an exercise to the reader. emoticon:smile

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-07-25 20:22:57   {link}
Categories: games, nostalgia

Day 2: Monkey Island

Yes, this is another LucasArts adventure. (And no, to reassure you: the other 5 days will not be LucasArts games. Nor will they be adventures, for that matter.) The official title is "The Secret of Monkey Island". I played it in 1991 or so, when I had my first PC.

Monkey Island is much like the earlier LucasArts (or LucasFilm as it was called back then) games on the C64, Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken. Except that it goes a level up; it's bigger, better thought out (IMHO), and has better graphics than its predecessors.

This is the tale of Guybrush Threepwood, mighty pirate. Or at least that's what he wants to be. So he has to pass "The Three Trials", which is the first part of the adventure. No sooner does he complete the trials, than governor Elaine Marley of Melee Island is kidnapped by the evil ghost pirate LeChuck, and Guybrush has to assemble a crew, get a ship, and go after her.

This game was quite innovate for its time (and still is very good, really). For example, it has a nifty dialog system. When you talk to someone (who actually has more to say than just a line), you get multiple choices, and depending on your choice you can steer the conversation in a certain direction. You can't really say or do the wrong thing, though; you cannot die in this game. 1) (I love games where you cannot die; it leaves you free to explore without fear of an untimely and unexpected death, and you don't have to abuse the Save option every time you are about to walk around a corner.)

The game is also *fun* to play (as opposed to some other adventures in that day that lacked in the humor department). The game is full of puns, funny situations, and even cameos. (It doesn't go overboard though, like Monkey Island 4.) Also, the puzzles are quite innovate and have clever solutions. One of my favorites is opening the cell door using mugs of grog (I have a feeling that I talked about this before in my weblog :-). Or beating the sword master (using insult sword fighting, picking up new insults and retorts by dueling random pirates).

On the down side, some puzzles are rather difficult and/or require a lot of walking to and fro. Still, the solutions aren't illogical, although they might require a bit of a twisted mind. :) All in all, a great game, worth playing even in 2003. It's still for sale too (see yesterday's entry).


Also, see yesterday's links of the LucasArts Classic Adventures package, which includes Monkey Island as well. ScummVM runs it as well.


FAQs and walkthroughs

1) Although there is (at least) one place where it seems like you die... but it's really a pun on certain Sierra adventures. One of the many highlights of the game.

Posted by Hans "the poodles are only sleeping" Nowak on 2003-07-24 18:26:28   {link}
Categories: games, nostalgia

Day 1: Loom

This is possibly the best game I've ever played, in spite of its limited replay value. Loom is a point-and-click adventure, released in 1990. I first played the EGA version; later a VGA version was available with 256 colors. Even with 16 colors, the game's graphics are worth looking at.

The game is not flawless. It's been described as too short, and too easy. Then why do I like Loom so much? Mostly because it's subtle and elegant.

For example, take the controls. Other point-and-click adventures back in the day had a command line (e.g. Larry), or a list of commands and items on the screen (e.g. Monkey Island). In Loom, the protagonist (Bobbin Threadbare, from the weaver clan) only has a so-called distaff, which replaces commands and inventory. It can be used to play notes, and sequences of notes function as spells. You only start out with three notes (C/D/E), so the spells you can choose from are limited at first, but along the way you learn new notes and new spells.

The notion of drafts (series of 4 notes) as spells has another implication. The spell that means "open", for example, can be played backwards to have the reverse effect; in this case, to close something. This is crucial when it comes to solving some of the game's puzzles.

I like the story too. On a superficial level, it's just another "world being threatened by dark forces" plot. But it's done very well; when the story moves along, it doesn't become too predictable or feel like a drag. Bobbin starts out in his own country (weavers), then visits shepherds, blacksmiths, etc., all with colorful characters and places to explore.

Yes, it's too easy and too short. Still, I play it again, once in a while. I already know the outcome, and know what to do in all situations, but I still play it. It's like rereading a good book.

Walkthroughs and solutions


I'm sure it can be found in other places as well. If you're interested, consider buying the official version though (see below). Or maybe it can be found for cheap on Ebay.


Other links

(Unfortunately, there's no 100% guarantee that Loom (being an old DOS game) will work on modern computers running Windows 2000 or XP. It did work for me though, on both systems (and Windows 95/98 should be no problem either). If you're running XP or 2000, and your copy of Loom (or other DOS game) has no sound, take a look at VDMSound.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-07-23 20:04:38   {link}
Categories: games, nostalgia

7 days of games

The next 7 days, I will review 7 great (computer) games, just for the hell of it. At least I think they're great. ;-) If at all possible, the reviews should be accompanied by links to downloads, walkthroughs/cheats, and other reviews.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-07-22 20:04:35   {link}
Categories: games

Programming adventure games, anno 2003

Let's say that I want to write an adventure game. (By this I mean a text adventure, or interactive fiction.) In Python, or whatever; doesn't really matter.

This type of program is quite interesting, because modern ideas about good programming practice don't really apply to it. I can see at least two issues:

Problem 1: Incremental development. Sure, you can "do the simplest thing that possibly works", and add new features from there, incrementally. Works for many programs of all kinds. The problem is, that you cannot *release* the adventure until all parts are in place, unless your players are willing to put up with missing features. It sounds like an interesting idea: "version 1.2 now has 4 new quests", but somehow I don't think this would work. Playing the same game again just because it has a few extras?

So, I don't think "release early & often" will work here.

Problem 2: How to test it? Indeed, how *do* you test an adventure game? Can it be tested efficiently?

There's a difference between testing the basic stuff (does command X work?) vs testing "everything". The latter seems impossible. There are countless, maybe infinite situations; how can you possibly test them all? Even if we restrict the tests to every possible command with every possible object/person, that will be a hell of a job to test.

But, let's say we're going to try it anyway. How would one approach this? Maybe we need some kind of automation mechanism. Set up an environment... player in room X with objects Y and Z, creatures C and D, and objects E, F and G in inventory, execute command, test if it has the desired result.

A testable system like this might be useful. I'm not sure what the current state of the art is in the IF world; do systems/languages like Inform support testing? Or are IF authors still on their own (and dependent on playtesters) when it comes to verifying their games? I'll have to find out.

Posted by Hans "you are in a maze of twisty passages, all different" Nowak on 2003-07-05 01:40:04   {link}
Categories: games, ideas, programming

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