Let’s Play! Death Valley

Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon behind them. (Actually, there are no cannons)

Back in the 1980s there was a set of books published by Usborne which explained about how “micros” (what we used to call home computers back then) worked, things you could do with them, and how they were going to change the world forever. They also had a few books in the range with simple type-in games and programs, written in the most cross-compatible BASIC interpretation they could manage with loads of alterations and corrections for specific platforms.

Due to the differences between the ZX81, Spectrum, TRS-80, Apple and BBC Micro, it was apparent that text-based “games” were going to work best as graphics were implemented and programmed vastly differently on each micro, although they did include complete and separate computer specific listings for one “graphical” game in each book.

As a child, I borrowed this series of books from the local library frequently and must have typed every program in multiple times. Eventually I bought the books myself, including a title called “The Beginner’s Computer Handbook”, which was actually a compilation of three titles – “Understanding the Micro”, “Computer Programming” and (the best one) “Computer Spacegames”.

Death Valley is one of those Computer Spacegames. It’s text-based, but uses text as primitive graphics. You pilot your spaceship down a randomly wriggling canyon, although it could just as easily be a skier on a mountain or a car on a road. I’ve typed it all in for you to play. Here’s the code, if you’re interested:

So much game in so few lines of text. Amazing.

Actually, I’ve slightly modified it from the listing in the book, as lines 250 and 280 were only looking for uppercase Q and P to “steer”, so now they check for lowercase as well.

Continue reading “Let’s Play! Death Valley”

Incontinental Circus

The S key is right next to the IT key on Japanese keyboards.

Famous Crap Games Throughout History

It is well known that in the late 1980s the Japanese game company Taito made a slight error with one of their titles, releasing an F1 racer called “Continental Circus” after a poor translation of “Continental Circuit”. It was an easy mistake to make, I mean, the S key is right next to the IT key on Japanese keyboards.

What is less well known is a far more interesting story and it started two years before Continental Circus, with Incontinental Circuit.

Taito (back then, known as Potaito) had developed what they thought was bound to be the next big thing in gaming – two player head-to-head motor racing with bladder control. Literally. A pair of huge arcade cabinets, each housing a large screen, a reclining chair, a steering wheel, foot pedals, and a number of straps and sensors that needed to be attached to the player. A drinking fountain was angled towards the player’s mouth, and after inserting a few 100 Yen coins, the game began.

Much like in most other motor racing games, the aim was to win the race, but the twist with Incontinental Circuit was that your car’s engine power increased as you, the player, physically filled their bladder. The more you drank, the higher your vehicle’s top speed. Don’t drink, and your car loses power. The first to pass the Chequered Flag was the winner, the first to pass urine was disqualified. That’s right – moisture sensors in the seat would alert the game to your embarrassing release.

Unfortunately for Potaito, they were hit from all sides with issues. The main one that hit the headlines was over gamers sitting in a pool of other peoples’ fluids as arcade staff failed to mop up after disqualifications, and all the associated health risks that came with it. This was the 1980s, remember, and popular myth at the time was how easy it was to contract AIDS from arcade machines. Other problems just made things worse. The water fountains needed to be connected to a water supply, which was something most arcades struggled to accommodate. All that water (and “previously drunk” water) in close proximity to electricity caused several shocking deaths, and one unfortunate individual managed to drown when his water fountain malfunctioned and he couldn’t get out of the seat straps quickly enough.

What really killed the game off, however, was the cheating. Players soon found that by wearing adult nappies, they could thwart the sensors and wet themselves all they liked without the game noticing.

Finally, and perhaps most damning of all, was when the game was produced, the translator at Potaito managed to name the game as Incontinental Circus, rather than Incontinental Circuit, confusing gamers everywhere.

With the game an expensive flop (all those proprietary and unusual components almost bankrupted Potaito before the cabinets even hit the arcades), Potaito gutted the core game and repurposed it as a more standard F1 racing game. No water, drinking or sensors. They called it Continental Circuit, but somehow the same translator made the same mistake again. He never found translating work after that, and the entire fiasco was blamed on him and him alone.


This article was originally published as part of the CSSCGC 2015 celebrations.

Happy Ed Balls Day 2016

Ed Balls

To celebrate, I made this:

The Moon and the Deep Blue Sea

And through it all she offers me protection
A lot of love and affection
Whether I’m right or wrong

(This suggestion from @SeanR1974)

write about the sweet love between the moon and the deep blue sea #hendrix #angel

I’ll happily write about that. Thing is, I have no idea what it means, although that hasn’t stopped me before. There are two clues in the form of hashtags – “hendrix”, presumably of the Jimi variety, and “angel”, which I’m guessing is one of his songs. [fx: Googling sounds] Right, yes. Both those things.

I know two things about Jimi Hendrix:

  1. He’s part of Club 27.
  2. He played a gig in Dereham, Norfolk, where I used to live. That was back in 1967 though, and I wasn’t born then. I’ve a photo of the flier somewhere, but I can’t find it. I used to work with someone who attended it.

Neither of these things help with the suggestion. Anyway.

The thing with the moon and the sea is that they have a very abusive relationship. The moon is all push and pull and the sea has no say in it. They can’t physically touch. They can’t embrace. And it’s being going on for billions of years.

Frankly, it needs to be stopped. It’s all one-sided and the poor sea is literally in a permanent state of turmoil. It’s not love, and it’s certainly not “sweet” love. Unless Hendrix was being ironic, of course.

(Featured image is from here, is unmodified, and used under this licence)

Ranking Physical Game Media (Part 4)

I love list.

It’s the final, massive, pointless list! The list I’ve been building up to! The list that will change your life (in no way whatsoever). Are you ready for The List? List. LIST. We all love lists.

See parts 1, 2 and 3 if you’ve not already.

The Complete List of Physical Game Media, Ranked from Worst to Best

Dead Tree
It’s rubbish and you have to type stuff.

Cassette Tape
Takes aaaaaaages and breaks too easily. Mmm, spooly.

5.25″ Floppy
Too floppy.

3″ Floppy
Too Amstrady.

3.5″ Floppy
Perfect for years. Not any more.

PSP UMD
Was never a good idea.

CDs (PS1, PC, MegaCD, etc.)
You spin me right round baby right round.

Dreamcast GD-ROM
Like a CD++.

DVDs (PC, PS2, Xbox, etc.)
They had films on them too.

Bluray (PS3/4, Xbone, etc.)
So much storage.

Wii U Game Discs
Hurry up and go touch it (but not the data bit just the edge).

N-Gage Cards
More how it went in than what it was.

Lynx Cards
Two basic shapes just confuse unnecessarily.

3DS Cards
Stupid Ear Cards.

Vita Cards
So wee! So uncommon! So long!

Master System Cards
Like credit cards with games on.

PC Engine/TurboGrafx HuCards
Like credit cards with bigger games on.

DS Cards
That rounded corner.

NES Cartridges
So much wasted space.

Supervision Cartridges
Too much exposure.

Gameking Cartridges
Such a rip-off.

Jaguar Cartridges
Stupid handles.

C64 Cartridges
Have C64 games on them (Ho ho! No actually they’re boring cartridges).

US SNES Cartridges
Rubbish compared to the PAL/JP ones

Master System Cartridges
Military style. Regimental and boxy.

Videopac Cartridges
Pleasingly chunky.

Game Gear Cartridges
Quite plain, quite dull.

game.com Cartridges
Wonderfully tiny, terribly made.

WonderSwan/WonderSwan Colour Cartridges
Awesome but tainted by exposed contacts.

32X Cartridges
Like Mega Drive ones but without the iconic style.

Super Famicom/PAL SNES Cartridges
Excellent, sleek and pleasantly curved.

Nintendo 64 Cartridges
Such heavy! Many RAMS.

Game Boy Advance Cartridges
Solid little things with a nice grip.

Neo Geo Pocket/Pocket Colour Cartridges
When it comes to funk, they are the chunky.

Atari 7800 Cartridges
Almost as good as, but not quite as good as…

Atari 2600 Cartridges
They had style, they had grace. Vogue.

Famicom Cartridges
Look at the colours, maaan. Like, COLOURS, maaaan.

Game Boy Colour Cartridges
Nice, but an outy-grip…

Game Boy Cartridges
Isn’t as iconic as an inny-grip.

Mega Drive Cartridges (Western)
The very definition of a Video Game Cartridge.

Mega Drive Cartridges (Japanese)
Only these look a little better.

And that’s it! The winner of Best Physical Game Media Ever, is the Japanese Mega Drive Cartridge. Phew!

Play Want Bin Expense: 2016-04-25

Can I get a Witness?

It’s been all about one game this week, more or less. Which one? Spoilers! (OK, not actually spoilers)

Play

The WitnessThe Witness (PS4)
I now see circles and lines in everything. Every grid in real life is now a The Witness puzzle. The game even refers to this phenomenon itself, mocking me. Stupid game. It’s a good job it makes me feel so damn clever otherwise I’d be a bit annoyed. What’s that? It took more than thirty hours to complete? Thirty hours doing the same grid based puzzles? AHAHAHAHAHA! I would neve–what do you mean I’ve spent ten times that on picross? Shut up.

Hyrule Warriors (Wii U)
Plugged away at some more missions on the Twilight Adventure Map. It’s still one of the best games ever, you know.

Is that it? Blimey.

Want

Firewatch/Lego Marvel Avengers/No Man’s Sky (all PS4). I think I may have mentioned them before. Also…

Star Fox Zero (Wii U) because the more I see of it, the more I like it.

Bin

Nothing game related apart from circles and grids and lines EVERYWHERE.

Expense

Nothing this week!

 

Things That Google Thinks Are Other Things

In the past, I’ve shown you some of the miscategorisation that Google’s software does with photos, detecting they’re cars and stuff when they’re not. It’s time for some more.

Ranking Physical Game Media (Part 3)

Cards on the table. And discs. And disks. And tapes.

Last time, I ranked all of the cartridge based media I could think of that I’d actually ever used. This post, I’ll be ranking other forms of media. How exciting and/or tedious!

Tape Based Media

Cassette Tape
Ah, that most remembered of all ZX81 tapes – Cassette Four.

This one is pretty easy. Of course, the actually loading scheme of tape based computers varied, with different collections of loading noises (some computers never actually let you hear this, others did), but the tapes were all normal cassettes. They melted, they stretched, and for some computers they needed tape alignment kits and head cleaners, but the cassettes were essentially the same.

There were other tape formats, like the Wafadrive and the Microdrive, and I even have a number of drives and tapes for the latter, but I’ve never played a game from one so they’re not being ranked.

Magnetic Disk Based Media

As mentioned before, there are three main types for this – 5.25″, 3.5″ and 3″ floppies. There’s also the Famicom Disk System disks, but I’ve never used those, and the N64DD similarly passed me by. Zip disks and Jazz disks and OnStream disks were never used for games.

Floppy Disk
When HD meant 1.44MB rather than 1080p.

Of the three I have used, the 3.5″ is by far the most common, and in it’s High Density variation has the largest storage capacity. The 3″ is much sturdier though, but only used in Amstrad devices like the Spectrum +3 and Amstrad PCW and CPC ranges. The 5.25″ disks were far too easy to accidentally pierce or fold in half as not only were the “platters” floppy (hence the name “floppy disk”), but the casing for them was too. Interestingly, the 3″ and the 5.25″ disks both had to be physically ejected and turned over (on most drives, anyway) to read the other side – the 3.5″ drives could generally read both sides of a 3.5″ without ejecting. Aside from the first, very old, single sided 3.5″ disks of course.

To rank from worst to best:

5.25″ Floppy is worst because it’s slowest, lowest capacity and easiest to break.

3″ Floppy because it’s relatively bomb-proof and feels more like a cartridge than a disk.

3.5″ Floppy because of storage, speed and ubiquity.

Card Based Media

Let’s see what I’ve managed to list for this category. Lynx (after a false categorisation as a cartridge, sorry), Master System, PC Engine/TurboGrafx, DS, 3DS, N-Gage and Vita. That it? That’s it. I hope. Again, from worst to best:

N-gage CardN-Gage Cards
Look, it’s basically just a standard MMC type card. You can drive a bus over them and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with them, but how you use them is why it’s the Worst Type Of Card Of All. In order to put the card in, you have to take the back off the phone (the N-Gage is a phone, in case you didn’t know), and remove the battery. Ridiculous. The updated N-Gage, the QD, fixes this issue but by then it was too late.

ngagemanual

Lynx CardLynx Cards
They look as though there’s no way they can actually contain any data (they’re reasonably thick for a card but appear to be made of nothing but plastic – the chip hides behind the label!), they seem rather big for what they are. About the size of a Game Gear cartridge but obviously much slimmer, they have a curious curve at the “pull” end. Except that some of them (California Games, for example) don’t, which disturbs me. These completely flat ones are just as nice, and the curve is replaced with some “grippy bumps”, but the two conflicting shapes knock this down the chart.

3DS Card3DS Cards
3DS cards are exactly the same as DS cards, but with an “ear” poking out of the top right which prevents them fitting in a DS’s card slot. This ear ruins the aesthetic and as a result, the 3DS cards lose out to the DS cards.

Vita Cards
Mainly because they only have Vita games on them, and the Vita has no games. Oh ho! Seriously though 1, they’re fine. I actually like their rounded tops and diminutive size.

Master System Cards
Cheaper to produce but with a lower capacity than Master System Cartridges, many early MS games came on these cards. Aside from the arrangement of pins, they’re virtually identical to (although obviously not compatible with) HuCards. HuCards just pip it, as they were better supported and higher capacity.

hucardPC Engine HuCards
Almost exactly the same dimensions as a credit card, and barely thicker (especially if you take the raised credit card numbers into account), HuCards must have been a wonder of miniaturisation at the time. Even now it seems there’s nowhere for the chip to exist on the card. A nice touch is how on the back there’s a space for you to write a name. Your name, presumably, as the name of the game is already on the label. A big advantage of these cards was that when portable PC Engines (like the LT and the similar-to-a-Game-Boy GT) came out, they could make use of the same cards. No so with the Game Gear, which was capable of running Master System games, but the Master System cartridges were huge. The western TurboGrafx was basically a PC Engine and also used almost identical HuCards – only the pins were wired up differently to effectively region lock the console.

DS Cards
Little square providers of joy. When they came out, they were one of the smallest forms of game media available, and contained an almost secret reference to the Game Boy by replicating the single rounded corner that the earlier Nintendo handheld had. Lovely.

Optical Disc Based Media

And this is the final category to rank (since Dead Tree is a format all by itself). To look at, most variants of this media form are the same to look at. The GameCube discs are smaller, and the UMDs for the PSP are in a caddy, but the rest are the same size, and virtually indistinguishable. PS1 discs have a bizarre black colour on the data side (apparently to prevent piracy – it didn’t work), Wii U discs have that glorious rounded edge, and different formats tended to have slightly different hues, presumably due to the dyes used to make up the material.

CD

In part one of this topic, I ranked them already, but didn’t include PSP and GameCube, which I’ll do now. Again, worst to best:

PSP UMD
Because it was stupid. A spinning disc on a handheld. Go home, Sony – you’re drunk.

CDs (PS1, PC, MegaCD, Neo Geo CD, etc.)
Relatively low capacity of around 700MB.

Dreamcast GD-ROM
Almost a CD, but with 1GB of data squeezed on.

DVDs (PC, PS2, Xbox, Xbox 360 etc.)
Like CDs, but with up to 9.4GB of data on a dual layer disc.

GameCube MiniDVDs
Lower capacity than DVDs (it’s just 1.8GB) but it has a faster read speed than them, and awwwwww! It’s soooo cute! Look at how ickle it is! Awwww! Much kawaii. (?????)

Bluray (PS3/4, Xbone, PCs)
Another evolution in the CD format. Up to 50GB of data.

Wii U Game Discs
Although unconfirmed, these are likely very similar to Bluray discs, albeit in a single 25GB layer form. However, the smooth rounded edges are so damn tactile it wins here.

And that’s it! Next time, the complete list!

Notes:

  1. Seriously, seriously though, it doesn’t. At least, not on card. Well, it does, but they’re hard to find, especially on the high street where the Vita has never had much of a presence. Almost my entire Vita library is digital – I only have two cards and play neither of them. One of them I’ve never even used.

Let’s Play! Spider-Man

Spins a web, any size, gets trod on, and then dies.

This post is going to be my last in the Dodgy C60 Series, at least for a while. I can’t remember any more of the games on the cassette, although I know there were several I’ve missed, so unless I manage to find the actual tape itself in the loft at some point, this is it!

Spider-Man was one of, if not the first text adventure I ever played. Unless you count the likes of Granny’s Garden (which I don’t) at least. As I was only about eight at the time, I was terrible at it mainly because I didn’t fully understand how to play. I could issue commands, which sometimes did things, but the syntax and logic of the game often stumped me.

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Once, I ended up finding Madame Web and she scared me so much I didn’t want to play it again for a long time. I also seemed to spend ages in limbo (which I didn’t understand the concept of at the time) utterly confused as to what I was supposed to do. These days, I thought I’d fair better having a better understanding of both the genre and the English language, but then I remembered it’s a Scott Adams adventure game and they’re pretty obtuse 1. Turns out I’m no better now than I was then, just for different reasons.

As Neil Buchanan likes to say, try it yourself!

Continue reading “Let’s Play! Spider-Man”

Notes:

  1. “Bite lip” at the start of his Hulk game is perhaps the worst thing ever to happen in the medium

The Butter Principle

“I theorized that these potential customers saw complexized rules in games as the main barrier to play”

Famous Crap Games Throughout History

In the early 1990s, with 16-bit games consoles firmly established as the dominant force in game entertainment, several companies hopped on board the money train with their supposedly better products, only to find said train derailed worse than Potters Bar. Atari released their fake 64-bit Jaguar, Samsung brought out the poorly named Samsung Hardware Interactive Technology Box, which used unusual architecture based around a 19-bit RISC CPU, and Trip Hawkins (grandfather of Justin and Dan Hawkins from UK rock band The Darkness) from Electronic Arts set up the 3DO Company to release their 32-bit monstrosity: the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer device.

Hawkins (grandfather of Justin and Dan Hawkins from UK rock band The Darkness) was looking for strong lineup of launch titles for his new console. Coming from EA, he convinced them to port some of their successful Megadrive and Super NES titles to the 3DO in enhanced form, adding more features, better graphics, and full motion video. These titles, and others from the likes of Capcom and Bullfrog were to be part of a three-pronged attack on 16-bit consoles:

  1. to deliver the same titles as competitors, but higher quality (e.g. Street Fighter II and FIFA Soccer)
  2. to deliver new titles that would not be possible on older hardware, using new 3D and FMV hardware (e.g. Twisted: The Game Show and Need For Speed)
  3. to deliver new titles that were possible on older hardware, but exclusive to the 3DO

One of those games developed in-house at 3DO was The Butter Principle. Hawkins (grandfather of Justin and Dan Hawkins from UK rock band The Darkness) was directly involved in its creation, even coding much of the game and drawing the toast graphics himself.

In his autobiography, “I Was The Most Important Man In Gaming”, Hawkins (grandfather of Justin and Dan Hawkins from UK rock band The Darkness) recounts how he came up with the idea:

“Long before we had ‘casual gamers’, I realized there was a completely untapped market of people who didn’t play video games. I theorized that these potential customers saw complexized rules in games as the main barrier to play, so sought to developize titles not unlike those single moms find so addictivizing on their mobile tablet phones today. One of my best ideas was a simple game where you had to predictivize which way up slices of digitalized buttered toast would land.”

This idea became The Butter Principle, and it was released alongside the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer at launch to dismal reviews. “It was ahead of its time, “ explains Hawkins (grandfather of Justin and Dan Hawkins from UK rock band The Darkness) “and the public weren’t yet ready. I don’t think reviewers understized it properly. It was never meant to be the next Sonic the Hedgehog or Madden NFL.”.

In reality, its failure was more down to the very nature of the real life Butter Principle. In the game, just as in real life, the toast would always land butter side down, making every single outcome exactly the same. That and the fact it cost $100.

“The failure of The Butter Principle at retail is the overriderzing reason why my 3DO did not perform as well, saleswize, as expected. Ultimately, I place the blame of my downfall entirely on Edge magazine, and their review of The Butter Principle. They awardized it just 4/10, and my career never recoverized. One day I will have my vengence.”.


This article was originally published as part of the CSSCGC 2015 celebrations.

(Featured image attributionBy Evan-Amos – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)