Replaying Nox, Again

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I have never bothered to create a top-ten list of my all-time favorite video games. Maybe I should since it seems the only way to get people to read your Web site is to organize everything into numbered lists. In any event, were I ever to compile such a list Nox would be somewhere in the top five for me.

After a recent upgrade to Windows 10 (excellent by the way), I was going through and making sure all my treasured old programs still worked. In the process I booted up my GOG.com version of Nox and noticed it had some issues. After much searching and fruitless forum posting I finally found a workaround. In case you are wondering, you need to install a game mod called “Nox SDL.” You can download the patch here. Once I got the game running, it wasn’t long before I was sucked back in to my fourth play through of the game.

This game is so great. I don’t know about you, but I immediately realized that when I could play with my character stripped down to his briefs:

Nox Underwear

Beating the game would be difficult, but you could play the entire game running around like a crazed streaker if you so chose.

The game was marketed as a role playing game in the style of Diablo but that’s not what it really is. Although there are a lot of standard RPG tropes’leveling up, collecting loot, upgrading spells and abilities’Nox has much more in common arcade-style top-down action games like Guantlet and Smash TV. The game play is fast, exciting and there isn’t much thinking and strategy. If it moves, kill it! As simple as this sounds it is sounds, the game is incredibly fun. There’s just enough exploration and level variety to keep you going. The story is paper thin but it’s filled with humor and the main villain Hecubah is terrifically voice acted.

I even bothered to record a bunch of game play footage to post on YouTube and make tons of money off of the idiot millennials who watch other people play video games:

See, what I mean? It’s just awesome! I really wish someone would take up the mantle and reboot Nox. A few modern games like Torchlight look like it but are still firmly RPG games with horrible inventory management and no twitch game play. Magicka comes close, but I felt the mechanics were too complicated and the game seemed overly concerned with co-op play. For now, the GOG.com version will suffice. As soon as I finished this playthrough as a conjurer I immediately felt the itch to start over again as a fighter or wizard.

Haunted House Text Adventure

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Back in the late 80s, I learned much about computer programming from this book: Write Your Own Adventure Programs For Your Microcomputer. This is the same book that I used as a guide when creating Malfunction for my Apple IIgs back in 1988.

The book takes you step-by-step through the process of creating a simple text adventure game using Applesoft Basic. The final product is an adventure called “Haunted House.” It’s about as crude and bare bones as a work of interactive fiction can be, but it does what it needs to: there are objects, rooms and key puzzles.

Well, in a recent flurry of Apple retro computing I got side tracked into porting this game into JavaScript. The result is here. Click the screenshot to launch the game in a new browser window (requires JavaScript, duh – View the actual page if you are viewing this in an RSS feed reader). It’s a fully working port of the original, with all its flaws and quirks. The only additions I made were to make the EXITS display more cleanly and added the verb “drop” to the vocabulary.

2010 Best of the Year

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Well it’s the first day of the New Year. This day means different things to different people. For my wife it means washing off the post-New-Year’s-Eve-bash Sharpie moustache that she woke up with this morning. For me it means it’s time to assess what I thought was the best of the media I consumed this past year.

Movies

Like last year, there really wasn’t anything that truly amazed me this year. My best rated films were Moon and The Maltese Falcon. I watched more T.V. than I have in recent years, so I suppose I could add LostV or The Walking Dead as honorable mentions.

Books

Towards the second half of the year I started reading a bit more than usual and found several books truly grabbed me in ways that no movie or show did this year. If I had to pick a favorite from this year it would be George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, especially if considered along side the three other books in the series that I also read and loved. At a near-tie for the number one spot is Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, which started my on my current fantasy lit kick. Finally, rounding out the top was Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem. Honorable mentions would go to Mistborn books 1 & 2Devil Born Without Horns and Racing the Beam.

Video Games

House of the Dead: Overkill Box Art

I played a ton of games this year. My highest rated game was House of the Dead: Overkill for the Wii. It was stupid, crude, violent and hilarious… loved it. My runners-up would be Mass Effect and Legend of Zelda: Twilight PrincessMass Effect further proves that the best science fiction is in video games these days, and Zelda is Zelda… ’nuff said. I am still mid-game in GTA IV and Metroid Prime Trilogy but I suspect those two titles would have made this year’s list too had I completed them in time. I also played a few casual games I liked such as Puzzle Quest and Plants vs. Zombies.

Steam just finished their massive annual game sale and I stocked up so there should be no shortage of gaming for me in the next year and beyond.

Get Lamp DVD

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Get Lamp Box

What you see pictured here is some of the DVD packaging for the independently produced documentary film about text adventure games, Get Lamp. In the digital age, packaging matters and the creators of Get Lamp went above and beyond in creating a DVD package that satisfies collectable object fetishists like myself. The inner gatefold sleeve is covered with a nostalgic fantasy illustration that looks like it came straight off of an Atari 2600 cartridge. The DVD also came with a fancy numbered and editioned coin (mine’s number 1540), which would seem kind of cheesy (alá the tin coin that came Ultima V) but is actually very well crafted and, dare-I-say cool. All this comes together in a well made cardboard DVD case that alone almost justifies the $40+ dollar price tag. Thankfully, the film is very good and, as one might expect, the discs contain the usual DVD extras, featurettes and bonus footage. As an added reward, you also get a nice selection of actual, playable games on the DVD -ROM partition of the disc. If you have any interest in text adventures, video games and computing history, you should check this out! More on the film itself later.

Video Games Are Derivative? No!! Okay, yes.

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Ya know, I love me them video games. I would go so far as to argue that video games are, well… can be, art. However, I have to admit that even the best video games are a bit lacking in the originality department. Take, for example, this screen shot from Yahoo showing three upcoming games:

Derivative Video Games

Stubble-faced muscle men abound in the video game world.

2009 Best of the Year

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It’s the end of another year and I think it would be a good time for me to recap my personal best of lists for 2009. In case you haven’t noticed, much of this site is devoted to keeping track of all the media I digest. I review and rate just about every moviegame or book I finish. I also keep track of the music I listen to, but I don’t really buy much music anymore, so that section doesn’t really give a good overview of the new music I have heard lately. So, anyhow, here it is. The Pages of Fun Best of 2009!

Best Book

  • Flying Colours by C. S. Forester – I’d ran out of Aubry/Maturin Napoleonic era novels so I guess Hornblower had to suffice for this year. This series has its highs and lows, and never quite matches O’Brian, but this book in particular was very good.
  • Honorable Mention: Twisty Little Passages – An Approach to Interactive Fiction by Nick Montfort – This one is probably a bit too nerdy for the average reader, but I really enjoyed this academic analysis of text adventures.

Best Movies

I guess it was a pretty lame film year for me. I have a pretty big back list of films yet-to-see, so hopefully 2010 will fare better.

Best Video Games

  • Braid was my highest ranked game this year.  A wonderfully inventive platform game.
  • I also have a couple of honorable mentions in this category as well: Fallout 3 and Mirror’s Edge were both incredible games.

All of these games were bought using Valve’s Steam download service, and all were very cheap! PC rules!

The Operative: No One Lives Forever

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This weekend I played through No One Lives Forever again to see if it still holds up. I have long considered this to be one of the best games I have ever played. The graphics haven’t aged very well—they are comparable to what you would see in a Nintendo DS game these days—however, the story, game play, music and humor all are as fresh today as they were back when the game was released, and, despite the their simplicity, the visuals still have their moments such as the Bond-style credit sequence complete with a dancing Cate Archer. Plus, I will never get tired of the incredibly catchy soundtrack music. I would love to see a NOLF 3 one of these days. I may even be up for buying one of those nerdy “who the hell buys these things” collectors’ editions.

“Dippy Golf” – Another Apple ][ Game I Wrote as a Kid

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After posting Malfunction, my text adventure game for the Apple ][, I have been spending a whole bunch of time tinkering with my old Apple ][ software creations. Another one of my better creations was a golf game that I titled, Dippy Golf. This game featured nine holes which were loaded in from external graphics files and, even more impressive, was the use of audio samples of my voice! The game worked but still felt somewhat unfinished, so I decided to complete the game and post it here on the Pages of Fun!

One of the first major additions that you will see is the snazzy splash page and loading message:

This was actually the last thing I added to the new version of the game, but I wanted to use my other upgraded piece of software, Lo-Paint 2. More about that later. The game takes several seconds to load the audio samples. Creating samples on the Apple ][ was incredibly difficult. I used a piece of software called The Voice by Muse. This application was developed in part  by Silas Warner, the creator of the Castle Wolfenstein series of games.

The process of getting audio into the computer required taping myself on a cassette recorder, than plugging the recorder into the never-really-used tape data jack on the back of the Apple ][. The sound quality is awful, but this was about the best you could do on an Apple ][. You should note, that this is a golf game, so one of the samples is a naughty word. I stole the idea from an early Mac golf game which my neighbor owned.

Anyhow, on to the introduction/instructions screen:

Dippy Golf Instructions

I love that old, uppercase Apple ][ font. One of my improvements here was to center the text on the page and use a nicer prompt for a key press. After this page you proceed to the first hole:

Dippy Golf Hole 1

As you can see, the graphics are in Apple 2 lo-res mode graphics. In this mode you are allowed 40×40 pixels, 16 colors and four lines of text. As crude as this image is, I believe it’s actually higher resolution than Atari 2600 golf.

The game mechanics are simple. You point in a direction then specify how hard you want to hit the ball. This was fine as a proof of concept, but didn’t provide much challenge once you memorized the best angles and swing percentages for each hole. The major 2009 update to game play was the addition of the random element of the wind. This makes the ball behavior somewhat unpredictable (like real golf for me) and can push the player into taking riskier shots in hopes of catching that breeze for a few extra pixels of distance. On some holes, like the one pictured next,  it really adds to the challenge.

Dippy Golf Hole 4

Without the wind, you could reliably hit to the micro-islands off the right of the screen.

All of these holes where drawn using an art tool which I programmed called Lo-Paint. In addition to my Dippy Golf updates, I also updated Lo-Paint and included it on the disk. This was a major upgrade to the tool so I consider this version 2 of the software. The interface has been completely revamped and now you can save and load lo-res images! Check out this screen shot of Lo-Paint 2 in action!

Lo-Paint 2

If you want to try out Lo-Paint 2 or Dippy Golf download the disk image which is attached to this post and open it up in AppleWin or your favorite Apple ][ emulator.

Dippy Golf Exit

DOSbox Gaming: King’s Quest I

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Recently I have discovered the joys of DOS emulation on my Windows XP machine. DOSbox is an open-source project which provide MS-DOS emulation that is tailored to gaming. There are builds for Win XP, Mac and Linux.

King's Quest I - Screenshot

The great thing about the emulator as opposed to just running MS-DOS on my old Win 98 box is that it can handle all the goofy memory configurations and set-up weirdness that I never quite understood when I used MS-DOS for real. It can’t really handle the more complicated Doom-era games, but those aren’t the games in which I am most interested.

I am currently reveling in Sierra 3-D adventure games like the King’s Quest series and Leisure Suit Larry. As a kid, these were the only PC games that could draw me away from our family’s Apple ][. The economy of pixel usage in the art and animation is truly brilliant and the game play still holds up pretty well. I just finished King’s Quest I this evening for the first time. I finished with 136 points of a total 158. Made in 1984, this was the first of the Sierra 3-D adventures. It doesn’t quite hold up to some of the later entries in the series in terms of story and puzzle complexity. Without warning, the game can also be rendered un-winnable if you eat/use certain items at the wrong time. This is a big adventure game no-no in my opinion. But aside from these gripes, it was still fun twenty years after its release.