Robert Wm. Gomez's

Retrocomputing

A hodge podge of writings by me that warranted a little more gravitas than a blog post. These particular posts are all about old computers and technology like Apple ][ and Atari.

Crusader: No Remorse on MS-DOS (8/10)

Crusader Just Standing Around

In the 90s, I tried playing the demo of this game many times and could never really get into it. Crusader was one of the best looking PC games of its time and I really wanted to like it. But the controls. Oh my God, the controls. Eventually, this scheme would go on to be described as tank controls in other games like Resident Evil. Basically, you aim and move your character in relation to the direction their sprite is facing rather than the direction you want them to move on the screen. Crusader takes that counter-intuitive mechanic to a whole new level of complexity by adding jumping, diving and ducking to the mix.

There are some default mouse controls which almost work, but your character is stuck with gun drawn, shuffling around like a man with his pants around his ankles. I got about a third the way through the game doing that until just gave up and set the game aside for a while. Months later I returned and forced myself to learn the standard keyboard controls. These are still clunky, but with practice and a lot of help from the auto-aim feature the game becomes much more fast-paced and responsive. Even then, the mouse is still helpful when the occasional fast-spinning aiming is required. For the most part, it pays to just bite the bullet and learn the keyboard controls. Think of Crusader like Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing but with more explosions and incinerated humans.

Ultima VI: The False Prophet on MS-DOS (9/10)

Ultima 6 Chamber of Horrors

With the completion of VI, I'm getting close to having played all the games in the Ultima series. I own boxed copies of the Apple ][ versions of III–V, but when it came to VI, Origin switched to MS-DOS. In 1990 I was starting college, I didn't own a computer, let alone a PC, and, as the years passed, history became legend, legend became myth, and for two-and-a-half thousand years, the Ultima series passed out of all knowledge... or something like that.

In the late 90s I upgraded from an Apple IIgs to a Windows 95 PC and was reintroduced to the series via a soundcard bundled version of Ultima VIII: Pagan. That game was mediocre at best and it didn't finish it until years later—after I having played through a CD-ROM Classics version of Ultima VII. VII was a pain to get running on a Windows machine, but it was worth it. It truly is the precursor to modern, open-world RPGs like Skyrim in both its scope and richness of detail.

The False Prophet almost achieves the level of refinement that Ultima VII boasts. It's not quite there yet, retaining a bit of the Apple ][ era feel. Maybe that's why I think I liked this a bit more than VII. It doesn't try to hide the fact that it's a game. The interface takes up half the screen, there are a dozen or so unique commands (like a LucasArts point and click adventure), and there still are actual RPG elements like leveling-up and turn-based combat.

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary on MS-DOS (7/10)

Star Track Computer Game

I remember watching my housemate play this game quite a bit back when we were in college. I don't think he had the CD-ROM version—which included voice acting from the original cast. Luckily this GOG.com version has all the recorded elements (and none of the weird DOS set up problems). Yup, there's nothing like hearing an aged, breathy-voiced DeForest Kelley read mediocre video game dialogue!

Eye of the Beholder on MS-DOS (7/10)

Big ol' space squid gonna get you! Eye of the Beholder, Screenshot

Eye of the Beholder is a real-time RPG dungeon crawl that borrows heavily from the mechanics of Dungeon Master. It's a completely mouse-driven experience in which the objects in the environment can all be used, picked up or thrown with a click. Combat is also real-time and is generally just a mad scramble backwards as you click your various party members' weapon hands and hope for "good rolls".

While the fights are frantic and fun, the real meat of the game-play is exploration, mapping, and puzzle solving. I went through a dozen sheets of graph paper drawing out each floor knowing full-well I could just grab the maps from the Web (the GOG.com version even includes a complete hint book). As tedious as it might sound to modern gamers, the act of plotting out the layout is oddly satisfying. I wish it could be done in-game à la Etrian Odyssey, but, if it's any consolation, I now have 11 floors worth of half-erased, taped together graph paper maps that are suitable for framing. Perfect for any lair!

Apple ][ Graphic Adventure Part V

Now that my memory issues are seemingly under control, let's take a look at my modifications to the parser. Normally, in these types of graphical adventures the player enters two words in the form of VERB OBJECT. My interface limits the number of verb choices and allows the player to enter a verb with a single keystroke.

Apple ][ Graphic Adventure Part IV

Previously I discussed the overall structure of my soon-to-be hit adventure game. Well, last night was a milestone. I managed to write an Applesoft program so epic that it overwrote the high-resolution graphics page. Compared to other programs I have seen, mine isn't that huge. Around 250 lines isn't that huge, right? Transylvania clocks in at 464 lines.

Apple ][ Graphic Adventure Part III

The previous post in this series explained how to get Graphics Magician images to display from Applesoft. Now, I'd like to go over the structure of the program listed in Write your Own Adventure Programs. The bulk of the program listing consists of the game data including objects, room descriptions, verbs and state flags. Most of the remaining code is comprised of a series of conditions that check how the player's actions affect the objects in the game world.

Apple ][ Graphic Adventure Part I

Having recently played the Apple ][ game Transylvania and its sequel, I was inspired to mess with the art program which those games used. The Graphics Magician was a huge hit for Penguin Software, but I never actually had a chance to use it when we had an Apple ][. I just remember it being advertised in every computer magazine I had.

The Crimson Crown on Apple ][ (8/10)

A Fortress Looms across the Chasm

This sequel to the classic Apple ][ adventure game Transylvania has you returning to the same locations as the first game once again to fight the evil Vampire. The game is twice as big and is a bit more refined. I played the updated 1985 version of the game which runs on the Comprehend game engine which is probably the best implementation of a text/graphics hybrid adventure system. You can use a few prepositions and, in this game, you can command other characters to complete puzzles.