Syberia on PC (8/10)

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I’ve been playing a lot of adventure games these days. In Syberia you play Kate Walker, a lawyer working for a high-powered corporate client who is looking to close the deal on the purchase of a Wonka-esque toy factory. As you journey farther in the story and get closer to your goal, the world becomes more and more fantastic. The graphics showing all this wonderous worlds and characters are certainly a step up from The Longest Journey. The pace may be slow, but I liked most of the puzzles. The voice acting is very good and I really enjoyed the story. The game ends a bit abruptly so be sure to have Syberia II installed and ready to go so you can continue on your quest.

Dream Zone on Apple IIgs (8/10)

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Dream Zone is a graphical adventure for the Apple IIgs that I was never able to complete when it was originally released in 1988. I managed to get about a quarter of the way through the game before I was stumped by one of the game’s unfair puzzles. Now, twenty years later and with a little help from the Internet, I have managed to beat the game. These pre-Craft of Adventure era games can be pretty brutal and a walk through will come in very handy. Now, this is about to get fairly spoiler-y so if you want give the game a try before I go on, you can play Dream Zone in your browser right now. It’s worth trying out.

As much as I love these text/graphic hybrid adventures, they all seem to suffer from the usual “guess the verb” problems. Dream Zone does a fairly good job of avoiding this most of the time with its click interface. But the click interface is deceptive because on at least three occasions you are required to come up with the specific actions yourself when a simple “use” action would have sufficed. The worst puzzle, and the one that stumped me back in ’88, is dispersing a crowd from in front of a bar. No game object works. No clickable action works. The solution is that you are supposed to say “free beer” to make the people scatter. How anyone was able to figure this out on their own is beyond me. The other horrible puzzle is one in which you are required to cuss in order to be sent to a room of punishment. Eventually you will find the room, but the solution to the puzzle requires you to visit the room twice (and again involves that pesky crowd outside the bar).

If you can manage to survive these cruel puzzles without throwing your monitor out the window, the rest of the game is rather enjoyable. The idea that this is all dream allows for some rather fun and creative moments like the giant bureaucracy staffed entirely by pigs. The art is cheesy and somewhat amateurish but it really fits the surreal theme of the game. The music is also wonky but appropriate. The whole production has a very homebrew quality to it and it’s obvious they are using off-the-shelf software like Paintworks Gold and The Music Studio to create their game assets. But’and this may just be nostolgia’I really liked this game and wish there were more 16-bit era graphic adventures like this. I mean, check out this insanity:

The Avengers (7/10)

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I stopped going out of my way to see these superhero films quite some time ago. As a result, I never saw Thor or Iron Man 2. I suspect this put me at an Avenegers disadvantage because to me the first 30 minutes or so of this movie sucked. It seems to be all just tying in threads from these other movies which I passed on. And once you start adding gods and space aliens you’ve lost me. I was hopeful that Joss Wheadon would add some stakes to the plot. Kill someone off early on so we know that you mean business like did in your TV shows. Instead we have lots of physics defying poser model animations, a ridiculous looking bad guy and lots of spinny CGI camera movements. Eventually, once all the boring set up is over things get a little more entertaining. The interactions between the characters are fun for a while and I appreciated Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark much more than I did in Iron Man as he played against his mostly dull co-stars. Seriously, Scarlett Johanson is a terrible actress. I think the only time her facial expression changed was when the wind was blowing against it on her alien motorcycle flying thing. Okay, this move was adequate, but please stop making more. Enough already.

The Evil Friendship by Vin Packer (8/10)

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I started reading this book without knowing anything about it. I had previously read and very much enjoyed Vin Packer’s The Twisted Ones which told the story of three disturbed youths and their descents into darkness. I suppose I expected much of the same here, only this time, judging from the cover photo, the “ones” were going to be twisted girls rather than boys. What I didn’t expect was that this is actually a fictionalized account of the same murder depicted in Peter Jackson’s excellent film, Heavenly Creatures. The book hits many of the same beats as the film but Packer packs in a less subtle take on the suspected lesbian relationship. This isn’t surprising since it turns out Vin Packer is the pen name of Marijane Meaker, who, according to Wikipedia, pioneered the genre of lesbian pulp fiction back in 1952.

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.


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One of the more popular pages on this site is my guide to coverting Apple ][gs disk images into real, working ][gs floppies. In order to ease this process and bring some life back to my old computer, this year I splurged and bought a CFFA3000 for my birthday.

CFFA3000 is an expansion card for the Apple 2 series of computers that allows you to use a standard USB flash stick or compact flash card as a storage media for all your Apple ][ disk images. Now you can take a standard Apple disk image, such as a .2MG, .DSK or .PO file, and save it to a USB stick. The USB stick can then be plugged into the CFFA3000, and, with a few settings tweaks, you can boot that disk image on your original Apple ][ hardware. Really cool!

CFFA3000 Installed

Installing the card is just a matter of opening the Apple ][, and inserting the card into an empty slot (I used slot 7). I hooked up a short USB extension cable to the card which allows me to swap out a USB stick without having to open up the computer case. The CFFA3000 even allows you to swap out the flash memory while the computer is up and running. I also have a compact flash card directly plugged in to the card. I have put a few essentials like system software and utilities on that card, but the set up program allows me to pull disk images from both the USB and compact flash at the same time.

CFFA screen

Disk images are mounted from a simple and intuitive menu system that is access via the IIgs control panel access screen. For the first time ever I have been able to run System 6 without having constantly to swap disks (I never owned a hard drive for my IIgs) and it only takes seconds to boot up. Booting system software from a floppy literally used to take minutes for me. 32MB disk images are easily created and can be use to then store all my documents like this kick ass Paintworks drawing I did of Adam Ant:

Adam Ant - Prince Charming - Paintworks Gold

The CFFA3000 is not only about IIgs software. It can also can be used to mount and run disk images of 5.25″ floppies. Now I can Lode Runner and Alpha Plot without worrying about the fragile disk media getting eaten alive by my ancient disk drives. This isn’t perfect. I have noticed that one of my favorite Apple games of all time, Beyond Castle Wolfenstein, does not work when running off of the card (same disk image runs fine from booted from a floppy in the real drive).

One additional benefit is that the CFFA3000 makes it dead simple to rip physical disks, 3.5″ or 5.25″, into disk images for use on a PC emulator or the CFFA itself. I’m still getting the hang of that process. It won’t work for copy protected disks.

So far my only problem with it is that there is a limit to the amount of images you can pack on the flash media. This is somewhere around 250 disk images. But all-in-all, this is a great product and an essential add-on if you want to get serious about turning that old Apple ][ back on.

The Gorgon (6/10)

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My Halloween movie this year was The Gorgon from the Icons of Horror: Hammer Films DVD. I think I am coming to the realization that Hammer horror films just don’t click with me the way Bava and the Italian horror films do. The Gorgon, like The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, is just lacking in tension or suspense. They save the monster until far too late in the story and rely too much on boring interpersonal relationships to drive the narrative. Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed watching the film and it has a handful of neat visual moments, but it just felt like overly-safe fluff. Even my nine-year-old daughter was unimpressed.