A hodgepodge of posts that are all about old computers and technology like Apple ][ and Atari and vintage gaming platforms.

My Apple ][ Masterpiece, “Malfunction”

Posted on

(Okay, Masterpiece should probably be in quotes too!) I have been on a bit of a retro computing kick this evening. I have been playing around with AppleWin, which is the best Apple ][ emulator for Windows that I know of. I played a little bit of the original Castle Wolfenstein and then decided to fire up my trusty Apple ][gs and port some of my old Applesoft programs to PC.

The process of transforming a 5.25″ floppy to a disk image is somewhat complicated, but not too bad if you have the right tools. First, I turned on my ][gs and booted the System 6 disk. I then ran the awesome program Asimov (by Ninjaforce) which can create and “burn” Apple ][ disk images. I was able to save six 5.25″ disk images onto a single 3.5″ ProDos floppy. The next step is taking this 3.5″ floppy down to my System 9 Mac which I keep stowed away in my basement. The old Mac system could read ProDos disks so I am able to pull the files off the floppy and then save them to a PC formatted 3.5″ floppy (or send them over a network, but I am not connected in my basement). I have a USB floppy drive on my PC specifically for this purpose. Once the disk images are on my PC’s hard drive (with a .dsk extension) I can boot them in AppleWin.

Write Your Own Adventure Programs For Your Microcomputer

I spent a few hours running my old programs. Most of them are pretty stupid, but I can’t believe I wrote them as a 10 or 11 year-old. I will post some screenshots in the near future. However, sometime in my sophomore or junior year of high school I took the time to create a full text adventure called, “Malfunction.” My code was based on the code in the book Write Your Own Adventure Programs For Your Microcomputer by Usborne Computer Books. The book guided you through the creation of a haunted house game. I was taken step-by-step through the process of game design–from creating maps and puzzles to programming a text parser. This was a great book, and I’d love to see an updated, perhaps Flash actionscript oriented, version.

Now, more than 20 years later, I have decided to publish my game!

In order to play the game you will need to install an Apple 2 emulator. For windows, I use AppleWin. It’s really simple and runs near-perfectly. As for other platforms like Mac, I’m not-so-sure. Look to Google for your answers.

The game is mediocre at best, but I am pretty proud of it. I learned a ton about programming when I created this. I hope you enjoy it. Please feel free to leave me some comments about what you think.

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards on MS-DOS (10/10)

Posted on

Leisure Suit Larry is one of my favorite adventure games of all time. Certainly the best of the Sierra 3-D games in my opinion. It may not the most challenging game or have the deepest storyline, but what it lacks in depth, it makes up for in humor. Leisure Suit Larry is essentially an 80s PG-13 sex comedy in pixelated form.

The graphics, crude as they may be, are completely appropriate for the mood of the game. By keeping the imagery minimal, Larry’s dirtiness attains a level of cuteness that never comes across as anything but good-natured fun. My favorite moment is the disco dance scene which borrows heavily from the movie, Airplane!

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards Disco

This is one of the few Sierra games that I actually completed as a youngster, back before the days of the Internet. When I inevitably got stuck, I needed to use a hint book. I remember the hint book also included the setup to the dirty jokes’ punchlines that the barfly at Lefty’s keeps muttering (always followed by a “Har, har, har…”). Now that I do have access to walkthroughs and such, I may try to tackle the sequels. I got about halfway through Larry 2 before giving up.

Oh, and one last thing. The Lesuire Suit Larry theme song’what a great, catchy tune. You’ll be whistling it for days. I believe it was written by Al Lowe himself. I was very disappointed when, as a teenager, I saw Al Lowe on Name That Tune and there was no mention of his dirty-old-man video game designer career, just his musical background. Yawza, yawza, indeed.

A Homebrew Atari 2600 Cartridge Design

Posted on
Elevators Amiss Maid

Recently, I took the time to enter an art contest. It was sponsored by—a Web site devoted to the the preservation of the Atari 2600 and other ancient Atari computers and consoles. They also are one of the few places that sell new(!) games for the Atari 2600.

It was one of these new, so-called homebrew games that was the object of the contest. The game is called Elevators Amiss and it involves running a tiny pixelized chambermaid up the floors of a hotel, trying to avoid the elevators that move up and down across your path. Think of it as a less complicated version of Frogger. The winner of the contest was to receive a copy of the game and a credit from the AtariAge store. That was enough to get me to give it a go (I’ve been eying the Joystick to USB converter for awhile now).

My approach to the design was to create an image that was dynamic and made you think you were buying a 3-D video action extravaganza… pretty much like every Atari game box tricked me into thinking when I was a kid. Looking back on past winners, I noticed that there were many entries that used some of the same design and layout of the classic games that Atari put out in the early eighties. In my opinion, such designs go against the spirit of homebrew Atari games. These games are not really about nostalgia, they more are about taking a near-dead platform and breathing new life into the system.

The hardest part about illustrating this game it that the theme of killer elevators doesn’t work well outside of the constraints of the 2-D pixelated screen. My idea was to have the elevators flying through the walls and ceilings, completely dislodged from their elevator shafts smashing everything in their paths. In the image, the chambermaid is sprinting down the hall, just avoiding a crashing elevator car. Originally, I was going to give her a rainbow colored tracing of her movements trailing behind her (ala the Keystone Kapers box) but I liked my elevator painting too much to cover it up with action lines. Anyhow, here’s the final product for your viewing pleasure.

Unfortunately, I did not win the contest. The winner was Nathan Strumm #1. It was one of the better ideas, but to me it doesn’t capture the essence of the actual game play. My personal favorite was Patricio Cuello #1—simple idea, well executed with lots of colors. It seemed very appropriate to me. Check out the contest page to see all the entries.

Ultima 7: The Back Gate & Serpent Isle on MS-DOS (8/10)

Posted on

Considered by many to be the best games of the Ultima series, Ultima 7 is one of the most detailed and time-consuming RPGs I have ever attempted to tackle. You can pick up and interact with just about every object in the game and there are tons of dialog trees to navigate through. The story is intriguing and branches all over the place, with some of the main plot lines spanning both games. My biggest complaints with the game is the awful MIDI based sound effects, major Windows compatibility issues, and the fighting system lacks any strategy. The game makes up for these flaws in its depth. The game is less about building a character as it is about unraveling the mystery of a strange religion known as the Fellowship.

King’s Quest III – To Heir is Human on MS-DOS (8/10)

Posted on

Onward on my journey through the King’s Quest saga I go. Part III was the first in the series to really try to present a narrative. There are many more non-player characters to contend with, most notably Manannan the wizard, who has enslaved you to a life of household chores. These characters don’t just run on to the screen and steal your possessions (although there still is that in this game). There’s a genuine attempt to give them personality.

With all the new found attention to story telling, the designers seemed to not be paying much attention to game play. There are stretches of the game where you have to wait forever for a timed trigger event to occur. In the meantime you are stuck doing virtual dusting for fifteen minutes. Very boring.

Also, like most of these Sierra 3-D adventures, this game is really cruel when it comes to killing you off without a hint of advanced warning. These frustrating game play elements had me seeking out hints very early in the game. I found a website that was invaluable in getting me through the game. Universal Hint System guides you very gently through a invisiclues style hint system that does its best to avoid revealing to many spoilers.

Oh, and one more thing. The game requires you to have the manual to get anything important done. There is a section of the game when your mixing recipes for spells, following the manual, and, if you have one small typo during the tedious, drawn-out process, you die. As some consolation, they do take the time to show you a goofy animation of the spells going horribly wrong.

This was the last of the classic, mouse-free King’s Quest games. I think I am going to take a break from the series before attempting to tackle King’s Quest IV (which I got 75% through on my Apple ][gs back in the day).

King’s Quest II – Romancing the Throne on MS-DOS (7/10)

Posted on

I’m continuing to play the King’s Quest games in DosBox these days. Tonight I just completed King’s Quest II: Romancing the Throne with 175 points out of 185.

To me, the art of these games is, in many ways, vastly more impressive than your modern 3D modeled game. The fact that every pixel on the screen was hand drawn and not rendered with some world generating algorithm just astounds me. Furthermore, even more so than King’s Quest I, the artists get tons of animation mileage out of so few pixels. They are not going for realism, rather they were trying to communicate a narrative, ideas and emotions. Yeah, that’s right. Video game romanticism.

In these first two installments, storytelling hasn’t been as much of the focus. They seem to be more geared towards exploration and object hunting. Although I had to look for hints twice (one of those times I had the right idea, I just forgot to re trigger an event during my many restores and saves), the adventuring is not so much about complex puzzle solving. That’s not such a bad thing since these days I don’t have the time to scratch my head for hours (I couldn’t get more than 2 or 3 rooms into Graham Nelson’s Curses, although in theory I liked that game). Perhaps as I play through these games I will get better at thinking through puzzles and then I can go back and attempt to take on an Infocom classic.

King’s Quest on MS-DOS (7/10)

Posted on

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.