The Tale of Beta Lyrae by Paradise Programming

By Philip Price?  The same guy that did Alternate Reality?  It really is a small world…

I have one memory of this game as a kid.  I was playing it before school, and my mom was trying to get me to leave, and I was so flummoxed because I had just gotten this game and wanted to play it.  Where did I get it?  I’m thinking at some software store at the mall.  For some reason I was playing this downstairs… But I only remember my computer being upstairs, first in like a guest room kind of thing, then in my own room.

Let’s see, so I was playing this downstairs… We had a kitchen separated from a family room by some kind of wrought-iron rail.  The family room was sunken… Had a wood burning stove, maybe?  The kitchen had a big sliding glass door out to the backyard with a patio, and was fenced in, behind which were the houses of our neighbors. Ahh… I remember drawing up plans with my friend from the house on the right to build a tunnel from my yard to his, complete with electric wiring (for video games) and hidden entrances.  I was incredulous that we couldn’t get financial backing from my parents for that.

There was an island of non-grass landscaping in the middle of the yard, with a big stump that served as an occasional table upon which to brew sun-tea.  There was also somewhat of a forested section in the back-left of the yard in which I would play G.I. Joe’s sometimes.  The other side of the yard wrapped around the house and housed some wood pallets where we held piles of wood for the fireplace.

Well, the emulated gameplay on this is interesting.  It’s the first joystick-based game I have actually been able to play with the keyboard reasonably well.  It reminds me a lot of Cosmic Avenger, another game I used to play way back when.  I love the animation when you shoot some of these things like the antennae–they actually crumple to the ground.  Well done!  None of this, however, justifies the almost $30 price tag back then!


Game Two: Blue Max by Synapse Software

This is another one that I remember playing at M.B.’s house.  They had an Atari 800, which was slightly different than my Atari 130XE, and I believe they had the more-or-less standard Atari joysticks with the black plastic case with the single stick in the middle and the two orange fire buttons.

OK, I’m going out on a limb here and trying to remember some particular details…  I believe their upstairs was… Unfinished maybe?  With just studs uncovered by drywall… A maroon-ish couch… They had a dog named Schnapps.  The Atari was situated in front of a TV in front of a stool, I think.

I had a lot of fun here…  The dad was into things that my dad would never have been, and that got me some exposure to certain things that I otherwise wouldn’t have had.  War-gaming… Role playing games…  He was fairly into this stuff.  They had elaborate dioramas made out of Styrofoam, shellac, paint, etc. to look like landscapes upon which they had painted metal tanks and would measure out movements and firing.  I remember having some German Panzers…  Shermans… Anywho.

Playing Blue Max via emulator was incredibly disappointing.  That’s mostly because every time I hit a key, the plane crashes on the runway.  If I don’t hit a key, the plane crashes at the end of the runway.  I’m starting to think that I’m not going to have much luck with the joystick games.  At least unless I get a joystick, and I have no plans to do that.  I remember Blue Max playing much like Zaxxon, but in a less sci-fi setting.

For now, I’ll have to be content watching the demo that plays before you hit the start key.  Yeah… Pretty much like I remember it.

Goat Simulator App Mini-Review

So… Yeah.  I can’t believe I’m writing this, but Goat Simulator is actually kind of fun.  Here’s why–I think it taps into just a tiny bit of the magic of a text adventure.

No, there is no text in it. I know that.  But after exploring the little world and solving a few little puzzles, I could easily see this being an Infocom-lite game.  Here’s kind of what I mean.

> climb tower

You climb to the top of goat tower.  There is a door here.

> enter door

You enter the door and are transported to Goat Castle!

Goat Castle
You are in a dimly lit antechamber with a set of large, wooden double-doors leading north.  The doors are open.

> north

Goat Throne Room
You have entered the goat throne room!  The walls are lined with large, stained glass windows, and goats are lined up on either side of the royal walkway that terminates in a huge black throne made of skulls.

> sit on throne

You get the idea, right? Anyway, the game is on sale right now.  I wouldn’t buy it for full price, but if it’s not still on sale when you read this, you might think to put a price watch on it and nab it when it goes back down.

Whitefield Academy of Witchcraft IF Mini-Review

whitefieldOf the selection of  top 20 games currently available on Quest, Whitefield is by far the best.  If I’m somewhat on the fence as to whether Quest can be taken as a serious IF programming environment, Whitefield is probably what brings me down on the side that “yes, it is–with maybe some qualifications.”

The game is not quite Infocom-quality, but certainly evokes an Infocom-ish milieu and is definitely up to the standard of some of the best amateur IF, at least as far as the puzzles and technical side.  The artwork is very well-done and symmetrically scattered throughout the narrative.  I noticed a few glitches, such as rereading books generated an error message, and I’d have implemented some additional “aliases” for some objects, such as “berries” for “blackberries”, but on the whole, very good. One other complaint was a “guess the verb” situation with a textbook (spoiler alert!):

> get textbook
You chase the wild textbook around the terrarium, but it evades your hands easily.

> x hopper
A plastic hopper. You can use it to feed creatures in the terrarium.
> feed textbook
I don’t understand your command.
> x bookmarks
These gilded bookmarks are just perfect for putting inside a good book.
> put bookmarks in hopper

> put bookmark in textbook
You can’t do that.

> put bookmark in hopper
> x hopper
A plastic hopper. You can use it to feed creatures in the terrarium.
> push hopper
You can’t push it.
> open it
You can’t open it.
> x hopper
A plastic hopper. You can use it to feed creatures in the terrarium.
> feed bookmarks to textbook
I don’t understand your command.
> give bookmarks to textbook
You slide the bookmarks into the hopper. The textbook sits up straight, sniffing the air, and approaches the food curiously. It takes the bundle, plops down, and begins munching on them. It looks calm and happy.

Oh, right, the “hopper” was just scenery, and only the verb “give” works here.  Maybe this is just a limitation of Quest?  Anyhow, on the whole, I was pleasantly surprised by this game, and after finding a disheartening amount of “misses” over “hits” from the available Quest games, it has convinced me that there are a few IF diamonds worth searching for in its massive catalog of games.

Some Thoughts on Quest

* Very impressed with power after glancing over toolset and creating a very simple experimental game.
* Huge user community. Not sure how that went unnoticed!
* Of the “Top 20” at the time that I went through it, most of the games really lacked polish.
* I *LOVE* that a game can be complete defined in an XML file.
* User Interface Issues:
* No way to post reviews directly from software (and would like to be able to rate without posting a review).
* No way to search for a game
* No way to get back to the main info screen from the local list of recently opened files.

* Concl: Opening Quest is kind of magical. On one hand, you’re immediately presented with tons of new content to engage with, starting with the top 20 overall stories and a way to view the contents of a number of different genres. On the other, the “Create” tab is a blank canvas upon which it feels like you have the power to create any type of interactive fiction that may pop into your head.

Atari BASIC, My First Programming Experience

drawingAs I try to mine the depths of my mind, I can recall many early experiences with programming.  Borrowing the 3.5″ floppies for a C compiler from school…  Writing “DoubleComm”, a small C application that married the input/output from two modems for a simultaneous “browsing” experience with your friends…  My first HTML…  But those are from later.

Atari BASIC was my first programming language.  Of course I probably typed in the standard 10 PRINT “HELLO” / 20 GOTO 10 / RUN and other random snippets on my own.  Those would have been the absolute first programs–my very beginnings as a software developer. But my best programs were copied directly out of books.

Memories of three main books from my Atari days stand out here. One was just the Atari BASIC manual (I think).  It was spiral bound with a plastic binding that sometimes let the pages slip out of it.  I think it had some program in it the played music, or showed a bird flying, or something like that.  The next book definitely calls for a more in-depth blog post than just this off-hand mention, but they were adventure books that had you type in a BASIC program that did something that went along with the story.

BASIC Computer GamesThe one I want to focus on here was probably my first programming book.  Filled with goofy illustrations and lines and lines of BASIC program code, I have a feeling I spent a lot of time with this.  I think I can almost remember being driven home from the bookstore in the mall, book on my lap.  Probably Waldenbooks at Alderwood Mall.  Thumbing through the pages… Trying to decide which program to invest all of that typing time into first (could I touch-type at that age?  I really doubt it).

Some of these programs I definitely remember inputting.  Hamurabi, for instance, I know I did.  Probably Blackjack (much to the chagrin of my then church if they had known).  I’m almost sure that I probably did the Star Trek one, and was almost certainly incredibly frustrated with typos and all of the almost unreadable gibberish of that lengthy program code.

The kids of today will never know the joys of typing in a BASIC computer program from a book like this.  The feeling of accomplishment at finishing the last line and typing RUN.  I probably never will, either.  I tried to type one of these small programs in to an emulator emulating an Atari 130XE in BASIC and couldn’t even do the first line without getting an error message.  Maybe I’ll try again later…

Mini-Review Parasite (Parasitology, #1) by Mira Grant

Mini-Review of Parasite: (2/5 stars)

This came very close a couple of times to ending up on my “unfinished” shelf. It was an interesting idea, and I think that if it had been executed a little differently, I could have rated it much higher. One aspect of the book was the slow descent into zombie apocalypse that I would have thought of as being very well thought out if the book hadn’t emphasized the over-dramatized relational aspect of the characters so much. It was sort of like General Hospital meets Walking Dead, and the book itself wasn’t sure which one it should follow more.

Another thing I couldn’t get past was that it kept feeling like a young-adult novel until I would hit those sporadic spots throughout where it was decidedly not like a young-adult novel. I think it would have done much better as a straight-up zombie apocalypse. I did appreciate the somewhat predictable twist ending, however, and so was glad that I stuck through it.

Goodreads | Parasite (Parasitology, #1) by Mira Grant — Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists.