Dec. 14th, 2016 02:58 am
davidn: (rant)

A post inspired by this, where I ended up writing rather a lot.

I used to play Bamboozle all the time before school (though I only ever really had a hope at the Saturday editions which were aimed at children of about ten)... it was interesting how it was set up, and so archaic now! I’m going to seriously go on about this, so get ready.

This is based on just my experience with it, but as far as I could tell, Teletext worked by broadcasting pages of text over the airwaves in sequence in blocks of one hundred, then looping back to the start. So at any time, the 1XX range of pages would be beaming into your aerial in the sequence 100, 101, 102... 198, 199, 100, 101 (and the same for 2XX, 3XX, etc).

This meant that when you requested a page (in this picture, number 390, but I can’t remember Bamboozle ever being at that page) a separate number display would come up showing which page was being broadcast at the time, and you had to wait for it to roll around to the one you wanted so it could ‘catch and display it. If you were lucky you’d catch it at the right time, but if you requested 390 and the TV was currently receiving 392, you’d have to wait until it came all the way around again... I think the whole cycle never took more than about 30 seconds but when you’re browsing around, that multiplies up quickly.

And those coloured buttons were used as “shortcuts” between pages! On each page, the coloured buttons would be wired to relevant other pages, and a bit of text would be displayed in each colour at the bottom of the screen describing where the four colours went - on the BBC News front page which let’s say was at 110, red might be wired to politics on page 112, yellow for sports on 113, blue for a delightful BBC Micro-rendered weather map on 116, and so on.

Bamboozle was a quiz game, and on each page, a question was asked with four possible answers presented in the four different colours. The link text at the bottom of the page just said “Answer” or something generic for each one - but underneath, three of those buttons led to a page telling you you gave the wrong answer, and one of them led to the next question. Once you’d played a few times, you got used to what the wrong and right page numbers were, and if you saw the page number in the “requested page” slot before the broadcast cycled around to displaying it, you could change your choice and find the right answer without it noticing. Eventually, the last question’s correct answer would direct you to the winning page.

But if each page had a number, you could just type in the winning page and get right to the end, couldn’t you? Well... no, and this was another quirk of the system - all the pages of the quiz were stored in slots with “numbers” like 12A, 12B, 12C that you couldn’t enter directly (you only had your remote control numbers to work with). I think the extra slots were A-F, implying that the whole Teletext system actually used hexadecimal numbering but that all pages were usually assigned slots that looked decimal for human use? Or maybe it was just a coincidence that there were six extra slots - I don’t know.

You could cheat a little, though - during normal operations, the Up and Down buttons raised and lowered your requested page number by 1. I’m not sure if this was universal to all televisions, but on the one in my family’s living room, you could also walk back through the hidden lettered pages by hitting the Down button - 12C, 12B, 12A... and if you went below that it would revert to 129, therefore linking you away from the quiz. The reverse wasn’t true - if you hit Up on 12C you’d be put straight to 130, so you couldn’t skip forward. This was useful, though, because the questions were arranged in blocks of 4 with “wrong answer” pages with the highest slot at the end of the block:

12A = Question 1
12B = Question 2
12C = Question 3
12D = Question 4
12E = Wrong answer for questions 1-4
12F = Question 5
13A = Question 6
13B = Question 7
13C = Question 8
13D = Wrong answer for questions 5-8
13E = Question 9
13F = Question 10

(The ‘wrong answer’ pages always linked you back to the start of their block and made you tediously pick through questions you’d already answered again - otherwise they would have to have had a unique wrong answer page for each question). So with a layout like this, it was possible to answer any question from 1-4 wrongly, press Down when on or requesting the 12E wrong answer page, and skip straight to question 4 - however, it wasn’t possible to skip upwards.


Nov. 15th, 2016 11:33 pm
davidn: (rabbit)
I'm 32 now - it felt like a bit of a non-event after the last week. I got a card from my wife's family that started "It's been an incredible year..." which led me to wonder whether they'd been living through the same year I had. The earliest shock I remember in 2016 was Alan Rickman's death and before I could even get close to grasping that there would be no more films with him as the British villain in them, tons of other people died and Britain and America started themselves on the path to collapse.

But some good things did happen this year, and I want to remember those.

[ profile] kjorteo and I finished The Poison Skies - it's the first album I've ever fully recorded and physically released, an incredible milestone. We can now both say that we have music on iTunes, an entry on Metal Archives... and that we were picked up by someone who does reviews of independent metal for an Australian magazine who thought it was all right. It had been in progress for such a long time and was interrupted by other things multiple times, but I'm so proud of both our efforts.

I put on a show at Furpocalypse with a month's time to cobble it together - it was obviously "Would I Lie To You" under a different name, but organizing six people into a panel game and have it actually work was a wonderful feeling. I had no experience promoting anything like this, was just relying on luck and the crowd-drawing power of some of my panellists, and I was amazed at the turnout, with people queueing out the door to get in and a panel room filled. The reaction was amazing and now Anthro New England are very excited for Furry Little Liars to be put on there as well.

Whitney got pregnant, after a long time trying, and we're going to have our beautiful mutant mouse-rabbit very soon - just over a month to go. I went through a lot of time thinking I wasn't ready, but now it somehow feels... right, to move on to the next stage of life. I hope for our child to be one small addition to the number of decent people in the world.

And as a result, we moved into a new house, out of the tyranny of the condo association! We have so much space now it's incredible, and we've been putting the freedom to good use, converting a dingy room in the basement and a weird room on the top floor into my space and a space for our new arrival. I could have asked for it to have been in a better country, but... we have a haven.

And the team I manage at work brought out a cheesecake to celebrate my birthday yesterday! That helped me a lot, to remember that no matter what awfulness is happening in the world, I'm among good people.
davidn: (rabbit)
After a month-long ordeal, we've finished the nursery in our house and it's ready for the baby to move in!

One of the strange things about this house when we moved into it was that it had a third bedroom on the upper floor that wasn't shown in any of the photos that the estate agent provided. And when we looked at it, it was easy to see why - the room was entirely clad in wood and had two beds built into the floor, taking away all the space and making it look not so much a friendly bedroom as a room that a mortician might use to prepare bodies. But it had potential, and so with no experience in redecorating, we set about transforming it.

This was what the room looked like at the start, with some tape around the ceiling and windows in anticipation of the painting that was to come. Some of these photos might accidentally give the impression that the wood had charm to it, but in reality it just made the room perpetually dreary. But that wasn't the worst problem with it...

With the help of my father- and brother-in-law, we demolished the fixed box-bed-slabs and threw their bits in the back garden. You wouldn't believe just how much wood there was in these things - far more than you would think necessary to support someone's weight, and we've still to arrange taking it away or cutting it up to use as firewood. That was the first struggle, and it revealed another difficulty - whoever had installed these had removed entire sections of the wall and floor to accommodate them. They're not even just taken off cleanly - they've been sawn through, exposing the bare floor and insulation behind them. I can't imagine how the person responsible never thought, during the lengthy procedure of putting these in, that it would be easier to just buy a couple of beds.

At the end of the first day of their visit, after a trip to Home Depot that lasted several hours and a lot of work on top of that, we got to here - drywall has been mounted on the giant gaps left by the beds and it's been spackled in. My father-in-law also bought a load of tools to assist with the suddenly-elongated job of redecorating the room, and said to consider them a birthday present!

The process of filling in the gaps in the floor was a much more tedious slog, cutting planks of flooring to fit, nailing them down and progressing slowly row by row. It took all day, but the end results were two filled-in floor sections and this apocalyptic mess.

After clearing that up, it was finally time to prepare the room for painting - a couple of days later than we had thought, and with the family back in California by now, we were on our own without extra help for this. I taped off the borders and put down a plastic sheet to cover the newly patched floor, but didn't realize that the air vent on the ground in the corner would cause it to inflate like a bouncy castle.

After cutting a hole for the vent to breathe and spending a day rolling primer on to the walls, I was successful in making the room look significantly worse. It looks patchy and awful but all it needs to do is get paint to stick to it - and if you try to ignore how shabby it looks, ou can already see that the room looks a lot brighter as a result.

This is more like it! It took three coats of the yellow paint and a large effort from both of us to get it to be really convincing, but the room was beginning to come together now.

With the painting over, we could take up the plastic at last, and installed some new lights to replace the weird boat-wheel themed ones that used to be in the room. (Yes, only one works. I'm still looking into that.) Whitney had the idea of putting some fabric on to the lower wall to act as a skirting-board - I don't know where that came from, but the result looks great and provides a softer surface for a toddler's head to crash into. She put together the pieces and we tacked them up with a staple-gun.

Then it was my turn again, adding a painted wooden trim around the top of the fabric. With a length of general-purpose rail from Home Depot and the tools left with me by the floor-cutting stage, I was able to feel my way into fashioning some pretty convincing ninety-degree joins.

With that task finished, the scraps from it cleared up and a rug-pad put down, the room was finally ready to receive its furniture...

...which arrived today! This is a collection of new furniture, things that Whitney's family handed down to us and some great finds from people in the surrounding area who were trying to get rid of their old stuff. It's beginning to feel very real now - this room will be occupied in something like seven weeks' time!
davidn: (prince)

Team Hatoful finished our playthrough of Undertale (quite some time ago, actually - it just took me this long to finally edit together the final part) and it's now up as a playlist on Youtube. At 45 videos totalling fifteen and a half hours of the game, it's our longest playthrough ever (narrowly beating Holidaystar which was about 15h 10min but did it across 48 videos).

Thanks, Toby Fox, for your characters and amazing world!
davidn: (skull)
I had two dreams last night and they were both very stressful! I'm hoping that after a week with little sleep, it was just all the tension dissipating out of my system at once.

The first was about being at a hotel at a convention, except Whitney and her parents were there as well and I had to divide my time between the two groups. I kept losing where my room was - after going out of the main hotel part and into the convention centre rooms, I came back and I could never find where I was going among the identical corridors, as if the rooms were shifting around every time I left. Eventually I would find the reception desk and they would point me back in the right direction, but I kept forgetting things and having to go back... I was meant to deliver an album to someone in the Pictionary room and make it back in time for dinner at 7 with the family, but I think I ended up on a mountainside somewhere and then everything turned into Final Fantasy 6 after the end of the world and I don't even know any more.

The second - which might have led in from the first due to finding this in the game room or something - was a game that was something to do with Sonic and Zero Escape together, if you can believe it. In the context of the dream, this was the infamous ending puzzle to Sonic 06, even though nothing like this (or anything competently programmed at all) exists in the real game. After rushing through a space station with a countdown going, the last task was to decipher and input something called the Struggle Combo to prevent the space station exploding. The clue for it was this massive ring of symbols and colours that went through all the machinery in a big circular control room, and you could slide it around like a big horizontal wheel. Depending on the mode you had the game in, it had squares of colour that corresponded to the buttons on the Xbox controller, symbols that were meant to resemble the button letters but really didn't at all, and other things that I never worked out. After failing and restarting, you were given a time of five minutes to fly down from the vent you entered from and go back to the control room to start the process again.

The Struggle Combo was randomly generated for each player, and so there wasn't a solution available online, but people had written massive FAQs dedicated to how to work it out, including the types of symbols that could appear and how they related to each other. I never even came close.


Sep. 4th, 2016 08:30 am
davidn: (rabbit)
We're in Bermuda! We're spending a week here as our last holiday as a couple before the baby arrives, and it's something that we don't do for ourselves nearly often enough.

The environment is like a hybrid between Britain and America after a severe global shift in weather - our taxi in from the airport took us the length of the entire country (about 15 miles) through what in America would be a tiny back road but in Scotland would be one of the main arteries. Everything happens much more slowly here - the drivers let each other out of side roads aggressively and hoot at each other if they don't accept their generosity in time. Our taxi driver tutted about crazy speeding moped riders when one passed us at about 25mph.

The "hotel" is really a group of little semi-detached houses, and they're all violently pink - I've grown very thankful for my colourblindness sunglasses because I can see them so vibrantly with them on, but when I take them off everything just looks beige. It's incredible how much they make a difference. And the weather is humid and frankly uncomfortable even as I'm writing this at 9:30 in the morning, but our suite has an absolutely massive air conditioning unit on the ceiling that keeps us alive.
davidn: (savior)
I keep on saying that I'm going to keep this thing updated again and then usually instantly forget - but there's still no better place for a long-lasting archive. Therefore, I really should announce that The Poison Skies is finished and released after so long in production!

It's a 20-track album based on [ profile] kjorteo's novel The Afflicted - it's the first album I've produced with vocals and digital instruments instead of through Modplug Tracker, and it features songs written variously by both of us. You can listen for free on Bandcamp or download a digital version - for the first time, physical copies are also available, and I'm immensely pleased with them.


Jun. 13th, 2016 08:56 am
davidn: (rabbit)
I have a huge announcement today - but it's not the one I've been building up to over the last few weeks...

My wife Whitney is pregnant for the first time! Yes, soon we're expecting a little mutant mouse-rabbit of our own :) Our due date - seriously - is Christmas Day, condemning this child to a lifetime of rubbish combined Christmas-and-birthday gifts.

It still feels new to me every time I think about it, and I have no idea how things are going to be after December... but maybe I'll manage to mess this child up a little less than my parents did with me.

Jun. 9th, 2016 11:02 pm
davidn: (rabbit) release party with [ profile] ravenworks! This is a game for the Altspace VR environment that's like DDR for your head, nodding along to songs. Despite having no VR gear it was amazing to watch as explorers in this virtual world entered the room and wandered around chatting while people took turns playing this big virtual head-DDR machine and enjoyed the music. Some of it was mine! And based on [ profile] kjorteo's story!)

I happened to be in the middle of it when the creator himself (right, barber pole) came in to show Mr. JoeJoe (left, ethereal motorcyclist) around the room, and then it apparently got mentioned in an Altspace VR talk of some kind and people kept flooding in...

Seeing this appreciation for a game first-hand in such a physical way is something I've never experienced before... it felt like looking at a popular booth at an independent game festival which had brought along a huge complicated rig, except the "hardware" is entirely in software. I think hopping into here briefly has seriously boosted my appreciation of the possibilities of VR.
davidn: (rant)
I just remembered about something very weird that happened to me a long time ago. When I first came to live in America in 2006, I had two suitcases of possessions, and a desktop computer was not among them - my personal computer was an increasingly eccentric bulky laptop that was built in 1998. After moving into our flat and ordering furniture, household things and computer parts, I chose to spend the time with my limited computer power writing a ZZT game. This became Castle of ZZT, and with the time I was forced to spend on it combined with the way that I actually drew a plan out before starting, it was by far my best effort in this department (though this might not be saying much).

The weird part was after I submitted it to Z2, the premier site for both ZZT and impenetrable lunacy at the time. Games went into an approval queue that was publically visible before being added to the site, to make sure they weren't spam, and I checked to see if it had been accepted once in a while. But on one check, I saw my uploaded ZIP had been replaced with one that had a different file size - and there was also a new ZIP that was called "" or something along those lines.

Both ZIPs contained an altered version of the game, which I saved because I was so baffled by it. This is what you get after starting it up:

Curiously, the "OF" has been removed from the title screen. The same has been done to the scroll that you pick up in the first room - the game's title is changed to just "CASTLE ZZT".

Messing around with the first part of the game, I don't notice any other obvious differences, though I haven't looked very closely because it's quite long. But slightly later on, things get strange. The castle has a large central staircase (which I could have made less awkward to navigate, looking back), which allows you to take several routes at the start of the game from the first and second floors, and you'll get a key to access the stairs up from the second floor at some point.

In the actual game, these stairs lead to an aerial view of two towers, which contains a puzzle that you have to plan ahead for.

But in the altered version, a third floor has been added instead. It's decorated in red, convincingly in the same style (using the same kind of "splat a KevEdit gradient background on it" aesthetic that I used throughout the rest of the game).

The boards are all named "Third Floor" with cardinal direction markers afterward so that the mysterious editor could keep track of where the rooms lay. The floor is laid out as a largely empty maze of twisting passages that are consistent but not logically laid out - you can loop around by going north or south. But if you keep heading roughly northwest, you can progress.

The next few boards are called "Free Will", but they continue the red and grey corridor theme with no apparent differences from the Third Floor boards. You have to pick either the east or south passage here - going south will dump you back near the entrance, going east will take you to another long corridor - which has some strange cracks at the end...

The corridor ends at this strange board, which is called "Free Will EEE". It contains a red circle/boulder that says "Y2" when you touch it (Colossal Cave again!), a guard programmed to let you through the blue "gate" of sliders for nine gems, and what appears to be "Snoop Doggw" written in yellow walls beyond that. Underneath is a nest of tigers, a small river and some ammo. The border of the room breaks down at the bottom left, but if it's meant to be saying something I can't tell what it is (enqn?)

Going south from here brings you to this place, a surprisingly detailed outdoor scene with shadowy round trees that displays the text above when you enter it. (The "fake wall" message is part of ZZT itself.) The tone of the dialogue is strange - was it copied from another game file? And going south from here... reach the end of the game, which is my own "THE END" message from the end of Castle of ZZT, shifted up on the board a bit with the red/grey type of background from above added. And then it ends - no further clues are offered. This is the only way to finish the game, as the boards that would have let you escape the intended route south from the main entrance have been deleted or overwritten.

After discovering the switch of files I asked the site's admin, who I think at the time was Quantum P., and he helped put the real version up - but I saved this oddity to preserve it. The readme accompanying the ZZT world file was left intact, and my name was still on the game with no other credit added. With the game largely unaltered at the start, was the idea to make people think that they were playing my game and then for it to appear that I'd gone mad halfway through? That's my only guess - they had clearly put a fair amount of effort into whatever it was they were doing, but I never worked out who this was or why they did it.
davidn: (prince)

Right, King's Quest III - you've been playing around with me for far too long but this time I'm going to finish you once and for all.

Finishing it once and for all )
davidn: (savior)

This is a preview of something I have been aching to show off for a very long time!

"The Poison Skies" is a joint project by me and [ profile] kjorteo, with artwork by Sparkyopteryx. It's a concept album inspired by the characters and story of Kjorteo's novel "The Afflicted" (and you can read the first chapter of the online edition behind that link). "Stand Our Ground" is the fifteenth(!) track, and is about Jonathan Coral, a character from the story who is determined to keep standing up to the wickedness and madness of the world despite his exile in the wilderness.

Over the couple of years since I released any new songs I've been trying to learn more about music production, graduating from my previous Amiga-style sound (and I have to thank [ profile] ravenworks for giving me so much advice on vocal mixing). After experimenting with my own vocals on The Day the Night Slept, this is my first fully voiced album - and I hope you enjoy the sound as much as I do!

You can hear the high-quality version of this track on Bandcamp, along with a selection of previews from the rest of the album! I have just a few more tracks left to record - hopefully the full version will be available soon.
davidn: (skull)

When we left Gwydion, in stark contrast to his situation at the end of most of the other updates in this adventure, we had landed in Daventry and things were full of promise. At least, they had been until I walked on to a screen that resembled a special marathon edition of the awful pointless mountain path obstacle course that was the front path to our house. Shall we just hope that it doesn't go on too long?

It's already not looking good )
davidn: (prince)

Our sixth update, leading into what you might broadly call the second part of the game, opens with a hornpipe being bleeped to us over the three-channel Tandy sound chip (from which I will spare you) and a cutscene without you involved (which I don't think has happened before in a King's Quest game, although I could be wrong). Well, it's the ship scrolling from left to right, but it's something.

Pirating continues )
davidn: (prince)

I seem to have a habit of signing off these updates with our hero Gwydion either dead or very close to it. But I think we were on to something last time, so let's reanimate his component atoms once again and see if we can keep going.

First, let's take a look at this cookie.

Oh, no wonder he noticed something was wrong - that's pathetic. I thought the great Sorcery of Old would be able to produce something that actually looked like it was meant to be a cookie, not something a three year old battered into shape with Play-Doh and whatever they found lying around on the living room carpet. Some sort of disguise is going to be necessary.

Let's have some magic! )
davidn: (skull)

When we left Gwydion last time, he was in a bit of a dire situation, lost in the desert with time swiftly running out.

Even though I'd wandered into this zone and then back out again fairly easily when I tested it before getting these screenshots, I wasn't having much luck getting back this time. I went to the corner of the screen and scrolled around in a panic for a while before...

...oh, I forgot about the map.

That was much simpler than I thought. Here we are, out of danger once more - or at least, out of the immediate one. We've still got to get everything tidied away before Manananan wakes up, and very limited time to do it!

Not pictured: Several instances of dying on this rubbish screen because of that stupid boulder.

Back at the house, we tidy everything away - we didn't disturb the wand or the lab this time - and verify that Manannan is still asleep in his frilly bedroom. It isn't long before...

He pops in to tell you he's awake, then back out again, giving him the chance to reduce you to ashes if anything is still out of place. Fortunately we were more careful this time.

You have to wait around for a while being unable to do anything of much use, so this is a good opportunity to show you the debug screen. If you press Alt+D, you get a couple of messages about the version of AGI we're running on, and then a display of the room number in the lower right along with a couple of unimportant things like a letter H appearing when Gwydion is in the middle of an animation and out of control of the player. However, you can now see the interesting bit by typing WIZ STATUS...

This shows some information about Manannan, some of which makes more sense to the programmers (like the specific ID of his status) but which gives players some important information as well, showing what he's doing, how long it's going to be before he changes status, and if you need to do anything before that happens (if you have a chore, it will say something like "You have 2:55 without him to feed the chickens"). The timer isn't completely accurate here, as there's a random grace period after it runs out before he makes his appearance, but I don't think it ever errs the other way and shows more time than you think you have.

I was a bit surprised when I saw my last chore was dusting his office because I didn't think I'd done that at any time during this playthrough, but it's possible that I did that in one of my many restarts to get screenshots and this is the save that happened to survive.

A bit after two minutes and forty-four seconds later, Manannan teleports in. To my surprise he announces he's leaving, even though I thought the next step was to give us another chore - nevertheless, I'm not complaining. We should have until the game timer hits 1 hour and 30 minutes until we have to be back.

So, once again we use the map to get back into Llewdor, this time into one of the few screens we haven't seen yet - this little cottage south of the mountain. Let's see if anyone's home.

Oh... that can't be good.

In another surprising "not dead" moment, this giant bear wearing a hat and dungarees kicks us off the doorstep, Gwydion's head spins a bit but otherwise he suffers no ill-effects whatsoever. Clearly we're going to have to use some cunning to distract him in order to get into the house.

No, of course we aren't - as usual we just wander out of the screen and back in again until this happens. There are a few different states for the bears, but they're not based on any sort of time like the wizard is - when you enter, they can either be home, out, returning, leaving, or Mother Bear can be out tending to the flowers (and will similarly biff you off the screen if you tread near her). If they're leaving the house when you get near, you're safe to stroll in and do what you like.

And what else would three bears have in their house?

Look, you know how the rest of this is going to go - I'll save you the time.

Upstairs looks pretty much as you would expect as well. There's one more thing we have to get here before we set ourselves up to quite rightly be thrown out for entering someone's house without permission.

The thimble, oddly, is starred as a forbidden item in your inventory. It's used in the creation of at least one spell, but seriously, doesn't a thimble have more obvious innocent uses as well? I hear Gwydion had to take over at short notice after Manannan caught the last wizard-slave red-handed darning a sock.

Anyway. We don't have to do this next part and it offers us no points, but things just seem to be going that way.

After Gwydilocks makes a forced exit carried upside-down out of the house, we now have everything that we need for the moment. There's an interesting-looking spell in the Sorcery of Old called "Transforming Another into a Cat" that we now have all the ingredients for, so let's head back early, open up the lab again and get things prepared before our favourite git-wizard gets back.

Just like the last time Mananann was away, we open up the lab again and head down. While checking the manual for this coming spell, I realized I actually got the dispelling-incantation (decantation?) wrong for reversing the fly transformation - it was meant to be "Fly begone, myself return". Perhaps there is a certain amount of forgiveness built in, a word that until recently I thought was foreign to Sierra.

Let's make a start. Following the procedure from the manual...



Oh, bugger.

You know what image it's time for now. [ profile] kjorteo, help me out here...

Thanks very much.

Let's try that again...

That didn't work either and ended the game as well.

These were also failures.

Finally, this worked - but it gave me a message that made me think that I hadn't done it right (there's no mention of measuring anything out with the deal of precision that we've been led to believe this takes, just dumping the whole thing into the mixing bowl!) and so I was unsure about whether I should continue. In some way, then, it's kind of welcome that the spell screen kicks you out at the slightest mistake, but in others, the parser is unbelievably restrictive, even considering that it's meant to be the copy protection. It seems that I was meant to PUT instead of POUR here - using the exact wording that's in the manual - and just didn't notice for ages.

That wouldn't be so bad, but the worst part of this screen is that if you use a verb that the game doesn't understand like that (therefore causing Gwydion to do nothing at all) it will fail you instantly and the spell will suddenly go disastrously wrong even if all you've got at that stage is a bit of lard in a bowl. If the tiniest mistakes in cooking caused such dire consequences I wouldn't be alive to write this playthrough-turned-extended-complaint.

In other words, I'm forced to eat the words that I wrote before about any sort of forgiveness.

This recipe doesn't sound very appetizing. Still, there's not long to go now...

And now all we have to do is wave the wand and we're finished!


One reload later, we do all of the above again, recite the incantation from the manual, wave the wand that we've remembered about this time, and our reward is this cookie. Magic is harder than it looks.

Let's test it out!

It worked! Oh, I didn't think that through. Time to reload again.

Manannan will be home in ten minutes, so we'll take the opportunity to tidy up while we can. This time absolutely everything's definitely back in the right place, and we just have to wait around until he arrives.

So, Master of Orion - that was a good game, wasn't it. Sort of like Civilization in space, but also somehow completely different.

I never understood the kind of people who played as humans in these kinds of games, given the opportunity to be a race of cats or eagle-people or even just awesome robot things. To be fair, each race has a special advantage unique to them and the humans are the expert diplomats, but still, I can't help but judge people as being just boring if they pick them. However, I speak as someone with a giant rabbit suit in the closet so my view might not be universal. I'll choose the Sakkra, a race of anthropomorphic chamaeleons.

You're given four screens of this on opening the game, which is absolutely overpowering - but the game is much more straightforward than it appears here. You colonize planets, you increase their population and build up the industry to produce more things faster, and spread throughout the galaxy.

This is home sweet home Sssla, which defaults to spending points on industry and ecology (on the right) - I've added some science so that we can get that going.

One turn later, the royal scientist turns up, not wearing any clothes for some reason (the racial advantage for the Sakkra is quick population growth - maybe that's why, it saves time.) Technologies are futher subdivided into six groups - computers, weapons, propulsion and I can't remember the rest. You can balance the amount of effort you're spending on each group in a separate screen, but for now, this one allows you to select a specific technology to work towards within each group.

We started off with a couple of scouts and a colony ship, so let's get exploring the universe - our nearest planet isn't great but it's habitable. There are a lot of different planet types in the game - some of the less ideal ones like Desert and Ocean support life with a reduced maximum population, but some are entirely dead and need colony ships with special equipment to populate them. On top of that, planets have properties as well - this one has technological artifacts, giving a very nice boost to technology points produced here. I'll have it!

I love the little spaceman that walks on to the screen every time you start a colony, planting a flag in the ground and claiming this land for our people.

Your ships always have limited range, which can be restrictive at the start of the game - you can only venture three parsecs from your closest colony. The scout ships have a bonus here, though, because they have reserve fuel tanks, adding three more parsecs to their range.

Unfortunately the other planets around us are looking pretty dismal. This one's barren, meaning I can't colonize it without researching how, and it has the Hostile property so the population growth is halved due to them all having to wear giant all-over prophylactic rubber spacesuits all the time.

However, making the best of a bad situation, the technology to colonize barren planets isn't far off. Unfortunately researching this doesn't automatically let you colonize them - you have to specifically design a ship with the right component to do it.

So let's go into ship design. You can only have six types active at a time, which is very restrictive - in my experience none of the starting ones are any good once you're past the beginning stages, so let's scrap everything but the scout and start them over.

The ship design screen also has a billion things on it, with all kinds of areas available for upgrade. Your weapons are in the middle, with up to four bays, and you have special components near the bottom there. If you need to increase your reach early in the game, you can redesign the colony ship with the reserve fuel tanks that feature on the scouts - but at this early stage it's very expensive to do so.

There's something interesting about the tech level in this game - as you spend more points on the different areas, in addition to achieving the obvious chosen advances, the 'size' value for existing technology slowly decreases to represent improvements in miniaturization. Therefore, later in the game, you'll be able to stuff much more into the same-size ship than you could with all the vaccuum tubes and harpsichords that had to go into the old ones. For now, having reserve fuel tanks and any sort of colony space will only fit on a Huge-sized ship.

It also pays to add some kind of defenses, and - oh, Manannan's back.

If he appears on this screen when he returns to eat, you have to leave and come back again before he's actually sitting at the table. I don't say that as a complaint, just an observation.

Here's a nice tasty snack!

Doo de doo de doo, nothing suspicious happening here.

Oh... as soon as you enter the room carrying the cookie, Manannan notices that you've been up to mischief, stands on the bench and vaporizes you. Indeed, it's marked as a forbidden item in the inventory. So next time, we're going have to have to come up with some sort of cunning plan to get him to eat this without noticing.

Or we could just walk in and out of the room until he doesn't see it. I don't know.

davidn: (rabbit)

When we left our hero last time, he was a pile of dust on the floor of the kitchen, leaving not much room for further exploration. So I've rewound time a bit - let's do this the right way this time.

Wand, cupboard, at the same angle as we found it. (Not really on that last part, mercifully.) I'm surprised but glad that the Sorcery of Old does not describe a "Who's had their hands on this wand since I last touched it" spell.

More magic under here )
davidn: (prince)

Llet's take another trip to Llewdor, lland of magic and mystery. Llast time we started to hatch a plan to free us from slavery to Mnnananan, taking advantage of his back being turned and discovering the key to some powerful magic that could help us defeat him. We've still got some time before the prickwizard returns from his conference on smashing puppies with hammers or whatever, so let's head south and get off this mountain!

I forgot LJ cuts existed last time )
davidn: (prince)

[ profile] kjorteo has been doing a great playthrough of the Dagger of Amon Ra recently (and also up to three years ago), walking through the game and finding out where it succeeds and (far more often) fails as a mystery and an adventure game. I'd eventually like to do something along the same lines for the game that came before it, The Colonel's Bequest - I once started a video of it, but it consisted of about an hour and a half of wandering around accomplishing nothing at all and then falling into a pond.

Therefore, I'm going to rewind a little further, and as I've been playing a couple of the earliest King's Quest games out of curiosity, I wanted to bring you the experience of King's Quest 3, and my thoughts on its game mechanics, unique touches and unfortunate Sierra-ness. You can bet I'm using a walkthrough, because these games are irritating at best otherwise.

The reason I want to show off King's Quest 3 in particular is that it's a very unusual adventure game even today, bravely displaying a dramatic difference from the mould set by the first two games. No, you can still screw yourself over by eating vital inventory that you'll need later, missing a pixel-high item with no hinting that it's your last chance to get it or die by tripping over a cat and falling down the stairs - what do you think you're playing, a game written by a reasonable person? But the new mechanic is obvious from the moment you start the game:

Up on the status bar there, along with the score that hangs over your head in most Sierra games, is a timer. You need to pay attention to this so that you can prepare to meet certain deadlines in the game - you need to have specific items in certain places at certain times, or you'll die in a Sierra move that will surprise absolutely nobody - but considering their usual degree of helpfulness, I'm surprised they just didn't expect you to work out the schedule for yourself and then keep a million bits of paper to keep track of time across saves.

Here's the reason you need to keep track of time:

Manannan. In King's Quest 3, your character is at the opposite end of the social spectrum from the previous two games - you play not as a knight or king of the realm, but as Gwydion, a slave boy in an evil wizard's house. Evil Mananaan and his evil pointy hat will appear with an evil music cue on his evil Walkman to interrupt your adventuring throughout the game, and our overarching objective is to defeat him - but you have to make preparations for this surreptitiously and not let him catch you in the act. Fortunately this wizard's schedule is inhumanly regular, so as long as you keep it in mind, you'll have time to hide the evidence of your actions.

The beginning of the cycle, which happens just a few seconds after starting the game, is this:

Manannan gives you one of a set of randomly chosen chores. None of these are complicated at all, but you have to get them done within three minutes, and there are certain parts of the house that you can be punished for entering unless it's specifically required for you to be there. In another absolute godsend, you can now alter your walking pace after having spent 99% of the previous games plodding at a snail's pace throughout the large game worlds looking for something to do - the available options are stupidly slow (the default), nonsensically slow, stupidly fast, and just about right (the setting described as "fast"). These speed changes don't affect the timer, it just seems to be the speed of animations and Gwydion's walking pace - so I'm going to be playing on the fast mode for most of the time.

Even without taking advantage of our increased speed, this particular task is easy enough - all we have to do is go outside (down from our current screen) and feed the chickens.

The wizard's house is on top of a cliff that overlooks the lland of Llwedor, an attempt at a Welsh setting this time around by the Williams partners-in-crime. You can't go beyond here just yet - if you leave this screen and try to go down the mountain, Manannan (whose name I think I'm just going to spell by hammering the A and N keys at random from now on for the sake of expediency) will appear and zap you back to the interior of the house.

Mnananan will check up on you occasionally by appearing for a moment in the room during this time, and if you delay beyond three minutes in completing a chore, he'll do something unpleasant to you.

Yes, he's turned Gwydion into a snail and reset his walking pace back to compete with King Graham's record for the slowest speed ever recorded by man. This punishment is also randomly chosen, and they all last for one boring minute or so, after which you pop back to normal. An unusual act of mercy for Sierra, not making the game silently unwinnable or killing you instantly, but having to sit through these punishments takes away precious time that you could be using for other things in the game.

There are two tiers of annoying Maananan - there are small transgressions like this that result in punishments, and large ones for which he'll zap you with magic and turn you to dust. But to avoid them both, we basically don't want to touch, fiddle with, disturb or interfere with anything in the house unless we've been told to.

Until this happens! At about the five-minute mark, Mnanananan will announce he's leaving. From this point until he returns twenty-five minutes later, you're free from supervision - so let's get going and run around the house madly with a cereal box on our head like Kevin in Home Alone.

First of all, here's the top of the tower, up the stairs from the previous screen. There's a large telescope here, not for looking at the skies but for spying on Llwedor's inhabitants - also of note is the dead fly on the floor. When you pick this up, Gwydion acts disgusted and opts only to keep the wings, as if that's any better.

Here's the wizard's bedroom on the middle floor. He doesn't normally like you snooping around, possibly embarrassed by his flamboyant Barbie Dream House magenta bed. In a nice touch, the mirror in this room works when you walk past it.

I think this is an unusual example of Sierra's picky and unhelpful attitude towards the player - if you try to OPEN DRAWER when you're right up against it, you get this message. You have to be standing not too close, but not too far away, to be able to open it.

You can also open the wardrobe (without being mocked for your lack of spatial awareness) and find a piece of parchment inside. Rather cruelly, you won't find this if you "search wardrobe" - it will tell you there are some clothes, shoes, and nothing else interesting. It's only when you LOOK BEHIND CLOTHES that you suddenly find this item.

As you can see, it isn't much use yet, but we'll come back to this later.

You can get a key by searching the top of the wardrobe, too, but you don't need to put in any effort to climb up to reach it despite Gwydion clearly being half the height necessary to have a hope of finding anything up there.

Overall, our haul from this room is the key, the parchment, a hand mirror from the vanity table, a bottle of rose petal essence from the drawer, and the knowledge that Maaanaan has terrible taste in modern art from the giant striped painting hanging on the wall.

Our own accommodations are at the other end of the floor and a bit more motel-level than the grand bedroom, with some drawers, half a mirror and a bed that's basically a plank with some sheets on it. We can't do anything here yet, but it will become an important location later.

As I make my way downstairs, I just want to take a moment to complain about the controls - there are a lot of screens around where you have to walk diagonally, and you have the ability to do this with the Home, Page Up/Down and End keys, but the angle that you walk at doesn't quite match up to the angle of the stairs - so to traverse them, you'll be spasming madly at the arrow keys while Gwydion continually crashes into the sides after making an inch of progress. At least you can't fall off anywhere... yet.

Here's the dining room, to the right of the downstairs room. We can get a cup from the table, but that's about it for now.

In comparison, we can absolutely ransack the kitchen. There's a loaf of bread, some fruit and mutton on the table (which in a nice touch you can scoop up all in one go by typing GET FOOD), and we can also pick up a spoon, knife and bowl from near the fireplace.

After looting the house, our inventory is getting to be a busy place. The starred items are special - in another uncharacteristically helpful move from Sierra, they denote the items that are dangerous to have in your inventory when the wizard is around. Honestly, this is most of them, with the exception of food and utensils. So let's move on quickly.

The last room in the house is MMAanananana's study. This is another room that you'll be punished for entering unless you have good reason to be there - which means it's got to have some really good stuff.

And here's a great example! The wand is our ticket out of here, but is also an incredibly dangerous item - most of the starred objects just have to be hidden by the time Mananaan gets back, but the wand absolutely has to be back in this cabinet with the door locked or you're going to be a very dead servant.

With that in mind, let's fiddle with some more things. Is that a copy of Bob's Big Book of Cliches that I see on the bookshelf over there?

Yes, it was. Let's take a look down here...

I think it's safe to say that we've found the wizard's secret lab! (Although we already knew we must have had one somewhere. There are limits as to how much evil you can conjure up just in your study with a pen and paper, unless you write for Breitbart of course.)

The shelves at the back hold all manner of hideous and foul ingredients, including the ghastly SAFFRON! Just between the Awful Apple Juice and the Horrifying Curry Powder.

In a spectacular return to form from the generous moment in the kitchen, there's no catch-all command to grab everything at once here - you have to memorize all the names from the list in that window and type them in individually. If you attempt to shorten them (such as using "GET NIGHTSHADE"), the game will sometimes - but not always - fail to recognize the item and say "You don't need it", which can be misleading.

There's one other very big interesting item in this room - let's take a look at this!

Or maybe let's not. If there's one thing that I'll give to Sierra games, they're usually pretty good at taking synonyms into account - for example, the wardrobe upstairs can be referred to as a CUPBOARD, CLOSET, WARDROBE and probably some other things as well, so I'm surprised that this term didn't make it in. LOOK BOOK gives us the following description.

At this point I became hugely confused, because the walkthrough I was using instructed me to open the book to page IV and to cast the spell on it. I had no idea how I was meant to know to use Roman numerals, other than by process of elimination after you realize you can't enter numbers on the command line (they're interpreted as directions as if you were using the numeric keypad). And I didn't know how I was supposed to work out I was meant to use page 4, either - but I took a look anyway:

So it looks like I've turned myself into a humanoid fly by accident. It turns out that everything to do with the spellbook is part of the game's copy protection, a more creative (but also more annoying) spin on the "Look up word 4 of paragraph 2 of page 7.png" approach that many games used at the time to make sure you had a physical copy of the manual. Like all instances of what we now know as DRM, this just made it impossible to play the game unless you had the manual on hand at all times and didn't lose it - fortunately, in this day and age, we have PDFs and ReplacementDocs, and you can follow what's going on by getting the King's Quest 3 manual from here:

Now that I have the spell in front of me, it looks like I do indeed have the ingredients required to turn into a fly - it's not exactly an ambitious start, but we all have to begin somewhere. Spells really do have to be entered very precisely with no room for mistakes. so they thoughtfully provided most of them in appalling handwriting that you have to squint to read. Nevertheless, let's see if we can work some magic.

Hold on, "a pinch" isn't very precise. What if you've got really big or small hands? And do you have to adjust depending on how much essence you're using? I don't think you've really thought this through.

After doing that first step, you're given this unusual prompt and you have to painstakingly copy the verse out of the book like some kind of typing tutor. At least it's more interesting than the reams of "a dad had a sad lad" that I had to plod through on the BBC Micro at school.

Wave the magic wand for the moment of truth, and we're going to... live!

We now have an inventory that I think is larger than the most items you could ever get in any previous King's Quest, most of it incredibly incriminating. And thanks to our newly found spellcasting skills, among our wheelbarrow of stuff is the Magic Rose Essence, our first magic item. I would show you what it does, but the walkthrough tells me that Sierra gave us only three chances to use the spell and we need them all. Wankers!

I'm going to wrap up this part when we make our way out of the house, but before we do that, we have a bit of cruelty to animals to perform first. (Don't worry, it's justified.) Let's go back upstairs...

OH, OH!! You might have noticed the cat skulking around in some of the screenshots before - he moves around the house at random, and if he appears on these stairs, he will cause you to fall and die if you get anywhere near him. The only way to get around this is to leave the screen the way you came, come back and hope he isn't there the next time. I will call him Wolf Heimlich.

Wolf Heimlich has another vital item that we're going to need later, and this is a good time to do it - it will also show off one of the more hateful moments of the game so far. You see, you can attempt to pick up the cat, which will usually result in this:

You get a few scratches for your trouble, and the cat runs off to another part of the room. There's no indication that you're on the right track, or that the same action will eventually work - faced with this in the absence of a walkthrough, I would have assumed that I need to build some sort of elaborate cat trap, perhaps with a tuna sandwich, a stick and a laundry basket. The real solution, though, is to just keep trying in the face of no progress. I've recreated the experience as best I can through screenshots alone:

Got it! That was terrible. There doesn't seem to be any pattern to this, it doesn't matter if you approach the cat from behind, the front, to the side, and it doesn't work better in particular parts of the room than others... there just seems to be an extremely small random chance that you'll be able to pick the cat up, and if the numbers aren't on your side, you get a message that might as well tell you to go away and try something else. Thanks, Sierra!


I didn't take screenshots of the first two windows at first, but I found to my delight that you can pick the cat up a second time as well (Gwydion has accumulated more scar tissue on his arms than actual arm at this point). With a nasty laugh, you pull a bit of Wolf Heimlich's fur out and he runs off in a ball of fury and hate.

By way of experiment, I found you could also "kick cat", with the same "SCREEEEECH (heh, heh, heh)" response.

There's one more thing I want to bring up before I forget - this is the first King's Quest game where saving and loading was bound to the function keys (F5 and F7) respectively, but not also to commands that you could type in. So when I habitually type SAVE:

You get a message which I frankly find a bit condescending.

Anyway. It's time to leave the house - let's take one more souvenir with us before we go down the mountain.

Chickens, being less intelligent and a lot less evil than cats, are much more happy to be picked up and to have their feathers plucked from them. Although I'm surprised there weren't any feathers just lying around - these hens keep a very neat coop.

And that's all for this time! We're leaving Gwydion with his temporary freedom and a bathtubload of incriminating evidence - in the next update, hopefully we'll have time to explore the wider game and not get killed.
davidn: (rabbit)

I miss journalling and I'm going to try some writing again - we'll see how it goes.

All the way back in 1997 or so, we got a modem installed in my dad's Pentium and had a computer capable of accessing the Internet for the first time. I used this primarily to play Quake, fascinated that I could play against thousands of people from all around the world (none of whom were particularly pleasant or literate). It was incredible at the time, but in the wake of my recent re-obsession with Doom, I've been playing through it again (through the Darkplaces source port) to see how it holds up today.

There are a lot of things that I didn't appreciate at the time - it was known as a true-3D successor to Doom, after its predecessor had used genius-tier workarounds to construct a 3D environment without having to actually render it that way - so the sudden move to full polygonal monsters, weapons and a greater freedom in level design felt like a revelation. In Doom, you could never have any level space above or below any other (so no bridges, platforms within a larger room, or even simple things like a shelf against a wall), though it was smoothly designed enough that you would be hard pressed to notice unless you were really looking. Quake lifted this restriction, and you can feel that the level designers are very enthusiastic about their newfound abilities, with platforms circling rooms, multi-tiered constructions and extensive use of the new underwater environments. One example I saw cited at the time in some magazine or other was in the secrets - they're no longer about running along walls hammering the space bar. In fact, the complete removal of the Use button means that there's more emphasis on shootable targets than before, and you have to look for buttons and switches on ceilings, floors, little ledges that you can sneak around, and so on.

There's something I miss compared to Doom, though, and that's demonstrated in Quake's choice of colour scheme. Well... brown. Going through the episodes again, it's a little less drab than I remember it being, but it still seems like a nudge in the wrong direction and an ill omen of the coffee-filtered look of modern first person shooters. However, I could be just saying that coming from Doom, which was madly colourful and anything was thrown in as a texture up to and including a photo of a motherboard and somebody's skinned knee.

Something that I'm surprised I didn't notice before is that the approach to enemies is really different from Doom. They're made of a mix of earthbound and floating ones like before, but what's different is the relationship between the hordes' numbers and strength. Doom was about being handed a weapon, a roomful of enemies and being invited to go berserk - if you have a rocket launcher and some explosive barrels, things blow up very quickly. In stark contrast to that, Quake's encounters are usually in smaller spaces with five or six monsters in an attack group at maximum - and some of the more agile ones like the Fiend are threatening enough on their own. The monsters are much stronger than Doom's - the few low-level monsters are found only on the first couple of levels of each episode, and the Ogre (probably the most common enemy, and the next step up from the Grunts) pretty much shrugs off a direct hit with a rocket. In fact, explosives are a lot less dangerous than they were in Doom all round, where a rocket to the face meant understandably instant death - the Ogre's primary projectile weapon is the grenade, which shows off the 3D capabilities by bouncing around after it's thrown, but if it explodes nearby it's the equivalent of being slightly singed by a firework.

The distribution of enemy types throughout the levels is weird as well - Doom didn't have a ton of these, there were a few enemies in the shareware episode and a couple more that popped up in the registered version (and even more in the expansion-pack-with-a-number-on-the-end Doom 2). But the introduction of the hideously powerful monsters was treated as a real event, with entire levels devoted to them in the form of Tower of Babel for the Cyberdemon and Dis for the Spider Mastermind. In Quake, you've seen nearly all the monsters by the time you've finished the third level. And the biggest monster, the eyeless yeti Shambler who appears without much fanfare on level three, just doesn't have the charisma that the big enemies of Doom had - he stomps about a bit and has a completely silent laser beam attack, but that's about it.

This seems to have turned into an essay on why I think Doom is better than Quake, which I really didn't intend it to be as I'm sure I played more of the latter when I was younger. It's definitely not a bad game, and it shows id's trademark care for what they were doing - but there's something really captivating about Doom that I don't think has ever really been equalled.

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