Archive for the ‘Game trail’ Category

Lode Runner, Choplifter, Oregon Trail, and other classic diversions from 8-bit gaming.

A journey through Chivalry

January 16th, 2017 7:25 AM
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Interactive fiction author Wade Clarke recently encouraged me to engage in a two-player game of Chivalry, a 1983 Apple II game I was previously unfamiliar with. So, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, Jess and I played a round.

Chivalry is an electronic board game where players become knights and ladies who are charged with rescuing the medieval king from his kidnapper, the Black Knight. Each turn, a wheel or die determines if a player advances one, two, or three spaces forward on the board. The board itself is never seen, nor are the players' relative positions, so it can be hard to tell who's winning. But each space on the board is a fixed location with its own challenges and encounters, so players start recognizing them as they watch each other move forward and backward.

Each location is either a random encounter or an action-based mini-game. Games include archery and jousting competitions, catching sacks of flour as they are tossed out of a window, crossing a bridge while dodging a troll, and more. Some locations require no dexterity, instead requiring a simple decision, such as which door to open or path to take. Still other locations offer an automatic and random result — for example: if the bear is awake, you get mauled; but if the bear is asleep, you can sneak by.

The encounters that most intrigued me were those that prepared you for future locations. At one point in the game, a dwarven passerby handed me some rope, without any indication what it might be used for. Later, Jess's travels brought her to an insurmountable cliff, requiring she backtrack. I figured if she'd had my rope, she would've been equipped to proceed. At another point, I had the choice to buy one of three foodstuffs from the market, but only one had a distinctive name: "bear potion". Had the bear not been asleep, I could've used this potion to escape a mauling. In both these examples, the items ended up not being used, which seemed a missed opportunity. But it was a clever mechanic that introduced the possibility of each player having a different experience, even at the same points on the map.

The action-based sequences were less interesting, partly because it was difficult to assess the parameters of success. There are two dart mini-games, for example, but with different, invisible goals. Hit the bullseye in the inn, for example, and you win; but hit the bullseye in the thieves' den, and the thieves will punish you for swindling them. Without knowing the rules, success was as much chance as skill.

After about a half-hour of passing the laptop back and forth (Jess and I were playing with keyboard controls, not paddles), Jess reached the Black Knight's castle, which involved a Dark Castle-like action sequence to leap to the top of the parapets. She succeeded on the first try, winning the game — but she wished I had made it there first. "You're more the action gamer and would've enjoyed it more," she commented. Perhaps she was just being chivalrous — but after watching both of us struggle with the previous action-based tasks, it was fun to see one of us get the final level right on the first try.

Chivalry is an interesting way for 1–4 players to spend an hour, and it's an intriguing example of an early attempt to add an electronic component to the classic board-game experience, well before Anticipation or Mario Party hit the scene. Chivalry demonstrates some of the struggles but also creativity that game designers worked with back then, without necessarily offering a sufficiently compelling experience for repeat rounds of play.

Story Collider: Diphtheria on the Oregon Trail

January 2nd, 2017 11:57 AM
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If anyone has heard of dysentery, it's likely because they contracted it on the Oregon Trail. A variety of ailments struck players in MECC's classic edutainment title, and though dysentery was the most iconic, it was not the only killer: cholera, snake bites, measles, and typhoid fever were all rampant.

Many of these conditions are now easily avoid or immunized against using modern medicine, as detailed in the Mental Floss article "Where Are They Now? Diseases That Killed You in Oregon Trail". But our lack of familiarity with these conditions only leaves us more susceptible to their ravages, should they be unleashed upon an unsuspecting population.

That's exactly what happened to neuroscientist Rebecca Brachman, who, one night while working in her lab, accidentally injected herself with a syringe full of diphtheria toxin. Diphtheria is more than just a catchy word to use in headlines such as "Sally Has Diphtheria: Is Oregon Trail the Greatest Video Game of All Time?". It's an airborne bacterial disease that can cause nerve damage, organ failure, paralysis, or death. Fortunately, Dr. Brachman has not suffered those worst of fates — at least, not yet. She has thus far lived to share her story on the Story Collider podcast:

It's a horrific tale that demonstrates not just how bureaucracy has made inaccessible our most effective antitoxins, even for those who most urgently need them. It also underscores the even fewer chances that travelers along the historical Oregon Trail had. We've made a game of settlers who gambled against natural hazards with no immunizations, antidotes, or even hospitals to cure them — it's shocking that anyone survived the journey to Willamette Valley.

Risk Factions introduces Commandant SixFour

December 12th, 2016 12:30 PM
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I grew up playing all sorts of computer and video games, but there was something especially magical about online multiplayer games. There weren't many of them back then, but in lieu of face-to-face interaction, the friendships I forged in CompuServe chat rooms were reinforced through those friendly competitions.

I still use online games to connect with people I know from other venues, such as KansasFest. The Xbox 360 was the first broadband console I used in that fashion, though I had a hard time finding two-player games that weren't sports or first-person shooters. Need for Speed and Castle Crashers fit the bill, but for more retro experiences, Worms and Lode Runner scratched that itch.

There's one game I enjoyed that I never finished, though: Risk: Factions. I enjoyed this 2010 release enough to rank it as one of my favorite Xbox Live Arcade games of the year — but, like the classic board game, a session of Risk can last an unreasonably long time. Alas, my counterparts and I could never find enough hours in one day to sit through an entire round.

But I did enjoy this game's cartoonish presentation (as opposed to the more realistic approach taken by its 2015 update, Risk). And I especially appreciated that it acknowledged the roots of early computer tactical games. Each country in the game was represented by an animated avatar, with one militaristic individual being identified as Commandant SixFour:

Like its namesake, the Commodore 64, the Commandant doesn't have the highest graphical fidelity. In Terminator fashion, we occasionally see the world through the Commandant's eyes, where everything is pixelated:

Pixelated image as seen by Commandant SixFour

INTRUDER ALERT

This lack of resolution isn't just a cheap joke: it becomes a vital plot point in the above cinematic video, introducing a new villain to the Risk storyline in Wargames style.

Both the Commandant and the Commodore are worthy enemies for their eras. Perhaps some day, I'll find the time to defeat one.

(Hat tip to Open Apple)

KansasFest goes to Funspot

October 31st, 2016 9:41 AM
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At KansasFest, Apple II users from around the world meet and share a unique experience. The games we play there — be it computer games like Structris and KABOOM!, board games such as Lode Runner, or the card game Oregon Trail — forge friendships that are often revisited only once a year at KansasFest.

But sometimes, the stars align to reunite those friends in new and unusual venues. That happened this past weekend, when Juiced.GS associate editor Andy Molloy, staff writer Ivan Drucker, Retro Computing Roundtable co-host Carrington Vanston, and I made the trek to the American Classic Arcade Museum at Funspot in Laconia, New Hampshire, USA.

ACAM is the world's largest video game arcade, as determined by Guinness World Records. With over 300 machines from the 1970s and 1980s, the arcade is home to coin-ops both classic and rare — all still just a token each. I first discovered this arcade thirty years ago, when its games were new. I returned every summer for over a decade, then relegated it to a childhood memory for another ten years. I finally started going back in 2006 and recruited Andy in 2007. Having now been making an annual pilgrimage to Funspot for nearly a decade, we decided it was time to evangelize and spread the good word to Carrington and Ivan, who'd never been there.

Carrington, who co-founded the podcast No Quarter, was of course familiar with many of Funspot's games, but Ivan knew few beyond his favorites. He schooled us all in Donkey Kong but then proved vulnerable to the first shrubbery he encountered in Paper Boy. We each sought out individual rounds of Marble Madness, Frogger, Asteroids, and Robotron 2064, but the most fun was had when we went head-to-head. Ivan, Andy, and I lost to the computer in Super Sprint. Carrington, Andy, and I then demolished cities in Rampage, after which Carrington, Andy, and Ivan launched bombs at Sinistar; we all four finally teamed up to play to the eleventh dungeon of Gauntlet II.

There were two surprising discoveries of the day. The first was Donkey Kong II, which looked and played like a sequel to the Nintendo classic — except Ivan had never heard of it. Was it possible for a game with such storied lineage to have escaped his notice for so long?

Donkey Kong 2 at Funspot

The answer is no: Donkey Kong II is an unofficial ROM hack consisting of the original game's four levels and four new levels. It made its arcade debut at Funspot in 2006 but is more easily playable online.

The other surprise was Chiller, a disturbing lightgun game. Developed by Exidy of Death Race infamy, Chiller challenges players to shoot as many human prisoners as possible in a short amount of time. These living targets are found in torture chambers, ensconced in guillotines, racks, and other vehicles of pain, waiting for the player to deliver the fatal blow. While it sounds perverse, my gaming buds excused it by how cartoonish its artwork was, saying they'd never play a modern game with motion-capture video that featured such ghoulish, gratuitous violence. Still, I enjoyed playing the role of the disapproving prude, sternly frowning and shaking my head in their direction with each playthrough, while in the back of my mind wondering how I could excuse my ownership of the NES port.

Due to how far our far-flung party had to travel to return home, we did not have time to cap the evening at Pinball Wizard, another excellent arcade in southern New Hampshire. We were also left with a heavy cupful of leftover tokens from Funspot. With this many games, there is never enough time to play them all.

Fortunately, Funspot — much like KansasFest and the friendships it forms — is forever.

8bitdo brings Bluetooth connectivity to Apple II

October 17th, 2016 8:18 AM
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Games are my favorite genre of Apple II application, so anything that makes it easier to play my favorite Apple II games is something I'll line up for. It's why I just bought Alex Lukacz's 4play card (reviewed in the September 2016 issue of Juiced.GS) and am now awaiting the AP40 controller, currently on Kickstarter.

The AP40 is a Bluetooth controller with an aesthetic reminiscent of the classic Apple logo. Its name is both an evolution of the developer's previous model, the AP30, as well as an acknowledgement of 2017 being the 40th anniversary of the Apple II.

By itself, this play on nostalgia is nothing special — skins and themes for Bluetooth controllers are not hard to come by. The killer app aspect of the AP40 is that it comes with a wireless receiver that plugs into the Apple II, enabling the use of any Bluetooth controller. Although the project description cites compatibility with the Apple IIc specifically, I emailed the developers and confirmed that any model of Apple II will work.

If you're interested, there are a couple purchasing options to consider. The AP40 gamepad alone costs $49, but if you have another Bluetooth controller you're happy with, you can get just the receiver for $49; or buy both for $85. A limited-edition controller with mini-Apple II stand costs $69, but there is no turnkey package that includes both this special edition and a wireless receiver.

The AP40 has made headlines like few other pieces of retrocomputing tech has, having been featured in Forbes, Gizmodo, TechCrunch, Cult of Mac, and more. For all that, there may nonetheless be a marketing issue, because the controller seems to be getting more press coverage than its Apple II compatibility; when I mentioned the Kickstarter on the Retro Computing Roundtable episode #138, one of the other hosts who'd seen these headlines was flabbergasted to discover the controller worked on actual Apple II hardware.

For personal use, I wanted just the receiver, for use with my PlayStation 4's DualShock controller — but for the purposes of a proper review in the pages of Juiced.GS, I've emailed 8bitdo and assembled a package of limited-edition controller complete with receiver. The Kickstarter currently has nine days to go but has already exceeded its crowdfunding goal of $16,111 USD; given the developer's track record, I'm confident the products will ship on or near the promised delivery date of January 2017, in time for the March 2017 issue of Juiced.GS.

Wasteland 3 hits Fig

October 10th, 2016 9:18 AM
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Some Apple II games never die, no matter what post-apocalyptic future they endure. Not even a nuclear holocaust can stop Brian Fargo, the inimitable founder of game studio Interplay, where he developed both The Bard's Tale and Wasteland. Now the head of inXile Entertainment, Fargo has brought both of those former franchises to Kickstarter, resulting thus far in the release of Wasteland 2 in 2014 for Steam and in 2015 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

It's been four years since the successful Kickstarter for Wasteland 2, so Fargo is going back for more: last week, he announced Wasteland 3, extending the adventures of the 22nd-century Desert Rangers. But this time, instead of Kickstarter, Fargo has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Fig.

Fig (whose advisory board includes Fargo) was founded in August 2015 as a crowdfunding platform specifically for computer and video games. Besides that dedicated focus, the biggest difference from Kickstarter is that Fig allows not just donations and preorders, but actual investments, establishing equity in the final product and its success. Investments occur in $1,000 increments up to $2.25 million. If Wasteland 3 sells 500,000 units, investors receive a 1.36x return on their investment; if 1,000,000 units are sold, the return is 1.8x. It's by no means a get-rich-quick scheme, especially for small investors such as I would be. I've instead donated a mere $5 to show my support, knowing that my contribution won't make or break the campaign; at the time of my pledge, Wasteland 3 was already 99% of the way to its goal, needing only another $50,000. (The campaign will succeed if it raises $2,750,000 by Thursday, November 3, 2016.)

Upon completion of the Fig campaign, Wasteland 3 will go into inXile's development queue. Two of inXile's previously crowdfunded projects are still unreleased: Torment: Tides of Numenera; and The Bard's Tale 4. But that shouldn't count against inXile's track record. As the Wasteland 3 pitch video explains, game development occurs in stages, and those artists who contribute to a game's early stages, such as the writers, have completed their work on those other two projects and are eager to begin something new.

But what about the game itself? I never played the original Wasteland (which inspired the Fallout franchise) or its sequel, even though I mentioned both in my KansasFest 2016 presentation of Steam games. But it looks like the series' third entry introduces many new features, including drivable vehicles, multiplayer mode, a Colorado setting, and simultaneous releases for Steam and consoles (PS4 & Xbox One) in late 2019. Take a gander at the turn-based combat in this (NSFW) gameplay video:

It's exciting to see a series that originated on the Apple II continue to resonate with modern gamers who are willing to pledge their dollars to ensure the franchise's future. Long live Wasteland!