Battle of the 'bots

February 9th, 2012 1:45 PM
by
Filed under Happenings, Software showcase;
1 comment.

As I've discussed in Open Apple but not previously on Apple II Bits, you absolutely must check out Jimmy Maher's blog, The Digital Antiquarian. His exhaustive, academic, focused writings on the Apple II and aspects of its history and games (specifically what he refers to a "ludic narratives") are fun and informative reads worth making the time for.

His travels through Apple's history have most recently taken him to the works of Silas Warner, best known for the seminal stealth game Castle Wolfenstein but also developer of RobotWar, published by MUSE Software in 1981. True to its PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations) origins, the game served as an instructional tool for teaching programming, challenging users to create routines that describe the behavior of a combative robot. As Maher describes:

You don’t get to design your robot in the physical sense; each is identical in size, in the damage it can absorb, in acceleration and braking, and in having a single rotable radar dish it can use to “see” and a single rotatable gun it can use to shoot. The programming language you work with is extremely primitive even by the standard of BASIC, with just a bare few commands. Actual operation of the robot is accomplished by reading from and writing to a handful of registers. That can seem an odd way to program today — it took me a while to wrap my mind around it again after spending recent months up to my eyebrows in Java — but in 1981, when much microcomputer programming involved PEEKing and POKEing memory locations and hardware registers directly, it probably felt more immediately familiar.

Two to five players would then enter their routines into an arena, and may the strongest robot win!

Terminator T-800 vs Robocop

Inspired by the RobotWar competitions Computer Gaming World once hosted, Maher is looking to resurrect these epic duels with a contest of his own. One cool feature not possible at the time of RobotWar's debut: Maher will do a screencast of each battle and upload the video recording, so that players can not just know the outcome but watch how it came to be. Contestants can tweak their winning 'bots between battles, evolving them to face ever stiffer competition. Grand prizes await the mightiest mech.

This sounds like great fun, in the tradition of HackFest and RetroChallenge. I applaud Maher for actively supporting and even expanding the Apple II community, and I encourage anyone reading this to consider entering the contest.

One shall stand… and one shall fall!