12
Feb
12

Qbasic

Qbasic Intro Screen

Qbasic Intro Screen

Back when I was at high school we got some newish 486 workstations in our computer labs. Fortunately for me they had a copy of Qbasic on them which I quickly put to use. Qbasic is the language I primarily used whilst I was at high school, I wrote many larger projects than I ever could with gwbasic with the knowledge I had at the time. One of the main differences was the ability to use non-numeric labels that could mean something, and the ability to have functions separate to the main body of code. As I learned to use these features my code got neater and easier to modify, which was a good thing because the projects got significantly larger! I only ever had the version that came for free with ms-dos 6 so I couldn’t use many features that other Qbasic programmers use. This didn’t really matter cause at the time I had no other programmers (and no internet) to help guide me on how to use features and hardware directly that I had no prior knowledge of. This meant that I only really used whatever I could invent easily, or find in the user guide for Qbasic or the reference manual for gwbasic. Here are some of the projects that I made during these years.

Flight

Flight game screen

Flight game screen

This was originally a game written in gwbasic based on some space ship/jet designs me and my brother built out of lego. Here I had added many new features that were a lot like those found in the game f117a by microprose. The main goal of the game is to destroy land facilities whilst avoiding planes and SAM radar installations. The graphics were generated by vectors mostly and the small icons for the tactical display were created using the draw statement. The draw statement generated graphics in pretty much the same way as you would use the turtle in the logo language. You gave the cursor instructions on where to go and which colours to use. This was good in that I could draw images of any size and not worry about the amount of memory used, but bad in that the amount of detail was quite limited. Really it was more suited to gwbasic where I initially used this technique. One of the features in this version I learned in maths class in school. Yes, trigonometry at school helped me make the players plane fly using proper vectors flying at all angles instead of the 8 directions many games offered. Who would have thought something at school would turn out to be useful!

Puzzle and Mazing

Puzzle game screen

Puzzle game screen

One thing I did do quite a bit when learning something new was write a clone of another game to practise the technique. Most of the time the clones were a shadow of the original and puzzle is definitely one of those clones. Back in the day we used to play a game called Squarez deluxe by Adam Pederson rather a lot, I was just starting out with the bitmapped graphics and had completed two very simple games in gwbasic called jump and dodge. So to try out some ideas I had for having a lot of bitmaps I started to write a clone of squarez of sorts. I first started writing puzzle in gwbasic before I had Qbasic. I quickly ran into problems running out of memory partly because I didn’t know how to save memory on the graphics. When I got Qbasic I migrated the code across and built the rest of the game. You only got to place one tile at a time, and they usually did their thing as soon as you placed them. It was pretty much a matter of luck as to how the game played out, but this was one of the first games I built that had more than just a few sprites in them. The code became a horrible mess because I didn’t use the function feature of qbasic, and there were many remnants of the old gwbasic line numbers and code around.

Mazing game screen

Mazing game screen

Puzzle did spawn a somewhat more original game design in mazing. I took the basic tiles from puzzle and scattered them randomly around a play field, with the numbers of each tile weighted according to a difficulty level. The player had to navigate through the play field from the bottom to the top, activating some tiles as they go to help them reach the end. Some tiles blocked you from moving, some trapped you and others cleared portions of the field. You got points based on the tiles you triggered instead of a time frame reaching the exit. So when playing against another player you could lose in the sense that you didn’t make the exit, but win based on points. The code for this game was not really any better than puzzle, mostly because it was based of the puzzle code. But given that it was an experiment in game design it kinda worked alright as a game.

Bobs fury

Bobs Fury game screen

Bobs Fury game screen

One of my favourite genres of game is the platform game. Back in the day I used to play two games in particular a lot, both Xargon and Hocus Pocus. They inspired me to want to make a proper original platform game of my own. Working with my younger brother we created a simple platform game. I did the programming as my younger brother was a bit young to be able to do it, and my younger brother helped me with some of the graphics and level design. The game engine was a lot more limited than I really wanted to make when I first started, we were stuck with only two screens per level, and I couldn’t program scrolling at the time. A lot of features were cut out, I had wanted water levels like some of those that were in Xargon, as well as the normal ones within a castle or other area. But with my limited skills (and the limitations of Qbasic) we couldn’t add levels like that.  The code was a lot neater as this was one of the first programs that I wrote that used the qbasic function support. Using functions made the code a lot easier to read, but I still had a lot of bad coding habits from gwbasic, and from being self-taught. The game itself is playable but quite slow, although this could be because I’m testing it in dosbox, I believe some delay loops could be the issue. We made something like 40 or 50 different levels so there was plenty of content. I made a very basic music system for the pc speaker (via the play statement) that had a short bit of music looping that can get a bit annoying after a while. The collision detection wasn’t always the best either, mostly having issues with collisions with wall tiles rather than monsters.

Tomb game screen

Tomb game screen

I later used this engine to create another platform game called tomb, that was kinda based on an idea I saw in a magazine, a game called Pharaohs Tomb that I was not going to be able to get (but now have).  The game was different because you couldn’t kill the monsters and they couldn’t hurt you by shooting. You had to avoid the enemies whilst trying to collect the treasure. We created a different boss, either shown as a sphinx or mummy it walked back and forth across the level.

I’ve since made a Pascal port of Bobs Fury adding many features that I hadn’t even thought of back then, but remaining true enough to the old game to be able to play the old levels. I still continue to work on that version to this day, and probably have some more features to add!

Weird

Wierd game screen

Weird game screen

Yes one of my old qbasic games is named weird. This one is another attempted clone of Squarez, but one that worked out a whole lot better in game play. In order to score you have to put tiles togethor so that there are 3 or more surrounding the last tile you place. The tiles still come out individually, so it’s still not on par with squarez, but it’s quite playable and the graphics are weird to fit in with the name. Code wise it is a heap neater than it’s puzzle ancestor, but it is still all in one lump without functions. I’m not sure when in the time scale I wrote this one.

War

War game screen

War game screen

A game we played quite often was civilization, but one feature that was missing from the DOS version was some simple multiplayer support. Hot-seat play would have been fine by us as we only has the one machine! So I decided to create a simplified war game based on how you fight wars in civilization. War is played as a hot seat game, has some basic units you can build, a single screen map, and some simple to manage cities for each player. The goal being to destroy the enemies cities. I did make a basic AI, but it wasn’t very good. There are several versions of the game adapted to different scenarios and differing levels of advancement in the engine. This was one of the last games I wrote for Qbasic, and it pushes the limits in terms of complexity and sheer size in both code and memory usage. Fortunately it’s also one of the better designed games, mainly because it had to be. The user interface isn’t as well designed as I’d like, but I was running out of memory to add any thing extra. It plays quite well, and speed doesn’t seem to be an issue.

Conclusion

Qbasic Gorillas

Qbasic Gorillas

Qbasic is a powerful language for learning to program. The feature set is better than older versions of basic by a long way, encouraging programmers to make neater code, not by forcing you to, but by providing a better means of writing the same thing. I personally got a lot out of writing the projects that I did, not all my code was well written, in fact I think a lot of it wasn’t, but I learned a lot in the process. There are not many good languages good for learner programmers that also give you the power to create more complex applications. Qbasic fits the bill in many ways, but is difficult to get working on modern machines. So if you have an interest in programming I suggest you use QB64 which is basically a clone of Qbasic for modern systems with many added features, but compatibility with the old Qbasic. Microsoft also have made a nice starter language in small basic, but it is not compatible with Qbasic, which wont be a problem if you don’t require it.

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