Archive for October, 2012


Monster Bash for DOS

Monster Bash was released by Apogee back in April of 1993, and was designed by Frank Maddin. In the game you play as a youngster named Johnny Dash, who is trying to rescue his dog Tex that was kidnapped along with many other pets by Count Chuck. You get a slingshot to defend yourself as you travel through the underworld, rescuing pets as you travel.

We got this game of a cover disk from a shareware magazine, and hence only ever played the first episode. It is primarily a run and gun action game, with some puzzle elements. It only supports EGA graphics, but supports PC speaker or adlib for sound. Given when the game was released, it was a little behind in terms of technology support.

Given the limitations of the EGA graphics, they are very well drawn and animated. One of the boasts in the advertising for the game at the time was that there is “over 8 Megs” of graphics and animations. Whilst they are very well done for EGA, at the time it was released VGA had been available for several years, so there were many prettier games around at the time.

On the original 386 machine we had we only had PC speaker for sound, and the sound from this game could be annoying at times. Especially on the death of particular bad guys. If you play with adlib support enabled the sound is significantly better, and music is good like many of the other Apogee titles of the time.

The game play is very similar to the many other platform games that were popular at the time. The game is a little too slow-paced to be really considered as being a true fast paced action title, But there is enough enemies and variety in the game play to keep you occupied. It really wasn’t my cup of tea in many ways, mostly because I found the controls a little clunky when it came to actually doing some platforming. If you got the registered version there were some more interesting sections including a part where you fly around on a broom stick.

The game carries a heavy element of the Halloween flavour, which never really has been a very big thing here in Australia. So it may appeal more to people from countries where Halloween is a part of the cultural calendar. I didn’t really like this game so much as a kid, mostly because the controls didn’t feel right to me, and it didn’t really scratch a particular platforming itch the right way. I can see however how you might like this game if you either played it a lot as a kid, or like the whole horror/Halloween style that this game uses.


Blob Wars: Metal Blob Solid on Mac OS

Today’s post marks one year of me writing this blog! I was planning on doing a in depth bit about an open source game called The Battle for Wesnoth, but unfortunately I couldn’t get it working in time, I had installed it via Macports on my macbook and assumed that it would work, I won’t make that mistake again!

Instead I’m going to write about a platform game called Blob Wars: Metal Blob Solid. The name is an obvious reference to the metal gear series which is popular on many consoles (and early versions on many old computers) but the name is the largest part the two share in common. Blob wars is an action platform game, written by a group of guys that call themselves Parallel Realities, beginning in 2004. The game is open source and is available for all the major operating systems including Linux, Windows and Mac OS. Today I was running it on Mac OS.

The basic premise of the game is simple. There is a peace loving world where the blobs lived which is now being attacked by some aliens which strangely look very similar to the blobs. In the early stages of the game we don’t know why they are being attacked or indeed who is the mastermind behind it.

You are a blob wearing a bandana tasked with completing various objectives to try and save the blobs home world. Along the way you will have to also rescue various blobs that were missing in action from previous battles in the area. Fortunately there are a variety of guns and items to help you accomplish these tasks.

Game play wise the controls work well, and the guns are effective at what they are designed to do. Killing the enemies in a level seems to be optional with the exception of bosses. So the main meat of the game comes in finding the MIAs and finishing the objectives required for each level. This basically means exploring as much as possible until the level is done.

The guns are interesting and most are easy to use. I found the grenades were the most difficult to use taking down aerial targets or something higher than me. The enemies are all fairly similar in the early game being mostly green blobs and flying robots, the number does diversify as the game goes on.

The graphics are nice, but in some places seem to be a bit fuzzy or not quite match up with a nearby surface.  This isn’t too distracting, and could be because of the technology that was available when they first worked on the game. It just didn’t help the aesthetics of the levels. The sprites are very colourful and let you recognize whats happening quickly, the doesn’t appear to be much animation except in the form of lots of particles from explosions and blood when enemies die.

Sound is good as well, but again isn’t as polished as commercial games. The volume across sound effects didn’t seem consistent and there was no music that I was aware of to add to the atmosphere of the game.

Blob wars is an excellent open source game that is fun to play, and does not require you to invest huge amounts of time. It isn’t quite as polished as a commercial game, but obviously you can’t expect that from a small team of developers not doing it for a living. A lot of thought has been put into the levels and game play and it shows, if you like a good action platformer then you should give this one a go.


Halloween Harry for DOS

Title Screen

Title Screen

Halloween Harry was released in 1993 by sub zero software and published by Apogee. The name was changed to Alien Carnage the next year, with some minor changes, including changing the order of the episodes. It has since been released as freeware in 2007.



I first played this game when I was in high school, it was installed on the machines in our computer labs. I often finished the class work ahead of everyone else, so frequently had time to play games. I was playing the original shareware version of the game which is episode 3 in the newer versions of the game. At the time I thought it was a pretty good action platformer and had many hours of fun playing through the levels.



The game is quite fast paced and has a variety of weapons and environments. The goal of each level is to free all the hostages, and to reach the exit. There are enemies around which will obviously try to get in your way, and will respawn some time after you kill them, usually when you leave the area. Killing enemies the first time around allows you to collect coins to buy weapons and ammunition. It is often best to avoid enemies rather than kill them a second time as your ammunition is limited and you don’t get coins after the first time.

Male Hostage

Male Hostage

You can resupply your weapons at vending machines in the levels, but they may be difficult to find. You get a jetpack to aid your mobility within the levels, but it uses the same fuel as the flamethrower. I found that the flamethrower was a good weapon most of the time, so the only incentive to use something else is really just about conserving fuel for your jetpack. However if you don’t spend much cash on other weapons you will frequently find fuel stations for the jetpack/flamethrower, so you shouldn’t often have a shortage.

Female Hostage

Female Hostage

The graphics and sound are very good, with good support for VGA and sound blaster devices, but not many others. Graphics are quite nice looking, but the same enemies and obstacles are reused throughout all of the episodes. Some of the graphical effects can get in the way, I found in the sewer sections the pipes obscured your view of what was happening often. This was kinda annoying as it made it difficult to navigate an area that shouldn’t be difficult. Sound is also quite good, with some nice music and sound effects.

Terminals and Vending Machines

Terminals and Vending Machines

Replaying the game now I’ve found I still enjoy it, but it can be a bit repetitive as many of the puzzles, enemies and features of levels are very similar. There are many good weapons, but you’ll find yourself using the flame thrower as few of the other weapons offer anything more useful. However It’s definitely worth a download and play through because the action is sound, and the basic mechanics of the game are fun.


FTL:Faster Than Light

One of the reasons I’ve been slow to update recently is because I’ve become addicted to a new game I bought on steam called FTL: Faster than Light. The game puts you in command of a star ship which has information important to the “federation”. You are being chased by a rebel fleet which will try to kill you if they catch you.

The game is focused on controlling what you use the limited power available from your reactor for. For instance you can decide how much power to allocate to weapons and shields. There are a variety of enemies that you will face in your journey and many strategies you can use. Teleporters (transporters for trek fans) allow you to board an enemy ship and attempt to kill the crew or destroy a subsystem. Unfortunately the enemies can also do the same to you which often results in losing crew members or subsystems.

There are a variety of different weapons available, each useful in different configurations and situations. Lasers have infinite ammunition, but can also have a long recharge time. They are often good for knocking down the shields or dealing moderate amounts of damage. The downside is that the shields have often recharged before you can fire them again.

Missiles and bombs ignore the shields entirely and are useful for destroying subsystems such as the shields faster. The downside is that they require ammunition which is often scarce in game. The recharge time varies with some being short and others quite long.

Beams are like the standard laser weapons in that they do not require ammunition, and have long recharge times. The way they damage an enemy ship works differently. You draw a line on the enemy ship to tell it where to fire and the Beam will follow the line for the duration it lasts for damaging rooms it hits. Beams can’t knock the shields down of a ship but can pierce them and do damage if the beam is strong enough to get through. In practice there are only a few beams that are capable of getting through shields at all.

Drones are a separate sub system of their own and have many uses. Attack drones fly around the enemy ship and try to attack it with whatever type of weapon they have (usually beam or laser). They often fire faster than a weapon mount on a ship. Defence drones circle your own ship and shoot down incoming projectiles. The base drone shoots missiles and boarding drones, but the advanced one will even shoot down enemy laser blasts. Finally there are drones for repairing your ship and repelling boarders, I’ve found these ones to be very useful.  The hull repair drone was enough to help me beat the final boss.

You sort of have to do the best you can with the equipment you can manage to get, as often it is very difficult to find exactly what you want. You can buy upgrades with scrap you collect to the various systems of your ship in order to increase the ability or capacity of it. Choosing the right system to upgrade is essential, but you can’t go wrong with upgrading shields or engines. I’ve found it’s a good idea to always have some scrap just in case I come across a store with a good weapon.

FTL is very much a rogue like in the sense that death is often inevitable as you often run into bad luck. This doesn’t detract from the game and actually makes me consider my decisions much more carefully. Victory against the final boss is fairly rare even when playing on easy. To encourage you to keep playing there are ships you can unlock by following certain quest paths in game. The game map and quests are randomly generated each time so each play-through is quite different. Each time I play I find something new to try and am currently trying to unlock all the achievements and ships. I guess I’ll probably tire of it eventually when I’ve unlocked everything, but for the price FTL was a bargain for many many hours of entertainment.


The C/C++ programming language

C and it’s derivative C++are perhaps both the most popular programming languages currently in use. C has it’s root in the early 1970’s in AT&T’s Bell Labs, it quickly became used for low level programming of kernels, and many of the early Unix operating systems were written with it. C++ was developed based on C later the same decade to add the object oriented model of programming which was relatively new at the time. You can find much more information about both the languages on Wikipedia here for C and here for C++.

I’ve not got as much expertise with either language as I do with others, I’ve written a few small applications and found that it was indeed possible to write nice neat code that was readable and worked well. However I’ve also had many issues in particular trying to read other peoples code and working with the build systems often used by implementations of both languages.

C is by far the simpler of the two languages, and is often compared to it’s contemporary Pascal which was developed around the same time. Some people regard Pascal as inferior to C (and I imagine that there are many that believe the opposite) but the reality is that both languages are very similar in capability. I’ve written embedded software with it back when I was at Uni and found it was well suited to the task, and would work well developing software even for larger systems. The main problem I have with the language is the extensive use of symbols, that many programmers abuse and end up with unreadable code. Fortunately it isn’t as bad as it could be, and providing people comment their code it is somewhat readable.

C++ introduced the object oriented model, but did not exclude people from continuing to use the procedural model. This is interesting as it allows people to mix and match, writing parts of their software in the methodology that suites it. I wrote an experimental program many years ago using C++ and was able to generate some reasonably readable code. The problem is that it is also quite easy to write some terribly difficult to read code as well. With the object oriented features utilizing pointers much more, some sections of code start to look more like random binary code than something that is readable. This makes the design of the software much more important.

The build system is different from platform to platform, but most of them are make systems describing how to build the software. I found it a bit difficult to deal with make files for similar reasons I find the languages difficult. There are lots of difficult to read symbols around that make reading a single line an exercise in de-coding. On the other hand the various versions of make are generally more powerful than the base compilers. Make technically isn’t necessary to build software in either language, you could manually write a script, but it is the most commonly used type of tool, although Microsoft Visual Studio has moved away from using it.

One of the main problems I’ve found with both languages is that the standard API varies greatly from platform to platform.  This results in large amounts of confusing conditional defines to try and help code be a bit more cross platform. It’s also been difficult for me to get used to the large number of symbols commonly used. It often takes me some time to work out where and how pointers are being de-referenced. I’ve also found finding and reading documentation for the API has been difficult as well. I understand there is a Javadoc like system (doxygen) that can be used to generate documentation, I’d like to see this (or something like javadoc) used for the API documentation to make it a bit easier. It’s not that API’s are hard to use, just the documentation is.

Most of what I consider a problem is nothing to do with either language, but with how many programmer (especially amateur ones) use them. Comments are lacking from code, in some cases the only comment is the header describing the license for the software. People seem to often over use the define pre-processor construct which makes reading code very difficult.Variable names are often confusing, short, and not really descriptive, which wouldn’t be as much of a problem if there was a comment describing what it is for, but this basically never happens. There were such bad examples of code in early Unix systems that an obfuscation competition was started in response to some terrible C code. It still runs today, and you can find their website here.

I think most of the software would be much more readable if people applied more professional coding standards, and used the automated documentation creation tools like doxygen so comments within source files can be the documentation. Sometimes I wonder if people make it difficult for the sake of looking smarter or making it harder for everyone else to understand.


XBlast on NetBSD

XBlast was created by Oliver Vogel and Garth Denley between 1993 and 2006. It is a multi-player game that is based on the Bomberman games which were popular on many old home consoles as early as 1983. I had never previously played a Bomberman game before so I have very little frame of reference for comparison to the older original games,  many of which I’ve read about have a similar multi-player facility. I built XBlast on my old Sparc hardware as I have done for many of the old X based Unix game. It built with out any problems and seems to run quite well even via XDMCP over the network. I haven’t tried building it on other platforms but I suspect that it would work on most Unix like systems.

The graphics for the game are colourful, and look fairly nice. Like I said they seem to work over the network with very little to no performance issues at all. The user interface has many options and I found it a little confusing to use, in particular when trying to use the network play options on what they call central. The game has an option for sound, but that did not work for me on the Sun platform so I can’t really comment on the quality of it.

There is no single player option really for this game, you can play multi-player games over a LAN, the internet, or on the local machine by sharing a keyboard or using multiple controllers. I wasn’t really able to get multi-player working, either because there is no-one on-line or because I couldn’t work out how to get the internet play working properly. I was able to play against an AI on the local machine and found the game was a little confusing to play at first. The controls for movement seemed to worked fine, but when I tried dropping bombs I’d find that it was a bit slow to do so, or wouldn’t do it at all for some unexplained reason. The game basically involves running around trying to get power-ups whilst avoiding bombs and laying your own to get your opponent. There was little of any kind of puzzle element and after a period of time the level space would start shrinking until some one gets killed or caught in the new wall sections appearing. There are many different levels/arenas for you to play in each with it’s own rules for game play. Some are quite large whilst others are relatively small. They change your strategy in where you try to place your bombs, and how you go about avoiding bombs placed by other players.

I think the software itself and the graphics are crafted quite well, but the game does get old fairly quickly. I think that it would definitely benefit from having a single player campaign with puzzle elements much like the original Bomberman games. I found myself getting bored fairly quickly, and I didn’t really enjoy the experience. This may be different for you if you liked the multi-player elements of the Bomberman games, or if you were a fan of them. Otherwise I’d suggest you’d probably be better off finding another way to entertain yourself.

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