Archive for March, 2013

31
Mar
13

Crystal Caves for DOS

Crystal Caves Title screen

Crystal Caves Title screen

Crystal Caves is a simple puzzle platform game released by Apogee back in 1991. It was made at a time when many games by Apogee had EGA graphics whilst many others had moved onto the popular VGA cards. Back then people didn’t upgrade their machines as often, so there were still many older 286 and older machines running EGA cards.

The Hub level

The Hub level

The graphics in Crystal Caves are in EGA, and aren’t the prettiest around. The sprites are animated quite nicely, but require a 286 at least for the game to work smoothly. This would have made it difficult for anyone using an older 8088/8086 based machine to play the game smoothly. Given that many 286 machines could support VGA graphics via an upgrade, they could have used VGA without limiting themselves to people with the latest hardware.

A Level with lots of blue

A Level with lots of blue

The sound comes in the form of PC speaker, it sounds ok but is a bit reminiscent of game and watch style sound. The game doesn’t support any sound card unfortunately, as support for an ad lib based sound card would make it sound much better.

Girders!

Girders!

Like many Apogee games of the time the game excels in game play rather than technical prowess. You play the part of Mylo Steamwitz who is gathering crystals to save up money to buy the Twibble farm that he has been dreaming of owning. The game has some nice original elements including the ability to play the levels (known as caves in game) in any order you like and a hub level from which you choose which level to play.

Hammer Time!

Hammer Time!

Each level has a number of hazards to avoid that come in many forms. There are enemies that roam the levels, spikes stationary guns that shoot at you. You have a gun that you can use to shoot some of the monsters, but others you need to simply avoid. Care must be taken when shooting to make sure you don’t hit the air supply in a level, otherwise you die rather explosively. To exit a level you must first collect all the gems, and then make it too the exit airlock. This frequently requires you to use switches to open doors or activate elevators.

Under the Gun

Under the Gun

It certainly isn’t an action packed platformer like Duke Nukem which was released around the same time. But it certainly has some moments when you need to think about what you’re going to do next, and there is some challenging platform jumping to be had. There are 16 levels per episode and they vary in difficulty, some are very hard whilst others are easier, but not easy to complete. The game play makes up for the graphics and sound not using better hardware, and I had fun playing. I can see why some people consider it to be one of the classic Apogee platform games.

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27
Mar
13

Inside a Serial Multiplexer

Today I decided to take a look inside one of the serial multiplexers I rescued some year ago. I found that it has some nifty hardware in it including a 16Mhz Z8 microprocessor, 32K of static RAM, some serial controllers and a EPROM. I might have to hack these chips some day to make my own micro computer, I wonder if anyone has built a micro based on the Z8 before? Fortunately I can remove these chips easily as they are pretty much all socketed, so I won’t destroy the multiplexer, and after I did a bit of looking around I can buy the other components if I have to.

Anyway here’s a few photos of the multiplexer.

Continue reading ‘Inside a Serial Multiplexer’

24
Mar
13

Jill of the Jungle for DOS

JotJ Main menu

JotJ Main menu

Jill of the Jungle was released by Epic Megagames back in 1992. It is an action and adventure platformer in which you are playing as the titular character. Jill was one of the first female character to be the main protagonist on a PC game, it was also the first truly popular title released by Epic Megagames. I played the later game Xargon and loved it, but never had the chance to play Jill of the Jungle when it came out as the magazines we read didn’t feature it. Xargon had inherited many features of Jill of the Jungle so it has many similar aspects.

The Story

The Story

It came out at roughly the same time as many popular games from Apogee such as Commander Keen and Duke Nukem. This basically set up a rivalry of sorts between the two companies. You could see this within some of the Epic games in particular. They often poked fun at some of the Apogee game characters, games, and in one case in Jazz Jackrabbit the company as well.

Demo

Demo

Jill supports CGA, EGA and VGA graphics which is quite unusual. All the different graphic modes look very good, and the animations and scrolling are very smooth. It is one of the more attractive games from the time. There are different themes to each level based on the level title and the episode that it’s in. Whilst each level looks different, there are also many common elements such as enemies and some tiles that are part of the level. One of the strangest differences across episodes is that Jill’s costume is coloured differently for each one.

Level 1

Level 1

Digitised sound on the sound blaster is supported along with some of the best Ad Lib music I’ve heard on the PC. The sound effects are quite good but are strangely different across episodes of the game. The game also supports PC speaker for the sound effects, and the effects sound good for PC speaker but you’re much better off with the Sound Blaster sound.

Trees!

Trees!

The game has some interesting elements that were new to the PC platformer, such as the items that transform Jill into either a flame bird, fish or a frog. There are some areas of each episode that you need to access as one of these creatures, and each one has its own weaknesses and strengths. For instance the flame bird can fly, shoot, and travel through fire or lava but can’t travel through water and tends to fall quickly after achieving altitude.

In a Cave

In a Cave

The three episodes are different as if they were developed separately at different times. The first episode has an overworld level which is mostly the same as the main levels, unlocking new levels with gems you find. The second episode doesn’t have an overworld, just a series of levels in order. Finally the third episode has an overworld map much the same as the first but with a top down perspective.

Whoa a Snake!

Whoa a Snake!

Having played the game recently I can see why so many people see it as a classic platformer. The game play is solid and offers something different that so few others did at the time. The VGA graphics and Sound Blaster sound were impressive for the time. I did find some of the latter levels in episode 2 and 3 were similar to previous levels, but they are still quite playable and repetition was quite common for platformers. If I had of played Jill of the Jungle when it came out, I would have loved it as many other people do. It is clearly worthy of the title classic DOS game.

19
Mar
13

Taking Care of Business for DOS

Moonlite Software logo

Moonlite Software logo

Taking Care of Business (or TCB for short) is a single screen puzzle platform game made by Moonlite software back in 1994. Moonlite software made many platform games in the DOS era, most notably the Clyde’s Revenge games and my favourite Hocus Pocus. TCB is unlike the others in many ways, but has a similar art style to Clyde’s Revenge.

Menu Screen

Menu Screen

TCB is very much like the Block man game by Soleau Software in that you solve puzzles by moving tiles around in a simple platform environment. TCB is some-what more complex as there are many more tools, tiles and hazards to account for when trying to solve a puzzle. You are able to destroy bricks with your head or dynamite, create ladders, flip switches, and push some tiles. You will have to avoid lightning traps and blocks that disappear after you walk on them in one direction.

Solving the first puzzle.

Solving the first puzzle.

TCB is very unusual for a DOS game in that it is one of the few that uses high resolution VESA mode graphics. The graphics as I said have a very similar style to the Clyde games. The main character Demolisher Dirk looks very much like a muscular construction worker version of Clyde with a hard hat. Because the developers had used this style before the graphics appear quite polished despite being fairly simple. The graphics animate very smoothly even on a slow machine, so if you happened to put a VESA compatible card in a 386 (what a waste) it would work quite well. I love the animation of Dirk head butting a wall to destroy it!

Sound is available in the form of either PC Speaker or Sound Blaster sound. The digitised sound on the sound blaster is quite good, but not essential to your play experience. I didn’t try the PC speaker sound, if it were to be annoying it is a simple matter to just turn the sound off.

Stuffed up!

Stuffed up!

The puzzles are quite challenging, but the game is quite forgiving. There are no limits on the number of attempts of a puzzle and you can attempt the puzzles in any order you like. The game has a nice demo mode which shows all the game elements and how they work and it can show you a solution to a puzzle if you get stuck. The controls behave the way you expect, and are easy to use. The game has some nice online help so if you have trouble you won’t be lost for long.

and again!

and again!

I found the game quite fun, and I didn’t mind having to replay some puzzles to eventually solve them. There are 60 puzzles to solve so it will keep you busy for quite some time. There were some additional ones available but I’m not sure where you’d get them now. However the time you will spend will be limited as you will eventually solve all the levels, or get sick of trying on the harder ones. If you’re like me you’ll eventually forget how to solve the puzzles and be able to come back to play them again.

Taking Care of Business is charming and worth a download especially if you like the puzzle platformer genre. It reflects the quality of the other Moonlite software games which I’d also recommend.

17
Mar
13

Micro Computer Comparison – Part 3

I’ve been investigating the differences between the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64, and I’ve found previously that the ZX Spectrum is fortunate to have a slightly better processor and more memory bandwidth. You can read about those parts here and here.

Today in the final part I’ll be looking at the hardware external to the processor and memory. In the case of the Spectrum that will be the ULA, and the VIC and SID chips within the C64. This is one of the areas in which these two machines are the most different and also what makes a big difference to the user experience of both machines.

Continue reading ‘Micro Computer Comparison – Part 3’

11
Mar
13

Hubie For DOS

Hubie Title Screen

Hubie Title Screen

Hubie is a puzzle platformer game released in 1996 by Serendipity Software. It was made at the end of the DOS game era, but is simple and reminiscent of many earlier puzzle platformers. For such a simple game, it requires more processing power than it really should. I had to set DosBox to 7000 cycles to get the animations and game running smoothly, which roughly equates to a reasonable 486 machine. These faster DOS machines were common by this time, so it isn’t surprising, but is an example of many wasted CPU cycles.

Practise Screen

Practise Screen

The graphics of the game are very colourful, but when I first looked at them I thought they were EGA graphics. They are actually in VGA, and unsurprisingly the game doesn’t support any other modes. The graphics are not unattractive, but they don’t make good use of the VGA palette as they overuse many bright colours. The animations however are smooth, and work quite well, it’s just a shame they  take up so many CPU cycles.

Near the exit of the practise level

Near the exit of the practise level

Sound comes in the form of digitised sound from a sound blaster card, and ad lib/sound blaster music. The sound effects are quite reasonable and not too distracting, but the music is a bit annoying and quite repetitive. It is almost as if it was added as an after-thought.

The second easy puzzle

The second easy puzzle

The controls are designed around the numeric keypad, although if you don’t like them you can customise the keys yourself. There are more keys requires than is usual for a platform game, you have the usual four for movement, another two for pushing and crushing objects, and an extra two for flying a short distance and climbing. Fortunately the controls are not that hard to get used to. Moving around a level is very simple, but you can only move one complete tile at a time, so you don’t always stop when you release the key.

It's curtains for me!

It’s curtains for me!

The puzzles themselves are fun, and can take a little bit of working out. You can retry them as many times as you like so there is no problem with getting killed and it is safe to try different solutions. The puzzles are sorted into categories of difficulty, easy, medium, hard and bonus. This makes it easy to pick the level of puzzle that suites you. Like many modern games, you unlock levels as you play and can start at any level you have already unlocked.

About Serendipity

About Serendipity

Whilst the game has its flaws and a unusual control scheme, it was fun to play. The puzzles can get rather complex and require many steps to complete, so if you like puzzles you’ll like this game. That being said once you play a puzzle there is little to encourage you to play it again, and I found it frustrating sometimes when it wasn’t clear which way I should go to solve a puzzle. Today I played the shareware game which comes with 17 puzzles. The registered version comes with 100 puzzles and a level editor, so you may get much more mileage out of the registered version.

08
Mar
13

Micro Computer Comparison – Part 2

In the first part of this series I compared the memory bandwidth of the Commodore 64 (know as the C64 for short) and the ZX Spectrum. If you haven’t read the first part you will find it here.

Today I will compare the two microprocessors used by the systems, that is the Moschip 6502 and the Zilog Z80 processors. In the last part I found that memory bandwidth wise, both processors have roughly the same ability at the speeds used and that the difference in memory performance was up to the physical architecture of the systems in which they are operating in. To understand how much work each processor is capable of doing I will be looking at the impact of the internal structure and instruction sets.

This will most likely be another very long post!

Continue reading ‘Micro Computer Comparison – Part 2’




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