Archive for July, 2013

29
Jul
13

The Battle for Wesnoth

Main Menu

Main Menu

The Battle for Wesnoth is an open source game project that had its first release back in 2003. It is a strategy game based in a fantasy world with many RPG like elements. Today I’m playing it on my Macbook running Mac OS X (Lion), but the game also works on many other platforms including Linux, Windows, and most BSD systems. I have been able to get it running on my sun UltraSPARC sunfire v440 which I have Gentoo Linux on currently.

Campaign Selection

Campaign Selection

Upon starting up the game and being greeted with the menu system, I was struck with how professional the game looks. The menus, backgrounds and graphics all appear of professional quality as soon as you see them. The menu system is easy to use, and gives you help when faced with something more complex. The music is equally epic as soon as you first hear it, bringing to mind epic battles before you’ve had a chance to fight any.

Starting area

Starting area

The game offers a tutorial mode which I highly recommend, not so much because playing is difficult, but it is a much more gentle way to get used to the way the game works. The tutorial teaches you all the basics of movement, combat, and recruiting new soldiers. I found within no time I had managed to get the hang of it, and had managed victory in the tutorial and the earlier part of a introductory campaign.

Combat

Combat

The game has many campaigns of different difficulty and length, meaning there is always a campaign to suite your skill level and amount of time available. Many members of the community have created extra content including campaigns, new resources and units all for you to enjoy in single player or multi-player. Of course if you have played through all the created content there is also the option of playing random maps, or creating new ones of your own.

Recruiting

Recruiting

In addition to the single player, hot seat, network and internet multiplayer games are all supported. Connecting and playing any of these modes is simple and easy to do. Although you need to be well prepared to play online.

Playing the game I’ve found the controls fairly easy to use and have had no trouble getting my armies to do what I want. There is however an incredible amount of depth in the stories for the campaigns and the number of stats the units can have along with their effect in battle.

Killing Mordak

Killing Mordak

Combat in particular is interesting. There are two main types, Melee and Ranged combat. Different types of units can perform one or both of these different types of combat. Interestingly if you attack someone with a ranged attack and they have no ranged capability then their unit cannot retaliate and you unit will emerge unharmed whilst theirs does not. This can also happen with Melee combat if the other unit has no melee capability.

Whilst all the attacks units have are either ranged or melee, they also can have other properties such as being magical attacks. These modifiers can change the effect of the damage, the chance to hit, and inflict poison or drain health from an opponent.

Victory!

Victory!

Units are much like characters in a role playing game, they have attack capabilities in various forms, traits that affect their stats, and they have health points and experience points. Units can level up and get upgraded down one of a few paths in an upgrade tree. There are only a few levels to upgrade to depending on the unit, I think most get to level 3 or 4. Upgrades can significantly improve a unit so this is understandable. Players need to try and hold onto their strong and experienced units longer as they are much more effective than the base units you can recruit. If you are in the middle of a campaign you can recall units from the last scenario you played to benefit from them having more experience and perhaps being higher level.

Your main avatar can recruit new units when in the main castle. This requires gold that you acquire by occupying villages. Villages will support one unit for free and earn you some gold, which can be spent on support for more units, or on recruiting more units. Villages will also provide a defense bonus and heal units stationed there. This makes villages an important asset in the game, as you need them for income and to heal your experienced and important soldiers.

Campaign story

Campaign story

The Battle for Wesnoth is very polished, it is pretty much the same or better than commercial games quality wise. I’ve not run into any bugs in the limited time I’ve been playing. Installing add-ons and getting online for internet play is seamlessly handled in the game UI itself, removing any need for manually extracting files or arranging servers. It works on a wide variety of platforms so getting a version for your system should be no problem. If you like strategy games I highly recommend it.

23
Jul
13

Lawn Mower for DOS

Instructions

Instructions

Lawn Mower is one of those games that has many different versions out there. Today I played one by Christopher D. Orr created back in 1997. The game is as you might guess a very simple arcade like game. You push your lawn mower around the lawn in order to cut all the grass. There are a few hazards such as a gopher that can make holes in the ground, and a dog that chases you. If you hit something enough and it hasn’t killed you right away, you damage your mower and require a new set of blades. This requires you to return to the shed to put the new blades on.

Mowing!

Mowing!

The game doesn’t really have graphics to speak of as this is a text-mode based game. This means that it should support even the oldest CGA adapter and possibly even MDA. The display is reasonably easy to understand and instructions are provided along with a legend of what everything is. Sound comes only on PC speaker, which is unsurprising as it was written before sound cards became popular. Unfortunately the sound of the mower engine is annoying, much like real life. So it is best to play with the sound off.

That's all you get paid

That’s all you get paid

The controls are easy to get to grips with as you basically use the arrow keys to control your direction. You can change the speed of the mower by pressing one of the number keys across the top of the keyboard. This means you can adjust the speed to suite how fast you can play and the area in which you are mowing. It is wise to go slower amongst the mazes and tighter areas, and faster in more open spaces.

One with a hedge maze!

One with a hedge maze!

The game play has been compared to other games such as Pac-Man, but I don’t know that’s very accurate. There are only really two enemies to avoid in the gopher and dog. The gopher will simply randomly appear and occasionally leave behind a gopher hole that will damage your mower. The dog persistently chases you around the lawn and runs pretty much directly at you mindlessly. Whilst these can both require some effort to avoid the main challenge that will have you replacing your mower is the tighter sections of the lawn where you run into things more frequently.

Ah Roses

Ah Roses

Lawn mower is simple and easy to play for a short burst. It’s fun, but not something you’ll spend hours upon hours playing. I still found it compelling enough to play it all the way through a few times, which didn’t take long at all. It’s good as a quick distraction, and seemingly should run on pretty much any PC including vintage ones.

16
Jul
13

More Hardware Shenanigans

This weekend I was rather busy catching up on housework and replacing some parts on my motorbike after going on a short holiday. So I was unable to really find any time to play a game for writing about. I did however find some time to do a little bit of hardware tinkering with some new bit and pieces I’ve recently acquired.

Compensating the probes

Compensating the probes

Firstly I recently bought myself a decent oscilloscope for the purposes of fixing old computer hardware and to help with hardware projects. I bought a Rigol 2000 series 70Mhz scope which was about 900 Australian Dollars (inc GST). So far I’ve found it pretty easy to use and have been able to probe points all over my poor ZX Spectrum which seems to have destroyed another video chip. Using it I have located a capacitor that looks like there is no voltage reaching it so the board may have power issues or that cap may be bad. In any case the scope I got seems quite good, and even though I only ever used an old school analog scope back at Uni I’ve found this one easy to do what I want with it.

The second thing I brought back from a holiday to see my parents recently. It is the original 5 inch floppy drive from our old Twinhead 386sx computer we got when I was a kid. It is a Canon MD 5501 drive that unfortunately has seen better days, it originally had a problem when my well meaning Dad tried cleaning it. After he cleaned it reading disks became basically impossible, and the eject mechanism eventually began to stick. We thought the drive was dead, but it probably just needed proper lubrication and alignment after Dad messed with it. Not knowing this I removed the power connecter from it some years later for connecting up some fans I was wiring up for my then computer chassis.

Floppy drive minus shield

Floppy drive minus shield

So the drive requires heaps of attention to try to restore it. But so far I’ve been quite successful in freeing up and lubricating the eject and head mechanism with some simple silicon spray. It now looks pretty good mechanically! I’ve soldered on a power connecter cannibalizing a Molex to dual SATA power converter. It’s not as tidy as the original connector but it seems to work. I have yet to work out how to go about re-aligning the heads but that is the next challenge!

Because the original main board for our 386sx is still functional I am entertaining the thought of re-building our old machine. The main problem being I don’t have the original chassis as it got rusted when the external CMOS battery leaked. Fortunately the main board survived this, but being what it is, it doesn’t fit any chassis I have laying around. I guess that’s not an issue until I get to putting it in a pretty case!

06
Jul
13

Clyde’s Revenge for DOS

Clyde's Revenge

Clyde’s Revenge

Clyde’s Revenge was made by Moonlite software back in 1995 and is a sequel to the original Clyde’s adventure. Moonlite software also made Hocus Pocus and Taking Care of Business. Clyde’s Revenge appears to be the last game Moonlite software made. It is a puzzle platform game much like its predecessor and appears to use an enhanced version of the Hocus Pocus game engine.

Their Logo

Their Logo

When you first start the game you get a nicely animated ASCII style menu that allows you to change the sound card settings and create a profile for yourself. This is unusual as this is usually done in either a separate program or within the graphical menu in game. It does make resuming a game from the level you are up to a little easier as it auto saves your progress in your profile.

Silver Key

Silver Key

The graphics are much the same in style as the original, but have the parallax scrolling background capability from Hocus Pocus. The art style echoes the older games improving some elements with extra animations and colour. Each level has a colour theme which changes every two levels. Because there are no enemies in game many elements of the levels are animated including energy pickups and hazards such as lava. In fact in some levels a large number of the static bricks are all animated. This means the game uses more processing power than Hocus Pocus because of how much is animating on screen.

Stones and Energy

Stones and Energy

There is a wide variety of sound support, more than most games. I used Sound Blaster digitised sound for sound effects and music and found both were quite good. The music changes along with the visual theme of the level you’re playing and reflects the nature of the game. The sound effects are kinda cartoonish in a way, mostly being ok. The sound effect for when you get hurt is however a big annoying scream which doesn’t seem to fit all that well.

Lava!

Lava!

The game is primarily a puzzle game so game play is significantly different. You are tasked with collecting all the stones that are around a level. This requires you to explore and find all the different areas of the level which are sometimes hidden quite well. There are a few different mechanics that help you travel around levels. Firstly there are the normal controls, which are pretty much like other platform games and are precise. Switches may open up new areas not necessarily on screen and sometimes walking somewhere will trigger a passage to open. Springs will throw you up in the air higher each time you bounce on them.

An interesting an different feature comes from the original Clyde game. Clyde has a wand which he can use to temporarily destroy some types of bricks below him. Sometimes this reveals a spring or switch which can further exploration attempts.

Scrolls

Scrolls

The game is difficult but easier than the original as the original took energy away just for moving. You only lose energy in this one by falling a long distance or being hurt. Even though there are no enemies, there are still plenty of ways to be killed in a level. It will usually take several attempts to complete a level. There are a few different difficulty levels which may make your life easier (or harder) including one for kids which has infinite health. So anyone will find a setting to suite them.

Yay!

Yay!

Because it can take quite a few tries to pass a level I’m not all that far into the game. You have to practice a level just in order to finish it, where as in a game like Hocus Pocus you replay a level to get higher scores. This can make it a little repetitive until you are able to move on to the next level, but rewarding when you do. The platforming and puzzles are enjoyable, and like the other Moonlite software games I have enjoyed playing it immensely.

01
Jul
13

Commander Keen for DOS

Commander Keen

Commander Keen

Commander Keen is an iconic platform game for DOS, originally released in 1990 by iD software and published through Apogee. It is credited as the first platform game to feature smooth scrolling and animation like that on the popular consoles of the time. It was thought before hand that the PC was not capable of animating things quickly, seemingly a legacy of the capabilities of older PCs.

early iD software logo

early iD software logo

I find it interesting that it took so long before anyone thought it was possible on the PCs of the time. EGA had been introduced in 1984 and VGA in 1987, so the technology graphically had existed for quite a while before hand. Processing power had similarly increased with the 286 and 386 processors. We had our VGA capable 386sx 20Mhz close to the start of 1990 and it was more than capable of playing the fast action platformers that came out, perhaps with the exception of the later ones (such as Jazz Jackrabbit). The machines had clearly been capable for quite some time.

long long ago...

long long ago…

In any case Commander Keen was a big change in PC games because no-one had really made games of its kind before. Today I played Commander Keen 4 (known as the first episode of Goodbye Galaxy). I had not played any of the Keen games previously so this was a new experience for me.

The map screen

The map screen

The graphics in game are a great example of EGA graphics at its best. It’s a bit odd they didn’t use VGA for the graphics, but the artwork for the game does not suffer for it. Everything is beautifully colourful and well animated. Keen himself is coloured well and doesn’t look like he’s sunburned like many characters do when drawn in EGA. Enemies and backgrounds are easy to look at and identify. Being one of the later Commander Keen games everything has clearly been refined quite well.

Leap of faith

Leap of faith

Sound and music is the another big highlight of the game. The Adlib music is some of the best I’ve heard, and I’ve found myself humming the tunes later as I worked on other projects. Sound effects are available through PC speaker or Adlib, I used the Adlib effects and found they were quite good and added to the general charm of the game.

Gems as keys

Gems as keys

The game controls are very precise and platforming is not so much easy, but does what you expect it to. There is the pogo stick which is an interesting addition and allows you to jump much higher, but with less control so it doesn’t feel over done. The difficulty is reasonable yet not frustrating. I found it was quite fun, and I could make progress easily enough.

Death

Death

Commander Keen is basically one of the best classic platform games for the PC. The game is great for children as there is basically no violence (ironic considering iD’s later titles) and it is stupidly fun.  It is available for download on steam and on iD softwares website, and for the cost I’d certainly recommend it if you don’t already have it.




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