Archive for April, 2014

27
Apr
14

Major Stryker for DOS

Major Stryker

Major Stryker

Major Stryker was released by Apogee back in 1993 and is one of the very few shoot-em-ups released by them. Like many other Apogee games it uses EGA graphics and was one of the last to do so. The story of the game is like many other shooters, after a large world conflict the Earth was left with little ability to defend itself. Along come the Kretons from a nearby worm hole bent on taking over the world. You, Major Stryker, a hero of the previous war are called in to defend the Earth and take the battle to the Kretons.

Admiral Yoshira

Admiral Yoshira

The EGA graphics are quite good and impressively scrolls quite nicely with 3 different layers. The foreground where all the action is, the middle which just has scenery and some enemies approaching, and the backgrounds which is static. EGA cards typically were not as capable as the later VGA cards so it’s quite an achievement to get that many layers going at once. I’m also very impressed with the quality of the artwork, although in my opinion Overkill is drawn better, a game which was often compared to Major Stryker unfavourably.

Space Station

Space Station

Something that does annoy me about the graphics is how busy they can get in some levels. Each planet you have to assault has 3 different areas with 3 bosses at the end of each. Some of the areas have a background similar not only to the enemies but also some projectiles making it difficult to see many of them in the middle of the action. It also doesn’t help that many enemies and projectiles move down the screen nearly the same speed as the background moves reducing the appearance of movemt and decreasing their visibility!

High Speed Corridor

High Speed Corridor

Sound in game is quite good although some of the sound effects are a bit strange, as if someone had made the sound with their mouth! Given they also support Adlib and PC speaker for the sound effects this is forgivable as it is difficult to achieve consistency between the devices. The music however is very good, mostly because it was written by Bobby Prince, a legend in music for DOS games. It fits the different aspects of the game very well and there is a good variety never making you hear a song until you’re sick of it.

High in the sky

High in the sky

I found Major Stryker was pretty fun to play, but is very very difficult. The difficulty curve turned out a little strange, some of the earlier levels turned out to be harder for me than some later on. I think thats because of the graphics for those particular stages. I found the best way to succeed was to concentrate more on dodging enemy fire than on shooting down badies. Until you have the power ups for your ships guns it can be very difficult to shoot something without having to dodge the numerous bullets flying around.

I'll sink your Battleship

I’ll sink your Battleship

At fixed time intervals a pod comes around with a weapon upgrade in it requiring you to shoot it open and pick up the contents. The weapon upgrades basically add more projectiles for press of the fire key, eventually upgrading to a spread shot that shoots in many directions. The fully upgraded weapon is quite deadly and will quickly carve its way through the coming enemies. However it doesn’t make you invinsible and the minute you are hit you lose all your upgrades, which can make the game suddenly much more difficult. If you are hit with no weapon upgrades you lose a life.

Fighting a Boss

Fighting a Boss

One of the more annoying enemies for me was the ship that brings in the shield upgrades. It seems to come at fixed points in the levels and shoots many projectiles that can be very hard to dogde. It combined with the normal enemies is usually very dangerous.

She needs a cold shower

She needs a cold shower

Whilst I had fun with Major Stryker I’m not really quite sure what to think of it yet. I enjoyed the game play for the most part, but found some aspects of the game frustrating. I thought losing all your upgrades when hit was too punishing, and often resulted in making a difficult section even harder than it needed to be. On the other hand once you get a good run going it’s quite fun and a challenge to shoot the enemies, rescue humans and dodge enemy fire. I guess given that it’s now freeware you should give it a go if you like shooters, but it won’t be to everyones taste.

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20
Apr
14

Commodore 64 Microcomputer

Today I’m looking at a popular micro computer from the early 80’s the Commodore 64 or C64 for short. It was released in 1982 after machines like the Apple II, TRS 80 and CBM PET machines started a market for computers in the home. They became one of the most popular computers of all time selling more units than any other single model.

Commodore were able to under cut many of their competitors because they owned the chip maker MOS Technologies. This meant they could use chips like the 6502 at a lower cost and could include custom chips like the VIC II and SID with out paying as much for the chips. Other machines such as the ZX Spectrum, Apple II, TRS 80 and Atari 800 either had to use less capable of the shelf parts or pay more for chips with the same capability.

C64c

C64c

I have a C64c which is the later cost reduced version of the Commodore. You can see that it has a more modern chassis and now has a ventilation grill at the top. It does have the same keyboard, albeit in a different colour. The main changes are mostly on the main board with a reduced chip count and lower voltage to improve the reliability and cost of the machine.

Datasette

Datasette

I bought the Datasette for the machine first as many software titles came on audio cassette. I’ve found with the help of software and a tape player I was able to convert C64 images to audio tape for playing on the real machine. It takes ages for software to load but it allows you to play tape images you can get online. Recently I bought the SD2IEC pictured in the right of the photo. It allows you to load programs from an SD card. It connects to the floppy drive port and emulates it right down to the slow load times.

Joysticks

Joysticks

Here are the controllers I bought for my machine, a set of Commodore paddles as some games require them and two Competition Pro joysticks. The joysticks are good, although possibly in need of cleaning the contacts. They make a satisfying click when you press a button or move the stick. The paddles are reasonably accurate and aren’t suffering from jitter, a common problem for older paddles.

Cartridges

Cartridges

I was able to amass a good collection of cartridges for my system pretty quickly. I bought most of them in packs of 4 or 5 at a relatively good price. It is usually fairly easy to get games at a good price because they were fairly common. Cartridges less so as many games were distributed by tape or disk. I quite like having cartridges as they have less problems with media damage, especially if using a mask ROM. Floppy disks probably suffer the most from media damage and from damage to the floppy drives. Audio tape also suffers loss over time, but it usually isn’t as severe and many old games still load. I’d still archive them digitally but you’re less likely to have problems with them.

I didn’t own a C64 back in the day, so it was interesting getting one and trying out the software. When I first tried out the tape drive it did take a painfully long time to load anything but it was worth it once the game loaded and you certainly made the most of each session as it would take ages to load something else! The cartridge games have been fantastic because of the short loading times. I particularly like Wizard of Wor and Zenji but all the cartridge games are quite good.

Because the C64 was so common all the software, accessories and the machine itself are easy to find and relatively cheap. Finding software for devices like the SD2IEC is also easy because to the large internet community still supporting the machine. In short I highly recommend it for new collectors as an easy way to get your feet wet using old machines.

16
Apr
14

But I don’t like spam!

I remember a time when spam referred to a type of processed pork in a can. It was one of those things we ate because cold meat in other forms was expensive and harder to get where we lived at the time. Nowadays spam is the torrent of unwanted messages that show up in our email, social media, instant messaging, blog comments… you get the idea. WordPress blogs are no exception to this and I regularly get lots of spam comments.

I look through the spam comments every now and then to make sure that Akismet doesn’t get it wrong sometimes. I’m often struck by how bad the language and grammar is in the messages and how little meaning they have. Sometimes they are even funny because of the poor wording. Today I’ve gathered a small collection of some of the best/worst spam messages I currently have in my spam box.

spam01

Apparently Gutman’s book or slavery will enhance your immune system. I don’t want to know how.

spam02

Luckily blocking spam isn’t so tough.

spam03

James Bond needs grammar lessons and is supposedly on a mission involving Frame buffers and hard disks. This was posted on Frame buffer and Hard disk follow up.

spam04

They love to use the word fastidious, ironically very un-fastidiously.

spam05

So in order to get the best crop you need to set your hair on fire and leap as high as you can in your field? This is not good news for my Dad who has little hair and couldn’t jump high enough!

spam06

Structured water is important? Who is Clayton Nolte? Someone with a broken hot water system? What do these things have in common with a screen capture of Silent Service II?

spam07

An enthusiastic loser! Training for something indecipherable. They certainly have met defeat with the spam filter.

spam08

There seems to be a large monster beat that can take constructive criticism. Anyone wish to master the percussion tone?

spam09

This dude has a weird fetish where he finds software or websites “doable”. Only on the internet.

spam10

Posted on Medion Laptop Repair. His room mate must have either been a laptop of the Medion variety or someone who repaired such machines.

The very odd thing about most of the spam I’ve been getting is that it has mostly been posted on a few screen shots for a few old DOS games I wrote about quite a while ago. This is probably the least likely place for anyone to see any of the content they have been posting.

I’ve also noticed some common trends amongst spam. They are usually devoid of anything that really makes any sense, and frequently just try to flatter their way into getting their link into your comments section. The ones that have strange blocks of text seem to have randomly used a thesaurus to change something that was poorly written to begin with into something even more convoluted.

I once got a spam that revealed more about how they are generated. It basically showed a block of text with some sections encoded with alternative words or phrases. I’m guessing the spammer software selects alternatives at random making some of the text sound very strange. It seems in many cases a thesaurus was used to pick synonyms which often sound awkward or just plain silly. Sometimes they didn’t bother using synonyms making the text sound even weirder.

At least out of their ineptitude comes a silver lining. Spam filters easily pick up the silliness these guys are throwing around.

 

14
Apr
14

Artsoft games on NetBSD

R'n'D Menu Screen

R’n’D Menu Screen

Today I am looking at two games for Unix systems called Rocks’n’Diamonds (R’n’D for short) and Mirror Magic. Both were developed by Artsoft which seems to consist of one person, Holger Schemel. Both games are sort of clones of older games for much older platforms. Rock’n’Diamonds is a Boulder Dash like game that was first released in 1995 and last updated at the end of 2013. Mirror magic is very much like Deflektor, originally released in 1995 and updated until 2003. Whilst both games are based on older games they both add features to the old formula. Today I’ve built and played these under NetBSD on my SparcStation 20.

Text Box

Text Box

Being made by the same person, both games share some similarities, particularly in the art style. The menus and sprites are very colourful, they almost look like they belong at a carnival. Everything is well drawn, animated and items look like they should. Items brought over from the older games have been updated graphically, they don’t look identical to the originals but are also easily identifiable for players of the old games.

Green Goo

Green Goo

They run of the same graphics engine originally developed for R’n’D which supports X11 and SDL mainly. The X11 versions work quite well, even on exceptionally old hardware like my old SparcStation 20 which is quite impressive. They work moderately well over longer distances via SSH, but the latency and bandwidth can be a problem on slower links whilst LAN speeds works flawlessly. There is a SDL version, but the version I installed (from Macports on my macbook) seems to be significantly slower than even X over SSH. This is hopefully just something peculiar to the Macports version on Mac OSX.

Playing Via SSH

Playing Via SSH

Both also have the same sort of sound engine and from what I can experience on the Macports version they are good for what they are. I only got to test sound in R’n’D and unfortunately during game play you can get swamped with the same sounds playing repetitively. So you might enjoy your playing experience more with the sound off. Playing on NetBSD on the old Sparc machine this wasn’t an issue as sound doesn’t work there.

Mirror Magic Menu Screen

Mirror Magic Menu Screen

The game play for R’n’D is interesting in that it combines elements from games such as Boulder Dash and Sokoban, and includes most of the elements added by Supaplex and Emerald Mines to Boulder Dash. The game has three game engines that any level can use. Rocks’n’Diamonds, Supaplex and Emerald Mines. The later allowing levels from those games to be played and solved as they are in the original. I haven’t played enough of the levels to give a good impression of what they are like as a whole, but those that I have played have been fun. I did try levels from the older games and they seemed to work quite well.

Holy balls of steel!

Holy balls of steel!

Mirror Magic similarly has its roots in older games, specifically Deflektor and Mindbender. Basically there is a Laser, a bunch of mirrors, obstacles, and stuff to destroy in the levels. You need to direct the laser with the mirrors to destroy objects in the way and get the beam to the target. Usually this requires destroying all of the metal spheres in the level. You have a limited amount of fuel, and the laser can over heat if the beam hits the wrong type of object. It’s important to keep an eye on both the fuel and heat gauges as running out of fuel or over heating can sneak up on you. What I’ve played so far has been quite fun, although I was disappointed that only levels from the old games were included.

Balls busted

Balls busted

Both games have a level editor which is easy to use. The editor in R’n’Ds is quite flexible and allows users to create their own custom objects that behave differently to the stock ones. This allows people to make all sorts of different creations, one even claiming to have recreated Zelda! There are lots of different level packs available on the Artsoft website for R’n’Ds, but not really any for Mirror Magic. In either case, if you do happen to beat all the levels there is still lots of gameplay in the user created levels and building some of your own.

What Mc Duffin?

What Mc Duffin?

Despite being based on older games that are well known, I think both of these games bring something new to the table. R’n’Ds brings many more levels including user created ones and variety in game play that the original games didn’t have. Mirror Magic is a decent remake of the originals with the addition of a level editor. Both run on Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, and BSD. There is even a DOS port of both although the port of R’n’Ds is a little out of date. If you like any of the old games on which these are based you might wanna give them a try.

07
Apr
14

Storage Photo Tour 3

This weekend I was having a tidy up, between doing more domestic style cleaning I got out another one of my storage boxes to document its contents. I’ve done this twice before, once here at my place and once at my parents place. You can find the posts here and here.

This time around I found less older hardware and some more modern stuff, in particular a cache of AGP graphics cards of various types.

Continue reading ‘Storage Photo Tour 3’




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