Archive for October, 2020


9th Anniversary and General Update

Another year has gone by, and whoa what a year it has been! We basically had a double whammy of natural disasters here in Australia. First we had what would have to be one of the worst fire seasons I can remember, with what felt like most of everything burning. Then the Covid19 pandemic came and sent us all into lockdown, which is likely to have consequences for us all economically for the next year or so at least.

I feel exceptionally lucky that I haven’t really been affected all that badly by the events of this year (touch wood). Lockdown was an interesting experience, in some ways good and bad in others. It was nice to be home and be more relaxed, and get more time with the kids. However it made it difficult to socialise and communicate with colleagues and made home feel like work. Where I live things are mostly back to normal, the only real difference being some people wearing masks.

I started making youtube content this year, which has been quite fun. I’ve had mixed results, some of my videos are lucky if they get one view, which is kind of disappointing, while a few of them have had a small number of views.

I’ve been thinking about it and there’s a few possible problems that may be the cause. Firstly, it’s entirely possible that I’m not doing anything terribly wrong, just that it takes some time before people discover what I’m making. I had that experience to a degree in the first few years of writing here.

I’m not sure it’s a simple as that though, as there are quite probably some issues in what and how I’m making my videos that might be putting people off. I have the capture setup mostly sorted, although I think my audio quality could use improvement mainly by getting a better mic.

I think that most of the area I need to improve is mostly in my own “performance”. I’ve managed to make some videos in a more relaxed off script style, and other that are more scripted. I feel like I sound stilted and stiff in much of the audio, particularly the more scripted ones. The only real way I’m going to do better here is by practicing.

The last thing I thought may be a problem is basically the subject matter I’m picking. I think that GWBasic is quite a niche subject. Although my most popular video happens to be the one about Donkey.bas. I’ll continue making these as I feel like it’s something I like to talk about, and there isn’t really much of what I’d like to watch on youtube on this subject.

Old MS-DOS games as a subject are a bit more mainstream, I suspect that I just haven’t generated enough content in this space yet. Also there’s enough good content out there that it’s hard to get noticed.

I know that the main audience of my Minecraft videos is basically just my daughter. Which is kind of a shame because I really enjoyed making them and they took quite a while to make. I feel this is probably mostly because of the sheer number of people making content for Minecraft. I’ll probably still make these, but I might make a separate channel for them.

I haven’t had as much time for writing here, partly due to my youtube activity, but also because I’ve been busy, and feeling tired when not busy. I’m working on making some more time for myself, so I can hopefully spend some more time on my projects.

Speaking of things that have seen less activity it has been a few years since I last made a post about the old Sparcstation, the main reason being it’s taking a long time to rebuild all the packages I intend on trying/using. I’ve been using qemu to emulate a real system and have run into problems with emulation, I may fire up the old system to see if it’s quicker building on it or at least double up how much I’m building at a time.

I’m still sporadically working on Bob’s Fury, but I’m still stuck on the bug that causes it to crash on the microbyte 386 when the PC speaker is enabled. There is of course plenty of other work to do, such as creating the levels and eventually rewriting of the graphics library.

Finally, I’d like to thank anyone who’s been reading or watching my content. Whilst I do this as my hobby and for myself, it’s nice to know that others appreciate my efforts.


Solder Runner for DOS

Today’s game, Solder Runner, was made by Sumware Software back in 1996. This is notable as it’s after the release of Windows 95 and was in a time of decline for games development for DOS. It’s kind of like Paganitzu, Chaganitzu, God of Thunder or Bloxinies, except the puzzles span multiple screens. It comes with a level editor and three episodes, although the third episode appears to be incomplete.

I originally tried playing this in Dosbox, but it seemed to cause issues with the game such as only being able to play the third episode despite selecting the first one to play. So I fired up an old PC, to run the installer you need to be running windows9x (or better), but once installed the files can be copied to a pure MS-DOS machine. In this case I copied the game to the old IBM thinkpad laptop and captured images and video using my epiphan capture device.

The game appears to use high resolution VGA graphics (640x400x16), which for the most part aren’t bad. I noticed that a few digital photos of circuit boards were used in places, which is interesting, but the images appear to be a bit noisy where they are used. Other artwork such as the tiles and sprites are reasonably well drawn, although it isn’t clear what the functionality of some items are just by looking at them. However you’ll learn what they are fairly quickly.

There is supposed to be some digitised sound, but I couldn’t get it to work for me. The standard PC sound isn’t too intrusive or annoying, so it’s acceptable in this case. The controls take a little getting used to as you need to press a direction key twice to move a space  when changing direction. It’s annoying at first but you get used to it.

The game is divided up into three episodes, each episode is one large level consisting of many screens. Puzzles vary in size from simple ones that fit in one screen to much larger puzzles that require back tracking or retrieving keys or solder beads. The very first large puzzle on the first episode has you circle around the same screens multiple times before you can collect everything you need and move on.

The static hazards are much like those in similar games. Some shoot at you and others block your path or offer a small puzzle element. Keys may be required for progression at times and you’ll almost certainly have to back track at times. This can make things a little tedious as screens do not reset, so you can end up traveling several screens with basically nothing to interact with when you return to fetch something you need.

The enemies are quite different to what you’d find in similar games, they represent different types of computer virus in the system. They move quite erratically, in a semi-random fashion that makes them difficult to shoot and predict. I think this has made it harder to implement good puzzles involving them, if they had a more predictable logical behaviour that differed depending on the enemy type then you could base some puzzles around them. Much like those you’d find in similar games. As it stands they are more of a nuisance that you have to avoid or shoot.

Apart from issues with dosbox there are some game mechanics that may cause you problems. Diodes in the level only allow you to travel through them in one direction, you’re automatically pushed in that direction if you move onto one and they are often laid out in chains. Your controls are not disabled whilst this is happening, and you can attempt to move or shoot whilst the diodes push you to your destination. This can result in you glitching into a part of the level you’re not prepared for, so best to keep your hands of the keys whilst moving through a diode chain.

Solder Runner was reasonably fun to play, but it has some flaws. It does do multi-screen puzzles reasonably well, just other games such as God of Thunder in particular do it better. It feels incomplete and unpolished in many ways, which is confirmed by the third episode, which has barely any content and is clearly incomplete. Bellow is a video with some commentary and game play.

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