Barbarian At The Gates–Barbarian C64 Game (Nostalgia Review)

So this is one of those games that I didn’t really play a whole lot growing up.  I got it based on the strength of reviews and screenshots from a Computer Magazine, but it was based on the Amiga version and back in the early days of computers, there could be a whole world of difference between one system’s game and another (not like today where most games produced by companies other than Sony or Microsoft have virtual parity with their counterparts),  Barbarian (Commodore 64/C64) was a game that was essentially a side-scroller.  As I recall, you moved right or left and tried to defeat enemies on the way to a specific objective.  I don’t really recall all that much about it–except that I remember being disappointed that the game didn’t have more depth to it.

Compare the Differences

This is the Commodore Amiga Version:

and this is the Commodore 64 version:

You’ll notice that the title of the C64 video is Bad Conversions.  This is very accurate as the game does not stay true to the original and was poorly executed.  I remember that this game was released not too long after the original Conan The Barbarian movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger and while the Amiga version recreated the experience of the movies as faithfully as possible at the time, the C64 version did not.  I can’t recall if this was a Christmas present or a Birthday present–like most children, I got my games as gifts as presents and I remember the potential of this game being so great (I was, of course, into He-Man, Conan, and even Red Sonja along with all things warrior related at the time).

This is why I now rely on Reviews rather than screenshots–I learned early that media, especially advertisements can be manipulative and that it is up to the buyer to beware.

Caveat Emptor!

 

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Nostalgia: The Last Ninja (Commodore 64)

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The Last Ninja Intro. Screen, Image Source: http://www.lemon64.com

So watching TMNT: Out of the Shadows got me thinking about other “ninja” related things that I’ve enjoyed and one of those was an old C-64 game called the Last Ninja.  It may have been out on other computers/platforms, but I played it on the C-64 and had a blast.  It was an isometric adventure game and there were simple elements of combat and exploring (and some slight puzzle elements in figuring out how to defeat traps and barriers in order to progress).

The main character was a ninja (dressed in full ninja garb–which would have been like catnip to me during my teenage years).  The game, as I remember it, was both fun and hard.  You lost life quickly in battles and in the devious traps laid out by the designers.  Taking a trip through the game’s manual, I see that there are six levels in total.  I think I only ever made it to level 3 and I’m not really sure to be honest (I may have only made it to level 2).  I seem to remember completing level one a couple of times, but as I recall, it was a very rare occurrence.

In many ways, this game was the “Dark Souls” of the day.  It was insanely difficult, but it was so beautiful that I would often come back to it again and again to try my luck at it, hoping that “this time, it would be different and I could get deeper into the game’s levels.”  Most of the time that didn’t happen–the dragon trap on the first level was particularly insidious–but every now and then I managed to have a good run.  Perhaps The Last Ninja–and other games like it–are the reason why I don’t play Dark Souls today; perhaps I’ve sated myself on ridiculously hard experiences while gaming and I’m looking  for things that are fun to play (which isn’t to The Last Ninja wasn’t fun, but it was very frustrating, much like the Dark Souls games are today).

The game was published by Activision and had several sequels (which, as I didn’t buy/subscribe to gaming magazines back then due to a limited allowance, I didn’t know about until the rise of the internet).  I probably would have bought the sequels had I known about them, but it surprises me that Activision has never tried to modernize or bring back this old series (if they indeed do hold the rights) like Ubisoft did with the Prince of Persia series.  While game development has perhaps passed The Last Ninja by due to exorbitant budgets and massive development schedules, I’d love to see what an open-world ninja game might look like–something like Assassin’s Creed, or something totally different that we can’t even conceive at this point in gaming?  It’s interesting to speculate, but if nothing else, discussing this game was a fun trip down memory lane.

Nostalgia Time: In Search of the Most Amazing Thing & Snooper Troops

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Screenshot: Man jet packing to B-Liner Balloon Ship.  Image Source: Myabandonware.com

So, I won’t bore you but my Digital Rhetoric, while discussing the importance of old Commodore 64 code and the like, wasn’t too interested in my ACTUAL working knowledge of the C64 and its “affordances” (fancy, two-bit academic jargon that means advantages) of the software that I had as a child (& what helped shaped me into the person I am today).  I’m going to take a moment (probably on Mondays, though they may appear on other days) to just quickly go through some of the quirkiest and/or most relevant software and relate how they might apply to today’s world.

Two games that I remember that were the strangest and most intriguing games that I ever got for the C64 were by the same company–Spinnaker Software.  They were called In Search of the Most Amazing Thing (ISotMAT) and Snooper Troops (ST).  While I have the manual for ISotMAT, I don’t have the manual for ST–I can’t remember if ST was bundled in or if it was stuck in the ISotMAT box accidentally (things like that did happen in the early days of software), or what, but I remember that they came together, but that we (my uncle and I) had to figure out how to play ST whereas we had the manual for ISotMAT.

ISotMAT was sort of a “sci-fi” game in a world underneath/beneath the “real world.”  Fraggle Rock was a new and different thing at the time and it had that same “Fraggle Rock” feel.  I remember that it took a while to figure out how to play ISotMAT, but once you understood it, you could have a decent amount of fun with it.  The problem with the game is that it was SLOW.  It took forever for the game to “draw” critical systems onto the screen.  Now perhaps this was a limitation of the C64, but I recall a segment where you needed to drill.  The computer had to draw the drill circling down pixel by pixel and then it drilled and you received whatever and then the computer had to retract the drill laboriously again pixel by pixel.  One drilling session could take 5-7 minutes.  I still enjoyed playing the game however.  So much so, that when I couldn’t figure out a way to get to the ending of the game via the game itself, I actually found a way to “List” (view) the game’s code (it was written in BASIC) and I skimmed the code until I found the ending (all on my own, at the age of 9-11 years old, maybe 12, but that’s pushing it, if I remember).  That’s what I wanted to share with the class as it recalled an example in James Paul Gee’s book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy of a kid who wanted to know more about World of Warcraft, so went to online forums, found a binary code reader, and began to read and manipulate WoW’s code.  Gee was suitably impressed by the young man’s “metacognition” and learning strategies.  My classmates, on the other hand, weren’t particularly interested in much that I had to say, so this why I’m sharing this experience here instead.

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Screenshot: Car beside Detective Agency.  Image Source: Myabandonware.com

ST was a mystery game and I daresay that I liked it as much, and perhaps a little more than ISotMAT.  When done right, I actually like mysteries as a genre, but only in certain instances.  I’ll try to remember to do a post on the rise and fall of my love of mysteries in another post, but ST allowed you to be a detective and it was something that my child self really gravitated to.  It even allowed you to drive a car from house to house as you checked out clues and again, you had to take into account your speed and braking distance, or you could overshoot your target house.  While the game was presented abstractly, the modeling of certain real-world concepts was something that helped child me learn and engage with the world through play in a meaningful way–which is what Gee’s book is all about.

I found two YouTube videos showing ISotMAT and ST.  Now, they’re not the correct format (i.e., C64 version) that I played, but even on different systems they still give you an idea of what the games looked like if you’re interested:

In Search of the Most Amazing Thing

Snooper Troops

Well, that’s it for my trip down memory lane for today–thanks for listening/reading.  I appreciate it.

Commodore 64 Nostalgia

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Image Source: Oldcomputers.net

So we are going to be reading an essay on next week that deals with a line of code for the Commodore 64 and the way in which that code expresses itself as “art.”  I had a Commodore 64 as child and it was my very first computer.  I learned how to program in BASIC and I have very fond memories of the system.  I dug out some of my old manuals (both programming and gaming) and I’ve been having a blast reliving some of the nostalgia from a bygone era.

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C64 1541 Disk Drive Image Source: Wikipedia

Watch out–whatever you do, don’t use the “Scratch” command unless you really mean it!  As I recall, the Scratch command erased the data on your disk.  It also made a really, bloody awful noise in the process as if it was eating your disk.  As I also recall, the big beige box was also a pretty noisy beast under the best of circumstances, whirring and chunking and clunking away.

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C64 Tape Drive Image Source: YouTube

That’s right–cassette tapes could be used for more than music back in the day.  Most people didn’t realize that cassette tapes could also hold data (0s and 1s) that the computer could magnetize on to the tape and read it back.  The tape drive didn’t last long in the product cycle, however.  It was too bloody slow.  Loading in all but the simplest programs meant sometimes a four to five minute wait–heaven help you if it was a game you wanted to play–you could pretty much double that time frame in some instances.  We howl today if a game’s level take longer than 15-30 seconds to load.

Ah, memories.