Nostalgia Review: AD&D Pool of Radiance (SSI Goldbox AD&D Game) for the Commodore 64

This is quite possibly one of my Top Ten games that I played in my childhood.  It was the first in the loosening of the D&D/AD&D brand that I can remember.  D&D/AD&D (from now on abbreviated as D&D) was a tightly controlled brand as I recall.  I had the original D&D board game and somehow found (at a reasonable price) the AD&D Players Handbook (1st Edition), so I’ve always been a D&D player.  There were some small attempts to match D&D to the new world of home/personal computers as they were rising in popularity at about the same time.  However, Strategic Simulations’ (SSI) “Gold Box” games (so called because of the “gold” coloring on their boxes) were the PERFECT realization of the D&D ruleset at the time.  No other games series had taken all of the rules (from spell memorization, to spell effects, to combat, to handling ability roles, etc) and so completely merged them into a game that had fantastic combat along with a mysterious story.

Me and My Uncle Loved D&D
Okay, so this might be a slight exaggeration.  loved D&D and my uncle tolerated it, but as we got other RPGs such as The Bard’s Tale II, he also began to be a fan of the genre.  So when I got this game, we both created separate parties and did solo runs of the game and we both beat the story with our individual characters, passing strategies and tips back and forth on the best way of beating certain monsters.  Imagine playing chess, but instead of competitively, you played it cooperatively, each against a computerized foe that was out to destroy your lowly band of digital creations–that was part of the fun of the game.  A sort of “multiplayer” experience before online was even a “thing” in gaming.

 

 

Friends in High School Loved D&D
Okay, so this is actually true, although it wasn’t everyone.  We had a core group of “RPG” players who played D&D and Warhammer Fantasy RPG and who allowed be to GM.  I was a fan of the Palladium Books series of Games (Rifts, Heroes Unlimited) and they dutifully switched whenever I bought a new game system and wanted to run it–looking back, I realize they were a patient lot!  However, a few of us had computers so we also began playing Pools of Radiance at the same time, so there was shared experiences as we would (again) talk about strategies and tips from what we learned in the game.  Even then, however, I was fairly resistant to spoilers, so I don’t recall talking a lot about the plot of the game, but even still, it was still awesome to be invested in this game on multiple fronts.

 

 

While I went on to buy other games and branch out from the “Gold Box” games, I still remember Pool of Radiance specifically as one the best times that I’ve ever had in gaming and will always have fond memories of this game.

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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!

 

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.

Tour De France 2017

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Image Source: Bicycling.com

Today is the start of the annual three week bicycle race The Tour De France.  I try to watch it every year (when I can).  I really enjoy watching both the scenery as well as the tactical aspects of the sport.  I also enjoy watching the spectators and the countryside as the Tour travels the French countryside for the next three weeks.  There is also an element of nostalgia because my uncle (who instrumental in instilling in me a love of sports and sportsmanship) and I watched this when Greg LeMond won the Tour in the 80s.  We used to watch the abbreviated two hour show on weeknights and the full Tour that they showed on the weekends and I remember I used to watch, enraptured, waiting to see if LeMond could pull it out.

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Image Source: EverymanTri.com

Last year, I watched the lead-up races to the Tour with baited breath.  This year, however, I’ve had other things occupying my time (writing and reading, among other things) and I’ve not kept up as much with the teams, so I can’t say with certainty if “The Sky Train” (the nickname for the Sky Team) will be as dominate as they were last year and in previous years.

Blog entries will still continue (and I promise they won’t all be on the Tour De France–I’ll probably only mention it as a weekly wrap-up of some of the most exciting moments). Most people seem to enjoy the tactics of the teams going up the  mountains, but I really like watching the cyclists freewheel down the mountains and go up and down the hills, valleys, and curves that make up much of the French countryside.  To me, this is some of the most interesting racing available in all the sports from track and field all the way up to motor sports (and this is coming from a Formula One fan as well).  I love the tactics and the way the Yellow Jersey inspires riders to dig into the very depths of their bodies and souls to try to win the Tour for themselves or their teammates.

This is the kind of passion that I’d like to try to find for my own characters to make them real for readers.

E3 and me: Marvel’s Spider-man (& Honorable Mentions)

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Marvel’s Spider-man

The last game that I want to mention on this blog from E3 is the showstopper from Sony’s Press Conference, Marvel’s Spider-man.  Sony showed an extended gameplay trailer that blew my mind.  I’ve always been a Spider-man fan, and I own quite a few issues of Spider-man comics.  This game had it all–action, humor, a strong narrative, but also has an open-world (the entire city of New York appears to be available to you to explore).

MarvelSpiderman_youtube

The game puts you in the shoes of Peter Parker (although there is a nice Easter Egg for those who stay and watch the “stinger” at the end of the trailer).  It isn’t telling an origin story, but rather it is telling the story of a Peter Parker who has been doing this for a few years and is comfortable in Spider-man’s shoes.  I really enjoyed the high-flying acrobatics that the game showed and they nailed Spider-man’s sarcasm and biting wit.  This one looks like it is going to be fun.

Honorable Mentions

Things that looked interesting, but that I didn’t have time to talk about in the post during this week.

Days Gone (Sony) – A post-apocalyptic game that has a horde of fast-moving zombie-like monsters (similar to the movie World War Z)

Detroit: Become Human (Sony) – A sci-fi game about androids struggling for their freedom.

Shadow of the Colossus Remake (Sony) – I’ve played the demo, but never bought this game, but sure looks awesome.  It might convince me to get it this time around.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins (Ubisoft) – I’ve bought every major AC game and the new setting promises to be fun.

Knack 2 – Hey, what can I say, I love a good platformer.  I platinumed the original Knack, so of course I’m looking forward to the sequel.

and finally,

Elite: Dangerous – Elite was old computer game from the 1980s.  My uncle and I played the heck out of that game on the Commodore 64, and we managed to “break” the economy in the game  Our ship was so powerful and we had so much money, nothing in “normal” space could touch us.  This one is sheer nostalgia.  (I still have the 5.25 inch game disk and I’m pretty sure that I have the manual for the original game as well somewhere).

There were other games as well that probably deserve to be on this list, but I’ve already taken longer than I had intended and I’m much later putting out this post than usual, so I’ll end by saying, Sony had the most games that I’m interested in, so while their conference wasn’t as good as the past two years, it was still the best (to me) in a fairly unremarkable year.