Commodore 64 (C64) Nostalgia Review: Starflight

  • Project Paradise Word Count: 357
  • Project Skye Word Count: 1617
  • Project Independence Word Count: 1723 
  • Project Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel Page Count: 12

As you can see, I didn’t manage to get any writing done Friday or Saturday.  I didn’t even feel well enough on Friday to get out a blog entry–sorry about that.  I’m still also trying to fine-tune my “process.”  I think I have too many projects, especially since Summer classes are about to start and they tend to be these intense periods of “crunch” time because you’re trying to cover a semester’s worth of stuff in 4-8 weeks.  I trying to decided if Project Skye or Project Independence is the one I want to focus on for May and then I’ll shift the other for June.  I do want to keep working on the graphic novel in the “background” (on weekends?), but I’m not really sure when to fit this in.  I’ll cogitate on it and try to decide on a course of action in the next two weeks before school starts.

Late to the Game

I’m not sure that I have all that much to talk about when it comes to Starflight published by Electronics Arts (before their rebranding as EA.  This was an early space ship explorations/simulation game, heavily inspired by TV shows like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica (the OG shows, not the newer modern reboots.)  In it, you controlled a spaceship and chose which worlds to visit and explore.  As I recall, you could choose destinations and fly your ship there, land on planets, and (I believe) scavenge for resources and discover aliens.  Just browsing through the manual, it looks like you could create, train, and utilize crew members on your ship.

starflight-commodore-64-screenshot-configuring-your-ship

Screenshot, Image Source: Moby Games

Uncharted Territory

As i mentioned above, I don’t really recall that much about the game.  It would probably have been one that I played and enjoyed and would have probably been one of my favorites, except, as I recall, Electronic Arts didn’t publish this on the C64 right away.  If memory serves, this was a PC game that absolutely “blew up” in popularity.  It wasn’t talked about so much outside of gaming circles, but from what I remember, this was “hot stuff” in the world at the time.  The C64 port came sometime later and people think that modern day Ubisoft “downgrades” graphics are bad (i.e., shows an enhanced game during their presentations of the game and then “downgrades” the graphics so that the game will actually run on current hardware), but the game’s graphics were truly watered down–so much so, that my uncle nicknamed the main character sprite/avatar “Caspy” after “Casper the friendly ghost.”   

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“Caspy.”  Image Source: Lemon64.com

More Time and Space

Unfortunately, this meant that I didn’t get the game until the very end of the C64’s life-cycle in our household.  By then, CD-Rom systems like the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation were beginning to be talked about in the gaming magazines, and the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo ruled the roost at that time (if memory serves), so a hack-and-slash game like  Golden Axe was more in-line with what I was playing at the time and I didn’t really devote a lot of time to “Caspy” and his adventures (even though I’m a spaceship sort of guy.). I don’t want to turn off modern gamers, but I remember it being a old-school version of No Man’s Sky (which I actually don’t think is as bad as everyone who hates on it, says it is–it’s just slow and more about survival.)  I would actually have kept my copy had I not been in grad. school–I realized that even though I would be able to tolerate it and have some fun with it, but it just took too long to do anything and that I just didn’t have the time to invest in learning its systems and getting really good with them.  That’s sort of how I felt when playing Starlight.  Electronic Arts really should have had a port ready for the C64 much sooner–or if they did, they needed to have advertised it better so that I could have made it a priority Christmas/Birthday request.  As it was, it was a good game that I just didn’t get to put a lot of time into because the “gaming” world had moved on by the time I got to it.  I could only find a DOS play through and not a C64 play through.

Here’s hoping you have a good week!

Sidney




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C64 Nostalgia Review: Knights of Legend

A Birthday RPG

I cannot quite remember how I heard of Knights of Legend by Origin as a child.  It was either through an article or advertisement in a magazine that I bought at Waldenbooks called Computer Gaming World (CGW), although it could have been in a different magazine–I just can’t recall.  Regardless, I read either the article or adcopy (no internet/interwebs for public, only military/government at the time), and thought it was neat.  There was a go-to place that I found that would do mail-order for Commodore 64 games that I’d ordered from in the past, so I asked for this for my birthday.  I remember it coming on-time and after I got back from school and had dinner, cake, and ice-cream, I remember opening up the game and diving in.

The game came packed with 6 (!) floppy disks and a packed-in insert exhorting owners (of the IBM/IBM compatible versions) to get a hard drive and install it on there (a review I found said it had 4 disks, but I remember 6, though perhaps I’m wrong–I’ll check when I get home and revise this as necessary–regardless, it had many more than was normal for the time).  Now, understand, most games came on one floppy disk.  Sometimes the game might use front and back to store the floppy, but two disks were rare.  Some of the most intensive games out there used two disks and if they were really, really pushing the capabilities of the system, they might use up to 3-4 disks (for some reason, I’m thinking of the AD&D Gold Box games here), but for a game to need 6 disks was practically unheard of at the time.  Unfortunately, the C64 was older tech and did not have the option of adding a hard drive, something that was just starting to take hold in the PC/IBM computing space of the time, so I had to make do with the floppies.

Unique Races

Now, when I looked up this game on Wikipedia, I was fairly shocked to find that very few outlets seemed to have covered it and that it had an abysmal rating in the few outlets that did give it a look.  I (ultimately) thought it was a bad game (more on this in a moment), but I didn’t think (at least initially) that it was all that bad.

One of the things that this game had going for it was that it had (from what I recall), a fairly unique set of races.  What the game did was combine the RPG systems of race and class into one, so that whatever you picked determined your profession.  Some examples: a Kelden Cliff Guard, Ghor Tigress, or a Klvar Elf (a magic-user).  Each one of these is example of a race/nationality combined with a type of class to get your profession (fighter, magic-user, etc.).  At first, creating a class seemed really fun and unique and it occupied my time during the rest of the school year.  It wasn’t until the summer vacation/break that I was really able to dig into it and discover its flaws.

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Knights of Legend Screenshot.  Image Source: Indie Retro News.

Encumbrance and Fatigue System No Bueno

The real problem, I soon discovered when I tried to actually do anything is the problem that the game’s designer, Todd Mitchell Porter was 1) far too ambitious with the ideas that he implemented in the game for the technology of the time and 2) confused complexity with fun.  The game’s manual (which I’m holding in my hand as I write this post) is a whopping 142 pages in length.  (There are actual RPGs from that era that are shorter than this manual–yes, I acknowledge that they were mostly “home-brew” RPGs by amateurs or very small RPG companies, but still, the fact remains true).  I once had a professor note, as I had once praised a piece of criticism that was very long-winded, that just because it is long and involved, doesn’t necessarily make it good.  That’s the way that I feel about this game in hindsight.  Teenage me loved the sprawling “epicness” of the game for the sheer possibilities that it seemed to offer, but in actuality, the game collapsed under the weight of its own systems.

Case in point–the fatigue and encumbrance system.  Once you got out of the character creation system and outside of the town, into the wilds and into combat, that’s when the game fell apart.  The game used a “hit location” system, meaning that limbs could be incapacitated without killing the body and your characters were “flimsy” meaning that the weakest of strikes could render them critically injured, so the best strategy was to wear the heaviest armor you could find.  However, you could carry only so much, so that you’re armor and weapons weighed you down and every time you took an action, you became more and more fatigued until you couldn’t fight and had to rest.  In combat, this came to down to two results: 1) wear too light of armor and getting your party decimated or 2) wearing too heavy of armor and having your characters able to withstand encounters, but leaving you too fatigued to swing your weapons.

I once had a Kheldon fighter (who had wings and could fly), fly up to his opponent to attack, but after flying, he became exhausted and had to rest each and every turn because his weapons and armor kept him from recovering enough to do anything and the enemy slowly battered him to death.  I did win a couple of battles, but on the whole, I discovered that the entire system was broken because it prioritized “realism” over “fun.”  The possibilities that had seemed endless when I bought the game and when I was just creating characters, turned out to be limiting and frustrating when one actually played the game because of the way the systems interacted with one another.  Just because something works a certain way in real-life, doesn’t mean it should work that way in a game.

Needless to say, the game didn’t really receive a whole lot of attention after that summer. I dabbled with it here and there, but for the most part, it was back to AD&D Gold Box games until I got my first PC where I tried another Origin game, Wing Commander II by another visionary developer, Chris Roberts, that I found more to my liking.  But that’s another blog post, for another day.

Sidney




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Mini-Review: Alien Legion, Vol 1, Issue 14

So, as I try to come to grips with the Ship of Shadows graphic novel that I am writing, I am trying to relearn many of the lessons about graphic storytelling by rereading my comic book collection that I amassed as a teen.  Unfortunately, I weeded the collection down back in the late 90s/early 2000s and lost quite a few issues that would have been good to have.  I kept what I considered were the essentials, however.  So, I decided what better way to wrap my head around writing a graphic novel than by revisiting the comics that I so loved (yes, I know there are books like Scott McCloud’s seminal work on graphic novels–and I even own a couple–but what better way than to actually read the works that I’m trying to write and breakdown what those successful creators have done to really learn the form).

I’ve always liked the concept of Alien Legion ever since I first discovered it in a comic book spinner at Waldenbooks.  The idea of a galactic Foreign Legion spoke to my inner child just coming off the high that was Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  The characters are extremely captivating.  I guess the parallel that I could make would be to have intergalactic Fast and Furious.  Wait, I take that back–that’s not interesting at all, forget I said anything like that–that’s actually a very bad comparison (I say, as I hurriedly scribble down the idea to get it written before someone else does).

In all seriousness, it really is sort of like a “Dirty Dozen” in space.  You have a group of alien soldiers, mostly humanoid, who go on missions.  Being that this is an “Epic” imprint from Marvel (a “darker” imprint than normal Marvel comics published at the time), this allowed them to go into more adult territory.  This particular issue is really unique as it deals with domestic violence and   the effects that it has.  Yes, this is told in such a way that it can be digested in a YA comic, but for 1986 and for a medium that was often marketed to children, this one deals with some pretty revolutionary issues for the time.

While the artwork is a little rough, it is still easy to read and follow the action.  The actual dialogue and story is also well done–I like how it establishes each on of the main characters through action and dialogue.  Captain Sarigar, a snake-like alien, is obviously the protagonist of the story, but I like how he involves two of the more hard-bitten Legionnaires in what is obviously a personal mission based on their reputations for being hard cases.  The story is very well done (for all of the “heavy” themes) and illustrates the dangers of domestic violence, both physically and emotionally to the victim.  For a comic book, it handles the subject matter surprisingly well and still manages to tell a strong story about a brother who, despite his obligations as a Captain in the Legion and a fierce warrior, only wants to protect his sister from an abusive boyfriend.

Overall Grade: B+

Sidney




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The Black Panther (Marvel)–Non-Spoiler Movie Review

Black Panther Movie Poster_IMDB

Wow.  Just wow!  I saw Black Panther over the weekend and I was absolutely floored by how good of a movie it turned out be!  Based on the traffic on the site over the weekend, it looks a fair number of people came to check and see what I though of it.  Apologies for not posting this review sooner, but I always like to take a day or two to think about my responses–positive or negative to reflect before coming online to talk about them.  I also watched several reviews (spoiler and non-spoiler) to get a feel for how other critics were talking about the movie (I only watch reviews after I’ve already seen something–too many “non-spoiler” reviews give away too much of the plot by focusing on the story.  And this is one story that you don’t want spoiled!  Sure, thanks to foreshadowing, you can see somethings coming in this movie, but still, it really, really works!

A Great Marvel Movie

One of the things that I want to stress is that this is an excellent Marvel movie.  Don’t think this is some cheerless dirge -like epic.  The filmmakers expertly crafted humor, drama, pathos, action, and suspense into the movie.  If you liked other Marvel movies, then you’ll like this one.  However, it also has a sprawling, epic feel to it.  The setting–Wakanda specifically and Africa, in general–is almost a character in itself and is very much a visual spectacle.  The colors really pop (esp. later in the movie) and I really like the way the filmmakers integrated the music into the narrative.  Really impressive stuff.

A Great Story–Plot

This is also where the movie shines.  Don’t worry, as this is a non-spoiler, I won’t talk about the specifics.  However, I will say, from a plotting standpoint, this is “aspirational” for me.  I would love for my stories to show this level of drama, suspense and action sequences.  The filmmakers–for me, at least–got the mix pretty much perfect.  I’ve seen a few reviewers ding it for not having enough action, but I think that, much like any other “origin story,” the filmmakers chose to focus on the introducing us to and developing the characters rather than on slam-bang action.  There are definitely action sequences, but they aren’t there at the exclusion of everything else and they make sense in the context of the story, unlike other movies that I could name.

Great Characters

This is where the movie truly shines.  The characters in this movie are awesome!  There isn’t a character who did not land in terms of characterization, motivation, or development.  I have to say that all the characters really exhibited a pathos that was interesting to watch on screen and really helped to engage me as an audience member.  As a writer, I saw the true power of characters to literally “pull” the audience into the story and then propel them to want to finish the story (again, aspirational for my own writing).  There are standouts of course, but I don’t want to highlight too many, for fear of spoiling things, but I will say that T’Challa has a sister and her banter with her brother is not to be missed.  Her lines are some of the best in the movie (humor-wise) and reminded me of the banter that my uncle and I shared before his untimely passing.

Afrofuturism

I’ve talked a few times about Afrofuturism on this blog in relation to school, but I’ve never really defined it.  Black Panther is probably the best representation of it that I’ve seen on-screen yet.  Afrofuturism is about the African/African-American experience, but rather than focusing on the past, it instead looks to the future.  Sure, there are references to the past, but rather than dehumanizing, the subject of Afrofuturism acknowledges that the past happened, but it looks to a brighter future with technology and with heart to note that a brighter path is open to all, if we only have the courage to embrace it.  While I may be reading the movie with an Afrofuturistic lens, it does have elements sci-fi that help to make it a movie that isn’t just stuck in the past retreading the same old ground.

Overall Grade: A+ (Excellent)

Really, this movie is an Excellent movie and does all that it sets out to do exceptionally well.  Is it perfect?  Of course not.  Again, some say it doesn’t have enough action.  I noticed that the very first mission (few scenes) are very dark (although my suspicion is that this is on purpose to make the colors pop when you first enter Wakanda, but it does make it hard to see the very first action scene).  However, I try to grade movies (or other media that I review) with the same grading scale colleges use and Excellent is used when there are either no blemishes or the blemishes are so minor that they don’t detract significantly from the overall experience.  I can’t decide if this is my favorite Marvel movie yet (although I think it might be), but I can safely say that it is in my Top 3.  I’m glad that the filmmakers and actors got a chance to make this movie and that I got a chance to see it!  I don’t usually make recommendations–but in this case, I’ll just say, if you’re at all interested in Marvel movies, or are just curious as to what all the fuss is about, to me, this one didn’t disappoint.

Sidney



Commodore 64 Nostalgia Review: Super Cycle

So, Super Cycle is one of my favorite games.  It isn’t my favorite game, but it up there.  I really enjoyed playing it and wish that the series had continued into present day.  It is a racing game (which, when done right, is always a crowd pleaser with me).  It featured racers on motorcycles who raced across the country in various settings.

It wasn’t anything too special and it wasn’t very unique.  It was just a motorcycle racer, in various environments (which were really just green for meadows, yellow for desert and bluish black for night), in which you raced the clock to get to the next checkpoint before time expired while avoiding other racers and obstacles on the side of the road.  It essence, it was a motorcycle “clone” of the very famous and very popular Pole Position video game (which was similar in design, but featured a “unrecognizable” jumble of pixels that was supposed to represent a Formula One/Indy car).

It didn’t have the depth as some of the racing games that I bought and enjoyed, but I always enjoyed putting the disk into the C64’s disk drive for a good while and I always remember that I had fun with it even when I wasn’t doing so well (crashing and the like).  I think the only thing that could have made it better for me would have been more stages/environments.  I think the C64 version topped at 3–meadows, desert, and night (although I could be mistaken).  Regardless, I don’t remember it being able to capture my attention long-term (for hours) because of the quickly repeating stages/courses.  Still, I remember it fondly and it is one of the reasons why I still gravitate to the racing genre in games even today.

Here is a YouTube Video for the game (ah, that intro music really brings me back) 🙂

The game was developed by Epyx, a studio that I don’t know too much about–they were never really profiled in magazines like hot new studios such as Electronic Arts (EA), Activision and Imagic were at the time (I suppose I can do a google search and report back on what I find at some point), however I remember the few games that I got from them–I know I have at least one more–their games were pretty good–always above average in terms of quality and fun factor.  Like Super Cycle, I wish they were still around and programming/producing games as a Design Studio.

Well, that’s all for today.  Have a great day!

Sidney
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Star Wars The Last Jedi Mini-Review (No Spoilers)

So, everyone’s in a tizzy about The Last Jedi.  I finally saw it on Saturday, but I wanted to get my head around the movie, the story, the experience, and yes, the controversy that is surrounding it.  My local theater showed it only in Imax 2D as has been there wont lately, so I can’t tell if 3D would have made an impact–I suspect not (as you’ll see below).  A note on Spoilers–there aren’t any (hopefully).  I tried to talk about more my impressions and be as oblique as possible, but that comes at the expense of really delving deeply into what I thought was right/wrong with the movie as I’d have to point out specific examples from the film to make the points that I wanted to and that would make this post far too spoilery–so I chose not to do it.  I may revisit this movie with a post in the future with full spoilers, but for now, this review is as spoiler free as I could make it.

In a nutshell, am I disappointed in the movie?  I’m ambivalent towards it.  There are good things to like and there are bad things to dislike.  In the original trilogy the good far outweighed the bad, while (for me) in the prequels, bad far outweighed the good.  So while I see these new movies as “okay,” I don’t really feel that they are close to greatness that the originals achieved.  I’d say these rank solidly in the middle for me–better than the prequels, but not nearly as engaging as the originals.  Now, on to a more nuanced discussion of The Last Jedi.

Strong Visuals
This is where the movie excels–say whatever you will about The Last Jedi (TLJ), but it has very strong visuals and visualization of the actions.  It is a very striking movie and looks very good in terms of how a “modern” Star Wars movie should look–even more so than the Prequel Trilogy.  I love the color scheme and the look of the characters and the integration of practical effects with CGI effects.  It all looks amazing and has a strong visual flair to it.  I think that perhaps JJ Abrams reboot of the Star Trek franchise is slightly more visually appealing than TLJ, but not by much although that’s a pretty subjective determination on my part.

Okay Story 
So this is where it begins to get a little dicey–yes, TLJ has a coherent story that has a beginning, middle, and end, but (without spoilers) it felt a little disjointed in places.  It is as if there were several different plot threads running through the movie, but none of them have a solid through line.  I once read/saw something that said after The Force Awakens there was nothing written (i.e. a roadmap) for the rest of the trilogy.  If that is true, that’s what this seems like.  A set of striking vignettes/subplots all rolled into one movie in which “moments” happen, but nothing “big or revelatory” happens.  The story just exists, but doesn’t actually “say” anything once its finished.

Not sure about the Characterization
So, the characterization feels off to me for some reason.  The characters are all there, but they don’t necessarily act in ways that I would expect them to do so having seen all of them, the infamous Christmas Special, the Muppet Show Episode with Mark Hamill, the animated Droids, and pretty much everything else (except the latest episodes of the animated SW show on Disney XD because of the hefty price tag).  The characters are sometimes on note and sometimes are way off.  I don’t want to throw the director under the bus (as many websites and fan review videos are doing right now), however, he wrote Looper, which was among my least favorite Sci-Fi movies of recent years–although it was (to be fair) critically lauded.  However, while he may be a good Sci-Fi writer that doesn’t immediately give him cred. for being a good SW writer.  Sci-Fi comes in different “flavors” and there was nothing in Looper that said that he would be a good fit for SW as a time travel story is much different than a science fantasy story.  Without spoilers, Finn lurches between cowardice and unrelenting heroism, Rey is sometimes really strong, yet really naive, and Po gets to be a “rebel” with a cause, but his plans never come to anything substantial in the story.  I won’t even get started on Luke’s character–suffice to say, many SW fans are not happy with the way he’s portrayed.  I personally felt ambivalence.  When a major thing happened in the movie, I just watched, but didn’t actually feel anything.  It was as if I was just watching someone move figures around on a chessboard–I didn’t engage/root for the characters and the story didn’t seem to make me want to care so it was as if I was just going through the motions.

Overall Grade: B-.  Hey, it’s a SW movie, so there’s a ton of nostalgia built up for the movie, but I look at it this way–when I was a child, the wait between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi was interminable.  However, no matter what Episode IX will be called, I can wait for it–easily.  In fact, only the fact that my mother wanted to see it in the theaters and it is because of her prompting that caused me to buy tickets for it.  I was content to just watch it on bluray/streaming based on the weak trailer.  There are no burning questions/characters that makes me want to find out what happens to these characters right now.

Implications for My Writing
Twofold–1) practice at different forms of the genre and know my limitations.  While I like history, I’m probably never going to be able to write lots of strong Victorian Steampunk.  The Victorian era, while I know quite a bit about it, isn’t an area where I really find myself drawn to in writing works or reading various works.  So I’d have to do a lot of work to really make sure I hit my marks, knowing that there are other writers who could hit it out of the park far easier than I ever could.  2) Characters–Johnson’s visuals could only carry him so far, but in the end, the lack of affinity that he had for the characters really was distracting.  I wonder if what I feel towards Rey, Finn, and Po right now are what editors are feeling for my stories–just sort of ‘blah.’  I really need to work on characterization and truly getting awesome characters in order to combat this problem.

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 me to be 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.

Sidney