Some BASIC Games Are Fun
If you've read other entries in this column -- "Real-Time Reactions" -- you can safely skip the following introductory paragraphs (those before the next screen shot). I'm including them in every applicable article, so they never get separated from their context.
While writing The Classic-Gaming Bookcast and, for the Orphaned Computers & Game Systems website, more than a year's worth of articles (from May 21, 2015 to August 15, 2016), I went to great lengths to compose prose that flowed more smoothly and rhythmically than anything else ever written about video games, sparing the reader textual speed bumps like misspellings, grammatical errors, redundancy, unnecessary word repetition and inapt punctuation, and even exhibiting the audacity to implement alliteration, clever-clever humor and, would you believe, lyricism. Every chapter or article entailed endless editing and eternally deliberated word choices.
On a related note (just trust me; I'll tie the topics together in a jiffy), I'm incessantly insistent with myself that I live in the moment. Time is never recoupable, whereas, say, money always is; so the very process of any creative undertaking must be enjoyed, the importance of the finished product recognized as fallacious. Rushing to render results for the recreation of others destroys one's own present. I consequently consider myself to be my own primary readership. Who knows; I might go back in a few years and attempt to read my stuff objectively. It's especially true, then, that pressuring myself into "just getting it done" would defeat the purpose, turn my live-in-the-moment pleasure into fill-in-the-blanks labor.
I managed to stop having fun writing articles anyway, owing to a different kind of self-pressure. I had to be honest with myself about this. You see, knowing what a persnickety reader I am -- especially of my own material -- I grew fixated on getting every phrase absolutely perfect, every joke indubitably fluid. When one has reached a very high standard (as you probably know), he can't go back to being so-so. He must abruptly behave in a most uncharacteristic manner if he wants any hope of changing work back into enjoyment. Fun is always recoupable, too, but only if a radically different approach is taken, at least in cases like this.
What you're about to bite into, then, are the fruits of a new method. I'm hoping to make the process fun for myself again. While playing the game under discussion, I now record myself talking about it (also filming the game-play for the hell of it; this isn't to mention that the camera has a decent mic), extemporizing endeavors at being enlightening, descriptive and / or, at the very least, goofy. I then transcribe the audio word for word, leaving out the "uhs." Even if it doesn't always flow seamlessly, involve the best word choices or, for that matter, make much grammatical sense, what I type is what I've said. It yields prose that's just as original as before, I think, even if it's not as instructive; I'll include a link to the game manual whenever possible.
As my writing is obviously better than my speaking, given the time spent on the former vs. the improvisation of the latter, there will doubtless be some accidental humor at my own expense. The truly funny part, however, is that this sort of article might well be more fun to read than those on which I've worked tremendously hard. If it's not, however, then it's not. I can't care. Video games are fun, so writing about them should be, too, if one is going to bother at all. I really like to write, so I'll keep bothering for my own amusement and, perhaps, Adam's. Enjoy the first be-bop game literature you've ever read!
The following commentary was recorded while I played the BASIC Atari-computer game Intruder Alert!, designed and programmed for Dynacomp by Dennis Zander. Artworx licensed the game for 1981 release.
Well, that's quite a grating siren sound. All right! I got it! You're alerting me that something is being intruded upon! Apart from my ears! This reminds me of Miner 2049er -- the version on the Atari eight-bits, I mean. Oh, good; it stops when you get past the title screen.
[Zander] fit the whole plot onto the next screen. Good for him. This is a video game, not a movie. Here; I'll read it in a dramatic voice. I just think he'd appreciate that. [Verbatim:] "You must ESCAPE from the DREADSTAR with its plans or the Rebellion is doomed!!! MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!" Well, this is more than a mere rip-off of Star Wars. This is a blatant tribute. [Continuing:] "(Remember the more droids you destroy and the faster you get out the better you do!)" Is this guy from England or something? He hasn't used nearly enough punctuation. I guess that by "the better you do," he means the higher you score.
[While watching the playfield slowly being drawn from the top downward:] That is awesome. I love the earnest efforts behind a lot of these BASIC games. There's an appealing, even fascinating antiquity in old computer stuff like this. The game's new to me, though, because -- well, I've never played it, of course. There's a particular kind of coolness in a well done action game that's written in BASIC. I hope this one's fun, so I can mentally add it to my ever growing list of favorites. That's one of the great things about these massive libraries of emulated games: There's always more to discover, in the context of current playing. Not that I don't have old favorites, but I associate them with the last couple of times I've played them. Fuck nostalgia.
I see; only the extraneous story line steals from Star Wars. The game was actually influenced by Berzerk. Well, that coin-op was only about a year old -- probably less, in fact, depending on how long it took Zander to program this. That's my character up there [at upper left]. I don't die from walking into walls, so that's good. Oh; except for the wall of plus signs behind me when I start, apparently. Interesting decision. At least I get five men.
[While laughing:] I've got one slow projectile. Hey! You die when I kill you, Mr. Square Droid! Ya hear me? I wonder why that shot didn't take him out. Oh; I wasn't close enough. Now he's firing an asterisk at me. Sure; I can see how that could be deadly. Asterisks are sharp.
The bad guys don't move. Well, that certainly makes it easier. The game-play is slow and choppy, of course, but I expected that. Nah; I counted on it. This is a particular kind of fun that, I admit, a much younger person might not understand. Of course, present-day young people hardly understand anything, so that's...understandable.
Gotcha! Drawing their fire and then moving away is a good way to trick 'em, 'cause there can evidently be just one enemy asterisk on the screen at a time. See; while an asterisk is still in the air, you line up again with the Droid you've baited and erase him from screen memory. An enemy shot has a limited range like yours, so you can make a kill and then simply move in the opposite direction from the ex-Droid until his asterisk vanishes.
I've also noticed that you don't have to move the joystick to fire. Your deadly line launches to the direction you're facing whenever you push the button. A welcome element, that, considering the game's sluggishness, which of course includes control responsiveness. You really have to aim well, as you too can only have one projectile in play.
I'm keeping my distance whenever possible. That makes it easier to dodge their asterisks. Unfortunately for them, they can't blast my death lines. I love how all of the characters are literally characters. See; with some imagination, the only graphics you really need when you're writing a game are the built-in symbols that you can type out on the keyboard. Of course, imagination on the player's part helps, too. Hell, I see a bird's-eye, bad-ass action hero with squared shoulders -- myself, in other words -- while I'm controlling my circle with the half-brackets on either side. So there you go.
You apparently die when you walk into a Droid. Okay. I just wanted to see. Too bad they can't kill each other. Nifty sound effects! Nice and boomy. You can even hear your counterpart, who I'm calling Captain Character Graphics, stomping around.
The game's speeding up as the Droids diminish. The controls grow more responsive, too. That's a pretty damn cool idea, even if it's accidental. Speaking of sped-up enemies, Adam discovered the other day that the Grunts and whatnot in Robotron: 2084 don't accelerate as you reduce their numbers, but rather, over time.
Okay; I've gotten 'em all. Now what? Well, look at that! I can leave the room, like in [Atari VCS] Adventure. I can most definitely dig it. The two screen colors even change.
That's clearly supposed to be the Millennium Falcon. Maybe Zander considers it the Century Hawk. If I board it to beat the level, that means I'm escaping in it, so I'm actually the intruder in the title. Well, then, you DroidSquares had better be on the alert! Not that it'll do you any good, of course. Me and my graphic-erasing projectiles are on a mission to clear screen memory and improve eight-bit efficiency everywhere.
How funny: There's not enough room to turn your character when you're against one of the walls. That means that you shouldn't try rotating when you first enter a room, or you'll impale yourself on the plus signs. Getting kinda stuck near a boundary happens in a lot of top-down tank games, too, on both arcade and home platforms -- such as, for instance, Tank, Tank and Tank.
They don't know who they're dealing with. I don't run away from anybody. Every single one of these DroidSquares has to die before I fly away in my Century Hawk. [In an old-movie gangster voice:] Listen here, yous mugs! Yer number's up, see? [After eliminating the last enemy:] That was never gonna work out for ya, no matter what ya did. So don't feel bad. Well, ya can't feel anything now.
Check it out. I even get to see my ship flying away. Well, being character-shifted through the left border. There were only two rooms on that level, I guess. There's an ending screen, though: [Verbatim:] "CONGRATULATIONS!! You have escaped with the plans for the DREADSTAR!" Now we can build our own!
Are there different types of enemy on harder levels? I see; that level was called "Sand Scout." What are the others? [While pushing F3 to cycle through the starting levels:] "Beta Pilot...Trios Warrior..." Let's try "Trios Warrior." Maybe I'll get to control three Captains Character Graphics.
No, but the game's moving faster, right from the start. That's awesome. He deliberately slowed down the action to make the first level easy. It wasn't due to BASIC's limitations after all. I guess you don't find yourself in different Dreadstars when you choose higher levels; it's just a speed thing. Oh; and the Droids can fire diagonally now! And I can't! It's the opposite of Atari VCS Berzerk.
[While cycling through the levels again:] I guess "Gamma Knight" is the hardest. Let's try the second-hardest, "Cree Centurian." Whoa! Now they're moving! Very sneaky, Zander. Very well thought-out, too, in terms of the difficulty curve from level to level. And look at that! New Droids can appear out of thin air!
Okay; got 'em all. Let's get outta here. Hey, cool! More screens are added as you climb the level ladder! You start with less men, though. I've just noticed that I only have three this time.
Not bad for a BASIC game, man. Strategy applies at least as much as quick reactions; but that's the case in almost any game that runs slowly when compared with something written in Assembly. It certainly doesn't mean that there's no fun to be found. I found plenty just now. Even when game speed suffers at the hands of a high-level language, there can be an agreeable trade-off. Having time to focus on tactics and reflect on your next move can amount to a highly engaging game, especially if you also get to visibly blast bad guys. It's most fun when you acknowledge that the type of game is wholly different from, say, arcadey stuff.
It would be cool to try completing all five levels without losing a single man. Trying for a high score would be pointless (heh, heh), since you're always going to get the same amount; once you've beat the level you've chosen, the game ends. Of course, if time really is a factor, maybe the score will vary slightly from game to game, even on the same level.
Well, cool! That was definitely worth trying out. I can hardly wait to play the sequel, Copyright Infringer Alert!