As if I didn’t have enough things to do, what with the ongoing writing project (the 1000 words/day project has languished after our last cold, but it’s still going… just not as quickly as I’d like), renewed cooking interests, the ever-recording PVR, books, etc, etc, but for some reason, in a fit of boredom while trying to figure out how to fill my hours at work, I made a huge mistake: I started playing Nethack.
For the uninitiated, Nethack is a 20-year-old game, still in active development, which traces it’s origins back to Rogue, a classic game for the Unix environment. It’s best described as a dungeon hack-and-slash, and has been cited as a direct influence for a number of modern games, including Diablo. The general idea is that you pick a class, race, gender, and possibly alignment, and then start fighting your way though the dungeon, in search of the fabled Amulet of Yendor, which exists somewhere beneath level 20. Once you get it, you must then make your way back up and out of the dungeon.
Yeah, I know, it doesn’t sound like much, but it does have a few things going for it:
- Randomly generated maps
- ASCII graphics
- An incredible depth and breadth of play
- A good sense of humour
Like the original rogue, every game of Nethack is different. While there are various areas to be discovered (the Gnome Mines, the Sokoban levels, and so forth), the levels themselves are randomly generated every time. Thus, it’s impossible to “finish” Nethack, in a real sense, as you can always come back and try again with an entirely new dungeon to explore. This does mean there’s an element of luck to one’s success in the game, but I think that’s mitigated, to a great extent, but the richness of gameplay available.
Secondly, Nethack is played using plain ol’ ASCII graphics. The walls are dashes and pipes, the doors plus and minus signs, the various items are punctuation marks, and the enemies are letters. Of course, if you like a little flash with your hack-and-slash, you can make use of colours, or even IBM high-ASCII graphics characters! But the purists will tell you that straight-up, B&W ASCII is the only way to go (personally, I like the flash). But why is this a plus, you ask? Because I can ssh to frodo and play from work! cough
Then we have the sheer complexity of the game. Nethack sports an immense number of weapons, armour, items, scrolls, potions, rings, amulets, and random junk, such as pick axes, lanterns, whistles, blindfolds… the list goes on and on. If that weren’t enough, there are a vast number of actions a character can perform, including dipping, throwing, kicking, reading, sitting, praying, eating, casting spells, and many more besides. And what’s truly amazing is that the developers seem to have thought of every possible combination of actions and items, so you can dip your sword in potions, wield rings as weapons, and stick gems in your sling-shot. In addition, your character typically starts off with a pet, which can be tamed and trained, and you can also tame other animals in the game (I was observing one game on nethack.alt.org (a free, public Nethack server) in which the person had tamed a giant of some description). These animals will fight for you, steal for you, and are generally quite useful. Then, to that, add the myriad actions and effects that can happen to your character, and the number of scenarios possible becomes truly bewildering. Get bit by a wererat? Turn into one yourself, randomly transforming into a rat (at least you get a pet rat as a consolation prize). Eat the corpse of a floating eye? Gain… oh, well, I won’t spoil that.
So, yeah… the game is remarkably rich.
Lastly, the game is just plain funny in many ways. As an example, if you eat slime mold, the game will tell you how delicious that slime mold was! Mmmm… and then there’s the grave stones you come across with amusing epitaphs on them, and the odd bit of writing on the floors. Heck, you’ll even occasionally come across your own ghosts from previous deaths (you even get the chance to loot your old corpse).
Unfortunately, the game is also legendary in it’s difficulty. I have yet to make it past level 7 (or was that 6) of the dungeon, and I often die in rather annoying ways (such as getting paralyzed by a floating eye, and then bitten to death by wererats). Oh, and when you die, you’re dead. No save points, no lives. That’s for losers who can’t handle a challenge. Sure, you can save your progress and pick up your game later (some may back up the save files, but this practice, known as “savescumming”, is rather frowned upon), but if you die, that’s it, game over. And yet, despite this, I keep coming back… the damn game is just addictive, somehow.
Which would be why I regret breaking out the Nethack. I just can’t stop playing it. “Maybe next time I’ll make it to level 8,” I tell myself. “Maybe I’ll be an Archaeologist next time! Or a human instead of a gnome. Or maybe I’ll spend some time in the Gnome Mines before going down the main dungeon. Or.. or… or…” It’s like frickin’ crack. I just wonder if I’ll ever be able to get this monkey off my back (or, at least tame him so he’ll steal stuff from shops and fight my enemies for me).
It’s 12:53am on Saturday night. I just finished watching an episode of Stargate and decided to pop open the laptop to quickly check email. And I seriously considered playing another frickin’ game of Nethack…
So on Wednestday evening, Lenore and I came down with cold symptoms at virtually the exact same time… personally, I blame Lenore. That, or the public transit system. Nothing like a bus packed full of people who like to cough without covering their mouths to spread the germs. Anyway, the end result is that we spent Thursday, Friday, and most of Saturday laid up. It’s been fun. Real fun.
Anyway, to alleviate some boredom, I took Wednesday evening to pick up a couple new games for my DS (I actually lost a couple games at one point… but I’d rather not get into that right now. It’s a bit of a sore spot), in order to pass the time. Sure, I could watch TV, but there’s only so much on the PVR to view. Or I could read, though reading requires concentration, and concentration requires a clear head, which is frustrated greatly by a cold. So, I figured, mindless entertainment, that’s where it’s at.
Well, what did I pick up? The following:
- Yoshi’s Island DS
- Mario Kart1
- Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time
Anyway, Yoshi’s Island is a pretty straight-forward port of Yoshi’s Island 2 for the SNES. An excellent platformer. I’ll skip Mario Kart. And then we have PiT, which is a Mario-themed RPG, and another excellent game.
But, what I haven’t done is written much in the last few days. I took Wednesday off for whatever reason. Thursday and Friday I was too sick to even consider sitting down at the computer. And today, I find myself struggling, trying to get back into the story I’m working on. Which is an interesting lesson: writing every day is important for honing one’s skills. But it’s also very important when working on a longer piece, as one can easily lose momentum and fall out of the mood of the piece, or worse, one might lift one’s head up and begin having doubts… maybe it really does suck. Maybe it’s just a stupid idea. Blah blah blah. It’s definitely a challenge.
So, hopefully today or tomorrow, I can try and remedy the situation. Step one, I think, is to read a little more Dickens. He always seems to inspire me.
This would be one of those games I thought I lost. Until, that is, I discovered it in my DS. So if anyone’s looking for a discount copy of Mario Kart DS, gimme a call… ↩
So as I mentioned previously, now that I have my MythTV system rolled out (fairly successfully, I think), I’ve found myself playing a lot of old games that I haven’t touched in years. Sure, in the past, I’ve been able to play these games on a computer, but there’s nothing quite like being able to experience them in my livingroom on a proper (nice and fuzzy) TV with a decent joypad. However, the joypads I’m using (are nice cheap USB Logitech pads) don’t do a good job of replicating that true Arcade Experience (tm).
Enter XGaming. These guys are in the business of building arcade-grade gear that can be interfaced with a PC, for use primarily with MAME. XGaming have been in the biz for quite a while, marketing their X-Arcade stick, a control built with arcade-grade joysticks and buttons, mounted on a nice, heavy base. Very nice. And at $129, their Dual Joystick, which sports two full control sets mounted on a single platform, is an absolute steal.
But then evil-Jeremy, my Go playing friend and source of generally bad financial influence, pointed me at Treyonics Controls. Like XGaming, they build arcade-grade PC-compatible sticks, but their Centurion really stands out. Why? Well, it sports 4 more buttons than the XArcade, which is nice, but more importantly, it is equipped with a heavy-duty trackball and dial! Finally, I can play Arkanoid the way it was meant to be played, right in the comfort of my own livingroom! Further, their sticks are 4/8-way switchable, meaning you can play games like Donkey Kong, which used a 4-way stick, on proper, authentic controls, while still being able to use the 8-way stick for high-twitch games like Street Fighter II. My only fear is that they don’t currently have prices available… I can’t imagine it’s cheap (though damned tempted, whatever the price :).
Of course, all this got me thinking: what if, one day, I could build a proper arcade cabinet? And that’s when I found arcadecontrols.com. These guys provide all the information and directions you need to build your own cabinet from scrap or pre-built parts, including explanations of various materials and technologies, wiring diagrams, tips and tricks, and links to part suppliers. Could make for a very cool project once I get my media room done…
So, as part of the MythTV project, I decided it’d be fun to install a rather large collection of video games from the old days so that I could play them on a proper TV with a decent joystick. The result, I’ve played more video games in the last couple weeks than I’ve played in the last six months.
In particular, I rediscovered an old Sega Master System classic that I had, in fact, completely forgotten about: Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap. Actually, more accurately, I’d mis-remembered this game, attributing it’s various qualities to a bunch of other games, not realizing that this was, in fact, the title I was thinking about the whole time!
Now the first two installments in the Wonder Boy series are fairly straight forward platformers. You progress through levels, defeating boss characters while building up armor, weapons, items, and so forth, until you defeat the final big baddie in the game. Pretty standard stuff. The Dragon’s Trap starts off similarly. In fact, it begins precisely where Wonderboy in Monsterland ends off, and has the player actually defeat the last boss from the WBML as his first task (though, obviously, it’s much easier this time), after which Wonder Boy is cursed and transformed into Lizard-Man. Wonder Boy must then find the Salamander Cross in order to break the curse.
Similar to WBML, the levels are of a 2D platform-style, but unlike it’s predecessor, the player is given freedom to roam about the game world. As the player progresses, boss characters are defeated and Wonder Boy is tranformed into other characters, each with his own unique power:
- Lizard-Man - Can breathe fire for extended attack range.
- Mouse-Man - Can climb walls made of mouse blocks.
- Pirhanna-Man - Can swim freely in water.
- Lion-Man - Swings his sword in an arc, allowing him to destroy higher or lower blocks.
- Hawk-Man - Has the ability to fly.
And, of course, Hu-Man (believe it or not, it’s actually spelled that way in the manual). Each of these special powers then makes it possible to access new areas of the game that were previously unavailable. For example, Mouse-Man may make it possible to climb a wall previously unscalable. The result is something similar to Super Mario 64, where regions of the game may be visited and revisited to discover new secrets previously unavailable.
In addition, Wonder Boy has the opportunity to collect new weapons and armour as the game progresses, each of which provide varying levels of attack or defensive capability, as well as various special powers. Occasionally, these items are found, however most are acquired by spending gold, which is collected by killing enemies.
The result is a game which combines the elements of a 2D platformer with something akin to an RPG, providing great replay value. This is particularly true because the difficulty level of the game ramps up very smoothly. While consistently challenging, the game doesn’t become too easy or too frustratingly difficult.
To top all this off, for a game published in 1989, the game looks quite good. The sprites are big and colourful, and the big boss characters are gigantic! The soundtrack is also rather catchy, although it could probably grate on some people’s ears after a while. :)
So if you’re feeling the need to take a stroll down memory lane, I highly recommend this game. Though, be warned, it’s pretty addictive. Just ask Lenore.
So, I’ve been an owner of a Nintendo DS since shortly after the device launched. I picked it up originally because I planned to hack code for it… the idea of a cheap device with a touch screen and wireless really sparked my imagination. But, thanks in part to the original launch game, Super Mario 64 DS, which was just so much damned fun, I’ve found myself actually playing games on the thing.
So, why would I advise you not to buy a DS? Simple! Because, if you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to resist the desire buy new games. Since I picked up my DS, I’ve bought:
- Super Mario 64 DS
- Warioware: Touched
- Advanced Wars DS
- Mariokart DS
And now, Tetris DS. And I don’t play my DS that much! Incidentally, of that list, Touched is probably the main one I regret, followed by Meteos. Touched just doesn’t have much depth (I finished it pretty fast, and there’s little replay value) and Meteos, while fun, hasn’t captured my imagination. It’s also a bit confusing. :)
Anyway on to Tetris DS. I gotta say, if you’re a casual gamer, and in particular, a casual gamer who grew up during the 8-bit console era, this game is, IMHO, a must-have. As a Tetris rendition, it’s pretty damned good, and reasonably faithful to the gameplay we all remember. About the only thing that bothers me is the inheritance of the infinite spin “feature” from Tetris Worlds, where you can continually spin a piece and move it around, even though it’s landed on the tableau.
In addition to the standard modes, the game also provides a variety of puzzle modes, versus modes, and a rather odd Catch mode. Of the new modes, I gotta say Push mode is the coolest. It’s basically a Tetris tug-of-war, and brings about some interesting new game mechanics. This mode can be played against the CPU, where the difficulty can be tuned from fairly easy to frustratingly difficult, or against people head-to-head or over the Internet.
Speaking of which, the head-to-head modes are very well executed. In a local Wi-Fi enabled game, you can have up to 10 players playing using a single cart, with various options available to adjust gameplay. Of course, you can also play online against people on Nintendo’s network. Unfortunately, the gameplay options are more limited, here: 2-player in Standard or Push mode, or 4 players in Standard mode. Still, online play is very well polished, as with Mario Kart DS.
But the best part for a retrogamer like myself has gotta be the soundtrack and visual themes for the game. For example, in Standard mode, you’ll recognize the music as remixes from Super Mario 1, 3, Link, and Metroid. Moreover, on the top screen, a demo of the game in question is played, and as you approach the next Tetris level, the character progresses through the game level (eg, world 1-1 of Super Mario Bros.). Quite clever! The other modes are themed differently. For example, Catch mode is based on Metroid and Push mode has a Donkey Kong theme.
Of course, if one isn’t a retrogamer, or (god forbid) you’re too old to remember the good ol’ 8-bit days, you might find this all quite annoying. But I love it!
So, in summary, I’d give this new Tetris rendition an 8. I just hope Nintendo could stop releasing such good games at reasonable prices, because, apparently, I’m unable to control myself…