Computer games and me

This is me.

I’m a computer game addict.  Which is why I don’t play them any more.  I used to play games for hours on end and despite the lack of enjoyment, the tiredness, the headaches and the feeling of emptiness I felt after finished them, I would still come back for more.

Eventually, I decided that there were far more good things in my life that I should focus on – my wife, my friends, learning things and creating things of value.  They all contributed to a lasting feeling of happiness.  

It all started when I was very young and I was visiting my aunty and uncle, who had a computer.  This was a big thing for me at the time because the only other computer I had seen was my primary school’s one RM nimbus which could play the game Snake.

Naturally, there was always a big rush to use this amazing machine.

However, this tape based computer that my aunty and uncle owned could play this great game called Tachyon Fighter.  I’m no neuroscientist, but I can imagine that the game probably gave the biggest input of information I had ever had – the lights, the colours, the sounds, the need to win.  It was hypnotic and it gave me a great rush.

Every time I visited, I would spend most of my time in front of this computer, waiting for several minutes in the hope that the tape would work and load the game properly this time.  As time went on, the tape based computer was replaced by an Atari ST with floppy discs and a wider range of games with better graphics and more addictive gameplay.

Then came the day that they upgraded to an Apple Mac.  And I got the Atari.

I remember that within ten minutes, I had put a lead in a socket incorrectly and almost broken it.  However, it was fixed and that’s when my gameplaying started in earnest.

My uncle had collected all of the ST format magazines which I had read cover to cover before, but then I also got to play every game from the cover discs.  I played them all, spending thousands of hours perfecting my game playing skills.  Many school holidays would fly by in front of the little green desktop.  Sometimes, I would have a platform game day and sometimes I would have an RPG day.  I have a bit of an obsessive nature where I want to explore everything to its fullest extent and this made me a sucker for most computer games like the roguelike game Moria. 

I had the ST for about three years before it ran down and it was replaced for a really old second hand Atari cartridge console which had games with terrible graphics and simplistic gameplay before that also broke down and I received the Mac in 1999 when my uncle upgraded again.

This computer only had a couple of games, but that’s when there were plenty of games on the internet.  I played a game called Archmage and a cute little RPG called Dragon Court.  I was definitely showing signs of addictive behaviour.  I never had the internet in my home, so I would spend half an hour walking into town, just to use a library or internet cafe computer to play Dragon Court.  Then I would have to walk back.  I wasted money on an internet cafe if I couldn’t book a free library computer just so I could get access to my game accounts.

I never realised that I was addicted until my final year of university when I would stay up until two in the morning playing Command and Conquer, not realy enjoying it and going through the motions.  I had done this before with the game Civilization IV when I was a teenager but I could stay up all night once in a while and it didn’t affect me at school etc.  This was affecting my grades and social life at university.

It never got to the stage where I missed lectures or never came out of my room for days on end, but I could have done a lot better in all fields if I hadn’t been playing computer games.

NWN:  10% action,
90% trudging back and forth

After my degree, I started training as a teacher, which took up huge amounts of time.  However, I still played games.  I was now playing and creating maps for Battle for Wesnoth and trying to complete the adventure in Neverwinter Nights.

It was not until I moved in with my girlfriend (now my wife) and I was teaching as a job, that I realised that I had to prioritise my time.  I couldn’t do my job well if I was playing Neverwinter Nights for two hours a night, mostly involving level grinding and getting an item in one far corner of the city and transporting it to another far corner of the city in order to get to the next stage.

She didn’t mind the gaming but it
he went too far when he started
doing a poo at the console.

My girlfriend did not appreciate it either although she is too tolerant to go to extreme lengths.  I had to cut something out.  All I had to think about was how I felt after saving a game in Neverwinter Nights.  I would always think to myself ‘What have I got to show for this?  A file with some code in it, a headache and a feeling of tiredness.  This is no way to spend your free time.’

Computer games did nothing for me and I had other, more fulfilling things in my life.  After a few weeks without computer games, I felt much better and I’ve not wanted to go back.

I put hours of effort into
getting a picture on a screen.

I find computer games to be a waste of my life.  I sunk hours into controlling some graphics on a screen, desperate to see the consequences of my actions.

For the most part, I don’t remember feeling much satisfaction, I just felt a compulsion to ‘get through it’.

However, there was always another level (and if the game had a level editor then I would be on that for hours too), another way of winning, another challenge I could set myself and there were an infinite number of other games to play.

The only way that I would get out of this gaming habit was that if I just said no.

Originally, I intended this post to be an introduction to how certain computer games have given me material for gamebooks, but instead, it was an account of all the hours I wasted playing them when because I couldn’t get away from them.  However, I am glad that I wrote about it.

In future posts, I will write about specific computer games and what they have added to my gamebook writing and why gamebooks are better for me than computer games.


Computer games – Rogue’s Quest

Rogue’s quest, a creation by Pearson Wung, is a cute but limited roguelike game which I found for free on the web.  

It is an incomplete game which mentions features such as traps and critical strikes but they have not been implemented.  However, the dungeons can still be challenging and rewarding.  You can download the game and the dungeons from this Yahoo Group.

For me, the best feature was the user friendly dungeon builder which allows you to easily build Rouge’s Quest dungeons.  The aim of the game is to kill a monster on the deepest level and take an item that it drops back to the surface.  For a while, I really enjoyed letting myself run wild with the dungeons, but then I discovered a few limitations in the control you have over the editor.  Here are the main things:

  1. You have no control over what items the monsters drop.  There are a few broken items in Rogue’s Quest which make the game too easy, such as a wand of paralyzation, an an amulet or ring of poison resistance and a plate mail or mithril plate mail suit of armour (As having an armour class of 15 or more makes you extremely hard to hit).
  2. You have no control over the heroes’ starting items which are very strong.  A warrior starts with a +2 claymore making most weapons useless finds.  A mage starts the game with wands which may include wands of paralyzation.  Heroes also start off with lots of food and clerics start off with a create food spell so limiting the amount of food a hero can have has no effect on them.  
  3. You have no control over what merchants sell.  A weapon smith or armourer may sell a load of cursed items or powerful weapons.  Booksellers may have scrolls of magic bolt or scrolls of enchantment, charging and experience.  
  4. You can only win the game by going to the deepest level, killing the ‘Artefact Guardian’ and taking its arefact back to the top level.  If you clear all of the levels above the top level, you just have a bit of a boring journey back to the top.  
  5. When you place items like weapons and armour, you have no control over whether it has bonuses or penalties.  You can’t just place one longsword in a dungeon as it may be cursed or it may give a game breaking bonus.  
  6. You can’t place gold pieces as an item so the only way to give you heroes money is to give them starting money, give them items that they might want to sell (useless items like daggers) or have them fight monsters like goblins.
  7. Healing and mana potions give very low bonuses.  There is a scroll of full healing but no way of restoring large amounts of mana with a single potion or scroll.  
So Rogue’s Quest has some restrictions to gameplay and dungeon design.  However, I still love the game.  I saw it as a challenge to design a great dungeon within the restrictions.  As Mark Rosewater says many many times ‘Restrictions breed creativity’.  These restrictions certainly did breed creativity.  
So I worked on a dungeon.  I wanted to do the following things:
  1. I wanted to make the journey back interesting instead of just a trip through some empty dungeons.
  2. I wanted to make the dungeon challenging.
  3. I wanted the hero to get through the dungeon without having to rest to restore stats.  There’s nothing more boring than holding down the 5 key.  
  4. I wanted to restrict food to add an extra dimension to the challenge and set a time limit.  
  5. I wanted the hero to have the option of taking on extra challenges in order to get extra rewards.  
  6. I wanted to restrict powerful items and therefore creatures that could drop powerful items.
So did I succeed?  You can find out for yourself if you go to the Rogue’s Quest Yahoo Group and download the dungeon for the Ruins of Karakos quest.  That is mine.  And try out the other games too.  
I learnt a lot from building this dungeon.  First of all, no matter how simple a gamebook system is, with a bit of imagination, there are tons of things that you can do with it.  There is no need to have tons of stats; you just need to think about what to do with a few stats.  It is possible for any gamesystem to bring up interesting decisions and make you scratch your head over tactics.  It also adds variety and nice surprises to the game.  From now on, I will only have a new stat if I know that it is absolutely needed.  Some attributes do not need to be valued and some will not add enough dimension to a game if they are valued.  For example, some Fighting Fantasy books do not make a good use of the luck score.  Maybe instead of adding unnecessary complications to a game with another attribute, there may be a more elegant solution.  
With that thought, I will leave you until next week.  Have a good one.  

Computer games – Battlemaster (the Atari ST game)

Game cover.

Battlemaster was a great RPG/strategy game which I discovered via a demo on an ST Format cover disc.  It was very ahead of its time in many ways for a game in 1990.  It is nothing to do with the MMORPG of the same name.

There’s more backstory than the standard ‘explore a dungeon and kill the sorcerer’ plot of most RPGs.  You live in a world where Orcs, Elves, Humans and Dwarves are in a constant war with each other.  However, there is a legend that if the crowns of each race could be bought to the Tower of the Watcher, then the war will end.

Sometimes you get a helpful message in the bar below the
screen.  Sometimes you don’t.   

However, each race jealously guards its crown in heavily fortified castles which you have to fight your way through in order to get them.  Before you do that, however, you have to survive the hostile wilds and assault the other settlements of your enemy races.

At the beginning of the game, you choose a character from one of the four races and you also choose a profession from warrior, mage, thief and merchant.

You can organise your soldiers into a file in order to
get them across bridges and retreat faster.  

You control this character with a top down display and you can either use a ranged weapon or a hand to hand weapon to slay your opponents who mill around firing arrows or swinging swords.  You can also pick up new weapons, gold and food which restores your health.

An innovative aspect of Battlemaster’s gameplay is your ability to hire and command a squad of underlings.  You can give them formations and orders to suit the combat situation that you are in.  It takes a lot of practice since it is a real time game and you cannot pause it and give actions in advance like in Neverwinter Nights.

The levels that you fight through and the options available to you gave me lots to think about in terms of gameplay and strategy.  Each level had something different in terms of monsters or how to solve a particular problem.  It provided me with a lot of entertainment.

You can read another
review of Battlemaster

However, the innovation does not stop there.  If you do manage to retrieve the four crowns and get them to the Watcher’s Tower, then you get rewarded with the ending where the Watcher brutally kills you and takes the crowns to use for his own dark ends.  It’s a downer ending, but the game puts a positive spin on this by saying that as you die, you realise that the world goes round in cycles and you are happy knowing that you will be born again in a more peaceful time or something like that.  I guess the game doesn’t want you to focus on the apocalypse that you have brought upon everyone.

However, massive kudos to the Watcher for propagating a lying legend that if he got all of the crowns then he would solve the world’s problems.  This means that he has tricked lots of others to do all of his dirty work and then bring him the crowns.  That shows real long term thinking and he would get a good mark for diabolical genius.

The orc could have hired soldiers so he
wouldn’t have got into a situation like this.  

There weren’t many games at the time which had plot twists, and especially ones where you snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

There is one bug in the game which you can exploit.  If you are not hostile towards other races, you are giving the option of parleying with them.  This allows you to sell your items and buy any items that you could find on the level, including the crowns of each race.  And they don’t even cost all that much.  So you can complete the game quite quickly with very little bloodshed.

Battlemaster showed me that you can take games further – just because certain aspects are repeated in games does not mean that they are essential.  You don’t need a completely happy ending (such as in Heart of Ice) or do the game solo or fight a lot (although I think the ability to purchase the crowns is more of a bug).

Computer Games – Deadly Rooms of Death, Architects’ edition

Our hero, Beethro Budkin

This game is a gem and what’s more it’s free and it is only an early version of a huge collection of Deadly Rooms of Death (DROD) games.

What makes DROD so great?  It is an exploration and puzzle game with simple rules but infinite variety.

The premise is simple.  You are Beethro Budkin, a dungeon exterminator who has been hired by the king to clear his dungeons of all the monsters infesting them so that his prisoners can be tortured in conditions that pass health and safety checks.

With your specialist equipment (A really big sword), you delve into the dungeon.

Each dungeon is made up of rooms, each room being a different puzzle.  The aim of each room is to kill all of the monsters and leave the room.  Once you have completed the level, you can move on to the next one.

A room full of cockroaches.  The
yellow circle is a switch which
will open or close one or more doors.
The arrows are one way squares.

This game is not what it sounds like, however.  It is far far better.  It is a turn based game and combat is resolved by sticking your sword in a square where there’s a monster.  You do this by moving or turning.  The trick to winning a combat is planning your movements and understanding the strategy of the particular monster so that they end up falling on your sword.

Cockroaches, for example, have no intelligence and head straight for you.  They will just walk into your sword.  However, goblins flee if they can see that you are close to being able to impale them and so they are more tricky monsters to kill.

The aim of each room is to kill all
of the monsters and open the
green door (bottom left).

There are other special tiles which have certain effects.  For example, there are  one way tiles, switches which open, close or toggle certain doors when you hit them with your sword (you have to experiment in order to work out the combinations of doors to open) and potions which allow you to make a mimic of Beethro which can get to places that you cannot.

Actually, there aren’t too many different special objects, but they present infinite combinations and so you could make thousands of possible puzzles from these simple rules.  The Architects’ edition allows you to build your own dungeons and rooms which allows you to spend several hours letting your imagination run wild.

The game has nice touches of humour, such as the introduction and the way Beethro grins when he kills something and laughs when he solves a room.  It adds nice character to the game.

As well as being addicitve and engrossing, DROD is a great maths game.  It certainly stretches your brain.  And the best part is that this is just a really old version of DROD.  There are several other  versions which you can buy and which have even more deadly rooms for you to solve.

DROD has shown me that gamebooks do not need a load a complex stats to be fun.  In fact, these stats can be distracting from the game.  My micro adventure, City of the Dead had too many stats for a 81 paragraph gamebook.  I was too intent of creating a system that covered every situation rather than an entertaining gamebook.

Fighting Fantasy books have three stats that don’t even cover attributes such as the hero’s intelligence, but it hasn’t stopped them being hugely successful.  In fact their simplicity probably helped.  You don’t need stats for everything if they are not a huge part of the story.  Instead, it is much better to be creative with what stats you have.  A good example of how this is done really well is Destiny Quest.  You only have a few stats, but you can also get lots of abilities which let you make rerolls or give you bonuses or weaken opponents which give you the great challenge of aking the correct decisions to use your abilities wisely.

How Battlemaster (MMORPG) showed me a wealth of non magical rewards.

It might look fun
now but it will lose
its appeal in book 11.

This post is all about how the game Battlemaster  and how it showed me that there are plenty of opportunities for success without having to stuff my gamebook full of powerful magical stat boosting items that   don’t fit into the game world and would lower the chances of using the same character in a future book unless they had to lose the items somehow (causing annoyance) or the power of the enemies had to increase (which may lead to power creep).  

Lone Wolf books suffered from this problem when the hero got the Sommerswerd, a +8 combat skill sword that deals double damage against undead creatures and absorbs hostile magic in book 2.  In order to balance out this massive bonus, certain encounters were made harder if you had the Sommerswerd and in book 12, using the Sommerswerd might lead to instant death.

Battlemaster is a text based RPG set in a low fantasy. low magic world.  I actually came across it when I was googling an Atari ST game of the same name.

Battlemaster showed me that there can be plenty of rewards and character development in a setting without having to give players tons of magical items or gold pieces.  Instead, success is obtained by taking part in great deeds such as fighting for your country or trading, being part of a team and roleplaying.

It’s not about the mace
or the magic.

You can have two (or three if you donate enough real life money to the website) characters who are nobles and who can belong to one of several classes (the main ones being warrior, courtier or priest, but warriors and courtiers also have subclasses).  Priests play a very different game to warriors and courtiers and have nothing to do with healing magic.   

You can also have one character who is an adventurer. They may become a noble one day, but at the moment, they play a very different game which involves scratching a living and fighting unnatural horrors personally rather than taking part in state affairs and fighting them as part of an army.

An example character sheet
from the tutorial.

Unlike a lot of role playing games, you do not have many attributes to think about.  Your main personal stats are honour and prestige which are linked to how courageous you are and how involved you were in important events in the country respectively.  Your character also has values in certain skills, depending on what class you are.  Most classes can train in the swordfighting skill, but there are other skills such as leadership or oratory.  Not a strength, dexterity or wisdom in sight.

I’d make a joke about a badly made
arrow but there wouldn’t be a point
to it.

You can get wounded, but the extent of your health is measured by being OK, lightly wounded, seriously wounded or dead.

Death, however, is an extremely rare occurrence and is only possible if you are executed for commited a serious crime or a series of crimes or decide to duel someone to the death and lose.  You cannot die in battle unless you are the hero class or you are an adventurer and you battle a powerful undead creature or monster.

In addition to your personal stats warriors and courtiers can also command a unit of soldiers with a selection of paraphernalia.  

This means that instead of fighting to survive, gameplay is based more around making a name for yourself and roleplaying with the other players.  Rewards come in the form of wealth, honour, prestige, fame, titles, responsibilities in the realm and, if you make some contacts with adventurers (as they are the only characters who can talk to sages and wizards), important artefacts or maybe even the ability to cast spells.

If you like more role playing based rewards, you could write your family history in the wiki, try to top the infiltrator stats board or you could write role play messages to all of your fellow players about literally anything.  you could write an acoount of a battle that you were in, describe the undead or monsters you fought  (there are no descriptions in the instructions presumably to increase the role playing potential for the players), how one of your soldiers tripped and banged his head or what you had for dinner.  Roleplaying opportunities are everywhere, including a guide on how to name your unit.   

There are many ways to be rich and successful without power creep or by amassing a huge pile of magical items.  One of my gripes with some gamebooks was that even as a famous adventurer who had seen many campaigns, you only carry a sword and some food until you go on this adventure which just happens to be in the one place with a disproportionately high magic item density.

Adventurers in this game can find items but most are useless (apart from selling them or possibly being components for unique items) and the useful ones are non magical (apart from portal stones)

Almost all of the awards in battlemaster are non magical.  Even the effects of the artefacts (prestige increase and possibly a skill boost) could just be down to the effect it has in peoples’ heads rather than due to any magic.   

The only definately magical items are portal stones (which don’t seem to active yet) and spell scrolls (which I didn’t know about until I started this post) and these items are very rare.

Just explore and enjoy.

However, none of this matters.  Despite the game focusing on being in a team and role playing rather than amassing items, Battlemaster is still a game of infinite opportunity with the potential to be a great success who is part of a great story and all of this is done without having to unbalance the game by obsessing over stats.

I have not mentioned all the features of Battlemaster but it is well worth a look in if you enjoy role playing RPGs.

Battlemaster was also the reason I started writing gamebooks.  My first attempt at writing a four hundred paragraph gamebook was based on Battlemaster.  It went awry when my attempts at randomising the paragraphs went pear shaped (I just put the numbers in as I went along and soon lost track of which paragraphs went where). However, like all complete disasters, a lot of great things came from it, and it inspired me to write at least one four hundred paragraph gamebook just to prove that I could.


Computer games – Moria (and other roguelikes)

Would you build a town above
a huge dungeon of monsters?

Moria (which you can download for free from here or here) is a roguelike computer game that I played on my Atari ST.  The premise was simple.  You were a hero who had to descend into the dungeons of Moria (a dungeon populated with a multitude of dangerous and powerful monsters) from the town that is built on top of it(?) and fight your way to level 50 where the Balrog may be (you may have to go lower to find it) and then kill it.

I used to be completely addicted to this game.  Completely.  It took ages to get the experience, stats and magical items before I was even near to killing the Balrog.  I admit that I did it via save scumming too.  The computer would delete your character file if you died so I would always copy it to another place on the disk.  Here I a few memories…

You had to haggle for literally everything,
including a ration with an asking price of 5gp.
You probably could haggle him down to 3gp.
Great use of game time.

I decided to play a human ranger  and doggedly tried to kill the Balrog.  Eventually, I was victorious with my Holy Avenger battle axe, but it took a while.  Here are a few things I remember from Moria.

I had to learn what the characters meant.  Everything in the game was represented by ASCII characters with letters representing monsters.  I learnt to be wary of a B (Balrog) or a D (Ancient dragon.)

Haggling took forever!  Forunately in later editions, they just dropped the price to whatever the final asking price before just offering the asking price.

Stinking cloud would get rid of all the mice (the rs)

I constantly bought scrolls of *Enchant Weapon* and *Enchant Armour* in the hope that this time, they would improve the weapon.

The delay on a scroll of recall was sometimes deadly.

I learnt fast with a horde of lice that area effect weapons are really useful

I cast remove curse on a ring of weakness but left it on because it looked pretty, not realising that the effect still stayed.

You could even do some mining.

My tactics at higher levels was to have two rings of speed (which made me faster than everyone except the Balrog) and bash monsters so that they were stunned and couldn’t move.  It worked as long as monsters with powerful ranged weapons, such as dragons, were not able to use them.

I played a human ranger (a warrior who can cast mage spells in game terms) and required an extra 50% experience for my versatility.  It was worth it, though.

Things you really need:  Rings of Speed (x2), the see invisible ability (part of my holy avenger axe), remove poison magic, remove curse magic, freedom of movement (also part of my holy avenger axe), restore life levels potions, potions of healing, scrolls of Word of Recall (but don’t forget that they have a delay), a sustain stat item (also part of my Holy Avenger axe.  The Holy Avenger ability is very useful.)

Ancient Domains of Mystery (ADOM)
is a little more complicated than Moria.

I found this game addictive because there were plenty of items to discover and since each was randomly generated, (and regenerated every time you return) there was plenty of exploring to do.  There were also a wide range of monsters.  Each character could have different descriptions (a p for humanoid, for example could have many descriptions such as a filthy street urchin to an evil iggy.)  There were also plenty of things to deal with – mining, disarming traps, fighting (plenty of it), picking locks and many many more things to do.

There are tons and tons of roguelike games which vary greatly – some have deep stories, some have graphics, some are quick and easy and some are based on a Fighting Fantasy book.  You can find the Roguelike wiki here.

To finish off, here are a couple of Moria moments from Lord of the Rings:  The Fellowship of the Ring in Moria ASCII:

Boromir takes a sneaky peak.
Gandalf vs the Balrog