Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category


The Renaissance of Indy Gaming


In the olden days you could pick up a tape cassette containing a Spectrum or Amstrad game for a few pounds (yes, I’m British).  At this time, the gaming industry was in its infancy and the business side of the game was highly underdeveloped.  Games were written by a single (or a very small group) in squalid conditions and these programmers were like rock stars, or mad scientists working alone in their lab (complete with the associated lightning and electrical apparatus).  Some games turned out to be “smash hits” (Monty Mole, Manic Miner, Dynamite Dan to name a few), others were of very poor quality but hey, that’s the price you pay for experimenting.  How things have changed!



POWDER Roguelike Game


POWDER proves that graphics really isn’t everything when it comes to games.  POWDER is a Roguelike game, which means that you kill monsters, gain levels, zap things with magical wands and generally get involved in all sorts of fantasy RPG shenanigans.  Classic Roguelikes of the likes of Nethack and Angband are purely ASCII based and (in my opinion) aren’t very accessible.

With POWDER the entire game can be played using the mouse, and the keyboard shortcuts can be picked up bit by bit once you’ve got into the game.

It has been designed with hand held consoles in mind (Game Boy Advanced, and now available on the iPhone), but can be downloaded and played on Windows and Linux alike from the author’s web page.

Behind a somewhat simplistic facade is a deep and complex game that will take you a very long time to master. Each time you play (and die) there is something new to be learned for the next time you delve into the dungeon.  The first time I played the game indicated that I was hungry.  I decided to eat a slug that I had just killed, only to be poisoned and die.  Naturally I avoided doing that in subsequent attempts.  Roguelikes traditionally kill the player often and designed to be played repeatedly rather than just once or twice.  There is a tutorial however to help you get started (and to stop you from dying within the first two minutes).

A wiki exists for impatient players who don’t want to find everything out for themselves.  I still haven’t figured out how to stop myself from starving to death once I get a bit deeper into the dungeon.

Update: Two interesting things I also think are worth mentioning.

Roguelikes aren’t purely fantasy based.  There are a great deal of science fiction based games, include a version of Doom implemented in ASCII.

Also, there is a yearly competition where programmers try to create a fully playable Roguelike in just 7 days.  The short time encourages programmers to try out and explore new ideas and end up with a finished product at the end.


The Curious Case of Matthew Smith

Some of you may remember those ZX Spectrum classics Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy (if not go here and here to play them in your browser immediately because you are missing out on some important computing history!). You may not know the fascinating story of Matthew Smith, the programmer who dreamt up and programmed these games.


You only have to look at Jet Set Willy to see that this is the brainchild of an eccentric.  Willy has thrown a party and his dominating housekeeper refuses to allow him to go to sleep until he has tidied everything up.  Through out the house are such nightmarish creatures as snapping toilets and killer telephones.  Willy doesn’t live in a bungalow; he lives in a mansion of ludicrous proportions (presumably paid for from his wealth acquired in the mining business), filled with deadly traps.  The various rooms of the house have names such as “The Banyan Tree” which he can use to climb up into the upper regions of his home.  The monsters kill with a single touch and the user is forced to jump with pixel precision to avoid falling into chasms and eventually being crushed by an enormous boot (in a Monty Python like manner).

After writing the game Matthew became the computer programmer equivalent of a rock star and eventually vanished of the face of the Earth.  His whereabouts were unknown and he became somewhat of a legend.  The mystery of Matthew Smith stirred many rumours, some true, some untrue.

Then, one day out of the blue, he came back.  Here is an interview with him recently broadcast.  He is no longer the long haired bedroom coder, but he still has a wild look in his eyes.