The comp.sys.sinclair crap games competition 2015 -

it's crap! In a funky skillo sort of a way.

Tag: GReW

Protect and Survive: Threads: The Computer Game

Right, let’s get this over and done with. These games are starting to get on my tits now, I mean, we’re well into 2016 and the competition should have closed already.

Oh, hello readers. Didn’t see you there, due to the nuclear fallout damaging my eyesight and/or giving me six arms or whatever, but it’s OK as hiding under the table with a tin of beans has largely helped me get out of the bombing unscathed.

This screen loads in two code blocks and stays up for precisely less than the amount of time you need to read it (unless you're loading at Actual Speed, you weirdo).

This screen loads in two code blocks and stays up for precisely less than the amount of time you need to read it (unless you’re loading at Actual Speed, you weirdo).

Yes: this is Protect and Survive: Threads: The Computer Game, which I’m going to call Protect and Survive, Threads or PAS:T:TCG interchangeably at will.

It’s GReW‘s latest effort, and it’s based on the Threads TV show from the 80s. I don’t think I ever saw Threads, however it was repeated on BBC4 some years back and I taped it, and then didn’t bother to watch it. It’s probably in the loft now. I’m not sure it matters, the basic gist of the game is there’s a nuclear war on, and you’ve hidden in the cupboard under the stairs with – apparently – a bed, a cooker, the world’s biggest bottle of water and a latrine (as GrEw politely calls it).

My beautiful house.

My beautiful house.

There doesn’t appear to be any food, and I couldn’t get the cooker to do much – probably because the nuclear blast has cut off both the electricity and gas. I could, however, use the lavatory at my pleasure, wipe my arse as much as I liked, and go to sleep. Well, I could go to sleep once, and then the game would insist I wasn’t tired. Oh, there’s also a door, but you can’t go out that way.

My beautiful house. *sob* Excuse me, I've got a bit of radioactive isotope in my eye...

My beautiful house. *sob* Excuse me, I’ve got a bit of radioactive isotope in my eye…

It’s all rendered in 3D Speccyvision (aka Freescape), Total Eclipse-style, and just like Total Eclipse I don’t really know what I’m supposed to be doing, don’t know how to do it and am probably going to get very old before I walk all the way over to the only object I can see at less than one frame a second.

I’m being unkind, the 3D works very well and is quick. It’s a little too technically competent for the CGC (although appears to be created with 3D Construction Kit, so not that technically competent), but thankfully gREW doesn’t appear to have put any gameplay in, so that’s OK.

Even in the Nuclear Winter, there's no excuse for poor hygiene.

Even in the Nuclear Winter, there’s no excuse for poor hygiene.

As far as I can tell, you can either wait until you get radiation poisoning and die, or you can wait until your health deteriorates so much that you die. I drank all the water, cranked the emulator up to max and took the former way out. (You can also unplug the Speccy, which is quicker. Ed)

Of course the irony is that you wouldn’t be able to play this whilst waiting for the bombs to fall, as it takes precisely one-and-a-half minutes longer to load than the four minute warning allows.

I advise playing this directly after Gardener of Doom, for the full apocalyptic experience. Actually I don’t advise that at all, I think that’s the radiation sickness talking.

Score: One tin of SPAM out of an arbitrary amount of tins of corned beef.
Download: .tzx

International Global World of Swingball

When I was ten or eleven, I made the perilous journey from cosy Bedfordshire all the way to steely Sheffield for some family party or other. Three things stick in my mind about that weekend – buying Jack The Nipper from Just Micro (home of Gremlin Graphics), annoying my mum on the train home by putting on a fake Yorkshire accent, and spending a very pleasant hour before the party playing swingball with two girls who I think were either my first cousins twice removed, or my second cousins, or possibly my second cousins twice removed – whatever your nan’s brother’s grandchildren are, anyway. And no, “playing swingball with my cousins” is not a euphemism, so stop that right now.

Swingball, then. As far as I can remember from that long lost afternoon, it’s a two-player game where a tennis ball is attached to a pole via a piece of string, and you have to hit the ball in one direction, your opponent hitting it the opposite way, until the string gets to the top or bottom of the pole. There’s 17 gazillion Speccy sports simulations but as far as I know GReW’s latest effort, International Global World Of Swingball, is the first to feature swingball.

All the best Speccy games – Monty On The Run by the aforementioned Gremlin Graphics, and, erm, Action Biker – have more than one loading screen. So does this one.

Swingball01

Cleverly, when the second screen is loading in the background the pixels are completely hidden by the first screen’s attributes. And look, following on from Gab Amore’s recent efforts, it’s yet another Chunk-O-Vision game! Yaaaaaaaay!

Tennis ball last seen in Bounder.

Terry the tennis ball, last seen in Bounder.

After the game has loaded you get this lovely title screen complete with typo – bonus crap points here, as all the best games have typos, like “BARMY BURGER’S” and whatever game it was by “ELITE SYTEMS” that slipped through the net.

Swingball03

This is a two player game, which proved to be a problem for me, as I don’t have any friends, and even if I did, they’d soon run a mile if I asked them to play a simulated game of swingball on a 30-year-old computer. So I had to invent one – I’ll call him “Chris”, because most people at Sqij Towers seem to be called Chris these days. Apart from me. And Andy. And Myke (come to think of it, what’s with the “y” in “Myke” anyway? That’s just sylly.)

Swingball05

The very first thing I notice, as “Chris” serves the ball to me, is the ball isn’t attached to the pole at all. This isn’t swingball, it’s more like tennis without a net, played next to what looks like a telegraph pole or a half-submerged guitar with a long neck. That blobby bit under my eye isn’t my nose, it’s actually the ball, which I fail to hit again and again. My right hand – aka “Chris” – seems to be better at this than the rest of me, as after a few more bashes of the keyboard he only bloody well goes and “winds”:

Swingball06

Bah. Beaten by my right hand. No change there, then.

I must quickly mention the Play By Mail option, which allows people to play even if they have no friends in their immediate area – GReW really knows his target audience, doesn’t he? So if you fancy a game by post, here’s a code to start you off: BLCEHER6I5STIAA. Time to dust off your Amstrad Em@iler and send it to me by the magical cyber-tubes!

Swingball07

As crap games go, this is actually one of the better ones. Still utterly crap, but it’s in machine code, and fairly well presented – in fact I can almost – almost – imagine this being released by some budget software house at the arse end of 1983. Now I wonder whatever happened to my second cousins? Perhaps they’ll have a rematch, thirty years on.

Score: Love deuce (f’nar!)

Download .tap here.

Alan Turing’s Octal Challenge

Garry “GReW” Wishart is back with his second entry for the ZX81. Now I didn’t get my Speccy until late 1985, so much like the music of the Grateful Dead, the ZX81 isn’t something I’m familiar with at all; I’ve heard of it, but I don’t necessarily want anything to do with it. However he does say to type the familiar LOAD “” command to run the game. This I try (having fired up EightyOne). I assumed the LOAD keyword would be on the letter J like the Speccy, but imagine my surprise when I get the RANDOMISE keyword – spelt rather curiously with the British “S” instead of the Americanized “Z” of the Speccy – instead!

Not a ZX81 screenshot.

Not a ZX81 screenshot.

I jab away at some more keys, searching for the LOAD command, before realising I’ve actually selected a ZX80 in the emulator, not a ZX81, and I have to start the whole process again! Thankfully the ZX81 has a far more sensible (Speccy-like) layout and I find the LOAD key and start the tape. Garry’s sage advice is to turn on tape acceleration “unless you have an episode of Cash In The Attic to watch while it loads”. I’m curious to know what a ZX81 loading sounds like, but after a full five minutes of high-pitched whining (at least half of which is coming from the emulated ZX81 rather than assorted family members who have gathered in the Sqij Towers dining room to see what I’m up to) I give up and hit the flash load button in the emulator.

A ZX81 loading. Wot no stripy border?

A ZX81 loading. Wot no stripy border?

To the game – which has surprisingly detailed graphics for a ZX81, even down to the digitised piccy of Alan Turing on the title screen. The year is 1940, the world is at war, and Alan has to defend Blighty using the most powerful weapon known to man… an understanding of octal and boolean logic.

ATOC4

Now to me, Octal and Boolean Logic sound like a grime rapper from East London and a 1970s space disco band, but it turns out Octal is a counting system a bit like decimal but with only eight numbers (curiously, not including the number eight), and Boolean Logic is a space disco band who had a hit in 1978 with “Boolie Oolie Oolie (Turn Me On, Turn Me Off, Turn Me On Again)”. Or something.

The first problem appears on the screen, and immediately I’m faced with a second problem – I don’t have a chuffing clue what the answer is, even in decimal. At least with Geff Capes’ Hexadecimal Budgerigar Extravaganza (or whatever it was called) I could have a decent stab at the answer, but 023 minus 365? With the help of good old Microsoft Calculator I work out that 023 is 19 and 365 is 245, meaning the answer is minus 226 in decimal, or, erm, 1777777777777777777436 in octal. I think my calculator’s broken. Curses! So I just sort of stab at some buttons and one of my ships gets sunk. Rats!

However that’s nothing compared to the next question…

ATOC5

316 XOR 214? I know that XOR means eXclusive Or, but how to apply it to octal is anyone’s guess. So again I just stab randomly at some numbers and hope for the best. I notice that quite a few of the number keys don’t work either – I think this is a feature rather than a bug, as Garry states “the routine is very poorly written and has a 1 in 256 chance of overwriting the BASIC system variables and crashing the computer.” A crashed computer at this point sounded like a far more appealing prospect than playing the game, and I must admit I didn’t progress any further – but if anyone knows what happens if and when you win, send the screenshot on a postcard to Rt. Hon. Reverend Chris Young (Mrs), Acting Assistant Under-Secretary to the Temporary Chairman, Sqij Towers, 666 Boulevard des Jeux de Merde, Biggleswade-on-Sea, Kidderminstercestershire.

Score: 1 XOR 1 out of 144.

Download here (ZX81 zip file)

Advanced Fiesta Simulator 3D

I owned a Ford Fiesta over ten years ago. The blower stopped working except on position “4”, which necessitated turning the radio up, not that the speaker on the driver’s side worked properly anyway. One winter the internal heater decided to fail. Some time afterwards the radiator developed a leak, requiring a top-up every morning and an emergency spare bottle of water in the boot. In summer, my commute to work largely involved watching the temperature gauge slowly increase, praying that the “Road To Nowhere” wouldn’t be at a standstill, as the only way to keep the engine cool was to drive fast enough for the surrounding air to do the job. In winter I was dressed as the Michelin Man, praying that the “Road To Nowhere” wouldn’t be at a standstill, so I could get to work before I froze to death.

I figured this was qualification enough to review Garry Wishart’s Advanced Fiesta Simulator 3D for the ZX81.

I had a piece of shit car like this myself once.

I had a piece of shit car like this myself once.

The first thing which struck me was this game is HUGE. It needs a 16K ZX81, and the author advises against running it on a real machine because it “takes nearly 15 minutes to load”. However, he also advises there is a version with sound (“not included”) which only works on a real ZX81 – and requires a radio tuned to the specific frequency of 600kHz in the vicinity. That’s dedication, and I’m willing to take Garry’s word that such a thing both exists and works, as the rest of the code is unbelievably thorough – there’s even a mention of “friction coefficients”, though he has hand-rendered everything (which explains why the code takes up so much memory) rather than using his mathematical genius coupled with the ZX81’s UNPLOT command. Maybe the ZX81 wasn’t up to calculating the full first-person view of the road quick enough.

This advert was actually found next to Jim's wife in the back of Fiesta magazine, due to an administrative error.

This advert was actually found next to Jim’s wife in the back of Fiesta magazine, due to an administrative error.

The game starts with you purchasing a used car, for less than the price of a Sinclair Black Watch (probably). “One careful lady owner”, the advert states – omitting the twenty or so buffoons who also owned it at one point or another.

After that you’re straight into the action. With as many controls as your average ZX81 flight simulator[1], you can do everything from accelerating to adjusting the mirrors. Even the horn has a key despite the ZX81 having no ability to output sound. Bizarrely, there’s no option to turn on the hazards, which are the first things I’d check are working in a MkI Fiesta. Ah, well, it’s a game, you won’t need them. The game helpfully tells you the controls no matter what you answer to the question “Instructions?”, so somebody’s been reading my old guide to writing a crap game.

The main display is your classic pseudo-driver’s view – a road disappearing into the distance – but with a few features not normally found on 8-bit era driving games. Firstly, the game has a five speed gearbox (one of the speeds is “reverse”, but it still counts), whereas you’d be lucky to get Lo/Hi gears back in the 1980s. Secondly, there’s a rear view mirror, despite there being no other traffic on the road. Garry has also kitted it out with the usual computer game dashboard components – speedo, clock, brake fluid low indicator (Huh? – Ed), that sort of thing.

The A14 near Creeting St Mary.

The A14 near Creeting St Mary.

Unfortunately, the warning lights appear to be dead (It’s probably the fuse – Ed), as the first you’ll know about the engine overheating is when it’s on fire. The gearbox is faulty. The electrics are screwed up. If you slow down for the lights you’ll stall and be needing those hazard lights that haven’t been mapped to the ZX81’s keyboard. If you adjust the mirror it’ll come off in your hand.

I dare say that if you stay at a constant speed between about 20 and 40 mph, stay on the road and DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING you might reach Carlisle. Or you might still break down due to lack of fuel, an oil leakage, flat tyre or total boredom.

And.... stop.

And…. stop.

Mr Lake, co-host of the 2007 CSSCGC, also had an old Fiesta. Exiting the vehicle involved winding the window down and operating the handle on the exterior of the door, although I believe in later years that failed too, and the only reasonable way to leave was via the passenger’s side.

I strongly suspect this game is based on a true story. It’s also entirely as advertised – advanced, accurate and in 3D. If you took out all the bits about the car breaking down, this would have sold as a full price title back in 1982. With them, though, it’s a superbly executed crap game which has had far too much effort spent on it. Top marks!

Download HERE

[1] There’s only one – Psion Flight Simulation, and it has twelve keys, but three of them have nothing to do with controlling the plane so I’ve ignored them.

©2015 Sinclair Research Ltd sqij.co.uk