I Played That! #8: Campaign Manager (C64)

Today’s entry isn’t so much about the game itself but the games around it. Compute! magazine was an invaluable resource for a nerd like me. Every month it came out with articles and tutorials on how to really learn how to program your computer. It gave clear instructions and examples that could really help one become a programmer. I, of course, mostly ignored all that and just focused on the games. It also had source code for games that you could type in, and I did. The games weren’t usually that great but hey, more games. Compute! also published Compute’s Gazette, a similar magazine that focused solely on Commodore computers. Again, this was a fantastic way to really learn programming and again: more games!

One of these games in particular was Campaign Manager, a political election simulator featured in issue 14 (August, 1984) of Compute’s Gazette (PDF link). My friend Mark was visiting and we both wanted to play this thing, so we began typing it in. Campaign Manager was written in machine language, and Compute! had developed a program to help type those in, since they were essentially just numbers. Here’s one page of the Campaign Manager code:

That’s one page out of nine. It’s in MLX code, a special machine language entry program that Compute! used to make entry easier and error-free. That’s a lot of typing, and soon both of us were exhausted, since neither of us was much of a typist. We somehow roped my mom into helping us key this monster in and eventually it was done and we were playing.

I can’t tell you much about the game itself. It was pretty in-depth for the time, and I know Mark and I played a bunch of it. After he left I played it a few times on my own, but since it was a two-player game, that wasn’t much fun.

It’s the most memorable of the Compute! games for me, though the magazine also at one point had a Commodore 64 word processor called Speed Script that I got a lot of use out of. I distinctly remember using Speed Script to type up a book report on Frank Herbert’s Dune. I got a B on it.

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Lego Diem is Seven

“SIEBEN” by mo mo on Flickr

As of today I’ve been doing my Lego blog, Lego Diem for seven years. That’s a lot of Lego.

Though I switch from my own blog to a Tumblr blog a few years in, I still do it the same way. I’m subscribed to Flickr’s RSS feeds for the “lego” tag and a few groups. Every morning I have between 300 and 600 pictures to scroll through. Fortunately this doesn’t take as long as it might seem.

The vast majority of pics don’t interest me in the slightest, and I zoom past them without a thought. Almost everything Star Wars gets ignored, as does a large amount of Marvel/DC superhero stuff. Everyone’s project of taking a picture of a minifig doing “wacky” things or at exotic locations is an easy pass. Very often someone will go to Disney World or the like, take three pictures of that sea serpent there, and then tag all 200 of their holiday photos as “lego”. I can always count on a bunch of pictures from wherever Nathan Sawaya’s stuff is set up, and those go by quickly as well. I have a weird bias against First Lego League stuff, and that’s always a lot of pictures, so those can be gone through quickly.

Whatever catches my eye from this stream I mark as a favorite, and it’s usually from there that the day’s Lego Diem image comes. I like cool models as much as the next guy, but I usually try to go past that. There are plenty of Lego blogs out there focusing on such stuff and I don’t like to duplicate what they’re doing. I like pictures that don’t just show the creation but the act of creation, and the role that Lego plays in our world. I love pictures of Lego tattoos and graffiti an non-Lego things that are clearly inspired by Lego.

I especially like photos that show the people who “don’t play with Lego” building things that “nobody builds any more” with the pieces Lego “no longer makes”. That is, kids of all races and genders and ages building crazy stuff out their imaginations with whatever bricks they have on hand, paying no attention to colors, “special pieces”, instructions, or box models. Several libraries have Lego clubs where they have kids building with just buckets of random bricks and it’s always delightful. As an adult fan I am constantly hearing how blah blah Lego blah blah girls blah blah no imagination et cetera and every single day I see stuff that disproves all of this.

Lego Diem doesn’t have a huge following (though it’s currently at 365, which is kind of appropriate) and sometimes I think it’s time to call it quits, but I always regain my enthusiasm. Even when I’m not building with Lego myself it’s fun every day to see this stream of creativity. It’s a nice morning routine for me.

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Kraftwerk in…The Sonic Man Machine

If you have to ask yourself, “Do I need a comic starring Kraftwerk, battling against an entity of pure techno pop?” then no, you do not need The Sonic Man Machine.

If your eyes and brain light up at the very thought of such a comic then yes, you need this comic, and sooner rather than later.

Kraftwerk in…The Sonic Man Machine is written by Mike Rosenthal and drawn by Michele Rosenthal and can be purchased here.

I can’t tell you more about it without revealing the absolutely delightful contents that will thrill and entertain Kraftwerk fans, but that should be all you need to know. It’s all I needed. I heard “Kraftwerk comic book” and immediately jumped on it, and man, I’m glad I did.

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Fine, I Can’t Make Myself Not Talk About the Star Wars Trailer

The trailer for the upcoming Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens premiered last week. In case you have somehow found my website but not it, here it is:

I was hesitant to comment on it, for a number of reasons, but you know me and my loud mouth. If you feel your parade may be rained on here, leave now.

I’m not alone in being wary of this movie. The prequel series landed with a moist thud, despite lots of really good trailers. A lot of folks are trying not to get too worked up about it. Granted, this time there’s a different director, but that director is J.J. Abrams. Quick, name your favorite J.J. Abrams movie; by simple process of elimination, you have one, though you may not know offhand what it is.

This trailer seems to have put some people at ease, making them feel like everything’s going to be all right. There’s even a direct line to them at 1:34, when Old Man Solo says, “Chewie, we’re home”. People have claimed to be moved to tears by that moment and I am not being flip when I say I envy them. I didn’t feel that way and I can’t imagine feeling that way, and it might be nice to be able to.

For me, though, this moment does the opposite. I seem to be the only person who doesn’t really want to see the old gang back together. While I understand that they’re all still alive and able to do this, I think it’s more important for the story to move on. Luke, Han, and Leia had their story. Let’s have a new story. I love the Millennium Falcon but how about a different spaceship we can think is cool?

We have new characters, and they seem pretty cool. The new droid is adorable. The new bad guys — ha ha I kid, it’s the same old bad guys. (After spending seven years paging through five hundred million “hilarious” and “epic” Lego storm/clonetrooper pictures for Lego Diem, let me tell you how excited I am to start all over again with Newtroopers.) Why bring back the old heroes, even if it’s briefly? Why give us a scene of the Millennium Falcon flying through some superstructure like we haven’t seen that before (in a movie where we destroyed the Death Star again, no less). The trailer opens with downed, decrepit hardware from the old movies, which I like, but then does a record scratch and gives us the same stuff.

This isn’t unusual for the Star Wars universe, unfortunately. Thirteen years ago I wrote about how the goal seemed to be to take the world everyone liked for seeming so big and lived in and making it as small and cramped as possible, making sure everyone and everything in it was no more than two degrees of separation from anything else. It’s as though someone thought that, without the inclusion of a character directly from the movies, there was no possible way for anyone to recognize it as Star Wars.

This also brings forward my biggest complaint about the movies, and especially the original trilogy. In the first movie Luke is some dumb kid whose dad was a big war hero but is otherwise not particularly remarkable. He happens to get involved in the Rebellion, and finds his courage and heart within to triumph. But in The Empire Strikes Back, we find out, no, he’s been destined for this by biology, and this is developed even further in Return of the Jedi. Instead of a nobody becoming a hero we have a power dynasty fulfilling its destiny to have the events of the galaxy revolve around it. That second story is incredibly uninteresting to me, compared to the first, and I’m not particularly interested in further adventures of the sacred and superior bloodline. (And, after the prequel trilogy, I really don’t want to see any more Jedi and can’t imagine anyone else in that world would want to, either.)

I realize that I’m reacting to less than two minutes of a movie, making all kinds of assumptions about it. But being that this movie is from the same guy who had New Spock meet Old Spock to find out that the bad guy was in fact a bad guy, instead of just moving on, I’m not hopeful. I’m also not hopeful based on the reactions of my peers to the trailer, which were largely, “Hooray for the things that are very much like the things we already know and like!” I’ve seen a discussion of which existing Expanded Universe characters might be lurking in the trailer as though there’s an expectation that they should be.

I haven’t kept up with Star Wars, with the cartoons and videogames and books and comics and such, feeling as though they weren’t really for me. Which is fine; I’m a 46 year old guy with a mortgage and Roth IRA. It shouldn’t be for me. I guess what I’m trying to say is, this “new” movie seems like it wants to be for me, and I think that’s a bad idea.

PS – All that said, it’s still miles better than this bag of limp, humorless garbage. Is Superman too powerful, too corruptible? Let’s have the white billionaire guy address that.

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I Played That! #7: Starflight and Starflight 2 (PC)

When I first saw Starflight in the software store I knew I had to have it. It looked and sounded amazing, and it came from Electronic Arts which, at the time, meant quality. I moved whatever mountains needed to be moved to get it into my hands.

It came out in 1986 and I believe that I got it on PC, but there’s a slim possibility I played it on the Commodore 64. Playing it on the PC would mean not playing it in color, and I think I did so. Doesn’t matter.

It was a perfect game for me. The emphasis of the game was on exploration. Dozens if not hundreds of randomly (or maybe “procedurally” — I don’t really know the difference) planets with minerals, life forms, and other stuff to explore, alien races to find and interact with, and a mystery to solve, not a boss to kill. It was amazing. And yes, that Electronic Arts quality shone through, with the alien conversations well written and hilarious. It was truly a groundbreaking game.

When Starflight 2 came out in 1989, I jumped on it immediately. It was one of two games that prompted me to buy my very first hard drive, which was actually a “hard card” (it was mounted directly on the interface card instead of taking up a drive bay.) It held a whopping 10MB and I paid $125 for it, which was actually not a bad deal. I would finally be able to play Starflight 2 without constant disk-swapping.

Starflight 2 expanded on the original, emphasizing the trade aspect. Now you were finding stuff and delivering it to the folks who wanted it, a la that Space Trader game that there are countless iterations of. But there were still mysteries, fun interactions, and things to discover.

One thing I discovered while poking around the game files with a hex editor (hoping to cheat, no doubt), was a conspiracy theory involving the JFK assassination. You can read more about it here (and almost nowhere else on the Internet! EXCLUSIVE! MUST CREDIT DAVE EX MACHINA!) but the message was “JUDGE JIM GARRISON IS RIGHT. ELEMENTS OF FBI/CIA KILLED JFK.” It’s hidden in the code, and as far as I know it never comes up in the game. Who put it there and why is still a mystery.

The Starflight games are commonly confused with the Star Control series from Accolade, which I’ll talk about later. They have a lot of similarities, so the mistake is understandable, but this is not to imply that Accolade ripped off EA.

I recently grabbed the Star Control series (even if I still had the originals, I don’t have a 5.25″ floppy drive anymore) from Great Old Games. Not sure how well they aged, but we’ll see.

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Justified: Season Six and So Long

Despite the weakness of last season, I was still looking forward to this, the final season of Justified. It promised a final showdown with Raylan and Boyd and seemed like it would develop the most useful theme of season five, that the characters’ pasts were coming back on them and what worked easily before was no longer working now.

Season six was a monster. It started out like a runaway locomotive and didn’t let up. The best thing I can say about this season was that I didn’t really speculate too much about where it was going to go; I was content to just let it unfold. The strange thing about the season was, apart from some surprise deaths, it didn’t feel like a final season. Although Raylan and Boyd were both after their “last big score” I didn’t feel like we were heading toward a conclusion. Last night’s final episode was that conclusion, and I want to talk more about it. I will after the spoiler tag.

Referring to the show in general, I’m going to miss it. Justified wasn’t a “great” show, it was a pretty consistently good show with some good characters and one great one. There are other actors and roles on the show that did fine jobs, but without Walton Goggins’ Boyd Crowder I don’t know how far this show would have gone. Boyd was the rare case of a fan-favorite character becoming the focus and it actually paying off. The other villains of the seasons usually were just trying to keep up with him, and often failed to do so.

The second season of the show is considered the best, mostly because of Margo Martindale’s role of Mags Bennett. Five was probably the weakest, but starts strong and still has some great moments. (Maybe four is weaker; I don’t know too many people who cared about the Drew Thompson mystery.) But honestly, the whole thing is just a solid show with some great characters, action, and humor. I don’t know what, if anything, will be able to replace it for me.

Now I’m going to talk about last night’s episode, so

Continue reading

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The Movies-to-Watch List: A Night at the Opera (1935)

Old comedies are sometimes tricky. Hell, new comedies are sometimes tricky. Comedy depends so much on timing and delivery, and if you have a director or editor who doesn’t get that, even a hilarious bit can fall flat. And with movies, you’re depending on the style of all three of those (the comedy, the direction, the editing) to not have gone past their sell-by date. Often times you’re (or at least I’m) left with the sense of, “Okay, I can see why this might have been funny back then, but not so much now.”

This is why I was wary of A Night at the Opera. And it turned out my fears were in vain. This is a greatly funny movie, with a large percentage of the gags still landing just right. And the famous “stateroom scene” (which, to be honest, I didn’t know was famous until I read about the movie after seeing it) is still hilarious.

This was my first Marx Brothers movie and I want to see more. Supposedly the ones before this are looser and more just the Brothers screwing around with people for no good reason, but I still want to check them out.

As with so many of the older movies I’ve been watching, it’s also fun to finally understand how much it was being referenced by other things. Bugs Bunny is the most obvious one, but there were a lot of other bits I was finally able to realize were being paid homage to (or, y’know, being ripped off).

One reference in particular I was glad to finally see the source of was the Jonathan Richman song, “When Harpo Played His Harp”. Now I’ve seen Harpo play his harp and it was in fact a dream, it was. I also saw Chico shoot the keys, and it did please me.

A Night at the Opera has really held up, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes comedies. Or opera. There’s actually quite a bit of opera.

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Let’s Look at the Record: Violent Femmes

In 1985 I stood at a crossroads. My musical taste was veering off the radio charts already, but in what direction would I further go? I had friends who were metalheads, my best friend was hard into Pink Floyd, but I was just dumb normal me who listened to Depeche Mode and such. And then I met Katie and Charlyn, who introduced me to the Violent Femmes.

And that, my friends, is how I became a punk rocker.

Ha ha, I kid! I was never a punk rocker. But I loved the Violent Femmes album and I loved the way it made me feel. My musical awakening hadn’t occurred too long before, but already this album was an affront to everything I held dear. No keyboards, sloppy lyrics, harsh vocals, it was so different from the other stuff I was listening to, and so exciting. This was the sound of me leaving my old world behind.

I was unaware at the time that this was a suburban staple, even as I bought a matching Repo Man soundtrack. Like the copy of Legend that white people are issued at a certain point to make them able to claim they like reggae, the self-titled Violent Femmes album was an acceptable “punk” album that was sure to wow all your other friends who also didn’t know any better.

But it wasn’t just cultural cachet; I liked the album. A lot. One of the songs (granted, probably the most mainstream of them) is one of my all-time favorites. To this day I consider it a perfect album without a single misstep (except for the misstep of releasing it on CD with two tracks that don’t fit it slapped on after the perfect ending). Unlike many of the other things I was into at the time, its jagged, sloppy sound has made it almost evergreen.

My “punk” phase, had it even actually begun, didn’t go very far, but that was largely because no one else I knew went too far in that arena. I didn’t know anyone who could steer me towards other things I might like, and the seas were a little too rough for me to go sailing into them on my own. Even other Violent Femmes albums didn’t do much for me. I like to imagine that there’s a me on an alternate Earth who got one or two more albums, got a little more confidence, and really did become a big ol’ punk rocker.

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