I Played That! #12: Archon (C64)

Something you’re going to have to get used to in this series is thinking of Electronic Arts as a good company, putting out exciting, innovative games. I know what I’m asking here, but trust me, they weren’t always like they are now.

Archon was an early EA release and it was incredible. It was something completely different, and yet easy to pick up. It presents itself as chess, only with asymmetric sides. Light and Dark have different pieces, but they seem like they’re fairly well balanced. The goal of Archon was to either eliminate the opponent’s pieces or control five power spots on the board (a/k/a, the lame way to win).

The difference came when attacking a piece. At that point the game would shift into an action game, where the two pieces would run around attacking each other to the death. The different battle abilities of the pieces came into play here and it was possible for a weak piece, in the hands of a gamer good with reflex action, to take out a strong piece. In addition, the other part of the game still mattered here. Some squares were light and some dark, and some cycled between the two. Whichever color the square was when the battle took place gave an edge to the player of that color.

The whole thing is brilliantly done, was fun to play, and had one of those super memorable themes:

There was a sequel, Archon II: Adept, which I also had, but I didn’t like it as much. It removed some of the simplicity of Archon in favor of a lot of extra hoo-hah. Other iterations of Archon came and went, but the original was the one for me.

After I sold my C64 to my friend Charlyn, and when I was briefly sort of dating her, we were playing Archon one day and I was doing pretty well, when suddenly I realized, “hang on, I need to be losing this game”. Ah, youth.

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My Tweek on Twitter

Some of what I did this week on Twitter. I’m still working on how to make this look good.


* Nerds need to have Sturgeon’s Law taken away from them

* More on me vs. “geek culture”

* (RT) This is hilarious and has spoilers

* This should have gotten more heat, imo

* (RT) This killed me

* (RT) Amazing how my shopping experiences often mirror David Bowie’s

* But I’d have to be in Northampton

* I crack me up

* Speaking of Northampton

* My eternal nemeses

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I Played That! Now Has a Table of Contents

Just click on the above image to LOAD “$”, 8, 1.

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Mad Max: Fury Road

Confession: I’ve never seen all of a Mad Max movie. I started watching the original, but ten slow minutes of unintelligible mumbling nixed that. Not having seen it, I didn’t go for The Road Warrior, presented as a sequel. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was an HBO staple when I was growing up, and I’ve certainly seen parts of it over and over (the Master Blaster fight scene must take place on a half-hour because I think I’ve seen that bit like 30 times) but never the whole thing.

I haven’t seen a lot of 80s staples, but I’m not sure how I never got around to this one, given my interest in videogames like Fallout and Borderlands and in boardgames like The New Era. When I heard that Fury Road required no previous knowledge and was getting great reviews, I decided to jump on board.

I liked the movie a lot. It’s a tense action movie with incredible design and set-pieces. Essentially one long chase scene, it’s hard to imagine them being able to constantly raise the tension and over-the-topness, yet George Miller continually does so. That the majority of it was practical effects and stunts makes it even more incredible.

I thought it was a lot of fun, but it has been a bit oversold. While there’s enough plot to tie the chase to, it’s not a particularly novel one. Also the claim of how incredibly feminist it is overstates the case. It’s certainly got more of a feminist angle than what’s usually out there for Summer, but so does a pile of hams. It’s difficult to gauge how high a movie jumps when the bar is sitting on the ground.

This isn’t to say that there’s no real feminism in the movie. There are definitely a lot of moves in that direction. The end, I think, kind of muddles the message, but there’s clearly an attempt to break from tradition here. Charlize Theron’s character is no “man with breasts”. Changing that character to a man would result in a very different movie. Yet she’s also not there to be rescued by Max, have sex with Max, or be a prize for Max at the end. In addition, the character of Nux could be argued to show the benefits that feminism offers to men. It’s not a difficult read to make.

The movie actually does away with a lot of the usual tropes, which is great. Max is not the baddest badass in the world (though the bits from Thunderdome I’ve seen indicate that this was a constant theme.) There are a lot of moments that you don’t usually see in these kinds of movies. And unlike a lot of current action films, the characters do things between the “fuck yeah” moments other than engage in witty banter.

Mad Max: Fury Road genuinely offers more than the usual junk. How much more, it’s difficult to say, but if you’re even slightly curious, check it out. I’m glad I did, and I’ve added more Max to the Netflix queue.

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Spoilers for Alien (1979), If You Can Call Them That

I was recently re-watching Alien, and something is bugging me. I know, I know, benefit of hindsight and all that, but how did the crew of the Nostromo (and the audience) not know that Ash was an android? In nearly every scene he appears in up until the big reveal, there are obvious clues dropped about his real identity. I can understand not picking them up on the first view or so, but even now people act as though it’s some shocking surprise.

Really? Even after all this?

You’re kicking yourself for not noticing before, huh? Well if you’re me, now you won’t be able to watch Alien and NOT see it.

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Well, at Least I Didn’t Throw Up

This weekend I went out and bought possibly the most expensive pair of shoes I’ve ever owned.

They’re running shoes for running and they were on sale. I was going to get a cheaper pair, but they didn’t have those in my size, so I paid the RTFN tax rather than wait for a pair to be ordered. I also bought some insoles and those little ankle socks. Many thanks to pal Josh for shoe advice, the guy at Footlocker for helping me out without trying to sell me more shoe than I needed, and to Raksa, the Cambodian child who made the shoes.

Now, what’s this about running? After several messages from my body and a scale I have decided to begin the Couch to 5k program. (It’s known as C25K, which I thought was short for “Close Encounter of the 25th Kind”, which is defined as “discussing whether the children will be raised Catholic or Blitznortz”.) I got it in my head that I would begin this week, so part of the rush for shoes was not allowing myself time to back out.

C25K is a program designed to do exactly what it says on the tin in 8 weeks. That 5K isn’t walking, it’s running. It’s a bold claim, but the program advises you to do it at your own pace. If you’re not comfortable with jumping up the pace this week, fine, just re-do last week. The 8 weeks is minimum, not necessary.

I started this morning and oh my god, I am out of shape. We started out okay, with a nice brisk walk and then some jogging. (There’s an app where a woman tells you when to do what.) You alternate walking and jogging, and things were going okay until I got to the fourth “let’s jog!” At that point my heart nearly exploded. Since it’s not called “Couch to E.R.” I slowed to a walk about a minute into that fourth jog. She soon said “now walk” so I was okay with that.

Then the fifth “now jog!” came up and I was all, “nah, I’m good.” “Come on,” the app said, sensing I wasn’t jogging, “YOU’RE HALFWAY THERE!”

So, anyway, my phone is now in the ocean.

I continued walking and my side started to cramp, so I cut it short, failing a second time. But look, it’s not like I need to deliver the One Ring to Mt. Doom. Just doing what I did isn’t a bad start. For this first week or two I’ll take her constant haranguing me to jog as a suggestion and not kill myself. (I’d like to change the voice on the app to a man because there is a potential here for Ms. Let’s Jog to ultimately make me hate all women.)

So not a totally auspicious start, but it could have been worse and it’s at least a start. Eventually I’ll earn the shoes (which performed admirably) and make Raksa’s work not be in vain.

Posted in Misc

I Played That! #11: Ultima IV, V, and VI (C64, PC)

Because of my love for Ultima III, I bought Ultima IV as soon as I could. Ultima IV would radically change the Ultima series forever, and in a better world we don’t live in, it would have changed all of RPG games. Subtitled, “The Quest of the Avatar”, the plot of the game wasn’t about triumphing over a powerful creature, but on self-improvement. A system of virtues, lost long ago, was to be rediscovered, and the player would become the Avatar, the champion of virtue. This involved interacting with people, recovering items, killing monsters (but only evil ones; killing non-evil things caused a loss of virtue), and meditation. Yes, you would discover mantras (most of which I still have memorized) that you chanted at shrines to become more virtuous. The game was steeped in Philosophy and Ethics 101 but was still compelling.

The limited dialogue system began one of the Ultima series’ greatest running jokes. You’d initiate dialogue with someone and then assaulted them with capitalized, one-word “questions”: NAME. JOB. HEALTH. If they said, “I work in the mines” you might then say “MINES” and they might tell you more. The impression was of this person striving to be the apex of humanity being a barking idiot, and it was great.

I played it the first time through with my then-girlfriend. Whenever someone said “Quest” we got all excited because it might mean they would join our party. We also kept a running list of characters we didn’t like, who were rude to us or something (imagine being rude to someone yelling “NAME” and “JOB” at you) who we intended to go back and kill after we finished the game.

Ultima IV delivered what it promised; a satisfying, interesting quest that was not primarily built around combat. While there are plenty of things to fight, you go to the very end without a “boss” and yet it’s considered one of the best RPGs of all time.

Ultima V took the virtues of Ultima IV and expanded on them. The ruler of Britannia, Lord British (the in-game personification of designer Richard Garriott) has vanished, and in his place Lord Blackthorne, who is certainly not a bad guy with that name, no sir, has taken over. He continues to use the virtues of the Avatar to guide Britannia, but they become perverted to their bad extremes. For example, his rule for Honesty is, “Thou shalt not lie, or thou shalt lose thy tongue.” You have to rescue Lord British and restore the correct balance to the virtues. There is also the corrupting influence of the Shadowlords, evil beings which taint the cities they visit and provide a constant threat.

Despite the Shadowlords and the bad guy of Lord Blackthorne, once again, this isn’t leading to any kind of miniboss or end boss battle. They are dealt with in non-combat ways (in fact, fighting a Shadowlord is almost certain death and, even if one is victorious, doesn’t get rid of it permanently). Once again, there’s nothing unsatisfying about this.

Ultima V was similar in look and feel to IV, though with some enhancements. It’s seen as one of the weaker entries, but I still have a soft spot for it. It came out in 1988, which means I almost certainly played it on the PC instead of the Commodore 64, but I remember playing it in color, which I didn’t have on the PC for a while.

Ultima VI presented huge changes in the game design, and I hated it at first. The game engine I’d been used to since Ultima III had radically changed and therefore was bad. In fairness, the changes were even more dramatic for me. It was designed for a computer mouse, which I didn’t have yet, and the keyboard commands were very different from what had come before. Also, I was still playing on a green screen monitor, so the various colored potions — some of which were bad and shouldn’t be drunk — all looked the same to me. In addition, it was big, and playing with just the floppy drive was not an option. This was the second game that prompted the purchase of my 10MB hard card.

The much larger scale of the game was impressive, but also a bit irritating. Travel could be tedious, and there’s a particularly arduous central quest that maximizes this. There’s a stone tablet you need, which was found by pirates. They buried it with their loot and made a treasure map which is broken into nine parts. You have to get each part, and often you have to do something else (which sometimes involves multiple parts of another thing). It takes up the lion’s share of the game and sends you all over the world.

The problem in Ultima VI is that these beings called Gargoyles have appeared and are angry about something or other and attacking people. You, the Avatar, have to figure out what the problem with them is. At first this doesn’t seem like it has much to do with the virtues and such, but, as with everything in this trilogy, they prove to be central.

This is a fantastic trilogy of games. The themes are established and developed well, and while it takes the world into a new direction, it features numerous callbacks to the original trilogy. The goal of self-improvement was novel, and unfortunately still is, providing a completely different experience from everything else on the market. Mix all that with an interesting, fleshed-out world and a lot of cool mechanisms and it’s no wonder this series is so revered.

I keep talking about the lack of a combat focus. Again, there is combat in the game, plenty of it, but none of these three games end with you finally being strong enough to beat up a guy who needs to be beaten up for the world to be right again. It’s refreshing and interesting and all the games still provide a thrill of victory upon completion, despite the lack of a boss battle. Unfortunately few-to-no other games took up the challenge, and this series remains an exception. In fact, for the most part, RPGs went in the complete opposite direction, becoming combat engines that sometimes have some plot involved. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mentioned to others that I wished more RPGs weren’t boss battle centered and was told that such a thing would be impossible and unsatisfying. This is what I meant when I said, in the first Ultima entry in this series, that the influence of Ultima III on my gaming tastes would eventually become an unfortunate thing.

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The Day Job

Here’s what I’ve been working on for about a week. I was translating a query from the Oracle system to SQL Server. The query referred to three different tables I also had to translate, and one of those required a view I had to translate. Along the way I had to add some tables to the Data Warehouse, add fields to existing tables, and flatten all of this into a single query.

Here’s the result. It’s blurred so as not to get me fired, but I wanted you to appreciate all 353 lines of the final result.

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