Tag Archives: Autoduel

Five Games I Want to See Revamped

The announcement that Hidden Path is doing a revamp of Age of Empires II, along with such refreshes as Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition, naturally made me think about what other games ought to get cleaned up and brought forward into the current age.

Here are the five that I want to see.

1 – Civilization II

Civilization II remains my favorite version of Civilization.  I have continued playing this through all the follow up versions.  There is a simplicity to it that gets lost in the later games that I find quite endearing.  And by reports I am not alone in continuing to play.  One of the most popular posts on the blog is about how to get Civ II to run on Windows 7 64-bit.

Which, of course, brings up the question of why it even needs an update if it runs already.  It doesn’t even look horrible and thanks to the Microsoft programming doctrines of the time, it runs in a window that resizes to whatever screen resolution you need.

A simpler time...

A simpler time…

Well, it runs, but not without difficulty at times.  You have to get the right version of the game and use somebody’s home grown patch to get it to run on 64-bit.  And you still need the CD in the drive to play, and I’ll admit right now that I managed to lose mine… again.  And there are a number of long standing AI issues that could be cleared up along the way.

Basically, I would like to buy a fresh copy that works on my machine.  I don’t care if it comes from Steam or GOG.com, I will make that purchase.

Why It Won’t Happen

The game was published back when Sid Meier was doing games for the now defunct MicroProse, so I am not even sure who owns the rights to the code itself, though Sid did manage to wrest the Civ name from them.  Sort of.  There were issues.  And even if Sid and Firaxis owned the rights free and clear, they would much rather you buy Civilization V and some of their DLC than some code that is going on 20 years old here.

2 – Diablo

Again, back to a simpler time.  My first thought was Diablo II, but that actually runs on my system okay and doesn’t look that bad.  So no work to be done there.  But the first game in the series?

I can almost get the original Diablo running on my machine.  There are a couple of tricks to getting the palettes to load correctly.  The game loads, you can play for a bit, but it is about as happy as a summoned demon about the whole thing.  The palettes are muddy, the lighting clearly has another agenda, and things lock up at inopportune moments.  And the whole thing is presented in a very chunky 640×480 on my big monitor.

A simpler time... in HELL

A simpler time… in HELL

But it is nearly there.  You can just get a taste.  You can hear the sound effects.  You get a sense for a moment how dark and moody the caverns under Tristam were.  I think a rework of this would do well.  And, of course, Blizzard owns it all and could roll a fresh version is the desired.  I would subscribe to another year of WoW to get it.

Why It Won’t Happen

I see a vision of Mike Morhaime explaining how Diablo III is really the superior product while dismissing the idea of a rework of the original.  Blizzard never moves backwards.  Old products get some support, but once a new version is out, the old one is pretty much dead to them.  This is why there will never be an official version of the WoW Emerald Dream server.  Blizzard just doesn’t do that.

Plus, I am not sure I would trust Blizzard with this.  They didn’t even make the original.  That was the long-gone team at Blizzard North.

3 – Bolo

At this point I suspect that most of you are going, “Huh?  What is Bolo?”

Bolo was a fun little networked tank game on the Mac back when adding network capabilities to your typical DOS box took an expensive package from Novell.  Created by brilliant networking programmer Stuart Cheshire, we used to play this for hours on Friday nights at the office.  There was an interface that allowed people to create AIs to drive players, and we would set up a series of AI boxes in the lab and have horrible, bloody, never ending battles.  Great stuff.

WinBolo

WinBolo

Why It Won’t Happen

Nobody could make any money from it.  Mr. Cheshire said he was done with it ages ago, but I don’t think that means he’ll let other people take it over.  And, honestly, as a game, it had some issues with coming to a final resolution.  It was hard to win.  Basically, one team generally grew tired first and gave up.  And if it was AIs versus humans, well, the AIs never got tired.

4 – Auto Duel

Autoduel was the great mid-80s computer game manifestation of Car Wars from Steve Jackson Games.  It took the vehicular combat game and forced it into the computer RPG mold quite successfully.  There was an unfolding story and goals and side tasks and character development and buying new crap to bolt onto your car all wrapped into one game.

Autoduel

Autoduel

I spent hours sitting in front of my Apple II playing this game.  It was great.  What could possibly go wrong.

Why It Won’t Happen

Well, to start with, it was an Apple ][ game. (Along with other such now defunct 80s computer platforms.)  You cannot, would not, should not literally translate it to a version that runs on today’s machines.  Which means that you would need to re-imagine it in the way that the Wasteland 2 group is trying to redo Wasteland.  But I have my doubts on that.  It might be that this (and Wasteland) were only great in the context of the limited computer hardware we had at the time.  And… you know… Auto Assault.

Plus, if that weren’t enough, Steve Jackson Games owns the rights and doesn’t seem to have any interest in such a venture, seeming content to work on their own board game nostalgia instead.

5 – EverQuest

This one is probably the least realistic as well as being the one to which people are most likely to take offense.

Here we are, the day before EverQuest’s 14th birthday.  The game has a huge amount of content added in over 19 different expansions.  It has grown, expanded, and adapted over time, first setting trends and later following them.  It has gone free to play, so money isn’t even a barrier to playing the game.

SOE has worked to remove many barriers to getting people to play one of the great MMORPGs of the 20th century.  But one huge barrier still remains.

The client.

I don’t mind the bad linoleum textures, the primitive animations, the intermittent sounds, the decrepit character models, or some of the crazy, grindy game play.

Never an immersion breaking name in EQ!

Textures gone wild

But every time I go back to play the game, wrestling with the damn client is a royal pain.  They have tried to bring it up to date or to adhere to conventions that came into fashion for MMOs after it shipped.  Things like WASD movement keys as a default.

And they have managed it quite well.  But the client feels like it has too many features stuffed into it, while still showing some of the flaws it had back in 1999.  For example, how frickin’ big does the contact area around my character need to be.  I am constantly trying to click on something off to one side of him and ending up with him as the selection.

So I dream of an all new client, designed and built from scratch that delivers a smooth and modern user experience.  And it pains me to say that, as the cardinal sin of every young, and many old, programmers is the heartfelt need to reject anybody elses code, opting to rewrite things from scratch.  But I cannot get to my desired state by continuing to pile on to the old code base.  A fresh start is needed.

In my mind, I see what is essentially EQ running with WoW’s client.

But I would accept the EverQuest II client frankly.

Why It Won’t Happen

There is no money in it.  Having gone free to play, if it doesn’t come from the cash shop, it doesn’t bring in any money.  The only exceptions are subscriptions and expansions.  The client is free to download.

And, of course, even if there were money in it, it would be a huge operation and many a company has gone under rewriting code rather than pushing forward with new features on top of old spaghetti.  See Netscape.   The costs would be huge, and the benefits likely marginal at best.  And I may want a better EQ client, but I suspect I am in a slim minority.  Plus, how well did such revamps serve other games in the past?

Other Games

Of course, there were other games that came to mind.  I was tempted to list any version of SimCity besides the current one, just becauseGetFudgedPopulation FTW!  But we already have SimCity 4 on Steam.

I was also wondering about Ultima III and the original Wizardry.  But I suspect that neither would make good games today.  Or they might make fine iOS/Android games, but not something that would compare favorably to what we have available now on our desktops.  Basically, almost anything from the pre-Macintosh or pre-Windows era is likely mired in the time before GUI and has to be re-imagined to be brought forward.  Only dedicated hobbyists are likely to show any interest in games from that time.

Still, that does leave a good gap in time, and a whole pile of games that do adhere to at least some of the standards to which we have become accustomed and which could be reworked, polished up, and re-released.

What else should be on the list?  What would you like to see reworked and brought up to date?

Christmas 1983

I don’t know exactly when the Apple IIe computer showed up at Gary’s house.  One day it was just there, set up on the dining room table.

Gary’s house was like that.  Cool, new, or interesting things would suddenly show up without ceremony.  His father was an engineer as well as a car and gadget aficionado, so his house was always an interesting place to be.  And his house was one of the centers of my late teens.  It was the place where we would hang out.  Gary was the guy with the really cool parents.

And one day during the winter in early 1983, that Apple IIe appeared.

It certainly wasn’t the first Apple II that I had ever seen.  Marianni Avenue ran behind my junior high school, and any school that close to Apple got computers handed to them.  My high school and several acquaintances were also so equipped.  So I had been poking at Apple computers for nearly five years when this particular unit showed up at Gary’s.

What was different was the amount of time I had access to it.  That was a rainy winter and Gary and his family saw me a lot. (For which, in hindsight, I apologize profusely.  They were very kind to put up with me.)  And while I knew in a vague way that computers and I needed to come together at some point (I was sold on that years before when I got to play Star Trek on a computer over at HP, a game a friend and I were so enraptured with we went an created a board game version of it), hours of playing Castle Wolfenstein, Epoch, Ultima II, Aztec, and other classics cemented the deal and set my course.

I had to get an Apple II.

The question was how.

Back in 1983 a typical Apple IIe setup could run to $2,500.

Going back to the Measuring Worth site shows that $2,500 in 1983 is the equivalent of $5,000-$7,500 in 2008.

Frankly, $2,500 still seems like a lot of money to me today.  And back in 1983 when I was bagging groceries for $4.50 an hour and paying for college… it was an impossible amount.  I was feeling flush when I had $400 in the bank back then.

And then Christmas came around.  Of course, I was 18 at this point and had no illusions about there being a repeat of the 1977 Christmas miracle that brought me an Atari 2600.  I couldn’t even imagine asking for something as expensive as a computer.  I needed a decent scientific calculator and a new ribbon for my Olivetti portable typewriter.

So when Christmas day came, I expected no happiness to come boxed up and placed under the tree.

And since, 25 years later, I cannot remember a single gift I received that year, I am sure my expectations were met.

But then, after all the presents were open, my grandmother handed out some envelopes.  She said she had received a large dividend payment from an investment and wanted to share it with us.  There was a check made out to me for $1,300.

I am sure my grandmother had any number of good uses in mind for that money when she gave it to me.  In fact, I am quite sure a replacement for my slant-6 powered 1974 Plymouth Duster, my first car, was high on her list.  While generally reliable, putting up with the abuse of a youthful male driver was asking a bit much of the Duster.  It ate starter motors, and somehow the tires wore out quickly.  Then there was the suspension work it needed, caused, I imagine, by driving down Barbara Avenue in Mountain View at high speed so as to get the car airborne over the high crowned cross streets.  I was told by those watching that the sparks off the pavement on landing were quite impressive.  The subsequent suspension issues might also have explained the rapid and rather odd front tire wear.

So when the first thing out of my mouth after “thank you” was “now I can buy a computer,” I could see on my grandmother’s face that this was not at all part of her plan.  Car, college, savings, or any number of other possible items were on her mental list of expected answers.  But a computer?  I might well have been proposing to buy drugs with the money.

Still, despite my reading of her face, she did not immediately grab the check back.  She suggested some of the possibilities I listed, but my mind was elsewhere.

Things were in motion.

Magic was happening at Christmas again.

The stars were in alignment.

First there was the money.

Then there was the connection.

My aunt was present and she had invited along one of her friends who just happened to work for Apple Computer.  And she just happened to have a co-worker who was looking to sell an Apple II+, information she offered up almost immediately.

That was Christmas Eve and before the New Year I was over at this co-worker’s home looking at the computer he had for sale.

He seemed to feel some duty to make sure I was buying the computer for the right reasons.  He wanted to know why I wanted to spend so much money to buy a personal computer.  I spoke about programming, which did not impress him.  I went somewhere with the idea of the future and computers.  I mumbled “it plays games.”  And to each of these statements he had an answer, a more reasonable use for my money that did not involve buying a computer.

And then I just said I was hooked on the whole thing, that I could not explain it, but there was something inside of me that just screamed that I must have a computer, an Apple computer, and that I wasn’t going to be able to silence that voice.

This made him smile.  Perhaps passion spoke to passion.  Whatever it was, it seemed to be the right answer because only a few minutes later I was headed home with $1,300 worth of computer in tow.

For my money I got an Apple II+ with 64K of RAM (it had the 16K language card plugged into slot 0, boosting it up from 48K) with dual floppy drives, an Apple III monitor, some 5.25″ floppy disks, and the ubiquitous (and almost useless, except for Little Brick Out) paddle controllers.

Once home, I set it up immediately, then took a picture.

Apple II+ on Day One

Apple II+ on Day One

After some fiddling, I ended up with a more standard desktop configuration that had the floppy drives stacked, the monitor set back a bit, a fan on the side of the computer to cool the power supply, and a CH Products joystick.

Apple II+ In It's Natural State

Apple II+ In It's Natural State

Eventually I upgraded the main unit to an Apple IIe. (I was promoted to food clerk at the grocery store and was making an astounding $13.48 an hour, fifty cents more between 7pm and 7am, and time and a half on Sunday!)  I remember being disgruntled at having to pay extra because the computer store only had the 80 column card with the extended 64K of RAM. What was I going to do with 128K or RAM?  I also remember I was able to trade in the Apple II+.  Used computers had some value.

An Apple Dot Matrix printer was added so I could print out papers for college, retiring my Olivetti forever.  A 3.5″ disk drive was attached, which stored 400K of data, a huge boost over the 143K of the standard 5.25″ floppy disks.  I even bought a Mockingboard sound card at one point, though I can only ever recall Ultima III supporting it.

And then I got that modem from Potshot.  He was not immune to the siren’s call and ended up with an Apple IIc not too long after I took the plunge.

The modem which, of course, hooked me up to GEnie and Stellar Warrior, Stellar Emperor, and Gemstone.  The modem that got me interested in modems and guided my career path, first to running a BBS (back when that meant a computer with a modem attached), then installing and configuring modems, then working for a company that made modems, then ISDN technology, which lead to telephony, speech recognition, call center applications, VoIP and the middle management cog I am today.  An amazing amount of influence for a beige box with a single green light on the front.

In my mind, the Apple II era was a huge part of my computing past, despite the fact I sold my Apple II setup just over four years later for the same $1,300 I paid for it.  Sure, I spent a lot more on it during the interim, but long gone are the days where a four year old computer will sell for anything.  I put an ad in the local paper and a guy who ran his accounting on Apple II’s came by and bought it without any hesitation.

The era is larger in my mind no doubt because it was my introduction to the technologies that would shape my career and my life.

I look back on the programs… the games of course, but also some of the more mundane applications… AppleWorks for the Apple II was a thing of beauty, though it managed to suck on the Mac… and I am still in awe of the depth and sophistication of so many of the applications created to run on that little 1MHz 6502 processor.

For years I have maintained some form of Apple II emulation so I can go back an revisit the classics of that era.  For all the technology and sophistication modern games have, they have lost some of the charm and, more importantly, the clarity of many of those early games.  Yes, there were stinkers in that era, as there are in any era, but I used to spend hours and hours with games like Autoduel, Seven Cities of Gold, or Wizardry, games that were rather simple, rather raw, but completely engaging.

Today as close as you can come to that early purity, when game play trumped all, is in browser based games.

So it is almost ironic that my friend Scott (of TorilMUD fame) sent me a link recently for a site that emulates the Apple II, where you can go and play some of those classic games.

At Virtual Apple you can see some of the classics that still influence gaming today.

And while I don’t wish for those days to return… I like a lot of modern games and I have grown used to multitasking operating systems and not having to type arcane commands like “PR#6” in order get things running… I do think there is something still to be learned from the simplicity of the time.  Not to mention nostalgia to be mined.  Who owns the rights to Seven Cities of Gold?

For me, all of that started 25 years ago and set me on a path that, in hindsight, seems almost obvious.  But at the time, the future of computing was wild and unknown.  The only fact of which I was sure was that I was going to be a part of it somehow.