Showing posts with label off-topic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label off-topic. Show all posts

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ace of Aces (1980, Nova Game Designs)

Gather 'round, Gen-Yers, and I'll spin you a tale, of a time long ago when the personal computer was not the ubiquitous and indispensable tool found in every home, office and school across America.

(Puffs pipe, leans back in chair)
They called it "1980", dontcha know. I was in grade school in those ancient times, and my school owned exactly one personal computer. It was kept in a special room as if it were some rare piece of science equipment borrowed from NASA. To get access to it, you had to be enrolled in an advanced placement class, and even then, your actual hands-on time with the precious device was carefully metered.

Here's a picture of the old girl... TWO disc drives. Whew! There goes the school's budget!

Of course that little joystick to the right is for display purposes only. You won't be playing any games in The Computer Room, as this is a serious education tool, not a video arcade.

BUT... you were allowed to type BASIC code into the computer to make games, transcribing them from books like this one...

...or this one, "Basic Computer Games", featuring page after page of code, just waiting for you to key in a line at a time. Yes, I actually used to sit down for hours at a time to do this. Can you smell the fun?

Here's just a sample page of code, one of many required to create a text-based "Star Trek" inspired statistics game. Better hope you don't make a typo!

This particular book is interesting because it contains a wide range of gaming experiences, including this one that would surely be considered inappropriate (if not outright criminal) on a grade-school campus today: a "Russian Roulette" simulation!

Russian Roulette is the "game" where you take turns firing a revolver, loaded with only one bullet, to your head. The loser is the one unlucky enough to pull the trigger on the chamber with the bullet in it. Of course, being 1980, this electronic adaptation is all text-based and, well, rather dull. But what a devious concept! Sample gameplay text below.

Here's the actual program code (and looking it over, it appears this version of the game has you spinning the chamber before every trigger pull, instead of just working your way sequentially through the chambers, so this game could drag on for hours. Boo!)

What is the point of this autobiographical detour? Just setting the stage. You see, a lot of the casual entertainment afforded by today's powerful, networked PCs just wasn't available back in those early days of computing.

Of course the type-your-own games from the Basic primers were hardly representative of the state of the art. But even professionally produced software sold in stores was severely limited compared to today's fully rendered, three-dimensional virtual worlds just waiting to be explored and conquered at the nearest computer monitor, smart phone or I-pod. Back in 1980, computers just didn't have the horsepower to deliver those kinds of experiences. Games were crude, simple, and flat.

There were a few attempts at "first-person" type immersive graphics. But the limited computing power of the day meant you were reduced to exploring almost abstract grids and monochrome shapes.

From 1980, Akalabeth: World of Doom (home computer) and Battlezone (arcade):

So gamers who wanted a deeper, more immersive experience, still had to rely on their imagination, and innovative, genre-pushing games from the non-electronic realm... role-playing games, statistic-based wargaming simulations, Choose Your Own Adventure type interactive fiction, and ...Ace of Aces.

Ace of Aces, published by Nova Game Designs originally in 1980 (with a few later editions) is a one-on-one World War I bi-plane dogfighting game that did something videogames of the day couldn't yet achieve--provided a first-person perspective for each player.

The game is packed with two thick books, one for the German player, the other for his opponent.

Each book is filled with illustrations depicting a first-person point of view from your plane (the German's perspective from within a Fokker Dr I, the Allied seated in a Sopwith Camel). A virtual control panel of possible maneuvers to select from appears at the bottom of each page, as well as the page number for the other pilot to turn to in order to update their view.

Each player announces their desired maneuvers (and its corresponding page number) to the other, pages are flipped to orient the other player's plane correctly to yours, then flipped once again to complete your maneuvers and end the turn. The end result is a person-to-person dog fight game that kind of plays out like a series of decompression chart calculations.

But you can actually see your enemy's plane in the correct scale and perspective, and it changes realistically as you both maneuvers in and out of each other's airspace, something no personal computer of the day could yet accomplish.

The basic game assumes both planes stay at the same approximate altitude, but you can still lose sight of one another, which lands you on dreaded page 223, the "lost" page:

You have the option to either disengage and end the round, or pursue your opponent and battle on. Optional "advanced" rules force you to monitor altitude, speed, ammunition usage and plane damage. I was getting a headache just browsing this section.

Nova promised several expansion packs for Ace of Aces, as well as games in other genres using a similar play mechanic (how about a wild west shoot out?), but many of these went unrealised.

However, in 1989, in the middle of that Star Wars fandom desert between the opening of Star Tours in Disneyland and the relaunching of the canon with the Timothy Zahn novels, fans were thrown a bone... the Starfighter Battle Book (West End Games), an Ace of Aces style game pitting an X-Wing fighter against an Imperial TIE-Interceptor.

Official Ace of Aces website found here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Wonder Book of Christmas (1951, Lou Myers)

Nothing spooky, here. Just a charming little Christmas book that, in what could only be described as a Christmas miracle, has somehow managed to travel from Frankfurt, Germany, 1955, to Phoenix, Arizona, 2011, in nearly mint condition. Warren F. Buxton, if you're out there somewhere, drop us a line and let us know how you're doing. Your Wonder Book is in good hands.

The complete title is The Wonder Book of Christmas Including The Night Before Christmas and Other Stories, with illustrations by Lou Myers (complete contents listed below). Enjoy these selected scans.

Santa Claus (poem)
Who Is Santa Claus?
The Night Before Christmas (Clement C. Moore)
The Animals' Christmas
The Christmas Story
The Friendly Beasts (Twelfth-Century Carol)
Santa Claus's Workshop
Jingle Bells (J. Pierpont)

Remember to wash your covers once a day, kiddies, to keep your library clean and healthy!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

An early Halloween treat...

Since I seem to be The Last Man On Earth possessing a copy of spooky anthology Baleful Beasts and Eerie Creatures, a scanner, and an Internet connection, I thought I'd update one of my earliest posts on favorite short story The Patchwork Monkey (Beverly Butler, 1976) with scans of the complete text.

Happy reading.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I've got something in my eye...

Aw, heck. I'm man enough to admit that certain movies have left me crying like a little girl (and that comment isn't sexist...just accurate.)

Here's the top 10 film or television moments from my childhood that brought me to tears (or at least had me sitting stone-faced with a lump in my throat, trying to control a quivering lip.) These were all first viewed in my grade school years.


King Kong (1976)

I saw the 1976 King Kong remake in the theater, and while it was never a well regarded film, I loved it enough at the time for it to earn the coveted lunchbox slot for that year.

Questionable special effects and cheesy sequences aside (did we really need to see Kong blow-dry Jessica Lange with his big, puffy cheeks?), you'd have to have a heart of stone not to be affected by the big ape's final tragic plunge from the top of the World Trade Center towers. The disrespectful photographers scurrying across his lifeless body like eager maggots only added to my grief.


Snoopy Come Home (1972)

Who on earth thought it was a good idea to use Charles M. Schulz's beloved Peanuts characters as fodder for this sadistic sob fest?

Created and written by.... oh. Alrighty then.

In this feature, Snoopy is guilted into leaving Charlie Brown and the gang when his former owner, sickly and bed-ridden Lila, asks him to come back to her. Charlie Brown doesn't want Snoopy to leave, Snoopy doesn't really want to leave, and Lila, who is portrayed as a friendly and sympathetic character, leaves the audience with no one to root against in this depressing and frustrating situation.

The entire thing comes to a soul-crushing crescendo at Snoopy's going away party, as one character after the next succumbs to despair.

I distinctly remember foregoing dinner the night I watched this on TV... my stomach was already full after a big plate of W-A-A-A-A-H.


Frosty the Snowman (1969)

Little Karen is accompanying Frosty on a trip to the North Pole in this Rankin Bass animated holiday special. But as the weather turns bitterly cold, it becomes clear that Karen's life is in jeopardy.

Frosty carries her in his arms, looking for shelter, when they come across a poinsettia greenhouse. He brings her inside the warm enclosure, but before he can exit, the evil Magician (who wants his magic hat back) locks him in.

I can't tell where Frosty's melted body ends and my pool of tears begins...


Orca (1977)

Basically a Jaws rip-off but with killer whales, Orca opens with scenes of a killer whale couple cavorting playfully (they're monogamous, don't you know), traveling together in pods like a big happy family, and even saving a scuba-diver from a shark attack.

So about the last thing I wanted to see was the female whale being harpooned, reeled in and suspended from the boom of a fishing boat while still alive.

Did I say the last thing I wanted to see? Make that second-to-last.

The last thing I wanted to see was the mommy Orca, still dangling over the deck, miscarry her calf, which drops onto the deck before being unceremoniously tossed overboard.

Daddy Orca roars "No-o-o-o-o-o!" And so did I... (tapping chest) here.


My Bodyguard (1980)

Loner Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin) forms a delicate friendship with Clifford (Chris Makepeace) and his circle of friends after defending them against the bully Moody (Matt Dillon).

But despite his reputation as a psychotic tough, Linderman's really a gentle giant, still carrying guilt over the accidental death of his little brother years earlier. So when bully Moody and his new "bodyguard", the macho Mike (Hank Salas), start trouble at the park, Linderman can't even find the will to defend himself.

The despicable pair double-team him, before finally throwing his vintage motorcycle, which he'd rebuilt piece by piece over the past year, into the lake.

The lessons I took away:
a) high school is a horrible, horrible place, and...
b) if you love something, don't set it free--lock it away somewhere. Somewhere where Moody and Mike can't get it.


Dumbo (1941)

Dumbo's mother is locked away as a "mad elephant" after aggressively defending her baby from being picked on by a mob of obnoxious kids.

Dumbo visits her one night, but she's chained to the wall and can barely reach her trunk out the tiny barred window. The gentle melody of "Baby Mine", heard while mother rocks baby Dumbo in her trunk, only magnifies the bittersweet scene.


Watership Down (1978)

We've followed Hazel on a grand adventure, risking death many times, to find a safe new home for his family after their den was demolished by construction vehicles. In an epilogue set years later, an older, tired Hazel is approached by the ghostly Black Rabbit, who invites Hazel to join him.

After one last look at the younger rabbits of his warren (whom, the Black Rabbit assures, will be alright without him), Hazel lays on his side and takes his final breath.


The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (1979)

Aslan the lion could have torn the White Witch and her monstrous minions to pieces. But instead, he lets them murder him in a black magic ritual, part of a secret bargain he's made to spare the traitorous Edmund from a similar fate.

Lucy and Susan are watching from a hidden position, and, like the audience, are unaware of what is going on until it unfolds before their disbelieving eyes.


E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

The little alien that we'd grown to love over the past 90 minutes finds himself withering away on an operating table, surrounded by clueless adults who seem to be doing more harm than good.

After the damage is done, Elliot (Henry Thomas) says a final solemn goodbye to E.T., whose lifeless body must now suffer the indignity of being frozen for future lab study.


Old Yeller (1957)

Old Yeller, the big yellow lab who is adopted by young Travis Coates (Tommy Kirk), proves himself time and again to truly be man's best friend, even fighting off a wild wolf that trespasses on their remote wilderness farm.

But mother Katie (Dorothy McGuire) realizes only a rabid wolf would attack so boldy. There's a poignant moment where the audience sees, just by the expression on her face, that Katie grasps the terrible implications for Old Yeller, then just as quickly masks her concern, so as not to upset her children. It's the moment when we first realize things will soon take a dark turn.

Old Yeller must be isolated in a shed for several days until they are sure he hasn't caught "the madness". But soon the sickness has transformed him into a savage beast, too dangerous to be kept alive.

Travis assumes the responsibility for putting him down. Classic Disney films are sometimes stereotyped as being sugar-coated frivolity (dare I say... Pollyannish?) but that isn't always true, as anyone who's seen Old Yeller can testify.

Whew--all that remembering about stuff that used to make me cry has made my eyes itchy. I'll just turn my head away and dab them with a Kleenix.

Every title is available on DVD.