The Hobbit (ZX Spectrum, 1982), and how a kid became a geek

Note: this post is expanded from one in my old blog, The Games of My Life.

Back in time, to a 1982 game I played in 1983, on my first computer (well, technically my father’s), a 48K ZX Spectrum: Melbourne House’s The Hobbit.

The Hobbit -- starting location
The Hobbit -- starting location

This game… well, it has a story, and I’m not talking about the “Bilbo, Gandalf and a bunch of dwarves go on a quest to retrieve a dragon’s treasure” one. I mean a personal story. I guess I could say that this game changed my life — as much as anything can change one’s life, I guess.

So you’ll have to bear with me — or, of course, skip this post. Because this one is as much about “why I’m the way I am” as it is about the game — perhaps more. And it’s a long one. πŸ™‚ More after the break…

Continue reading The Hobbit (ZX Spectrum, 1982), and how a kid became a geek

When is nudity “art”, and when is it porn?

“Yeah, but…” Fred Colon hesitated here. He knew in his heart that spinning upside down around a pole wearing a costume you could floss with definitely was not Art, and being painted lying on a bed wearing nothing but a smile and a small bunch of grapes was good solid Art, but putting your finger on why this was the case was a bit tricky.

“No urns,” he said at last.

“What urns?” said Nobby.

“Nude women are only Art if there’s an urn in it,” said Fred Colon. This sounded weak even to him, so he added: “or a plinth ((no, I didn’t know that one either until today.)). Both is best, o’course. It’s a secret sign, see, that they put in to say that it’s Art and okay to look at.”

“What about a potted plant?”

“That’s okay if it’s in an urn.”

“What about if it’s not got an urn or a plinth or a potted plant?” said Nobby.

“Have you got one in mind, Nobby?” said Colon suspiciously.

“Yes, The Goddess Anoia ((Anoia is the Ankh-Morpork Goddess of Things That Get Stuck in Drawers.)) Arising from the Cutlery,” said Nobby. “They’ve got it here. It was painted by a bloke with three i‘s in his name, which sounds pretty artistic to me.”

“The number of i‘s is important, Nobby,” said Sergeant Colon gravely, “but in these situations you have to ask yourself: ‘Where’s the cherub? If there’s a little pink fat kid holding a mirror or a fan or similar, then it’s still okay. Even if he’s grinning. Obviously you can’t get urns everywhere.”

— Terry Pratchett, Thud!, 2005

So, you see, it’s easy. πŸ™‚

Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans

Deathstalker II: Duel of the TitansIn my teen ears (read “the Eighties”), I remember watching a movie, rented on a VHS tape (remember those?) from a video club (remember those?). What I remembered from it was that it was a fantasy movie, made with a low budget, with some female nudity, and which didn’t take itself too seriously. Its name was Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans.

After more than 20 years, I found it again (not that I kept looking for it for all this time; I remember looking for it on DVD in some years ago, but I think at the time it wasn’t available, and that was it), re-watched it, and, yes, it’s better than I remembered. πŸ™‚ From what I learned by reading Wikipedia and TV Tropes, this is the only movie from this low-budget series (there are 4 in total) where they didn’t take it too seriously, but instead made fun of the fantasy / “Sandals & Sorcery / Conan-like” genre, and in general had a good time. And it shows — the actors are clearly having fun. πŸ™‚

It’s not a “deep” or brilliant movie, of course, but it’s funny, entertaining, and it’s a perfect “beer with friends” film, in my opinion. Try to find it; if you liked the description so far, you won’t regret it.

And it includes this scene, which makes me laugh every time I see it, and which, incidentally, is just my second upload to YouTube ever:


The Quest for the Rings (Odyssey2 / Videopac, 1981)

So far the oldest game to deserve a post on this blog,Β The Quest for the Rings is my favorite Videopac / Odyssey2 game, and arguably the best. Had it been released in 1985, its computer part (more on this in a minute) would have been described as “a Gauntlet clone”… only it preceded Gauntlet by a full 4 years (and Dandy, the game that inspired Gauntlet, by 2 years).

Quest for the Rings: a dragon
Both heroes are currently thinking: can I get to the ring while that dragon eats my best buddy in the entire world?

That, however, wasn’t the extent of QftR’s innovation. It was also, as far as I know (please correct me if I’m wrong, and I’ll edit this post) the first successful combination of a video game and aΒ board game; the game came in an unusually large (and lavish) box, which included not only the game cartridge and (beautifully illustrated) manual, but also a game board and an assortment of game pieces, plus a keyboard overlay for selecting game options. Also, it was a cooperative game at a time where that was truly rare (I don’t know of a co-op game before this one, but it’s likely that one exists). Oh, and it had four character classes for the players to choose from. Remember that all of this was at a time of games such as Pac-Man and Frogger.

Continue reading The Quest for the Rings (Odyssey2 / Videopac, 1981)

TGomL: The Lords of Midnight (ZX Spectrum, 1984)

Note: this post is expanded from one in my old blog, The Games of My Life.

Do you like “The Lord of the Rings”? Tolkien’s epic, the best known fantasy book in the world? Did you enjoy Peter Jackson’s fantastic movie adaptations? If so, isn’t the idea of living the epic, even if “just” in a video game, tempting?

If you want to re-live the movies, the best choice is Electronic Arts’ two games, “The Two Towers”, and, especially, “Return of the King”. They’re fantastic, whether on a console or on the PC ((this section was originally written in 2005; while those two games are still excellent, they probably won’t look as good 6 years later, with their “PS2-era” graphics, even on the PC. Another more recent choice is The Lord of the Rings Online, but that’s a different kind of game.)). But they’re movie adaptations – basically, you “play” the movies’ main battles, with the movies’ looks, the movies’ music, and the movies’ actors doing the voices. Those two are great action games, I’m not trying to diminish them in any way. Other excellent movie-licensed adaptations include the RTSs Battle for Middle Earth I and II — Christopher Lee and Ian McKellen are especially wonderful in the first one).

But if you want to re-live the books

The Lords of Midnight #1 The Lords of Midnight #2

… there’s probably not a better choice than Mike Singleton’s 1984 classic, The Lords of Midnight.

Nope, it’s not “Tolkien-licensed”. It’s not an official LotR adaptation in any way, though the inspiration is obvious. And Mike (formerly an English teacher) actually wrote a short novella, which was included with the game, and was a joy to read.

But the game, a mix of adventure and strategy, was, 27 years ago, and is, right now, the best way to re-live Lord of the Rings — not an exploration of Middle Earth, not a meeting with Tolkien’s characters, but, instead, what Gandalf — who orchestrated the entire strategy — must have felt, and the challenges he had to meet.

Lords of Midnight is the perfect, still unequaled blend of grand strategy – defeating, or stopping, or at least delaying the Dark Lord’s seemingly endless armies by force of arms – with high adventure – a heroic quest of a brave hero who attempts, without an army behind him, using only stealth and courage, to destroy the Dark Lord’s main source of power – which, obviously, can only be done deep inside the Dark Lord’s territory. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

And that’s the beauty of the game: you control both lords with armies — think Aragorn, ThΓ©oden and such –, though you start with none and must recruit them, and individuals such as Morkin (the equivalent of Frodo, though here he’s really incorruptible, unlike everyone else), and other recruitable characters such as Fawkrin the Skulkrin (who would be the Gollum-equivalent) and Farflame the Dragonlord (an actual dragon, who moves faster than everyone else in the game and can easily, when rested, crush a 300- or 400-man army in one night, but can’t recruit troops). There’s also a complex hierarchy of “can-be-recruited-by” (which would get even more detailed in the sequel), which means that some lords can be recruited only by a couple of characters in the entire game. A LoM game is never short, unless you purposely screw things up, but it’s also never a forgettable experience. In your first few games you will really feel despair, because Doomdark’s (the Sauron-equivalent) armies seem endless (they aren’t), and recruiting a large enough number of lords to make a difference is far from easy. And your other option, Morkin’s quest, is virtually doomed to failure unless you put up enough of a military challenge to Doomdark to distract him ((which, you’ll note, once again parallels The Lord of the Rings…)).

Really, play this game. There’s a reason why it still has an active community, with enhancements, remakes, multi-player versions and so on… after 27 years. By the way, the fact that the game isn’t played in real-time and doesn’t require precise controls makes it better than most other old games for playing (emulated) on a mobile phone.

The Lord of the Rings Online with DirectX11

The Lord of the Rings Online with DirectX11Looks good, doesn’t it? And yes, go ahead and click on the image above to see it in full size. After that, your browser will probably scale it to fit in its window, so click on it again to see it as nature intended. πŸ™‚ The thumbnail doesn’t do it justice, of course.

For the curious, this is on an Intel Core i7-860 with an Nvidia GeForce 470, with DirectX11 enabled, and with all details options set at maximum, except, IIRC, the shadows, which, as good as they are above, can even be made to look better. And, yes, the game runs at about 60 fps on average with these settings.

As a comparison, here is Doomdark’s Revenge, a 1985 strategy/RPG on the humble 48K ZX Spectrum:

Doomdark's RevengeYou could turn the screen in 8 directions (while in LOTRO, of course, you can turn around smoothly in every direction, move the camera, etc.), and it took about 1 second to redraw the screen. Which is perfectly fine for a non-real time strategy/RPG, of course.

Incidentally, my character’s name on the first game (which you can read in the screenshot) comes from the second game. πŸ™‚

P.S. – The Lord of the Rings Online is free to play these days (though some features may eventually require the spending of real money). Just register on or, depending on where you are. I’m on the latter, on the Withywindle server. For more info on the game, I suggest its TV Tropes page.

LotR, Sauron, and “evil cannot comprehend good”

So, yesterday I was reading through TV Tropes (probably the biggest time sink on the Internet — I love it. πŸ™‚ ), when, in the Lord of the Rings (hmm, haven’t read that in a while… note to self…) entry, there was this:

Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: The whole plan hinges on the fact that Sauron can’t even conceive of someone trying to destroy the Ring and get rid of that kind of power.

  • In all fairness, he was right. At the moment of truth, instead of throwing the One Ring into Mount Doom, Frodo claimed it for his own. The Ring was only destroyed when Gollum tried to steal it back, succeeded, and fell into the lava still clutching his “preciousssss”.

Mount DoomI may edit the page on TV Tropes later, but as that’s not the place for a discussion (you’re supposed to edit mistakes out, not reply to them, unless both points deserve being made), I wanted to comment on that here. What do you (right, as if I have readers a couple of hours after creating the blog…) think about the reply (the part that begins with “In all fairness”)?

Me, I disagree. I think that Sauron was “wrong” about the question referred to by the trope; the trick here is to understand what the actual question really is. Think about it. Sauron’s belief wasn’t that nobody could, at the end, do the final step to destroy the Ring. Nope. Instead, Sauron couldn’t even imagine that someone could even want to destroy the Ring. That someone would ever try — renouncing, thus, the greatest source of power in the world.

That’s why Sauron didn’t assign a single orc to guard Mount Doom — the thought that someone would even try to destroy the Ring instead of using it never even entered his mind until Frodo succumbed to the Ring and wore it inside Mount Doom. Sauron’s thought then wasn’t “they got that far?”, but instead “they’re trying to do what?”.

Sauron wasn’t afraid that they’d destroy the Ring, since that possibility never even entered his mind. His fear — and that’s why he rushed the entire War of the Ring — was that, at any time, a Galadriel, or an Elrond, or a Gandalf or a Saruman would show up at his doorstep, wearing the Ring, and with an army behind them. Yes, it would still suck for the entire world (there would simply be a new Dark Lord, as bad as Sauron), but do you think Sauron cared about that?

So, the trope is correctly applied; it’s the reply that misses its point. Something to edit later…