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 Amazon.com 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:

 

Bad Comic Panels #1: “…a diseased version of Hell!”

A diseased version of Hell

The above image is from Superman: At Earth’s End, an Elseworlds comic from 1995. The comic itself is terrible: sometimes approaching “so bad it’s good” territory, but not often; most of the time it’s just boring, senseless, and the supposed “moral” is not only self-contradictory (“guns are bad”, therefore Superman saves the day by shooting every bad guy with a huge freaking gun… but guns are still bad, mmkay?”) but doesn’t even make sense in the context of the comic. But then there’s this panel, where Superman says the brilliant line that is the topic of this post:

“Someone has turned the Gotham City bunker into a diseased version of Hell!”

Now, yes, the quote is obviously stupid and makes no sense. Linkara said it best: “because a regular version of Hell is just so pleasant!” But I challenge you, dear readers, to consider the following: what could be going through the writer’s mind as he thought of that line and put it to paper? What kind of diseased version of a strange, warped mind could consider that comparing something not simply to “Hell”, but to “a diseased version of Hell”, a good idea? Was he doing it for fun ((I hope!)), just like the authors of the Doom Comic ((totally deserving of a post here, in the future))? Or did he actually think that this comic was enjoyable to read and had a thoughtful, worthy message?

Oh well. It was the Nineties. πŸ™‚

P.S. – he also thought it was a good idea to have one robot talk in binary — but saying the zeroes and ones out loud, which certainly makes sense in terms of data efficiency — and another robot talk in R2D2ish. Need I say more? πŸ™‚

Blagtron: The Resurrection!

Sometimes, pretty odd things happen. Yesterday evening, after I wrote the Quest for the Rings post, I kept thinking about old games for a time, and after a while I recalled a game I wrote very, very long ago (think early 90s), that I used to play with two separate groups of friends, and that we enjoyed a lot at the time. I then wondered: could I find it somewhere? No, finding it here would be a lost cause: the game was written on a 486, and later on a Pentium, and those machines of mine are long gone. At the time, there was no Internet to speak of, much less the concept of online backups, so there wasn’t any hope there. But I did remember uploading it to ftp.cdrom.com in the late 90s…

Its name was “Blagtron“. Yup, I was young, back then. πŸ™‚

Well, some quick googling, and I found it. πŸ™‚ The version that still exists, and that I include (with some tweaks) later in this post, is the latest one, in English (I seem to have missed a couple of phrases when translating it from my native Portuguese, but those are minor — and, anyway, there’s very little text in the game). The question then was whether it would work in DOSBox. Amazingly, it did — though, to enable sound, I had to replace an included file with one from an old version of Sound Blaster 16 drivers; this, fortunately, had been a problem for other DOSBox users before, and therefore the solution was easy to find. A few more minor changes (unfortunately, I don’t have the source anymore, as I said, so major alterations aren’t viable), and here it is: a repackaging of Blagtron 3.0.1, which works without problems on a default DOSBox installation.

Blagtron
Blagtron, running under DOSBox, in 640x350 EGA mode. Modes up to 800x600 are available -- not to look "better", but to extend the play area.

As you can see from the screenshot above, Blagtron is a “Tron-like” game — hence the name. You can’t ever stop, just turn around, and you leave behind a trail wherever you go. Touching a trail left behind by any player — including yourself — means instant death, and the goal is to be the last one standing. The main feature distinguishing it from other “Tron-likes” is the 4-player support — yes, all on the same keyboard –, though you can play a 2- or 3-player game, or even practice on your own. There’s also a 2 vs 2 team option.

I remember this game being quite fun and addictive to play in groups — though it’s the kind of game that can bring out the worst in people, when they lose… you have been warned. πŸ™‚ The only caveats to playing it now, under DOSBox, is that the automatic speed detection may need some manual adjustment, and you must close DOSBox to exit the game — originally, you needed to use CTRL-Break, but that doesn’t seem to work under DOSBox. Again, I’d fix it now if I had the source, but that is not the case. For details, (including how to run it in DOSBox, though if you’re familiar with it you won’t have any problem) read the included README.TXT file.

Well, here is the game itself, a “massive” 52KB zip file:

Again, please take a look at the readme file for instructions (tip: run SETUP.EXE before running the game itself, and the game’s speed may then need manual adjustment; all of this is explained in the aforementioned file) and solutions to possible problems. I appreciate praise comments and constructive criticism (bug fixes, unfortunately, can’t be dealt with until I eventually program a new version of Blagtron from scratch, in a modern language ((perhaps Java, so I can release a multi-platform version, and eventually adapt it to Android phones and tablets?))). For the history behind this game, read on…

Continue reading Blagtron: The Resurrection!

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)

The Magnavox Odyssey2 / Philips Videopac G7000

If you thought the ZX Spectrum was “old”, you’ve got another thing coming. Meet the Magnavox Odyssey2, known in Europe as the Philips Videopac G7000. ((in Brazil, it was the Phillips Odyssey, without the “2“; I remember ads for in in the Brazilian Disney comics commonly available in Portugal when I was a kid, in the late 70s and early 80s)). Released in 1978, and competing with the Atari 2600, the Videopac (sorry, Americans, but I grew up with the Videopac name) was a moderately successful console. I think my father bought his in 1980, though there’s no way to be sure; as you can guess, I was quite young back then. Anyway, the console would be used for years, mostly by me and my brother, even after we “evolved” to the 48K ZX Spectrum.

Philips Videopac G7000
(image source: Wikipedia)

Continue reading The Magnavox Odyssey2 / Philips Videopac G7000

TGomL: Last Ninja 2 (Commodore 64, 1988)

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

Most retro games here so far have been on the ZX Spectrum, due to that being the computer of my childhood and early teenage years, but later on I also had a Commodore 64 that I bought second-hand, one of the original models, which looked a lot like a bread box (which was actually one of its nicknames). Although I only had one quite late in its life (I think it was 1989 or so, and the C64 was released in 1982, the same year as the Speccy), there were some unforgettable masterpieces for that little 1 MHz (!) beast that I played even then. This, System 3’s Last Ninja 2 ((note that the first game is The Last Ninja, but the second one lost the “The“.)), is certainly one of them.

Last Ninja 2 - starting screenOddly enough, I played the Spectrum version first, for more than a year, and one tends to get attached to the version he plays first. The Speccy version was good enough, with its decent monochrome graphics and smooth gameplay, although it only had any music on the start menu: the game itself was as silent as if you were playing on a ZX81. But the C64 version blew me away. One screen of this game has more atmosphere than many entire games of the time. The music is hauntingly beautiful ((yes, I know this last one is based on a Tangerine Dream song.)) (all 13 tunes), and from time to time I even fire up Sidplay just to listen to it. Playing it, there’s an almost tangible sense of desperation and utter loneliness, of being in a world where everyone tries to kill you… and yet, everything is familiar — a park, city streets, sewers ((OK, these are probably not that familiar to most people, hopefully…)), an office building, and so on. And the environment is at least as dangerous an enemy as your human enemies. The whole game is difficult and unforgiving – no “tutorials where you can do no wrong”, or any other kind of hand-holding here. You will die a lot. But the feeling of finally passing a level (after hours or even days), and getting a beautifully drawn loading screen for the next one, complete with a new tune, a new area, new enemies, and the suspense of not knowing what’s next…

Last Ninja 2 - the parkOh, and there are alligators in the sewers. I knew it all along. πŸ™‚

If you’re not a graphics junkie (or even if you are, but are able to see games in the context of when they were released), get an emulator and the game (or buy it for the Wii Virtual Console for 500 points), and try it for yourself. You’ll truly appreciate how sad it is that games like this are no longer made; these days it seems that almost all games are first person shooters, sports games and MMORPGs.

Tip: even if you, at the time, finished the Spectrum version (or even another one, such as the quite inferior(!) Amiga, NES and PC ports), try the original C64 version. It’s the only one that really “got” it.

4 great WordPress plugins

I have been blogging with WordPress since 2004, and during all these years I’ve maintained several blogs; some of them exist to this day, some were eventually shut down, and some “lie dreaming until the stars are right.” I hadn’t started a new one in quite a while now, and so, when I created Winterdrake a couple of weeks ago, I did what I usually do in terms of which plugins to install: instead of just copying the /wp-content/plugins/ directory from an existing blog, I start afresh. I see what plugins are the most popular and/or have the most positive votes, both for each requirement (e.g. one to edit your comments, one to show related posts, one for caching, one to improve SEO, and so on) and in general: by doing the latter, I can (and do) find something extremely useful that I didn’t even know existed.

The result is that this blog currently has an almost completely different set of plugins from my other blogs (which will eventually be changed so they use most of these ones, too), and I’d like to share a few of them, that old WP bloggers such as myself may not even know exist:

  • WordPress SEO: forget All-In-One SEO and other SEO plugins: this one is so much better, it’s not even funny. It also takes care of XML sitemaps for you, so no need to install a separate plugin for that.
  • W3 Total Cache: this one is relatively well-known, so this may not be news to you, but if you’re using any other caching plugin (e.g. WP Super Cache), switch to this one. (And if you’re not using a caching plugin at all, you should.) Besides the incredible improvements in terms of speed, you can also use it to minify HTML, CSS and JavaScript automatically, and keep static files automatically on a CDN, or simply in a “static.yourdomain.com” virtual host (which is quicker since it won’t have PHP and such enabled, and the fact that it’s a different host allows browsers to open more connections, as they by default limit the number of simultaneous connections to each host), accessible by FTP. I’m using the latter option on this very blog.
  • Fluency Admin: doesn’t affect your readers directly, but makes your blog’s Administration section so much more pleasant to use and look at, that I almost cringe when I enter the same section for my other blogs where I haven’t installed this plugin yet.
  • Jetpack: a relatively recent “package” of useful plugins distributed by WordPress, so that self-hosted blogs (such as this one) can have several interesting features until now unique to blogs hosted on WordPress.Com. Currently I’m only using two of them: the WordPress.Com stats (which have several advantages over Google Analytics, though I’m using that as well), and After the Deadline, which adds grammar and style checking to the already existing spellchecker, and usually spots something I’ve missed, such as using a short word such as “is” twice in succession.

Hope you find this useful. Two weeks ago, the only one of these I knew about was W3 Total Cache (and that one I’m already using on my other blogs), and I’m in love with the other three right now. πŸ™‚

TGomL: Doomdark’s Revenge (ZX Spectrum, 1984)

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

In 1984, there was a little game for a little 48 KB machine which amazed everyone – nobody had done something like that with a computer (even a “bigger” one) before. You may have heard about it. I’ve even mentioned it here, some time ago: Mike Singleton’s The Lords of Midnight. ((I also used it as an obviously — and intentionally — unfair comparison with The Lord of the Rings Online with DirectX11.))

In the same year (!!!), Mike surpassed himself, with a game that was even larger, more complex, more detailed, more varied… and still used only 49152 bytes of RAM. It wasn’t very well named, though. The game was Doomdark’s Revenge.

Doomdark's Revenge - starting screen Doomdark's Revenge - meeting Torinarg the Barbarian

Why wasn’t that a good name? Because Doomdark, the villain from the first game, was, indeed, dead, after his defeat in LoM. Really dead, not “undead” or “sleeping until the stars are right”. The so-called “revenge” was to be by his daughter, Shareth the Heartstealer, from the land of Icemark (to the north of the land of Midnight), who was even more powerful and evil than his father (aren’t they always?), and who wanted Luxor the Moonprince to pay… because she had wanted the pleasure of killing her father for herself. Yes, you read that right. Surely a biting commentary on the nature of father-daughter relationships. To that end, she kidnapped Morkin, son of Luxor the Moonprince, the main character, took him to Icemark, and Luxor, an army of a thousand riders, and a couple of friends travelled between lands in order to rescue Morkin and bring an end to the threat of Doomdark’s family once and for all. (This story was told in detail in the excellent novella that accompanied the game.)

But the game was amazing. Instead of the “us versus them” of LoM, this game had several different races, with hierarchies of command (lieges and vassals, and their vassals, and so on), who moved around by themselves, waged war, and all that was mostly unpredictable. Every lord had characteristics, like being good, or evil, or reckless, or brave, or cowardly, or slow, or treacherous, and so on. The villainess, Shareth, also had her own goals, recruiting lords and their armies to her cause.

How unpredictable was the game? So much that, sometimes, Shareth herself was killed in battle, far away from you. (no, that didn’t end the game – you also had to rescue Morkin, and return to Midnight, remember?)

A far cry from today’s largely scripted games, isn’t it? And, unfortunaly, an idea that was never seen again, as far as I know. The villain is either stopped by the hero, or isn’t stopped at all. I know it makes things more epic, but… Doomdark’s Revenge, with its unpredictability, made me feel that, while I could affect the world, it didn’t revolve around me. (The other extreme of that equation, by the way, is a typical MMORPG – where, sure, the world doesn’t revolve around you, but you also can’t affect it in any lasting way, because the world is more like a “playground”, and it must remain mostly the same for other players. “Look, but don’t touch.” ((since I wrote that part in 2005, there have been some advances in MMORPGs in that respect, one of them being the idea of “phasing” parts of the world, so that, say, if a town is destroyed during a quest’s storyline, it stays destroyed for players who have already gone through that quest; those who didn’t, see it as intact. What happens is that the game actually sends them to different, but similar, areas.)) But I digress.)

Comparing it to its predecessor, the game has, in my opinion, both advantages and disadvantages. The complexity of characters and relationships are, of course, great, and so is the unpredictability, and the fact that there are no defined “good” and “evil” sides: everyone but Shareth is theoretically recruitable, though they are only amenable to being so by characters with similar traits; in other words, a good, brave and loyal lord will have no chance to recruit an evil, cowardly and treacherous one (though in this particular example, you may wonder why you’d ever want to…). However, it is precisely the fact that every character but one is recruitable that, in a way, works (in my opinion) to its disadvantage: it makes waging war a waste of time. Anyone you’re fighting is anyone you could be recruiting (even if you don’t currently have a character capable of doing so). This makes Doomdark’s Revenge less involving in terms of strategy than Lords of Midnight, where waging war and plotting a good strategy was necessary, and a big part of the game — even if you happened to be trying for Morkin’s “destroy the Ring Ice Crown” quest.

Also, some features appear to be unfinished or at least useless, such as the weapons and items you can pick up (I don’t think I ever used them to any actual effect), or the underground tunnels, which (with the exception of one of them, needed to get to the otherwise unreachable place where Morkin was captive) had little or no use.

Another feature I miss from LoM is that lords used to fight enemy armies; here they just fight other lords (though they can be killed by armies). It was fun to hear, in the after-battle report, that “Luxor slew one hundred and twenty of the enemy. His riders slew…” πŸ™‚

Anyway, as with virtually every Spectrum game, you can get it (legally) at World of Spectrum. I also recommend Chris Wild’s excellent Doomdark’s Revenge resource.

The (Eventual) End of SEO?

I’ve just read a thought-provoking article, Has SEO Peaked?, which links to another article called Someday, the sun will set on SEO β€” and the business of news will be better for it, and I’d like to share my thoughts on that subject.

One of the questions raised in the above articles is this: if search engines were perfect, then everyone could use the “I’m feeling lucky” option on Google (which takes you immediately to the search’s first result), or its equivalent on another engine. After all, the first result would be the best one, wouldn’t it? The fact that very few people ever do that is proof that people don’t trust search engines, because they often fail. Either they put a bad quality page on top, or one that isn’t really what the user was searching for.

But what if they didn’t? (more after the break)

Continue reading The (Eventual) End of SEO?

Expospeak

Since I mentioned the As You Know trope before (the one where characters tell each other things they both know (usually beginning with the words “as you know…”), just for the benefit of the reader), I couldn’t resist sharing an even more exaggerated variation of it: Expospeak, where characters unrealistically explain things and do “exposition” for the setting they’re in, even in what should supposedly be normal dialogue.

The TV Tropes page linked above has what I believe to be a perfect example, though it’s an intentional one, written for a bad short stories competition:

“Send a message back to Command Central on Earth and ask for their advice, which we will be able to receive immediately even at this great distance, thanks to the ingenious manipulation of coherent radiation through a Bose-Einstein condensate and the bizarre influence of the Aspect effect, which enables us to impart identical properties to remotely separated photons,” Captain Buzz told the feathered Vjorkog at the comms desk, “and tell them our life-pod is going to explode in eight seconds.”

It’s exaggerated, of course… but a lot of science fiction (and, to a lesser extent, fantasy) is guilty of this trope. Writers, if you really need to explain how something works, do it in the narration. People don’t talk about how cars work every time they drive one, you know. πŸ™‚