It is just a game

As a kid I was big into Dungeons and Dragons, whiling away many, many weekends on adventures. I actually wound up being Dungeon Master quite a bit of that time, either because no one else would touch it or my peers actually thought I could develop more interesting adventures. Well, there is a crap load of bookkeeping in DnD and it actually gets quite tedious. Everyone I know altered the rules somewhat to suite their type of playing style just to keep the game flowing as much as possible. As such, for me and my peers anyway, niceties such as having the appropriate materials to cast spell, for instance, were totally ignored. Combat was truncated and I had to get into the habit of randomly rolling my dice just to keep them from being convinced that ‘something just happened’ and getting all paranoid or immediately stopping and doing an exhaustive search for a secrete door that wasn’t there. I longed for having a better way to keep track of the minutia that wouldn’t also strangle the life out of our play, but never came up with anything.

Also as a youth I was introduced to the game ADVENT, or the Colossal Cave Adventure, a command-line game that was all in your head (meaning no graphics of any sort). We spent waaaayyyy too many hours playing the game (generally as a group with one person working the keyboard) and never really solved it (though I believe I still have my maps of the “Maze of twisty little passages” somewhere). Anyway, a number of years ago I and a friend started to talk about educational games and how to ‘lure’ the kids into learning, but without the astronomical budgets spent on conventional gaming. I thought about the old ADVENT game and was able to find a machine translated C version of the original FORTRAN program (I know C really well) and set to work trying to understand how it works. Partly, I am sure, because it was machine translated, but also because it was written in a period where bits and bytes mattered (back when RAM was measured in kilobytes instead of gigabytes), the code is very dense and difficult to follow. It is also ate up with goto statements further adding to the complexity. I was never able to totally grok the program, but I did develop a good enough understanding to recreate the same sort of functionality in a totally different way. I wrote a version that uses a database to store game information (instead of having it embedded in the code) as well as the state in such a way that any number of players could be playing (independently) at the same time. Sadly, like so many other ideas, we didn’t get any financial backing and I would up putting the thing on the back burner incomplete.

Last week I was talking with my new cube mate and the subject of ADVENT came up for some reason and I talked about my experience and a different cube neighbor came over to note that not only were these old games still being played, but people were still writing them! Not making millions of dollars, of course, but I am told (I am not a gamer myself) that the modern games with the beautiful graphics tend to be very short on any sort of plot or intellectual problem solving, so there is still a market for the old-style story/logic games of yore. That got me thinking that maybe I could take my love of DnD and my experience with ADVENT adaption to educational games and produce games with simple interfaces that people might enjoy playing because of the story-telling aspect and the intellectual problem solving. If I got really lucky, perhaps a small fee to save character information so it can be shared would be tolerable and I might eventually be able to focus on this sort of activity.

Naturally, as soon as I decide to do something like this I start to have problems with my computer at home. We had the power go off the other day when it was asleep and after that it wouldn’t boot any more. I managed to revive an earlier version long enough to download the latest version off the ‘net (Ubuntu 12) and installed that yesterday, but now when it goes to sleep and is revived, I got no monitor, mouse or keyboard function! I decided I could live with having it on all day and installed VNC so I could use it remotely and all the sudden the screen locked up and that was the last straw and I turned the damn thing off. I will probably try to work a bit on it this afternoon and see if I can at least get it to work (I think I will leave VNC off), but isn’t that always the way things work?

Hopefully I will be able to quickly adapt what I have into a working system and can start to refine it. Initially I plan on recreating the old ADVENT game, then plan on extending it (I already have written out what I want to do: produce an outdoor section where you can interact with some locals) and finally enhancing it by starting to weave in thoughts and ideas from my DnD era. I am planning on some minimal graphics instead of only text (since I plan on running it over the web, simple graphics are ‘free’) but hope to preserve the very simple concept of using your imagination to ‘see’ the world. I am quite sure that when we were playing as youths that each of us had a very distinct vision of the dragon, troll, etc., I want to preserve that aspect as much as possible but somewhat simplify the visualization of the environment (we often had no idea where we were, even when we weren’t lost in a maze). My fantasy is that in 5 or 6 years I can get enough paying players that I can focus on it full-time, but I think I would be just as happy if a thousand (or even a hundred) people played it regularly. I intend to make it available as a stand-alone version that can run as an app on a smart phone (and desktop/tablet) to try to hook users into wanting to play multi-user and be willing to pony up a couple of bucks a month to do so.

Hopefully there are a couple of my reader(s) who would be interested enough to act as alpha testers; I will post more when I finally get something minimally useful.

Author: Tfoui

He who spews forth data that could be construed as information...

3 thoughts on “It is just a game”

  1. You’re too young to remember the REAL original, I guess. At any rate, you should read “The Soul of a New Machine,” by Tracy Kidder. (Which only touches on the game.)

    1. I guess it was the very early ’80s when I ‘took up’ the game, so clearly a while after the game was developed (the wiki page indicates the ’73-’75 timeframe). I believe at one point I had “The Soul of a New Machine”, but my wife purged my library (700+ books in boxed in the basement) and I expect it got thrown out (well, donated to a used book store). I will have to look for it anew and make the time to read it.

      1. I hand-disassembled the Z80 machine code for it. I’m positive that experience influenced my later abilities to write lean and mean (a characteristic that is no longer desirable or affordable).

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