Posts Tagged ‘commodore 64’

A Valentines Belch

14 February, 2009
Try saying that after your usual with a... salami special!

"Try saying that after your usual with a... salami special!"

Because it’s Valentine’s Day and I love you all here’s a very silly little indie game called Bable Bable for the Commodore 64. It’s very heavily based on one of my favourite two-player games ever,  Bubble Bobble, but instead of blowing bubbles at the monsters to trap them you have to kill them by repeatedly burping at them instead!

It’s a very simple game, helped by some nice graphics and excellent sound, including a good wee tune and a nice, dirty belch sound effect. Give it a go.

You can download it in PRG format from this site here.

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Theatre Europe – Go on, blow the whole world up

27 October, 2008
Lets not blow each other up, Mr Reagan! Gee, thats a good idea, Mr Gorbachev!

"Let's not blow each other up, Mr Reagan!" "Gee, that's a good idea, Mr Gorbachev!"

Righty-ho, this is going to be the last of this batch of strategy game lookbacks because, as I might have intimated here before, I find writing strategy titles up an enormous rectal discomfort. This is because so damn few games in this genre are simple and straightforward and the articles always end-up being about the various features and rules of the games rather than what they feel like to play, whether they’ve weathered time well, and any crude jokes I can wrangle out of them. The next batch of games are going to be straightforward action games; oh yes.

Luckily, this last strategy title is a bit simpler than the others. Theatre Europe is not, as the title might suggest to some, about putting on a Continental performance of As You Like It (although I imagine some boring bastard has written just such a game) but about the balloon going up and the military juggernauts of NATO and the Warsaw Pact going at it tooth and claw in the mid 1980s. This jolly, upbeat little game was published in 1985 by PSS (which stands for Personal Software Services which can’t help but remind me of a film called Personal Services which was all about prostitution, but anyway…) for the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Atari 8-bit and Commodore 64. Because of my appalling Spectrum bias so far I’ve decided to play the C64 version for the purposes of this article, although all versions of the game are very similar from what I’ve seen.

This is how things look at the start with the Soviets aiming to be chomping sausages in Bonn within weeks and NATO, erm, hoping to protect their sausages (er...)

This is how things look at the start with the Soviets aiming to be chomping sausages in Bonn within weeks and NATO, erm, hoping to protect their sausages (er...)

The plot is built-on Cold War politics of the mid-80s. A conventional war has started between the superpowers and their allies; essentially the Warsaw Pact is trying to secure control of West Germany and NATO is trying to prevent them from doing the same with the player being able to choose either side (I plumped for NATO). There are also neutral armies which will defend their respective countries from invasion by either side. Both sides have a number of different armies (represented with blue and red blobs on the strategic map) which, over a number of different phases per turn, can be moved, ordered to attack and “rebuilt” (ie resupplied with equipment and air support). After these orders have been given the player is shown a screen detailing Special Missions which mean ordering either a chemical or nuclear strategic attack.

This is the arcade section. Im not sure this was terribly realistic even in 1985.

This is the "arcade section". I'm not sure this was terribly realistic even in 1985.

The game has “arcade screens” and the player can opt to have these turned on or off at the options screen before starting a game. These appear when the orders to attack have been given (by either side) with the player choosing an in-combat army to represent at which point the game displays a backdrop of countryside (if fighting outside a city) or a city (if fighting… well… in a city). The player controls a target and must fire missiles at the enemy which is represented by little tank-things rolling from the horizon to the middle of the screen whilst protecting friendly vehicles which roll along from side to side at the bottom of the screen. Additionally enemy aircraft fly overhead. This arcade section is, to be blunt, a bit confusing. According to the instructions I’m supposed to fire my missiles and then keep the target aimed on enemy vehicles in order to destroy them but it doesn’t seem to work like that at all and the best way (as far as I could see) way of blowing up the Soviet army seemed to be to fire a missile and then arrange for it to fly into the side of the approaching T72s (or whatever they’re supposed to be). Aircraft can be destroyed by the player as well according to the instructions but from my experience they simply exploded by themselves every so often (or was that down to my vehicles occasionally throwing into the air what looked like bunches of white dots, I’m not sure). Apparently, how you fare in this one fight will have a knock-on effect on all the battles your troops are involved in that turn so destroying as many enemy as possible is important. This is all reasonably entertaining at first but you’ll soon grow tired or it and turn it off in favour of proper strategy.

The proper strategy, as it happens, is mostly pretty straightforward. You move armies, order them to attack (or leave them to defend) and replenish what you can during the “rebuild” stage. There’s also some stuff about air power which involves prioritising air superiority, counter air (ie attacking airstrips and the like), interdict (trashing the supply lines of the enemy) and reconnaissance. Apparently, these affect the chances of the ground troops you control directly, I’m told it’s an important part of the strategy that can turn the tide of the war if used correctly but I can’t say I noticed it making much difference.

The Special Missions is the most dramatic part of the game. There are three types of attack you can order: chemical weapon attack (the computer chooses the target for you, Moscow in the case of the game I was playing), strategic single nuclear strike (nuke a city in other words) and a full nuclear strike which basically blows the entire world up. In order to use nuclear weapons, the player originally had to call a real-life phone number to obtain the authorisation code (“Midnight Sun” as wikipedia kindly told me). My game ended with a full nuclear strike; what a silly sausage I am. Still, at least I didn’t end-up having to spend my days in a re-education camp carving a marble bust of Marx and composing Das Kapital: The Musical, eh readers?

Strategic Gas Attack is nothing to do with farting. Really. Dammit, this is deadly serious!

"Strategic Gas Attack" is nothing to do with farting. Really. Dammit, this is deadly serious!

It’s clear from the manual that the programmers put a lot of thought and detail into this game with the two power blocs represented roughly accurately and the various war options open to the players roughly what was available to commanders at the time, even the suicidal Mutually Assured Destruction option of a full nuclear strike. The instructions list a bibliography used to inform the game including various books on (then contemporary) NATO/Warsaw Pact capabilities, leaflets from the American and Soviet embassies and documentation from CND. Playing the game itself feels like a simulation of the basics of a European Western/Soviet face-off as well. There’s no exciting dashes for Moscow for NATO troops or marching into Paris if you’re playing as the Soviets, it’s all purely about control of West Germany and much of the strategic map doesn’t even get used.

Oh noes!!

Oh noes!!

So how does it all come together? Is it a magnificent piece of wargaming or a pile of poo? Well, neither to be honest. It’s all well-detailed without being confusing or full of tedious minutae and playing it is certainly fairly interesting but limitations in gameplay really put a dampner on a lot of things. For example, the manual mentions some “assumptions” the game made which effect how the war plays out such as: that the Warsaw Pact won’t start the war with a nuclear bombardment, that NATO will control the Atlantic, that the French will enter the war immediately. It would have been better to either let the player decide or randomise these factors making for a more realistic scenario. The “action” sequences are also very crude, poorly-implemented and don’t seem to add much to the game. I thought having “closeup” representations of the battle was a good idea but it should have been done in a way other than a confusing shooting-gallery. The strategic part of the game isn’t too bad and works quite well but the player only really has control of ground forces and can only really tell them to move and attack; things like air support/warfare and naval engagements are taken care of by the computer offscreen and it’s all a bit vague as to how they effect gameplay. The Special Missions also seem to be a bit limited with any nuclear or chemical strike being immediately responded to in kind and with one option basically ending the game. I suppose there’s a strong real-world point being made here about what happens when one nuclear power attacks another nuclear power but, from the point of just playing a strategic game, it doesn’t really add much.

Theatre Europe isn’t a bad piece of software at all, it’s certainly interesting for a couple of games, but it all looks a bit primitive and limited to modern eyes. A shame, since it’s the only game I can think of off-hand that’s a strategic simulation of a cold war superpower confrontation on this sort of scale. When thinking of other cold war videogames I can only really think of Steel Panthers which simulates things at the individual battle scale rather than an overall war and the realist FPS Operation Flashpoint which again takes place at a small scale and is also somewhat hampered by a very silly plot and (sigh) being set for no good reason in a made-up country. The Red Alert games, I think we can safely say, don’t really count. Theatre Europe is an interesting title in an under-represented sub-genre and it’s worth a look but it really hasn’t aged that well.

Election – get yer oversized rosette on

18 October, 2008
Mmmm, bold primary colours; very 80s

Mmmm, bold primary colours; very '80s

“Maggie, Maggie, Maggie! Out, out, out!”, “The lady’s not for turning”. Ah, British politics in the 1980s; thank f*ck those days are behind us. Anyway, I’m not just bursting out a couple of quotes for no good reason, today’s game is all about British politics in the ’80s. It’s Mastertronic’s 1984 release Election in which the player must contest a parliamentary seat in a general election and run a campaign to win that seat. This game was published on the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC from what I can gather but it’s the Speccy version I’ll be playing for this review.

First, the player chooses their political party from between Conservative, Labour and the Alliance (now known as the Liberal Democrats) and from there chooses a number of manifesto commitments to focus on; the opposition candidates then do the same. Choosing the manifesto commitments is quite interesting as regards how things have changed since 1984 with Labour wanting to leave the EEC and unilateral disarmament whilst the Conservatives focus on encouraging private healthcare and controlling the trade unions with ne’er a word about recycling. The Liberals, bless them, hardly seem to have changed at all.

Fight the power!

Fight the power!

Anyway, you chooses your party and your manifesto commitments and then we get a graphical display representing streets in the constituency (called Pendel) and their voting intentions which, surprise surprise, are fairly evenly-split between the three parties. Essentially, your campaign focuses on canvassing voters on a street-by-street basis.

Starting with campaign funds of £4000, the player decides how the money must be spent over the course of ten days after which the election will take place. Each day is split into several sections. First, the player will be offered the opportunity to rent billboard space on a street (they have no choice which one, it’s announced by the computer) and must place a higher bid than the other candidates; this is done “blind” meaning the player has no idea what the other candidates are bidding, the winner gets the billboard and presumably more votes.

Next comes the opportunity to buy a newspaper advert. This time it’s all about how much you spend on the advert and this affects the candidates general popularity in the constituency.

After this comes the chance to speak at a meeting in a street. Residents will bring up issues and the player has 25 “points” to distribute in their replies and can allocate as many as they like to a single issue. The number of issues brought up is random and so allocating points can be a gamble. Manifesto commitments also affect how replies go down – if it concerns an issue on your manifesto you score extra, if it concerns an issue on an opponent’s manifesto you lose points. If your points are in the positive after the meeting then you gain votes on that street; presumably based on how many points you have.

This represents streets in the constituency; in my first game I managed to turn Tory Way into a red stronghold. Ha!

This represents streets in the constituency; in my first game I managed to turn Tory Way into a red stronghold. Ha!

Following this comes the main part of the campaign – the player is shown the streets in Pendel again and asked to choose how many and which streets to canvas. Once the streets have been chosen the player is then asked to decide how much they want to spend on canvassing and this will affect their number of votes in that street.

After this, the whole process starts again with a new billboard opportunity for the next day. In addition to this there are random events which can affect your popularity or campaign funds. After day ten the election takes place and the votes are counted on a street by street basis until they are all in and the winner is declared.

So, how does all this play? Well, not too badly. The game is in basic so it runs a bit slow but thinking about which streets to canvas and how to allocate meeting points is quite good fun and the election at the end is genuinely quite gripping as the votes pour in and (occasionally) predictions are turned on their heads.

However, I had some issues with this game. The main ones are about realism. The voters in Pendel don’t seem to be terribly ideological and can be won over far too easily. For example, I concentrated on canvassing the true-blue Tory Way in my first game and managed to turn it into a Labour stronghold. The thing is, Tory Way was clearly a well-off area full of blue rinsers and in the real 1984 some Labour candidate could spend £10,000 canvassing such an area and be lucky to pick-up a handful of votes. The way the random events affect gameplay is also clumsy. If bakers lose jobs then your candidate loses popularity but there’s no indication that you are the incumbent so… erm… why do I get all the shit for it? On an even more absurd note I once lost popularity for something the population were blaming on the government despite being a Labour candidate; say what now? The “meetings” system is similarly flawed; you gain extra points for answering a question that links to your manifesto in some way but again there’s no ideological basis for how this works. For example, if I am the Labour candidate and I have a manifesto including a commitment to control the police and I’m holding a meeting in a Conservative street and someone brings up a question regarding the police then I score well for banging on about my manifesto point despite the fact that it simply would not go down well in such an area, indeed quite the opposite. Again, this whole aspect of the game feels unrealistic. It’s also pretty easy; I played this game twice to write this article and won both times despite not having a very carefully-planned (indeed some might say utterly bloody slapdash) campaign strategy and despite having a general popularity in the negative figures.

So, overall this might be worth a game or two just out of interest but it is repetitive, easy and you shouldn’t expect anything remotely like a real mid-’80s general election campaign. Now, where’s my donkey jacket?