I’ve been hoping for years for a book on the history of Origin Systems. There have been some worthy entries but they have very much concentrated on Richard Garriott and never really told the stories of the dozens of other people who made all these games possible.
I may not have too much longer to wait as a Kickstarter has just launched for a new book called Through The Moongate. The book will ultimately be in two volumes with this first round of funding for volume 1 taking the story of Origin from Akalabeth up to 1990 and the publishing of Ultima 6. While the story told will still be based around Ultima, it will finally put some details to all the people I only know from seeing their names on a credits list. It will also cover some other games along the way including Wing Commander and more obscure titles like Moebius and Ogre.
The book is already written but needs funding to cover translation from Italian and the publishing/shipping costs. There is a preview chapter available via the Kickstarter to give a flavour of the book. I very much want to read the rest of it so if this sounds of interest, please consider taking a look at the Kickstarter and purchasing a copy.
Here’s issue 7 of PC Zone. Issue 8 didn’t have much I was all that interested in but this is packed full of stuff from a preview of Beneath a Steel Sky and Shadowcaster, through reviews of Day Of The Tentacle, Dune, Lands Of Lore, Legend Of Kyrandia, Loom, Lost Vikings, Ringworld, Simon The Sorcerer and Wing Commander Academy. A lot of those are in a big CD version roundup of older games that had previously come out on floppy. I’ve got 2 of the 3 cover disks but only one was readable so I’ve included an image of Disk 1 as well.
They can be all be found at http://www.pixsoriginadventures.co.uk/PCZone
I’m down into the single digits now with these PC Zone scans. Nothing particularly stands out in this issue for me but I guess the biggest review in here is Flight Simulator 5, not a game that’s up my street but I still had a copy at the time to show off the PC. Said PC wasn’t up to it of course. More to my tastes are the adventure games Gateway II and Lost In Time but while I own them I still haven’t played them. I should mention the Silver Seed review but I’m sure I scanned that one for the site long ago and there is also a lengthy Sim City 2000 preview.
Two more issues before I run out. The scan can be found at http://www.pixsoriginadventures.co.uk/PCZone
The remaining fixes turned out to be something I could knock off in what was left of my lunch break. I tested it all last night, fixed a couple of other bugs I found and did a complete playthrough of the game. Having played through it, I changed my mind about the hit point reward when you leave a dungeon and put them back how it was. The game is definitely beatable anyway so I’m calling it done for now. I may revisit it at some point but I reckon I’ve achieved what I wanted when I set out. I’ll fix issues if anyone reports anything but right now I’m dubious as to whether anyone else will ever even play it. You can grab this latest version is at http://www.pixsoriginadventures.co.uk/Vecalabeth.rar as before.
Aside from a Vectrex, you’ll clearly need a Vectrex32 to run it which isn’t cheap and my port certainly isn’t worth that asking price on its own. It undoubtedly makes writing Vectrex games way, way easier than it would be otherwise so if you ever fancied creating a game of your own I’d certainly recommend picking one up. The BASIC variant it uses is still primitive but it’s no doubt a joyful experience compared to the alternative. I had quite a few issues with bugs when I first bought it but the updates since then have improved things no end. My overriding complaint is still the lack of emulation so that I have to load and run my code on real hardware all the time. Aside from the inconvenience, it seems like unnecessary wear and tear on an ever more valuable system. To compensate, I’ve been doing this oldschool and writing the code in a text editor (usually during my lunch) and then only running it when I’ve made decent progress. This isn’t how I prefer to code but it forces me into it.
If anyone does play Vecalabeth, please let me know how you get on. I think it’s a decent approximation of the original but I could do with some other opinions.
I uploaded a new version of Vecalabeth yesterday (http://www.pixsoriginadventures.co.uk/Vecalabeth.rar) with some bug fixes and gameplay tweaks.
This version improves the flickering and more importantly fixes a good number of game-breaking bugs. I’ve played this one far enough to complete about half the quests on the easiest level without noticing any major problems. There are a few bugs I’m aware of which for my benefit as much as anyone else are:-
- I still haven’t fixed invisible passages showing up from certain angles.
- If you kill a carrion creeper the text goes off the screen
- Monsters don’t attack you if you are stood on something (ladder/chest)
- The menus are still a little fiddly – I may not do too much with these as it wasn’t really an issue when playing.
- You will keep being told a quest is completed every time you kill the appropriate monster
- Lucky number selection starts at 0 instead of 1
I went back and played the original Akalabeth again as a basis for comparison. There are clearly different versions of this as the usual Apple II version does not quite match the source code I’ve got or the code analysis. I was fairly certain I remembered it playing differently but it’s been years so I needed to go back and make sure. As such I’ve made some changes to make my version a bit more playable and bring it more in line with the later version:-
- I’ve altered the dungeon generation to include empty blocks in the grid. Believe it or not, this would never happen with the original dungeon generator and it makes the dungeons much more open and playable. It is still possible in my latest version to not have paths through the dungeon but far less likely.
- I’ve doubled the number of hit points awarded when exiting the dungeon. This feels much closer to the original to me and a whole lot fairer on the player.
- On the earlier version, all the monsters for that level didn’t always spawn on each level. I’ve altered it so they are always on there somewhere. Best find a dead end to fight off the onslaught on those lower levels…
- I’ve made traps about half as likely to be generated. They were a nightmare on the original version.
Another major difference in the later Akalabeth is the persistence of dungeon levels. i.e. they are the same when you go back. This didn’t happen on the original and I’m tempted to leave this alone on the Vectrex. I don’t have enough memory to store more than the one level at a time – I could try to save them to the cartridge but I’m going to leave as is at least for now. The random levels offer an easy way to compensate for potential dead ends if nothing else.
There are no doubt other little differences but this felt very close to playing the Akalabeth I remember at any rate. The current plan is to fix the bugs in the first list, play through the whole game to see if I can finish it and then if nothing else shows up, call it a beta and see if anyone else ever actually plays it. None of that will take too long so I should be done in the next few days.