Art D’s Batch Adventures

It’s time at last to get around to the first post of 2017. I’d like to say I’ll be posting more regularly this year but realistically that is unlikely to happen. When I do get round to it, there are still old games to play so lets start with a handful of Origin games I forgot about when I was originally blogging through them all.

Probably the most significant Easter eggs ever to make their way into Origin products were 3 text adventure games hidden away in the files for Privateer, Privateer – Righteous Fire and Wings Of Glory. These were all created by Arthur DiBianca, a coder at Origin during the 90’s.

IMG_20170120_215243

To find these hidden games, you need to search through the files for each game and look for the one starting with tab. The filename is actually reversed and in this case should be advent.bat, so it simply needs renaming and copying into an otherwise empty directory.

IMG_20170120_215341

You then type advent setup to start, except I discovered at this point that with all this batch file trickery going on, DOS ran out of environment space.

IMG_20170120_215451

To fix this, you just need to edit your config.sys file and reboot. The relevant line is shell=c:\dos\command.com /P /E:1024. This maxes out the environment space in DOS and will fix the errors running these games.

IMG_20170120_215645

Running the setup generates a load of little batch files for all the commands in the game. These text adventures play entirely from a tweaked command prompt so there is a look.bat and n, s, e and w.bat files, etc. Each command in the game is actually a call to run the relevant batch file.

These files pass along their calls to the main advent script which does the heavy lifting. If you supply a second word, i.e. look lamp, then lamp is passed as a parameter into the batch file. Presumably all the variables for the game are stored in the DOS environment. It’s kind of ingenious really and shows how much you can do with batch scripting. I would imagine it’s not the most practical language for the job but it clearly works.

Of course with the whole game being played from a DOS prompt, you don’t want to be typing any unwarranted DOS commands while playing this (other than dir which gives a verb list).

IMG_20170120_220127

Having spent a while getting it running, the first game took all of a couple of minutes to beat. I won’t give away too much but it essentially revolves around learning a few magic words to teleport around the world. There isn’t a plot to describe in any of these games, it’s along the lines of Zork with somewhat random locations and puzzles to conquer. At the end of the game, I’m rewarded with a magic word to carry into the next game which was included with Righteous Fire.

IMG_20170121_104404IMG_20170121_110047

The second and third game are substantially larger with maybe 10-20 locations each and a good deal more puzzles. That isn’t to say they will last more than 5 minutes a piece but they did make me think. I’m glad to say there was no resorting to that staple of text adventures, large mazes with identical locations. Did anyone ever actually enjoy those things?

I can’t say I’m any the wiser having got to the end of these as to what exactly is going on. There is some mention of a crowned man apparently obsessed with breadsticks. This has to be Lord British but don’t ask me where the breadstick interest comes from.

Unfathomable as they may be, all 3 games are a fun little diversion and if you want to try them out without using the original files, they can be played through a browser at https://archive.org/details/wcadvent

Wings Of Glory Review – PC Format

This is a review of Wings Of Glory from the February 1995 PC Format. It gets a decent reception but the reviewers prefer Dawn Patrol which I can’t comment on as it isn’t a game I’ve ever tried:-

Wings Of Glory Review - PC Format Page 1 Wings Of Glory Review - PC Format Page 2

While the site is less than busy, I’ve decided to change my web host after finding an option that is the same price for 2 years as I’m currently paying for 2 months. It sounds a little too good to be true in all honesty but I’ll give it a go and I can always move back. There will no doubt be some teething troubles and/or downtime when I start to make the switch.

UPDATE – The move appears to have gone smoothly enough with the only trouble being my slow upload speed. The database and wordpress installation are copied over and working. All that’s left is transferring all the images and files which is going to take a while.

PC Format Origin Collector's Series

This is a 32 page pullout from the September 1994 PC Format. It’s the first entry in their collector’s series which featured companies like Microprose, Lucasarts & Gremlin. Since it’s on here, it goes without saying that this first volume is entirely on Origin:-

PC Format Collector's Series - Origin

It includes a brief history of the company, interviews with Richard Garriott and Chris Roberts, previews of coming games (with Warren Spector interviews) and a look back at the Ultima and Wing Commander series. There is so much misinformation in the Ultima history that it beggars belief but there is plenty of good content in here otherwise. According to the Ultima 8 article, at this time Garriott saw the Avatar as being separated from the human plane and more of a supernatural being in Ultima 9 and already had an Ultima 10 plot ready to go.

Wings Of Glory on the VFX-1

This is the final Origin game with VFX-1 support, although there is still Looking Glass’ Flight Unlimited which I’ll have to try at some point. Forte also implemented support for a handful of Wing Commander games with their vrmouse driver which literally just sends mouse/keyboard commands depending on head tracking. I expect this to be terrible but I’ll be trying it out sooner or later also.

Wings Of Glory was released in 1995 with built-in VFX-1 support although I did have to manually edit the config file to get this working in-game. It doesn’t have stereo-3D but does support head tracking in the cockpit.

Right from the start this game came across as better suited to the hardware than the previous 2 which I’ve tried. The colours on the VFX-1 screens aren’t bad but similar shades do have a tendency to merge together. Wings Of Glory uses a bright, almost cartoon like palette which comes through really well on the twin LCD’s. The game also has a big chunky interface with nice large text and no dials or HUD to read meaning you can play the whole game without ever flipping the visor up. I definitely couldn’t say this for either System Shock or Terra Nova.

I’ve never been convinced by the usefulness of virtual cockpits in games. It’s all very well-being able to look around but it makes it nearly impossible to steer and it always struck me as more of a gimmick. Add a VR helmet however and Wings Of Glory’s virtual cockpit comes into its own. Looking around while steering the plane is second nature and I didn’t have any problems keeping my orientation. It makes it possible to look around the skies to keep track of your opponents and it’s about as close to being there as you are going to get outside of a simulator. In fact, if you play the game like this you will soon find yourself always looking at your opponent when possible and never straight ahead. Even when pulling a turn to try to locate an opponent it meant I could focus either above or below the plane depending on where I expected him to be. This is without a doubt the only way to play Wings Of Glory and the only game of the 3 where the VR substantially added to the gameplay. I don’t expect there are many people who will get the chance to try it out these days but Loaf is going to enjoy himself if he ever gets the hardware set up.

It’s not all perfect of course. The virtual cockpit doesn’t allow you to look down very far and stops moving at a certain point. This isn’t major but it does pull you out of the action when it happens. Also, the lack of clarity on the screens comes into play when you are firing bullets into the white cloud haze on the horizon as the white tracer fire merges with it to become invisible. It’s much easier to hit targets above or below this horizon because of this.

Finding targets isn’t as easy as it would be were I playing the game conventionally. I would previously use the eyes locked on target toggle to locate my enemy, then turn that off again and steer towards him. Here I have to find him the hard way. This is more realistic of course and more along the lines of how things should be. I did occasionally have issues deciding which side a plane was on due to the resolution but with the garish colours of most German planes this was rarely a problem, and cycling through the targets was enough to confirm.

The final issue is that it’s not easy to find the keys on the keyboard when you are effectively blindfolded. With no feedback, I was never quite sure if I’d hit the ALT-B to break and attack for instance and controlling my throttle could end up being a little random as to which number key I’d pressed. If you are going to use the VR helmet in this game you ideally need a throttle, rudder & joystick setup with all the appropriate keys mapped to avoid any of this.

As for the game itself, this still goes down as the most fun I’ve had on any flight sim with the close up dogfights being quite tactical and far more action packed than your modern warfare equivalents. The Sopwith Pup at the start of the game is truly horrible to fly though and I could hardly score a kill with it. As soon as the next planes become available things pick right up, but it’s like the designers were trying to put you off getting started.

Similarly the visibility out of the Pup is terrible and this is really brought home by the VR helmet making it quite clear just how much the wings get in the way of your line of sight. This was true to some extent with all the planes in the game with only the last 2 missions in the Fokker offering a really good view. I’d love to have been able to try VR out with the more conventional cockpits of the WW2 planes in Pacific Strike but it never got the VFX-1 treatment I’m sorry to say.

The bottom line with Wings Of Glory is that you never played it at it’s best if you haven’t tried it on a VFX-1. I can hardly say it’s worth the hefty price tag to your average gamer, but compared to certain other gaming collectibles I’ve bought I’m starting to think the VFX-1 is actually something of a bargain given how much use I’m clearly going to get out of it. Someone really needs to make a modern equivalent that actually works.

I’ll leave the VFX-1 again for the moment and will be returning to the FM-Towns Ultima Trilogy next.