As June winds down, I find myself reminiscing about writing month’s program. 34 years later, I still remember the glow of the TV as it lit the notebook in my lap. Although I have fond memories of Tic-tac-toe, time isn’t as kind to it. Let’s dig in.
Foreign to many developers today, I have a notepad and binder full of ideas from my ZX81 days. The notepad contains early program snippets. In contrast, I have sketches and designs crammed into a binder. Flipping through it, I landed on a Star Wars sketch that became the basis for this month’s program.
“Agent 51, your goal is within reach, but there is a problem.” “Understand,” you reply. Professional as always, you only allow a hint of annoyance in your voice. “Explain.” “Well, the plans are in the room in front of you, but the floor is a trap. You need to deactivate it using the terminal to your right.” You look down at the screen, a singular “READY” stares back at you. “Sounds easy enough,” you reply. “It isn’t. The interface is protected and, sadly, our operative died before he could tell us the code.” “So what do I do?” “You’re going to have to hack it. Our operative left a back door into the system, if you can find it. You can do it, Agent 51.” You nod at the voice in your ear. You can do this. Play begins with imagination. Computers are great for role playing and Code IV was one of my programs that helped enable a story. As a kid, I often augmented my play using my ZX81. Although the narrative above isn’t exact, it embodies what I was thinking when I wrote this month’s ZX81 program. Fun, adventurous, and unfair, can you crack the code and disable the floor?
I used to play Mastermind when I was a kid, a simple code breaking game. One player would set up a sequence of colored pegs and the other would have to guess it in a set number of turns. My version, called ZX Master Mind, has the computer creating the code. Can you guess the three numbers in sequence before your ten turns run out?
Dodging games were the rage back in the early ’80s. Wanting to add my own take on the genre, I created Stick Shift, November’s program of the month. The goal is simple. Dodge other cars, oil spills and spikes while not crashing into the wall. Mess up? Well, it’s game over for you. Don’t fret though, it isn't that hard—yet.
While working to improve the way I display my ZX81 programs, I ran across one that didn’t have a picture. Finding that odd, I did some research and found that I’d written a page for it back in 1999. To my surprise, I’d never uploaded it. To rectify that oversight, I made Bugers this month’s program.
One of the coolest movies when I was a young teenager was Disney’s Tron. What geeky kid didn’t want to watch a movie about computers and video games? Sprinkle in some computer animation and how could I not fall in love. Needless to say, Tron was the inspiration for more than a few of my programs. Trail Blazer, September’s program of the month, is one of them. An homage to the light cycle segment, the goal is to crash your opponent first. But beware. All walls are deadly, including your own.
I painted more borders on the ZX81 than just about any other shape. An easy way to confine movement, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Electon starts by building a box. And before you ask, this month’s ZX81 program isn’t another version of snake. Instead, you use the Z, X, N, and M keys to move in an attempt to capture the Electon. Sounds easy? Better give it a try and see.
Not everything I wrote on the ZX81 was a game, although I did write a lot of those. In fact, some of my first computer programs did nothing more than print pictures. 3D Image, a badly named program, is one of my experiments in animation on the ZX81. Depicting a sun at the end of its life, it’s a uses simple math to generate an image.
“Jealous of Vargen’s accomplishments, a rival kingdom has attacked and kidnapped your king. As head Knight, you mount a quest to return the King, hidden somewhere in the forest by his captors. But hurry! The King's ransom has a time limit. Can you find the King in time and restore the Vargen Crown?” Sounds great right? An adventure game set in a single screen. I had high hopes for Vargen Crown. Castles, keys, and puzzles, our program of the month covered the basics of adventure. Using just the ZX81 cursor keys, playing it will leave you unsatisfied and, I suspect, quite frustrated. It’s too bad as the game has a decent look to it. I chalk it up to being a young programmer, but that's not an excuse. Still interested? Let’s dig in and see what makes this game tick.
Walls and creatures always make for a nice game and Faller, our program of the month, has both. It takes a bit of imagination, but watch the icky spider climb up the wall towards you. Their goal, of course, is to knock you off and claim the wall for themselves. Like any good hero, you sit at the top and move over the spiders using Z and .. But be quick and knock them off using M to save the day. Just don’t be a faller should you miss.
April is close to wrapping up and I was able to find time this weekend to type in another ZX81 game. Laser Blast, this month’s program, has you saving the world. Kind of cliché I know, but hey this was 1984. George Orwell’s novel didn’t come true, but at least we could blast alien’s with lasers. Use the Z and . keys to move and M to shoot your ray of death. But beware. The alien has a guided missile and it’s heading right for you.
Ah, spring time. As winter melts away, the weather goes haywire and it’s time to enjoy the bouts of sunshine, rain and the occasional thunderstorm of hail. Perhaps it’s fitting that in the middle of this meteorological mayhem that Computact came back to life. An outwardly simple landing game that is almost impossible to play. No matter, it demonstrates some interesting use of ZX81 BASIC as March’s Program of the month.
Digging through my listings, I struggled deciding what to offer for February. The first one I found was an adventure text game. Too close to last month's program, I decided against it for now. Further down in the stack, I found a code breaking program, but after entering it in I realized it needed work. The next program I pulled out, a graphic game called Teleport—ignore that spelling for now—ended up being just right.
Wow, 2016 and I’m still digging programs out of my stack of print outs. Kicking off the new year, I’m grabbing a story based program. I wrote Star Probe, our program of the month, in the style of a Chose Your Own Adventure book—and yes, I actually owned most of them. Although you can only enter numbers, Star Probe is actually an example of interactive fiction. Though not as advanced as an Infocom game, Star Probe delivers an interesting, if short, story to the player. Before I spoil where I drew my inspiration, go play it. It will only take a few minutes. Just try to ignore the horrible grammar and spelling of a 14-year-old.
Time to close out the year with another classic remaking. Back in 1983, I decided to try my hand at recreating Nintendo’s fan favorite: Donkey Kong. My version, cryptically called Monkey Maze, is December’s Program of the Month. Not quite as complex as the original, my version has only a single board that you can navigate around using the ZX81 cursor keys (5,6,7 and 8 which map to left, down, up and right). It plays pretty well. Go give it a try, and avoid the barrels, if you can.
One of my favorite video games as a kid was a rather unlikely one. It wasn’t the coolest graphics or excellent control. It was about story and animation. It was, of course, Dragon’s Lair. The odd laser disc game by famed animator Don Bluth. Not surprisingly, I tried to recreate a bit of the game's feel on my ZX81. My attempt is, of course, November’s Program of the Month.
July’s program is indicative of the BASIC programs you’d find in early programming manuals. Most books start out with pretty basic commands such as PRINT and INPUT. A Story mimics these early programs in a creative way. Similar to Mad Libs, you answer a series of questions and the program, well, tells you a story.
Fly is a simple program that, in the end, is both baffling and intriguing. Looking at first like a simple shooter, it acts very differently then one and, if you don’t know the rules, will make you crazy. Once you do know how to play, though, Fly becomes simple and repetitive. Our Program of the Month shouldn’t be in this place, but it is.