I have a huge announcement today - but it's not the one I've been building up to over the last few weeks...

My wife Whitney is pregnant for the first time! Yes, soon we're expecting a little mutant mouse-rabbit of our own :) Our due date - seriously - is Christmas Day, condemning this child to a lifetime of rubbish combined Christmas-and-birthday gifts.

It still feels new to me every time I think about it, and I have no idea how things are going to be after December... but maybe I'll manage to mess this child up a little less than my parents did with me.


head.dance release party with ravenworks! This is a game for the Altspace VR environment that's like DDR for your head, nodding along to songs. Despite having no VR gear it was amazing to watch as explorers in this virtual world entered the room and wandered around chatting while people took turns playing this big virtual head-DDR machine and enjoyed the music. Some of it was mine! And based on kjorteo's story!)

I happened to be in the middle of it when the creator himself (right, barber pole) came in to show Mr. JoeJoe (left, ethereal motorcyclist) around the room, and then it apparently got mentioned in an Altspace VR talk of some kind and people kept flooding in...

Seeing this appreciation for a game first-hand in such a physical way is something I've never experienced before... it felt like looking at a popular booth at an independent game festival which had brought along a huge complicated rig, except the "hardware" is entirely in software. I think hopping into here briefly has seriously boosted my appreciation of the possibilities of VR.

Castle of ZZT - The pirate version!

I just remembered about something very weird that happened to me a long time ago. When I first came to live in America in 2006, I had two suitcases of possessions, and a desktop computer was not among them - my personal computer was an increasingly eccentric bulky laptop that was built in 1998. After moving into our flat and ordering furniture, household things and computer parts, I chose to spend the time with my limited computer power writing a ZZT game. This became Castle of ZZT, and with the time I was forced to spend on it combined with the way that I actually drew a plan out before starting, it was by far my best effort in this department (though this might not be saying much).

The weird part was after I submitted it to Z2, the premier site for both ZZT and impenetrable lunacy at the time. Games went into an approval queue that was publically visible before being added to the site, to make sure they weren't spam, and I checked to see if it had been accepted once in a while. But on one check, I saw my uploaded ZIP had been replaced with one that had a different file size - and there was also a new ZIP that was called "castle_of_zzt_use_this_one_instead.zip" or something along those lines.

Both ZIPs contained an altered version of the game, which I saved because I was so baffled by it. This is what you get after starting it up:

Curiously, the "OF" has been removed from the title screen. The same has been done to the scroll that you pick up in the first room - the game's title is changed to just "CASTLE ZZT".

Messing around with the first part of the game, I don't notice any other obvious differences, though I haven't looked very closely because it's quite long. But slightly later on, things get strange. The castle has a large central staircase (which I could have made less awkward to navigate, looking back), which allows you to take several routes at the start of the game from the first and second floors, and you'll get a key to access the stairs up from the second floor at some point.

In the actual game, these stairs lead to an aerial view of two towers, which contains a puzzle that you have to plan ahead for.

But in the altered version, a third floor has been added instead. It's decorated in red, convincingly in the same style (using the same kind of "splat a KevEdit gradient background on it" aesthetic that I used throughout the rest of the game).

The boards are all named "Third Floor" with cardinal direction markers afterward so that the mysterious editor could keep track of where the rooms lay. The floor is laid out as a largely empty maze of twisting passages that are consistent but not logically laid out - you can loop around by going north or south. But if you keep heading roughly northwest, you can progress.

The next few boards are called "Free Will", but they continue the red and grey corridor theme with no apparent differences from the Third Floor boards. You have to pick either the east or south passage here - going south will dump you back near the entrance, going east will take you to another long corridor - which has some strange cracks at the end...

The corridor ends at this strange board, which is called "Free Will EEE". It contains a red circle/boulder that says "Y2" when you touch it (Colossal Cave again!), a guard programmed to let you through the blue "gate" of sliders for nine gems, and what appears to be "Snoop Doggw" written in yellow walls beyond that. Underneath is a nest of tigers, a small river and some ammo. The border of the room breaks down at the bottom left, but if it's meant to be saying something I can't tell what it is (enqn?)

Going south from here brings you to this place, a surprisingly detailed outdoor scene with shadowy round trees that displays the text above when you enter it. (The "fake wall" message is part of ZZT itself.) The tone of the dialogue is strange - was it copied from another game file? And going south from here...

...you reach the end of the game, which is my own "THE END" message from the end of Castle of ZZT, shifted up on the board a bit with the red/grey type of background from above added. And then it ends - no further clues are offered. This is the only way to finish the game, as the boards that would have let you escape the intended route south from the main entrance have been deleted or overwritten.

After discovering the switch of files I asked the site's admin, who I think at the time was Quantum P., and he helped put the real version up - but I saved this oddity to preserve it. The readme accompanying the ZZT world file was left intact, and my name was still on the game with no other credit added. With the game largely unaltered at the start, was the idea to make people think that they were playing my game and then for it to appear that I'd gone mad halfway through? That's my only guess - they had clearly put a fair amount of effort into whatever it was they were doing, but I never worked out who this was or why they did it.

The Poison Skies - Stand Our Ground

This is a preview of something I have been aching to show off for a very long time!

"The Poison Skies" is a joint project by me and kjorteo, with artwork by Sparkyopteryx. It's a concept album inspired by the characters and story of Kjorteo's novel "The Afflicted" (and you can read the first chapter of the online edition behind that link). "Stand Our Ground" is the fifteenth(!) track, and is about Jonathan Coral, a character from the story who is determined to keep standing up to the wickedness and madness of the world despite his exile in the wilderness.

Over the couple of years since I released any new songs I've been trying to learn more about music production, graduating from my previous Amiga-style sound (and I have to thank ravenworks for giving me so much advice on vocal mixing). After experimenting with my own vocals on The Day the Night Slept, this is my first fully voiced album - and I hope you enjoy the sound as much as I do!

You can hear the high-quality version of this track on Bandcamp, along with a selection of previews from the rest of the album! I have just a few more tracks left to record - hopefully the full version will be available soon.

King's Quest III: Part 7


When we left Gwydion, in stark contrast to his situation at the end of most of the other updates in this adventure, we had landed in Daventry and things were full of promise. At least, they had been until I walked on to a screen that resembled a special marathon edition of the awful pointless mountain path obstacle course that was the front path to our house. Shall we just hope that it doesn't go on too long?

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King's Quest III: Part 6


Our sixth update, leading into what you might broadly call the second part of the game, opens with a hornpipe being bleeped to us over the three-channel Tandy sound chip (from which I will spare you) and a cutscene without you involved (which I don't think has happened before in a King's Quest game, although I could be wrong). Well, it's the ship scrolling from left to right, but it's something.

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King's Quest III: Part 5


I seem to have a habit of signing off these updates with our hero Gwydion either dead or very close to it. But I think we were on to something last time, so let's reanimate his component atoms once again and see if we can keep going.

First, let's take a look at this cookie.

Oh, no wonder he noticed something was wrong - that's pathetic. I thought the great Sorcery of Old would be able to produce something that actually looked like it was meant to be a cookie, not something a three year old battered into shape with Play-Doh and whatever they found lying around on the living room carpet. Some sort of disguise is going to be necessary.

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King's Quest III: Part 4


When we left Gwydion last time, he was in a bit of a dire situation, lost in the desert with time swiftly running out.

Even though I'd wandered into this zone and then back out again fairly easily when I tested it before getting these screenshots, I wasn't having much luck getting back this time. I went to the corner of the screen and scrolled around in a panic for a while before...

...oh, I forgot about the map.

That was much simpler than I thought. Here we are, out of danger once more - or at least, out of the immediate one. We've still got to get everything tidied away before Manananan wakes up, and very limited time to do it!

Not pictured: Several instances of dying on this rubbish screen because of that stupid boulder.

Back at the house, we tidy everything away - we didn't disturb the wand or the lab this time - and verify that Manannan is still asleep in his frilly bedroom. It isn't long before...

He pops in to tell you he's awake, then back out again, giving him the chance to reduce you to ashes if anything is still out of place. Fortunately we were more careful this time.

You have to wait around for a while being unable to do anything of much use, so this is a good opportunity to show you the debug screen. If you press Alt+D, you get a couple of messages about the version of AGI we're running on, and then a display of the room number in the lower right along with a couple of unimportant things like a letter H appearing when Gwydion is in the middle of an animation and out of control of the player. However, you can now see the interesting bit by typing WIZ STATUS...

This shows some information about Manannan, some of which makes more sense to the programmers (like the specific ID of his status) but which gives players some important information as well, showing what he's doing, how long it's going to be before he changes status, and if you need to do anything before that happens (if you have a chore, it will say something like "You have 2:55 without him to feed the chickens"). The timer isn't completely accurate here, as there's a random grace period after it runs out before he makes his appearance, but I don't think it ever errs the other way and shows more time than you think you have.

I was a bit surprised when I saw my last chore was dusting his office because I didn't think I'd done that at any time during this playthrough, but it's possible that I did that in one of my many restarts to get screenshots and this is the save that happened to survive.

A bit after two minutes and forty-four seconds later, Manannan teleports in. To my surprise he announces he's leaving, even though I thought the next step was to give us another chore - nevertheless, I'm not complaining. We should have until the game timer hits 1 hour and 30 minutes until we have to be back.

So, once again we use the map to get back into Llewdor, this time into one of the few screens we haven't seen yet - this little cottage south of the mountain. Let's see if anyone's home.

Oh... that can't be good.

In another surprising "not dead" moment, this giant bear wearing a hat and dungarees kicks us off the doorstep, Gwydion's head spins a bit but otherwise he suffers no ill-effects whatsoever. Clearly we're going to have to use some cunning to distract him in order to get into the house.

No, of course we aren't - as usual we just wander out of the screen and back in again until this happens. There are a few different states for the bears, but they're not based on any sort of time like the wizard is - when you enter, they can either be home, out, returning, leaving, or Mother Bear can be out tending to the flowers (and will similarly biff you off the screen if you tread near her). If they're leaving the house when you get near, you're safe to stroll in and do what you like.

And what else would three bears have in their house?

Look, you know how the rest of this is going to go - I'll save you the time.

Upstairs looks pretty much as you would expect as well. There's one more thing we have to get here before we set ourselves up to quite rightly be thrown out for entering someone's house without permission.

The thimble, oddly, is starred as a forbidden item in your inventory. It's used in the creation of at least one spell, but seriously, doesn't a thimble have more obvious innocent uses as well? I hear Gwydion had to take over at short notice after Manannan caught the last wizard-slave red-handed darning a sock.

Anyway. We don't have to do this next part and it offers us no points, but things just seem to be going that way.

After Gwydilocks makes a forced exit carried upside-down out of the house, we now have everything that we need for the moment. There's an interesting-looking spell in the Sorcery of Old called "Transforming Another into a Cat" that we now have all the ingredients for, so let's head back early, open up the lab again and get things prepared before our favourite git-wizard gets back.

Just like the last time Mananann was away, we open up the lab again and head down. While checking the manual for this coming spell, I realized I actually got the dispelling-incantation (decantation?) wrong for reversing the fly transformation - it was meant to be "Fly begone, myself return". Perhaps there is a certain amount of forgiveness built in, a word that until recently I thought was foreign to Sierra.

Let's make a start. Following the procedure from the manual...



Oh, bugger.

You know what image it's time for now. kjorteo, help me out here...

Thanks very much.

Let's try that again...

That didn't work either and ended the game as well.

These were also failures.

Finally, this worked - but it gave me a message that made me think that I hadn't done it right (there's no mention of measuring anything out with the deal of precision that we've been led to believe this takes, just dumping the whole thing into the mixing bowl!) and so I was unsure about whether I should continue. In some way, then, it's kind of welcome that the spell screen kicks you out at the slightest mistake, but in others, the parser is unbelievably restrictive, even considering that it's meant to be the copy protection. It seems that I was meant to PUT instead of POUR here - using the exact wording that's in the manual - and just didn't notice for ages.

That wouldn't be so bad, but the worst part of this screen is that if you use a verb that the game doesn't understand like that (therefore causing Gwydion to do nothing at all) it will fail you instantly and the spell will suddenly go disastrously wrong even if all you've got at that stage is a bit of lard in a bowl. If the tiniest mistakes in cooking caused such dire consequences I wouldn't be alive to write this playthrough-turned-extended-complaint.

In other words, I'm forced to eat the words that I wrote before about any sort of forgiveness.

This recipe doesn't sound very appetizing. Still, there's not long to go now...

And now all we have to do is wave the wand and we're finished!


One reload later, we do all of the above again, recite the incantation from the manual, wave the wand that we've remembered about this time, and our reward is this cookie. Magic is harder than it looks.

Let's test it out!

It worked! Oh, I didn't think that through. Time to reload again.

Manannan will be home in ten minutes, so we'll take the opportunity to tidy up while we can. This time absolutely everything's definitely back in the right place, and we just have to wait around until he arrives.

So, Master of Orion - that was a good game, wasn't it. Sort of like Civilization in space, but also somehow completely different.

I never understood the kind of people who played as humans in these kinds of games, given the opportunity to be a race of cats or eagle-people or even just awesome robot things. To be fair, each race has a special advantage unique to them and the humans are the expert diplomats, but still, I can't help but judge people as being just boring if they pick them. However, I speak as someone with a giant rabbit suit in the closet so my view might not be universal. I'll choose the Sakkra, a race of anthropomorphic chamaeleons.

You're given four screens of this on opening the game, which is absolutely overpowering - but the game is much more straightforward than it appears here. You colonize planets, you increase their population and build up the industry to produce more things faster, and spread throughout the galaxy.

This is home sweet home Sssla, which defaults to spending points on industry and ecology (on the right) - I've added some science so that we can get that going.

One turn later, the royal scientist turns up, not wearing any clothes for some reason (the racial advantage for the Sakkra is quick population growth - maybe that's why, it saves time.) Technologies are futher subdivided into six groups - computers, weapons, propulsion and I can't remember the rest. You can balance the amount of effort you're spending on each group in a separate screen, but for now, this one allows you to select a specific technology to work towards within each group.

We started off with a couple of scouts and a colony ship, so let's get exploring the universe - our nearest planet isn't great but it's habitable. There are a lot of different planet types in the game - some of the less ideal ones like Desert and Ocean support life with a reduced maximum population, but some are entirely dead and need colony ships with special equipment to populate them. On top of that, planets have properties as well - this one has technological artifacts, giving a very nice boost to technology points produced here. I'll have it!

I love the little spaceman that walks on to the screen every time you start a colony, planting a flag in the ground and claiming this land for our people.

Your ships always have limited range, which can be restrictive at the start of the game - you can only venture three parsecs from your closest colony. The scout ships have a bonus here, though, because they have reserve fuel tanks, adding three more parsecs to their range.

Unfortunately the other planets around us are looking pretty dismal. This one's barren, meaning I can't colonize it without researching how, and it has the Hostile property so the population growth is halved due to them all having to wear giant all-over prophylactic rubber spacesuits all the time.

However, making the best of a bad situation, the technology to colonize barren planets isn't far off. Unfortunately researching this doesn't automatically let you colonize them - you have to specifically design a ship with the right component to do it.

So let's go into ship design. You can only have six types active at a time, which is very restrictive - in my experience none of the starting ones are any good once you're past the beginning stages, so let's scrap everything but the scout and start them over.

The ship design screen also has a billion things on it, with all kinds of areas available for upgrade. Your weapons are in the middle, with up to four bays, and you have special components near the bottom there. If you need to increase your reach early in the game, you can redesign the colony ship with the reserve fuel tanks that feature on the scouts - but at this early stage it's very expensive to do so.

There's something interesting about the tech level in this game - as you spend more points on the different areas, in addition to achieving the obvious chosen advances, the 'size' value for existing technology slowly decreases to represent improvements in miniaturization. Therefore, later in the game, you'll be able to stuff much more into the same-size ship than you could with all the vaccuum tubes and harpsichords that had to go into the old ones. For now, having reserve fuel tanks and any sort of colony space will only fit on a Huge-sized ship.

It also pays to add some kind of defenses, and - oh, Manannan's back.

If he appears on this screen when he returns to eat, you have to leave and come back again before he's actually sitting at the table. I don't say that as a complaint, just an observation.

Here's a nice tasty snack!

Doo de doo de doo, nothing suspicious happening here.

Oh... as soon as you enter the room carrying the cookie, Manannan notices that you've been up to mischief, stands on the bench and vaporizes you. Indeed, it's marked as a forbidden item in the inventory. So next time, we're going have to have to come up with some sort of cunning plan to get him to eat this without noticing.

Or we could just walk in and out of the room until he doesn't see it. I don't know.


King's Quest III: Part 3


When we left our hero last time, he was a pile of dust on the floor of the kitchen, leaving not much room for further exploration. So I've rewound time a bit - let's do this the right way this time.

Wand, cupboard, at the same angle as we found it. (Not really on that last part, mercifully.) I'm surprised but glad that the Sorcery of Old does not describe a "Who's had their hands on this wand since I last touched it" spell.

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