Saturday, 25 April 2015

The Creature that Ate the 24th Annual "Last" Chicago CoCoFEST

The people of the Glenside Colour Computer Club decided to host an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the development of BASIC. The Dartmouth Time Sharing System (DTSS) version of BASIC was the origin of the language and Kip Koon organized a programming contest to celebrate this historic beginning. He put out a call for people to try to write (fun/game) programs in Dartmouth BASIC on a DTSS Simulator. I got the simulator and began to play around with the language.

I learned a couple of surprising things. First, this earliest version of BASIC didn't originally have an INPUT command. This was because the programs were not interactive, but meant to be run on the main network hub and the result output on a teletype device. Second, the size of programs was quite limited, something less than 6 KB. Third, there was very limited string capabilities. Basically you can print literal strings, but you don't have string variables, or any string handling. So even though an INPUT command had been added to the simulator's implementation of the language, it would be hard to make a game that only used input of numbers.

My first thought was to make a version of the classic Star Trek game, since it only used numbers for input (1. Shields 2. Photon torpedoes, etc). However, the variation that I programmed ran up against the program size limit.  My program was too large to fit into the DTSS. So, I moved on to thinking about other concepts.  The ubiquitous "Hunt the Wumpus"-like game ideas seemed to be the only thing to be practical (small memory, number input).  It was very challenging to think up anything entirely new.

I have enjoyed recently watching some of the episodes of "Tabletop" with Will Wheaton. He's of a similar age to me and a similar degree of geekyness. I grew up playing combat simulation board games like Blitzkrieg, and so the thought occurred to me of trying to create a simple board game simulation for the DTSS BASIC game contest. I had run across the Epyx game, "Crush Crumble Chomp" back when I was doing my port of "Temple of Apshai" to the MC-10. I knew it was a variation of a classic Board game, so I went and looked it up.  The game was called "The Creature that Ate Sheboygan."

The game was originally designed by the brilliant board game designer Greg Costikyan. Although the project grew to such a size, far beyond the 6KB limit of DTSS, and for reasons of wanting to add some nifty graphics to represent the various different monsters (in purple below), or Kaiju as the Japanese call them, I decided to switch back to working on it in Micro Color BASIC. Still, with enough space, I think the resulting game could in principle be done completely in Dartmouth BASIC. In essence it only uses simple keystrokes and numbered directions for input. The main action takes place on a 16 X 16 grid, using only simple characters to represent the elements making up a map of the City of Sheboygan.  Other than that, the game is all about combat tables and game rules and applying the results of simulated dice throws to the tables and rules.

Anyway, after a week of putting a push on in hopes of having it ready by the weekend of the Annual "Last" Coco Fest, I have produced a variation of the game that I believe faithfully captures all the elements of the original with only a few compromises to help the AI that I was able to implement to play the "human" side of the game.

I send greetings to all the The 24th Annual "Last" Chicago CoCoFEST goers. I hope no giant kaiju comes down the turnpike and eats Chicago!

The game and the VMC10.exe MC-10 Emulator to play it can be downloaded here. Just load the SHEBOYGN.C10 file after typing in CLOAD and hitting ENTER. Then type RUN and hit enter.

Coco Version of SHEBOYGN.BAS
A link to the Coco specific version can be found in my coco compilation zip on the JGGAMES10.DSK

You can press the "H" key during the *MONSTER MOVE* phase to receive some help about playing the game.