Another collection of games for the budding programmer

Computer Spacegames - Daniel Isaaman, Jenny Tyler

Sometimes I wonder why I bother going through these books since they are not really any use anymore because if you really want a game to play all you need to do these days is go on to Google Play, or into the App Store (if that is where you get stuff for the iPhone because I don't own an iPhone, I own a Sony Xperia – which are crap so I wouldn't recommend getting one - I'm just waiting for my contract to expire so I can get a phone that happens to be compatible with Ubuntu) and download one of the multitude of games that you can find there. Even if you don't own a smartphone (and there are people out there that don't) then you can always find games to play on the internet, whether it be an old Commodore 64 game through an emulator, or one of the multitude of games that have come out of Facebook. What the age of the internet means is that no longer do we have to painfully type out games from books, or fork out huge amounts of money to purchase games from the shop (though the fact that EB still exists goes to show that there is still a market for computer games).

Anyway, these books still bring back memories, and when I read through them I realise that back in those days, when you were typing things into the computer you didn't have bold or italics or even strikethru. Okay, you may have had the first two, but I certainly do not remember using strikethru in any of the old word processors. In fact, it wasn't until I returned to highschool after spending a few years running amok that I began to use word processors to hand up my assignments, though one of my English teachers hated reports typed up using a word processor and if you handed one up you would no doubt get a five minute diatribe about why he hated word processors. However, I handed another assignment up to another teacher and she looked at it and said “oh, wow, printed out on a laser printer!”. I'm not really sure why she was so surprised because it was the school's laser printer that I used.

Still, we can learn some things from this book, even if it is for useless trivia that you can expect never to appear in the church trivia night, and that is that when you were typing BASIC programs into the ZX Spectrum you had to use short cuts (such as Ctrl D or something or other) to call up the command; you couldn't just type the command in because if you did then the program wouldn't work. Mind you I use short cuts all the time (such as Ctrl C for copy and Ctrl V for paste), but that is because it is quicker than using the mouse. The other interesting thing is that the ZX81 computer only has 1k (that is one kilobyte, or 1024 bytes, which is 1024 characters) which is mind boggling considering how much memory computers these days have (1.8 gigabytes where my laptop is concerned, which is over a billion bytes, or more precisely 1 932 735 283 bytes). Considering that one character is equal to one byte (and one character is basically one letter) then this piece that I am writing here comes to 3337 characters which means that the ZX81 would have run out of memory a third of the way through this review. So, since we must pay homage to these old computers, and the fact that I would have already run out of memory, I better bring this commentary to a close.

Actually, on second thoughts, let's not, especially considering that this review could have over a billion characters and there still be enough memory for more (though I am sure I would have to be writing something incredibly interesting if you were to still be reading after a billion characters). The thing I noticed about these games is that there is a lot of guess work involved in the game play. For instance there is a lunar landing game where you have to enter how much thrust you plan on using to safely land on the planet, and if you use too much you shoot off back into the sky, and if you use too little you crash. There are also some basic arcade games in this book (though I never typed in the one using actual graphics because these games were for the Vic 20, not the Commodore 64, which meant they were not compatible), one game I remember called Death Valley, where you had to maneuver your ship through a narrow valley without crashing into the walls. There is also a basic strategy game where you are the governor of a colony and had to last ten years without being kicked out of office.

The interesting thing about this book is that I have noticed that it provides you with the basic outlines of some games, and while I did not explore further in developing these games more (I was more focused on adventure games and fantasy roleplaying games), the book encourages you to do so. For instance the Death Valley game could be adjusted to make the valley longer, have some obstacles in the middle of the valley, and also allow you to adjust your speed. As for the colony game you could develop that into a full blown strategy game where you have to develop your lunar colony from scratch. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realise that games like Civilisation may have actually started off from basic roots such that games like this, and as the programmers perfected one aspect of the game they would then build on it to make it better until they had something that could be published. However, they would not rest once the game was published because they would continue to develop it after that to release other, more complex, editions of the game (though I am not sure where they are up to with Civilisation at the moment, I think it is number 5, though I have lost count).