Project: Scruffy and the Sword game

2008 October 22

One Apple II project I’d like to pull off would be a very simple rpg game inspired by the skit ‘Scruffy and the Sword’ by my comedy group Come On, Scientists!.  In the skit, two rather odd adventurers  are in search of a Vorpal Sword (the bearded adventurer, Scruffy, is played by yours truly).  They begin they search at a collectibles shop/garage sale, end up traveling through time, and encounter a powerful foe, the Black Spirit of Self-Awareness.  Since the skit goofily deals with rpg goofiness, it seems only natural to base a goofy game on it.

For the game, I’d stick to the medieval setting – Scruffy and Sidekick can simply be “in character” as adventurers, having come to a little towne where they’ve heard tale of a Blacksmith who can make a perfect +2 Vorpal Sword.  In the game’s intro, they would witness the Blacksmith’s cursing the sword and throwing a mighty far distance – all the way, in fact, to a nearby orc-infested tower.  To retrieve the sword, they’ll have to travel to several different locales, bash various monsters, and collect gold to buy better weapons/armor til they’re finally strong enough to storm the tower.

I’m planning to program this in Applesoft BASIC, relying on the Beagle Brothers’ tremendous Beagle Graphics to create hi-res images, and their ProntoDOS routines to allow speedy loading (for the Apple II) of those images.  The Beagle Graphics program Double Plot has turned out delightful to use, especially in an emulator so I can draw with the mouse (though I do plan to get a mouse for the actual Apple IIs sometime).  Here is the first (and only so far) screen I’ve done, the ‘Presents’ screen that will precede the Title Screen:

Scruffy and Sword game Presents screen

Scruffy and Sword game Presents screen

Since I’m using BASIC, I think it’d be best to keep things simple.  They’re won’t be any animation or even single frame sprite-shapes moving about the screen — all graphics will be static screen images and all input will be menu-driven (Beagle Graphic also allows for easy programmatic printing of text to the Hi-Res screen from BASIC).  So for instance, in Town, the top half of the screen will show a picture of the various buildings Scruffy and Sidekick can enter, and on the bottom half will be a simple lettered menu reiterating those choices (Where should we go?  A. Marv Ellis’s Shoppe B. The Blacksmith C., etc), with one choice being Leave Town. When the player leaves town, a new image is loaded showing the nearby landscape and available place to go, and an appropriate menu.   Likewise, combat will be a similar affair, if a bit more complicated display wise: An image of the enemy on the upper left half of the screen, an image of Scruffy and Sidekick on the upper right half with stats displayed below each (that text would be dynamically added after the picture has loaded), and the bottom half would be used for hi-res text, alternating between menu of choices and displays of battle results.  That kind of display for combat would be similar to, but simpler than, the ones used in Wizardry, The Standing Stones, Wasteland and such. Here’s a Wasteland combat for example:

Wasteland Combat example

Wasteland Combat example

The Double.Scrunch utility provided with Beagle Graphics allows nice compression of hi-res images that must be stored on and loaded from a disk.  Using it, I’m hoping I can get around 40 hi-res images on a single disk (I’ll be making hi-res and not double hi-res images to save space).  The game would then consist of two disks.   The first disk would hold the BASIC program, the required Beagle Graphics loaders, and a few introductory images.  After the BASIC program loads, and intro graphics are viewed if the player wishes, the player is asked to insert disk 2 into the drive.  After that, all images needed are loaded from disk 2 as the game unfolds.

With that framework, I’m hoping I can make an amusing little game.  We shall see…

The beginning…

2008 October 18
by JJ Sonick

My first Apple II was a IIe, the computer of my youth, the computer of endless days of playing the early Ultimas and the Infocom text adventures, of planning a super-elaborate world to implement in Stuart Smith’s Adventure Construction Set which I never got close to finishing it, of being amazed I could make the computer do something with BASIC, even though I had none of the attention span to program anything substantial.  Needless to say, I have very fond memories of that computer I grew up with.

In the late 90′s, when I first ventured onto the wild Internet, I was amazed and delighted at the existence of Apple II emulators and disk images that let me re-live some of the fond memories of my youth.  But as charming as the emulators were, it still wasn’t quite the same thing.

Fortunately for me there existed a Goodwill Computer Store right on the other side of the freeway from the Half Price Books store I worked at when I lived in Austin, Texas.  For a mere $15 I acquired an Apple IIe, color monitor, and 2 disk drives.  I also discovered eBay and started tracking down games familiar and unfamiliar that I wanted to play on the trusty IIe, as well as ransacking my parent’s attic to uncover some of the games I’d owned as a kid (amazingly, my mother had no thrown many of them out).  A little while after the same Goodwill store offered up an Apple IIc with 128k which would allow me to play some games that the IIe couldn’t (I hadn’t real spent time looking online for a memory card for the IIe, and the IIc was only $10, so how could I resist?

I had great fun with that IIe and IIc, but there was always the problem of space – I had a computer desk for the PC I used for modern computing concerns, so whichever Apple II I was going to use had to live in some akward corner of my bedroom.  This resulting in them never getting used as much as they could have been.  The IIe ended up dying of unknown causes (old age?) a little while after I moved to San Francisco in 2000.  The IIc lasted much longer, carrying on strong til early last year (2007) when it got fried by a power surge that brought down my entire street block (as well as my TV, DVD player, PC, I don’t remember what else – some neighbors had their refrigerators fried, so I considered myself lucky – and yes, I was using a surge protector, but a surge protector plugged into a socket with faulty wiring (insert doh! emoticon)).

There was painful attempt at rebuilding my PC which lead to so many hardware nightmares that I threw in the towel and did something I’d been contemplating for awhile – switch to a Mac.  The fact that Boot Camp seemed fairly stable at this point was a big tipping factor, meaning I would not have to ditch all the Window software I’d paid for over the years.  Anyway, the relevance of my switch to Mac to old-school Apple concerns is that my new MacBook Pro laptop lives, for the most part, on my living room table in front of my couch which means… the old PC table was available to hold a Apple II!

So just last month I acquired a IIc through ebay and a IIe through online retailer Digital Dinos.  The monitor I had for the previous Apple II ‘set’ miraculously survived the Great Electrical Purge of 2007, so I didn’t need to go monitor hunting again.

The Apple IIe is still boxed up, as the compact form of the Apple IIc is better suited to how I have the desk set up, but the IIe will gets its turn for sure.  But right now, the IIc has the place of honor:

I really should have started this blog last month, as my Apple II (re)-explorations have already taken me in several different directions, and my first several posts will be playing catch-up to cover those.

Before I finish this post, I should perhaps answer the question, “Why?  Why this interest in this decades-old hardware and software?” Well, it’s fair to say I have a fascination with retro-gaming and retro-computing in general. Nostalgia is obviously a strong part of it.  So would I have any interest in this stuff if I hadn’t experienced it as a child?  This was partially answered for me when I became fascinated for a good deal of time with a ZX Spectrum emulator and the games available for it.  The Spectrum was a 8-bit computer I had never seen or touched as a kid, but I found myself intrigued by some of its best games, in a way that was similar to interest in Apple II games I had never played as a kid.  I think what interests me in these cases is seeing how much a person or a team could pull out a system that has some very tough constraints (and in the Apple II’s case, serious quirks – I don’t know how quirky the Spectrum’s workings are or aren’t).  There’s something inspiring about that creative effort within tight confines – especially when the final product retains some magic despite being run on (emulated or actual) decades-old technology. Examining those creative efforts will be part of what the blog covers, as I survey some of the Apple II games and apps of the past (and of course, some marvelous creations of the present, like Michael J. Mahon’s Real-Time Synthesizer.)

The other part of the blog will me inexpertly bungling around trying to create some new Apple II programs myself, and seeing what odd experiments can arise.  And overall, I’ll have some fun. :)